Tuesday, 24 June 2014


I've just come back from a great training session led by one of the teachers at my school on differentiation. I've been teaching for four years now and I would like to think that I try on a daily basis to provide for all of my students as best I can but it was great to have a refresher on such an important aspect of learning and teaching.

We began by discussing what good differentiation looks like (making it meaningful for every child, giving equal opportunities for progress for all students, having a 'growth mindset' and high expectations for the whole class, differentiating by support, outcome or task) and what some of the barriers might be (time, how far to differentiate - over what range, setting and whether our students are independent enough or confident enough to make choices and see these through). We then considered one of our own classes and what the needs of students in this class were and the strategies that we are already using with them.

I loved the next part of the training - watching examples of best practice in the form of video footage of some of the fantastic teachers at our own school. We had already been discussing strategies in our groups and now we were given chance to see some ideas in action. I've put some of the ideas I think I'd like to try (or continue using in some cases!) under the heading of the four key strategies that were suggested. It's always good to keep it simple to avoid teachers feeling overwhelmed by the demands of training and these strategies do that perfectly.

Key Strategy 1: Getting into the HINT and CHALLENGE mindset
  • Using concept maps but leaving some blank (challenge) and having a hint card with extra explanations for those that want it
  • Hint and challenge cards/questions/tasks
Key Strategy 2: Developing your students' vocabulary at every opportunity
  • 10 word challenge with a twist - have ten words numbered 1-10 and ten definitions lettered a-i. Students have to write down the matching key word and definition by pairing the correct number and letter. The differentiation is that five are starred and these are the ones you have to pair first (so that some students will complete more than others)
  • Text highlighting - highlight key words in green and difficult words in red
  • Popcorn reading - the teacher starts to read the text and then calls on individuals at random to read a sentence
Key Strategy 3: Finding TIME SAVING ways to differentiate by task
  • Using red, amber and green cards in students planners so they can show you how they are coping with the work. Red students can be paired with green for peer support or be put in a group briefly for extra teacher assistance
  • Sentence/quote/text annotation with students being given a different example based on their ability
  • Pathways - have two options on the board, pathway A with a task described for if you found the last task tricky and pathway B for if you felt confident doing the last task
Key Strategy 4: Personalised feedback
  • Technically this isn't really feedback but having an annotated seating plan is incredibly useful. As is having a 'shape' group (mixed ability) and a 'colour' group (grouped by ability) for each student to mix up the groupings depending on the task
  • As you mark work sort the books into three piles (red, amber and green) for how well students have understood - these groups could then inform the first task of the next lesson 

Our world cup concept map! There may or may not have been a theme to the training session...

Thursday, 24 April 2014

This week I've tried...

We had a great department meeting this week (how often do you hear that?!) where our Head of Department shared a brilliant revision idea before getting the rest of us to this of quick, easy, low preparation revision activities to use with our classes over the next few vital weeks before their exams. 

All ideas from the Greenford High School Science Department :)

Revision ideas

Pub quiz – with a spelling round, picture round, etc

Exam questions/parts of a topic on A3 – students have 3 minutes at each station

60 second lesson/summary – students then present/go around and learn from each other before going back and adding information to their own 60 second lesson

This is the answer, what is the question?

12 squares – key words and definitions, ideas and explanations, cut up the 12 squares and use as a pairs game or as a weakest link style question session (this one was from our HoD!)

6 mark exam questions – write out all the key words and then number them in the order that you would use them in your answer, could use connectives to turn into a full answer

Just a minute – students have to try and talk for a minute about a topic, if they pause another student can interrupt and take over. Could include a list of key words that must be used/could be ticked off as the student is speaking

Taboo/articulate – students are given a word(or words) that they aren’t allowed to use and they have to draw/act/describe so their team can guess the word

3 colour notes – one colour for what you remember, one colour for what you looked up in your notes but DO understand, another colour for what you DON’T understand/always struggle to remember

Make a bullet point list of notes and then cut up the bullet points, muddle up and then reorder

Exam questions in pairs with a different colour pen for each person in the pair

Using Jenga blocks in groups to assign different parts of the topic/different things to do

Each one teach one – students teaching each other. Can be done by creating an ‘expert’ group that then presents to the class, or by taking one expert from each group and putting them into a new group.

Find someone who – fold a piece of paper into 12 and write a question or part of the topic on each square. Students go around and write the answer/explanation and the name of the person that told you

Quiz quiz trade – students have a slip with a question and the answer on it, they go around and ask each other their questions before trading slips

Split a page into 4 and use it for four different parts of a topic with each section needing to have key words and equations, 3 bullet points and a written explanation (variation on a mind map)

Mandelas (variation on a mind map)

Cut and stick parts of the specification onto an A3 sheet and then annotate with questions where the spec points are the answers

Speed dating Arrange students in two lines and get pairs to question each other before moving one line along to create new pairs

On the VLE/internet: SAM learning, doddle, GCSEpod and http://www.my-gcsescience.com/

Saturday, 18 January 2014

This week I've tried...

It's been a busy couple of weeks at school and more than ever I've relied on high impact activities that require little planning or resources to help me get through them! See below for a few ideas, more can be found on my 'instant activities' powerpoint available on slideshare at: ow.ly/s9WZ2 and on TES to download (with comments on each activity) at: ow.ly/sazBc

TarsiaI absolutely love Tarsia - I think it was originally designed for use in maths but it works for any subject at all and it's FREE to download here: http://www.mmlsoft.com/index.php/products/tarsia If you don't have it on your computer then save the activities as pdf files to print in school.I print one puzzle between two (choose the 'output' tab at the bottom so the pieces are muddled up) and get students to cut them out before doing the puzzle. They then hand them in at the end of the lesson and I paperclip each puzzle together and put them in an envelope so they can be used as the starter in the next lesson and then for revision after that.They take a little bit of time to put in the questions and answers but it's a worthwhile investment, and maybe get together with colleagues to develop a bank of them for different topics. They're a great way of testing whether students have understood the key ideas (if they have they'll make the correct shape!) and if some groups finish sooner get them to write the top 5 facts from the puzzle, or start to design their own, as an extension task.

Video narrationSuper quick and easy but really gets students to think. Select a video and show it to students without any sound - tell them they will be providing the narration. I show the video twice, the first time just for students to watch and the second time for them to note down any key events in the video that might be considered in their narration. After this students are given time to write their scripts in pairs (I insist on them putting their name in the margin for what each student will say otherwise they tend to go off task...) whilst the video is played several times in the background.If it is a short video and a small class you can get each pair to do their narration (this worked fine with a 1 minute video and an A level Chemistry class with four pairs) or if it is a longer video or there are more students you can play ten seconds of the video with the first pair narrating before pausing it and randomly selecting another pair to continue the narration from where the last pair finished. Thanks to a former colleague for this brilliant idea!

Writing letters to another classMy students absolutely loved this idea and really got into the idea of writing to other students! As a plenary get students to sum up what they learnt during the lesson (referring back to the lesson objectives) but write it on a sheet of paper as a letter to students in another class. I put up the register from another class and give each student writing the letter a specific student to address it to before I pass the letter on to that student in their next lesson. This works well if you have two classes that you teach the same thing to, or you could pair up with a colleague so you can 'post' letters between classes, or even get students to write to a younger or older class and adjust their style of writing accordingly.