Creating independent learners poster

The teaching and learning focus for this term at school is developing independent learning in lessons. Having been asked to take a leading role in this CPD for all staff, I began by summarising some tips and pointers for teachers in this Keynote presentation. Keynote is a great app and was highlighted recently by @ICTEvangelist and @87History on Twitter as an excellent presentation tool. This poster is to be presented in all classrooms at school as the first stage of developing awareness of developing independent learning. I hope it is of use to others.

Reverse Scrabble

I first saw Scrabble being applied in lessons by Amjad Ali and his original post can be found here  – – since then, many others have used the idea with variations with great success. Indeed, when I used it in an interview lesson, the students gave it a round of applause they liked it so much.

A variation of this idea I have used recently, is to give the students the Scrabble value of a ‘mystery’ word which is linked to the lesson. Using the Scrabble score card, students have to work out the ‘mystery’ word – it could, of course, be more than one word.

An easy to apply extension is to challenge the students to set each other mystery words and exchanging the value of their mystery words to work out.

Plenary – a touch of Scrabble Version two

Summary pyramids

A fantastic and easy to implement activity, summary pyramids helps students to summarise their learning and reduce their notes to the key salient points. Initially, I came across this idea from a slide promoted by @cyahistory, which can be seen below. However, after a little research the original idea is from Carmel Bones (@bones_carmel) who shared this idea at the SHP conference in the summer of 2016. Carmel deserves every credit for this superb idea, which has had a very positive impact upon my students.

The activity focuses around a pyramid with four or five layers of empty squares. Each layer has a question and students have to complete each layer by writing a single word in each block or rectangle in the layer that relates to the question. Students have to start at the top and work their way down with each question or task becoming increasingly demanding. In writing the questions it is helpful to use the Blooms taxonomy to make the tasks gradually more demanding and, therefore, building in an element of differentiation and stretch and challenge to the activity.

Below are examples of the worksheets and completed activities which show how students can complete the activity. Links to blank worksheets which can be adapted for any subject can be found at the bottom of the post.

The activity can be used in a number fo ways –

  • A plenary activity summarising the learning of the lesson.
  • A homework task which can check learning.
  • A revision task to open a revision sesssion to check knowledge and stimulate an initial discussion.
  • An essay planning task where each layer either represents a paragraph or separate sections of a paragraph, such as opening signposting sentence.

Alternatively, rather than giving students to a blank summary pyramids to complete such as the one in the photograph, students could be given a complete pyramid and they have to create the questions which relate to the words in each layer, therefore, reversing the activity and encouraging the students to discover links and formaulate their own questions  using the Blooms taxonomy framework.

A superb activity which can be used for any subject and huge thanks to Carmel for sharing this idea.



A History Teaching Toolbox by Russel Tarr – a review

Alongside Twitter, the trend of books by teachers for teachers outlining many practical ideas, strategies and perspectives is the most significant development in CPD in the last ten years or so. Despite this, there remains surprisingly few practical books for specifically history teachers. However, Russel Tarr admirably fills this gap with his independently published book released in September 2016. For a long time, Russel has shared his ideas and creative thinking on his website which quite rightly has been the go to place for history teachers looking for inspiration and new ideas. As a result, Russel is well-known on Twitter for his generosity for sharing ideas and resources and as soon as his book was released it was an immediate purchase for me. 

Without doubt this is a detailed and thorough book. The book is structured around key themes in history teaching –

  • Imparting knowledge
  • Debate and discussion
  • Applying knowledge
  • Comparing, constraining and linking
  • Judgements and interpretations
  • Group work
  • Tests and revision
  • Displays
  • Essay skills
  • Other ideas

In each section, there are a number of ideas which can be easily added to any history teachers’ toolkit and can improve the work of any practitioner. Each strategy is explained in detail in which the reader is taken step by step through the idea with examples of how it can be applied in the classroom with illustrations of student outcomes. However, the book isn’t so detailed that it is perscriptive and straitjacketed. Instead, the ideas provoke food for thought and stimulate creative thinking about how the ideas can fit into your own toolkit.

Without doubt this is an important book for history teachers. There has been a real need for such a book specifically for history teachers and Russel is the ideal person to write a book to fill this gap. This book is jam-packed full of great, simple to implement ideas which would enhance any lesson.  Just a cursory read or flick through will make you stop and think when you catch a great idea. If you are a history teacher, whether a NQT or, like me, a bit of an old lag then this book is an essential purchase. I cannot recommend the book highly enough!

Teacher Toolkit – Helping you Survive Your First Five Years by Ross Morrison McGill – a review

Ross Morrison McGill, otherwise known as @TeacherToolkit on Twitter and author of a rightly popular blog, has followed his excellent 100 Ideas for Secondary Teachers: Outstanding Lessons with another equally successful tome – Teacher Toolkit – Helping You Survive Your First Five Years. The book is structured around five principles of Da Vinci’s ‘Vitruvian Man’ of Resilience, Intelligence, Innovative, Collaborative and Aspiration. Through this structure, the book covers practically every area of teaching and the challenges all teachers face both on a day to day basis, such as marking and duties, to the exceptional, such as planning your own teachmeet.

A genuine strength of the book is that it is rooted in realism and from someone who has ‘been there, done that’. This highly personal approach does not just highlight the successes but also presents the mistakes and low points that so many of us have experienced in teaching. In reading this book, there were so many connections I could make with what was been said – both good and bad – that made this an intriguing read. Springing from this was the wise advice brimming in each chapter which we should all do and aspire to. The advice given in each section is a mix of common sense and pragmatism which clearly helps professional development and all achievable by tweaking one’s work rather than radical overhaul. This clearly taps into the marginal gains theory of improvement which, I feel, is the most convincing argument for continual improvement.

Alongside this treasure trove of advice is, like Ross’ previous book, it is written for the Twitter generation of teachers with continual references to Twitter with what is akin to a Twitter Hall of Fame, of who to follow and why. You cannot argue with such a list as each account should be on every teacher’s Twitter follow list. Also, hashtags are offered should any reader want to tweet what they have found in the book which invites genuine interaction with the author and others.

The book is beautifully designed by Polly Norton and produced by Bloomsbury Publishing making this book accessible and easy to read. The only criticism of the book is that although the book is targeted to those in their first five years of teaching, any teacher regardless of experience can read it and get something out of it. Being someone who is rapidly approaching ‘old lag’ status in my department, the book provided a reminder of what I should be, and am, doing every day and why. As the book states in its first section – ‘There is no silver bullet in this book that will cure any personal weakness in your own teaching. Education is a lifelong journey and this book serves merely as another chapter in your own professional learning journey’ . This book achieves this in spades and should be on every teacher training and NQT book list. Essential reading.

Page sums

Page sums website –

Last week’s Teach Brief at school was held by the Maths Faculty who introduced resources and techniques to include greater levels of numeracy in all lessons. One of the resources which caught my eye was the above website called number loving. This link provides a tool which can covert a number into a calculation. This can be used in lesson preparation by providing the page number from the text book you are using in the form of a sums which students have to work out in order to find out which page number they need to turn to. All you need to do is to enter the number of the page in the text book you are using and hey presto you have your sum! The calculation can be refreshed until you find a sum you think appropriate for your students. If you are displaying the sum directly from the website to your students, just click on the question mark to reveal the answer. 

Such a great and easy to use tool!