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Two Strategies for Effective Live Modelling

Live modelling is something I do a lot. I think it is up there with one of the most effective and powerful strategies I use in my classroom. The capacity to expose students not only to an exemplar of excellence, but, crucially, the thought process and rationale that helped us to arrive there is of huge benefit.

There is also a lot of benefit to doing this live rather than static, although I do use the latter a lot too. Live modelling means you can control the pace at which the model is delivered, doubling back when needed as well as inviting students to get involved in the process of construction.

Here are two simple but effective strategies I use a lot when live modelling:

1. The Margin:

Whenever I do any live modelling I always start by drawing an extra large margin on my page. This is now what I do for all my modelling and not just specific activities.

Here’s an example of what it looks like from a session of live modelling creative writing:

There are a few ways I use this:

  • As I’m doing the live modelling and verbalising my thought process I’ll jot down what I’m doing in the margin. This makes whatever I’m explaining really explicit and clear. It also has the benefit of slowing me down so that I am especially careful and clear to explain the steps I’m taking
  • As well as me jotting down the steps I’m taking, I might also pause at designated moments and discuss what I’ve just done with the class. What is working well here? What could be better? The margin becomes a space in which to record this conversation.
  • Similar to the above, I might ask students to replicate my margin format on their exercise book. As I’m writing I might pause and ask them on their own to write in the margin what they think I’m doing well and why. I’ll then sample the room and record the key points in my margin.
  • If students are doing their own writing I’ll often ask them to create a margin too. Like me, I ask them to record as they go what they are doing and why. Or I might pause the class during writing at certain points and ask them to re-read what they’ve done and jot down their process in the margin. This helps them to be really self-reflective and metacognitively aware.
  • A variation on the above is to build into homework essays this use of the margin. So, part of the homework assignment is to jot down in the margin the decisions they are making. This helps them to be aware of the choices they are making, but also helps me to better identify misapprehensions and mistakes. I can see exactly where their thinking may have gone wrong.
  • I also like to use the margin for things like success criteria, which I explain before doing the writing. I then return to this as I’m writing and tick it off as I do it. Again, this works well because it slows the process down and allows me, in the moment, and without moving away from the writing, to address the given success criteria.
  • The margin can also be a really nice way to scaffold writing. So, I might set the students going on a writing task but display on the board a blank page with a margin. In this margin I might write some tips or what I expect them to write about. They don’t need to copy this, but can refer to it during writing like a structure strip or bookmark.

2. Don’t Copy, Think:

For a long time my default student action when live modelling was for them to copy down whatever I was writing. The reason for doing this seems self-explanatory. I want them to have a copy of whatever I’m doing for them to learn from. But, does this help?

I started to think about where their attention is being directed in such a scenario. It is probably largely focused on the act of copying itself. Are they keeping up? Have they got exactly the same word that I used? Did they place a comma where I placed it? Have they missed anything? The cognitive focus shifts from thinking about the underpinning process of the model to the job of transcription.

As such, I now rarely ask students to copy down exactly what I’m writing, although I still do sometimes and when I do it is usually in conjunction with the margin strategies above.

Instead, I mostly ask them to first write down a version of the below table, depending on exactly what I want them to thinking about:

In this instance, and it’s not always the same table, students can listen and watch what I’m doing without the urgency of copying down every single word. But, equally, I don’t want them to do nothing. So as they listen they can be attentive to any ideas I mention that they think are interesting and any stylistic features (a word, a phrase, a transition) they want to remember. They can then jot these down. There’s also built into this table a space for them to take over at certain points and continue the model.

I’ve found this table and similar ones to be a great combination of attentive listening and engagement with the modelling process, but with their cognitive effort diverted away from simply copying down what I’m saying.


2 thoughts on “Two Strategies for Effective Live Modelling

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  1. You have solved a problem for me! I keep saying to the kids that they should be able to look back at each paragraph and ask themselves what technique they have demonstrated, but this makes them do it explicitly – will be trying on Monday!


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