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.
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.
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.
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?
In Years 7 and 8, students need to be able to compose responses in a variety of different forms:
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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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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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 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:
Let’s look at these in a bit more detail:
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.
Once you’ve got your ideas down, you need to sort through them.
A good method to use is to ask yourself two questions:
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.
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 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.
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:
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:
Now we know how to plan, let’s look at how you should scaffold different types of responses.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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 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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