“This wallpaper is dreadful, one of us will have to go.”

(Oscar Wilde)

The term ‘Key Words’ is nothing new to any school, any teacher or anyone involved in education…immediately it will ignite a vision of a colourful display board plastered with words that the pupils are expected to know and use…Google image the term ‘Word wall’ and pages upon pages of examples of these boards will swamp your screen! However, how do you ensure that these word walls are not merely a fancy patch of wallpaper?

Literacy through Physical Education (and all subject areas) is very much at the forefront of the national picture with the new Ofsted framework insisting that in lessons “pupils’ responses demonstrate sufficient gains in their knowledge, skills and understanding, including in literacy and mathematics” and that “There is excellent practice which ensures that all pupils have high levels of literacy appropriate to their age”. So our PE department has gone back to basics to go forwards…Key Words form an integral part of our lessons. We believe that we play a crucial part in the development of our pupil’s literacy skills.

Trampolining Key Words

Our Key words are not just wallpaper! They are used as a live resource that is constantly referred to during lessons. The words are used to initiate, develop and extend discussion and oral responses. New key words are put up at the start of each new fertile question (click here for blog on fertile questions in PE), sometimes colour coded and sometimes not! New words are added as the unit develops and the level of language increases. The ‘Wall of Words’ becomes an interactive whiteboard. Periods of extended thinking and talk (I prefer the word ‘talk’ to discussion) are done in front of the word walls allowing pupils to engage with the words. The words are VISIBLE, increasing the chances of the pupils using them; supporting them when they are struggling or looking to extend another pupils response.

Basketball Key Words

Anyone can stick key words up on the wall but an excellent [PE] teacher will plan lessons that engage with these key words and ensure that they are used to make progress in pupil’s literacy skills alongside their physical development. Questioning skills are ultilised to illicit responses that use the key words. I love the fact that I can ‘demand’ pupil responses that are accurate but asking for responses that ‘must include 3 key words’ from our word walls for example.

Subject specific vocabulary was a core element of the Key Stage 3 National Strategy and is something that we all include in our long and medium term planning but how good are we at using in consistently in the short term i.e. EVERY LESSON! Engaging with key words allows for misconceptions to be understood, words with double meanings across curriculum areas to be put into context and ultimately pupil’s literacy levels to increase. The 2011 ‘Removing barriers to Literacy’ Paper cites Myhill & Fisher by stating “Spoken language forms a constraint, a ceiling not only on the ability to comprehend but also on the ability to write, beyond which literacy cannot progress”. With our pupils about to embark on their GCSE journey our use of key words and development of accurate and high level ‘talk’ will hopefully enable our pupils to also write to a higher standard…a skill that all teachers’…not just English teachers must embrace.

So there you have it, the revolution that is ‘Key Words’ in our PE lessons. For those of you that have read this maybe it will make you have a look at the wallpaper in your classrooms, sports halls or corridors and ask if it needs updating and if you get your pupils to engage with it enough…it could be the difference…?

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