But, because, so

If you’re teaching English writing skills, or looking for plenary ideas in any subject, then take a look at Doug Lemov’s excellent summary of an idea in Judith Hochman’s Teaching Basic Writing Skills

As a teaser, here’s an example of but, because, so in action.  You simply take a key idea from your lesson and then ask the pupils to extend it in three different ways:

Eva killed herself … BUTmany people are to blame for her death.

Eva killed herself … BECAUSE  … she had fallen victim to an unpleasant chain of events.

Eva killed herself … SOthat she wouldn’t have to suffer any longer.

As a plenary activity, this would work with any subject, and it might well lead to some interesting revelations about the pupils’ thinking.   If this idea sounds interesting, you might also want to check out this popular article on exit tickets.


A simple recap

One of the most popular posts on this site has been this explanation of exit tickets.  Here’s a variation on that idea recently shared by @RemindHQ.  I don’t think the idea needs any explaining – see the exit ticket post for ideas on how to follow up …

stuck with you

Connect Four

This game, designed as a whole-class activity managed by you via a whiteboard, is arguably more like Blockbusters than Connect Four.  All students really enjoy playing it, so it’s a great way of consolidating knowledge.  This template was created by Matthew Kennard and posted on the TES website some years ago, but it has certainly stood the test of time.  It runs through Excel and is very simple to use.  As with most things, it does take a while to set up, but once this has been done it can be used again and again and again, so the effort is well worth making.

Connect Four

When you download the template (link below), you will find that it has two tabs – “Board” and “Questions”.  You need to start by creating 45 questions – one has been done for you as an example.  Creating these questions is the time-consuming part!

Once you are ready to play a game, click on “board” and press “new game”: 25 of the questions will be selected at random, and the opening letter to each answer will be displayed.  Up to four teams can play at once, each taking on a certain colour.  Their task is to connect four letters in a straight line – horizontal, vertical or diagonal – by correctly answering the relevant questions.  Each time they get an answer right, click on their colour to show that this square can no longer be claimed by anyone else.

Many students enjoy the strategy element to this game – keeping an eye on what opponents are up to and doing everything they can to block them.  If all teams are prevented from achieving a Connect Four, then the team with the most correct answers is declared the winner.

Each game can last anywhere from 5 minutes to 20 minutes, so it might be wise to set a time limit before you start.  Each time you press “new game” a new selection of questions is made – some of these will have appeared before, so pupils soon realise that it pays to stay focussed!

If you like the sound of this, click here to downloads the template: Connect Four

Theme mats

Teaching within a fixed timetable, we inevitably have to deliver information in manageable chunks.  Given that this is the case, how do we help pupils to see the bigger picture?  Do we try to gradually build this up as we go, or do we wait until all the information is in place, then take a step back from it?  I am most acutely aware of this problem when teaching literature, and I have tried all sorts of different approaches.  The one I’m about to outline is a recent addition to the repertoire, and I was pleased with how well it got the students to start talking about the whole text, rather than just specific episodes within it …

We read the play Antigone fairly quickly, pausing only to confirm basic understanding or to clarify important background information.  Once we had finished, I asked the pupils to get into groups of three or four and discuss the images below.  Their aim was to discuss what ideas the image seemed to convey, and then think of a way of linking these ideas to the play.  I had chosen some of the images in the hope of eliciting certain points from the class, and others at random, just to see where they took the students.

As with all new ideas, I was worried this might be a total flop, and was reassured to see the students become quite animated in their discussions of the images, and of how they might relate to the play.  Before long, they were talking about key themes such as death, relationships, power, pride and pain and realising for themselves just how complex Sophocles’ exploration of these was.

I will certainly be repeating this idea.  Perhaps the next step will be to get the pupils creating “theme mats” of their own …

theme map

Five Top Farewell Tunes


Saying goodbye to Year 11s or 13s in the near future?  Putting together a farewell presentation?  Here are five tunes that might help to hit the right note …

1. Count on me – Bruno Mars

2. Friends – Jasmine Thompson

3. The Days of our Lives – Queen

4. Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong

5. Farewell – Rhianna

Have you got any favourites which you think should be added to this list?

Sticky Teaching

We all want our teaching to stick, and of course one of the best ways to achieve this is to carefully plan the learning that will take place in our lessons.  Inspired by the work of Chip and Dan Heath, various teachers have recently been sharing some great ideas on how to do this.

When planning your lessons, try to work in the six “sticking traits” nicely summarised by Shaun Allison as follows [click on image to enlarge]:

sticky teaching 1

If you’d like to understand this more fully, take a look at our page on Academia, which outlines the work of Chip and Dan Heath.

Another blogger, @MrOCallaghan_Edu, has created the following lesson planning template to support this approach [again, click on image to enlarge]:

sticky teaching 2

Back to Shaun Allison for an example of sticky lesson planning in action – his objective was to introduce a Year 11 Science class to the idea of nuclear radiation:

Simple – I anchored my lesson on to their existing knowledge of the atom by getting them to draw and explain the structure of the atom, which we then shared and discussed.  This would then lead on to two key concepts for the lesson – to describe and explain Rutherford’s scattering experiment, and then to describe and explain an isotope.  This is definitely not about dumbing down or lowering expectations.  It’s about distilling complex ideas into the key ideas and then using what they already know to build up to these complex ideas. In his article on explanation (see below) David makes the point of how important it is to use specialist academic language here – and insist that students do too.

Unexpected – In order to get them curious, we looked at photos of Chernobyl and posed the question, how could these tiny atoms cause such devastation? This is the gap in their knowledge that we were going to fill, having opened it.  They were curious!

Concrete – Rutherford’s scattering experiment is very conceptual, so I demonstrated it by throwing squash balls at footballs.  They bounced off, in the same way that early scientists expected the alpha particles to do when they hit the ‘plum pudding’ atoms. This led on to a discussion about what it meant when the alpha particles went straight through?

Credible – The photos of Chernobyl helped with this, as it made the issue very real. This can also be backed up by statistics e.g. claims that Chernobyl won’t be fit for human habitation for 20 000 years.   However, this will be returned to next lesson, when we get out the radioactive sources and the Geiger counter. Students will see that objects emit radiation.

Emotional – The photos of people who had been affected by Chernobyl (mutations) certainly made them feel for the people.  The ‘emotional’ trait can also be developed by making students feel aspirational.

Story – Science provides loads of opportunities to tell stories – and the story of Rutherford’s scattering experiment was no exception.  It also resulted in some great questions from the students about ‘How science works’ e.g. Why didn’t he just believe the plum pudding idea? What made him think of this experiment? Did he do any other experiments? Did people believe him? How do we know he’s right? Brilliant fodder for the science teacher!

Lesson Flips with Video clips

As teachers, do we really want to spend valuable lesson time providing students with information which they are perfectly capable of acquiring in their own time?  Surely it makes sense to set homework tasks which help them to familiarise themselves with key material in advance of our lessons, and then spend the lessons exploring that knowledge and putting it to good use?  This is the underlying premise of “flipped learning”, a movement which is gaining increasing momentum in modern education.

Of course, pupils can gain knowledge in a variety of ways, but one of the most effective mediums is video, which has the ability to combine images with sounds, and to support spoken words with written words.  However, many teachers are sceptical about the idea of pupils watching videos in their own time and really taking their content on board.  So, here are a couple of ways in which this problem can be tackled.

1. Ted-Ed. Many of you will have come across the excellent Ted Talks available for classroom use (if not, click here for more details).  Ted-Ed is an online package which allows you to construct a learning experience based on any online video you care to choose.  Use it to search for clips, set objectives, add multiple choice questions, add thought-provoking questions, or add extension notes, and track the progress of students.  This film tells you more:

Click here to visit the Ted-Ed website.

2. resourcdblogs.com. Set up your own blog, embed video clips in it, and set quizzes based on those quizzes.  Click here for an example from the Loreto Classics department, and watch Jamie Davies’ excellent explanation of how to set up your own blog:

Don’t forget to explore all the fantastic BBC clips available here.  There are also lots of excellent clips available here at the Khan Academy website.

Differentiation: Five Key Points

The latest issue of the TES contains a good article on differentiation by Mike Gershon.  There has also been a spate of articles about it online recently, such as this one from the Guardian by Rachael Stevens, and this one by @headguruteacher.  Here is a summary of a few key points.


DON’T assume that differentiation is just about providing support for the less able or extension for the more able.  DO try to ensure that ALL pupils will find the lesson challenging – as the old saying goes, nothing worth having ever comes easy.

DON’T assume that differentiation is something that you have to plan into every part of your lesson.  DO take note of how the students are getting on, and be prepared to clarify tasks, give examples, model a task, ask more probing questions, etc.

DON’T assume that the easiest way to differentiate is to group pupils according to ability.  This may sometimes be true, but DO consider extending pupils who are succeeding by asking them to support those who aren’t.

DON’T assume that the best way to differentiate is to offer three different versions of the same task. DO expect all pupils to complete several tasks which vary in nature: this means that each can let their strengths come to the fore at different stages in the learning process.

DON’T direct closed questions at the less able and open questions as the more able.  DO give all pupils the opportunity to answer all questions.  This may mean you need to allow more time to some than to than others, or that you need to break the question down more for some than for others.

For some good practical ideas on how to deliver lessons which are both accessible and challenging, check out this resource posted on the TES website.