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  • Writer's pictureclairevharley

Modelling Elaborated and Collegiate Codes in History

Updated: Aug 16, 2023

When undertaking a written task, I have noticed that pupils struggle with a few things:

1. Knowing how to start a sentence or introductory paragraph

2. Including key terminology and subject specific information

3. Writing extended answers confidently and clearly

In many ways, I think that a lack of confidence is at play here, with pupils simply not feeling confident enough to 'give it a go'. Even when they are attempting to answer pupils are missing out on higher grades or are unable to write more detailed answers. This is because their writing is informal and does not use key terminology or evidence to support their statements. I wondered if pupils are using restricted code as they are making the assumption that their teacher understands their point and that they do not need to elaborate in their answers.

Restricted Code: used with family and friends, informal and said with the assumption of a shared understanding. So they describing using words such as ‘they’, ‘it’, ‘she’

Elaborated Code: does not assume shared knowledge on behalf of the listener/reader and so gives clear explanations. ‘The succession’, ‘the government’ ‘Elizabeth I’

Bernstein’s research in the 1970s showed that there is a gap in the way that working class and middle class children communicate. When asked to describe a cartoon, working class child would describe a scene by saying ‘it’ and ‘there’ rather than describing objects or locations which was much more common in middle class children's descriptions. The underlying issue for my history classroom today is that we cannot take for granted that children will use elaborated code and therefore need to model it in the classroom.

Lemov’s book Teach Like a Champion 2.0 suggests that there is another element to this; the introduction of what he refers to as ‘collegiate code’. When writing academic essays, pupils need to state things that they may perceive as obvious, for example naming the war or novel they are studying. This might seem strange to pupils at first as, of course, we know the topic they are studying – we planned the lessons, so why would they need to explain it?! This is, however, how academic writing is structured and so it is important that we discuss and model this in our lessons.

I have been working on two ways to develop language, looking at developing elaborated code in spoken language and academic code in written language.

Improving Verbal Answers

At our school we have the policy of ‘talking like a historian’ and this is displayed on doors and boards, so this language is something that pupils are used to hearing. I start by asking questions, explaining that I am looking for a ‘historian's answer’, by which I mean tier three language and well-structured sentences. I will cold call a pupil and ask them to answer a question. I will then ask them to rephrase their answer using a key word or more formal sentence structure. An emphasis on 'this is right, but how can we make it better' seems an approach that the kids are on board with. In some cases, I will give pupils a set of key words. For example, “Can you please explain why men enlisted to fight in 1914, using the key words patriotism, peer-pressure and propaganda?” This works particularly well at the beginning of the lesson whilst we recap prior learning.

Improving written answers

I have found that my pupils are unsure how to start their answers and sometimes will avoid writing anything at all, not because they do not know about the topic, but they don’t know where to start and this is just too great a barrier for them. To help overcome this I have started to turn restricted code into academic code on the board. Take the example below:

(this is from a Year 10 lesson about Elizabeth I - I forgot to underline 'got'!)

Step 1: Write out what the pupil says, word for word

Step 2: Go through the sentence to ensure that it is ‘academic/collegiate’ writing, adding key words, more sophisticated language etc.

Step 3: Are there any misconceptions in the answer? Address and use knowledge organizers in the lesson to support the use of names, numbers and dates

This has had a positive impact on the quality of the written and spoken language used in my classroom:

1. Pupils are starting to get used to the structure outlined above and are framing their answers more carefully

2. Written answers in books seem more considered and there was a vast improvement in the quality of written work, particularly in Year 7

3. There is a greater opportunity for praising the use of historical language in the classroom

4. The start of a written task is more focused and purposeful as all pupils know what to do. I can then move around the room and determine what further support pupil’s need to complete their work to a high standard


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