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“See how far you can get” by Simon Nield.

I often find that students are lacking resilience when it comes to tackling problems that combine a number of different skills together. I find that if more than 2 or 3 steps were required for a question, students wouldn’t be able to see the route to the solution and wouldn’t even attempt it.

I will describe an approach that I have been using for a while using an example of a recent year 11 lesson.

I presented the students with the following grade 8 question:

The following skills are required to answer this question:

  • Finding the equation of a straight line given two points
  • Knowing that a radius and a tangent are perpendicular to one another
  • Solving linear equations
  • Doing calculations combining improper fractions and integers.

I know that the students are confident with each skill individually, but because they are combined together into a multi-step problem they felt unable to even begin. The question is worth 5 marks and it seems a crime that when they have all the required skills they are getting zero marks for the question.

Rather than talking them through the problem directly I would ask the students to discuss in pairs what the question is asking us to find and ask them what skills they think would be required in order to solve the problem.

Now rather than asking them to get on and answer it I first gave them 2 minutes to ‘see how far you can get, don’t worry about getting the final answer’. It is remarkable how students will pick up some method marks on a question where previously they would have got nothing when this approach is used.

I then go through a process of giving a hint at various points until all have got to the end of the question.

A note: it is important to have challenge problems available when doing this as some students take a long time to come to the solution while others have finished and they mustn’t be sitting idly waiting for the weaker members of the group.

By breaking the problem down so that students are just ‘seeing how far they can get’ at each stage I was finding that were much more willing to have a go and gain the method marks.

Boletos de salida: Billetes de sortie: Exit tickets in Spanish, by MK Rothwell.

It may not be the newest idea in the book, but it is a wonderful, quick and easy way to check our students’ understanding of a new concept.

At the end of the lesson, each student is a given an exit ticket that they must complete – teachers can guide students by posing a set of differentiated questions, or simply allow students to summarise their learning. The exit ticket must be handed to the teacher as they depart the classroom – so incomplete or unsatisfactory work is not possible!

This works really well in languages, as students can produce short paragraphs based on the vocabulary and grammar learnt in that lesson. At the end of every lesson, students have their own set of personalised (and corrected!) paragraphs that they can pull together at the end of the topic, enabling them to write a detailed piece of impressive writing in Spanish or French!

It’s also superb for teachers because we can immediately pinpoint any errors or common misconceptions – which leads perfectly to a DIRT starter to iron out those inaccuracies. And, they really don’t take long to mark!

Thumbs up from me!

Escribiendo en los escritorios by MK Rothwell

Fun revision strategy for revising Y11 vocabulary.

As we approached the end of the environment module in Y11, I wanted to make sure my students could recall all the key words for the topic.

I noted down a selection of crucial verbs and essential vocabulary in English to get their brains thinking. Their next step was to translate the words into Spanish – onto their desks!

The students were very engaged and found it more enjoyable than simply writing down the vocabulary in their classwork books.

I challenged students to include even more topic related vocabulary than I had initially given to them  and then students swapped desks and had to translate their partner’s Spanish words back in to English.

Pupils were very keen to participate and get involved and loved the challenge of trying to translate their partners work.

‘Leading Learners,’ In English: how pupils learn to learn by Simone Ingham.

This is a great way to focus students on improving their vocabulary to suit tone and purpose. This also supports our current teaching and learning focus of challenge and engagement as part of our #removingbarriers campaign.

My year 8 class recently completed a formal letter of complaint. Working in teams under a ‘Learning Leader’ they had to work together using picture stimulus only in order to create a formal letter of complaint.

Before completing the letter in groups, we looked at vocabulary focusing on the description of our ‘terrible experience in a restaurant’ and words to demonstrate how we felt. They then worked in groups using a thesauraus to ‘spice’ up the words they’d come up with – by looking up effective synonyms.

The letters were shared at the end and the classes fed back to one another using a criteria that the pupils had created themselves. The group with best letter won credits!

The Power of the Written Word, by Judith Jackowski

My Year 8 English class have been working in the theme of homelessness linked to the novel ‘Stone Cold’ by Robert Swindells. They practised writing formal letters detailing how they felt the government should tackle this problem in our society. Amber was so inspired by this issue, she sent a copy of her letter to the Prime Minister. She was thrilled to receive a response with a 10, Downing Street pencil. The rest of the class were suitably impressed with concrete evidence of how their actions can have an impact. They will soon be working on another issue they feel strongly about and may send more letters to effect change.

Sweet Science!

Jo Brown reveals how she has managed to engage her students in science. Pupils were asked to show how they thought the particles were arranged in a solid, liquid and gas (to assess their prior knowledge) using the skittles. As a class they looked at ‘what a good one looks like’ from those groups who had modelled it correctly. The pupils then went back to their groups and made improvements to their models.

The Question Matrix by Helen Tasker.

The Science Dept. here at St George’s has begun to embed ‘The Question Matrix,’ into their Teaching and Learning. The Head of Department, Helen Tasker, has included ‘The Question Matrix,’ in the department lesson PowerPoint template to serve as a continual reminder to each teacher. They can use it to formulate their own questions when questioning pupils and generating discussion, or use it with the pupils, for the pupils to formulate their own questions to try on each other.

Here is an example of how this was used with year 7 pupils on the topic of elements, compounds and mixtures.

Revise it with wallpaper! By Rachael Fallon

Every Friday is a literature lesson for my year 11 class. The original plan was to practise different extract questions each Friday ready for their November exam. However, the class were really struggling to recall details from the book A Christmas Carol as they studied it almost a year ago. Both myself and the pupils were finding the Friday revision a challenge.

The solution? A revision plan using wallpaper!

The class were split into two large teams (we established some healthy competition between the two teams.) Within each team, we had 4 sub-groups each responsible for a particular stave in A Christmas Carol.  I gave them all a list of events that happened in the stave. As a sub-group, they then had to then create a timeline for their stave including key events, key quotes, development of character, development of theme, linguistic devices and links to historical context.

The impact? Within two lessons they had produced two very detailed overviews of A Christmas Carol to support them when they completed their extract practise. The next Friday revision lesson, pupils were given a past exam paper. The wallpaper was rolled out and groups used the extract and the details from the wallpaper to plan a detailed response. They were then given 30 minutes to complete an answer and the results were significantly better than their previous attempt. Overall, revision became fun. They felt much more competent on their own knowledge of A Christmas Carol and thus were much more resilient when it came to answering the exam style questions.

Terminology Bingo by Rachael Fallon.

In order to revise key terminology, the class played terminology bingo. I set out from the start my expectations. They had ten minutes to understand all of the key terms. After ten minutes, I would then ask random people what each term meant. If everyone got the answer right, we would have sweets on Friday.

To start will, pupils had to highlight the terms they did not know or felt less confident with. Then they worked with their partner to teach each other gaps in their knowledge. Once they’d learnt from their partner, they then coupled up with another pair. In the last minute, one person from each side of the room swapped sides, teaching the other side any gaps. Within the ten minutes I stayed completely silent. Those pupils who, by default, wanted to ask me got absolutely no response. Therefore, they were encouraged to challenge themselves, become more independent and learn from each other. After the ten minutes I quizzed the class. Everyone answered correctly and the class won their Friday treat.

Dream Writing and Drama in English by Rebecca Grant.

Year 7 are exploring the novel “Private Peaceful” through dream writing and drama.

We normally use dream writing as a starter: students will pick a task (“Write about the day in the life of a one pound coin”, maybe, or “What will you be like when you are 21?”) and write as much as they can without stopping. However, it is also a great way to reflect during the lesson, as well as improving writing stamina and handwriting.

Year 7 have been thinking about persuasive devices used in the Sergeant Major’s speech in Michael Morpurgo’s novel, set during WW1. We started the lesson by looking at wartime posters and considering the devices used which made them convincing (or not). Then, we carried out a dramatic reading of the speech with one line each, which provided a good opportunity to consider the impact of sentence lengths and types. The student with the biggest ‘deep soldier voice’ won the chance to wear the sergeant major hat for the rest of the lesson!

We then stopped for a seven minute dream write: we imagined what it would be like to be a child watching the parade of soldiers, a woman whose husband who had gone to war, or a young man who was thinking of joining up.

We finished with a (static) marching parade of our own to ‘It’s A Long Way to Tipperary,’ with one of the pupils even having a go on the piano accordion at the end!

Lord Of The Flies – face-painting: a transformation into character.

A Year 8 class at St. Georges are studying Lord of the Flies and were interested in the passage where a character begins to change after using face paints. They used the passage and their knowledge of the texts to create savage faces to really understand the transformation that the characters underwent, physically and mentally.

One student said:” We did this because we wanted to visualise the characters’ faces and to understand the situation that the characters were in. We only used the colours (of the paints) that the characters used on the island.”

Another said:” It was really fun as I am very arty and it was fun to mix skills from different lessons. It was also fun to work as a team.”

Engaging reluctant boys! By Helen Tasker.

With two of my year 11 groups over the last two weeks we have been learning about waves. Part of this includes them using two equations that they have to learn and at a higher level be able to change the subject of these equations. We had recognised from our Y10 end of year exam reviews that pupils needed more practice with converting numbers to standard units and using standard form.

In two of my groups I have a high ratio of male pupils and wanted to find a way to make them work harder!

I had a huge stack of questions printed individually on slips of paper; varying in complexity. Some straightforward use of the equations for easy wins, some with conversions to standard units, some with standard form, some rearranging the formulae. The pupils were to collect a question, take it away and answer it, bring it back to have it checked, and if correct get another. If incorrect they were sent away to have another go. If correct they received another question. At the end of the ‘speed questions’ the pupils counted the number of question papers they had in their pile, the ones with the biggest stacks received sweets as an instant reward. I was also able to differentiate for each pupil, as when I knew some pupils needed an extra challenge I could ensure their next question was more challenging. They were numbered so I could find the answer easily on my sheet to make sure we were being speedy.

This encouraged a competitive spirit that engaged more learners in the classroom. I would highly recommend it!

The Big Question

Carly Todd, teacher of English, explains how she applied questioning techniques recently discussed in the #removingbarriers INSET with her Year 7 class. This is what she said:

‘My 7e4 class are currently studying the novel ‘Boy in the Striped Pyjamas,’ and in today’s lesson were introduced to a new literary term ‘Symbolism.’

This was introduced using the activity ‘The Big Question.’
The question was : ‘How does John Boyne present the idea of symbolism to us in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas?.’ The class revisited this question several times during the course of the lesson. At the beginning of the lesson the class was apprehensive to answer the question as the term was unfamiliar to them, however, they were reassured this was a new skill and part of learning and making progress is making educated guesses and at times getting things wrong.

As the lesson progressed, more information was learnt from the book and more discussion took place, the pupils were able to add more and more detailed ideas to our class ideas sheet stuck to the board.

By the end of the lesson each pupil in the class could explain what the term symbolism meant, give an example of a symbol in the novel and explain what the symbol they had chosen represented.

Not only did this provide a great opportunity for questioning, but it definitely built up the confidence and even resilience of the pupils in this lesson’

Boarding Passes in Science by Helen Tasker

I gave the pupils a choice of 3 questions to start the lesson, and called it a ‘boarding pass’. They were levelled; easy, medium and hard.

It really encouraged engagement first of all. Every child answered a question, I got an idea of starting points and confidence, and was able to spot misconceptions or misunderstanding straight away. Pupils that may struggle verbally all contributed.

They answered on a colour coded post it and stuck it up. The most confident first, followed by the less confident, who were able to read others as they put theirs up and gain confidence as they could see others had given the same answer.

What was interesting was my set 1 class mainly went for the easy question and my set 2 for the intermediate question. It was based around the concept of stem cells. One question was to draw and label an animal cell, another to say what a stem cell was. They linked together so well and gave me a good way to get stuck in with explaining and questioning. One child asked what a stem cell looked like – what most pupils had drawn for their easy question.

At the end of the lesson I followed up with another question on a colour coded post it. This time, pupils mainly went for the intermediate question and some for higher. It gave a great insight into what they knew, misconceptions for me to address, the confidence levels, and increased participation. I feel it was a success!

Let's Get Writing!

Mrs Colson shares a fabulous idea to engage her English pupils! This is what she says:

 A great way of engaging the pupils is to write on the tables and walls…without the fear of being told off! Handy for a quick revision activity in English on key quotations, themes in novels or a character’s thoughts and feelings. JUST DON’T DO THIS AT HOME! (it all wipes off easily).

The photos show my  Year 7 pupils creating short stories based on a picture and Year 9 making mind maps on the themes from Heroes as well as revising key quotations on cut outs of the characters.

Thinking Pink!

By Rachael Fallon

In my English lessons, I’ve noticed that some of my pupils, despite knowing the answer, don’t always like to respond to questions verbally. In order to overcome this barrier, I experimented with an alternative to the conventional ‘teacher poses a question and pupil responds.’

Firstly, I planned three questions which explored the themes and concepts from the previous lesson. The first question ‘what…’ was the easier of the three questions. The second question ‘how…’ was a little more challenging and the third and most challenging question encouraged pupils to respond to a statement.


All pupils were given two post-it notes: a yellow and a pink. On the yellow post-it they could answer one of the easier questions and on the pink posit it they had to attempt a more challenging question. They then came to the front and stuck their post-it notes on the questions they answered. Instantly I could see who had attempted the most challenging tasks. I picked sample answers off the board and then questioned the pupils on why they thought one of their class mates gave that particular response. Class discussions became much more purposeful because pupils were more confident answering questions verbally having already had the opportunity to think about the questions beforehand.


Skeleton Suits in GCSE PE! By Mr Heaton

Year 10 GCSE students learnt about the skeleton, bones of the body, joints and movement using a real life skeleton (thanks to science department!) Collaborating with teachers from the science dept, the students began to learn about different types of bones. Students worked in pairs to create their own skeleton suits (to be completed and modelled) by drawing and labelling the bones and joints of the body on to their body suits, along with the range movements they allow. Fun and learning was had by all and I would thoroughly recommend this to engage students in GCSE PE theory lessons!

Elements, Compounds and Mixtures in Year 7, by Elizabeth Quirk.

My year 7’s are currently learning about elements, compounds and mixtures. In lesson they are modelling element, compounds and mixtures using sweets. This task allowed me to look at pupils models and question them and support them if needed.

Theme of Time in 'An Inspector Calls,' by Gillian Colson.

My students in Year 10 have been teaching each other about key themes in ‘An Inspector Calls’ in preparation for their GCSE English Literature exam!
In groups, pupils had to research and prepare a two minute presentation on a given theme and then present their information to the rest of the class. After this, pupils had to examine each presentation in more detail to make revision notes. There were some excellent presentations on JB Priestley’s theory of time!

The latest news from St. George’s Extra-Curricular Science.

There was a great turn out on Friday lunchtime from our keen year 7 scientists.

They came along to learn about the structure of DNA; who unravelled the mystery and how the molecule is structured. They made models using strawberry laces to make the sugar-phosphate backbone and midget gems paired up in ‘the same, but different’ to represent the base pairs. One final twist gave the Deoxyribonucleic acid its distinctive double helix shape. All in all, a fun and even tasty way of learning!

Walk The Talk

Sunny Gohil, one of our most experienced mathematicians here at St. George’s, has some excellent advice for all of us with new classes this year or for those of us beginning our teaching careers.


Students at St Georges, indeed anywhere, need consistency, consistency, consistency and consistency. NEVER DEVIATE where possible.

What has helped me teach throughout my years is this theme. That first lesson is crucial; the seating plan, you dictate this straight away. With their eyes fixed on you, tell the students your classroom rules, ethos and expectations for academic success. They also need to be told about sanctions as well, i.e. punctuality, poor work ethic and about you contacting home. NEVER BLUFF, if you say you are going to do this – DO IT! Also, have a touch of banter try to have some humour/ build relationships from the off.


During the lesson have a lesson objective written and a starter from the previous lesson’s work that they can get on with whilst register is being taken and homework can be checked. Set your homework on a specific night and ask for it in on a specific night – never let it be a bolt on to a lesson; it needs to be carefully prepared and planned. 

If they enter your room poorly make them stand up and be quiet before letting them sit down and start again. The start of your lesson is crucial !!!!!!

Always smile, show passion and enthusiasm. How can you expect a child to show enthusiasm for your subject if you don’t? This for me is KEY to your success as TEAM SG.

Show the right amount of emotional intelligence when dealing with problem situations. Think about how it might be better dealing with challenging students 1 to 1, giving them a time out, giving them some space so that the learning environment of the many is not affected. Think about organising your seating plan so they can have minimum effect on their peers.

Teach your lesson in segments / parts moving in difficulty as the lesson progresses, give praise / rewards to keep them working. Motivate your students. Just being a teacher often isn’t enough – you are their coach. Pick them up when they are feeling down and raise their aspirations and work rate during the lesson.

If these rules are followed you will build relationships with your students effectively as this is KEY to having consistently good and outstanding lessons at St Georges Academy.

Finish off the lesson quietly and on time; always let them know that you’re in control and see them off with a smile!!!

Design a Digestive System T-Shirt!

Science teacher, Liz Quirk has come up with an amazing and innovative way of getting our Year 8 students actively learning. This is what she says:

‘My year 8’s have been learning about the digestive system in science, and made ‘digestive system t-shirts,’ which went down an absolute storm. The students were enthusiastic about designing their t-shirts and the excitement in the classroom was fantastic – much more exciting than just looking in a text book!

By doing this, the students were able to think about where their digestive organs are and what the job of each organ is. It’s also a great way for active learning and keeping them all engaged.’

I wonder what sort of T-Shirt you could come up with in YOUR subject?

Model Cells in Science.

Science teacher, Miss quirk, is delighted with her Year 9 classes who have all made models of cells for homework.

By encouraging the students to be creative, her class has come up with a variety of innovative and exciting ideas. Some of the models are even made out of cake! Others actually light up.

All of the students really enjoyed this activity and were very proud of their work – as are we.

Boarding Passes in Chemistry.

Here, our Head of Science, Helen Tasker, shares a great idea.

In Y10 chemistry pupils had a ‘boarding pass’ task, as a ticket to the lesson ahead. They had a choice of 2 questions and had to write their answer on a post it and stick it to the cabinet.

The confident pupils finished first, the less confident could look at the other answers given as they added theirs to see if they thought they had got it right. Some were questioned on why they thought their answer was ok.

Also in the same lesson the pupils were calculating relative formula mass. The work was scaled, getting gradually harder. Toward the end of this activity pupils were told to pair up with another pupil and compare answers. If the answers did not match they had to compare their work, work out who was wrong and where/why they had gone wrong. There was a real buzz in the room as pupils were teaching, explaining and discussing with each other. I am sure this idea could really work in a variety of lessons!

Boarding Passes in Chemistry