Rotation Squares

This collaborative learning activity was inspired by an activity in Gael Luzet’s book Collaborative Learning called Placemat as well as a slide which appeared on Twitter by @MrThorntonTeach and appears below –


The objective of this group-based activity is for students to work together to plan or write a piece of writing, such as an exam style essay or notes that summarise learning and answers a set lesson objective. For this activity you need to create a blank sheet, such as the one on the slide or like mine in the photograph below. The rotation square sheet should be divided into quarters with a blank square in the middle cutting across the quarters. The blank square should have the essay question, lesson objective or topic heading on it but with enough students to write in the square. For each quarter you could include a heading which relates to the central question and can help answer it.


Divide your class into groups of four and sit on separate sides of the table they are working on (assuming that the table has four sides). In the middle of the table should be placed an A3 copy of the rotation square. Each student should then be seated on each side of the placemat. The activity works in the following stages –

  1. Introduce the central question on the rotation square. Students should have a range of resources to hand which they can use to answer the central question. Thai can be notes made in a previous lesson, text books, diagrams on the board and help sheets.
  2. Give the students between 5 and 8 minutes, to fill in the quarter of the rotation square which they are immediately faced with all the relevant knowledge that relates to the heading on that quarter as well as the central question. Having a timer on the board which students can see is a great tool to have as a reminder but also add to the time pressures this activity can bring.
  3. Once the time is up, students stop writing and rotate the rotational square 90 degrees, with each student now facing another quarter which have just been attempted by a group member. Now students have to add new knowledge to their new section in the same time limit given in step 2 of the activity.
  4. Repeat step 3.
  5. Once the rotation square has been rotated three times, you might need to adjust the activity according to how much students have done. If you think the students need a fourth rotation because there is still information that could be added, then repeat step 3. However, if you think enough information has been drawn out of the students then an alternative task is to reduce the time limit by 50% and ask students with the fourth section to highlight the key point in that section with the most important piece of supporting evidence.
  6. Now that students have completed their rotation square, add a bit of movement after some intense thinking activity by giving your students 5 minutes to walk about the classroom looking at the other groups’ rotational squares and look for information that they have missed and could add to their own work.
  7. Now students have got a full rotation square and collaborated in a group and as a class, they can now fill in the blank square in the middle with key bullet points which they would include in a conclusion.

The end product is that students have, depending on your objective, a full essay plan ora set of focused notes. A good additional task is to allow students to take photographs of their work with their phones or tablets and give them their own copy of a rotation square to make their own records. To add extra challenge to this, I give them an A4 size rotation square so they automatically have to cut down the notes they made on their A3 group one to include just the key points so they have a record in their notes/ folders.

This is a really effective activity for exam classes, in particular, and a different, collaborative way of planning work. A link to an electronic copy of a rotation square is below and can be easily adjusted to suit any topic for any subject.

Faction and power of monarch 1538-53 slow writing planning sheet

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5 thoughts on “Rotation Squares

  1. Thank you. I really like the idea of the rotation square and will start to use with my students. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Fantastic group activity. Will be setting this up for my next essay activity. Thank you!

  3. I really like this idea. Going to try itwith my A Level group. We are doing Britain transformed 1918-97 and will be doing an essay on the changing class system.

  4. Pingback: Visual Hexagon | parktownprawns

  5. I used this recently when planning revision essays with my year 12 class and it worked really well. We did split each rotation into two parts to encourage arguments for and against a particular factor which helped to promote more analysis of each factor.

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