No Pens Wednesday

The 8th June will be the second ‘No Pens Wednesday’ which we have run at our school.
Last year, the event was hugely successful due to the fantastic work of departments: in every classroom I visited, there was something different and exciting going on.

This year, I would like to make the event even more successful, and this blog is all about how best to encourage good quality talk in the classroom.


The first thing to get right is our expectations of pupils’ No pens.png
talk. We all have high expectations of pupils’ written responses: we dictate how they should be structured and the kind of skills they should demonstrate. If we’re going to get better quality quality speaking from pupils then we need to be clear about what this means and, just as we would with writing, challenge outcomes that fall below what’s expected. I adapted these Speaking and Listening Criteria with the literacy group a few years ago; they’re based on old National Curriculum levels (from English) but generalised to make them applicable to all subject areas. These are a good starting point, but you may have particular expectations of talk in your subject. The important thing here is that, just as you would with a written task, you share the success criteria before starting the task!


Nerves are one of the most significant barriers to good quality speaking and listening. We often fail to get the best responses from pupils because they are overly concerned with what their peers will think of them. To get around this, consider the following:

  1. Create some noise. Pupils will feel less self-conscious about speaking in a noisy environment. Get all of the pupils talking together. Make it active and non-threatening.
  2. Build it up slowly. Give pupils something to talk about and a framework to talk within first. You can put them on the spot later, but start small.
  3. Think, pair, share. This is a good structure for building up talk, particularly when you’re looking for better quality responses to questioning. Crucially, it allows pupils thinking time: we can’t expect them to have the answers at their fingertips. Give them time to think on their own, then let them discuss with the person next to them before sharing with the whole class.
  4. Reward good speaking. It’s important to highlight when an oral answer is well-expressed, just as we might with a written answer.

Model Good Talk

In our school, we’ve talked a lot about the power of modelling writing in the classroom, but what about modelling talk? It’s amazing how often I see aspects of my own spoken expression in pupils’ essays: children are excellent mimics. So if we want to see pupils using tentative or speculative language, for example, we should first model it when delivering content or leading discussion. It is also a good idea to repeat back key sentence types or overtly highlight them as you talk (“did you hear how I phrased that… that’s the kind of language you need to use in your answer to show…”).

Classroom Ideas

The Speaking and Listening Toolkit created by the literacy group contains 19 different ideas for speaking and listening activities in your lessons. You can use these, alongside your own ideas, to ensure that the 8th June is an exciting and varied day for our pupils.

2 thoughts on “No Pens Wednesday

  1. Cristina's Book Corner

    I love this idea! When I was teaching, we had paperless days once a month. It creates more creative teachers and more creative learners! Great job!

    Liked by 1 person

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