Magic Hands and Rope Connectives – Y9 Study the Vietnam War

‘Magic’ PEEL Hand

I really enjoyed planning and teaching this lesson with one of my Y9 classes this week. The group recently completed a written assignment about the role that military leaders played in the casualty rates on the Western Front between 1915-18 and their answers showed they were struggling (again) with structuring their work and linking ideas.
The ‘magic PEEL hands’ are something I made earlier in the year and are about 60cm long. They are made of cushion foam from the local market and can be worn like gloves so that you look a bit like a cross between Kenny Everett and a Smurf.
The idea is to provide a 3D reminder of a simple essay structure. It’s amazing that although we really stress this from very early on pupils still find it tricky when it comes to writing up work. Quite often this is down to the fact that many of them try to write their answers without planning or drafting them out first so any physical reminder is useful. Pupils like the ‘hands’ which normally stand prominently on a shelf at the side of my classroom. They, together with various ‘flash cards’ dotted around the room, act as crucial reminders for many pupils. I refer to them frequently when teaching groups from Y7 through to Y13 and  I’ve even seen pupils writing the template on their own hands!

Hodder SHP Y9 History

The idea for the lesson is from the Hodder SHP Y9 History text and is part of the section on Conflict. The activity in the textbook is based on pupils gathering evidence from a series of fact-files and the accompanying resource book provides a photocopiable template on which pupils can write their ideas to explain why the US army was forced to withdraw from Vietnam. The book and the materials are excellent but for my group I wanted something a bit different.

Group preparation – rope ‘connectives’!

I adapted the lesson to make it a collaborative task with a more active conclusion. The aim was for each group to develop a presentation that we could then video not to write individual answers. Four factors were investigated (Tactics, Weapons & supplies, Morale, Popular support) with each member of a group taking responsibility for finding out about just one factor. In our first lesson we discussed the reasons for US involvement in Vietnam and linked this up with our recent work on the Cold War. Each pupil then recorded their findings in a table taken from the resource book and teams shared their information. In the second lesson pupils used their notes and other additional material to develop a suitable paragraph in note form on a small sheet of sugar paper. In this lesson we were also thinking about how to link ideas together using a range of connectives to form better explanations.  After all, as my class pointed out, the reasons for the US Army’s withdrawal from Vietnam were complicated. Our ‘connectives’ were represented by lengths of rope. The pupils were told they had to use the rope and that the lengths represented connections between the different parts of their explanations. The physical act of having to use the rope forced them to think about what links there were and each group had slightly different answers having also decided on an order of importance for their factors.
The presentations at the end of the lesson lasted no more than 2 minutes each and I have to say that I was mightily impressed with what the pupils produced. All the groups had constructed a well supported and logical explanation and some of the individual ‘paragraphs’ had a variety of connectives deployed to great effect. I hope they remember the ‘magic’ hands and rope connectives next time they have to write an answer on their own.

About richmiller66

My name is Richard Miller. I am currently Director of Learning and Head of History at a secondary school in Suffolk, UK. I teach history, politics and geography to pupils aged 11-18. I am particularly interested in teaching more able pupils and looking for innovative and creative approaches to learning and teaching. Having recently started studying for the NPQSL I'm using the blog as my reflective journal - the views I share are 'work in progress'!
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