Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Search in comments
Search in excerpt
Search in posts
Search in pages
Search in groups
Search in users
Search in forums
Filter by Categories
Curricular Areas
Expressive Arts
Involving Pupils
Modern Languages
Outdoor Learning
Professional Learning
Scottish Learning Fringe
Social Studies
Visible Learning
Evidence Made Easy(ish)
April 27, 2014
Image by theartdontstop.org

Personally it’s been a genuine concern with the “new” levels of accountability and evidence required in education in recent years that I may have to lose a little sparkle from my lessons in order to produce a greater evidence trail.  This isn’t an issue because of my school, we have an inspirational team of leaders who fully support us; it’s a change in the educational landscape which affects all of us.  If a tree falls in an empty wood…how do we measure its progress?

To protect my personal pedagogical style, which I admit is only one way of doing it as there are many, I have devised and researched a variety of methods to easily evidence activities/pedagogical practices that otherwise would fly under the radar and have “no evidence”. Some of these will seem so obvious you may already use them or will be surprised that you’re not. This means I really shouldn’t claim any credit for any of them.

Is evidence important for the sake of it? NO, but…it allows your line manager or any external body, or parents, or learners, or you if you’re looking back weeks or months later to see what is going on with your learners, to see what was happening, which is invaluable.  As one former SLT member, Michael Laidler, once told me “The books should tell a story.”

It also means that you can keep doing the interesting things and be focused on learning rather than creating activities focused around producing evidence.

Evidence Quick Wins:

Pair task:

Get Learner to write…

[Pair Work Task: “Name of Task” in “Name of Other Learner’s” Book.]

It’s not the most technical solution in the world but it signposts to anyone checking where the work is and what they were doing in that lesson.

Chat about an issue:

Option 1: Before the chat…

Get them to Brainstorm/Bulletpoint/List/ Write a paragraph prior to the discussion.

Option 2: After the chat…

Make them bullet point key ideas.

Write about which was the most important idea and why?

Give them a question to follow up from the chat to write about for 5 minutes.  You can even make it up based on what they said.

(No harm in a bit of literacy is there?)


The AFL crowd loves a whiteboard, mistakes can be made, ideas improved, quick checks on student learning.  There are a lot of positives… if you make them note down their score and what they need to improve from quick questions you add evidence to the list.  If they use them for drafting answers or definitions, get them to write the final draft in their book.  If it’s used to brainstorm make them write down their best (or best 3) ideas and explain why.

P4C/Whole class discussion:

Whole class discussions/philosophy for children (ask me about this) can leave a big evidence gap.  Some amazing and thoughtful learning can happen in these sessions…let’s prove that to the doubters.

Use a feedback sheet to evidence the thinking happening in the lesson and as a metacognitive tool; making this more than just evidence gathering.  Some prompts I like to use:

The question we discussed was…

My answer to the question would be…

An argument against my point would be…

The best point made today was…

One thing I wish I had said was…

The person I think deserves a RAPP (Merit/House/Team) point for their contribution to this lesson is…

Alternatively: Write up an argument based on the question discussed as a homework task.

Verbal feedback:

If you talk to them get them to evidence your support.

I tend to use Stamp/Write/Respond.

Step One: I talk the learner and stamp a “Verbal Feedback” in their book.  I could stop there but then there’s no real evidence.  You could just randomly do that in books anyway.

Step Two: The student writes down my advice/comments/feedback question in a separate colour. (We use green)

Step Three: I wander off while the student responds to the feedback/answers the question, still with that green pen.  I may even wander back later and give the comment a quick tick.  Easy marking.

Butterfly teachers:

If you wander round the room advising, guiding and prompting students all the time you probably bombard the learners with feedback and praise.  Look at their books after the lesson and they may have evidence of their hard work, but where is the evidence of your impact? Try these two simple tips.

1)    Carry your pen at all times; write on their books while you’re on the move.  It also means if they forget as soon as you walk away it’s written down.  It also means that there’s more marking in the book!

2)   Carry your reward stickers (or stamp); you’ll praise more if you’re thinking about it. Put the reward sticker in the book, and then get the student to write what they did well.  Reinforces the positives in your class as well as evidencing rewards and positive feedback.

Group tasks:

Follow up form from the task.  Make yourself a generic one that you can tweak when required.  Cuts on planning time for group projects/tasks if you have a template.

Questions I like on a group feedback form

1)    Describe the task… (Big box for this.)

2)   What went well? Why?

3)   What could you do to improve in similar tasks in future?

4)   What are the three most important things you found out/thought about?

5)   Who on your team worked well? Tell me about it…

Obviously as mentioned above if you want to make this specific that’s great, but having a basic proforma to use is a great first step to evidencing group work and the questions are focused on metacognition.  What did you do, how did you do it and what did you learn?

You can also use the simple signpost from pair task above.

Cover Lessons:

If you’ve had a cover lesson and the work isn’t as you’d wish it to be write the words “Cover Lesson” in the book.  It doesn’t solve the problem on those rare occasions but it signposts the reason.

Style over Substance?
April 27, 2014

I have four children, aged 10 – 18. That means that I have had 54 opportunities to make birthday cakes. I’m ashamed to say that when my 12 year old asked for a smarties cake and they didn’t sell one in Sainsburys, Tesco Asda or online; I did, this year, make my first ever birthday cake! I was so proud of it. It was wowed over by everyone who saw it. I posted a picture on Facebook and was very proud! That was, until H cut one slice and the whole thing disintegrated.  It was held together by chocolate fingers, ribbon and loads of fudge icing! Definitely, style over substance.

So, what has this got to do with my teaching?

This post is about my failures. Times when I have focused more on the presentation (the icing and chocolate fingers) than the cake itself.  It covers my journey to making sure that students enjoy the lessons I teach AND learn what I want them to know.

I trained (as a mature entrant into the profession) only three years ago, though it seems like much longer. At the end of my training, I was sure footed in my understanding of engagement and what that meant for me as a teacher. I knew what outstanding lessons looked like.    My classroom has generally been a ‘fun’ place to be.  My first ever scheme of work on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict for Year 9 was introduced through the Film ‘Avatar’. It was a ‘constructivist’ masterpiece (more Grimmett than Errikker, for RE pedagogy geeks).  Students, in groups, created identity and meaning and space for themselves and then had to share that ‘space’ with another group, simulating the sharing of Jerusalem. We then went on to explore the conflict. Was it an outstanding Scheme of Work? It was graded as one. I showed it off at my first interview; they loved it. The kids loved it. I loved it.  HOWEVER, looking back now, what will the students remember? The conflict and problems of resolution, or the film and the societies that they created? It was definitely a case of style over substance.

Similarly, this year, whilst teaching Good and Evil to Year 9, I decided to up the level of challenge and introduce the Augustinian and Irenaean theodicies (usually taught at A level).  Fortunately for me, @LorraineAbbott7 was doing similar, so after pilfering resources from her, we set about creating play-doh interpretations of either of the theodicies.  There were some wonderful results (below) . My classroom was a hive of creativity and engagement, students given resources to create their own interpretation. The lesson was so much fun that when I walked down the corridor later, they were still talking about it. They tweeted me about it later. They still talk about the lesson over 6 weeks later.

Yet, the lesson was definitely style over substance. None of really them ‘got’ the differences between the Augustinian and Irenaean theodicies. We had lots of Adam and Eves and lots of apples – even the odd serpent, but nothing like what @LorraineAbbott7 managed with her group; a philosophically sound interpretation of the Irenaean theodicy.



So, did my lesson fail? Yes. The students didn’t learn what I wanted them to. They had fun, they enjoyed themselves. They had another memorable RE lesson, but they didn’t learn the difference between the two theodicies – I had to teach that again the next lesson.  Will I be doing the same lesson next year? Yes, of course. Will I adapt the lesson, and perhaps show them these two pictures before they start? Yes, of course I will. I will ensure that they know that there are differences before we start getting creative with play-doh.   And that is the journey I am on.  My aim is to make learning creative and engaging and at the same time, focused primarily on the learning. This term is full on revision for my exam classes – I’m planning revision activities like mad. I may even get around to blogging about their successes and failures! Fortunately, I have found the world of twitter and can pilfer more ideas from the likes of @lorraineabbott7 and @rlj1981 amongst many others! But my focus will definitely be substance WITH style.



April 22, 2014

I am no expert! I am not basing these ideas of MINE on research/theories (that I have read) but on the data of students that I have taught and the outcomes they have achieved. (I guess, I have just figured these things out…) If you disagree, please do comment with how I can better my practice for the students I am responsible for.

Exam season:

Time to wrap up our delivery of content, vital information, key facts, formulae, dates, people and so on. It is now time to focus (again/more) on ensuring students know everything and anything they will need in order to secure an excellent grade in the exam.

A-C grades are not the only grade our students need to achieve to be successful. Ensure your students know what their personal targets are?

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.30.43

By definition revision is about updating, revamping, reworking, redrafting, rewriting and so on… It is important to note revision is not LEARNING from scratch. Therefore, the following information and ideas I will be presenting will work best, when some sort of learning has already taken place!

I believe revision is a very personal process. I do not believe generally that one hat fits all. There are many factors to consider in order ensure revision is effective; (This is not a definitive list!).

  • Time/Time/Rest
  • Environment/Organisation
  • Motivation

Time- 1:

Picking the right time of day to revise is vital. Knowing when one feels most active and alert is crucial in ensuring the brain functions the best. I liken myself to an OWL or a vampire? I love staying up late to study/write/prepare. I would much rather a lay in then getting up early to revise.

`Ensure your students know what time of day they are most active?’ Let them build on this, if they get up later, they would get to bed later, so in theory they will have the same amount of time in a day.

Time- 2:

Knowing how much time to spend on revision is also vital! We must be realistic, students do have OTHER things to do. We need to accept that. Therefore, creating a reasonable, valid, achievable timetable is essential. This might sound easy to us; i.e telling students to write a timetable, however, I have always found it time well spent getting students to do this in class with a template provided.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 11.45.56

I always ask my students to write down their essential ‘other‘ tasks in a day, then their non-essentials. Next to these, I ask them to place a count of how long they spend on these. I ask them to then tally up the amount of time they spend on these in total. This is usually enough of an eye opener for students!


The brain is a muscle, we can not expect our students to revise all day and night. When we workout, our muscles need a rest. However, I do not feel we should be prescriptive with the amount of time we tell our students to revise for and when to take a rest. I personally feel we all have different thresholds and it should be down to the student to decide.

The message however is clear, take regular breaks to refresh and rest your mind.

Do not get ‘junked‘ up with sweets/sugar/caffeine. Eating properly is important, but eating what you like/enjoy is also vital. Otherwise, in my opinion revision gets linked to horrible tastes?! It does get boring, it does get mundane, eyes do get fuzzy, so being able to intersperse these feelings with a little bit of chocolate cake isn’t too bad!? 🙂

@ActionJackson shared this rule with my students…

work, work, work play rest.

3- 1- 1.

See the video here for more info!

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.50.31


Students must be able to work in an adequate environment. Sometimes, some students homes can not provide this. Research for your students their local library opening times, the facilities they have there. What bus stop is nearest? Find out other places students can study?

Can you lend your students an exam desk to work on that can fold away? It is important to de-clutter and focus.

Motivation to be successful this isn’t for a revision post… See my last post regarding this!

How does it all work:

In order for information to remain in our long-term memory, we must understand it, we must link it to already acquired knowledge and then attach meaning to it. Ultimately, we want to then apply it to examination questions.

(…Think SOLO?)


Therefore all revision sessions/games/lessons should take on board those concepts.

  • understanding– do the students know exactly what this concept/idea/topic means? Can they explain it to others?
  • Linking to knowledge- can the students link the information to other ideas, areas, concepts?
  • meaning– do the students know the reasoning behind the learning?
  • applying– will the students be able to applying their knowledge and meaning to the exam?

Do your revision sessions allow for those processes to take place? (Naturally you would hope so, as the above is also applicable to ‘normal’ lessons!)

Often, I worry that revision games become exactly that. A game. The focus on understanding, or linking is lost through the ‘fun’ nature of the game and the objective of winning becomes more important than the learning that should be taking place.

Here are some revision station games/ideas I use. Click HERE.

I have listed under each activity what the focus is. I have also come to realise some students do not like doing a variety of tasks as they know what works well for them. Only believe this feeling/confidence from the students if they have proven this. Meaning, have they achieved good grades previously? Therefore does their style of revision work? Ask them to talk through it with you; how did they revise, what did they do, how did they ensure they achieved a good grade? If they answer well, then allow them to the independent to choose their method of revision. This will motivate them too.

Spice of life:

Revision to me is also ensuring that students know about a variety of ways they can revise. I often go on and on and on about the importance of taking information and linking it to your knowledge, transforming the information to help understand it and applying it to examination questions.

Reading and highlighting notes is the pre-cursor to revision, those are the tasks that are carried out in lessons or completed at home. All students revision notes should already be annotated/highlighted BEFORE revision begins? Those elements are learning. Therefore, hand out revision guides well in advance, give your personally created booklet of advice before the holidays, before the course may have even finished.

A great way of ensuring students do not become too complacent, thinking they understand information because they have simply over familiarised themselves with it by reading it constantly, is to apply the magenta principles to text/information.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 11.09.55

Students should aim to do one of the above to the information they must learn/understand. This will help link to knowledge, show meaning and apply to examination questions…


I have compiled a list of over 40 different ways to revise here. (Some are for revision sessions/methods for teachers, some are revision methods/ideas for students.) Share these with your colleagues? Students? Parents? Use the hashtag #EXAMS14 to search out great posts by other teachers.

Show students there is a multitude of ways to revise, but make sure they are sticking to the core principles.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 11.12.28

Some top tips: (In no particular order!)

  • Download and share this literacy/command word wheel. This helps break down for students exactly what each question is asking the student to do. Understanding the subtle differences is paramount.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 11.14.04

  • Revision should be on ongoing process checking for understanding throughout the course, (marking and feedback,) Know your students understand the meaning and are able to apply concepts in exams. I have always shown exam past papers and mark schemes to students from the very first week of my lessons. I have ensured students are familiar with the layout, the way the questions appear, the style of the questions. I have ensured students read examiner reports, know where to download past papers. Check out my GCSE RE blog- www.cheneyre.edublogs.org  where I have shared this info.
  • Content Dependent Learning- try this really useful idea by Sir Tim Brighouse. Click here. Includes a 2 minute video presentation explaining this concept.
  • Create podcasts/videos/information throughout the course. Click here and here for some ideas.
  • Remind students how long they have until their exam. Remind students how many lessons they have, how many school days they have, how many hours this totals up to. I do this often. At the start of a lesson, I may just simply put a countdown timer up on the board as they enter…

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 11.24.23

  • Running revision sessions is excellent; however ask the students BEFORE hand what they want to revise, add a Padlet to an email? To your class blog? Ask students to fill in a piece of paper…however you do it, ask students to tell you what they need most help UNDERSTANDING, knowing the MEANING of and how to APPLY.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 11.27.22

  • Involve students in the revision process as much as possible. Get them to create the revision guides for the year below, ask them to run the sessions. See here for a student based lesson. Get the students to create google drive revision questionnaires on a topic each. Get the students to then complete each others quizzes. Click here for an example.
  • Ask students to tweet (run a subject twitter account for themselves. The teacher doesn’t need to get involved.) Get students to create a Facebook group? Teacher could set up an Edmodo page. Students should email (maybe more like FaceTime/Skype/snapchat/bbm) each other to remind each other to revise. incentivize the motivation!
  • Practice…practice…practice… in the real conditions in the real environment. Give students past papers, photocopied and stapled as they would in the real exam. Get students to write in the examination booklets. Get them used to it. Familiar with the obstacle.
  • Collective approach to revision; Ask subject leaders to coordinate their approaches. Check teachers are giving the same/similar message? Check what the revision catch up schedules are of other subjects. Ensure they do not clash. Here at my school we have a designated day for Eng, Maths, Science. To help alleviate the problem of students having to chose which subject they will miss.
  • Link examination grades with outcomes. Why would it benefit the student to do well in your exam. Why is it important? What is the end goal?
  • Use Youtube/Websites/APPs- videos (We have a revision channel on our school Youtube channel) and online quizzes (Such as Getrevising.co.uk or tutor2u.com) can be an essential ‘extra’ to revision. Don’t forget the core websites- such as Mymaths.com SamLearning BBC Bitesize and so on.

I do not have all the answers… I imagine this post will be constantly edited/updated when I remember more ideas!


Teaching and Learning Toolkit

My toolkit contains tips, tricks, ideas, strategies, suggestions, resources and information for teachers across all subjects, ages and phases of education!

The toolkit is a central location for teaching and learning related posts laid out in a simple to use and interpret fashion. The information is short and snappy and links to what is needed are always provided.


You can search for a post using a particular keyword or you can filter the posts based on their tags. Such as literacy, group work, independent learning and so on.

The toolkit is designed to allow teachers to become more creative, more inventive and most importantly allows them to save time by using some of the effective ideas that have been shared. The posts usually contain images showing the activity in action and provide links to further reading if relevant.

Currently the toolkit contains over 215 activities that have been tried and tested by teachers. I know they are effective because the activities I post are ones that are being used in classrooms. Ones that have been used and been successful with the students I teach.

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 15.14.17

To date the toolkit has had over 550,000 views and is used worldwide! Many posts are currently being edited/updated to include the variations educators have made having seen the original idea from the toolkit.


The principle behind the toolkit is to create more agile teachers who want to liven up the learning of their students. The toolkit is also a central hub to share important information such as the changes in Special Needs provision in the UK and so on. Some ideas you will love, some you will think about, others you may not agree with at all. That’s the beauty of the toolkit- it is guaranteed to cater for some of everybody’s teaching methods. If an activity doesn’t sit well with you, simply ignore it and try another? 🙂

If you would like to guest post and share an activity that you have used in your lessons on the toolkit then please email me on aal@cheney.oxon.sch.uk over 30 teachers have written a guest post to date.

Get in touch… @ASTSupportAAli


The toolkit was recently featured on BBC News show BBC Click in the #Webscape section as a fantastic tool for educators worldwide.


The toolkit is also linked to many websites/blogs.

You can help spread the world by sharing posts on twitter, facebook and google +.





A seasonal post? 10 revision strategies…
April 10, 2014

This blog post is all about revision and sharing some practical ideas both in and out of the classroom.

I’ve always strongly felt that high quality revision strategies are simply high quality teaching and learning strategies. Since I believe that revision is not something that should be left until the end of the course but it something that should go on continually throughout a programme of study any of these strategies can and should be useful in lessons throughout the year.

Here are 10 useful strategies that can hopefully be beneficial to your classroom.

1. Top Trumps

I love a good game of top trumps and they are a great revision strategy. The one above is one we created in the history department about the reign of King Henry VIII and is designed to revise key figures in the AS History course. It helps students evaluate significance, impact and recall key information about key individuals on the course. Even better to get students to make their own and consider the information from across the whole course in a different way.

Top Trumps

2. Only Connect

I love key words in grids to go through key concepts and ideas. This is something I use a lot in teaching Sixth Form Government and Politics where there are many new concepts and ideas for students to understand. Only Connect taps into this and is taken from the popular BBC4 quiz show Only Connect. It is great for revision because it helps students think and make connections between different words. Here is an example for GCSE History.

revision 1

3. Mind-mapping

A timeless classic. Everyone knows everything about mind-mapping these days. However, go a bit further and get them to write them on the table and take a picture for their revision with their smart phones. Fun, engaging and messy!

Table top minds maps 2

4. Revision table mats

These are great for revision. They help to focus students on key words, key events and in particular for chronological understanding. Our students tell us they find the chronology really hard on our GCSE Crime and Punishment course so we made up some A3 table mats focusing on chronology to support with this. This is an example of a table mat we have used to promote academic writing across the department.


5. Revision booklets

We used to give revision notes out at the end of the course before the exams. Why? Now, we always give them out when we start the unit. We use them as a kind of course booklet but students have everything in there they need for revision. It gets them used to the revision booklets. The booklets have activities in them and personal learning checklists so students can use them as a kind of learning diary too.

rev booklet

6. E-Learning

There are a number of great e-learning websites out there which can help you. There are websites which allow students to make mind-maps, quizzes and flash cards. Increasingly, students like to learn and revise interactively so this is going to be a key area for us to continue to develop.

7. Exam questions

This isn’t a new idea at all as when I was studying for my A Levels my teacher gave our class all the past questions and told us to complete revision plans around as many past questions as we could. It’s still a great idea for students to prepare for the exam and doing something active as part of their revision. Revision is a bit like training really and students need to be match-fit for the big day. Here are all the past papers put in a handy booklet for our A Level students.

Exam booklets

8. Revision bookmarks

Exam board criteria and style of questions really needs embedding. We’ve found that condensing this information down into a simple bookmark is a really useful way of helping students with this process. Plus they can use it to keep their page in their revision booklets.


9. Revision songs

We have a brilliant ability to remember words of songs and I like to tap into this by making up some fun songs about different events from the past. My favourite is a song about Thomas Wolsey set to the theme tune of Neighbours. ‘Wolsey, everybody needs a Wolsey’… and so on. The song helps students make sense of the Alter Rex debate and consider how far everyone did actually need a Wolsey.

10. Questioning

Quizzing, regular questioning and getting students to think are hugely important. We often use regular competitive quizzes between groups of students in class to help them revise. Anything along these lines however is useful. So activities like 20 questions, Bingo, Speed dating tasks are all beneficial as long as it gets students thinking.


So there are 10 activities that may help you as students prepare for the final few weeks before the exams. Try and embed this culture of revision throughout the year. Revision is a marathon not a sprint!

Grid(un)locked-inspiring creative poetry analysis

After 18 months in Special Measures and being constantly under scrutiny (a particularly devastating blow to our department – we’d just attained 81% A*-C against a target of 69% when it happened) we’re always looking for new and interesting ways to bring engaging ideas into our classrooms. This idea came about in February as we were bracing ourselves for another Ofsted visit and has been a massive success with Year 10 and Year 11.

Here’s how it works:

1. Students work in pairs/groups with a poetry grid and two dice (tip-use foam dice!)
2. Take it in turns to roll the dice and answer the question. Others can add to/ expand an answer to raise to overall level of response once they’ve exhausted their ideas
3. If a double is rolled, talk on the topic area for 30 secs without hesitation, deviation… (you get the gist)

It’s simple, effective and fun but there’s more to it than just being a grid with pretty colours. Firstly, the questions are all linked to the mark scheme descriptors for the exam. The one in the picture is designed for the AQA unseen question and I’ve also created an adapted version for the Anthology poetry. This allows students to respond to the poems in a way that is directly beneficial to the exam skills they have to demonstrate.

Secondly, The colours aren’t random. Each colour is linked to a different area: pink=structure, purple=feelings and attitudes/mood and tone, yellow=language, blue=themes and ideas, orange=talk for 30secs, green (without doubt the favourite with students)=creative connections and ideas (not directly linked to a specific mark scheme area but to access the poem in a different way and just maybe come up with something that unlocks the poem in a way they wouldn’t have considered).

Thirdly, the way they choose the question to answer is differentiated. Say they roll a two and a four. If they take the larger number horizontally across the grid and the smaller number vertically, the question will be more challenging than if they do it vice versa. All the questions require thinking about but I think that to access discussion and ideas at the highest levels students often need to ‘warm up’ and this is one way they can do it.

You’ll see in the picture I also made a vocabulary grid to use alongside the game. Eight of the boxes link to the question areas, one includes the tentative language (could, may, might, possibly) we’d encourage students to use when exploring Literature. Whilst the words on the vocabulary grid are pretty comprehensive, I also made sure they fully covered anything students might need for the ‘Relationships’ cluster in the AQA Anthology.

For Year 11 who have studied all the poems and are preparing from the exam, they have used the grid in a few ways. Sometimes we focus on two specific poems. This is particularly useful prior to writing a ‘powergraph’ (more on this another time but it’s transformed the approach for our more able students). I mentioned creativity earlier. Combining the questions with a pick-a-poem style (ie pick two poems randomly from a bag/spinner) has generated all sorts of links and connections that students might never have thought about otherwise.

In whole class feedback, there a couple of ways it can been taken further. I usually ask what the most perceptive point is that someone in a group has made so everyone can benefit from different ideas. I’ll also ask which question has promoted the best discussion in the group-it can vary for different poems. I’ll then give students extra time to continue discussions, possibly looking at questions mentioned in the feedback part but they can also look at questions of a certain colour if the dice have missed out any areas or even just choose a question they fancy.

One of the other benefits that my less confident students have found is that certain questions really help them unlock ideas. These are the questions they revise and when going into an exam they can consider them if they are stuck. Many of my Year 10s reported this was the technique that helped them the most in their recent Unseen Poetry mock.

It’s interactive, fun and relevant. The responses are genuinely worth it and encourage students to think in a way that isn’t gimmicky but genuinely higher level. That’s been my experience anyway!

I’m happy to email the resources via DM.


Thought Bombs: Splinter Cell

I love the smell of thinking in the morning…

I came across this idea from @lisajaneashes and was instantly hooked.  It seemed like a great way to add a bit of extra excitement into lessons so I thought I’d give it a try.  Like any new toy I wanted to see all the different things I could do with it; a sentence which probably explains a large number of Accident and Emergency admissions.  These are a few of the ideas I’ve tried and a few more I’m planning to try next with my general reflections.

Classic: Basically you cut a hole in a plastic ball, give the learners some information to have a discussion on then drop in more information that will support, challenge or change the direction of their thinking in the bomb and throw it in.  The original blog post to explain this properly is here…http://thelearninggeek.com/2013/08/thought-bombing/

Challenge: Another way in which I’ve used them is to place surprise tasks inside.  This way if a learner needs and extension task or has a choice of activities as part of the lesson they can select a Thought Bomb.  I’m trying to make the bomb tasks focused around creative or metacognitive tasks to give them a specific flavour and expectation.

Question Bomb: This is a very simple adaptation of the theme,

1)       Throw in a challenging question linked to the theme being studied.  You can even differentiate the questions for different ability groups.

2)        One member of the group reads it, 3 minutes to discuss.

3)        Then everyone in the group writes down the question and their answer in their books.  This promotes a focused, time controlled discussion followed by a bit of literacy.  The writing is supported by the group sharing the ideas before they start writing.

Different coloured pens or the word thought bomb next to this will evidence it if necessary.

Holy Hand Grenade:  I like to count to three before throwing these.  When the learners are working on a task or exam style question and look like they are struggling or slowing I’m experimenting with throwing scripture quotes linked to the topic for them to use to develop their ideas further. What I like best about this method is keeping the expectation and challenge high for completion of exam style tasks and adding in extra support when they need it rather than scaffolding so heavily that they’re not challenged.  These have seen a very positive response with learners asking for them when needed.

This could be easily done with chunks of content from other subject areas but you’ll need a subject specific dramatic name for them.

What Next?

Propaganda: That’s right I plan to bombard them with positive messages.  Will it be useful to put specific praise in a Thought Bomb and drop it into a group for one of the learners to read to the rest of the group?  The intent being to reinforce specific positive learning behaviours and strategies in the class by explicitly sharing them.

Pass The Bomb: As a plenary task I’m planning to have groups make their own bombs.

1) Each group will create a challenging question which can be answered using the learning from the lesson.

2) They pass their challenging question to another group who read it and try to answer the question to demonstrate their learning.

Reflections: Although a lot of the same tactics could be utilised in a wide variety of ways the Thought Bombs are certainly highly engaging.  The learners have been very enthusiastic about these and have demanded that we use them again.  The small amount of time invested in the making of the bombs was well worth the fun and excitement.

Finally I’d like to publicly thank the awesome Technicians in Seaham School of Technology who built my showpiece ammo crate above.

Educating for Character
April 3, 2014

What is Character?

There are many schools of thought on this but let’s not get too bogged down with stuff like Aristotelian Virtue Ethics!

For the sake of argument let’s say that character refers to our dispositions to think, feel, and act in ways which reflect our values, virtues, capabilities and strengths. Evidence suggests that while there are genetics at play, character is largely ‘caught’ through experience and role modelling. It also suggests that parents, family and teachers are the primary educators of character for children and young people.

Watch the Science of Character video on our homepage for more details – Character Scotland

Can we educate for character?

Yes, but it shouldn’t be taught in a top-down, didactic, ‘transmitting knowledge’ style of teaching, or in a way which simply tells children and young people who they should be. Character can be effectively taught using open and exploratory dialogue e.g. giving young people opportunities to focus on their own character and that of others and asking them ‘what do you think?’. Character Education as Critical Pedagogy perhaps?

In 1998, UNESCO offered a set of aims for schooling world-wide:

Learning to know – Learning to do – Learning to live together – Learning to be

Character is relevant in all of the areas above. Arguably we are getting quite good at teaching for knowledge, doing and living together (tongue firmly in cheek). But what about teaching how to be? This is where character can really come into its own.

How can character be taught?

Let’s focus on a maths lesson as an example.

  • Stop teaching maths for a moment and start teaching people. Instead of teaching pupils how to DO maths, teach them how to BE a mathematician. How would you do that? Perhaps you might start by exploring the relationship between maths and curiosity. A discussion starter could be something like the following:

Maths and science are manifestations of curiosity: a quest to figure things out. Discuss.

  • Discuss role models – Try focussing on Einstein. Show a clip about his life story and ask pupils which character qualities he demonstrated: his sense of curiosity, creativity, imagination, determination etc. Better yet – ask the pupils to choose their own mathematician, learn about his/her life and get a sense of the person’s character qualities.
  • Discuss quotations – for example:

“Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.”

Albert Einstein

  •  Discuss self-awareness and perceptions – ask pupils in groups to discuss who is the most curious person in this group? Or the most creative? Or the least creative for that matter? What are our perceptions of ourselves and others and what do they tell us? What is the character of the group as a whole? Can a group have a character?
  • Bring the language of character into your professional practice  – one tool you can use is to complete the VIA Survey (www.character-scotland.org.uk/resources/via-survey) and learn the VIA Classification of Character Strengths. It takes 15 minutes and it’s free. Once you’ve done that you can become a “character strengths spotter”. When you spot a pupil demonstrating a particular strength, tell them about it. Name the character quality they have shown and ask them if they agree or if they see it differently. Ask them if they can see a link between the creative thing they just did and “that lesson on Einstein 6 months ago”.
  • Encourage your pupils to talk about character – they can do the VIA Survey too – there is a Youth version depending on what they prefer. Pepper your lessons with references to character using the common language you and your pupils now share. Encourage your pupils to become ‘strengths spotters’ for each other.

Other examples for different subjects might be teaching empathy during a history lesson, teaching scepticism in modern studies or politics (showing some liberal bias here…), teaching determination and focus during PE etc. The general point is that you can explicitly link disposition with learning by bringing the concept of character to the forefront of thinking and practice in your classroom.

Before you know it, you will realise that in fact you teach character all day and you always have.


What do you think about this post?

Let me know by leaving a comment or you can contact me directly by using the form below.

Thanks 🙂

Gary Walsh – Character Scotland


[contact-form to=’gary.walsh@character-scotland.org.uk’ subject=’Character Pedagoo Post’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]

Skip to toolbar