3 x 3 x 3 x 3 revision

Yes, I know I’m not posting enough at the moment. Lots happening and a lack of encouragement from any hypothetical readers. As usual, any and all feedback appreciated…

Once more it’s revision time. I actually have two year groups preparing for the module exam (AQA Core Science A, if you’re interested) in ten days. I find it disappointing – although sadly unsurprising – that the Year 9 kids seem more motivated than the Year 10s. I used this activity, with a few modifications, with each group. As usual for any kind of revision activity that’s more varied than past papers, there is a wide variety in possible outcomes.

In the first lesson, students enter the room to find three headings, for three parts of the topic, spread around the room. They’re given a two minute countdown on the IWB and asked to use the laminated A4 boards to write a couple of key words, then stand under the approriate heading. (This could also be done with post-it notes or scrap paper and blu-tack). At the end of the two minutes students return to their usual seats and are told that the key words and ideas will help them with the lesson’s activities – making sets of revision materials that they will be able to use at home. They will produce three resources, on three areas of the topic, using three sources of information (folders, revision guides and me) to use at least three times (in this lesson, next and for the homework in between).

I told them which area I wanted them to start with based on the row they were sitting in. Our last class revision activity was based on human effects on the environment, so the three areas were:

  1. adaptations and competition
  2. natural selection, extinctions and evolution
  3. artificial selection, asexual reproduction and cloning/GM

What I asked them to do was to use a different method for each area, so if they started by making a mind map for adaptations and competition, they had to use a different method for the other two. Another timer, making the (for example) 20 or 25 minute time limit explicit, imparts a sense of urgency. I asked them to produce

  • a mind map/concept map/flowchart
  • a set of between 6 and 8 revision cards
  • a list of between 6 and 8 questions, half aimed at foundation level (basic recall) and half at higher (more complex explanations or uses)

This would work best if you’ve modelled the use and effectiveness of these methods in the recent past – even better if you have exemplar materials, perhaps on a different topic (I used examples from the humans affecting the environment part), where they can see them. Of course which exact methods you use will depend on resources available as well as personal preference.

When the time was up I spent a couple of minutes flagging up particularly good examples, talking about what made them useful, before asking them to choose a second area of the topic and a second method. Restart the timer, leaving myself about five minutes at the end of the lesson for a plenary.

Many already (rightly) suspected that producing the third resource, using the third method, would be the homework. I explained to them, after once more picking out some good examples to demonstrate  successful approaches, that in our next lesson they would be using these resources to revise together.

It will be a ‘speed revising’ approach, where students will swap partners every three minutes. In that time they will have to test their partner using the material they have prepared, and be tested in turn. Although three minutes won’t be enough to ‘use up’ the resources, this will allow them to ask different questions each time. Revision cards and questions offer obvious ways to test, but I will be providing post-it notes so that part of a mind map can be covered and their partner will have to predict what lies underneath.

This is one of those ‘differentiation by outcome’ lessons. Students produce work of a very varied standard, mainly due to varied effort rather than ability. If your group or class includes significantly weaker students it would be worth producing mind maps or revision cards with structured headings, or a list of twenty answers for which they must write eight questions and so on. As usual, students who are able, motivated or both can produce something very impressive, even in a small amount of time. It is useful to reinforce that twenty minutes or so is probably enough time to spend revising without a break for improved concentration.

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