Shakespeare, SOLO taxonomy and taking risks (Part 1)

I have an interview on Monday.

For me the most stressful part of interview preparation is getting the lesson right. I’m happy to take criticism over almost anything else but I really don’t want to hear that my teaching is anything less than outstanding. Why? Because it’s what I do all day. If I can’t put together an outstanding lesson at an interview then, frankly, what’s the point?

But, as we all know, interview lessons are highly artificial. You have no prior knowledge of the students beyond some broad statement about their ‘ability’ and you don’t have any kind of relationship with them. Not only that, you normally have to compress everything into 20 minutes. 20 minutes in which you have to build relationships, give students something interesting to do and take time to demonstrate the ‘progress’ they’ve made. Not ideal.

The brief for the lesson I’m teaching on Monday is as follows: A 40 minute Shakespeare masterclass to a mixed ability Year 8 class of around 30 students in which a pedagogical thinking tool is introduced. Now, I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear ‘pedagogical thinking tool’ of late I think, SOLO taxonomy.

My starting point for this was Lisa Jane Ashes’ blog post on using Shakespeare to introduce SOLO. A perfect fit you might think.  Well, apart from the fact that I have no idea what, if anything, the students I’ll be teaching know about Shakespeare this seemed like something of a risk. So, I thought, how about if I use Tait Cole’s idea of SOLO stations to allow them to make decisions about how much they already know and how much support they need. This will mean that there will be a class of 30 Year 8 students that I’ve never met before, getting their heads around not only Shakespeare but also the initially confounding language of SOLO, wandering round a class room directing their own learning. Risky? I’ll say.

But, fortune favours the bold. For this to work, my planning needs to be tight. But, as a wise old bird recently told me, whilst we need to tighten up for good, we need to loosen up for outstanding. Despite my current irritation with Power Point, I’ve put together a presentation to introduce the basics and get them on their way:

But, as soon as they’ve been briefed on SOLO stations protocol, they’re on their own. I will be using all my “Sir, I’m stuck” strategies to avoid giving them easy answers to thoughtless questions.

I will initially ask them an abstract question I know full well they’ll be unable to answer: Are all writers trying to copy the success of Shakespeare? I’m expecting one word answers which demonstrate little or no thinking. To show that they can make progress, I’ve worked out a series of tasks design to lead students from a (potentially) prestructural knowledge of Shakespeare through to an extended abstract understanding of Shakespeare’s influence on modern writers.


I raided the library for a pile of easily accessible books on Shakespeare’s life and times. Students have a simple task sheet to complete to show that they have grasped some of these basics.


Students will select from a pack of cards with tidbits of information about Elizabethan England and cross reference against their knowledge of the present day.


And the final piece in the essential knowledge jigsaw is that students have some understanding of some of Shakespeare’s plays. For the purposes of this lesson I’ve restricted things somewhat and have only given them access to Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet. More than enough I hope for such a brief lesson. Students will extract details from the plots of each text and record on hexagons. These hexagons will then be taken with them to the Relational station.


Here students are asked to make connections between either Romeo and Juliet and Twilight or Macbeth and Harry Potter. On the off chance that they are ignorant of ether of these modern ‘classics’, I’ve taken the liberty of providing them with handy synposes of the plots. They will add to their existing collection of hexagons by making new ones with plot elements from one of these two texts. Their task is then to tesselate their polygons in a pattern which is both pleasing and which makes clear the similarities and differences between Shakespeare’s masterworks and these tawdry imitations.

Extended abstract

Having made these connections and with their brains full to brimming with Shakespearean knowledge, students will now have to answer the question, Are all writers trying to copy the success of Shakespeare? 

Obviously, I’m hoping this’ll tick all the boxes on everybody’s clipboard and is a resounding success. But, who know? I’ve tried to account for all the variables I can think of but if anyone can point out any particularly glaring holes I’d be grateful if you could let me know before Monday morning. Thanks.

And if you’re still not sure about what SOLO is all about, watch me attempt to explain it at Teachmeet Clevedon:

Related posts

Hexagonal learning

SOLO taxonomy training

Shakespeare, SOLO taxonomy and taking risks (part 2)


11 Responses to Shakespeare, SOLO taxonomy and taking risks (Part 1)

  1. Helene says:

    Sounds brilliant! Boy, are you ambitious or what?
    Will you get the time to set up beforehand? Are desks in rows and can you move them? Will the kids wonder where to sit when they come in? How many packs do you need for the early stations in case they all congregate there?
    Just some of the questions I would be asking myself…
    Go get them! X

  2. Dave rees says:

    My concern would be the ability level. Mixed is so subjective. I have mixed ability classes but there could be 6 with a reading age well below 10. Will your slides be ok for these? I suppose u cant say everything U will do to make the concept understandable but that’s the core of whether it’s outstanding. My other point is that if this is at a different school your biggest issue will be the observers not the pupils! Good luck and best wishes. Please let us know what happens.

    • learningspy says:

      Thanks Dave

      Hopefully the simplicity of my prestructural and unistructural stations should allow everyone to access lesson and make progress. But I’ll go back and check. And, yes, observers are always unpredictable but with the brief they’ve given me they must be looking for this sort of thing. Fingers crossed.

  3. daibarnes says:

    Hi David. My concern would be getting the pedagogical tool understood. Although the appeal of SOLO is it makes instant sense of progression to me as a lead learner; I’m yet to apply it to my classes.

    The key for me with the content would be pupil understanding of shakespeare plots and for them to be able to compare these to modern storylines. Although I guess this is the top end and you have accommodated structure here with mini synopsis. Might be an idea to provide similar for the modern texts as well? Just in case some Y8s are not familiar with these.

    I like the hexagon idea too. I wonder how well the pupils will be able to piece them together? Will they be able to process all this info in 40 minutes? Are you reaching too far? Although I would imagine everyone would achieve the first objective in your ladder so your planning would be successful.

    Great to see some SOLO in action.

    Good luck with the interview!

  4. […] Shakespeare, SOLO taxonomy and taking risks (Part 1) […]

  5. […] Shakespeare, SOLO taxonomy and taking risks (Part 1) […]

  6. […] Shakespeare, SOLO taxonomy and taking risks (Part 1) […]

  7. […] please see my previous posts on the topic. It is also worth exploring the blogs of the fantastic @learningspy, @dockers_hoops, @Totallywired77 and @lisajaneashes.). SOLO has encouraged me to be more reflective […]

  8. […] Shakespeare, SOLO and taking risks […]

  9. Nicola says:

    Learning Spy,

    I have only just discovered your blog today and have spent 2-3 hours reading all of your posts…amazing stuff! As a a trainee teacher of English, you have really inspired me and I will be using lots of your great ideas in my final placement, which starts next Monday.

    According to obs, I’m currently hovering on ‘Good’ so am hoping some of your ideas will help me in my quest to be outstanding!

    Thank you once again and keep the posts coming.


    • Amy says:

      Hi David,

      I’ve been doing yet more reading and digesting of this blog over the past few days and have had numerous ‘light bulb’ moments. In particular, I’ve been doing quite a lot of research on SOLO and feeling very annoyed with myself that I have only just found out about it! I think I often teach using SOLO thought processes but I’ve been doing this without even realising it’s a learning theory. I believe that if I go meta on this with my students it will vastly improve. I’m going to start on Monday. We’re currently doing prep for the reading section of the English Language paper.
      I’ve made a SOLO resource that demonstrates the stages of learning using the analogy of mountain climbing. I’ve got a little mountain climber at the bottom of the mountain: uni-structural and multi-structural; this relates to the skill of identifying language techniques and using evidence. About half way up the mountain I have another mountain climber:Relational; this relates to the skill of analysing language effects. At the top of the mountain I have a mountain climber looking ‘over the moon’ as he is at the top of the mountain: Uni-structural; this relates to the skill of evaluating/justifying why the writer has used this technique i.e. how it serves his/her authorial purpose. On the right hand side of the mountain, I have model examples of what these skills look like in an exam response. On the left hand side, I have mark scheme criteria. I haven’t included the SOLO jargon as don’t want to overwhelm the with too much info all in one go. I will, however, link to the theory after they have completed the language analysis task, using the diagram to assist them. I realise that it may be best to teach the theory first, but I’m going to try it like this to see what happens.

      I have a question: does this website have an uploading function? It would be good to share resources etc. I’d also quite like you to see my mountain diagram to see what you think and give me advice for improvement.

      Thanks again for inspiring me.

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