Themes and Directives: Essay Planning

This short PowerPoint Presentation is a classroom tool teachers can use to introduce their students to a way of planning answers to high-mark, extended answer (essay) questions. As such, it’s designed to:

1. Introduce the idea of Themes and Directives as planning tools.
2. Show students how to use these tools through a worked example.

The Presentation is effectively in two parts:

• if you only want to introduce the planning tools you can do this and then end the Presentation. The worked example is based on an essay question (“Outline and Assess Interactionist Theories of Crime and Deviance”) you may not want to use, which is one reason for dividing the Presentation in this way.

• if, on the other hand, you want to show your students how to use the tools you can use the complete Presentation. Each of the slides has full explanatory Notes if you need them.

However, you decide to use it, the Presentation is built around two ideas:

1. Themes: these are the spine of an extended answer on which subsequent Directives can be layered. The idea here is to encourage students, when faced with a question requiring an extended answer, to identify the Key Themes contained in the question. Although this is a little complicated to describe, it should become clear once you’ve viewed the Presentation and familiarised yourself with its mechanics.

While Themes may be something you haven’t used before when teaching essay planning they’re both useful as macro organising concepts and relatively easy to incorporate into a general teaching scheme. When you’re teaching Interactionism as part of crime and deviance, for example, themes such as Social Construction, Power relationships and Labelling are implicit; the trick here, in terms of essay planning, is simply to make them explicit by clearly sign-posting them for your students as organising categories.

2. Directives: In this Presentation I’ve used the mnemonic PEEL (Point, Explain, Evaluate, Link) as the directive. Although there are a PowerPoint Presentation I’ve opted for the one that’s probably most widely-used in schools and colleges. If you’re new to this idea, it’s a relatively simple and effective mnemonic to grasp and explain.

Whatever directives you use, these are linked to each Theme and one advantage of using Themes is that any number of PEEL paragraphs can be linked to it, as and where appropriate.

For the Social Construction Theme, for example, students might only write one paragraph before linking it to the Power Theme. The Labelling Theme, on the other hand, could usefully include 3 or 4 paragraphs built around ideas like the concept of Labelling, Primary and Secondary Deviation, Moral Panics, Deviancy Amplification, etc.

All the Themes do, in this respect, is anchor the directives logically – something that should enable your students to quickly and easily plan their extended answers in an exam…

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