Back in February 2013, I wrote a post in which I outlined a personal goal is to reduce the number of different types of geographical writing down to an essential core and to produce a set of guidelines for each type of writing to help students structure their work. I set myself this goal in response to the PeEL pyramids that our History and Philosophy & Ethics departments use to structure most of the writing that students do in lessons. At the time, my feeling was that Geography students need to be able to master a wider variety of different types of writing than most other subjects, and this remains the case. To be sure, Geography students don’t need to be able to write at such length as in, say, English or History, but I still struggle to think of another subject in which students have to be able to write in so many different ways.
The earlier post showed the initial outcome of what I hoped would eventually develop into a kind of geo-literacy toolkit, with the intention that students, when presented with a geographical question, will start to recognise them as questions of a certain type and, as a result, will be able to take a more independent role in planning, drafting and redrafting their answers. However, while I did go on to produce two or three more sets of guidelines, I wasn’t happy that I’d successfully reduced the number of different types of geographical writing down as far as I could. I was in danger, for example, of having a different set of guidelines for each type of map and graph to which students might have to respond, for example.
And so the project reverted to the status of “thought experiment” – until, that is, I came to review my Personal Improvement Plan in February and found the following development target:
Develop Geography subject-specific PeEL pyramids for use in lessons where appropriate to support students in meeting their individual learning targets by identifying the common vocabulary behind specific learning activities.
I had obviously added this at the start of the PIP cycle in October, and then completely forgotten about it.
As circumstance would have it, my year 12 and 13 classes had both recently completed a past exam question as homework and, while marking them, I gradually came to the realisation that a version of the PeEL structure could actually have allowed at least some of the students to develop their writing with greater clarity and precision.
So I created this:
To take the year 12 homework question (from the AQA AS Geography Unit 1 paper of June 2009) as an example how this might be implemented:
‘With specific reference to a case study of coastal erosion, assess the relative importance of its physical and socio-economic consequences.’ [15 marks]
In my mind, this question needed a short introductory paragraph to name and locate the case study area, and to outline the structure of the rest of the answer by making the Point that there the student will address a specified number of consequences from each category. This needed to be followed by a series of statements to give evidence (from the student’s own knowledge) of physical and socio-economic consequences of coastal erosion, with each statement followed up by an Explanation of the importance of each consequence. Finally, the answer should end with a short conclusion to Link the main body of the answer back to the question by reaching an overall judgement as to which category of consequence was relatively more important than the other.
I think the reason why I’d been struggling to adapt PeEL to Geography was that I’d been thinking in terms of a series of PeEL paragraphs, which is possibly more appropriate for an extended History essay (or a piece of Geography coursework). Most Geographical writing, however, seems to lend itself better to a P/eE/eE/eE/eE/L structure (with each ‘/’ denoting the start of a new paragraph for additional clarity).
For the most recent past exam questions that my year 12 and 13 classes have been set as homework, I’ve actually taken some time in lesson to use these PeEL pyramids to plan their answers in advance. The idea was that, once they’d identified the relevant opener from the ‘P’ face of the pyramid, they then used the same number of opener from the ‘e’, ‘Ex’ and ‘L’ faces for the rest of the piece of writing (although I’ve found that the ‘L’ openers, in particular, have to be treated a bit more interchangeably). The year 13 homeworks were an average of exactly one grade better than their previous homeworks; while year 12 are completing theirs over the Easter holidays. Watch this space for further evaluation of whether the PeEL pyramids work or not.
In the meantime, I’m asking Geography teachers for a bit of feedback. How do these PeEL frameworks look in principle? If you do actually use them, how did they work in practice? And, most importantly, how could they be improved? Please leave any feedback below. Thank you!
 C. Phillips (2013) ‘In which I start to develop a Geographical Writing Toolkit’, https://forwardsnotbackwards.wordpress.com/2013/02/09/in-which-i-start-to-develop-a-geographical-writing-toolkit/ (post dated 9 February 2013; site accessed 13 April 2014)
 I’ll add templates for the History PeEL pyramids when I start back to school after Easter, in case any History teachers reading this can make use of them as well.