The Virtue of Simple Literacy Starters

I often think that one of the hardest things to teach a pupil is how to write well. (Some hard-line sorts might say that no one can teach you to write, but that doesn’t sit right with me.)

At present, I am trying to get my pupils to care about things on a sentence-by-sentence level. Although in these uncertain times this may seem trivial, I am working from the assumption that Corona will eventually go away and that it is important to take the long-view. (Also, the current situation has arguably only highlighted how important is the need for clear communication.)

Three brief contextual points:

  • My Y9 pupils use folders rather than exercise books. I therefore have taken to producing self-contained sheets for most lessons. The below task would be the first thing on their lesson sheet. A starter or Do Now, if you will. Whilst I like the idea of pupils being able to cross things out etc., it may work equally well simply on a PowerPoint (and be more environmentally friendly).
  • I marked some of their essays on Hitler’s rise to power over the weekend. I will obviously provide more fundamental feedback alongside the below.
  • My pupils are higher-attaining that average. I am well aware that the below task is a luxury, but you adapt to the context in which you teach.

Task: Reword these:

  1. It gave Hitler his first position of power which he was able to build off of. 
  2. I believe that the most important reason in Hitler’s rise to power was the role of key individuals like Von Papen and Hindenburg. 
  3. The first major event was Henrich Bruning’s disastrous response to the Great Depression which plunged 6 million Germans into ruin, allowing Hitler to criticise the Weimar Republic. 
In terms of corrections/discussion points, I am looking for the following:
  1. Rewording to remove the ugly, dangling preposition at the end of the sentence. And the unnecessary use of ‘off of’ (e.g. ‘I stood outside the room’ means the same as ‘I stood outside of the room’ but the former has fewer words and is therefore preferred.)
  2. Removing the ‘I believe that’. As I tell pupils all the time, I know they think what they think because their name is at the top of the essay. (Do real historians write, ‘I believe that X…’? No.)
  3. The lack of clarity about what plunged 6 million Germans into ruin; was it Bruning’s response or was it the Great Depression?


It is possible that the above, even repeated over time, will have no effect whatever. But, as always, I am keen to hear from those with thoughts, particularly better ones than mine, on how to tackle this issue.


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