Critical evaluation begins with students being able to discuss texts with some confidence. I used a Socratic talk activity here. If you’re not sure what Socratic talk is then take a look here. In brief, it’s a way of engaging the whole class in discussion and reflection on discussion. Get your main discussion group together – about 8 pupils – and put these in a dining table format in the centre of the room, with the rest of the class seated around them facing the centre. The centre group will be discussing some statements you have prepared for them whilst the rest of the group are given a task to observe a member of the discussion group. See the table below.
I cut these up and give one to each student, making sure (with less compliant classes) that the more targeted tasks are given to those students whose attention is more likely to wander (“Jack, can you observe Jill and watch out for her use of language terms? What are the? Well, listen to see if she mentions a metaphor, a simile or even verb, adjective. If she doesn’t, then give her a zero!”)
I read the whole extract to the class and then gave the discussion group instructions. You need to discuss the statements; deal with them one at a time; discussion will last about twenty minutes and once I say ‘go’ you’re on your own – I won’t intervene, even when there are awkward silences.
The opening to The Birds by Daphne Du Maurier is a brilliant example of how a writer uses space to structure their writing – it begins outside on a farm and within a few lines we are stuck inside a room being pecked by birds. You can have a look at it here. Not only is this good preparation for Q3 structure but the statements I prepared are useful for Q4.
- “I like the way that the whole atmosphere of the story becomes more claustrophobic as it progresses.”
- “The attack of the birds is no surprise: the writer has hinted at this from the beginning.”
- “To me, this whole opening suggests that humans, despite their dominance, have no power over nature.”
- “I think that the story might have been better if it had explained why the birds attacked.”
- “Really, the writer builds a threatening atmosphere right from the start.”
Once they get going, you’ll find most groups will have a go – yes there are some silences, but ride them and wait for one of the group to get going.
What I also did was ask the group to imagine they had to come with an additional statement: what would it be? This works effectively and fosters their independence. Once the group discussion is over, take feedback from the circle of observers – you’ll find lots of honest, positive feedback is given.
And of course, you’ve got a ready-made response to reading activity from this.