A REaLLY? helpful technique

Aaaaaarrrrrrgh! I’ve done it again. A brilliant essay, full of salient points, fantastic quotes and a stunning conclusion. Then I reread the question on the way out of the exam hall and realise that I have answered something completely different to what I thought. I’ll be lucky to get any points at all, far less pass.

Sound familiar? Have you done that, too? Or your children?

At Got-A-Head®? we’re always looking for ways to help children learn, starting with our own daughter. With 11+ exams coming up, my husband and I were working with her on Maths and English. The knowledge was there, but the technique was still a bit wobbly. Over and over, we saw her answer an ‘approximation’ of the question. Not unsurprisingly, her answers were pretty approximate, too. Just like my many manglings of exam questions, she was giving good, well-written answers. They just didn’t answer the question she was being asked.

What to do?

Logo for the REaLLY? acronym
The REaLLY? acronym to help analyse questions

Our answer was to devise a new technique: REaLLY? The idea was to give her a clear framework for what she was doing, whether it was a reading comprehension, an essay or simply a homework task. It should be memorable, quick to do, easy to understand and implement, yet give excellent support to enable her to do her best work, while actually answering what was being asked. Like Google maps, it would allow her to consider a range of possible routes to get from A to B so she could choose the one that suited her best (in the terms she wanted: quickest, most interesting, most unusual, easiest). But it would get her to B, not C, D or E!

So, what is the REaLLY? technique and how do you use it?

REaLLY? is an acronym, which will help the learner remember all stages. Memorable, tick.

When reading a question, s/he should identify:

· all the Requirements (i.e. exactly what they are being asked to do);

· any Essential Language (words or phrases that will act as signposts to the answer in the text);

· Location (so s/he only looks for answers in the right place)

The ‘Y’ and '?' remind the learner to check they are now clear what is being asked of them (Y is the ‘YaY!’ stage that you may have come across in our QWERTY® technique) so that they can go on to plan their answer (? is reminiscent of the P for Plan). They would use ‘YaY!’ again to ensure their plan meets all the things in their checklist. Ideally, they would use it again once the answer is written, to check they haven’t left anything out or made any silly mistakes.

Once they are used to the technique, this process won’t take them long at all. Quick to do, tick. They can do a lot of the process in their head, if they want to. Alternatively, and we recommend this until they are really familiar with how REaLLY? works, we would get them to annotate the question using the REaLLY? system. Circle Requirements (the circle is like the loop of the R); Underline Essential Language (L for Line); Put a box around Location (suggesting the perimeter, within which they should be looking for their answer).

Memorable, tick again.

The planning stage is about making quick, brief notes about what they want to include in their answer – single words or phrases, at most. This helps them organise their thoughts so that they pick the best elements for their final answer. They’re not answering at this point, just considering their options. They are encouraged to think about things like how many marks the question is worth, how much space they have to fill, how they might phrase things in their own words etc. Quick, tick.

Y (for YaY!, high five!) is a crucial step, which they’ll visit multiple times. It encourages them to check, check and check again. Have they included everything the question/task is asking of them? Have they met all the requirements? Have they found their answer in the right place? If they haven’t, it may not be the right answer! Have they selected their best options for their answer? Have they included everything they highlighted in their planning stage? Have they checked for typos/silly mistakes that can be rectified quickly and easily at this point? Stressing the need to review their answer as an integral part of the process helps ensure that they are answering the right question, not an approximation of it. Another tick.

The mnemonic makes the framework very clear. The learner knows exactly what they should do and in which order. The physical annotation draws their attention to the important elements of the question, helping them to ensure nothing gets missed out. They can use the underlining and box (or square brackets in its place, if there is a large location) in the text itself to help direct their focus. Easy to understand and implement. Tick, tick.

REaLLY? can be used for everything from a reading comprehension, maths or essay question to a much larger homework task. For those using QWERTY®, it can really help tie down all the variables in the Question stage (what we call qualifiers).

You’ll find more about REaLLY? in The REaLLY? Technique document in our Emporium where we show you in more detail how to use the technique, with practical examples. We also demonstrate how you can use it in combination with other techniques or strategies such as our Forget-Me-Nots or QWERTY®. It is also available in a plainer format.

We hope you’ll find using this technique REaLLY? helpful. Let us know how you get on.

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