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Structure strips are probably the most helpful literacy tool I have seen in a long time. Created by primary maestro, Stephen Lockyer, who can be found on Twitter at @mrlockyer, and championed by Caroline Spalding, @MrsSpalding on Twitter, structure strips are a tool which can help focus students on how to structure their writing and what to include in each paragraph. Although first used in primary education, they can easily be translated and used in the secondary classroom.
Structure strips are like bookmark strips of paper which are stuck in the margin of a page in a student’s exercise book. The strips are divided up into clear areas – each area represents a paragraph within the piece of writing or essay the student has been set. Each area contains information and guidance on what to include in that particular paragraph and the size of the area roughly represents how much the students need to write in that section. So, for example, the introduction section would be typically smaller than a section on a factor in the main body of an essay. With the structure strip stuck down in the margin, students write the essay using it as a guide on what to write and how to write it. An example of a piece of GCSE writing using a structure strip can be seen below.
Information which can be included in a structure strip can include –
Helpful sentence starters.
A checklist of what to include in the paragraph.
What the sentences need to focus on.
Hints on what factors should be considered.
Reminder about including a judgement and what words to use.
The beauty of structure strips is that they can easily be tailored and differentiated for the particular type of writing the task focuses upon as well as for the students you are teaching. For example, giving less able students more guidance and detailed information compared with a more able student.
Key tips for using structure strips in the secondary classroom based on my experience are –
Use them for only a short period of time. Once students are used to structure strips for a particular kind of question, I have found that they need them much less and often. An extension of this exercise is once students are familiar with structure strips ask them to create their own for a given exam question and swap them with others.
Structure strips are great with peer assessment as students have already been provided with the assessment criteria within the structure strip which they can apply to another classmates’ writing. My example in the photograph contains peer assessed writing. I have found using peer assessment allows opportunities for a much deeper understanding about structure and content with regard for the particular kind of writing you want your students to create.
Like most new teaching techniques, start off in small steps. I first used structure strips with my GCSE class when tackling a new style narrative question worth few marks. This allowed students to get used to a new teaching resource with a straightforward piece of writing. They quickly got the hang of how to use a structure strip, so then you can progress and use them for more complex pieces of writing with greater ease and without having to explain in any depth on how to use them.
When creating your own structure strips, use the mark scheme or criteria to inform each section.
When copying structure strips, copy them on different coloured paper. This helps them stand out when they are stuck into students’ exercise books.