Using anagrams to encourage literacy in your lessons

I was inspired to write this blog from the reaction towards a tweet I posted during a #ukedchat on effective ways to start lessons yesterday evening. The tweet I posted was – Giving students anagrams of key words to solve from a text they have to read is a good starter. In debrief they explain key word. The reaction to this suggested activity was so positive with a number of people either retweeting or favouriting the tweet, I thought it would be good to expand upon this and share how I have used anagrams in recent lessons, which have had a most encouraging reaction from students and staff observers alike.

Using anagrams in lessons is nothing new. Indeed, I remember a homework assignment in Geography in Year 9 [….. or Year 3 as it was in the late 1980s] where we were studying industrial towns and cities and we had to unscramble 10 anagrams of [mainly northern] industrial cities with the clue – All these towns have Football League teams – which very much grabbed the attention of the lads in the class. However, until recently, it had never occurred to me to use anagrams in my lessons. This old trick was reawakened for me by David Didau’s The Perfect English OFSTED Lesson in which he advocates the use of anagrams as an alternative way of presenting a lesson objective [see page 42 of his excellent book]. Looking for alternative ways of getting students to read text more deeply in an accessible manner, I thought that anagrams could form the basis of a DARTS exercise.

However, just giving the students a few anagrams based on key words of a text wasn’t for me enough to provide stretch and challenge. Therefore, I decided to try giving students anagrams of key words and phrases from a text on a short structured worksheet but not only do they have to solve the anagrams but they have to write an explanation of the solved anagram and its significance to the lesson content. Thus demanding more from the student and encouraging the habit of explaining as opposed to describing [or not even that!]. At the bottom of this post is an example of this strategy I used in an observed lesson on population growth for Year 9. This was used as a starter and the observer who was a Headteacher from a leading school in the county judged this to be outstanding practice. The reason why was that the anagrams encouraged the students to read and look for key words and their spellings [which ticked the OFSTED literacy box] but also that they had to consider explaining the term and why it was important within the lesson content.

David Didau highlights using the anagram maker – – and I would like to thank him for this recommendation as it is basic and utterly superb giving you a whole host of anagrams in seconds.

Student voice has also been very positive in using this strategy and the discussions that have been part of the debriefing of this activity have been high quality and certainly improved my practice. Student have been able to use the anagrams as memorable markers of the key points within a text and have been able to explain them expertly.

As a way of getting students to read a text or introducing them to new ideas, anagrams is certainly worth adding to your Lazy Teacher’s toolkit especially as they are so easy to create. Low preparation and high impact. Fantastic!

Population anagram sheet

Stone Keep Castle anagrams


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