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Peeling the PEEL

29 May 2015

Presenter: Dr Sally Humphrey

Linguistics Research Seminar series, University of Sydney

Prior to her departure to present on the  model in New York (and Aachen?), Sally discussed how different disciplines can make use of PEEL, a strategy for explaining paragraph construction where P: Point, E: Evidence, E: Elaboration, L: Link to the main argument

Her work with teachers from different secondary subjects has confirmed the productiveness of the analysis. She pointed in particular to its usefulness in making explicit the grammar of ‘explaining’ sentences to (firstly) staff teaching industrial design, where the curriculum demands a leap from early years’ description of the process to a critical evaluation of the product in senior years.

Dr Sally Humphrey
Australian Catholic University
Title: Developing metalinguistic tools for evaluative work in the ‘practical’ disciplines


Over the past thirty years, SFL has been put to fruitful work in designing metasemiotic resources for discipline teachers to use in programming, instruction and assessment across the years of schooling and higher education contexts. Despite extensive foundational research in practical subjects, much of the ‘elbow to elbow’ professional learning has occurred in ‘print text-centred’ curriculum areas such as English, History and Applied Linguistics, and in scientific strands such as Biology. In an era of increasing expectations on all teachers to take responsibility for their students’ literacy achievement, there is a great need for resources to support teachers of practical subjects such as the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) and Technology and the Applied Sciences (TAS) within  ‘whole school’ professional learning. These teachers typically have no more than one lesson per week to address ‘theory’ and are understandably loath to engage with activity that they see as intruding on discipline ‘content’. Nevertheless, teachers of these practical subjects are aware of their responsibility to prepare their students for the demanding evaluative writing in the senior years. Teachers are rarely fooled that the Find-a-Words and other communicative activities of Literacy Across the Curriculum programs will create a pathway for students to compose such texts.
This paper reports on preliminary work that has nevertheless engaged a range of teachers of CAPA and TAS in building and applying metalinguistic knowledge in their middle years classrooms. The bridging metalanguage developed with teachers draws on commonsense meaning probes as a ‘way in’ to constructing effective reasoning within evaluative phases and texts. The scaffolding enabled with these metalinguistic tools provides a solid foundation for more packaged reasoning and evaluation required in the senior years.

Additional reading

Humphrey, S., & Economou, D. (2015). Peeling the onion – A textual model of critical analysis. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 37-50.

Relevance to the study

No direct relevance to the study, this seminar provided an update and expansion on work of long-standing interest.


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