200 Word Challenge: Non-fiction


If the 200 Word Challenge isn’t a proper-set-in-stone-teaching-thing yet, then everyone needs to get their skates on and catch up.

Chris Curtis @Xris32) ,  father of the 200 word challenge, here and here , has lit the equivalent of an Olympic torch, that just keeps going. Not only is it rooted in very sound pedagogy, demanding regular, silent, extended writing, it is also a workload gift, placing the expectation of hard work rightly at the feet of the student and not the teacher.

Other proponents of the 200 word challenge that have to be mentioned include @heymrshallan and @Matthew_Lynch44 , who have generously shared their hard work.

In September we will be running the weekly 200 word challenge across the department. When collecting resources for this, I wanted to adapt them slightly, after reading Andy Tharby’s (@atharby) excellent ‘Making Every English Lesson Count’. In the chapter Challenging Writing , Tharby states that in his early years as an English teacher, when preparing for speech writing, he and his students would spend a great deal of time identifying rhetorical devices, explaining rhetorical devices, and then writing their own rhetorical devices. The result, he argues, was often ‘shallow and poorly argued‘.  He has since adapted his approach to include a great deal more explicit content of the topic, building knowledge first. The result: ‘developed arguments and well-researched evidence.’ This surface-level style of writing is also discussed by Dave Grimmett @daveg5478) in his post about ineffective analysis, here ; the dangers of all style & no substance.

In order to ensure that the 200 word challenge doesn’t become ‘surface’ writing, particularly for our less able students, AND keep the vital ‘unseen’ element, I decided to add some factual, context to each task. There is a great deal of assumption in English exam tasks about what is ‘general, shared knowledge’. We owe it to students to make sure we are actively sharing the world with them, and not making snap judgements about what they know/understand.

On each slide, students are given 5 facts that they can choose to use either for or against the topic. I am hoping they will become masters of ‘spin’ and I look forward to see how inventive they will become at using the information to their advantage.  They will need to practise this, I imagine, and I hope to add opportunities for oracy e.g. pair work arguing for and against the same statement. Chris also wrote this excellent post on vocabulary recently on linking words together according to groups and meaning. As vocabulary is another priority for my department this year, I have used 5 related words for each topic, borrowed from Chris’ wonderful word lists.

I will share the full PPT when complete, below are 5 of the slides. I hope it is less reinventing of the wheel, and more standing on the shoulders of giants – adding to the amazing bank of @Team_English1 resources, rather than muddying the waters!



One thought on “200 Word Challenge: Non-fiction

  1. Nothing wrong with good, old-fashioned composition. It works. What a terrific idea. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall in your department when you introduced that idea.

    Skills are always timelessly essential but never more so now. Comprehension next?

    Loved this.

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