English, Education, Solo, Literacy

I honestly think the best ideas for born from one another- at least in my own experience of having anything resembling I good idea. This year, I've been using lots of diamond nines for students to organise their thoughts, as well as Thinking Tools to compare, contrast and prioritise things. I love the idea of students organising things physically on a page. Love it. And I think Thinking Tools are an excellent way of consolidation, rather than exploration. But I wanted to take it in a different direction in terms of planning and coming up with original ideas. What I love about hexagons is that they do just this- they can be as concrete and/or as moveable as you like. I wanted to share my use of them as a means of dealing with a real problem area of mine.


Since teaching the WJEC English spec, I've had to deal with the awkward Shakespeare & Poetry comparison task. To be blunt, it's a bloody nightmare. I know it's not the most popular task amongst teachers, but I actually quite like the concept of it. It makes understanding and individual reading a central component, and a necessary one if students are to fare at all well.

However, I've never done that good a job teaching it. I've always ended up giving students rigid structures to work within, which has stifled their creativity and originality, and also making it a wholly dull and uninspiring process. Using rigid structures that I have provided usually given students a platform to get to a C or B target grade, but very few have been moving beyond this. This year, my question has been redesigned:

What effects can Power and Control have on people's words and actions? 

For this, I used Macbeth, Havisham, and The Man He killed. It's turned out to be easily the most enjoyable thing I've ever taught, and one thing has been at the heart of it- particularly for the ending comparison section- hexagons. 

Apparently riding on the wave of SOLO and so forth, hexagons have been all the range for a while now. A number of big hitting T&L colleagues in my last school- such as @charte and @dkmead- have extolled the virtues of hexagons for a long time, but I never really took much notice, much to my (now) regret. I should have seen the writing on the wall when @learningspy was talking about them too- who teaches the same subject as me. It's one of those things I really should have taken note of and taken time to explore a long, long time ago.

I kind of knew they were good for links. I kind of knew that they were good for students to explore their own ideas and doing things a bit more independently. I also kind of knew they were a good basis for questioning. 

However, not til recently did I realise just
how powerful they could be. Before doing the hexagon thing, the comparison section of my essay would've been a total car crash- look at what I had lined up for my students to plan on- an absolute monstrosity (this would have formed the basis for their plan)-

I am embarrassed by this. Luckily, this never really got used. It would have done more harm than good, I think. It gives the students no room to compare, no room to make interesting links in terms of the emotional aspects of these rich and diverse texts. I'd been toying with using Double Bubbles with my year 9 class to compare Lady Macbeth and Havisham, and it worked, but still didn't really lay a platform for original creativity and flair in terms of making original interpretations and links between the characters- so added to my earlier use of the Diamond Nine, and my little love affair with thinking tools this year, I remembered a colleague's suggestion I use Hexagons some months ago (thanks @mattjepeery).

What I did:

So, luckily, I had the hexagons riding in on their white horse to save me... Before anything else, as a class, we worked in small groups to explore the emotional consequences of Power and Control in each of our texts- I only gave the groups small prompts in terms of key words and questions to report back on. We then made a simple list on the board, which looked something like this:

We could then ask- but do the characters experience these emotions in the same way, or a different way? The class could then select key quotes and moments from our texts, and group them according to different kinds of emotions experienced, as here:
Not only were the hexagons incredibly useful in uniting the concept as a whole, but also in helping the students pick out the similarities and differences underneath each emotion. The platform for questioning was incredible- I circulated, using the visualiser in order to ask questions such as:

  • Is '____' the same as '___' ? Why? Why not?
  • Do you have more sympathy for ___ than ___ here?
  • What reason triggered the writer/speaker to use this language?
  • What happens if I move ____ here?
  • Why might you take this out from here?

In an instant, the quality of conversation was transformed. As @mattjeperry rightly states, the next stage is making sure the students' conversations with each other is improved by using this. In terms of the whole class discussion, students had so much more to say that could be said in a bog standard PEEL paragraph driven planning sheet. When I get a chance, I will put some examples of student work up to show you- but I am delighted with what I've seen so far.

The uses for these things are enormous potentially, I think, including-

  • Collating evidence for an essay such as 'how is x presented?'
  • Planning descriptive writing pieces- what details are needed to make a scene realistic and enjoyable to read?
  • Link the key concepts from todays lesson and EXPLAIN...
  • How might the following statements link together?

Yes, I am quite sure I want some hexagons for my room to be used more often!

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English, Education, Solo, Literacy