5 more hip ways to start your lessons

By Alex More

Thanks for your feedback on our last blog 5 hip ways to start your lessons It seems there was some genuine enthusiasm to try some of our ideas out. So, here are 5 more ways to help you create the most engaging starts to your lessons. We hope you like them!

1: Low access, high challenge

This idea is straight from the Lazy outstanding teacher handbook and works well to engage students in critical thinking from of the off. Present students with an image and a question. The image should be powerful enough to intrigue them and perhaps puzzle them a little. I tend to use https://unsplash.com/ &https://pixabay.com/en/photos/amazing/ for the images are both sites are free and easy to use.

Below are some examples of how I have used the low access, high challenge method. It’s low access as it involves everyone, very inclusive and high challenge because you can take the conversation as far into the learning as you feel time and interest permits. As a guide I normally allow 5 minutes for this task.

Screenshot 2018-08-13 at 8.19.47 AM

I used this recently with a boisterous Year 9 computing lesson. Within seconds, everyone had an opinion and argued their logic and rationale. Conversations and disagreements were rife and everyone loved it. Who do you think would win this fight?

Here is another example used with a GCSE PE group.

Screenshot 2018-08-13 at 8.21.43 AM

Student’s were presented with the answer and had to come up with a viable question. This proved quite challenging and took a little time for students to reach logical questions but the end result was interesting. ‘If this was the learning prompt, what was the lesson about?’

Screenshot 2018-08-11 at 6.48.51 AM
I used this one in a Year 9 computing lesson to engage some thinking around how technology might change by the Year 2043. Some great conversations about hot-desking, hologram imaging and virtual reality emerged and students seemed very open to listening to the ideas of others. This image could be adapted to suit any classroom environment and works really well.

2:  Make the connection

This idea places a high cognitive demand on students and really makes them think. The idea works best if students are allowed to work in small teams (2 to 4 people max). Present students with two separate images on the screen and ask them to make the connection in 5 links. It helps if you use images related to the learning. In a recent A level PE lesson on the history of football in the UK I used this image;


Students then had to map the evolution of football as they saw it. To maximise the potential of this idea ask a spokesperson for each group to read out their 5 steps.

3: Plickers

Plickers uses technology to embrace learning and will rely on the teacher using a mobile device to scan student responses. It’s a simple concept but amazingly effective at engaging students in Q&A, short answer assessment during lessons and students don’t need their own devices!

From the Plickers website https://www.plickers.com/ or the App you can download a set of A4 paper cards. Once printed, each student is given a Plickers card. The teacher can then use the App or online version of Plickers to preset a series of questions. Student’s respond by raising their card in class. The teacher then scans the class and the answers are presented on the screen for all to see. Simple, effective assessment and highly engaging.

4: Gamification

This idea works on risk and reward. Divide the class into teams of 4. Set a series of 1 mark questions, simple answers. For example; What is the capital city of Mexico? Each group has to record their answer and hold it up on a mini-whiteboard. The teacher scans to see the answers and then offers each team the option to STICK or TWIST. If they stick and have the correct answer they bank 1 point. If they decide to twist then the teacher flips a coin and if they call it right they double their points. If they flip and call wrong it’s back to zero

5: Summarise in a tweet

This idea embraces the fact that your students are most likely digital natives and adds a social media element to the learning which they like and can relate to. Ask them to create a TWEET (280 characters now, up from 140 previously) to share with the class. You can differentiate the challenge as concise sentence structure to form a tweet in 140 characters can be more difficult than allowing them 280. Students have to work hard to grammatise a coherent tweet that they feel is worthy of sharing. Below are some contexts in which this has been applied.

  • Summarise what you learned last lesson in a tweet
  • Create today’s lesson objective as a tweet
  • Explain through a tweet Newton’s law of relativity
  • Form a tweet to describe why plastic is bad for our oceans
  • Mark your partners work and Tweet them the feedback in 140 characters

Give these ideas a try and let us know what you think.

5 Hip ways to start your lessons

By Alex More

Word up hipsters, here’s a quick fire guide to starting your lessons with a bang! These are not ‘lesson starters’ which I have always felt are a little cliche. They are simple, easy to apply ways to start your lessons and get students active, engaged and interested.

Capturing a student’s interest is vital if we are to provide engaging lessons and avoid them switching off. Often, this means working hard to create the buzz that fuels such engagement, but it doesn’t have to be that hard. The following 10 ideas require minimum teacher effort and yield maximum student energy, the dream ticket! If you are interested, read on …

1: From the register

When you take the register, insist students answer with a keyword from last lesson, instead of their name. The word could be from  a home study task or a word relating to the learning but they must be attentive and thinking to ensure the word they use is relevant. To increase the challenge, randomize the register order and insist keywords can’t be repeated, original words only. I did this recently with a year 9 science lesson on waves. Student’s responded with words like peaks, troughs, oscillations etc and it worked great.

2: The cone game

Screenshot 2018-08-13 at 7.02.28 AM

Borrow some colored hat cones from the PE team and set up this simple but active activity. It’s great as it gets students out of their seats engaging in active learning. It works best as a pairs game and can be either played in open spaces or set up with desks in a classroom. You need a set of keywords written out and a set of cones. As pairs they take it in turns to find a keyword and bring it back to their partner where the word is added to a mini-whiteboard. 3 minutes is the ideal time for them to collect as many keywords as they can. From the glossary of key words you can ask them to create the lesson objective, a tweet about what they will learn or perhaps some questions they might have about those words.

3: Flipped Learning

Flipped learning provides students with access to content ahead of time. Students can engage with podcasts, videos, online tutorials or extended reading outside of the lesson. The teacher sets the task prior to the lesson. When the lesson arrives student’s have a basic understanding which the teacher can build on. I wrote a blog recently from hip to flip which outlines some ways teachers can engage with flipped pedagogy  https://educationalhipsters.com/?s=from+hip

I tend to use flipped learning for about 50% of my classes and all of my exam groups. Students love it and this version goes by the name of ‘Flipped 101’.

4: Speed dating

Just like real life speed dating this gem of an idea involves active learning, challenge and peer collaborative learning. 

Screenshot 2018-08-13 at 7.04.51 AM

Ask students to create 3 x questions from the content covered in your lesson. They have to do this as a home study / flipped task. The questions have to be worth 1 mark each, so short answers only. It’s worth emphasizing that students must know the answer to the question, so a little research needs to happen. When students arrive in class with their questions, inform them they will be speed dating. Students then have to find another person (someone they don’t normally work with) and take it turns to ask and answer questions. They give each other a score out of 3 then move on and find a new date / partner to ask questions. The teacher just needs to time 60 seconds per round so 120 seconds per pair and call the rotations.

5: The Post-it note game

Give each student 1 x post-it note each. Ask them to write down one keyword. The word they write down will depend on the context so let’s create a context to help you visualise how it works.

Context: Year 10 English lesson on Lord of the Flies

Ask students to write down the word they feel best describes the character Jack in the book. They can only write ONE word and they have 30 seconds to do it. Once they complete the word, ask them to keep it a secret. Set up a central table in the classroom and ask all students to stick their post-it note on the table. Once all the Post-its have been placed ask them to rotate around the table and read other people’s words. Once this is done, they have to select ONE word that they now feel represents Jack. This won’t necessarily be the word they wrote which adds an interesting dynamic. Randomly, ask students to explain WHY they selected that word, what they feel it represents.

With the start of the new academic year a few weeks away, we hope you might try an idea or two and perhaps contribute one of your own. We have 5 more ideas on how to start your lessons which we will post next week. 

Have I already taught the best lesson of my life?

By Alex More

Teaching is an art form, one never perfected, but sometimes we come close, don’t we? As teachers, we are idealists and every once in a while we actually touch what it is we are reaching for … the best lesson ever!

As the long summer term comes to an end it seems fitting to be reflexive, to take a little time to focus on what went well. The good news is teaching allows for this. With a six week summer break upon us it’s time to relax, recharge and refocus.

So, how about that question … Have I already taught the best lesson of my life? 

This will be a personal thing, or perhaps dependent on how many years you have been teaching for. To give some perspective, the average classroom teacher delivers 40 x 1 hour lessons per cycle (2 weeks) and attends school for 39 weeks per year. This equates to 780 teacher led hours per year, not including any extra-curricular sessions you might run. That’s a massive amount of time to get things right, or wrong.

This got me thinking of the potential for a meta-analysis study, asking 1000’s of teachers to describe their best ever lesson then mapping the common themes, trends and similarities to see what defines the ultimate lesson. This would be a cool although labor intensive project, but for the purpose of this blog as it’s intended, perhaps focusing on our own best ever lessons might help us reconnect to the very things that made it so awesome!

It makes sense then to focus on the elements that make for that special lesson.  Hopefully, you have that lesson in mind. What did it look and feel like to you? What was so special about what you created that day, hour, lesson, part of the lesson? I have heard colleagues refer to this as ‘ness’, ‘buzz’, ‘the zone’, ‘magic’ and my personal favorite ‘mojo’. 

As educators we are led to believe that five core strands or elements exist by which to judge a successful lesson. They are;

  • Challenge
  • Engagement
  • Progress Over Time
  • Feedback
  • Questioning

This works as a model to view learning and make judgement’s on effectiveness, but does it describe that ‘ness’ that was going on in your special lesson. Let’s park the 5 strands above for a while and work on some other ideas and possibilities. To achieve this, I have done some soul searching to identify ‘the lesson’ that I am asking you to think of which I hope will give a little context for the ideas that follow.

The best lesson I ever taught

Firstly, this lesson happened by accident. To give a little context, it was end of term and I had two teachers absent in my team. I was due to teach my normal GCSE PE group and had a fitness lesson in mind. At the last minute, I was asked if I could take a few GCSE students from the year below to help spread the cover load. Impulsively, I offered to take all of them. Fast forward, 50 GCSE students, one teacher and no firm lesson plan or objective. To make matters worse, the younger students had not covered the content I was wanting the older students to work on. In the 3.5 minutes it took them to get changed I created a lesson objective; What does 60% look like? What followed cemented my belief that as teachers, we often underestimate what our students are capable of.

As a starter I paired up the older GCSE students with the younger ones and explained they would be learning through teaching today. Resting pulses were located, explained, questioned and challenged as progress flourished in abundance. Once a warm up was completed (student lead) I simply tasked the older GCSE students to calculate 50%, 60%, 70%, 80% of their partners maximum heart rate. To achieve this they applied the simple equation 200-your age, then did the appropriate arithmetic to find the % rates. The best part was that the older students had to explain the process, cementing their knowledge and presenting new learning for the younger GCSE students. At this point we revisited the objective and I asked the older students to get their partner exercising at 60% of their maximum heart rate. At random times we took pulse rates and students adjusted the exercise intensity whilst coaching, advising and engaging in deep, meaningful learning. The lesson ticked all the boxes for the core strands; engagement, questioning, progress over time, feedback and challenge but something else, something much more powerful was happening … mojo. 

So, how do we measure mojo? 

Simply speaking we don’t. It’s a feeling we get when we walk into a classroom and we just know, good things are happening. During the lesson described above, I couldn’t work out why it was all going so well. On reflection now, I can see that the student’s responded to the free and risky nature of the learning. Below I have identified the good things that were happening and plan to store these as a blueprint to recreate this mojo again in the future.

Risk taking and willingness to FAIL

Interestingly, 48 students failed to meet the objective. What does 60% look like? Only 2 students managed to work at 60% of the whole lesson. This didn’t matter as each time they failed, they adjusted, tweaked and learned in the process. I blogged a while back on the power of FAIL Why it’s ok to FAIL sometimes

Students experienced failure during the questioning and the main part of the lesson. Failure fueled new learning as students searched continuously for new directions and new solutions to the problem set.

Working collaboratively

The wisdom of the crowd prevailed here and students relished the opportunity of imparting knowledge to others. During the lesson, I was able to stand back and watch students 100% engaged in challenging their partner to reach 60%, but not exceed it. Most students did exceed the 60% target, some as high as 85% but with the help of maths and conversion adjustments were made as they honed in on that 60% target. I plan to blog on the power of collaborative learning soon and will revisit this idea in lessons as it works. Empowering the students to teach other not only consolidates their learning, it shows you trust them.

Get up, get active

Getting students moving, interacting and engaging with the learning is so powerful. PE is a practical subject by nature but research suggests getting students out of their seats and moving around improves retention. Activities like speed dating and market place learning can help facilitate movement whilst learning and should be included in every teacher tool kit.

Comfort Zone – Stretch Zone – Panic Zone

I am confident to say all 50 students worked within their comfort, stretch and panic zones. This OLEVI (think tank) model is a great way to facilitate challenge in the classroom.

Comfort Zone – students feel at ease, challenge is relative to their ability.

Stretch Zone – students begin to feel challenged, they might not understand the whole                                  concept but will have some ideas. FAIL should be applied here

Panic Zone –  students are out of their comfort zones, accessing new learning. FAIL will                              occur here and should be embraced and celebrated by the teacher

To conclude, I feel this lesson discussed above was one of the best I have taught. For a moment I felt I got the heart of what it was I set out to do, teach amazing lessons. Excuse the metaphor but in this case student’s were literally putting their hearts into it!

Hopefully, by focusing on what our best teaching lessons looked and felt like we can work on blueprints for the future. It would be great to hear your experiences of the best and perhaps even worse ever lessons taught. Perhaps there is scope for a ‘worse ever lesson blog too’, I have experienced plenty of the those … Enjoy your well-earned summer break!

Peace out!

Al