In which I reflect on day three of the Improving Teacher Programme

Things seem to have got away from me somewhat in the week-and-a-bit since day three of the ITP course, so I’m going to limit this post to summarising the ‘golden nuggets’ that we uncovered during the afternoon session.

A large part of our discussion was focused on different ways to use pictures as starter activities. These included:

  • Key words – use the picture(s) as a stimulus to recall key words from previous lessons.
  • Extreme close up / Different angles – the picture or photo is of something or someone relevant to the lesson, but is either an extreme close-up of a specific detail or taken from an unusual angle, and can be used either to recall prior knowledge or as a ‘fascinator’ to generate interest in the lesson topic.
  • 5 Ws (What/Why/Where/Who/When) – use the picture and the 5 Ws [1] to generate a range of questions at the start of the lesson. Each student could write one on a Post-It note and stick it to the board. At the end of the lesson, each student takes someone else’s question and, as a class, you reflect on how many of them can (or can’t) now be answered.
  • Heads and tails – pictures could be in pairs, or cut into half. The class have to match up the two pictures, or the two halves. This could be used to generate random pairs of students for completion of the main learning tasks.
  • Odd one out – further to my previous post, a set of pictures can be used for open-ended creative thinking tasks like odd one out, especially where there is no single obvious answer.
  • Title – as an alternative or as a follow-up to odd one out, when presented with a set of images, students could be challenged to come up with an overall title for the photo set.
  • Captions – individually or in small groups, students have to come up with an appropriate caption for a picture or photo. There are a number of variations on this theme, including…
  • Speech bubbles – for pictures or photos with at least one person in them, students have to write a speech bubble to indicate what the person or people might be saying.
  • How would they feel? – again, for pictures or photos with at least one person in them, students have to think about how the person or people might be feeling (which is, importantly, not the same as what they might be saying).
  • What would you ask them? – Students have to put themselves in the position of a journalist or interviewer, and generate a set of questions (possibly using the 5 Ws) that they might ask the person or people in the picture.
  • If pictures could talk – Students have to imagine that the person or people in two (or more) pictures or photos could talk to each other, and write down some ideas of questions that the people might ask each other, or a short conversation that they might have.
  • Random picture cards – This might work better as a plenary rather than as a starter. Individually or in small groups, students are given a random picture (the more unrelated to the lesson, the better) and asked the question: “How is (today’s topic) like x?”

We also had some discussion around ways to reduce teacher talk. This is not to say that teacher talk is necessarily a bad thing – quite the opposite, in fact; Hattie found that direct instruction had an average effect size of 0.59. However, as Hattie writes: ‘There is a need to build commitment and engagement in the learning task – a “hook” to grab the student’s attention such that the student shares the intention and understands what it means to be successful,’ before going on to outline a model of direct instruction that builds student commitment and engagement.[2] In other words: ‘The solution to mindless rote learning is not less teacher instruction; it is different and better teacher instruction.’[3]

Our discussion, then, centred around a couple of ways to build student engagement in the learning task; to teach new concepts to students without it necessarily being obvious that you are, in fact, teaching. One was ‘Call my Bluff’, in which three students are given three different explanations, one of which is correct and the other two of which are wrong; they read these out in turn, then the rest of the class have to guess which is correct. Another involves presenting the class with a written explanation and asking students to spot the deliberate spelling mistakes in the explanation. Both ways require students to engage with the explanation in ways that go beyond simply talking to the class.

Similarly, revision could be carried out by having students themselves generate a list of topics that they have studied; based on this list, they could then carry out a self-audit (very confident – reasonably confident – not at all confident; red / amber / green) of these topics. In this, the ‘hook’ is proceeding from the starting point of the students’ own knowledge and, by the time that they are starting revision, the success criteria should increasingly be provided by the students themselves after regular cycles of practice and feedback.

One final ‘golden nugget’ was seen during our ward round – specifically, in a Science classroom. Students were standing around the edge of the room to represent a cell membrane, with one student in the centre to represent the nucleus and another student wandering around the space in between the cell membrane and the nucleus to represent cytoplasm, making the whole classroom into a living model of a cell – a strategy that Paul Ginnis calls ‘Bodily Functions’.[4]


[1] cf. A. Nichols with D. Kinninment, eds. (2001) More Thinking Through Geography (Cambridge, Chris Kington)

[2] J. Hattie (2012) Visible Learning for Teachers – Maximising Impact on Learning (London, Routledge), quote from p.65

[3] D. Christodoulou (2013) Seven Myths About Education (London, The Curriculum Centre) Kindle version, downloaded from on 22 June 2013, quote from chapter 2

[4] P. Ginnis (2002) The Teacher’s Toolkit: Raise Classroom Achievement with Strategies for Every Learner (Crown House, Carmarthen)


About carljphillips

Geography teacher. PhD in cultural/historical geography (Nott'm., 2006). SF/F genre fiction fan. Liverpool FC supporter. Libertarian. Humanist. Etc. I blog about the theory and practice of Geography teaching, and teaching in general.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s