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:
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:
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.
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.