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Nourishing reflective students into their own assessors through meaningful curriculum integration


In response to the optimisation of the four senior secondary core subjects to foster whole-person development and diverse talents, teachers of Kau Yan College revamped the school English Language curriculum with the space created by the lessons reduced from the senior secondary core subjects. They aim to nourish reflective students into their own assessors by integrating the Compulsory and Elective Parts in the senior secondary curriculum. In the first year, elements of the elective module "Learning English through Poems and Songs" were infused into the Compulsory Part to promote the academic and creative use of English in their S4 English Language curriculum.



Strategies used

  1. Enriching the curriculum by integrating the Compulsory and Elective Parts
    To widen students' exposure to language use, elements of the elective module "Learning English through Poems and Songs" were incorporated into the S4 writing curriculum, in which students were provided with opportunities to explore the creative use of language through thematic incorporation of figurative language devices such as metaphor and triadic structure into relevant textbook units.

  2. Infusing self-directed learning (SDL) tasks to develop students into independent writers
    With a view to increasing students' ownership of their learning, SDL tasks were included at the pre-, while- and post-writing stages to help them activate their existing knowledge, set learning goals, expand their knowledge base and skills, evaluate their own work, as well as reflect on the learning process.

  3. Adopting differentiated instructional strategies to increase student autonomy
    As the S4 students differed in terms of readiness in learning, interest and learning needs, teachers adopted "varied approaches to content, process and product" (Tomlinson, 2001, p.7). A range of measures, such as offering core and extended learning materials, engaging students in group tasks, and allowing students to display their learning through a range of learning outcomes of their own choices in the form of extended tasks, were adopted to cater for their learner diversity and increase learner autonomy.

What happened

The integration of the Elective Part into the Compulsory Part at Key Stage 4 underwent four stages as shown in the diagram (Figure 1) below.

Figure 1 The process of integration of the Compulsory and Elective Parts

Stage 1: Review the Compulsory Part of the school curriculum
To prepare students for Paper 2 Writing Part B question in the 2024 Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education that will be delinked from the elective modules, expanding the coverage of text types was identified as an entry point so as to broaden students' exposure to different types of writing. With reference to the English Language Education Key Learning Area Curriculum Guide (Primary 1 – Secondary 6) (2017), selected text types and writing skills in the Compulsory Part were progressively mapped out across Key Stage 4 (i.e. S4-6) (see the column of "Text types" as shown in the summary of S4 writing curriculum). For example, to promote the creative use of language, useful strategies and essential teaching elements were adapted from the learning and teaching packages designed for the previous Elective Part on "Learning English through Poems and Songs", and more challenging text types were recycled at different levels to facilitate progressive writing skills development.

Stage 2: Extract learning elements from the Elective Part
With reference to curriculum documents in relation to "Learning English through Poems and Songs", teachers identified key teaching focuses from Learning English through Poems and Songs (Secondary 4-6): A Resource Package to be mapped into the Compulsory Part so as to achieve the target objectives as stated in the Suggested Schemes of Work for the Elective Part of the Three-year Senior Secondary English Language Curriculum (Secondary 4-6):

Target objectives
(extracted from Suggested Schemes of Work for the Elective Part of the Three-year Senior Secondary English Language Curriculum (Secondary 4-6))

Key teaching focuses
(extracted from Learning English through Poems and Songs (Secondary 4-6): A Resource Package)

  1. Help students understand the theme, structure, features and language in various poetic forms and songs
  2. Understand how moods and feelings are conveyed in poems and songs
  3. Apply the knowledge and techniques they have learnt in their own creative production or appreciation of poems and songs
  1. Appreciating and writing poems
  2. Appreciating songs and rewriting lyrics
  3. Analysing poetry and songs
  4. Responding to poetry

Stage 3: Map elements of Elective Part to the Compulsory Part
Having the target objectives, text types and elements of "Learning English through Poems and Songs" identified in the previous stages, teachers purposefully mapped the learning and teaching of relevant thematic vocabulary, target language features, writing skills and positive values and attitudes (e.g. commitment and perseverance) into the various themes in the Compulsory Part. In particular, writing skills were recycled in the same module to consolidate students' learning.

The table below shows an example of the incorporation of language arts elements into a news report writing task in which students needed to report a Spartan Race they participated, stating information about the details of the race and the winners, external factors such as weather, and how these affected racers' performances. In the learning process, students were provided with opportunities to learn concepts related to the affective aspect of sports through song appreciation, using poetic devices. While all students completed the core tasks, more able students' learning was stretched through more challenging extended tasks such as rewriting the lyrics of a song (see items marked with *).

Main writing task

Task-specific writing skills

Language features and their communicative functions

Elements of “Learning English through Poems and Songs”

A report on a Spartan Race

  • Evaluate and make use of given information to complete specific tasks
  • Describe feelings and experiences
  • Write good headlines and leads
  • Use appropriate cohesive devices
  • Use appropriate tone (subjective/objective, *positive/negative), style and register
  • Include authentic quotes to increase reliability of tasks
  • Review specified part of peers’ work
  • The past tense to talk about events that have finished
  • Direct speech to quote interviewees to increase authenticity
  • Third-person pronouns to establish an objective tone
  • Time markers to show when events happened and in what order
  • Understand the structure and appreciate a narrative poem about swimming
  • Learn poetic device – simile
  • Appreciate the song “Everything at Once”in which similes are used and *rewrite lyrics
  • Understand and appreciate shape poems
  • Create a narrative/shape poem
  • Write a theme song for the Spartan Race to enter the “Sayings of Wisdom Creative (SOW) Singing Contest”

*More challenging tasks for more able students

Stage 4: Design meaningful learning tasks
To provide students with broad and balanced learning experiences and to address school concerns, teachers also developed a series of integrated curriculum frameworks, module plans and sample learning and teaching materials with elements of various curriculum initiatives including assessment as learning, SDL and multimodal literacy skills infused. As a result, a three-phase writing process with learning tasks designed was devised (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 A three-phase writing process with typical learning tasks designed

Meaningful and purposeful learning tasks were planned for the pre-, while- and post-writing stages. After introducing the writing topic, flipped learning of background information was assigned to activate students' prior knowledge. In an SDL corner, core reading texts were assigned for students whilst extended multimodal reading/viewing materials were recommended with identification of levels of text complexity to provide multisensory input. Target writing skills such as writing a hook, using rhetorical devices to persuade readers and producing coherent and cohesive paragraphs were taught to address students' weaknesses. During the while- and post-writing stages, a self-evaluation checklist was designed for students to monitor whether they had fulfilled the task requirements in terms of content, language and organisation. Having gathered evidence from their own work by highlighting target language features used and that of their peers, they identified challenges they had faced and areas they needed advice on and proposed concrete coping actions to be taken. Hence, they would be able to solve problems arisen when they encounter similar writing tasks in the future. At the post-writing stage, students worked in groups to support one another in polishing example paragraphs with target writing skills such as achieving cohesion and coherence. Students were also offered choices of learning products (e.g. rap/jingle, flyer, video clip) in an extension task menu to display their learning


Curriculum level
The vertical and lateral coherence of the writing curriculum in Key Stage 4 were strengthened after re-mapping of writing topics, text types and writing skills, which also helped reduce curriculum overload. Five writing packages characterised by the progressive development of target writing skills were compiled, namely:

  • a blog entry of a day with a celebrity;
  • a newspaper report about a Spartan Race;
  • a feature article about cyberbullying;
  • a one-sided argumentative essay on whether 50 hours of community service should be compulsory; and
  • a speech at a public speaking competition.

Essential elements of the elective module "Learning English through Poems and Songs" were incorporated into the Compulsory Part of the curriculum providing students with opportunities for an integrated use of academic and creative English. Transferrable writing skills such as using strong verbs and/or nouns to evoke the reader's response and adopting similes and metaphors to help readers create mental images for better understanding of ideas suggested in writing tasks in both the Compulsory and Elective Parts were introduced. A spectrum of post-writing activities for students, ranging from creating poems, re-writing lyrics to evaluating peers' and their own writing products against success criteria, to display their insights gained from the topics were designed. Prominent elements of SDL and values education were incorporated to foster students' whole-person development. Strategic use of e-learning tools and/or platforms motivated students. It provided a platform for displaying their learning and enabled peer learning. The interface between Key Stages 3 and 4 was also bridged through supplying target reading texts as knowledge input to prepare students for a more skills-based learning approach in Key Stage 4.

Teacher level
Teachers enhanced knowledge of and skills in planning the writing curriculum by designing more scaffolding activities that provided support for students in writing and teaching of text features of different text types. Besides, they developed effective strategies to cater for learner diversity which included:

  • adopting colour-coding for visual learners;
  • varying levels of difficulty and complexity of reading input; and
  • designing a variety of learning products to cater for learner diversity and allowing room for creativity.

Teachers also adopted the following e-learning tools with purposeful use:

  • Poll Everywhere enabled students to provide immediate responses anonymously, which offered more security to less confident students;
  • Padlet provided a platform for students to share their reflection and evaluate their peers' learning;
  • Shared Microsoft PowerPoint/Google Docs enabled group work which enhanced students' collaboration and communication skills; and
  • Mentimeter was used to collect students' instant feedback on their prior knowledge in a pre-lesson task.

A more collaborative culture among English teachers was cultivated through discussions on unit planning, implementation and evaluation. In addition, the panel head demonstrated excellent curriculum leadership capabilities by taking the lead in trying out innovative post-writing tasks and opening lessons for inter-school professional exchanges. Thus, intra- and inter-school learning communities were being established to enhance professional discourse among language teaching practitioners.

Student level

Students' learning experiences were enriched and made more coherent, and the breadth and depth of learning were increased. The use of writing skills, context-specific vocabulary and sophisticated sentence patterns were improved. Students could reflect on their own performance in different areas against the self-evaluation checklist and were able to set realistic and concrete learning goals, implying that they had gained more autonomy in their learning and were able to choose desirable forms of learning products to demonstrate their learning.

Figure 3 Students' preference on learning tasks
Proposed concrete and specific actions addressing identified areas of improvement

The majority of the students enjoyed the song appreciation task and the group discussion (See Figure 3). Below are some samples of student work.

A shape poem representing how contestants overcame an obstacle "fire jump" at the Spartan Race

An album cover designed for the song "Counting Stars"

An excerpt of lyrics rewritten for the song "Stronger"

A shot from a video clip of a student presenting an application designed to stop cyberbullying

Students' ownership and confidence in learning was increased. From group re-writing of draft paragraphs, they were confident in revising their own draft to improve their articulation of the content points, thereby paving the way to become more independent writers.

This student improved his original draft (leftmost column) and rewrote a new version (middle column) with structural elements in the rightmost column.


Facilitating factors
The team of curriculum leaders, including the vice principal, panel head, assistant panel head and a novice teacher was supportive to the curriculum development project. While the panel head shared the clear objectives and planning for integrating the Elective Part into the Compulsory Part with relevant parties of the school, the senior management created space for the English panel to form a powerful coalition in its implementation based on the school context and students' diverse learning needs through (1) allowing English teachers to participate in a series of curriculum leadership workshops, (2) arranging these teachers to take up relevant S4 classes, and (3) setting aside common block lessons for the teachers concerned to conduct co-planning meetings. This indicates that the development of the school curriculum does not only require the effort of subject panels, but also the effective planning and allocation of human and time resources.

Way forward
To optimise the senior secondary English Language curriculum with the reduced lesson time as recommended by the Task Force on Review of School Curriculum, English teachers are advised to strategically map relevant elements in the Elective Part into the Compulsory Part with a view to enriching students' learning experiences and providing them with broad and balanced coverage of knowledge, skills and positive values and attitudes. To sustain the benefits brought by the change, such mapping will also be conducted for S5-6 in the coming years, with learning elements of other elective modules being incorporated into specific modules so as to increase students' breadth and depth of learning in Key Stage 4.


Curriculum Development Council. (2017). English Language Education Key Learning Area Curriculum Guide (Primary 1 – Secondary 6). Hong Kong: Author.

Curriculum Development Council and the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority. (2007). English Language Education Key Learning Area: English Language Curriculum and Assessment Guide (S4-6). The Education and Manpower Bureau. Hong Kong: Author

Curriculum Development Institute. (2010). Learning English through Poem and Songs (Secondary 4-6): A Resource Package. Hong Kong: Author.

Curriculum Development Institute. (2010). Suggested Schemes of Work for the Elective Part of the Three-year Senior Secondary English Language Curriculum (Secondary 4-6). Hong Kong: Author.

Education Bureau. (2021). Measures to Optimise the Four Senior Secondary Core Subjects [EDBCM No. 39/2021]. Retrieved from

Education Bureau. (2021). Optimising the Four Senior Secondary Core Subjects to Create Space for Students and Cater for Learner Diversity: School Questionnaire Survey and School Briefing Sessions [EDBCM No. 20/2021]. Retrieved from

The Task Force on Review of School Curriculum. (2020). Optimise the Curriculum for the Future, Foster Whole-Person Development and Diverse Talents. Hong Kong: Author.

Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms.  (2nd ed.). Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.

Kau Yan College
Jessie LAU (Language Support Officer)