T&L Ideas 2

Second on what will hopefully be a series of  ‘echoed’ posts, based on the weekly emails I’ve been asked to produce in my setting. Still my own, rather than based on suggestions from colleagues, so regular readers will probably recognize ideas and links.

Three quick links about effective revision this morning; it seems appropriate given what many of our students are up to.

Five out of Three/Teach, Do, Review from David Fawcett: a useful framework for structuring a revision lesson, so students don’t spend an hour flicking through textbooks and chatting about Eastenders.

Some similar ideas, explained rather more briefly, are available through Student Toolkit. Some are printable so can be given to students as they walk in the door, and are intended to be used individually.

If you’re using computers, the free site bubbl.us lets students generate mind maps without too much of a learning curve. I find it useful to ask them to organize clear information from another source, eg Bitesize or S-Cool, in a graphical format. This way they can focus on links rather than making excuses for forgetting an odd fact. It’s easy for them to test themselves, just by covering up a section and challenging each other to fill in the ‘gaps’.

We’d be really interested in feedback or suggestions about these or any other classroom resources…

What should I share with colleagues? What would be your recommendations, of themes or individual ideas/links, that are most likely to increase involvement?

(Sounds like a teacher choosing lesson activities for an able but unmotivated class, doesn’t it…)


TeachMeetMidlands 1/2

Last night – a warm summer evening – I finished work and then travelled into Derby rather than away, so I could attend a TeachMeet. If you’ve not been to one, I strongly recommend the experience; classroom teachers sharing an idea which should be usable more or less immediately. Quick talks (max 7 minutes in theory) and lots of chances to ask questions and share ideas. There’s usually coffee.

I’ll post soonish about the ideas I’ve taken away, although if you’re in a hurry you can see the quick notes I made via my CPD tracker – these are not yet proofed and will be gaining details and links when I get a chance to reflect. This post is my chance to share the resources I talked about there, and the presentation I didn’t end up doing.

Review Templates

I’m not bothering to embed the presentation, although you can have a look if you’re interested. Basically, I like to get students using the ideas to improve understanding, as a stage distinct from revision (although these are good for that too). I’ve spent a bit of time today tidying them up and you can now download a total of eight A4 pages in two sections. (They were a mixture of Word and Publisher originally – anyone know an easy way to stitch two pdfs into one file?)

Cornell Notes, Prior Planning, Fours as a pdf

These Are The Answers, PBODME, Blooms, 5Cs, Quarters as a pdf

Comments, thoughts and feedback welcome as always. The only one that’s not really self-explanatory, Cornell Notes, has its own post on this blog.

CPD Tracker

As the link above shows, I’m trying to better track (and reflect on) my CPD using a Google Form. This has lots of advantages (mobile as well as platform independent) and could potentially be used for accreditation or sharing within a group or department. In fact, I’m hoping it will get looked at as part of my #CSciTeach accreditation, which I will be blogging about soon.

My original post is probably still the most useful to explain, but you may also find the presentation helpful. This is what I would have delivered with more time, but this way I can reach those who care and avoid boring those who don’t!

(If for whatever reason the embedded version isn’t working for you, the presentation can be accessed directly.)

Please let me know what ideas, if any, are useful for you – nice to be able to show impact!

The Ethics of Tutoring

The last few posts have been short but practical – lots of links and resources. So for a change this evening’s will be short and philosophical, prompted by several Guardian articles that caught my attention. The first didn’t seem sure about whether there was a real need, or just a perceived one. The second was a series of personal viewpoints, from tutors, parents and the tutees.

I know of several students in each of my classes who have tutors; I’m sure there are more who haven’t mentioned it. There are no doubt a range of reasons and a range of benefits, but I can’t help wondering if the parents are necessarily doing the right thing.

In some cases – hopefully none of mine! – parents are trying to make up for a perceived inadequacy in the classroom. This could due to a teacher, concern about numbers or a child who is being missed. In others, a child is being tutored to try and boost them above an important threshold. The focus in schools is often seen as being about the C/D borderline, so parents may feel that if their child is being neglected then extra time is worthwhile. Parents who are hoping for a particlar school place, scholarships or an 11+ exam would fit into this category.

For many, I suspect the real value – whether this is made explicit to the student or not – is that they have a structured time to work, with guidance. And by this, I mean to make sure the kid does some work, at some point. Many teens struggle to focus when there are so many distractions. Knowing that on Wednesday evenings between 5 and 6 they will have to ask and answer questions on an identified weak area probably helps concentrate the mind. And when the sessions are one-to-one, there’s the chance for personalised revision tips, extra examples or quick tests. This might particularly apply to students who are easily distracted in school, for whatever reason.

Of course, in some cases tutoring is a waste of time. I’ve had students who have been taught material at home that’s wrong, or pitched at too high a level. I had one kid who had been taught all the topics in advance, jumped in with all the answers during discussions yet hadn’t practised the things they needed help with. Other times, pupils have clearly rehearsed the general ideas but not applied them in any kind of a useful way. And to be honest, it’s frustrating to have homework handed in which is clearly above the ability of the student. This wastes my time as well as theirs, seeing as when it comes to the test the scores tend to be a better reflection.

The real problem

I don’t want my kids to need a tutor. They already pay for one – me. I promise my students at the start of the year that I’ll always be around if they need support. They write down where to find me at break and lunch. As long as they don’t mind me eating a sandwich or drinking coffee while I talk, I’ll help them whenever I can. I’ve not often turned kids away – but they’ve not often come asking either. So whose fault is it if pupils don’t ask me for help and their parents end up paying someone else instead?


The thing is, I’ve tutored before and probably will again. I don’t advertise, I’m not with an agency and I don’t tout for business. Obviously I don’t tutor children from my school, unless you count lunchtime revision sessions put on by the department. So does this make me a hypocrite? I guess it does. The truth is that any child will benefit in some way from having an extra session a week on a subject. It might be about confidence, it might be a concept they struggle with, it might just help them organise their revision. But there will be something. Personally – and I’ve said this to parents of pupils and tutees – I think that it’s not very cost-effective. But I suspect many parents would either feel they wouldn’t be confident with the content or value a neutral adult who can support a struggling teenager. I’ve never been asked to provide inappropriate support with coursework and I’ve never done a kid’s homework for them; at most I’ve given similar examples and worked though some equivalent problems with them. My conscience is clear. But I’m still a little uneasy.

An Alternative

This is basically why I’ve been putting together – slowly, painfully and missing every deadline I’ve set myself – a secondary blog. It’s studenttoolkit.co.uk and it uses some of the same ideas I promote in class. It’s not science-specific, so the ideas can be applied in any subject. It’s careful not to blame teachers or pupils for difficulties. It doesn’t suggest there’s a quick fix – in fact, I should add a version of this post to make clear tutoring is not a simple solution. Instead it provides resources, ideas and suggestions to make it easier to succeed in schools.

I’d value any suggestions about it, as well as comments on the ethics of tutoring itself. Do you tutor, or do you hate the idea? How do you feel when you find one of your students pays for a personal replacement for your help? Am I being overly-sensitive?

Answers on a postcard…

GCSE Science Revision

The second half of this post will be mostly relevant to AQA Science A and Additional, because that’s mostly what I teach. The rest will be my own opinions on revision. I say opinions, but I try to make sure these are evidence-based, because that’s what we try to do, right? Let’s start off with active revision, what it is and isn’t, and how to convince kids to do it. You could argue this puts the responsibility back on the students rather than us doing it, which strikes me as both moral and effective. It’s incredibly depressing when kids turn up at a scheduled ‘revision class’ expecting to listen to a teacher read through the syllabus. Pointless, frustrating and demoralising for everyone concerned; surely there’s something more constructive they could be doing?

Most of the hyperlinks are to my own posts, because I could find them quickly. I’d love for comments to be added with more/better stuff, so please do!

Active Revision inc MORSE

I like the acronym MORSE, standing for

  • Mnemonics (Yes, I know, relatively small benefit, but can’t miss it out)
  • Organisation (links between concepts, not remembering your calculator)
  • Rehearsal/Repetition (ideally using the ideas behind ‘spaced revision’)
  • Simplification/Summarising (key words, lists, page to paragraph to sentence)
  • Extension (applying facts to new situations)

I presented on this ages ago at a TeachMeet, but it’s continued to be useful when working with my students. It’s a straightforward checklist to make sure that whatever they’re doing, it’s active rather than passive. As I explain to my classes, although there are some surprises, most revision advice is simple. Like healthy eating, it’s not about mysterious secrets, but about willpower.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Michael Pollan, 2007

Active revision isn’t a complicated idea. It’s about doing something. Writing, not reading. Describing or thinking or explaining, not just watching or listening. It’s quite telling that when I asked a student how they had revised for a recent test, they told me they’d “looked at the revision guide.” Not even read the revision guide, you notice. Have you seen that students seem to treat revision guides like gym memberships? Owning them is enough to ensure the result you wanted, apparently…

Anyway. I like to get students:

  • using past papers in loads of ways
  • writing revision notes as summaries from a range of sources
  • producing mindmaps/revision cards then using them
  • asking and answering questions with peers
  • rote learning definitions using cover/write/check
  • linking concepts with examples and consequences for the 6 mark questions.
  • advantages/disadvantages, comparisons with linked ideas/examples (eg the Five Cs format)
  • practising mathematical situations, both clear and challenging

..and of course much more. I’m constantly behind in updates to my student-focused site, studenttoolkit.co.uk, which has a revision category. New ideas, contributions, referrals all welcome of course!

AQA-Specific Links

Booklets for students to complete, with checklists. These are all in .pdf format.

Nothing for Chemistry, on account of me being a Physicist who can also teach the squishy stuff, but is more likely to blow himself up accidentally rather than on purpose. 🙂

Hope some of the above is useful – please met me know what you think, whether positive or negative.

B2 Revision Activity

Another short and sweet post, aimed mainly at teachers of AQA Additional Science or Biology. I put together a (mostly blank) summary booklet for my students, and perhaps yours might find it useful too. I see it mainly as a starting point, and emphasize that this should then lead to more detailed, interactive resources for them. A good way to use it might be to split students into six groups and then have them produce two or three resources per table; a mindmap, a set of questions and answers, a 2minute presentation and so on. If they produce things electronically, they could then share them all and everyone gets the benefit.

B2 summary activity as .pdf

Anyway, you could simply hand it out and ask them to start by filling it in. Let me know how it works out and if you want an editable version (in .docx format) you’ll have to leave a comment. I’ll aim to email it out by… say Wednesday 24th? Seems fair.


6 Mark Questions

This is one approach to teaching the dreaded 6 mark AQA questions. I’d be interested in comments or suggestions, as ever. The powerpoint that goes along with it was set up for B1, but is obviously easily changed. 6 Mark Questions as ppt.


  • Recap key facts
  • Improve structure of answers to 6 mark questions
  • (Appreciate that it’s hard to write good 6 mark questions and markschemes)


Question on board, set timer running: “You have 6 minutes.”

I do it, We do it together

Ask what they think the aim of the lesson is.

6 mark questions may require explanations, examples to illustrate a specified concept, judgements of advantages and disadvantages, a description of a process or an experimental method. Marks are awarded for scientific content and the quality of the writing. This means key ideas must be clear and the explanation must make sense, the points in a logical order. Most students lose marks because their answers lack sufficient detail eg scientific vocabulary or because their answer is rambling or confused. Markschemes will usually include graded answers (low=1-2 marks, 3-4, 5-6) and examiners will decide which description fits best, then award the higher or lower score depending on the quality of writing. Aim for between 4 and 6 scientific points or steps in a process; if opposing viewpoints are needed include points for and against, or examples of plants and animals etc.

Introduce method:

  • Bullet point ideas
  • Number the points to give a logical sequence, adding or removing points.
  • Use this order to write coherent sentences.

Model with a new question, ask students to consider how they would structure their answer, show numbers, ask them to discuss possible sentences based on these points. Compare with each other, pick up on details needed by examiner.

You do it together

Give them more questions, have them discuss one in pairs while they attempt it. Collaboration should be about making suggestions and producing two different answers which can be compared, not one identical answer. You could give a choice or set it by rows. Go through example bullet points, discuss gaps, additions and exclusions. Elicit possible/useful connectives.

You do it alone

Attempt a question in exam conditions, following method. Compare to markscheme (ideally this one should be a past or sample question with specified allowed answers) and make specific improvements. Return to the original Starter question and annotate their answer, explaining why they would change various parts.


  • Have students write their own questions and markschemes for specific points in the syllabus. Linking this to higher order tasks via Blooms or SOLO may be useful.
  • Use the questions to play consequences where one student writes a question, one writes bullet points, one sequences and a last writes full sentences. This will end up with four complete answers which can then be discussed.
  • Give sample answers and have students mark them, first with and then without a markscheme. What do they forget? What level of detail is required?


UPDATE: A useful approach from @gregtheseal via twitpic, and I like the ‘CUSTARD’ mnemonic shared by @IanMcDaid. Thank you!

P1 Summary Activity

To be honest, this is long overdue but it’s been a bad month. Lots of other stuff going on, not all school-related – which also accounts for my fairly low output on Twitter. Which you’ve probably all enjoyed. 🙂

Anyway; one revision activity, like the others. This may be useful to help kids note down main points, check understanding, test themselves etc etc for the AQA P1 exam. Some will be doing it in January, some in the summer. Either way, hope it’s useful – please let me so if it is.

  P1 Revision Activity as a pdf


P2 Summary Activity

A very short post this one, as it’s time to get the kids in bed and make sure I’ve an ironed shirt for tomorrow. But as I’ve done this for my students, it seems only fair to make it available to you guys* too…

This booklet/activity is the same idea as the one I posted a little while back for B1. I dislike giving revision notes; that’s why they have a revision guide. Equally, if you don’t give them some kind of structure they’ll surely make a mess of it. As before, page references are to the excellent CGP guides, although others are available. I teach the AQA Additional Science spec, although this will also fit in to triple/Physics teaching.

Download P2 summary activity as a .pdf (Add a comment below if you want the .docx version)

Please let me know if it’s useful, or if you spot any problems with it. I’d particularly appreciate comments below (not just on twitter!) if you use it in your own settings, as sharing this kind of thing is one of the ways I’m building up evidence for my CSciTeach accreditation.


*’guys’ used in the same way as I do in my classroom, as a non-gender-specific yet informal address

B1 Active Summary

A quick one, this – and, you’ll be glad to hear, totally nonpolitical. I’ve expanded my idea of a revision checklist to make it a revision booklet. In an ideal world, I wouldn’t do this. I’d give kids a stack of blank paper and make them write their own damn headings. Deciding what matters most, what order it should go in, which areas should be linked together and so on would be a great activity. In fact, I’d recommend using that – perhaps in the format ‘give me ten episodes for this series’ – as a starter before handing this out. Kids could write ideas on post-its then argue about the best combinations. In reality, if we don’t give them some kind of structure they’re probably doomed.

B1 active summary as .pdf

Anyway, this is scaled for A4 but in most cases should copy down okay to an A5 booklet, two double-sided A4 pages. You’ll have to ask nicely at Reprographics. I spent ages sorting out the sequence on A5, messing around with page numbers, only to be told they needed to reduce it from A4 anyway. Oh well. Learn from my mistake and ask first.

The first page is a recap – for my students at least, who are probably sick of hearing about MORSE code revision – of effective approaches to exam preparation. Six pages of headings matched to the B1 exam of the AQA Science A specification, which many year 10 and 11 students will be sitting in January and June. And the back page is a checklist for them to assess their star rating, from 1 to 5, for each section. I usually make them tell me the difference between confidence and competence before I let them write on that bit.

Oh, and I included page references to the CGP revision guide (Core Science, Higher Tier). it’s the one we use and recommend, but obviously there are others about.

I’ll be doing an equivalent to this for the P2 module in the same course; please let me know if you’ve any suggestions for improvements in style or approach. And if you use this, I would very much appreciate you commenting below; I’m working on my CSciTeach application and it would be nice to show that my blog gets read and used by distant colleagues (as those in my department use the resources, but don’t know who I am online…). If you want the original .docx file, ask in the comments and I’ll send it your way.


Distractions are easy to find. In fact, they seek us out – now more than ever. I’m sure I’m not the only person who found that exam season at university was when the bath really needed cleaning. One of the issues with encouraging students to revise effectively is that they are more vulnerable to distractions than we realise – and perhaps more so than they realise too.

I was alerted to (ironically, while I should have been doing something else) this great graphic from InformationIsBeautiful (click for link to the original, used and attributed via CC):

This got me thinking about whether students really understand how important it is to be able to focus on revision. I do a lot about how to make active learning effective, both in lessons and at home. (See new project The Student Toolkit for examples) I’m just not sure that kids who are used to ‘background’ noise/distractions keep track of the problems it causes. This links nicely to things I’ve read about the ‘always on’ culture.

So I decided to run an activity to help them consider it.

The idea for this was for students to make their own hierarchy about distractions. They can add any particular issues, or discuss subtle differences: Is someone else’s music better or worse? What about instrumental opposed to vocals? Which social networks are hardest to ignore for them?

You could extend it by asking them to log, for an hour of doing homework, how much of that time was ‘stolen’ by other activities. You could ask them to complete a simple task in the lesson under different distractions – a nice exercise in HSW if you involve them in the planning! It’s the sort of lesson that could be nicely started with a video of the classic experiment about selective attention.

There are many ways to get students thinking about making the most of their study or revision time. Of course, we can’t make them do it. But by forcing them to make an informed choice, we can at least ask them to take responsibility for their own actions, leave their phone out of the way and switch off the TV.