Be Precise Yet Concise

One of my goals this year as well as improving my own writing skills is to really push for improvements in each and every student in my geography lessons.

A core skill for 6th Form geography students is the ability to write descriptions and explanations in a concise yet precise way. 2 of my classes today wrote a paragraphs littered with 32 key geography words specific to a flood.

(This space will be filled with an example from Jess when I get in tomorrow morning. I’ll just picture her work so you can see it and believe it:) )

This got me thinking about my year 8s and I decided to tweak my idea for there lesson to incorporate of of last week’s successes of using Jenga blocks for writing key terms on them. But instead of using the key terms to test students understanding of them like last week via a game of Jenga (students pulled out a block related to their target and then described with as much detail as they could that term and then do 6 degrees of separation against the previously drawn brick) students used the bricks to structure their written answer.

First we need a platform to progress the lesson from. The starter task involved the students listening to a video audio, which described and explained the process of ‘How a waterfall develops’ I set the main focus for students to listen out for as many geography keywords that in their opinion were purely linked to the process of a waterfall. The video audio did have a couple of cheeky terms that could have deviated students. If that was to occur the collaborative nature of the next elements should remove the misinterpretation of what was or wasn’t linked to a waterfall by students think, pair and sharing. I could have given students all the key terms and I could have said don’t talk about the pot holes on this occasion. But you have to leave it for on occasions students to make these mistakes and decipher them in a team.

So we listened to the 1 minute 17 second clip and I watched students listening in silence no jotting down words just listening to keep entire focus on listening to the words mentioned. Students then wrote on a whiteboard how many they had counted. The highest at this first step was 16. I told the students I had picked out 29. Many we’re shocked.

“No way did you get that many sir” my reply was simple “I challenge you to find more!” I bet I can as I’m sure I missed some. My choice of words was important here. I was highlighting to students that a) they shouldn’t accept their first answer especially in a listening task as the job done. The term ‘challenge’ excited some as they like the thought of a competition especially against me:) 30 brains V 1 I keep telling them are a powerful beast! Also the fact I had set a high expectation AND more importantly hadn’t phrased it as the ceiling by leaving students with the thought there were more terms there to be included.

So students began the process of listening again. It was amazing seeing the difference in how many listened to the audio. A sense of a more steely game face was evident. So why didn’t I do this the 1st time round and set higher expectations? Well my thinking was for students to self identify with passive listening skills and identify the difference when they are fully focused word for word with what is said. I then relayed the message that I had identified another 4 terms and was now at 33. So the supposed expert had risen the bar AGAIN! (Setting high expectation).

This second time students applied some Kagan strategies. Think, pair and share. The groups were split. One group had identified 23, 2 had 25 and 4 groups 28 geography keywords that were specific to a waterfall.

“Sir we didn’t beat you:(” said a disgruntled girl.

“Ahhhh not yet, not YET”

Now for some more Kagan grouping. I have my tables set out as 4s so for this class 7 groups of 4. During group work I use a group effectiveness tally chart I have blogged about this in a previous post. See the picture at the bottom. This tool is proving to be a behaviour for learning great management strategy where students see me bring it out and know these will be linked to the class Classdojo scores that the students are very competitive with.

(I’ll add hyperlink here)

I did contemplate each student having a different letter and collecting all the words for their letter but some were not used and I thought this would lead to some not working. So I took the decision for grouping the students as followed:

Letters A-G 1s from each of the 7 tables; H-M 2s; N-S 3s and T-Z 4s.

Students wrote the words from their table for their group on their whiteboard. They then met with the other 1s from each group etc to identify if the other groups had identified any other words.

The students by the end of the process had identified 38! They wrote them on the board as a collective.

The girl who before felt a little deflated was a picture:) as we’re the class.

Next the important bit could any of the terms be linked together. CORRECT now how many of the terms can you connect to specific stages of how a waterfall develops.

So the students watched the video with no audio identifying how many core stages they could identify.

This time the groups identified the core 8 I wanted.

This they were consolidated with by the 8 diagrams with no labels I distributed via my resource distributor team (one from each table haha).

Now over to the link with the previous lesson of using the Jenga (Tesco Stack Em) blocks. Students wrote the key terms onto the blocks and then use them as labels for the diagrams. I got students to take pictures of each diagram with blocks for a reference to them so they could create labelled sketches of the process as well as a written answer.

Now over to the concise yet precise element to the task.

Students could have written up an answer some 100 words others 2 pages 500+

So I set the ceiling of 150 words.

Students then sequenced the Jenga blocks in an order top down. Top the 1st part of the process down to the bottom and the 8th step. So students had to order the bricks in 3s per row and then once a step was complete they put a post it marker to divide the stack for each stage so they knew when to start a new paragraph. I have a wall display of terms to use as connectives and for sequencing writing for the students and I made it explicit that I wanted to see students using them.

Now over to the writing with the word limit. I have found boys seem to like numbers. If I said write the answer some would have struggled but by psychologically imprinting that number for some in this class it becomes manageable. I’m intrigued to find out if anyone else finds this???)

The students then fell silent and got cracking as time was ticking:)

Then the bit that thrilled me the most! A girl said to me,

“Sir I’m finished.” my reply “wonderful so how many keywords have you used? Can you show me how you ordered?”

“well I was good with the key terms I used 31 of them, but Alex had to help me with the connections as I got muddled. She showed me using the Jenga blocks how I could start building my answer with the first 9 terms then I did the next set so I need to work on my linking sir as not quite ordered. I hope that is ok?” I replied “I wish I had recorded that” haha. When I read her work it was precise and concise with no waffle. I checked with each table what I call the Strongest link to check theirs and was again very happy with what I read. These would become mini managers for the critique the next lesson.

Then got her to go and be monitor for the rest of the class in the final minutes and she was a star checking how many key terms each student had used. So by the end of the lesson I had that as evidence, I had the group effectiveness chart as evidence, the sequenced diagrams labelled as evidence, the ordered blocks as evidence and then for peer assessment feedback using Critique next lesson the written answers.

Next lesson should be great and I will be interested to see if others struggled with the linking and what strategy I could have implemented to strengthen that.

Give it a go:)


Stack Em – A solo activity for Keywords

At the weekend one of my best friends @redhea79 took me out for a walk. As always with us it didn’t take long for the conversation to focus on teaching (I know, I know).

Andy have me a strategy that he has used and I LOVE IT!

Firstly you need a set of Jenga like bricks. Tesco do a set called ‘Stack Em’ and they cost £5.

These are the stimulus resource.

1. At the end of a topic or earlier get students to say not on each brick a keyword from the topic. This is a quick AfL task as you can see what they remember. I get mine to do it as a quick plenary or a quick starter.

2. These keywords could be checked against those have noted on the board. Next I get mine to colour the bricks. This can already be done by you but i get students to do it as a bit of success criteria development against level ability.

The more difficult terms naturally relate to higher level thinking down to the name of a landform as low level. I get students to do this on the outside of the brick. See pic students could then stack them related to significance, cost, creating a ranking sequence to the tower. They could evaluate each others blocks and students try to work out how they are ranked.

The block could be classified into human / physical or environmental. So before you even play the game you have thinking driving the learning:)

Now we have our keywords and they are connected to specific levels. Now it is time for a game! See pic. Students in tables of 4 in my room play to remove the bricks. They can do that related to their target so if they are a level 4 they go for pinks or if they are a 5 the orange. Or go a great up go for a challenge. When the student draws out a word they have to say what it is. the rest on the table could do a Kagan task with it to keep then active rather than passive. 1s draw it, 2s describe it, 3s associate or dissociate from it with another brick for 6 degrees of separation from it or say as many words that are connected to it and count. I use this as a quick timer for the others. All the connected words they are saying the others are describing, drawing, the 4 sides to the brick could link to categories such as economic, environmental, social; or the 2 opposite sides opposites or positives/negatives. And so it continues…. Each brick that comes out, students can try and think off an overall connection or a theme for later that they will use with that keyword as the focus (linked to brains on the table). Some of you may not agree with the use of levels against the key terms I feel I am getting some qualitative formative assessment from it later on from it by verbally checking students.

The game will play out till the block collapses. Then we move onto the next task of ‘Brains on the Table’ the idea is that students sort the bricks however they want to (or by the criteria you give them on the board. So that you have control if you feel you need it to then make a direct comparison between groups. Students could then cross to another groups brain on the table to get ideas, compare / contrast ask for help a hint etc. I got students to do solo connecting of a landform. Create a list of bricks for a specific landform say like in my example :

A Volcano

Do students know the 2 types they need to know for the exam? I can check so a hinge point question to start.

Do they know one thing about this type of volcano to make them a uni structural learner? They might know it has gentle slopes. See pic

Multistructural students bring in more bricks to surround it but they are not connected they are just associated with a shield volcano. See pic

Relational students are creating links between the key words so for example they are connecting gentle slopes with low viscosity basalt lava.

Students could then with all these key terms draw on paper or I prefer the table with a whiteboard pen a diagram to incorporate the key terms and to keep connected parts together.

Students could take one of the keyword and change the focus of it all or take of the key words and apply it to something else – extended abstract thinking:)

Each table of students could have different terms in their pack and so then you could create cross table bridges to connect terms together for the big picture:)

You could write differentiated terms around the brick so runny lava on simple term side becomes low viscosity basaltic lava on the Geography Key side:)

There are other ways of using the bricks but I will happily hand it over to you to post a comment on how else say in another subject or geography you could use this resource:)

This is one way I use it:)

A week in 20 points of odd geography because I love odd!

A big quote from a student this week quickly turned into a poll daddy survey. So what did they say???

Initially when you hear this word you feel slightly bamboozled! Is it a good identity trait or a bad one? ‘The girl said “Sir you are so ODD!” “Gee whizz don’t mix your words” I replied. “I’m not! Don’t get me wrong Sir it is a good thing you always stick something odd or memorable into my mind and I can’t get rid of it because it is wacky and off this planet or emotionally charged or it is very inventive and makes me think, ‘how does he think up these things!?’ Our class do a prediction before each lesson on what stupid idea will we get trapped with!”

I have read in many blogs and listened to Ofsted inspectors saying they hate seeing performances! The teacher doing ALL the effort. I counter this by the quote above. Do students always get together to make predictions before a lesson on what it will be? I do speak for a limited time because yes I firmly agree that they must when they come into the room learn. Variety with rigour thrown in. BUT when I do speak I want to capture ‘The Big Picture of create similes through a demonstration that they will remember for a life time. Geography is one of the most powerful for that. It is a subject where visual stimulus captures many.

This made me think am I really that odd!? I will be filming myself and posting next week for you to decide.

So this week I decided to do a little note book on what this particular student said was odd, plus a few reflective thoughts. I posted the majority on twitter yesterday morning a list of 18 learning events in my room. I have added 2 more from ‘Take Over Day’ where 2 students literally become me living my life for the day:)

@JOHNSAYERS: Highlights of week. 1. Shaking a bottle of tango and irn bru (it had extra carbonate put in) then releasing. Which erupted higher? This I repeated for another class because I wasn’t happy with the colour visuals I want one to demonstrate lava flow eruptions and possible fissure eruptions so a more orange colour in students mind and then a grey eruption for an ash cloud one. So we refined to Irn Bru ( that was now flat after been used the day before as i left the cap off to link to the reduced pressure these eruptions are generated from, and Coke and then a Coke with additional carbonate to highlight the changes in chemical composition in a volcano can have a vast impact on the style of the eruption. ‘Give it a go’ Shake the bottles and open. What happens? What might happen if?…..

@JOHNSAYERS: 2. Pouring chilli dip, syrup, then mayo to get into my characteristics of diff lava flows. The characteristics of specific types of volcanoes is an important lesson for students to make connections between processes like convection which we demonstrated two weeks ago with a fish tank filled with room temperature water Students then filmed described, compared answers, then critiqued for what happened when I added to the left a cup of cold water with blue colour dye and then warm water with red colour dye > convection currents. So from this linked to a post I wrote a few weeks ago by getting students to use their hands to demonstrate flows and then friction, heat and melting they were now to connect the experiment above by describing what happened and then explaining with justification.

@JOHNSAYERS: 3. Erosion Kung Fu with superhero designs for erosion vs weathering battle off! You will see the picture at the bottom about Monsters vs Aliens I find this a very good analogy for explaining the differences between weathering and erosion. They are two separate entities often confused so making them clearly different help students to formulate this in their minds. The students created two separate superheroes for weathering and erosion. One pair even created a ‘Rap Battle’ the constant differences rapped out certainly helped students to hopefully not mix the two up or get them confused.

@JOHNSAYERS: 4. Custard and cinnamon challenge loss when ALL class got above target in an assessment so I had to do forfeits! Extra push to succeed;)

@JOHNSAYERS: 5. DME exercises for Montserrat (MONSTER RAT) and Chamonix (SHAMONEEEEE) with trigger terms for memory hooks;) this is part of my very silly series. There is a reason I go ODDER at times. These are for my GCSE students two case studies that if asked about in the exam will be for L3 higher marked questions so it can be the difference between a grade getting it right or wrong. I am not in the wrong camp so I want the students to access the L3 detailed answers by using specific case study relevant material. Students afterwards have begun to make revision cards for homework one is epic and I will photograph it as well the MONSTER RAT CARd for Montserrat As is the Bo Selecta SHAMONEEEE card!

6. EPIC Y9 assessments – I will photograph a few next week with FiSH < marking for you to see and read the quality.

@JOHNSAYERS: 7.The Iceland M:E booklets finished:) all I can say is GO TO ICELAND WITH DISCOVER THE WORLD and enjoy missions created by me:)

8. body to build upon it by giving specific and helpful feedback to feedforward and then the green tail < for where to make the additions to their learning. She commented on the clear ease it allowed for the boy who you will hear got sent into my room to identify in someone else's work what they had done well and what they needed to do to improve. BINGO!

9.Geog teach meet: I haven’t asked her if I can blog about her but I took the time out this week to visit a fellow geographer in the area to offer some support and ideas. I don’t think in teaching we are great at supporting others. Often a fresh approach often from someone at a different school with a different demographic of students can look at a problem or big picture from a completely different angle! This is where I offer my services to each and everyone of you particularly geographers in the North-East of England just tweet, email me and I will coach, mentor, share ideas with you:)

@JOHNSAYERS: 10. Creme Brûlée torch! Take snow and mud put in a wooden box made of MDF and create a slope. At bottom Lego town. Heat the snow which mixes with the snow this creates a-lahar. This moves down the slope as a mud flow and-floods the Lego settlement so the poor Lego men and houses- especially when with more heat and time the mud set-causing a concrete like texture making recovery work difficult! A simple experiment but as the – show lots of connections can be sequenced from it.

@JOHNSAYERS: 12. From 2 students was Erosion vs Weathering rap battle with some MCing was funny seeing students desperate to swear with it but hold back.

@JOHNSAYERS: 13. Discovering Wordfoto. A powerful app for describing images for unlocking the key to using key words connected to images. I have used this app all week and will blog about it when I do a post on photo/picture work.

@JOHNSAYERS: 14. Group effectiveness reflection/evaluation tool proved very effective for self regulating for each group:) Students were focused on the learning driven by a simple evaluative tool. Thank you Andy Day!

@JOHNSAYERS: 15. Self worth when people from other schools tell me they’ve used and loved my deeper Q matrix:)

@JOHNSAYERS: 16. Evolution of the Q matrix for a student self/peer assessment grid. Each traffic light split in 2. 1.self 2.peer

@JOHNSAYERS: 17. Incorporating AR into the learning in DeBono Thinking hat mat task:)

@JOHNSAYERS: 18. Using and sharing the #7eplan very effective for thinking through a lesson. See blog by @HThompson1982 or it:) I can’t shout from the roof tops how much Hayley is inspiring me t the minute. I love someone who is thorough and wants to push thinking with a class. Hayley does that and she is willing to share. She is my learning crush as I LOVE her lesson plan!

19. A young lady that I teach called Jess came up to me this week and asked, “Sir can I take over you on Friday with Sophie?” This is a whole school day where students get to take over staff and become a teacher. I naturally had them doing all sorts from organising, display, marking using the < technique, planning their coming lessons so they can tutor students in the room on their take of the 'Big Picture', they tutored a student who was sent out from another class. So I have given them my copy of Mission Explore Food as a thank you and because they did so much when I get hold of the parents on the phone I will donate my daily salary to the two of them! Stupid some have said but they did 'Take Over' from me and do a brilliant job whilst I coasted!

20. Meeting up with fellow Geographers last night Nick Piercy and Andy Redhead my two best buddies. It is great musing over your subject and discussing life. Two of us are meeting up today to thrash out a set of job applications.

What about 11? This week I applied for a new job:) and hopefully I will become the Co-Leader of ‘The Geography Collective’ with the great and inspiring David Rodger. Fingers crossed as I think we will do a fantastic job in spreading geography to more people:)

I hope you have enjoyed reading my post today. ‘Give it a go’ trigger hooks for your learning. More importantly let students create them a great active learning journey.

How my day exploded Y8 ,Y10, Website, Examiner

Today has seen me explode with ideas and begin to set in stone the vast majority of them!

In the past something always got in the way of the majority of my ideas mainly alcohol. However I have found great comfort in a renaissance to my thinking! I can’t emphasise how much clearer my thinking has become. My planning is so much clearer, exciting, wacky, contrasting, reflective, inquisitive driven. But more importantly I am razor sharp with my focus in class and I am picking up much more great learning as my attention is 100% focussed on the students learning with a clean body and mind.

Take today as an example. My class were learning about push and pull migration. They came in to the Clash ‘should I stay or should I go?’ On the board asked to immediately explain the title. Apply it to a situation in their life in the last week. Then hold a paired discussion on their table of 4. One pair had to work out the additional Q of what a push factor might be and what a pull factor might be and how they could link it to the song – they then linked back with the other pair on their table and came to an agreed way of phrasing both push and pull and then wrote the push on the black card and pull on the white card. The class examined all the options and decided on the best 2 definitions then they all checked their table glossary to judge how well as a class they had done on creating definitions. Naturally they were spot on;) The class then were told to focus back to the song Q posed and their own life situation and adviced to do a contrasting room shift one side I should? one side I shouldn’t for the problem they had posed themselves. The class had a quick PPPB session

Pose – one student pose their problem (their answer was related to which side of the room they were on – pause give students thinking time then when they saw a collection of faces that had processed the point and they could tell by face/body language ask for a vote thumbs up for agree or down for disagree they then passed the ‘cubes of destiny’ to them – pounce they gave their response – on the whiteboards students wrote alternative options. Then after 57 seconds turned them round and the class voted by on whose response was best and then given 13 seconds to decide on the best option view (unlucky if your decision isn’t chosen). They then received the cube of destiny to bounce it to the other side or to their side so both I should? And I shouldn’t got a voice. The students did this twice each side so we were fair and not overly biased to one side. During this I was allocating positive learning and behaviour points to Classdojo. I also handed all the books out and set up the board for the next task. The class were refocused onto the next task.

This involved Led Zep! The immigration song (lyrics with a similar theme) they all stared at the whiteboard it was flashing black (negative for push) and white (positive for pull). To engage the students it was then adding instructions on what to do – go and sit down quickly we’re about to start task 2! A whistle from the whiteboard focus on the board ‘I shall say this only once!’ 9 pictures categorise into push or pull using a turbo table in your book (turbo table – fold page in book in half and central line acts as table with divide) rank each side into worst push and best pull. 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 go! The students quickly organised themselves to be prepared for the task – not a word from me;)

The class then reflected on their choices by each table choosing a picture from the catch phrase now blanked screen – catch phase music as the picture revealed and a response – thumbs up or down if agree or disagree?

I judged whether I was happy the class knew their push and pull and I was happy to move on!

I introduced the class to West Side story and the song America – the class had been given by me whilst they worked on the last task (I used slide hand held remote to move slides on) the lyrics to this song. Their task was to watch the introduction to the scene and listen to the song and watch it for the actions then for each line of the song write next to it whether it was a push or a pull? Students were asked at the end if their was a pattern? Yes the boys were push the girls pull for America:)

Next was the independent task students could using one or more of the multiple intelligences create a representation of push and pull factors.

I watched for the next 20 minutes in awe at what they produced!

Each group planned their task and created their own outcome and success criteria and process ladder for others to see how they created their learning.

One pair created a song mix using westside story and should I stay or go – for each line by Anita they added the response ‘Stay’ from the Clash and for Bernardo they used ‘Go’ it sounded AWESOME! – Musical

Another group wanted mathematical – they wanted to review statistics for different countries for their immigrants and emigrants and they linked with another pair who wanted to map it as they wanted to do that:) – interpersonal

A linguistic group focused on push and pull wording in different languages and then categorise them with a series of pictures that they sourced.

Another – Intrapersonal – linked it to Football and the push and pull factors that draw them to going to games home and more importantly the away games they’d been pulled by and in the future wouldn’t consider or would jump at!

And on and on with great ideas! Next lesson will be completing and then an exhibition to listen, watch etc each group or individual creation.

Then feedback and evaluation using post it notes using Ron Berger’s Kind, Specific and Helpful.

Onto Y10 a fantastic class (low ability targets but that means nothing to me with what I can challenge their thinking with) we were moving our learning on from a topic overview lesson to introducing the structure of our planet, convection currents and then finally linking this to the movement of the 4 plate boundaries.

Students entered the room to each pair having a hard boiled egg and a cadbury’s Cream egg on their desk. They had a knife no instructions let intuition take control. Some times less is more and let instinct take control. They cut the 2 open on the board was a slowly. Developing question letter by letter. Could the class workout the core question to the lesson before it ha finished they had to write it on their paired whiteboard and reveal. Students were Asked to describe the textures as they cut through the hard boiled egg and discuss in their pairs. Then share with their table each person on the table adding a comment to the whiteboard to show the class – brittle shell that cracked as we applied pressure to it and soft white section smooth in texture but thick enough not to run then a solid yellow yolk. Students had some prior knowledge to this of the structure names but I wanted the textures in their minds to show different compositions like our earth. A quick table to classify and sort out properties with a 4 part information sheet that students had to organise for each section of the earth. Why do we have a hot core? Collisions with other rock bodies during the formation stages of our planet-demonstrate it:) punch the palm of one of your hands repeatedly fairly hard.. What happens? Test it now:)

Oh it goes red and gets hot:)

Whilst they did this I set up my fish tank (no fish) in the middle of the room students were told to form a circle around it one of the pairs bring an iPad from the table to film the others a whiteboard to describe what they see. Three on the table writing about the same thing as one is likely to miss a little as is two as is three but combine and likely to have a thorough set then they have the iPad video as well to replay and self assess their initial description and compare and contrast with each other the 4th makes a model answer from the other 3 to share with the class. this is an example of what they watched. No prior explanation to give it away just this is a model of what is happening beneath our feet each and every second. Describe what you see happening to the blue and red dyed water.
Next a picture of a radiator how does it hear our room? Think, pair and share and a quick research on the iPad for how. Now some relational learning opportunities can students link to the earth structure and its varying properties? You bet they could quickly linking the hotter outer core to the top of the mantle which is cooler and the crust acting as the barrier to split and force the flow side ways of the heat flow. I got students to demonstrate this flow pattern with their fingers. Hold them in pray position then push on to the table using the tips of their fingers. What happens. Give it a go?

Students from this were given another piece of earth dynamics to link to this process. Movement of the plates generated by convection currents could move in 4 core motions. Again initially nothing given by me I wanted to give thinking time to allow themselves, pairs, table and class to see if they could come up with these movements. As they were thinking saying nothing I put a picture slide show showing effects of the different motions to aid thinking to try and make connections with the motions. Stop. Find out time. Using their hands with eyes closed so as not to initially look at anyone else what had they discovered – hands coming together, hands moving apart and hands sliding past each other 3 out of 4 open eyes look at each other:) Laughter with some of the moves:)

So which had they missed?

Yes destructive plate margin movements where the heavier oceanic plate sinks and subducts beneath the lighter continental crust. Time for a demonstration 😉 each table had an iPad and their green learning books. Can you work out what they did? Think before you read on:)

They slid the iPad and and book towards each other and found everytime the book went over the top of the iPad! Why? Heavier:) Just like the two plates.

Now for subduction! I got students to do another self demonstration on themselves- hold hands out flat – point them towards each other tilt your left hand downwards slightly but keep the line of the hand fingers straight next using the tips of your fingers of your right hand slide up and down quickly with a bit of pressure between the finger joints on your left hand. Again give it a go what happens?

Where you rub gets hot and read and your finger tips begin to hurt- a student shouts out (shame I wanted think, pair, share again about it:) sir that is friction! Bang on! So all describe what you have demonstrated what will happen to the rock during this time? – melt they said as a table yes then what will happen? Think, pair, share link to the tank- The melt will rise like in the tank the red dye:) bingo!

We then had 20 minutes left over to the class to again Use any of the multiple intelligences to demonstrate the movements if the four plate boundaries:)

I opened it over 2 lessons like the Y9 class to complete, exhibition present-feedback-evaluate-judge-reward.

By the end of the lesson I had a song, 6 stop motion animations, a dance like this one on YouTube some of my students made , a university lecturer podcast, an image collage and a few more gems.

My next thinking of the day was planning the school geography website that I’m going to create alongside students and the other geographers in the department. In the coming months watch out for the nothing yet but come back in a month or so;) (name because school is Lord Lawson).

I’ve enjoyed watching the progress of Mission Explore and Discover the World Iceland booklets. I had a hand in this epic resource by visiting Iceland and creating missions for it. I know you’ll love them and if your school goes to Iceland for a trip be sure to contact Discover the World for the packs to download:)

My final part of the learning day involved me visiting Northumbria University to meet the Chief Examiner of AQA with some Y12 students. They listened and did some work in his workshop but the joy came from a student called Paige who told me and I quote ‘Sir you owned everyone’ She seemed super happy with the efforts I’m putting in to prepare her for the Geog 2 exam! I love moments like this:) I loved 2 of the students respond to his questions and he responded with ‘Oh that is very clever I love that very technical’ and ‘ohh that is fantastic identification of this photo’. What I have in my minds eye is the smiles they have me saying a thank you for your efforts in helping us get ready for this exam:)

So I go to bed now with a clear, content mind which is buzzing away with what to do next.

So tomorrow is Urban100. A 500m transect walk in Newcastle taking 100 pictures one every 5m and creating a visual and mapping show from it. I plan to do it day and night to make comparisons between the two. I would love for you to do the same thing as part of #urban100

I’m planning on Mission:Explore missions in Edinburgh and Italy for field trips coming up this year in March and July and I’ll begin planning the Italian classes for the students going to Italy. Phew! But most importantly I can get cracking knowing I’ll have a clear head in the morning:) I bid you good night!


The start of a new term is nearly upon us and I am going in revitalised due to a number of life changes.

One aspect of getting back into the classroom and school environment is to listen to the great array of questions, challenges and responses I’ll hear and be involved in. I love questioning and the potential depth to thinking it can generate. However far to often including in my own practice I prevent opportunities for taking the thinking deeper by posing a new challenge, problem to keep that engaging thrust of something new flowing in the room. This is good a trigger but like a gun firing the trigger too often at the same target can lead to the death of something. In this case deep thinking that challenges students.

So how about a strategy. Well my preferred method if you look at the pictures is Socratic questioning. I made a simple model which shows a possible method to students thinking about a question deeply and as a result using a whole multitude of other questions to come to an answer or perhaps a new aim to test by questioning the question and generating a new core question.

I’ve provided a series of pictures of a set of cards my school has provided that help provide a starting point for each of the stages of Socratic questioning so that the metaphorical ball can start rolling and as in a rolling snowball down a snow filled slope the momentum building and the ball – thinking expanding:)

So what are the question Socratic circle questioning poses?

It is a 6 step process:

• clarify
• challenge assumption
• evidence for argument
• viewpoints and perspectives
• implications and consequences
• question the question

By getting students to explore this process they are thinking about that impulsive answer try give. Have you ever had that moment as a teacher where you ask a student “why did you give that answer?” and you get back a shrug of the shoulders or a “urghh I don’t know!” How many of us commit the cardinal sin of not even asking that question?

Questioning is crucial it allows me to go through the teaching process of acknowledging what learning and the depth of it and more importantly the opportunity of identifying this with ALL students in class. Therefore a process that takes more than a second is benefit to me as it allows me to lap the room listening to every table and a large majority of students if not all their use of questioning. I find using Classdojo has helped me identify this as I highlight each student on my iPhone as I lap as I hear them using questioning. If I haven’t heard a student I identify this on my mobile device and I will go up to listen to them and ask them a question or two about so that I a have at least acknowledged everyone in class. This sounds like it takes a long time but give it a go and you’ll be amazed at what you can pick up about a student/your class by lapping. It allows you to stop the class when you hear amazing thinking going on by handing the role of tutor to a student to tell the rest of the class. This can give them confidence, worth and aid others in your class to focus on something specific or think along a different avenue than they would otherwise have done.

This opens up another can of learning worms or threads as Socratic circle questioning in my view works best in pairs or as a table of 4 to allow the process to be deeper by allowing more viewpoints to be explored, implications, reasons, evidence etc. but more importantly I allows students to communicate and use literacy skills. Talking and listening especially with questioning allow students to use specific language and learn the powers of communication. These skills are very high for employers as let’s face it a large majority of jobs involve an interview of talking and listening! So students thinking and interacting to learn from each other and extract information to make acknowledgments to help solve a problem are crucial life skills.

So look at the model picture for socratic questioning and give it go following the step by step process. Look at the cards and have a go yourself at planning it into a lesson or two next week it is a great strategy for developing progression of thinking.

Doing this every single lesson could develop learning boredom and throughout the years I have tried to plan the use of varied questioning into my lessons to keep the students intrigued as to what they’ll expect next lesson. But at times it can be difficult to trace these questions.

This was where I worked on a question matrix I had seen. The main thought process of this for me was for me to clearly identify question threads I had use with a specific class and student and as a result I could personalise questions for them and then the process would be taken away from me and the student command it by personalising their own questions.

Each student has a question matrix in the back of their book and as try use a question thread from it they mark it off. On class learning walks I can sit o a I prefer to do kneel so I’m level with the students and get them to run me through questions they have used in their book and the matrix and the student from it identifies question styles they are effective at answering and those that they may not be. They then plan the next sequence o questions that they’ll work on. The role for me is to monitor students question use and effectiveness and also to help make sure throughout the year they are using all threads and have made progress in the use of each question type. I have found it the most brilliant form of simple personalised planning for ALL students.

The matrix has another clear process. It allows students to plan progressively deeper thinking questions into a lesson or a project. So their learning follows a path. A self developed strategy to move down the matrix and further to the right.

This isn’t to say that the questions at the top left aren’t important. In fact far from it but these are what I refer to as closed or hinge point questions. They have a set answer. This could be a date or a landform name, a type of plate boundary that is important to get right as if not they could get the whole process wrongly linked to a specific location and so the effects, solutions may not be valid.

These questions are often I effectively used in lessons and can become a ping pong question between a teacher and one single student. What is the plate margin type that splits Iceland? Students put hand up teacher asks one student they answer constructive. Yes right and move on! What about the others in the class? What do they think? These questions could go around a table via the PPPB method. Pose the question, Pause for thinking time – I always think about what I will cook for dinner, let students discuss. I get the Pounce bit by saying ones on the table give your answer to the table am Bounce it to number 3 – I think it is x what do you think? So a quick Kagan strategy helps each table discuss and listen to thinking.

So I have mentioned a few strategies so far that I use in class socratic, matrix and PPPB, and there are many more.

One type that I love to implement involves TV quiz shows. Programmes like ‘Pointless’, Going For Gold, Blockbusters etc these have a slick style to them that keeps me and many others entertained when I get in on a night. But they work really well in class and can allow students to create and think deeply about answers that they have researched. Take Pointless it involves trying to find answers that few others will have known. This is a great concept to use in the classroom or as a research task. Find some information that is of use to a question posed as an Objective and allow students to question whether other people will have researched the same fact etc. it has led to some very interesting and extremely wide ranging points made in circle time discussions. It has engaged the students to think deep! Each student can then add their point to the question wall via a post it note or write it on the windows and allow time for other students to see if they can connect the point made to a specific aspect if they can it isn’t pointless and the student(s) who found it get rewarded but if no one in the class can that student or group have a Pointless answer and so get rewarded. Also it is opportunity for me to look at the puzzled question wall where if a student or group have any issues the post it there and I can help or ask the class if anyone knows the answer or how to help and give them the responsibility of becoming tutor.

Later into a lesson or a project a. Student or group may finish the process. I don’t say well done have a break far from it they take over role of tutor and become question monitors. Each will have a different focus on what they are managers of and try will go round with an iPad or my iPhone with Classdojo and give students points based on the discussions they have as they monitor the class. They can help solve issues as they have developedan effective strategy in the lesson (I check what thy have done first asking evaluative questions where the student traces their learning path and reflects on what they discovered etc) they then go and pass that strategy on as well hoeing their work off.

I briefly above linked the TV show question style with Objective questions. These are incredibly powerful and when constructed using solo taxonomy or blooms taxonomy allow students to clearly identify the skill the question involves and the ultimate learning purpose to the lesson to keep them focussed on the specific learning you are wanting to assess them on. The students will see the question and then have to question themselves or their group on how they will answer the question. What intelligence will they use? Musical in a song a music video, linguistically via a radio news report etc. students have a blooms wheel in their books that they spin or point to if they glued it in. This is the strategy they will use to solve this objective question. But why that method over another? Always questioning the question and questioning the learning method. I prefer for students to use their strengths at the start of the year so I can identify G&T students but also so I can identify possible strategies for stretch and challenge for ALL students and how we’ll go about personalising those in our mini one on ones as I lap the room. Then throughout the year students underline what they have used so we have another audit system to check how thy are learning and going about solving problems and identifying strategies they haven’t used and so could employ in the coming lessons. Why haven’t you used that method? Have you seen or heard someone who has? You have! Have you asked them how they use it? No. Ask them I’m positive they’ll do a great job in explaining it to you for you to attempt it as well. This extends the learning experience in my classroom where students are taking control and becoming self managers, reflectors, and more importantly planners for the future so they are planning their learning development and can identify what they have done, what they know to have gone well, what they need work on etc. Great for telling parents when they get home and me:)

I have started to lose track in my mind of what I have identified as questioning methods in my classroom. Actually I roughly know but that isn’t really good enough! I need a rock solid plan so I KNOW! This reduces the risk of what has happened to me on many occasions where a class leave the lesson and a minute later I curse myself thinking ahhh we didn’t get to that or I should have asked that etc…

I saw on twitter the great 5 minute lesson plan create by Ross McGill. I love using it as it is quick! But it got me thinking. Why not create a 5 minute questioning plan that quite easily can be used over a week or a project! So I did. As you can see in the picture it uses all of the questioning methods I have identified. The Columbo style is simply for the end of lessons or projects as summary questions to check are we at the end of the questioning process where we have the answer. This plan has really helped my focus to topics and lessons and means I am thorough. Students get a copy on their table or I print one off and put it on the door or the whiteboard for all to see. I have even started putting blanks on tables where students add their own and I use these for reflection of the lesson and as an evaluation for how I could adopt the main questions got another class or for next year. A very effective planning tool and once again it is handing over responsibility and command of the learning to the students where they feel empowered and wanted in that lesson 50 minutes:)

Give it a go and I’m sure it will strengthen questioning in your lesson and allow your students to stretch and challenge their thinking.

Questioning powerful or not? Let me know what you find out.

Questioning/thinking old classics that still have legs

I’ve recently read many great posts about questioning and thought I’d throw my 10 pence worth into the melting pot.

Here are two posts to get you thinking:

I’ll let you read their approaches, which are inspiring.

My focus will involve a few TV shows that had question stems that work brilliantly for geography and other subjects. I’ll introduce the TV show and how I’ve used them over the years to develop students questioning and thinking.


I’ve recently cottoned on to this TV show and have to say I love it for a number of reasons.

1. The presenters have a great chemistry together bouncing off each other.

2. More importantly it inspires people to really think hard about a specific topic/question. Contestants have to think of an answer that others might not know from a selection of mini answers in rounds 1-2. The less popular the answer the lower the points and less points wins!

This could be adapted for the classroom as a starter where students write answers on a whiteboard in secret and then reveal their answer for all to compare answers and evaluate whose was pointless. Alternatively set it as a homework where you set a question and get students to email in the answer or drop it in the pointless answer box as a plenary to then work through as a starter in the next lesson.

In the final round a set question is selected from a number of possible topics and then the contestants think of 3 pointless answers for it and see if no one else came up with it when 100 were asked.

My thinking is that students could set other students a question from their topic/project etc and gather 100 answer responses for it, then rank using a pointless scale and get them to test it out.

You could then get students to reverse the pattern and take over as tutor and teach the pointless answer to be known by all. –

How could you make a pointless answer known by all?

Why is it a pointless answer?

What part of the topic is the pointless answer related to?

This questioning thread is important to a teacher as you can adjust your planning to make specifics more accessible to students in order to limit the pointless answers:)

Tedious/Tenuous Link

From BBC Radio 1 and the Chris Moyles Show / Jo Whiley Show set a question and get students to make connections to it that MUST connect in some form in order to count. A great starter / plenary / form time task. These really do get creative minds ticking.

Ticking….. Ah yes my old personal favorite quiz show.


I loved the buzzer round where in pairs (pairs in class, teams, class sides or dare I say it boys and girls) and Matthew Kelly would set the question thread…


Matthew would then start off with vague or small details describing something that was connected to the term and then through time he added extra detail till it became obvious. (See picture 4,3,2,1) it was a timed part and every 5 seconds it switched sides locking the other out from giving an answer. If you got a question right you could take control or pass to the other person to start off with the harder little detailed 5 second start. Try it in class I find it gets the class very competitive. It can be great in 3s – 1 think up the question and hints and the other 2 have a competitive go. All methods link brilliantly with Classdojo.

It really gets students thinking about what details to add about a topic and when to avoid others getting the answer straight away. BUT to avoid a penalty when the clock finishes the question setter has to read out other connectives / hints till someone gets it to work on depth of answer skill and literacy.


This task was doing the rounds a few years ago but it seems to be rarely seen or heard of in my opinion lately.

The concept is you have a board of yellow hexagon letters (see picture of yellow letter board). Students select a letter from the board and a set question is asked that incorporates that letter. The answer starts with the letter selected.

E.g. What Q______ do we ask each day in order to generate an answered response……

I find blockbusters questions work brilliantly with checking/assessing glossary terms. Getting students using Key Geography Words is a crucial skill with developing writing in my subject and activities like this help to plant the seed and get students familiar with the terms.

I get students to create blockbuster boards with answers. The best boards students make are solo-fied! So the terms and questions connect together. The longer the connected board the better. It’s great for developing sequencing. And a great revision hook for students recognizing lettered sequences and linking this to a process or topic in a chronological way. All from a simple letter question!

A brilliant visual set of question stimuli come from my next EPIC TV show.

Question Of Sport

I grew up watching this programme every week. Although the host and team presenters/leaders have changed many of the core elements to the show have remained. WHY? Because they are fantastic and really stimulate great discussions, answers and more importantly THINKING.

The first question thread that has stood the test of time is:

What happens next?

This can be asked as a verbal response, as a written answer with ……. At the end or how I prefer to use it as a picture or video clip. This never fails to draw out some crazy, unique answers. The trick is to ensure in someway that the answers MUST incorporate something from the stimulus material in order to keep focus and a connection with the question.

An example I have used (see pictures is ZZ) what did he do next…..
You could then ask what COULD he have done differently? If he was in the same situation again what might he do instead? What was going through his mind before…during….after the incident?

You could get students thinking in a time sense. So what could have happened prior to the incident to cause ZZ to headbutt the Italian?

Or why did the referee have to send ZZ off?

Go through this process with your material. It’ll add depth to them and engagement.

Many pictures can be adjusted by just adding a box over it or blanking a video at a key point.

Special guest

I use to love this part of the show where a famous sport star would be hindered from view only for some clues to show themselves.

This could be done with pixelating a picture or covering a video up with your body if your not technically minded with ICT, or turn the whiteboard off and just have sound playing and get students to make connections.

I often get students to do this for homework creating visual questions for others to answer.

Anyway I’m getting tired now so I’ll leave it there.

I have just scratched the surface on some of the TV show questioning styles. Try them out ROTATE THEM so that students get a WIDE variety to test their thinking skills and keep them on their toes:)

Highlight text so Googling research isn’t just copy-paste-don’t read-hand in

I’ve been working on a simple technique with my students lately to ensure that they are reading what they research.

I read an article today about how ‘googling’ something has reduced research to a quick task of type-copy-don’t read as we trust what the top site that google puts up from the search then hand in or bring to a lesson thinking we have done some effective research. Realistically this is just gathering information BUT it isn’t research. In my interpretation of the term research it should involve using the first part of the word… RE…..REad, REadjust, REsemble. Therefore taking it apart and REconnecting.

It got me thinking of my past. Where once people might have used a technique I used at university where I would go to the library and read information from a variety of sources, photocopy it, highlight important sections of text that are relevant to my research question and  then write an article to take to a seminar.

So why not get students to do this technique electronically!


Students started of with a question that I set them.

‘Why is a species endangered?’

Firstly I directly students to one website that I told them I TRUSTED.

Students selected a species from it and copied the threats to that species and pasted it into a word document.

Students then gathered further information from at least 2 other sources off the net. I want a culture where students collected from more than one source to help counter the issue of bias. Once again students pasted the information into the word document. 

Students now have a collection of information to begin reading.

The more able students picked out specifics mentioned in the text and added them to google to gather more specific information about their species.

The next stage is the crucial one as it is where students really start to READ what they have collected. I told students to highlight reasons with a colour and different reasons with different colours. So students would begin to notice whether their species had threats from more than one source.

The colours would then act as a structural jigsaw. Students would create sub-titles for each colour and then rearrange by grouping the colours together. This could allow students to begin to make a visual evaluation. As more of one colour would indicate a greater threat to a species as writers generally they found talked more about more serious threats to the species. So by looking at the amount of each colour students could rank reasons into different levels of importance.

The next step is crucial. I get students to read each coloured section, which often is repetative as different sources often uncover the same reasons for why the species was endangered. Students produce a written summary for each coloured section and so they end up with a thorough process where they have READ information to answer a question.

I have found that the retention of what students research has gone through the roof! It definitely takes a long time for students to do this technique but they are realising the benefits as they are retaining what they are doing and so learning new things from their reading not just falling into the shallow blank googling technique where students and us don’t READ!

Here is a quick guide to how I introduced it to students the powerpoint was made by another teacher in the department that I work in and she is fantastic.

explain_assessment_end_species.pptx Download this file

I’ve also attached two pieces of work from students on what they have produced from it.

One has even highlighted their own text to show how they are working on their literacy and highlighting terms to show they are explaining as that was what the question was asking for.

TURTLE_ASSESSMENT_;D.docx Download this file

Endangered_Tigers_research.docx Download this file