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Preparing students for GCSE extended writing task

 On this post I will be focussing on how I am preparing my students for their writing skill; on development of broad linguistic knowledge, content and communication as well as accuracy which are all the key elements of the GCSE writing assessment mark scheme. 


As we are all aware, the speaking examinations this year won’t take place and therefore the writing assessment which will be worth 33% of the overall GCSE grade will bare more weight on students’ overall GCSE result than before. 

Writing together with speaking is classed as one of the productive skills of language learning and is closely connected with communication, use of grammatical structures, language manipulation, translation skills as well as accuracy. 

Preparing and developing students’ writing skills is inevitably linked to their speaking skills and supports them perfectly, especially in a phonetic language such as German, because the topics tested are the same only the medium is different.

I am a strong believer that students should be able to manipulate  the language and structures to build their own ideas and use them creatively and with confidence. 

I do not believe in students just memorising sentences and re-writing them from memory which was often the case in many schools when the written exam consisted of course work. 

As an examiner I have marked pieces of writing that  read like lists – disjointed, with idioms being thrown in just for the sake of it because students were told that this will score them higher marks.

Lists can certainly be useful and I use them myself, but we should take the time to explain how to use them, so they don’t become just a tick sheet, they shouldn’t be just a sheet with a specific number of how many opinions, past, future tense, if phrases examples etc… students need to include in order to achieve grade 5, 6, 7, 8… 

The assessment mark scheme criteria do not require: ‘Student needs to include 3 examples of this and 4 examples of that!’ They state very clearly that students need to use variety of language and structures confidently and these need to be well linked.

I understand that as educators we have the pressure to get good results and we are judged on these results (often out of our control), but the linguist in me is very vocal – being able to communicate and manipulate the language in meaningful way is the priority in my personal delivery. If we invest the time at KS3 and work on developing these skills early on we won’t have to play catch up at KS4 which is often the case for many of us.

So, how do I go about it?

In order to prepare my students to be independent communicators I make sure they have learnt the key vocabulary and grammatical structures which allow them to become more confident writers/speakers. For this I often use retrieval practice (please see my post on retrieval practice here) and homework (please see my post on homework here) during which I regularly check that my students have learnt vocabulary and grammatical structures, but I also ensure they can explain the HOW and WHY

I approach the extended writing task with my students only when they tackled the picture task and short writing task first. (On my resources page there adaptable examples of activities that I use.)

How I address this differs greatly from how I teach writing skills at KS3. At KS3 this may include techniques such as dictation, delayed/running dictation, writing short sentences, translations – mosaic, first letter given, writing pyramids, one pen one dice, break the flow etc. (Inspired by Gianfranco Conti and his E.P.I methodology.)

At KS4, in the initial stages I use structured writing – first, we look at some texts and analyse them from the linguistic angle (this idea, including the structure strips, were inspired by @MorganMfl/Wendy Adeniji).

Example of text analysis sheet

After we have looked at examples of texts and analysed them, we brainstorm some vocabulary (nouns, verbs, adjectives…), I ask my students to come up with some basic sentences (all without SB or KO), we then discuss how we could extend the sentences within (TMP, sequencers, qualifiers…), change them into different tenses, giving opinions with reasons – at this stage I also address any gaps in knowledge (i.e. misconceptions in tense building, word order, genders, verb and adjectival endings…).

We also study some worked examples, like the one in the recording below. 

This video walks the students through the mark scheme, task criteria and a worked example for the crossover 90 word task. Direct link here.                  

Finally, I use structure strips and a check list to support my students with the planning and writing process. 

Example of structure strip

This approach seems to work well for our school – I teach in a mainstream comprehensive school in a challenging area with higher than average number of EAL and SEN students and as a result of this approach our results have been steadily improving in both of the productive skills – writing and speaking.

Some feedback on the video from my students:

Some examples of my students recent assessments:


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