Only Connect 

This flexible classroom activity is inspired by the television game show, Only Connect, as well as teaching and learning ideas guru, Russel Tarr, who runs a number of teaching strategy websites, including http://www.classtools.net from which this idea was adapted from and can be found in the Tarr’s Toolbox section of the website.

In terms of preparation, all you need to do is to gather 12 or 16 terms that are linked to a topic or subtopic that you are teaching. This information can include key terms, names of famous people, dates, events, anything which can be expressed in very few words and relate to the central theme. These terms can be typed on a PowerPoint slide or make up as part of a worksheet (some examples are included in links at the bottom of this post to my worksheets which I have used with classes). Personally, I prefer a worksheet in this instance as it gives students a record of what they have done as well as they seem to find it easier when working out how to complete the activity.


The basic task is that students need to recognise each of the 12 or 16 pieces of information and then they need to group them together into either groups of three or four which have a common link between them. These links are then explained by students, either written down on the worksheet or verbally explained in a whole class discussion. If you use this basic activity, then this can act as a review as an extended plenary or as a home learning task. However, this task can have a variety of applications which can be adapted to suit how you want to use it as well as the age or ability of your students –

  • You can vary the sizes of groups and links made. For example, you can ask students to link three or four pieces of information together. This can differentiated as weaker students could link just two pieces of information while more able students could be asked to make more sizeable groups to link together.
  • For a more substantial activity, you could give out to students the different pieces of information, and they have to write one or two sentence definitions on how they each relate to the central topic before connecting them into linked groups. This is more suitable to a new topic which you are introducing to students and can act as a main lesson activity.
  • You can work backwards by giving students the links which they then have to match the items of knowledge to.
  • Students can work in pairs or groups with this activity. By adding a basic points structure (for example 5 points for each correct linked group and 10 points for a linked group with 4 items of knowledge) you can introduce a keen competitive edge to this task.

I have found this a very useful task which students can easily engage with. It can test a variety of skills, ranging from the lower order comprehension skills to the higher order and more demanding explanation and analysis skills.

Nazi Young people policy worksheet

Economy in the 1540s worksheet

Making your lessons RING with engagement

In the past I have tweeted about Dave Keeling’s RING principle with regard to lesson engagement and choosing activities which are effective and memorable. This has always garnered questions asking for further elaboration and I thought it would make an effective post to give further detail.

RING stands for
Relevant
Interesting
Naughty
Giggle

What this means for lessons and activities is –

Make your lessons RELEVANT – therefore within lessons and activities making explicit the relevance of the content to student’s lives and how it is relevant to any assessed pieces of work. This also relates to the skills they are developing and honing which is highly important. With this in mind, you are addressing the crucial element of ‘what is in it for me?’ for students.

Make your lessons INTERESTING – here presenting lesson materials in an attention grabbing way promoting curiosity and engagement is important in ensuring students are interested and wanting to learn.

Make your lessons NAUGHTY – what is meant here is not pushing the accepted boundaries of taste but more pushing the boundaries of learning and willing to be daring and trying something new. Who wants to have a lessons that contains the same tired old activities and strategies that students’ have seen time and time again. Be willing to be daring and try new activities – if some don’t work, try something else, if you find something works then you are on a winner.

Make your lessons a GIGGLE – without doubt if students are engaged and enjoying the learning then they are willing to learn more but also lessons becomes a less painful and stressful business. The more students enjoy learning, the more their confidence will soar – and that is worth aiming for.

As Dave Keeling says, having one of these elements will probably mean that students will remember most of what you have taught, but to have all four mean that they will never forget it – and that is what teaching is all about.

Collaborative Learning Pocketbook by Gael Luzet – a review

One of my Performance Management targets is to develop a collaborative learning culture with a very quiet Year 12 group. In planning how to meet this exacting objective, I have decided to implement a range of collaborative learning strategies with the group in order to vary the diet of activities (as opposed to sticking to one of two tried and tested winners) in lessons. This will, I hope, allow for students to share ideas and encourage each others learning in a positive, collaborative manner.

The Collaborative Learning Pocketbook provides a great starting point in my research for strategies and thinking in aiming to achieve this objective. Like all the other Pocketbooks I have read in this series, Collaborative Learning is an accessible, easy to read text which gives a excellent overview and starting point to develop one’s teaching practice in a specific area. The book opens with a very clear theoretical background relating to collaborative learning and covers some very complicated ideas with panache.

The bulk of the book is made up of the next two sections. Planning for collaborative learning gives a perceptive overview of how to include collaborative learning opportunities within your lesson planning as well as suggestions on now to tackle the inevitable challenges and obstacles, such as engaging the reluctant learner and grouping issues. The following section on collaborative learning strategies, go through some well-known strategies which can be implemented easily with limited preparation required. This section really helps you thinking about getting started and can offer a different take on how some very well-known ideas can be implemented.

The next section looks at five more demanding strategies which require more long time planning and development, such as the jigsaw model. Here some very.clear applications and guidance is given which highlights how the strategies can be applied within the classroom and what preparation is required in order to create a high performing collaborative learning culture within the classroom.

Finally, the book looks at how to evaluate and assess the impact collaborative learning in your classroom, essential for providing evidence to Ofsted, line managers and any other stakeholders of what goes on in your classroom and gives you ways in which to provide evidence and reflect upon the impact of collaborative learning in your classroom.

Overall, this book provides an excellent and thorough introduction to collaborative learning with some powerful strategies that will enhance your teaching toolkit and help make your students independent and effective learners.

Talk-Less Teaching by Isabella Wallace and Leah Kirkman – a review

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Wallace and Kirkman have followed up their excellent Pimp Your Lesson with this new volume – Talk-Less Teaching. Pimp Your Lesson was an eye-catching volume – when reading it I was criticised by some colleagues who mistook Pimp Your Lesson as an irreverent look at the art of teaching. They were so wrong, the whole idea of Pimp Your Lesson was to grab the attention with a catchy hook then under closer scrutiny challenge your teaching with a series of robust, easy to implement ideas while dismissing those lazy, hoary old fallbacks, such as the word search. All this with persuasive reasoning and a clear rationale. This approach of presenting ideas clearly demonstrated that Wallace and Kirkman are gifted and creative teachers who not only present great ideas but also practice what they preach. Always a winner with me.

This approach is continued with their second volume – Talk-Less Teaching. This book has a more narrow focus that Pimp Your Lesson in that the focus here is a bank of ideas that encourage students to take the central stage in lessons and letting the teacher take a step back without compromising results and student progress. The objective of the book is neatly summarised in its introduction –

To get the Learners working harder than you, thinking harder than you and talking harder than you’

Therefore, the approach is very similar to Jim Smith’s ‘Lazy Teacher’ toolkit, which has been very influential over the last few years and has certainly reformed my teaching work. However, Wallace and Kirkman’s approach builds upon Smith’s Lazy Teacher concept and offers more strategies and approaches – the idea of the Chameleon Teacher in that teachers have to offer a variety of methods to meet the needs of all students is a particularly pertinent one – to add to the armoury of making students more independent.

The strategies on offer are a mix of variations of tried and tested ideas, such as the use of the Verbal Feedback Stamp and the Boarding Card, as well genuinely new ideas, such as the Crocodile Creek and the Walking chocolate Bar (which is a particular favourite). Many of the ideas require minimal preparation yet have the potential to make a significant impact upon progress and engagement in your lessons. Those ideas that require that little extra preparation are equally attractive as once you have created the framework for the resource, they can be easily adapted for a range of lessons.

The book covers a range of classroom issues, such as marking, feedback and group work and for all these aspects food for thought is given and the depth of coverage is significant. Overall, an extremely useful book to have as part of your CPD library and certainly you would want to consult if you wanted to make your students more independent in your lessons as well as tackling the Ofsted criteria of the 80:20 active lesson.

Never Mind the Inspectors Here’s Punk Learning by Tait Coles – a review

Punk Learning – something I had seen mentioned on Twitter and had heard mentioned at some of the conferences I have attended but knew little about. Tait Coles, the creator of Punk Learning, has assembled a philosophy and a vision that (rightly) rejects the constraints placed upon teachers by a whole variety of sources using the ideas of the punk movement as a vehicle to put across a compelling series of ideas.

Punk Learning puts students at the centre of their learning and allows them to take control of how and what they learning. In many ways this vision offers the purest form of independent learning and allows genuine creativity for the students. Here the teacher relinquishes control and allows students to explore any given topic. The most interesting element of this vision is how students formulate their own questions which they then have to research and answer. Although, you will have to read the book for the full details on this, what Coles offers is a template which can be used for any topic for any lesson and firmly hands control over to the students. So often, students do not get the opportunity to set their own questions until they are approaching A level study. Here allowing students to set and assess their own questions clearly prepares them effectively for higher level independent study.

There are elements of Punk Learning which ring true to my thinking. The rejection of the real value of work scrutinies and the questioning of the uses of exercise books as an indicator of holistic learning really tapped into my experiences and epitomises the Punk Learning rejection of many of the creativity limiting process within education today.

Although the book cleverly taps into popular culture as a vehicle to put across its vision and there are some brilliant quotes peppered through the book, the philosophy is rooted in educational research and theory, which it wears lightly. One of the highlights of the book is its coverage and application of the SOLO taxonomy. Quite frankly, this is the clearest and most accessible overviews of SOLO taxonomy I have read and how Punk Learning utilises this certainly gives food for thought and areal path to follow.

If you are looking for a series of teaching ideas and strategies then this book is not for you, although there are a few strategies that can be stolen in true punk fashion. The heart of this book is that it offers a new approach that challenges and can take you out of your comfort zone – never a bad thing in my view.

Highly recommended.

More Secondary Starters and Plenaries by Mike Gershon – a review

This book is a follow-up to Kate Brown’s Secondary Starters and Plenaries which is now republished and rebranded to fit in with a developing series of books by Bloomsbury on Starters and Plenaries. Brown’s book was very good with plenty of ideas and strategies to help invigorate lessons – although one or two ideas would take a significant amount of time to prepare and certainly fitted in with Jim Smith’s principle of ‘firework learning’ – a task which would take hours to prepare and would take moments within a lesson.

Mike Gershon has rightly developed a large following in education for his resources through his profile in the TES Resources website and, in particular, his resources, such as The Starter Generator, has been used in many contexts and CPD sessions. This makes him the right man to pick up the baton in this series and this book builds upon the great work he has shared on TES Resources and contains the best ideas that he has shared on the web. However, the book delves deeper and offers for each of the 50 strategies a detailed overview, teacher tips and extensions building upon the original idea. The book is very comprehensive and is more detailed in its coverage for each activity than most books. Many ideas are easy to implement, although some may need some preparation time. However, once you have created the framework for the activity you then can easily adapt it for other lessons.

If I was to offer a criticism of this book, I think some of the activities can be easily used as main lesson activities rather than starters or plenaries and this is underplayed in the book. For example, the Defend Your Statement task – where you offer a number of statements which students have to find evidence and make an argument to support a particular statement can be used very effectively in a lesson for an exam class. I used this as the main lesson activity and this provided excellent opportunities for students to practice a wide range of exam-related skills. This perhaps could not have been the case if this was restricted to a starter or plenary.

This is a little gem of a book bursting with great ideas and creative suggestions on how they can be applied in lesson for all subjects. Very detailed bursting with creative suggestions which would enhance any lesson which needed greater creativity with an active approach.

100 ideas for Secondary Teachers – Outstanding Lessons – a review

The 100 ideas series has undergone a revamp and it could not have begun with such an excellent practioner as Ross Morrison-McGill otherwise known as @TeacherToolkit on Twitter and the TES. Previously, I had found the 100 ideas series uneven and, sometimes, dull. However, this series has been rejuvenated and the books have now been restructured to include not only the core ideas but also how to take the ideas further and tips on how to implement the new strategy. This makes the book more flexible and gives the content more depth.

The ideas themselves are a mix of traditional tips and thoughts, such as drinking coffeee in lessons – a no-no according to McGill and something I fully agree with, and more cutting edge ideas, such as the 5 minute lesson plan – which before the book was publsihed it made an online appearance and almost went viral via Twitter and the TES. Some ideas are not new but remind us of our core purpose while other like the 5 minute lesson plan are genuinely innovative and can be easily implemented with a significant impact. The coverage of the book is wide ranging from planning and marking to homework setting and is written in a catchy and accessible style. Also, you can dip in and out of the book always picking up a new idea or something that plants an idea which you can modify for your own teaching style.

But for me, the real highlight of the book is how it is linked with Twitter. Twitter is perhaps the most important CPD tool for teachers so far in the 21st century and I believe that this book is the first to latch on to this and link it to the teacher forum on Twitter. The book itself has a hashtag – #100ideas – and each idea is given a hashtag therefore encouraging readers to share thoughts and how they implemented each particular idea. I have done this [particularly with the One Off Homework idea or #OOH] and found that sharing this significantly enhances the value of the book. This new way of using social media alongside a teaching book is groundbreaking and something that others, will I am sure, follow.

This new volume is a great improvement from the old 100 ideas series and, I hope, there will be more to follwo from the @TeacherToolkit – a most impressive publishing debut.