My Year 7 class are currently learning about coral reefs. We have already covered a fair bit of the content, and I thought it might be a good time to cover some specific literacy skills. I wanted to get the students to write a report on threats to coral reefs. If I was to tell my class this directly a few of them could get straight onto the task, however, most of the class would find this task quite daunting.
In the first part of the lesson I showed a short video about threats to coral reefs. The students were asked to write down any threats to reefs as they were discussed, I also wrote dot points on the board. We ended up with a fairly comprehensive list of threats, without being overly technical.
When the video was finished, we discussed the main themes from the video. As a class, we examined the dot points on the board and tried to categorise the dot points into themes. We put different symbols next to the points to indicate themes. For example, one of the themes was tourism, so dot points such as snorkellers breaking coral, forest cleared to build resorts and damage to reefs from tourist boats, were all allocated the same symbol. We ended up with about about 5 or 6 themes, each with several associated dot points. A few examples:
After discussion, we wrote an introduction as a class. We underlined the key terms in the question and discussed what they meant. The students offered up a range of possible sentences that we could use in our introduction. We settled on a few that were general, used some vaguely sophisticated language and key terms from the question.
We discussed the key elements of a paragraph. We have completed a similar task earlier in the year. It took a little while for the class to remember the TEEL structure but eventually one of the students pulled out a handout from Visual Arts. They are clearly doing something similar in VA, but it was surprising that they didn't automatically transfer the information from one subject to another, or remember covering it in Geography before. It was just another reminder how often we need to reinforce these literacy skills.
I suggested that we should write our first paragraph about the impact of tourism on coral reefs. Each student had to write their own topic sentence. We discussed that the topic sentence needed to be a general statement that gave the reader a sense of what the rest of the paragraph would be about. I asked a few of the students to write their topic sentences on the board and we discussed the pros and cons of each example. Students made suggestions about how to improve the topic sentences.
We repeated the process for the other sentences required for the first paragraphs.
The second body paragraph was on the impact of fishing on coral reefs. The class shared their topic sentences again. They were then required to write the rest of the paragraph by themselves without assistance. A few students were asked to read out their paragraphs after the students had been given sufficient time. I gave the students two other topics to write paragraphs about without assistance: removal of mangroves and climate change.
We discussed the requirements of a conclusion: refocus the reader on the question, bring together all of the main points of the report and provide a brief summary of the report. Students offered a few appropriate sentences to include in their conclusions and then discussed the pros and cons of each sentence. Student were then required to write their own conclusion.
Students were given 5 minutes to re-read their work and make any edits. It was suggested that they check their work for capital letters at the beginning of sentences and for proper nouns, consistent use of tense and use of appropriate key terms. The list of criteria could be changed easily based on the students and their needs.
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Deputy Principal at a Sydney high school. Coordinating author of the new Geoactive book series.
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