The ‘Show Sentence’

The Michaela approach to writing about literature involves building up sentences by combining pupils’ knowledge of poetic, theatrical and rhetorical techniques with memorised quotations, memorised facts and academic vocabulary. Through lots of guidance, we are able to elicit some pretty good sentences from the class, before letting them loose to write their own. I call this a ‘Show Sentence’. I do these pretty much every lesson so they get plenty of writing practice.


Below is a demonstration of this approach in action in a lesson. To provide a context, this would take place after they have read, discussed and annotated the text, and have memorised key quotations. I would most likely be scribbling this on the whiteboard as they go.


Year 8 (lowest set) Lesson: Shakespeare’s Macbeth


Teacher: “Fair is…?”


Pupils [chanting in unison]: “…foul and foul is fair: hover through fog and filthy air.”


Teacher: Super! Which techniques does Shakespeare combine in this quotation about supernatural sorcery? [Wait for hands up] Charlie?


Charlie: Shakespeare combines alliteration, rhyme and chiasmus, Miss.


Teacher: Excellent response. Who can spell chiasmus? … Rachel?


Rachel: C H I A S M U S


Teacher: Nod if you think Rachel is right. [Pupils nod] Well done, Rachel!  Okay, so Charlie said ‘Shakespeare combines alliteration, rhyme and chiasmus’. That was a great start. I’d like us to use a synonym for combines to improve this sentence. Anyone have any ideas? Ushra?


Ushra: Shakespeare fuses alliteration, rhyme and chiasmus, Miss.


Teacher: Excellent. I really like the use of the word ‘fuses’ there. But now I want us to turn this into a Show Sentence. So what does Shakespeare fuse these three techniques to show? Turn to your partner for 30 seconds.


[30 seconds pass- teacher gets class’ attention again] Okay hands up- what does Shakespeare fuse these techniques to show? Ray?


Ray: Shakespeare fuses alliteration, rhyme and chiasmus to show the witches’ sorcery.


Teacher: Love it! Can we use a synonym for ‘to show’ though, Ray?


Ray: Shakespeare fuses alliteration, rhyme and chiasmus to emphasise the witches’ sorcery.


Teacher: Superb! Okay, this is looking good, but I think we can do more to it. I’d like to add an adjective in here before the word ‘sorcery’. I’m thinking of a word beginning with ‘s’ that means something that’s unnatural, or to do with magic. [Lots of hands go up]… Karl?


Karl: Supernatural sorcery!


Teacher: Brill. Next, then, I’d like us to add another adjective, perhaps before the word ‘witches’. Who can think of an adjective to describe the witches? Sarah?


Sarah: evil, miss?


Teacher: you’re right. They are evil, but can we think of a synonym for ‘evil’, maybe? Jon?


Jon: Malevolent!


Teacher: Good! Carrie?


Carrie: Satanic?


Teacher: Fabulous! Okay, I think I’m going to choose malevolent this time, but you could choose any of those synonyms. So let’s have a look at the sentence now: Shakespeare fuses alliteration, rhyme and chiasmus to emphasise the malevolent witches’ supernatural sorcery. This is looking so excellent, but I think we can do even better. I reckon we could add something about the audience or the context, maybe? Hmmm… can anyone think of the word beginning with a J that describes people living during the time that Macbeth was first performed? Jake?


Jake: Jacobean, Miss!


Teacher: superb! Who was the monarch during Jacobean times? And when did their reign begin? Farsha?


Farsha: It was James I and he was the monarch in 1603 after Elizabeth died.


Teacher: goodness me! What a cracking answer! We need to get that into our show sentence somehow. Let’s have a think. Perhaps I could add a relative clause at the end of my sentence. I could finish the previous clause with a comma, and open the next clause with ‘which’. When I write a relative clause, I’m adding information. I want to add some extra information about the noun I’ve just talked about. So I want to say something about the witches, and I want to try and link them to Farsha’s excellent point about James I. What link could I make? Tasha?


Tasha: Miss, you could say that the Jacobean audience would have been scared by witches, Miss.


Teacher: You’re right! That’s a really good link! What did James I think of witches? Was he a fan? Lee?


Lee: No, Miss! He wrote a book called Demonology and said witches were illegal.


Teacher: Superb knowledge! He did indeed write Demonology and outlawed witchcraft. Okay, so we could say something like this: “which would have scared the Jacobean audience.” But you know what… I think we can do better than that! Who can make some suggestions? Prem?


Prem: Change it to ‘which petrified the Jacobean audience’, Miss.


Teacher: Excellent. Now we are really getting somewhere with our show sentence today! I think we could add one more thing. We know that the audience were petrified by the idea of witchcraft, but we also know that they found it quite entertaining to watch. So I could say, ‘who petrified, yet entertained the Jacobean audience’. Anyone want to suggest how I could improve that? Kaynath?


Kaynath: Instead of ‘entertained’ could you say ‘enthralled’?


Teacher: Yep! ‘which would have petrified, yet enthralled the Jacobean audience’. Superb! But we know lots of words for petrified, such as ‘terrified’, ‘disturb’, ‘frighten’, and we know lots of synonyms for enthralled, such as ‘engaged’, ‘enraptured’, ‘captivated’. So when you write your own show sentence, you’ll be able to choose some of your own synonyms to put in there. Right, so let’s have a look at the whole show sentence together now:


Shakespeare fuses alliteration with rhyme and chiasmus to emphasise the malevolent witches’ supernatural sorcery, which would have petrified, yet enthralled, the Jacobean audience.


I think that’s pretty good work, team! Now you’ve got ten minutes to have a go at writing your own show sentence about the quotation ‘fair is foul and foul is fair: hover through fog and filthy air’. Ready? GO.


Below is an example of one Michaela pupil’s Show Sentence.


Show Sentence


19 thoughts on “The ‘Show Sentence’

  1. I’m not as advanced as you wonderful people, but I am trying to build something similar. Year 7 have been studying ‘Beowulf’ and have memorised a large amount of information about the purpose of the epic, Anglo-Saxon warrior culture, and overviews of key events and characters, as well as a stirring speech of Wiglaf, Beowulf’s cousin. They’ve just done a summative test in which they had to do a short essay analysing Beowulf’s strengths and weaknesses as a character. I’ve been so impressed with how so many of them have applied the knowledge and vocabulary we have been steadily building up over the months.

    Isn’t knowledge great!

  2. Hi Katie,

    I loved this post. Reading your posts turned me on to other Michaela posts. I feel great relief and excitement reading the Michaela posts because they offer both an overarching point of view/approach/philosophy AND specific examples of application. I teach English (and do a great many other things) in a self-contained e.d. (emotional disability) classroom at the high school level. I live and work in Arizona, U.S.A.

    The stated priority for my classroom (from the district level) is helping students learn to manage their behavior. As a result, the teaching curriculum does not seem to be a great priority. As I think about the well-being of the students, I wonder if a compelling, well-considered academic curriculum wouldn’t address both behavioral and learning/education issues. As I think about my own well-being, I am both grateful for and overwhelmed by the freedom that this situation affords me. Since I started in this position four years ago, I’ve been searching for a coherent approach that fits for the students in our classroom. Your posts and those of other Michaela staff, such as Jo Facer (“Mastery Learning”) and Joe Kirby have given me a new sense of direction and purpose. Phew! Thank you!!!!

    Finally, if you have a moment, and there are any special education, e.d., responding-to-behavior-issues-in-a-productive-manner blogs that you follow, could you please send me a list. If you don’t have time (because we’re all busy), I’ll continue reading the Michaela posts and following the trail of links that I find there. Thank you to you and the other Michaela staff for articulating a vision, creating examples of what it means to enact that vision, and then sharing it with the wider world. Sincerely, Laurie Calland

    On Wed, Jan 27, 2016 at 11:10 AM, Tabula Rasa wrote:

    > tabularasaeducation posted: “The Michaela approach to writing involves > building up sentences by combining pupils’ knowledge of poetic, theatrical > and rhetorical techniques with memorised quotations, memorised facts and > academic vocabulary. Through lots of guidance, we are able to eli” >

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  6. Fantastic step-by-step ideas here. I’m going to give a whirl with my Year 10s this week who I know can write better than the formulaic basic PEE paragraphs they’re stuck in at the moment. I’ve spent lots of time over Easter reading your blog and I love the clarity of it. Michaela sounds like such an exciting school, well done!

  7. I like this. It’s given me ideas as to how I can get my students to think about improving their use of vocabulary to produce higher standards of written work. Thanks

  8. Really interesting – thank you. I love the co-writing approach demonstrated here and the pupils’ knowledge, confidence and vocabulary is very impressive. I’m not sure about the actual sentence, though! It seems to encourage overuse of adjectives. And although ‘fuse alliteration, repetition and chiasmus’ is impressive-sounding, does it really demonstrate any understanding of effect? I’d prefer my students to write about just one technique (perhaps the paradox/oxymoron or the symbolic meanings of fog) and what it could be suggesting.

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  11. Reblogged this on she is: sendt and commented:
    This is flipping amazing! I tend to model paragraphs or sentences periodically but there is certainly greater magic in the daily. Thank ‘s for sharing!

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