Go into any English classroom in the UK, and inevitably you will find displays telling students to PEE/PEA or PEEL (and for some, apparently, PQE). For anyone unfamiliar with these acronyms, they stand for point, evidence, explain and/or language analysis. This is a writing frame to help students structure their responses to texts. It works very effectively in getting students to provide interpretations, support their ideas with quotations and to then analyse the author’s use of language. These are all key skills in the English curriculum at KS3/4 and 5.
Some of the time, simply asking students to following the PEEL structure is enough. They’ve had it taught to them so many times that if you ask them to read a chapter and write about it using PEEL, they are able to do so quite competently.
However, in KS3 or for those who are in KS4 but struggle to remember the structure or to use it correctly, there are a number of strategies to encourage them to do so.
The first key barrier we come across is that many students are lacking in a wide range of vocabulary. This then means that if they are coming across words with which they are unfamiliar, it can create huge challenges in being able to actually discuss their effect. Using talk as much as possible in the classroom is key. Talking about the words, allowing paired talk to unpick the meaning behind the words or explore the connotations of words is vital in allowing students the opportunity to succeed in reading tasks.
Secondly, the idea of analysis or layers of meaning in words and language is also quite a difficult concept to grasp. I sometimes begin my lesson by giving students three colours – black, white and red. I then ask them to mind-map everything that that colour can represent or symbolise. I explain to them that this means that these words have connotations and that an author often uses words to create multiple meanings.
And for those kids that say, ‘What if the author just put that word there because he wanted to?’ I show them an image of a Monet painting. I zoom right in so that they can see all of the little dots. Then, I zoom out so they can see the whole painting. I explain that, just like an artist, a writer selects every single word – just like a brush stroke – to create a fantastic overall picture for his reader.
One strategy that works well in helping students to get to grips with the PEEL paragraph is the guided annotations of quotes to be very useful. For a very weak ability student or class, I would start off by providing the quotations I’d like them to look at. I’d provide prompt questions. Again, these can be differentiated. They can either be generalised (‘What message is the author conveying here?’ or ‘Are there any language techniques used) or they can be specifically tailored to the language of the quotation. I’d begin by ‘live-modelling’ on the board:
* Put the quote on the board
* Use questions to elicit answers from the students
* Annotate the quote, identifying language techniques, significant words or phrases etc.
* Verbalise your thinking process as you go
I’d then ask the students to do the same but to do it to another quote. For very weak students, prompt questions tailored to the language of the quote is key.
Another strategy that works really well is the use of a table. Again, this can be filled in as much as you need in advance to differentiate effectively for your group. The table can have an ‘interpretation’ box, followed with a ‘relevant quote’, then ‘significant words or phrases’ and finally
‘analysis of significant words or phrases’. By breaking it down into smaller sections, students can separate each of the skills involved in the writing of PEEL paragraphs. Once completed, students need to simply write it up.
However, one disadvantage of PEEL paragraphs is that students become so used to certain sentence stems that they can repeat these over and over again and their writing becomes very monotonous. Some students may find these writing frames are restrictive and some exam boards are moving away from it too. Trying to wean students off of these writing frames is vital to ensure that they can write naturally and with their own style.