Georgina Charles' Blog

Thinking outside the classroom

Brexit: How do we teach it?

Today history was made in Britain, a seismic wave of voting towards the leave campaign led Britain out of the EU. 52% chose to leave the EU, with 48% to remain. It is an uncertain time for the future of Britain. Whilst emotions are running high, teachers head back into school today with a huge responsibility to the young people they teach. It is their words that have the gravity to shape pupils’ political views. It is imperative this is not taken advantage of. Now, more than ever, young people must be taught to view the world critically, understand the power of their voice and be fully aware of their human rights.

Swerving the issues

Engaging pupils is a challenge teachers face daily. Teachers are regularly trying to find innovative hooks to a lesson to get pupils on board and enthused about their subject. One of the most powerful ways to do this is by engaging with what is going on around us. Using current affairs and news stories immediately grabs people’s attention.You may compare Lennie from Of Mice and Men to the Gorilla who was shot when a young boy fell into a zoo enclosure, or maybe you are asking your class to draw parallels between George the Poet’s spoken word in relation to Romeo and Juliet. Both of these approaches take real world and very important current affairs and link them to the learning. As an English teacher, my favourite lessons are those which make time for discussions of difficult issues, these are the episodes when myself and the children learn the most about each other. It is essential that today’s result is discussed in lessons; that pupils understand what the vote means, understand both sides of the argument, have a vocabulary to express both sides of the argument, and are able to ask questions about what they are seeing and hearing.

Protect your pupils

Pupils may have different views in relation to the vote, they may echo their family’s views, they may repeat something they’ve heard, they may be very well-informed and have made a personal decision. Whatever the make up of your classroom, it is is essential that you protect all learners and create a culture where it is safe to ask questions. Pupils may need to be reminded what community means, re-encouraged to take pride in their multicultural school environment.  Today one of my pupils (whose family had moved from Portugal to Wales) asked ‘We have voted out Miss, now I’ll have to go home won’t I?’ This made apparent to me just how uncertain some of our learners may feel, if they do not understand what has happened today it can feel very daunting. The young people in your classroom need reassuring, they need to understand their rights and future, and those around them must too.

Staying Neutral

Discussions in classrooms must be facilitated with care about Brexit. A very powerful way to deal with sensitive issues is to flip the classroom. Ask the class to reflect silently on questions around the room. Prompt pupils to write down questions they may have about what they already know. By all means teachers can explain their point of view, but there must be time given for pupils to question this to ensure they fully understand there is many other views and this view is not the ‘correct’ one. Make sure this news topic is used to fill knowledge gaps and educate pupils, as opposed to dictating your view to them.

Selecting an approach

  • Display thought-provoking images from both sides of the campaign
  • Listen to snippets from the news
  • Learn and discuss key political figures
  • Display tweets and FB statuses of figureheads to discuss
  • Include thoughtful texts and newspapers
  • Use sources pre-EU to discuss the time before war
  • Utilise percentages from the vote to create a real-life context to Maths
  • Create a debate
  • Use materials from charities/texts such as Amnesty International, philosophy for children to make pupils aware of the meaning of human rights
  • Explore the opportunity to develop pupil voice in school; work with Bite the Ballot to increase awareness of voting, get involved in Youth Parliament.

Talking the talk

As an educated adult, you can access the information on news channels and in newspapers about this election. If you are a child who lacks an academic vocabulary this wealth of information can be extremely overwhelming and disengaging. Our young people often need politics expressed in their language. Break it down for them. Show them that any question can be asked, any view can be expressed, but that all comments will be challenged in your classroom. Encourage them to ask why. And always ask them why. Before tackling a whole class discussion spend time exploring the difficult vocabulary in a newspaper article, discuss what Brexit means and why that slogan was used. This will make the topic accessible and can be very powerful and important in their understanding. Most importantly, do not try and take on too much. Pick one part of a news story and focus on understanding it. Develop the oracy skills to communicate opinions and explore two-sided arguments. If we encourage our young people to always ask why, to question the purpose of media reports, and to not feel daunted by politics, we are preparing our young people for their future.

“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development, an essential complement to investments in roads, dams, clinics and factories. Literacy is a platform for democratization, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity. Especially for girls and women, it is an agent of family health and nutrition. For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right…. Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.”
Kofi Annan




Marking for the sake of marking?

Teacher wellbeing is top of the education agenda, a high workload being an issue raised by many teachers. Being an English teacher, I understand the pressure of marking extensive pieces of writing only too well. But are we marking in the most efficient and effective way?

The value of feedback 

The time spent reading a learner’s work is an opportunity to have a one-to-one dialogue with learners. John Hattie (2008) conducted a meta-analysis where he measured the effectiveness of various interventions on learning. This effect size approach of research highlighted that effective feedback is a high impact tool on learning, at a low cost. It sounds ideal, especially for schools on a low budget; a teaching tool that costs nothing, yet makes a huge impact upon attainment. Where can I sign up? But despite the research telling us this, do we actually have a working knowledge of what ‘effective feedback’ is? 

Roll your sleeves up and get DIRTy

Following the school policy of marking work every two weeks can be challenging. However, there are various approaches that can cut down the time spent marking, but most importantly, make it more powerful. David Didau writes about marking in his blog, highlighting the importance of teaching literacy, redrafting work and fostering independent learners. Didau models high expectations to learners by stating  ‘if it’s not excellent it’s not finished.’ Providing time in lessons to proofread work, correct spellings and edit can weed out silly mistakes and improve the quality of work. Introducing Dedicated Improvement Reflection Time (DIRT) to a lesson sets a routine for regular self reflection in class. Insisting to pupils that all work must show evidence of annotating, editing and correcting ensures that the final piece is of a high quality. Didau suggests that the teachers should refuse to mark a piece of work until it shows evidence of redrafting. Having incorporated 10 minutes DIRT at the end of each year 8 lesson, I have noticed that pupils’ work is becoming more accurate and self reflective. Black and Wiliam (1998) make clear that formative feedback is the most important learning tool. Putting a grade on the bottom of a piece of work provides no learning content. In my experience, providing a ‘What went well’ and an ‘even better if’, DIRT to respond fully and highlighting to learners that the editing they do now can lead to a higher level, hugely effects the quality of work and the motivation of learners. Incorporating these tools, I found the time I spent marking became much more efficient. I was able to provide focused comments on quality in relation to the success criteria as opposed to correcting simplistic mistakes.


Seeing red pen scribbled all over your work can be disheartening. Many schools use a clear literacy code to highlight spelling errors and avoid a sea of red pen.  But it is often easy to over mark. If you teach a learner with an additional learning need it’s not useful to correct every single word they have misspelt, in the same vein if you have a more able and talented learner it is not useful to correctly spell a difficult word they misspelt and ask them to copy. Limit spellings to three a page and encourage learners to find the correct spelling themselves. If you place value on the process of improving as opposed to the outcome, the culture of the classroom can become more focused on a ‘growth mindset’. 

Crack the code

After marking 28 books it begins to get repetitive. No doubt there are five things in general most learners could improve on, you have spent your time rewriting these to the whole class. Flip it. Write down the five things you assume they may need to work on and number them. As you provide feedback simply write a number. As a starter next lesson display these numbers and ask learners to write them down then respond and make changes. This encourages learners to reflect but also makes your marking more manageable. This can even be tweaked for peer-assessment. 

Key Takeaways

Looking at effective peer-assessment will have to be for another post. But, to improve your provision of teacher-led feedback here are three tips. 

1. Introduce DIRT every lesson and refuse to mark work without evidence of proofreading. 

2. When marking extensive feedback use codes to help. 

3. Before you begin the task of marking a piece of work give some verbal feedback first, ensure it is of the highest quality before getting out your red pen. 

Excellence is not a skill, it’s an attitude. 

Ralph Marston

Put your thinking hat on

Fostering creative thinking

With twenty four hour access to technology young people are flooded with information. This can have a positive impact on their knowledge of current affairs and the world around them, however training young people to think critically is even more crucial. In order to take advantage of the positives of social media, young people must be able to ask critical question about the source and purpose of the information they watch, read and listen to.

Critical thinking must be explicitly taught

There are many styles to teach critical thinking skills. Holding class debates and discussions, prompting pupils to ask questions in class, and using resources that engage pupils can all lead to critical thinking. As an English teacher, thinking creatively is needed every lesson.This often means I often have the luxury of incorporating newsworthy articles and topical videos into lessons to use as stimulus. It is not as simple as engaging pupils with the resources. Pupils need a vocabulary to respond.

Edward de Bono’s Thinking Hats

Teaching pupils how to use the Thinking Hats in my lesson have changed the way pupils respond to information. They can often be used as an introduction into a topic or lesson, this then can often lead to high level analytical writing. The Thinking Hats can be introduced as part of a whole lesson; pupils can speculate the meaning of each hat colour and discuss why each hat is needed. Pupils can then practice using the different coloured hats in response to a text or a question. Personally, I introduce the hats in short bursts and over the course of two weeks pupils understand the meaning of the hats. Having a display for the hats and prompt questions for each colour can develop pupils’ responses to a text. It is important to have a physical hat for each colour, it makes the process more tangible and pupils find it much more enjoyable.

What would a lesson look like?

Starter: Play a topical video as pupils enter. For example, I am currently teaching Macbeth so I may play a video of the Military Wives singing or perhaps a soldier’s account of war. I would then ask pupils if they wish to use the red hat and express their feelings. I would always give choice because some pupils may feel uncomfortable sharing their personal view. After listening to some initial reactions to the resource I would introduce some different coloured hats. We would spend some time discussing the different viewpoints the hats may highlight.

Activities: The main activity of the lesson may then be using the different colours to formulate a response. Or perhaps they could use them to imagine they are a character and represent all different emotions and views. The task could lead to an evaluation of a resource, for example the teacher could create a worksheet with the different coloured hats outlined and pupils could respond to different viewpoints.

Plenary: To complete a lesson pupils could present their multi-sided arguments, pupils could evaluate their responses, pupils could look at another video or text and evaluate or comment on it without the hats.

Other thinking routines

If you are interested in researching other thinking routines some great ones are:
Thinking Dice
Jim Smith’s The Lazy Teacher
Chalk Talk
Talk for Writing

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

Albert Einstein


Are seating plans worth the hassle?

Every term classroom teachers wrestle with class lists to figure out the best combination of learners. Does this time spent benefit pupils or is it just to make us feel conscientious? I don’t seem to remember seating plans when I was at school, we would arrive at our first lesson of the day after the holidays and my teacher would shout boy girl boy girl and that was the seating plan for the year.  But a badly planned classroom can lead to chaos, right? Or can an effective classroom management combat any seating combination? I would like to think that I could foster a classroom where despite seating arrangements pupils are able to focus without distractions. The truth is that this is not the case for many lessons so teachers need an arsenal of techniques to bring out the best in every child.

Lesson plans can be very useful to plan where pupils with different needs can sit to best access equipment, receive support from teaching assistants and not be distracted by any disagreements with others outside of the classroom. Bridging the gap between pupils receiving free school meals (FSM) and those who do not, is a high priority in all state schools. With this in mind, classroom teachers are often recommended to mark down who receives FSM on their seating plans. Apparently, this exercise helps teachers identify FSM pupils and target intervention to them. This is a sticky topic because all children should be treated fairly however we are not fully doing our job if we are not breaking down any barriers to learning for all children. This information on a lesson plan could remind you to leave a pen on the desk of a pupil who you know has no equipment.

How can we use a seating plan to embed innovative teaching?
I openly admit I often do not create a seating plan, instead I decide as they enter on the first lesson and adapt accordingly. However, after facing low level disruption from a difficult class I saw no harm in spending extra time thinking about seating arrangements. In doing so, I realised I could be very creative with my  seating plan and even use it to embed new routines.

Numbered Seats
Creating a grid from 1-30 with colour coded numbers (eg. 1,6,11,16,21,26, 30 all red) and numbering each chair or desk in the room can be a strategic way to organise the class. Using numbers in the seating plan can aid group work, pair work and discussions. When setting up a group task you can ask for colour groups, multiples of a certain number or tables. This can also improve questioning; raffle tickets or lollipop sticks could be used to ask random questions in class. Numbers can even be used when collecting work, checking assessments or entering data. Competitions can be used in class to motivate learners and reward them.

Tailoring the layout
The classroom layout plays a big part in the management of the lesson. By setting out desks in squares pupils are always able to cooperate with others. The teacher can ask pupils to work with their shoulder partners (the person next to them) or face partners (the person in front). This layout aids Kagan tasks such as Think, Pair, Share which can be great collaborative starters to a topic. Alternatively creating a classroom in more of a horse-shoe can create a great space to have whole class discussion and for hot-seating (pretending to be a character from a text and getting the learners to ask you questions). There are benefits to various different layouts however spending some time to think about the best layout for you can really pay off and improve the culture in your classroom.

Let them decide!
To encourage a collaborative classroom culture and make learners feel important it is a great idea to ask for their feedback about the best seating plan. Some teachers allow pupils to pick one person to sit with to help them create a seating plan. Pupils are then expected to work hard in that arrangement otherwise they will lose the privilege and be moved seats. This idea can be very effective. Before introducing a new seating plan I asked every learner to name one person they genuinely worked well with. I half expected pupils to give their best friend’s name, however I could see that the names they were telling me were not just friends but a hard-working pupils, or a particularly focused pupil. It was clear that the pupils knew exactly who they worked well with and were more than happy to sit away from their friends if they were progressing. All I needed to find out this valuable information was to ask them, that could have saved me all of the time I had spent in the wrong seating plan. With this new information, I then created a seating plan that incorporated this list and presented it to the class. They seemed very pleased and felt as though they had decided the arrangement. This was very effective for this class as it established a positive relationship between the class and myself and gave them independence.

Seating plans can be a drag and may fall bottom of the to do list. But if you spend some time talking to pupils, parents and establishing a classroom layout that makes it clear to learners that this is a working environment where they are expected to learn, they really can be worth the hassle. Try out a new seating plan, spend time thinking about the needs of your class and their views on how they focus in lessons and let me know if you see any improvements.

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.

Benjamin Franklin



Annotate your way to A*

Annotation: a note by way of explanation or comment added to a text or diagram

The reason why many of us decided to become a secondary teacher is due to the love we have for our subject area. In English we want to share and appreciate the language used in fantasy stories, poetic verses, factual texts and other media. However, trying to foster independent thinking in the classroom can be difficult. Asking our pupils to deduce meaning from a poem, or infer and interpret language can be like hitting a brick wall. Pupils can find the abstract world of metaphors and figurative language very daunting. So how can we ensure our learners are able to read between the lines? And even more difficult, how can we stress the importance of this skill?

It’s all in the note taking

There is often a pressure in lessons to ensure learners get pen to paper. But this can often be meaningless and rushed. A key investment in developing pupils ability to read between the lines is taking time to teach the art of note taking. Pupils who can discuss different meanings in a text, highlight them and select relevant information become more engaged in a text and practice the skills required in reading assessments.

Step One- Pick an engaging text

The text you select to annotate is crucial. You may already have a poem or extract from a text that you are focusing on as a class. However, if you want your pupils to remember the process of annotation then ask them to select their favourite song lyric or fairytale. A favourite text of mine to annotate is Firework by Katy Perry. It is full of metaphors and figurative language. Taking a lesson out of the scheme of work to practice this skill can be really refreshing. You can then apply the skill of annotations to other texts you are studying.


TES have a great resource for Firework by Katy Perry:

Step Two- Do your homework

It is essential that you set some time aside to annotate the text yourself before the lesson. This will give you some time to understand the process of highlighting key words and will familiarise you with the text. It will also tease out any words pupils may stumble on and ensure you are prepared for any questions. During this time you could create instructions or a checklist outlining the process you went through when working through the text.

Step Three- Resources

Give your pupils everything they need to annotate a text to a high ability. The text that is annotated can be glued into their books for them to refer to or you could create a display. Provide as much kinesthetic tools as possible to keep all the pupils interested. I’m talking highlighters, rulers, gel pens, post it notes, whiteboards, laminated poems. Anything that will work for your class. You could even encourage them to write on the table in whiteboard pen. The aim is to show them that they can be creative even when they are not creating a story or poem themselves. A personal favourite is to blow up a poem, print it out and stick it on a wall or window. As a class you can annotate the poem together and they will always remember the lesson.

Step Four- The lesson itself

You can begin the lesson with examples of annotated texts, an activation discussion about the text itself, playing a famous song that you may be annotating, or reordering the poem; to name but a few options. Before giving out resources it is essential you model the thinking process of annotating a text to the class. Take the first two sentences and explain how to note take. You are basically modelling the thinking process to go through at this point. It may seem simple but it will really benefit the learners. Highlight the key words in front of the class, verbalise simple observations such as ‘this word describes the character’. As pupils follow your thought process you can then stretch them by explaining how you noticed a specific technique, it is important you then verbalise any questions you may have asked yourself at this point. For example, ‘I have noticed this is a metaphor because it states that the person is a firework and I know this is exaggeration, I then asked myself why has Katy Perry decided to use a metaphor. Well, let’s look closer’. This dialogue is clear and models exactly the thought process you expect when looking at language. As you model the process you are working your way through Bloom’s taxonomy; starting with selecting key information and moving on to evaluating and predicting what the writer intended. To provide scaffolding for learners you could give them a checklist with Bloom’s Taxonomy to ensure they have followed all of steps.

Once you have modeled this process you can then set pupils off on the task. It is imperative that you give them one sentence to start with and then regroup and discuss their interpretations. The aim of the lesson is to train pupils to closely read for detail. Therefore, it is essential they spend a long time on a small section to make their annotations deep and meaningful. Providing a success criteria with step-by-step instructions, checklists, key techniques to look for can aid learners. For a high ability class challenge them to find meanings alone. The link below provides a detailed lesson plan to teach annotations but there are many other ways.

Step 5Embed it in lessons

In any assessment or piece of work where learners need to deduce meanings and present their views, it is important you allow time to annotate the text you are studying and discuss it first. The more you do this in lessons and provide time to discuss interpretations the more confident your learners will be to do this alone. This will develop their reading ability, their independent thinking and will have a positive effect on their levels across reading, writing and oracy.

Ready, Set, Annotate

I recently spent a lesson teaching my Year 8s how to annotate the opening section of The Hunger Games. They used different colours to identify different aspects of the novel; settings, character, techniques. They really enjoyed it, and with some extra time to model the thinking process, they created some excellent annotations.

IMG_1919 IMG_1920 IMG_1921

Instead of thinking outside of the box, get rid of the box
Deepak Chopra

Is shouting ever effective?

Sometimes you may feel that yelping at a class is the only way to improve their work ethic and behaviour. Is it actually just a sign that you have lost control?

When are you expected to shout in life? In an emergency. Although year 9 throwing a pencil across the room may seem like an emergency, it’s not. Singling out a pupil to shout at can cause the child to feel belittled or can lead to a power struggle. Is this going to build a positive relationship in the long run?

Six ways to avoid shouting but maintain control

Number One: Speaking quietly when giving instructions lowers the volume of your class. Pupils realise that they must quieten down to hear your voice and instantly they are more focused to listen. 

Number Two: A quiet word with a pupil can avoid confrontations in lessons. If you are introducing a new seating plan and you have a pupil with BSE needs it really is worth speaking to them beforehand. A colleague once gave me some great advice in my first year of teaching. She said that making time in my day to speak to a pupil one-on-one before a lesson, perhaps in the corridor, or even pulling them out of another lesson for two minutes, can change their behaviour in the long run. For example: “There will be a new seating plan today, you will be sat near Pupil X as I believe this will benefit your learning. Now that you know this I expect you to enter my room calmly and be ready to work hard. Will you enter ready to learn?”.I have found that interactions like these lead to a positive relationship. Asking a question gives the child a choice, this is key to motivating them.  This is a better alternative to shouting at the pupil for kicking up a fuss about their seating plan as they enter the lesson. This preempts any problems and ultimately avoids confrontation. 

Number Three: Focus on the good things. I once found myself feeling very negative about a class I taught after I spent the lesson dealing with silly behaviour. Again this was in my first year of teaching. A colleague had a chat with me after the lesson and gave me some simple yet extremely helpful advice. She told me to verbalise and praise the good behaviour  when I notice bad behaviour happening. Drawing attention to other pupils with ‘Well done Pupil Y you are working independently and quietly’. She advised that if a pupil had to leave the classroom so I could speak to them about their behaviour, I should enter by saying ‘Thank you everyone for staying focused there’. As simple as this seems it made me more positive about the class, it trained me to never raise my voice and due to this it made sure pupils had nothing to retaliate against. 

Number Four: Brag. This may sound strange but I have found that sharing what you have done for pupils helps them realise that lessons are a team effort. Stating ‘It took me an hour to create this revision guide so I want you to make sure you spend a minimum of an hour completing it to your best ability’. This may sound silly and many may disagree but with a challenging class I found this very helpful to motivate them and to view the classroom as a fair place. Creating a dialogue in the classroom of ‘we’ begins to breakdown this idea that the teacher is unfair. The same can be said for behaviour. Make it personal. For example: “I don’t like to be shouted at therefore I won’t shout in your face. Instead I expect you to have honest conversations with me about your behaviour.”

Number Five: Verbalise your warning system. Telling the pupil you are giving them their first warning is much less hassle than having to announce that the pupil has detention when they have reached the final stage of the system. You avoid the ‘that’s unfair, what did I do’ chat because the pupil can fairly see that you spoke to them at every stage of their behaviour choices. 

Number Six: Using body language effectively is a silent yet helpful management tool. There are many ways to use signals in the classroom to manage the class. See my previous post on noise levels for more ideas. Opting for a double tap on the desk if pupils are not focused when reading as a class, holding your fingers up to signal a child has been given a warning or watching a child for a few minutes to ensure they are on task can be just as effective as speaking to them. Often you do not need to say that the child is off-task they realise this immediately. The same can be said for rewards. Simply placing a raffle ticket in front of someone without saying anything causes pupils to be curious and motivated to do well. 

Every teacher has their own approach to classroom management, with every class you need to adapt your style. These strategies have proven successful with the pupils I teach. Establishing a positive relationship built on mutual trust between the teacher and pupil is the best form of behaviour management. Ofcourse using short term incentives is helpful, but creating long standing relationships is what leads to intrinsic motivation. Whether the child lacks confidence, has anger problems or just needs a clear routine; showing the class you’re a team really can end the need to raise your voice.

Conduct is more convincing than language

John Woolman

I do not expect sound effects

After chatting to a colleague this week about the many ways a teacher attempts to get quiet in the classroom, I decided to explore the different options. I’m a strong believer that setting clear routines in the classroom are key to solving behaviour issues. By demonstrating to pupils that they must respect the classroom, equipment and the routines set, you are modeling your high expectations. Explicitly using the word ‘expect’ in your lessons highlights to pupils that you have high expectations of both their work and their behaviour, it also makes clear that they are in control of changing both.

Silence is golden

There are so many ways to get quiet in the classroom, but often if the routine you choose is not introduced with conviction none of them are successful.


A popular option in the game of getting silence. Counting down when you want silence gives pupils time to finish what they are doing and focus on you for the next instruction. This option can be a really positive way to show the class that this is a transition period and it is important to listen. This technique gives agency to the pupils to finish the task they are on. However, this can also be a chaotic choice.
Firstly, it requires you to use your voice and often in a particularly noisy class it means you will have to shout over the noise. This can often mean that the beginning of the countdown is lost on pupils at the back of the room or that you have to actually repeat the countdown or make it longer. Those of you who use this technique daily will no doubt have experienced saying ‘Onnneeeeee’ for a good five seconds. Does this defeat the object of the countdown? Personally, I believe this technique can be unsuccessful. It often needs accompanying with writing names on the board of those who are still chatting. Alternatively, it comprises of you drawing attention to those who are ready to listen in the hope it will encourage the rest of the class to fall silent.
If this technique is introduced it is important the routine is practiced a few times to model to pupils exactly what you expect when you reach the end of the countdown. Providing an incentive to be quiet by the end is also an option. ‘Those who have pens down, eyes on the board and hands on the desk when I reach the end of the countdown will receive a merit’. Explicitly describing the behaviour you expect is key. Avoiding ‘you must be silent’ and instead describing ‘pens down, eyes on the board’ is a clear instruction for pupils.

Eyebrows raised, staring at the class

Perhaps this is not the technical term for this technique, but all teachers will be familiar with this. Standing at the front of the room, preferably at the beginning of the lesson, looking at the class and remaining silent until all pupils eventually are facing you. As you can imagine this can be very problematic. With a class that you trust and have a strong relationship with this can be enough to get quiet and signify that you are waiting for a certain behaviour to begin the lesson. In order for this to work pupils must be aware of what this expected behaviour is. In a class with far-reaching behavioural needs this approach can fall flat. It can often result in the teacher stood waiting for over 5 minutes and wasting learning time. It then leads to a prolonged negative discussion about how much time you have just wasted and how unhappy about it you are. This can be a very negative way to start the lesson. In my first few weeks of teaching I recall trying this and in reflection realised that giving pupils a starter worksheet to begin working on as they entered the room would have been a much more productive use of those first five minutes.

The noise level we are using is…

Creating a scale of possible noise levels is often a great way to explain tangibly to pupils the noise level you expect in a task. By creating a scale (as below) you can clearly state to pupils ‘During this task we will be working with partner voices’. This shows pupils that you are encouraging cooperative learning but equally it is not an opportunity to shout across the classroom about last nights TOWIE episode. Creating a display of the scale in the classroom can be a great prompt for lessons and acts as a learning script for you to remember to set a noise level for each task.

1. Silence- independent working
2. Partner voice- working in pairs
3. Table voice- working in a group
4. Class voice- working with the rest of the class

Hands in the air, just don’t care

Another popular choice to get the attention of the class is holding your hand in the air. I am a big fan of this option as it involves no shouting or raising of your voice yet still shows the pupils you are in control. By setting incentives or giving pupils a time frame to get their hand in the air, this technique can actually be fun for the class. ‘When my hand is in the air you have 3 seconds to get yours in the air too, the last one will have to collect the rubbish from everyone’s table’ ‘First person to put their hand in the air will be first to leave on the bell’. There are various ways you can encourage pupils to react quickly whilst having fun with it. I have tried various ways of doing this.
However, there are times when this just does not work. If your lesson is practical and pupils are moving around often it takes some time before pupils notice your hand is in the air. Sometimes this results in pupils bawling ‘Miss has got her hand up everyone’; this is helpful but equally not what you had in mind. A solution I have found to this is introducing some form of sound effect first. This could be an online timer making a sound. The beginning of a popular song being played. You could even state the hook line to a song. After the sound effect you would then put your hand in the air and pupils would hear the sound and realise you have raised your hand. In less than 3 seconds all pupils are facing you. The option I have found particularly successful is clapping a tune then raising my hand. Some classes find it fun to clap the sound back, others simply raise their hand. You can even ask a pupil to clap a tune to make things more fun. This is an approach often used in primary school, however I have had success with classes from Year 7 right through to Year 11.

The Magic Carpet

The final technique I have tried out is a little bit different. A colleague who specialises in drama once observed me and noticed that I often move around the class whilst giving instructions. I initially did this to ensure all pupils were listening and alert to questions. However, I was advised to try standing on one spot and finding my centre, this way pupils would clearly know where to look for instruction. It was suggested I place a rug in a certain area of the classroom and stand on it when I give instructions. Therefore, I bought a multicoloured rug and placed it at the front (partly to make my room look jazzy too). For the first two weeks of term when I clapped and raised my hand for quiet I made sure I was stood on the rug. This was a personal reminder to find my centre. I found, after following this routine for four weeks, that when I stood on the rug at the front of the class pupils began looking to the front as they assumed I was about to give instructions. Magic! This approach is minimum input but does take a lot of practice!

Pick one and stick to it

I have outlined just a few of the options you could adopt in your classroom to get silence. There are many other successful techniques. For me, establishing silence swiftly and calmly works best in my classroom. Pick one technique to use and spend a week or so really practicing it with pupils and reminding them of the routine. Within two weeks the routine will be embedded and you will be surprised when you notice pupils are looking to you to raise your hand or are ready and waiting quietly for the end of the countdown. Have conviction in the method you choose, outlay the expected behaviour and reward pupils when they successfully complete the routine. Be resilient with the technique you choose, it is never too late in the term to establish a new routine or change the current one, as long as you reiterate the routine every day until it sticks.

Always end the day with a positive thought. No matter how hard things were, tomorrow’s a fresh opportunity to make it better.

Sharing your vision with the class

Every kid deserves a champion
For every child I teach I have an individual vision. A mission. Every teacher does, perhaps not explicitly, but they often have a specific focus for each pupil. This may be something they want a pupil to achieve in their lessons, a target grade they hope they will reach, a change in behaviour, or a shift in attitude. Teachers may not have sat down and decided to craft a vision statement for their class, but they will no doubt return to school in September thinking about their pupils and how they can flourish. Rita Pierson presents this passion for the children she taught eloquently in the Ted talk below. Pierson recalls communicating her high expectations to her class and giving them a pep talk. Essentially, Pierson is sharing her inspiring vision with the class.


I spent some time at the beginning of last September considering my vision for the upcoming year. I decided to list the problems I faced in lessons. It soon became apparent that the root cause of pupils’ poor behaviour and lack of resilience was caused by an inability to focus. Pupils were often affected by arguments they may have had with friends, showed a lack of confidence around their peers in the room or had problems outside of school on their mind. I wanted the pupils to know that I was committed to their well-being and could provide pastoral support; however I also needed them to know that when they were in English lessons they were there to learn.

Leave your baggage at the door

With this in mind my vision for pupils became simple; ‘Leave your baggage at the door’. I needed to explicitly communicate to pupils that there were no excuses in this classroom, we were all equal and we would all be aiming high. In each class we co-created a list of things that would help us reach our vision. Pupils contributed to the list with lots of ways they could achieve this, examples such as ‘speak to Miss Charles in advance about something that is troubling me’, ‘sit in a place where I feel comfortable and able to work hard’ were discussed . I then asked pupils to create a list of what they expected of me to achieve this vision.Their responses consisted of ‘set high level work to stretch us’, ‘give extra help to those who need it’ and ‘be fair when giving out warnings and detentions’. The pupils were spot on.

Breaking down barriers

As the pupils made clear in their responses in class, it is sometimes difficult for a pupil to leave their baggage at the door. In fact it is my job as their teacher to help them do so. By providing extra scaffolding for tasks I am able to give pupils confidence to achieve. By regularly communicating with other members of staff and keeping up to date with each pupil’s needs I can be sensitive and motivating when pupils need it most. By creating a positive classroom environment where pupils feel safe and respected they can focus on their learning. Finally, by communicating to pupils that they belong in my classroom and have an important role in the class I can boost their self esteem.

To ensure pupils are able to motivate themselves often teachers need to provide the safety, food and protection they may not be receiving at home.
To ensure pupils are able to motivate themselves often teachers need to provide the safety, food, and protection they may not be receiving at home.
New year, new vision

Crafting a specific vision and, more importantly, sharing my vision with the class changed the way I dealt with pupils. It boosted my expectations of them, it made me consider more closely my role outside of the classroom, and how I could break down individual pupils’ barriers to learning.

As I now embark on a new September term I will continue to share my vision with the class in a hope to raise their aspirations. However, new responsibilities and new classes I have set myself a new vision.

‘If it’s not excellent, it’s not finished’

My new vision aims to challenge pupils, foster independence and teach them to take pride in their work. Having attended a session by David Didau @learningspy this summer I was inspired by his approaches to literacy and raising attainment. My next blog post will unpick this vision further and discuss some of the approaches to literacy I have adapted from his work. For now, enjoy this blog post by Didau. A great read.

“Most people fail in life not because they aim too high and miss, but because they aim too low and hit”
Les Brown


The countdown is on.

The beginning of the school term is upon us. It is not just children and parents who are scrambling around the supermarket aisles to top up with stationery and adding every date into their new shiny diary; it’s the teachers too!

If I have learnt anything from my first year of teaching it is that routine is the key. The secondary teacher can learn a lot from the primary school classroom. With that in mind, in the holidays I trawled Pinterest, armed myself with heaps of stationary from Tiger and headed into school to create an interactive classroom. I attended a session last October hosted by Jim smith ( where he shared anecdotes and approaches to fostering creative and independent learning. If you haven’t read his book or watched him speak, you really should, he is a breath of teaching fresh air! I realised a great way to make independent learning a routine was to create an interactive, creative learning environment. Here are three rules I will be teaching my pupils in September to try out this approach.

#BacktoSchool Rule Number One: Use the thesaurus wall to improve

Would you like a synonym with that?
Would you like a synonym with that?
Create a display that will help your students out. Have a look through last year’s exercise books and highlight the most commonly used words. You may already know these words off the top of your head. I’m talking ‘bad’ ‘said’ ‘really’ ‘scary’. The words that you often circle and prompt students to look for a synonym. Pick your top ten words that you wish your students would avoid and put them on display. Then provide a pot of synonyms for pupils to select from when they are working in class. This routine can be incorporated into written work, speaking in front of the class and group work. The wall can be used across all subjects and when used regularly will impact the vocabulary of your students. You can opt for fun displays like the display above or you could opt for a simpler display, as below.

Thesaurus Wall
Thesaurus Wall
#BacktoSchool Rule Number Two: Find as many words as possible whilst the rest of the class enter

FullSizeRender - Copy

Putting some extra time into printing the alphabet and creating a display similar to this can really buy you some time in the long run. Pupils can find as many words as possible from the boggle board as a starter. Pupils can help themselves to sheets and one pupil can change the letters on the board. This is a great hook to a lesson whilst pupils settle down, new words are discussed together as a class and can be used in other activities later in the lesson. This is a fun game for pupils to expand vocabulary, practice spelling and to get them thinking. The display is versatile and can be used at different points in a lesson and with different ages.

#Backtoschool Rule Number Three: Help yourself to learn

Lollipop sticks for each class.
Lollipop sticks for each class.
It can be stressful thinking about what other teachers have prepared in advance of term, or thinking about the lessons you need to prepare. That’s why it’s important you hunt down the resources that are already available. Do this en masse. Whether you find useful resources on TES or twitter; put a good hour in searching for resources that can aid your learners across various topics. Download generic writing frames, speaking frames and glossaries for your subject. Adapt them, print them, if possible get them laminated, put them in a labelled folder and then staple it to the wall. Whenever you have planned a lesson and you need resources to aid the learners you will have them at the ready. This will teach your learners how to recognise independently when they require extra support. It will also give you peace of mind in your planning.

After a summer of rest you may be rejuvenated for September or you may be dragging your heels. It takes an open mind to try new approaches to your teaching but it takes resilience to make them work. Good luck with the upcoming term.

“Courage doesn’t always roar, sometimes it’s the quiet voice at the end of the day whispering ‘I will try again tomorrow.’” (Mary Anne Radmacher)

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