Thinking Enhancement for Language and Literacy (TELL)
and its application to the English Curriculum at
Key Stage 3


Louise Loxton
Senior Lecturer (Course leader for PGCE Secondary English)
Bath Spa University.

TELL is a new teaching resource by Marj Ballinger which can meet the needs and demands of English Departments struggling to make links between the Framework for English teaching at Key Stage 3; the teaching of pupils with Language and Literacy problems; the management of behaviour of all pupils and the emergence of Thinking Skills in the National Strategy. Based upon the principles of the Somerset Thinking Skills course (STSC), TELL introduces the concepts behind STSC in the language of the educationalist, not the psychologist, making this an accessible and digestible resource for the average teacher of English.

Ballinger co-authored the Somerset Thinking Skills Course in the late 1980's which emerged from a government funded evaluation of Feuerstein's Instrumental Enrichment (Feuerstein et al 1980) reported in 'Can We Teach Intelligence?' (Blagg 1991). In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in the explicit teaching of 'thinking skills' and related questions including: is there a language of 'thinking'? How do we teach 'thinking skills?' Is the ability to 'think' transferable across the curriculum and does this ability raise levels of achievement and self esteem amongst pupils?

TELL addresses thinking skills involved in:

· Planning and monitoring
· Making decisions
· Setting priorities
· Pros and cons
· Defining problems
· Sequencing and ordering information
· Classifying, grouping and sorting
· Analysing and identifying relationships
· Comparing and contrasting
· Predicting and hypothesising
· Drawing conclusions
· Distinguishing between fact and opinion
· Bias and reliability
· Brainstorming and generating ideas
· Cause and effect
· Thinking up solutions
· Evaluating outcomes
· Reflecting on one's own thinking

Ballinger's introduction to TELL is explicit and clearly outlines her purpose - 'How TELL can help pupils with language and literacy problems?' She draws upon academic and pedagogical research to support the teaching styles advocated in both STSC and TELL from psychologists such as Feuerstein, Piaget and Vygotsky and hints at research conducted into learning styles in English from experts such as Meek and Smith (1991 and 1988 respectively). A detailed Bibliography concludes this excellent introduction to the world of thinking skills to enhance language development.

Ballinger's explanation of problems experienced by pupils with specific language/literacy difficulties is extensive and draws not only on research but on her national and international experience as a teacher of English and teacher of pupils with specific learning difficulties/dyslexia and her extensive experience as co-author and trainer of STSC. She explores the underpinnings of low self-esteem and inadequate thinking and their relationship to language, communication and literacy difficulties.

Ballinger cites specific examples of 'pupil speak' to exemplify how these difficulties are manifested in the classroom e.g.: 'This is too hard. I can't do this. I'm too stupid. Tell me what to do' and provides teachers with a checklist of prompt questions and responses to stimulate a mediated experience: 'What have you done before that might help here? What might cause difficulties? How can you deal with them? What ways can you tackle the task? Where might you start?' A useful mnemonic is provided to assist pupils in their ability to initiate and develop questioning skills:

'I keep six honest serving men
They taught me all I knew
Their names were What and Why and When
An How and Where and Who'
(Kipling: Just-So Stories)

TELL contains 88 photocopiable pupil activities and exercises with detailed lesson plans for each core activity. Optional activities are an additional resource for the purposes of differentiation. The main focus is upon the teacher as a mediator and facilitator, who promotes independent learning whilst transforming and imbuing meaning through a structured learning programme. As with teaching styles advocated by the National Strategy Ballinger focuses upon a 4 part lesson structure of:

1. Introduction - with a reference to prior learning via starter activities to promote intentionality and meaning
2. Development - with exploration of the main exercise via modelling and mediation to further promote intentionality and meaning
3. Summary - to review what has been learnt
4. Transference and generalisation (plenary) to apply what has been learnt to other curriculum areas

The use of objectives and key vocabulary for each lesson is made explicit to pupils.

This resource is a flexible vehicle for building upon existing levels of self-esteem and for the promotion of a 'safe' environment in which pupils can express opinions and challenge ideas. All the activities included in TELL are based upon a model of child centred, interactive learning with a main focus upon oral/aural development. Pupils are invited to lead, reflect and evaluate their learning in a structured way. Aspects of language are discussed, analysed and reviewed through individual work, paired work and group discussions. TELL has potential for use on an interactive whiteboard and aspects of the programme e.g. word games could be put onto a Department website.

As with STSC this resource has broad applicability across Key Stages 2 and 3 but for the purposes of this article I will illustrate (see appendix 1) how TELL relates to the teaching objectives for English at Key Stage 3. TELL has specific links for the teaching of English with modules from STSC namely, Comparative Thinking (module 3) and Understanding Analogies (unit 5).

TELL and STSC can be obtained from:
NBA Solutions
39, Staplegrove Road,
Somerset TA1 1DG
Tel: 01823 336204


Ballinger, M. (2006) Thinking Enhancement for Language and Literacy - Lesson Plans and Pupil Activities. NBA Solutions Ltd:Taunton, UK (ISBN 1-898342-10-5).

Blagg, N.R. (1991) Can We Teach Intelligence? A Comprehensive Evaluation of Feuerstein's Instrumental Enrichment Programme. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates:New Jersey, USA.

Feuerstein R., Rand, Y., Hoffman, M., and Miller, R. (1980) Instrumental Enrichment. University Press:Baltimore MD.

Meek, M. (1991) On Being Literate. London: Bodley Head

Smith F, (1988) Understanding Reading: a psycholinguistic analysis of reading and learning to read. Hilsdale, N.J.; Hove; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates


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