Part 5: How to plan written responses in Years 7 & 8

Planning is essential if you want to ace your English tasks! In this article, we're going to show you how you should plan your responses to produce better work more efficiently.
beginners-guide-year-7-8-english-year-How to plan written responses in Years 7 & 8 picture of a journal

How to plan written responses in Years 7 and 8

In the previous article, we looked at textual analysis skills and how to develop them. In this part of the Guide, we’re going to look at how to plan written responses in Years 7 & 8.

Now that you know how to read, analyse, and think about texts we have to look at how to translate your knowledge and understanding into written responses.


What’s in this article?

In this article, we’re going to look at the writing process. We’ll begin with planning responses and work through to composing the final piece. Along the way, we’ll discuss some common grammatical and stylistic features and look at a variety of the forms students will need to write in.


Table of contents


What Syllabus Outcomes will this article address?

A. communicate through speaking, listening, reading, writing, viewing and representing

  • EN4-1A: responds to and composes texts for understanding, interpretation, critical analysis, imaginative expression and pleasure
  • EN4-2A: effectively uses a widening range of processes, skills, strategies and knowledge for responding to and composing texts in different media and technologies

B. use language to shape and make meaning according to purpose, audience and context

    • EN4-3B: uses and describes language forms, features and structures of texts appropriate to a range of purposes, audiences and contexts

C. think in ways that are imaginative, creative, interpretive and critical

  • EN4-5C: thinks imaginatively, creatively, interpretively and critically about information, ideas and arguments to respond to and compose texts
  • EN4-6C: identifies and explains connections between and among texts

D. express themselves and their relationships with others and their world

  • EN4-8D: identifies, considers and appreciates cultural expression in texts


What are writing skills?

Writing skills are the different skills you need to compose responses. Don’t worry, these skills will translate across disciplines.

The skills you acquire in English will be useful in writing responses for other subjects like history or economics.

To write well, you need to have a strong understanding of the rules of English Grammar. You also need to be aware of the correct spelling of words.

It is expected that students in Years 7 and 8 – what is known as Stage 4 – will continually expand their vocabulary and increase the sophistication of their writing.

So, what skills will you need to have and hone in Years 7 and 8?


Stage 4 writing skills

  • An understanding of how to plan responses
  • The ability to construct grammatically correct sentences
  • An understanding of how to write for a specific purpose or audience
  • The ability to write concisely and clearly
  • Knowledge of the different forms and conventions you can be asked to write in and employ

In Years 7 and 8, students need to be able to compose responses in a variety of different forms:

  • Persuasive writing: These are responses that seek to persuade the audience. These are most commonly essays and speeches, but could also take the form of a feature article.
  • Informative writing: This is writing that seeks to educate and inform the audience. This can take the form of an informative essay, speech, or article. It is important to remember that informative writing is not written to persuade the reader.
  • Discursive writing: This is writing that tries to explore an idea, thing, or place from a variety of different perspectives. It can be formal or informal and doesn’t have the strict structure that we normally ascribe to essays. Like an informative response, discursive writing seeks to explore an idea rather than persuade the reader.
  • Imaginative writing: Imaginative writing is creative writing. This can take the form of short stories and narratives, or poems and short plays. Students are expected to try writing from a variety of different perspectives and in different forms and styles.



Before we look at how to write responses, we need to look at the process Matrix students are taught for producing responses and how to respond to questions.


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The Matrix MethodTM for writing responses

It doesn’t matter whether you are writing an essay, a feature article, or an imaginative piece, you will need to follow a process if you want to produce an excellent piece of work.

It’s always really important to remember that composing responses in English is a process. Students need to become confident applying this process consistently from Years 7 and 8 so that they can succeed throughout high school.

  1. Unpack the task or question that you’ve been set
  2. Plan your response
  3. Write a first draft
  4. Edit the first draft
  5. Write a second draft
  6. Get feedback
  7. Write a final version
  8. Submit!

It doesn’t really matter what task you’ve been set. You should still follow the same process so that you can guarantee the quality and consistency of your work.

What we’ll do now is walk you through this process.

Unpacking questions and tasks

The first step in responding to a question is unpacking what you’ve been asked to do. To do this you need to look at the notifications that came with your task.

Let’s have a look at what you need to do.


Responding to questions and assessment task notifications

Whenever you have an assessment, you should be given an notification that details exactly what your task is. The notification should come with a marking criteria that tells you how the task should be marked.

This document is really important as it should tell you:

  • What type of task it is: essay, speech, creative writing
  • Exactly what you need to do
  • How many marks the task is worth
  • How the task will be marked (and what you need to do to get higher marks)

You should read these documents carefully and make sure you understand what you are meant to be doing before you get stuck in and start.

Once you’ve read your notification and the marking criteria you need to unpack the question or instructions.



Almost all of the questions you encounter in high school will include verbs that are taken from this list of NESA glossary of keywords. These keywords are all verbs that instruct you how to respond to questions and tasks.

It is important that you familiarise yourself with these words and learn the differences between those that seem synonymous. Being able to quickly assess what you are being asked to do is a crucial skill.

For example, if you are asked to analyse something, that is going to require you to do something different than assessing it. Even though they seem like synonyms, they aren’t synonymous.

Let’s look at the different definitions of these words that NESA provides:

  • Analyse: Identify components and the relationship between them; draw out and relate implications
  • Assess: Make a judgement of value, quality, outcomes, results or size

Clearly, there is a difference between these words and what they want you to do.

If you are asked to assess something, you are asked to judge some aspect of it. While, if you are asked to analyse something, you are required to identify specific aspects of something and discuss them.

Now you’re ready to unpack the question.


Unpacking questions

When we say you need to unpack a question, we’re saying you need to identify the components of the question and what they want you to do.

It’s really important to learn how to take the time to carefully read and identify the keywords – nouns and verbs – in the question so you can plan your response.

Here are the steps Matrix students learn for unpacking questions:

  1. Identify the key verbs and underline the key verbs. Questions will always include verbs that instruct you to do something.
  2. Find and underline the key nouns. The key nouns will be those that tell you what type of task you need to produce and what your stimulus is.
  3. Annotate any statements that require your judgement. Essay questions include a statement about the text or Module you are studying. You need to decide whether you agree with this statement.
  4. Rewrite the question in your own words. This will ensure that you are comfortable with what the question is asking you. If you can’t write the question in your own words, you haven’t understood the question.

If you don’t understand any words, you must become confident in looking them up.

If you don’t understand what you are being asked to do for an assessment task, ask your school teacher, Matrix teacher, or Matrix tutor to help you understand it.

Once you’ve unpacked what you need to do, it’s time to plan!



Planning your responses

Planning your responses may seem like an unnecessary complication and step, but ultimately it will save you time.

If you plan a job properly, you won’t need to spend as much time making major revisions.

Planning has three steps:

  1. Brainstorming: Unpacking everything you know about the subject and question
  2. Sorting: Whittling down the ideas from your brainstorm to sort the size of the task.
  3. Scaffolding: Planning how you will organise the ideas and information in your response.

Let’s look at these in a bit more detail:


1. Brainstorming

After you’ve unpacked your question, write down everything that you’ve thought of in relation to the task you’ve been set.

For example, If you’re responding to a task about a text you’ve studied, write down all of the ideas you have about the text.

Or, if you’re writing an imaginative task about a specific theme, prompt, or stimulus, write down all of the plots, characters, and settings that come to mind when you think about the theme, prompt, or stimulus.

It doesn’t matter how many things you write down. You’re going to sort through these and whittle them down.

Set yourself a time limit of a few minutes to do this. You don’t want to get stuck this early on. A time limit will keep you focused.



2. Sorting

Once you’ve got your ideas down, you need to sort through them.

A good method to use is to ask yourself two questions:

  1. Is it something I understand and find interesting?
  2. Is it something that is really relevant to the question?

If you can say ‘yes’ to both of the questions then you’ve got something you can use as an idea for your creative or non-fiction writing.



3. Scaffolding

Once you’ve sifted your gold ideas out of the chaff, you’re ready to plan things.

You’ll have quite a few different ideas what you need to do is decide how to structure them. Different types of tasks will require different approaches.

Non-fiction tasks

Non-fiction tasks like persuasive pieces (essays, feature articles, and reviews) will require you to order your ideas with useful information and present it in an accessible manner.

You need to decide what you will talk about in your paragraphs and what order they should go in to build a sustained argument.

In addition, you’re going to have put your textual analysis skills into action and decide what pieces of evidence will best support these ideas. If you need a refresher, go back and read Part 4 of the Years 7 & 8 English Study Guide, here.

Fiction tasks

If you’re writing an imaginative response, you need to think about the structure of your narrative. You want to plan out some general things about the story you are writing including:

  • Point of view: Whose perspective will the narrative be told from?
  • Who: Who is the protagonist?
  • Where: Where does the narrative take place?
  • What: What happens in the narrative?
  • When: When in the narrative do things take place?

Narrative writing can be tricky, and we’ll look at it in more detail in a different article. However, when structuring a creative it is important to think about the order that events happen.

A good way to think about structure is to think about the events in your plot. A good idea is to use the following simple structure:

  1. Introduce the character(s) and setting
  2. Complicate the character(s)’s life with a difficult situation
  3. Have the character encounter a further complication as they try and solve their problem
  4. Show the character start to solve their problem (they don’t have to solve it!)

Now we know how to plan, let’s look at how you should scaffold different types of responses.


What structure should I use for an imaginative piece?

As you’ve read many short stories and novels, you’ll have noticed that fiction can take many different forms and structures.

However, while experienced and published writers are in a position to experiment and challenge themselves and their readers, you need to keep things straight forward for your readers.

As a writer at high school, you have a particular constraint of length to deal with. Your narratives will need to be between 600-800 words. Because of this, you can’t present your own Lord of the Rings or Mortal Instruments.

Instead, you need to focus on moments or episodes that happen in short spaces of time.

To that end, you should follow a structure that relates a series of events in an accessible structure.

Most traditional narratives follow a Three Act structure:

  1. Act 1: The characters and setting are introduced
  2. Act 2: The characters encounter a problem
  3. Act 3: The characters resolve the issue.

You want to take a similar approach, but you need to have the opportunity to jump back in time if necessary and present a slightly more complex narrative.

When planning out your narrative, you should try to think about things in terms of:

  1. Orientation: Where you introduce setting and characters
  2. Triggers: Events that start your narrative
  3. Complications: Events or actions that pose problems to the characters
  4. Resolution: The character tries to resolve the issues they’ve encountered (they don’t need to resolve them in your narrative, though!)

To give you a sense of what this could look like in a narrative, here are a couple of scaffolds for you to consider employing:

How to plan responses-Guide-English-Beginner's-guide-to-7-8-english-Creative-scaffolds

Once you’ve planned your narrative, you should read Part 8, How to write a creative.

Now let’s take a look at informative writing.


What scaffold’s should I use for informative writing?

Informative writing is when you present information to the reader. Your aim with informative writing is to educate and inform but not to persuade.

Most informative texts aim to be impartial or objective. Most informative writing is written in the third or second person.

Informative writing can come in different forms such as a:

  • Recount / Personal recount
  • Newspaper article
  • Feature article
  • Discursive essay
  • Historical report
  • Biography / Autobiography
  • Information report
  • How-To manual
  • Instructions
  • Science report
  • Data report

The exact structure of informative writing will change from form to form as they each have their own conventions. However, in general, there is a consistent structure:

  1. Introduction: Orients your reader and provides important information – who, what, where, why, when. This is where you should present relevant definitions for your topic.
  2. Body paragraphs: Each paragraph should develop and describe one aspect of your topic. Body paragraphs should begin with a topic sentence and end with a linking sentence. If you are providing instructions, you should present each step in a new paragraph. There are specific conventions about the order of information depending on the text form you are writing in.
  3. Conclusion: Recaps your discussion and restates what you have been trying to convey.

While you are in the early years of high school, you won’t need to complicate things by employing integrated structures that discuss multiple texts or ideas in a paragraph.




What scaffold’s should I use for persuasive writing?

Persuasive writing is where you attempt to convince your reader of your point of view. Persuasive texts always have a degree of subjectivity as you are presenting your particular take or perspective on a subject.

Despite this, most persuasive writing should be written in the third person (although there are some exceptions such as when you are arguing against another writer or offering a unique or controversial viewpoint).

Persuasive writing can take a few different forms:

  • Persuasive essay
  • An editorial article
  • Feature article
  • Investigative journalism
  • Book / film / restaurant review
  • Speech / Presentation
  • Comparative essay
  • Personal reflection

LIke informative writing, persuasive writing has many different forms that employ slightly different conventions. Overall, though, the broad structure involved is quite similar.

Let’s take a look:

  1. Introduction: Orients your reader and provides important information – who, what, where, why, when. This is where you should present the outline of the argument you are making. You need to have a thesis statement which encapsulates your idea in the introduction.
  2. Body paragraphs: Each paragraph should develop and describe one aspect of your argument. Body paragraphs should begin with a topic sentence and end with a linking sentence. In each paragraph, you want to present evidence that supports your argument. There are specific conventions about the order of information depending on the text form you are writing in.
  3. Conclusion: Summarises your argument and reasserts your perspective and why you think it is correct.

Just as with informative writing, when composing persuasive texts in the early years of high school, you won’t need to complicate things by employing integrated structures that discuss multiple texts or ideas in a paragraph.

Remember, plans change, but having a plan means that you won’t be engaging in trial and error when you start to write.

Learning how to plan your projects in the junior years will make your life easier when you get further into high school.


Now it’s time to write, right!

Now that we’ve looked at approaching and planning tasks, we’ll look at how to write responses.

In our next article, we’re going to discuss the key things you need to do and not do when you’re writing imaginative, persuasive, and informative responses.

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