How to help GCSE Drama students smash the written exam: model answers

Students need cognitive support to help them with complex tasks

This is the third blog in my series, ‘How to help your students smash the written drama exam’. In my previous articles, I focus on command words and subject terminology. In my final blog, I will be writing about teaching style.

Model answers

We know that students need cognitive support to help them with complex tasks such as writing responses to exam questions. Modelling an answer to a question while thinking out loud is one of the most powerful ways to teach students how to write high-quality responses. They allow us to show the thinking required and give students an idea about what they might work towards.

Recently, I was moved out of my drama studio and placed into a classroom to teach. I decided to teach a one-off session on exam technique where I modelled a response to a 12-mark set text question. Here’s how I got on:

Live modelling a response to a 12-mark exam question

I’ll be honest, I found teaching this lesson exhausting! Was my spelling correct? Could they read my handwriting? Could I actually answer the question?! Not to mention the quick thinking required in order to be one step ahead of the class!

Pre-prepare an answer

To make modelling a whole lot easier, I now pre-prepare my responses and scaffold the class discussion with such a degree of control that I end up working towards my prewritten answer. I spend over half of the lesson presenting a step-by-step demonstration before asking the students to write their own response to the same question in pairs. Sometimes their responses will be very similar to mine, but that’s fine. Initially, I’m just looking for them to gain confidence in the process of writing.

Think out loud

An important aspect of modelling is making the thought process visible to students. I have quite a systematic mind so I tend to think in steps and usually follow this structure:

  • Step 1: understand the question (discuss the command words, keywords and consider the intended effect on the audience)
  • Step 2: structure a response (a rough guide about how they may structure ideas)
  • Step 3: bring it together (show the answer being written in realtime)

Annotate the response to pick out key parts

It’s useful to annotate the model answer, either as you go or after it’s written. This helps to break it down and allows an opportunity to discuss the features of a successful response. In the picture above you’ll notice that I have underlined any quotes from the extract. To improve my model answer, I could have colour coded the command words (so any aspect of explanation might be written in orange). I also could circle my subject terminology to reinforce the importance of using keywords accurately.

Remove the scaffold

To add challenge over the next few lessons, I gradually begin to remove this scaffold. We’ll start a lesson by recapping the process and then they’ll work in pairs to complete a different question using exactly the same process. Finally, they will work alone and respond to a new question, having built up their confidence and understanding of the process through modelling.

Do you use modelling to teach exam technique? If so, what are your top tips?!

Vice Principal | Co-organiser, researchED Nottingham | Drama Expert, Ofqual | Consultant and writer, BBC Bitesize | Visiting Fellow Ambition Institute | NPQH

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George Coles

George Coles

Vice Principal | Co-organiser, researchED Nottingham | Drama Expert, Ofqual | Consultant and writer, BBC Bitesize | Visiting Fellow Ambition Institute | NPQH

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