Using Knowledge Organisers in Primary

There is huge variation in the process of planning a unit of work in primary. This post is about how I’ve gone about planning a two (possibly three) week unit on the lunar landing for my year two class. A few people have asked recently about using knowledge organisers in primary and so I thought it worth exploring how I’m going about this. It’s still early days so I’d appreciate feedback.

We have a few guiding principles when planning at my school (Reach Academy, who are recruiting if the following seems like your bag).

First, we backwards plan. This means that we begin by considering what children will need to know and be able to do to lead lives of choice and opportunity; a clutch of fantastic GCSE and A Level results are synonymous with this vision. Second, our lessons are objective and content driven – we start with what we want the children to know and achieve first. Third, we consider the method and resources by which the content will be delivered, ensuring success for all. Fourth, we aim for learning to be joyful and highly motivating for children.

Some more context, at Reach we split literacy into reading and writing lessons, and hour for each. Our reading lessons are guided by the principles of Doug Lemov’s ‘Reading Reconsidered’ which means that we do whole class reading of challenging texts. Each week children read poetry, fiction, non fiction and ‘cold extracts’.

On average, children will read around 750 words a day in these lessons. We read aloud as a class, with the teacher ‘controlling the game’: all children read the text with a ruler and I call student names every sentence or two and they immediately begin reading. Last half term we read The Iron Man by Ted Hughes, The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe and a Times article on the shooting of Harambe the gorilla, amongst other texts.

In our writing sessions, we are guided by the storytelling approach, which encourages children to learn a story by heart before innovating based on that story and ultimately, inventing their own stories based on the theme. Over the next two or three weeks we will be writing an information text, based on the lunar landings. The children have already written stories after learning the story of The Man on the Moon by Simon Bartram, and have been learning about the Solar System in topic.

Writing information texts is hard, and something that children often find difficult. It is my contention that this is often because they know too little about the particular subject. Having a wealth of knowledge about the subject gives children a full cup from which to pour onto the page, and so I began by explicating the minimum of what I expect each child to know by the end of the unit (when they come to write their final draft).

Here is what the knowledge organiser looks like:

Screen Shot 2016-12-30 at 16.57.05.png

If children learn everything on this sheet, by heart, I believe that writing an information text about the moon landing will be a piece of cake. Rather than struggling to think what to write in the next sentence, it will be a case of simply selecting and organising the facts they have at their fingertips, before crafting them into well structured sentences. (Okay so not that simple, but crafting beautiful sentences is surely easier when children already have tons of content to communicate).

Early in the unit, I will also share a model exemplar, sometimes called a WAGOLL (what a good one looks like). It looks like this:

Screen Shot 2016-12-30 at 17.31.21.png

How will the knowledge organiser actually be used?

It’s my belief that assessment and curriculum are inextricably linked. Where I have taught poor units it is because I did not define at the outset exactly what I wanted the children to learn. This made assessment impossible. Writing a knowledge organiser helps me to throw down a gauntlet to myself: if any child in my class hasn’t learnt what’s on this sheet then I haven’t done my job. This also helps to organise my assessment tasks. Clearly, the eventual information text will act as a summative assessment task, but I will also weave more formative tasks throughout the unit.

Multiple choice quizzes will end every lesson, to help crystallise within children precisely what should be remembered from the lesson, as well as strengthening retrieval strength. Do Now tasks at the beginning of lessons will help children revisit these facts and apply them to sentence writing tasks (e.g. Use the term ‘Saturn V’ in a sentence including the subordinating conjunction ‘because’).

Finally, in case this seems like it is lacking in the ‘joy’ mentioned at the start of the post, once the content has been set, the method of delivery can be considered. With the knowledge organiser acting as magnetic north, I can be creative with pedagogy knowing that rigour will not be lost. So, for example, the opening lesson to this unit will feature Dan, a teacher and ex-actor from secondary, visiting our class in character as Neil Armstrong. The Commander will give a full ‘mission debrief’ to year two, whilst I collate the details on a flipchart sheet ready to be displayed for the rest of the unit.

Home Learning

This knowledge organiser will also be sent home to help parents understand exactly what our expectations are in terms of what children need to learn. This will help them to lead conversations with their children and explore other resources such as books and youtube videos of the lunar landing. Children, in my experience, absolutely love learning facts, and so armed with the knowledge organiser will be able to swot up at home ready to share their knowledge in lessons. Also I’ll tell them that they have to do this. By the end of it they will all know exactly what NASA stands for. Do you?

 

If you would like a copy of the knowledge organiser above, please click knowledge-organiser-apollo-11 to download one.

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15 comments

  1. Thanks for this explanation. I think it’s brilliant that you’re covering this topic (I’ve recently sneaked manned space flight (timeline as a minimum – or whatever a teacher wants to do) into our evolving KS3 outlines), having learned nothing of it myself when I was at school. I have a son in Year 2 so I have tried to look at your knowledge organiser through his eyes. I think he would be able to use it to inform his writing without memorising it, especially if there are pictures to act as spatial markers on the page. When I write, I do so from notes on what I have researched, not from memory. All the facts in my notes will be familiar and well-understood, but I won’t necessarily be able to recall them all. I will definitely check them from my notes as I write them up, and highlight them or tick them off when covered.
    The only times I have had to recall lots of dates and details were for exams, and I crammed these, using notes for any essays along the way. And the only date-heavy exams that spring to mind were GCSE History and Music and a History and Philosophy of Science paper at uni.

    How can we make more explicit the interplay between knowing something by heart and checking something as a scholarly precaution? That question reminds me of the battle to encourage KS4 (and 5!) students to learn physics equations by heart but also to look them up on the formula sheet and quote them in that form when beginning their working. A simple procedure but one that is met with all sorts of resistance. If you know it, you know you have to include it or invoke it – the knowledge informs the structure of your work – but as you do so, you should consult the resources you have on it to ensure accuracy. Perhaps that’s how it works.

    I’d be interested to know how your class gets on. Will they write from head knowledge or from notes? Will they wish to add details that have tickled them to their notes/knowledge organisers? Will they devour or hear enough reading material on the topic to use appropriate turns of phrase without having to be conscious of all those grammatical nuts and bolts ;-)?

  2. Hi Ruth, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I understand that the idea of learning this by heart might seem unnecessary when the children could just have a copy of the knowledge organiser to hand. In fact, the KO will ultimately be available as a table mat resource should the children need it, but I am anticipating that the majority won’t need to, or at least won’t need to very often.

    The reason that I’m hesitant to promote the ‘just look it up’ angle (and I know that’s an unfair caricature) is because I believe that this strays close to the ‘Google knows everything so you don’t need to learn it’ school of thought. I think this is wrong for a number of reasons, not least because facts are what you think with.

    There is certainly more thinking to be done, though, and I thank you for pushing me on this.

    Jon

    1. Thanks for getting back to me and for sharing the development process of this with us all. I do apprecitate that there’s a ‘Google knows’ slippery slope.. and you are making me weigh up what I think about children earning a greater number of details by heart.
      I think that Michael Tidd is on to something with his hunch that assessment is important here. (In his related post https://michaelt1979.wordpress.com/2017/01/02/on-knowledge-organisers/) You know what your assessment task and finished product will be, but have you completely defined for yourself or narrowed down what exactly you are assessing? It sounds like you wish to assess their English and their leaflet-structure as well as their recall of facts. Does your KO need prompts about English language criteria as well, or is that covered in other ‘lessons’ and with other KOs?
      I realise that the KO is just one resource amongst all your prep for the Moon Landing unit, so it may be absolutley fine as it is. I am excited about it linking as usefully as possible with assessment, though.

  3. Hi Jon,
    I have a question ( or two ) for you,

    Have you ever used Solo Taxonomy where the learning outcomes are already determined and expressed to the students? If yes, do could you share how you use it.

    Is there any scope for inquiry in your lessons where students can pursue their own interests rather than what you have already determined right from the start?

    Thanks much.

    1. Hi. Not sure I picked it up anywhere, though I’m sure I did. A teach like a champion technique is ‘make it visible’, which involves making all instructions you want children to be accountable for visible to you. So instead of ‘stop writing’ I would say ‘put your pencils in the air’ so I can check compliance. Same with reading silently. I need to check they’re actually doing it, and the ruler helps. Also, it is just generally useful for reading!

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