Revision Jenga

Jenga 7

Revision is a tricky nut to crack, especially for literature students where the topics for revision are as wide ranging as quotations from the text to feminist readings to historical context.

Jenga Revision is just one of the ways I help student memorise everything they need to know.

Here’s how I do it:

1. Get hold of your Jenga blocks. (you will need felt tips as well)
The cheapest Jenga blocks I have found are these mini Topple Towers from Poundland. Just £1 each.  The tower doesn’t stand much higher than 15cm. But that makes it perfect for small group work.
*Note – buy the cheapest ones you can – because these will be unfinished wood and easier to write on with felt tip!*

Jenga 2

2. Decide what you are going to write on them.
When I started out using this activity, I was totally laid back about what went on the blocks. A few years on and I’m a little wiser.  Here’s what I learnt:
Colour code the categories – so red for direct evidence from the text, blue for historical context, green for key literary terms.
Get students to plan / find the information first – no writing on the blocks until you’ve written it on paper (this can help avoid lots of repetition too)
Brevity rules! The blocks can only take 1 or 2 words – so precision is needed.
Neatly does it – some of those boys need to earn the right to write. Prove to me you can be legible, gentleman!

jenga 8

Jenga 3

3. Get working on making the blocks.  Depending on the number of texts to be revised, I will either allocate each group a different text or split the chapters or sections across a number of groups.

Jenga 4

4. Get your game on. Here are the rules of the game.

– Choose who goes first (tallest, shortest – I don’t mind).

– Person number 1 pulls out a block and uses the information on it to ask a question of someone else in the group. For example – say the block has the name “Crooks” on it. The questioner could form any question that will give them the response Crooks. The harder the question, the better. Which character in Of Mice and Men has their own chapter? Who does Curley’s Wife threaten to string up? Which character in the novel reads a lot?

– If the response is correct, then the responder is given that block to start making their collection. They then take the next turn.

– If the response is incorrect, then the questioner keeps it (for their collection).  And they keep taking turns and keeping blocks until someone answers correctly.

– The winner is the one who has the most blocks when the tower is completely gone. This encourages them to make the questions as difficult as possible.

Jenga 5

And that my friends is how we play revision Jenga!

Thanks for reading.

 

Long pin test

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25+ ideas for increasing student talk

I’m always looking for new ways to get students talking.  The lethargy that comes with Friday Lesson 5 – or, you know, even Monday Lesson 1, can be hard to break.

So here are 25+ new and old ways to get your students talking.

25 ideas

This resource is totally free and can be downloaded from my TPT store here: 25+ ideas for more student talk

Here’s a few of the ideas to keep you going:

Slide23 Slide16 Slide13

Enjoy!

Outside the box in a box

A hand-drawn mini unit on developing creative thinking skills (or what I did when I had finished all the schemes of work and the holidays were still two weeks away).

2013-09-03 20.26.06

Lesson 1: Kids probs

Ask students to come up will all of the problems they experience as kids.  Get a big class mind-map going on somewhere.

Around that mind-map put 4 sheets, titled:

  1. Outside the box ideas
  2. Bizarre and strange ideas
  3. Ideas from the future
  4. Friends and family ideas

Starting with “Outside the box” ask students to think about someone they know who has a very different life from them.  It could an elderly relative or someone who lives in a different country.  Students place themselves into that person’s shoes and answer the same question – what would this person say about kids problems?

Then you can get “Bizarre and strange” ask students to come up with the wackiest, craziest and most ridiculous problems they could experience (like being kidnapped by zombies on the way to school).

Next it’s “ideas from the future” students imagine childhood in 100 years time – what problems might these kids experience?

Finally, onto “Friends and Family” and this can be a nice think-pair-share-square activity or a fantastic homework.  Students need to gather other people ideas to add to their list.

2013-09-03 20.26.21

Lesson 2:  Solving the problem

Using the same style of expertly hand-drawn worksheet.  Students choose one problem from the previous lesson and attempt to solve it, using the same process.

Then you can get creative – make a homework machine, make the never-disappearing key ring, make the mum’s bad mood muncher.  Students can just design or they can design and make depending on time and resources.  Or get creative writing – use these ideas (sometimes all of them to together) to write the wildest, most hilarious adventures out there.

Lesson 3: Looking at my world

Now turn this way of thinking to analysis and criticism.  Using the same, now somewhat hackneyed worksheet ask students to spill onto paper everything they know about their school.  “Imagine you are a year 6 student, about to start at our school, what are you thinking, what do you want to know and what should we tell them?”

This can then form the basis of a piece of non-fiction writing (we made an A-Z of our school).

2013-09-03 20.26.46 2013-09-03 20.27.15

Sometimes thinking outside the box still requires boxes.

Skills transition 2 (KS4 to KS5)

In my post earlier this week I shared a number of stretch and challenge activities for helping students navigate the transition from KS4 to KS5.  These are a work in progress, but I mentioned a new set I am working on currently, also a work in progress, but here they are as they stand.

Teaching risk taking

Something that sets A grade year 12/13 students apart from others, is their ability and willingness to be bold (or risky) in their interpretation of the text.  I have really struggled to teach this skill.  Students are willing to taken certain risks, but not often true risks.

In Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, the narrator describes the children she is employed to educate as “princes of the blood”.  Our conversation on this quote, went something like this:

Mrs E: She describes them as “princes of the blood” what could she be suggesting?

Student A: Royalty, doesn’t “the blood” suggest the royal family.

princes of the blood

Mrs E: Excellent what else, what about the word “princes”?

Student B: Princes is a masculine word, she is describing Flora and Miles using a masculine word.  Does this mean anything?

Mrs E: Errr… you tell me.

The gender term debate went on for some time.  Finally.

Mrs E: Does the phrase “princes of the blood” suggest anything else?  Forget the text, think literature as a whole.

Silence.

Nervous student C: “blood” suggests violence, so if they are princes of the blood, then they are princes of violence.

Mrs E: Yay, what else?

Even more nervous student D: vampires…are princes of the blood, it’s a gothic novel, so it could be a vampire reference.

Mrs E: Wow, that’s fabulous.  Now we are beginning to be bold and take risks.  What else?

Student A: If they are princes, who is the king or queen? It suggests they are not in charge.

Student D: Who are they heir to?

Mrs E: Keep going.

Student C: If they are the heirs of Quint and Jessel, they were born out violence and also passion.

Mrs E: And…

Student D: Maybe they aren’t vampires, but they are monsters, they are like vampires as they suck the life blood from the governess.

This was probably the most risky conversation we have ever had whilst studying Henry James.  And I didn’t have to lead them to water.  I didn’t spoon feed the possibility or even hint at the interpretations.

This got me thinking, how can I teach independent risk taking skills.  I am slightly obsessed with my stretch and challenge activity cards at the moment and so here are a few “risk” activity cards, in an attempt to develop risky independence.  Download them here: Risk activity cards. I will add more as I go along.

Risk cards

A post on iceberg thinking cards to follow.

13 minutes of fame (or vocabulary acquisition)

I have been thinking about words and vocabulary acquisition over the last half term.  For those of you who have read my blog before, you might remember my Words on Wednesday initiative.  Whilst I still love this activity, I have found recently it has been somewhat lacking.  It seems students need a more repetitive exposure to language, rather than my spatter-gun approach of introducing new words every week.  Where I want them to embed vocabulary forever, I need to commit to more than just one attempt at introducing it.

There is a great deal of research out there on the required ‘number of encounters’ with a word before it is truly acquired.  Saragi, Nation & Meister, 1978 (Vocabulary learning and reading, System 6) found that words presented to learners fewer than six times were learned by half their subjects, while words presented six or more times were learned by 93%, suggesting a threshold of six encounters; whereas Herman, Anderson, Pearson, & Nagy, 1987 (Learning word meanings from context during normal reading in American Educational Research Journal  24) estimates this number as 20 times.

The contexts of these research studies were wide and too varied for me to draw specific conclusions that would apply in my South Croydon bubble.  But I am confident at least in this – with language that I need embedded in my students’ minds, one encounter or even two is not enough.

So, after half term, as my year 12s and I begin the annual pilgrimage that is the On Chesil Beach / Streetcar comparative essay, I would like for them to acquire fully the following language – and this is just the week 1 list.

vocab

Hour1 – Introduce the vocabulary (word encounter #1)

The visual word wall:

Students match up the terms, definitions and images for our word wall.

visual word wall

Hour 1 – Vocabulary frames (word encounter #2)

Students then select the 4 words they are least familiar with and make vocabulary frames for them.  See here for more info on how to use vocabulary frames – http://learningtasks.weebly.com/vocabulary-strategies.html

CIMG2668

Hour 1 – Thesis statements (word encounter #3)

At the end of our first hour, and discussion on the opening of On Chesil Beach, students work together to write a series to thesis statements using our ‘not-yet-acuquired-but-getting-there’ vocabulary.  Some of last year’s statements are available as examples:

  • The role McEwan forces the reader into is both voyeuristic and unsavoury.
  • The intimate surroundings of the inn are at once satirical and quintessentially British.
  • The subjectivity of Edward’s and Florence’s narrative ramblings are neither revelatory nor pleasurable.
  • Consciousness and the subjective revelation of personal consciousness versus relational consciousness anchor McEwan’s text.

You can see, that after 3 encounters, my students are getting there.  Their outcomes are somewhat clunky, but in all honesty, they hate the first few lessons on the text as they haven’t yet found the humour in the text and it is still too awkward for them.

Hour 2 – Vocabulary spat (word encounter #4)

Our first 3 encounters with the vocabulary are quite full on, so the next couple are more relaxed.  First up is splat.  Hour 2 tends to be on a different day, so we play a quick game of splat so remember the words and definitions.  As I also tend to be in a different room, this means students can’t rely on the word wall to help them.

splat

The words are on the whiteboard, two students have their weapon of choice – normally a ruler or some rolled up newspaper.  When I read the definition, they have to splat the correct word. Splat!

Hour 2 – lino (word encounter #5)

I don’t use masses of technology in my lessons, mostly because it’s not available.  Sometimes a post-it is as high tech as I can get.  It was a great joy to discover that I can now have online fun with post-its.  Lino allows you to create free online post-it note boards, it’s great for short quick homeworks.  And as I have to get through the book and not just focus on vocabulary, lino is one of my quick fire homeworks for Hour 2 vocab acquisition.

lino

lino 2

Hour 3 – Question ball (word encounter #6 – threshold 1)

As we are comparing On Chesil Beach with A Streetcar Named Desire, hour 3 is usually spent reading Streetcar.  This allows us the opportunity to apply our almost acquired language to a different text and a new set of ideas.

I have a question ball – similar to the one below, with question words written in sharpie on it.  Students chuck the ball around the room and as they catch it, they frame a question using both the relevant question word and a word from our new list.

Question ball

Examples from last year were:

  • Is Williams’ representation of marriage in 1950s America quintessential?
  • Which text presents the most unsavoury and voyeuristic journey for the reader?
  • How does Williams’ portray his revelations about human consciousness?

You get the idea.

We have reached the lower threshold of 6 encounters and it feels like I have done nothing but vocabulary work.  The texts we are studying have become an aside.

By reducing the number of words I introduce, I have the potential for seeing them overused.  I made this mistake with the word ‘misogyny’ last year.  I nearly didn’t survive.

So we take a break from our vocabulary until the very end of the lesson, when I force myself beyond the threshold of 6 and we have our final encounter, before I start all over again next week.

Hour 3 – Snow storm (word encounter #7)

snow storm

Students are asked to write a comparative thesis statement using one or more of our new words, however they have to leave the word out.  Do you get what I mean?  For example, the thesis statement “For both McEwan and Williams the revelation of human consciousness is unsavoury and extreme.”  would look like this – For both McEwan and Williams the ____________of human _________________ is ______________and extreme.

These are written on bits of paper, scrunched up and in true year 7, I mean year 12, style chucked around the room.

We then pick one up and complete the missing words.  Discussion and disagreement follow.

What have I learnt from this?

Firstly, that language acquisition, especially scholastic or academic language, is time consuming but necessary.  One or two words big words thrown into an essay, does not an A grade make.  Yet, my students are clever and articulate.  They cannot be blamed for the lack.

What I need to think about now is how I tackle this ‘time consuming but necessary’ skill in a busy week.  I need the balance between pushing for the scholastic language my students’ ideas are worthy of, without losing those ideas in the midst of teaching vocabulary.

I refuse to give up, even though it’s a tough nut to crack.

I am always on the hunt for new word acquisition activities that suit KS5, if you know of any, please let me know.

More than a bowl of spag (my Goldsmiths presentation)

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with PGCE students at Goldsmiths University, talking about literacy and working with students who struggle to access reading and writing.

Here is what we discussed.

If you are interested in the texts we used and the activities we shared, here they are:

The strategies handout – Handout – strategies

The poem – Auschwitz by Elizabeth Wise

The non-fiction text Auschwitz info

Getting spidey sense and peeling hexagons

Introduction lessons are always a conundrum – do you go in heavy with expectations and rules or do you go for something that explores more of your subject?

I find them even more difficult to get to grips with when it’s a new year 12 class.  Our classes tend to ebb and flow for the first week of term, so I can’t start reading the text.  I, therefore, have 3 hours to grapple with and not much need to lecture on contents pages and neat presentation of classwork.

So with one of my new year 12 classes this week, I decided to get all spidey.  Inspired (again) by @rlj1981 http://createinnovateexplore.com/learning/500-straws-and-building-bridges/

Getting spidey sense with your ideas

Lay a bunch of ideas out around your classroom.

Here are the ones I used.  They were specifically general (if that’s possible) as I hadn’t met the class before and I didn’t want them to assume anything.

Ideas

Put students into pairs and give them string, blutac and sticki-notes.

Talk about making connections, giving examples, having a personal response.

everything is connected

Ask students to make a connection (any at this point) between two ideas.

They should use the string to make a physical connection and then hang a post it note from the string explaining their idea.

Chaos, talk, thought, connections ensue.  Arguments abound.  Critical thinking happens.

Spider web

As time went on, students found evidence from history, current affairs, art, literature, music (etc) to justify their connections.

Peeling hexagons

Anyone who teaches Edexcel Literature will know that the exam board have once again changed the mark schemes, this year it feels very on the down-low.

The Shakespeare CA goes from 30 to 40 marks, now with no marks for AO2 and 20 marks for AO4.  This prompted some quick rethinking for me.  As this CA has been fairly dull and formulaic up until now.  It has not provided much of a preparation for the Literature exam.   Students struggled with it as it sat slap in the middle of Lang and Lit skills, being neither one nor the other.

The new mark scheme provides a great opportunity at the beginning of year 10 to teach some proper Literature essay skills.

Here is how I started out:

peel

We reminded ourselves of the purpose of essay writing and why we use PEEL.

Then in groups, students were given a bunch of different hexagons, each representing one element of a PEEL paragraph.

They used these to write an essay (in note form) and to connect their ideas in anyway they wanted.

White = Point

Green = Evidence

Blue = Explanation/Analysis

Red = Evaluation

Yellow = Context

Orange = Conclusion

hexagon peel

The challenge was for students to show visually and through their written ideas that Mercutio’s character is complex, multi-faceted and difficult to pin down.

As you can see, some of the groups really went with this idea – sticking hexagons on top of one another to create varied layers.  I like the one that uses the points to create Mercutio’s torso with the rest of the paragraph making his arms and legs.  The linear ones were fine too – interestingly the most linear one, was from one of my most creative thinkers!

Let me know if you try these activities in your lessons and how you get on.

Teaching x-ray vision

xray_normal_hand_pa

Teaching inference and deduction skills to low ability students is sometimes a minefield.  The whole point of inferring is that you can make connections, often beyond a text, this is a tough challenge when the words on the page are hard to decipher.

I believe it is key to teach inference and deduction early and to teach it explicitly.

In lessons I equate the skill to an x-ray.  Looking below the surface.  Seeing beyond the skin.  Understanding what is living in the bones of a text.

Task 1:  Inference pictures

The pictures below allow students to make simple inferences within a limited scope.  There are wrong answers to these questions, and although I do like to get carried away on unusual ideas, sometimes we need to start with the obvious and work from there.

So:

  1. Using your observation skills, write down everything you can see.
    (The items are……)
  2. Using your inference skills, what can you figure out about the owner of the items.
    (I think the owner is…..)
  3. Write down (explain) how you figured out who the owner was.
    (I know this because….)

inference 1

In feeding back on this, students will refer to real life or other texts (film) and the connection is made.

Task 2: Text inferences

messy-kid-29

Read the example of inference below:
I wouldn’t eat after that two-year-old if I were you.
Inference: The two-year-old probably did something gross to the food you were about to eat or has a cold and you could catch it. Something bad will happen to you if you eat it!

This text allows students to explore different ideas but again there are some very clear wrong answers.  The negative language means it cannot be a positive emotion being expressed.

The specific reference to an age means that there is a limit to what might have happened.

I often ask students to imagine what a photograph going with this phrase would look like.  This generally describe something like this >>>

Now we could move onto other more flexible inferences:

  1. If she died, I wouldn’t go to her funeral.
  2. A woman walks into a hospital clutching her huge belly and cursing out her husband, who trails behind her carrying a large bag.
  3. You’re driving on the motorway, listening to the radio, and a police officer pulls you over.

The last one usually generates much debate on speeding and police officers’ favourite music artists.  It’s also funny how often students miss the meaning of “huge belly” on no 2.

I find myself using these activities time again when teaching some texts from Boy in the Striped PJs to Hamlet.

I will share my inference and deduction slides on my free downloads page.

Outside the box in a box

A hand-drawn mini unit on developing creative thinking skills (or what I did when I had finished all the schemes of work and the holidays were still two weeks away).

2013-09-03 20.26.06

Lesson 1: Kids probs

Ask students to come up will all of the problems they experience as kids.  Get a big class mind-map going on somewhere.

Around that mind-map put 4 sheets, titled:

  1. Outside the box ideas
  2. Bizarre and strange ideas
  3. Ideas from the future
  4. Friends and family ideas

Starting with “Outside the box” ask students to think about someone they know who has a very different life from them.  It could an elderly relative or someone who lives in a different country.  Students place themselves into that person’s shoes and answer the same question – what would this person say about kids problems?

Then you can get “Bizarre and strange” ask students to come up with the wackiest, craziest and most ridiculous problems they could experience (like being kidnapped by zombies on the way to school).

Next it’s “ideas from the future” students imagine childhood in 100 years time – what problems might these kids experience?

Finally, onto “Friends and Family” and this can be a nice think-pair-share-square activity or a fantastic homework.  Students need to gather other people ideas to add to their list.

2013-09-03 20.26.21

Lesson 2:  Solving the problem

Using the same style of expertly hand-drawn worksheet.  Students choose one problem from the previous lesson and attempt to solve it, using the same process.

Then you can get creative – make a homework machine, make the never-disappearing key ring, make the mum’s bad mood muncher.  Students can just design or they can design and make depending on time and resources.  Or get creative writing – use these ideas (sometimes all of them to together) to write the wildest, most hilarious adventures out there.

Lesson 3: Looking at my world

Now turn this way of thinking to analysis and criticism.  Using the same, now somewhat hackneyed worksheet ask students to spill onto paper everything they know about their school.  “Imagine you are a year 6 student, about to start at our school, what are you thinking, what do you want to know and what should we tell them?”

This can then form the basis of a piece of non-fiction writing (we made an A-Z of our school).

2013-09-03 20.26.46 2013-09-03 20.27.15

Sometimes thinking outside the box still requires boxes.