Principles of (English) Instruction Part 2 – Revision

This is Part 2 of my series (such as it is) on ‘Principles of Instruction‘, an article by Barak Rosenshine. Part 1 is here.

The first principle is “Begin a lesson with a short review of previous learning.”

So do I do this? Er… sometimes. I like to think that I very often do this but, in reality, I do it conscientiously for a while and then I forget about it for a bit or get worried about ‘getting through the novel’. Regular revision really is important though, so I should make more of an effort to do it every time.

When I do it, this is how it can look in my English classroom:

Cloze exercises.

Ah, the much maligned cloze exercise. It’s a big favourite of mine and very popular with students. Very useful at the beginning of the unit when I am simply trying to consolidate knowledge of characters and plot; very useful for quotation memorisation at all stages. After years spent ranting/weeping over previous cohorts’ content-free exam essays, I no longer cavil at the drill. If you can’t remember it, you can’t show that you understand it or form a coherent argument. End of story.

So five minutes at the beginning of the lesson could be devoted to students silently and very happily filling in the blanks on something like this:

At the beginning of the play, King L………….., the aging ruler of B……………….., wants to retire and announces that he will divide his k……………………….. amongst his daughters G…………………….., R…………………….. and C…………………….. according to how much they profess to l……………. him. (Etc.)

Or this:

“he was the i…….. which had h……….. my p…………………. t………………. and suck’d the v…………………… out on’t” (Etc.)

In the meantime, I get on with marking the roll and setting things up for the rest of the lesson, so it’s an excellent use of otherwise wasted time. After they’ve filled it in, we briskly go through the answers – students tend, quite spontaneously, to chorus them, which they enjoy and gives me a rough indication of what they’ve remembered and what they haven’t.


Nothing fancy, just “One to five. One: what is the first line of Romeo and Juliet? Two. Who speaks the first lines? Three. What ‘house’ or family does Romeo belong to? Four. What ‘house’ or family does Juliet belong to? Five. With whom is Romeo in love at the beginning of the play?”

Quote Quest

When I feel frisky: students stand up and we go around the classroom with every student having to recite a quotation from the text before they’re allowed to sit down; no repeated quotations allowed. This can be done in a linear sort of way or by my pointing at students in a random order. If, later in a study, I want to take it up a notch, I can both point at students in a random order and demand quotations about particular character or themes: “[Points] Macbeth! [Points] Free will! [Points] Lady Macbeth! [Points] The Chain of Being!” Believe it or not, this has quite a high fun factor. Sometimes the students enjoy it too.

Annotating and Show Sentences

A more analytical revision, this involves writing a quotation on the board (“It is too rash, too unadvis’d, too sudden,/Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be/Ere one can say ‘it lightens'”) or handing it out pre-printed on A4, and asking students to annotate it. This can be quickly marked as a class, sometimes by inviting a student up to annotate on the board.

Depending on time and where we’re at in the unit, I sometimes then ask students to write a show sentence using the quotation, an idea borrowed from Katie Ashford. This requires a little extra time, and I often feel that this is something that I need to collect and look at myself. Possibly I don’t always need to, although it’s a relatively quick way to get an idea of where students are at with their analysis and expression. Perhaps I should more often just latch on to one of the student’s examples and put it under the visualiser. Except I don’t have one. Also, the whole idea of writing a show sentence obviously needs to be pre-taught.


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