|Year 9: Youth Culture|
At the HSC level, English becomes heavily reliant on a student's ability to write. This is a point in a student's education where it doesn't matter how eloquent and insightful they are during class discussion; if they are unable to formulate their ideas into a cohesive and sustained, structured piece of writing then they are going to run into big problems.
The solution is backward mapping. If we extrapolate the skills needed for quality HSC-level composition and map them backwards through the curriculum for Stages 6, 5 and 4, then we can help students build the technical expertise needed for this kind of text construction.
There are several ways that English teachers work towards this goal. The most common approach is perhaps through the teaching of paragraph construction formulae - things such as PEEL (Point-Example-Explanation-Link), PEAL (Point-Example-Analysis-Link), TEAL (Topic-Example-Analysis-Link), TEEEEL (Topic-Example-Explanation-Example-Explanation-Link)... you get the point, they're all kind of the same.
Another approach is text analysis. This is a method that works particularly well with Year 9, and it involves giving students a structured response and asking them to firstly identify the content, or main point, of each paragraph (as opposed to the structural components). The idea here is that students are asked to identify the concept behind separating paragraphs in general, the fact that each paragraph needs its own theme or topic sentence, and it is possibly too readily taken for granted when we teach Year 9 students that they will automatically know what the point is behind paragraphing.
Run a diagnostic text with a mixed ability Year 9 class where they're asked to compose an extended response, and you'll quickly see what I mean.
There's simply no point in teaching the individual elements of constructing paragraphs if students don't even know what a paragraph is or how it works. You have to crawl before you can walk. (Sidenote: if your class exhibits a wide disparity between those who can and those who can't, then this is where differentiation of activities will also come in handy).
The other thing that works well with text analysis is getting students to identify cohesive devices that the author has used to avoid unnecessary repetition. This means:
- Explicit acknowledgement of reference terms (such as 'these' - what does 'these' refer to?)
- Text chains (the use of synonyms to refer to the same idea).
Below are two resources for a Youth Culture unit my school teaches. The focus of the unit is on issues related to being a teenager, with a sizeable slice of time dedicated to the inimitable classic '80s film The Breakfast Club. With that in mind, the text below is an introductory piece about the history of teen films, written to also function as part of our school's Focus on Reading project (in which we start every junior English class with ten minutes of reading).
Resource 1 - This can be put onscreen to demonstrate to students what you want done with the text in front of them.
Resource 2 - This is the version that can be handed to the students for them to annotate.