Posts Tagged ‘Lesson Plan’

There is no doubt that the ability to work in a group is a highly valuable skill that will be called upon in later life. How then do we best prepare students for this in a post school environment?

This idea was piqued recently with the intersection of two events. The first was a series of workshops looking at Visible Thinking, stemming out of Harvard’s Project Zero. Put simply, how do teachers know that content covered in class has been absorbed by students. The old concept of a teacher delivering a chalk-and-talk-class where you could hear the proverbial pin drop is a good example. While the content may have been covered and the teacher feels it all went well, how much has been taken in my students?

Photo by Susan Sermoneta

Photo by Susan Sermoneta

The second event was the marking of a Reflection assessment by Year 8 students of a group task that culminated in a class performance of a scene from a play. Having marked a similar task, a year earlier, the similarities in the responses were striking, despite the year’s gap between the two tasks.  The content covered was dynamically different – from a contemporary play in Year 7 to an excerpt from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and this was reflected in the different ideas about the text and how to approach the task. However, the accounts of the processes of working in the groups were quite similar. This led to the thought; why not look to develop a hierarchy of group skills?

Students are put in groups from a young age. Socially, they seek out friendships from the first days of schooling, if not beforehand. The idea that you will be put into a group of or get yourselves into groups of X is commonplace. From here teachers often ask how the process is going, based on the task at hand of the shared goal or goals that the group has. Individuals may well be asked to reflect on how it felt working in a group, including what barriers were faced (individually or as a group), approaches that were used in an attempt to overcome the barrier, as well as how one felt about the experience looking back on the task.

But what is done about group skills beyond this? I have worked with students on Outward Bound courses where Bruce Tuckman‘s Stages of Group Development was in play. Here teams will go through a series of steps (Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing) as they work through a shared task. At the time, this approach seemed novel to the students, who often found amusement in being ‘stuck’ in the Storming stage as they vented their exasperation to the wild when a tent stubbornly refused to be assembled in the face of driving rain.

As an initial response this post seeks to posit this idea as a precursor to future discussion. Group skills are envisioned in a similar light to Tuckman’s work. This would see an element in group work where students are able to directly develop group skills and look to reflect on the process. Then, a critique of a variety of group approaches could be considered as part of a learning tool. The aim of a future post will be to explore and promote some group skill possibilities, along with ways of assessing their use. In the meantime, suggestions or experiences that have worked in the classroom are most welcome.


The development in student-centred learning is certainly gaining pace in the last few years. Each day, further strategies utilising BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies are highlighted, classes are flipped (where students are able to view and review brief videos created by teachers at home) and the role of the teacher continues to be refined. Certainly, the concept of the teacher as the authoritative dispenser of information via chalk and talk is being challenged.

In light of this, what developments are there with the process of interviewing teachers for positions? Currently, it is not uncommon for prospective teachers to be asked to teach a lesson or take a class. It’s not something that I’ve had to do, but I’ve often wondered about this. Does it lead to the potential for a “crackerjack” lesson to be delivered by a candidate – perhaps the best that they can do? Or is it designed more to weed out those who might handle the interview itself successfully enough, but give little indication of the fact that they would be flounder if put in front of a more ‘colourful’ Year 9 class? Certainly it has probably had its value over time and, as a general litmus test, one can determine a degree of rapport (or not) between a teacher and a group of students.

So, do schools need to visit how they interview teachers? If we are looking at dynamic and innovative ways of interacting with students and delivering content, does this stand at odds with more traditional methods of demonstrating your classroom credentials? Perhaps the criteria need to be considered as part of the application process, looking at a wider range of skills such as:

  • examples of a teacher’s ICT skill base and how this directly correlates to classroom activities
  • a teacher’s ability to facilitate and mentor, rather than be the arbiter of instruction
  • a demonstration of a teacher’s connection to the need for lifelong learners in society (and with the ability to be taught by the students as well)
  • the place of content and creation in the classroom
  • the need to teach the value (or otherwise) of the ICT tools as part of the learning process

Would love to hear about “different” experiences in the selection process that you have witnessed or experienced.

Following on from the positive feedback from my ROBOT Drama post, I’ve decided to put up another game that works well over an English (or Drama) class. Once again, it is one that I recall from the out-of-print When Are We Going to Have More Drama by Peter Moore. It provides for some good follow-up work covering communication and prejudice, which I’ll come back to at the end of the post.

Premise: Students are, in groups of three, to make a party hat.

Procedure: The fiddly, time consuming bit comes in the set up for this lesson, which is the only real downside. You will need to get 8 bags (for a class of 24 – for numbers less than this, just remove a bag per three students), 8 “lots” (2-3 big broadsheets work well) of newspaper, 7 lots of scissors, 7 lots of stick tape and various smaller items that are self-explanatory from the instructions that are found in each bag. I also look to put a piece of coloured paper in the bag (like an A4 sheet size of one colour) that can be used to help highlight the hat’s “beauty”.

When your students enter the class and are in groups of three, one member can select a bag that, to all intents, appear the ‘same’. There are no ‘returns’ on the bag – it is a lucky dip that you commit to.

Here are the 8 sets of instructions that you split,  putting one in each bag. You will see that the instructions are simple and outline the task very effectively:


*You are to make a party hat. *You have 25 minutes to make it. *You have no handicap.


*You are to make a party hat. *You have 25 minutes to make it. *Two of your members are blindfolded. *Only these two are able to use the materials.

Paper hat

From the basic… (Photo credit: shufgy)


*You are to make a party hat.

*You have 25 minutes to make it.

*Each member will have masking tape placed over the mouth to stop talking.


*You are to make a party hat.

*You have 25 minutes to make it.

*You are not allowed to use your writing hand. This must be placed behind your back at all times.


*You are to make a party hat. *You have 25 minutes to make it. *You must use your tie to bind your wrists together (separately) and must work in this fashion.


*You are to make a party hat.

*You have 25 minutes to make it.


To the unlikley… (Photo credit: George Eastman House)

*You must use your tie to bind your left wrist to the right wrist of one of your team members (and theirs to yours).


*You are to make a party hat.

*You have 25 minutes to make it.

*You have no scissors.


*You are to make a party hat.

*You have 25 minutes to make it.

*You have no tape.

Run Through and Follow Up: Reading through the above will probably prove self-explanatory as to how the game would run. While the task is running you are likely to find: that the group without sticky tape finds the process the most challenging, that students may use their initiative and may use any and all (including the scissors!) products – and the bag – in making their hat, that you will need to monitor some groups more than others to see that they “stick” to their challenge.

At the end, students model their hats at a hat parade. From this point, some follow up activities that extend the drama  in a number of directions can include:

  • students create a one minute ‘pitch‘ to accompany the launch of the hat – this can be used to promote (and perhaps explain!) the hat and its features
  • having an outsider ‘judge‘ the hats. One aspect to this is to not tell about the handicaps, or perhaps to amend this by mentioning that there are handicaps but not which ones are which
  • once the judging has been done (and the clean up!), a debrief on the task is useful. This includes the students’ reaction (especially when the judge knew nothing of the handicaps) to not winning. Stimulus points for discussion are useful, such as how wider society views individuals and groups (e.g. judging us on our handicaps and not our potential) as well as how both communication and handicapping can affect group and individual dynamics.

Overall, this can be a messy, noisy and enjoyable lesson and can act as an effective ‘one off’, or a good segue to units dealing with underprivileged groups, ‘able’ society and its responsibilities, and communication and values more generally. Let me know if you’d like further Drama ideas and suggestions like this and the ROBOT game.

Looking to do some drama in your English class – perhaps something more developed than a warm up game? Then I present the Robot Game – which I originally saw in Peter Moore’s When Are We Going To Have More Drama, now out of print.
This is probably the most requested (long) drama activity that I have done with students. The ‘performance’, which takes most of a lesson, can often be hilarious, as students who have not prepared sufficient ‘actions’ realise that there may be some tasks that their ‘robot’ will struggle with.
In doubling in this post, I have also decided to upload my first Explain Everything video, created to introduce the task to the students – so I am looking to explore the practicalities of this app (part one) in the English/Drama classroom.
So, before any embedded videos, here is the ‘print’ form of the task, aimed at teachers:

Premise: You are captured in a prison on an alien world. Your only resource to help you escape is a ‘robot’ that does not speak English. You must learn its language in order to guide it through a ‘maze’ in order to retrieve a set of keys.
Procedure: DAY ONE: Divide students into groups. At first, the students work together to create a fake ‘language’ of about 5-15 commands (you don’t need to tell them this) in order to pilot the robot. Foreign languages are out, or other simplifications of English (eg Left = L). In the past, things like Simpsons characters, car brands and jibberish have been popular. Students then rehearse/test the language with the robot (the robot will NOT have the commands on the final run).
DAY TWO: While you set up the course with the course planners, drivers have a final practice run. Robots sit outside until called. Drivers are brought in and the course is demonstrated to them. Then each robot is brought in and the drivers have to pilot the robot around the course.
THE RUN THROUGH: A robot (that is, a student) is brought in and sits down on a chair. The two drivers (the other two students) ‘sit’ on their hands, with the instructions in front of them and can only offer the rehearsed “commands” (i.e. no eye contact ‘offers’, no pointing etc). Any use of English (e.g. accidental calls of “NO!” or “Stop!”, incur a 5 second penalty. The total amount of time is (usually) 5 minutes. A robot may get ‘stuck’ at a point and you may offer the drivers the option of a one-off, 30 second penalty to ‘advance’ past this procedure. The total time having expired, may see robots finish while still on the course, so keep tabs of where they finish (plus penalties).
Other Observations: The only ‘caveat’ is that robots will need to be outside, for up to (in the case of the last robot), the bulk of the period. This has never been a problem for me, but could be an issue, depending on your class. The lesson is usually hilarious, based on the absence of necessary commands, with students walking “into” tables because they haven’t thought about climb over or crawl under in their set up. You can make it as hard or as easy for your class as you need. I’ve usually run this with year 7 but it would work up to year 9 potentially. You will need to keep the changeover of robots tight, otherwise you’ll easily run over time.
Possible Marks/Extension: You can use this as a group mark, based on their ability to work in a group (esp in period 1) effectively. A reflection task can be to have the boys discuss ideas of communication and how they were challenged by expectation and what happened.

Explain Everything – a reflection

Below you will find my first ‘attempt’ at Explain Everything. All up, it probably took about an hour of solid work to get it done, and I beg your indulgence at my efforts! There were a few issues with crashes (and some odd slide clashes) that probably made the process a little more frustrating than one would hope and expect. My aim was to create this solely using my iPad – so that the idea of lightweight, portable content creation became the focus.
Here are some other observations about the app from my first go:
1. Ensure that you have your ‘script’ created beforehand. I did this, which worked well. Having all of the images, photos and the like set up (my son drew the rocket ship) before, rather than stopping and sourcing/creating them as you go, would also be advisable.
2. Overall, the feel and use of the app is great. It is easy (the help ‘manual’ is good, although perhaps not as extensive as one might like) to use and mostly intuitive. I would liked to have seen the ability to copy images from one slide to the next (unless I’ve missed how to do this), as this is a common trait that makes the iPad a boon in most areas. Instead, I sometimes tried to duplicate the slide and erase elements that I did not want. The only downside from this was that (for some reason), some of the erased elements would magically re-insert themselves later on – frustrating. I’m sure this is a glitch that will soon be fixed.
3. Consider how you are going to ‘animate’ it ahead of time. I found trying to make it look ‘smooth’ while doing any voiceover (again, apologies for the tone that suggests “I’m concentrating here!”) at the same time. However, it is relatively easy to pause and break the animation and thus the voiceover.
4. Practical uses for the English Class. Thus far I can see two main uses. The first is for something like this, where you can make it a story tied to a series of instructions. Students could look at this the night before (reflecting possible ‘Flipped’ class models), work online together to come up with their “list” of commands, and come in ready to go with the rehearsal/performance the next day. The second would be as an explanatory tool. At present at my school, Year 9 are working on a unit studying a range of sonnets. Explain Everything would work quite well as a ‘study guide’, that covers the structural elements that make up a sonnet. The advantages would be that, despite some time investment (several hours), you would have a resource that you could use again and, perhaps more importantly, a guide that students can visit more than once in order to help with their study of the form.
I think I’ll see how I go with that as my ‘second attempt’. In the meantime, the first attempt is below. Let me know if you need any clarification with the task, or wish to make suggestions about other ways Explain Everything might work in the English (Drama?) classroom.


noun /ˈwôrəntē/  /ˈwä-/
warranties, plural

  1. A written guarantee, issued to the purchaser of an article by its manufacturer, promising to repair or replace it if necessary within a specified period of time

Educational “contracts” have been around for years and I recall the (attempted) introduction of the green desk system at my school in my later years. This basically revolved around William Roger’s Discipline Plan that saw students given ascending punishments such as being given a warning, being moved to an isolated table and being removed from the room for ongoing poor behaviour. At the time, it had mixed success at the government high school that I attended.

I recently came across this great blog post at English Teacher Confessions, which lists 13 pet peeves – number 12 reads:

The day after a major essay is due, ask your teacher if she’s graded them yet; if she balks, ask her if she’s graded yours yet; ask every day until they’re returned.

This followed on from seeing this cartoon at the start of the year:

from Joe Bower’s For the Love of Learning Blog

So perhaps student behaviour is a timeless, known quantity and the changes in society and the expectations of education have evolved. As more mobile devices become used/available in the class room, should we be exploring what the expectations are for student and teacher alike? Schools are developing the ability to allow students to access their files on servers at any time and many have contact with staff via email and class portal pages. What are the expectations for being able to contact staff at any time and, in being able to do this, what are the (time) expectations for staff to respond? In writing this, I am exploring the idea of the motivated and probably more able student, rather than the disruptive or indifferent one. Certainly, the days of a student heading off to the nearest major (university?) library to spend the day going through all the reference and stack items are endangered if not gone already. The issue is not what can be accessed, but how best to do it and how to develop a student’s curiosity, as well as the ability to discriminate with information that is available online.

Therefore, I am (lightheartedly) proposing a school warranty. You’ll notice that I copied the definition that came up for ‘warranty definition’ on Google at the top of my post and this covers the noun. I like the verb – warrant –  to justify or necessitate (a certain course of action), even more so. It suggests an active ‘doing’ rather than something set in place. I have no legal experience, but how about, as Draft 1.0, something like the following?

This understanding is made on the basis that we live in exciting technological times and you are a student looking to do your best, wanting to discover new ideas and thinking and you are ready to work. To this effect:

I warrant that I

  • will look to challenge the way you think, in order to open up your mind to fresh ideas and ways of working
  • understand that you have those mobile devices and that we will look to use them to further the ideas and content creation of the class
  • will continue to learn myself and challenge the way that I think and teach in order to promote both our positions
  • can learn from you and that together we will both benefit
  • will commit to giving you the best service that I can, through preparation, resources, feedback and direction and that this will often occur out of class time
  • am human; that (like you), I will make mistakes and I will endeavour to make amends and learn from them in future
  • will sing your praises from the rooftop because I can be so proud of your efforts

In accepting this Warranty, you undertake to

  • question everything and accept nothing at face value until you have scutinised, analysed, and tested it
  • bring your brain as well as your iWhatever along with you to use to benefit the work of all in the class
  • not try to add me as a “Facebook Friend” – we can be friendly, without having to be Friends
  • commit to fully participating, including completing the tasks and readings set, respecting the efforts of all and not shortchanging yourself through shortcuts
  • produce your own work, including attributing all sources you have used, to the best of your ability, which may involve re-drafting a piece of work at a later date
  • respect my role as teacher, including realising that, while I have may be able to access your communications at any time, I am not necessarily going to respond then and there
  • teach me as well with ideas that you have, apps that you come across and possibilities to explore

There’s probably more, (quite possibly less too!) but it’s a start. As a colleague said when I mentioned the idea for this post, “Not sure about the idea of the extended warranty!!”

Would love your thoughts and perspectives, as always.

TED ‘Junior’

You will no doubt be aware of the influence and spread of the TED conferences and talks, based originally on ‘Technology, Entertainment and Design’. There are now over 1100 TED talks , usually working out of a filmed presentation, under twenty minutes in length to a live audience.

One thing that TED lacks, is a range of younger speakers. One prominent talk that comes to mind is that of Thomas Suarez, a 12 year old who provides an entertaining talk of less than five minutes on developing iPhone apps. With this in mind, my year 7 English class and I developed the following idea:

The Best Idea I’ve (n)Ever Had

In short, you have three minutes to present your views on any topic that you like. It might be a question you’ve always had and want to explore, an idea or solution to a problem, or even just some unfocused daydreams that you’ve had. You script your idea, then use digital cameras/iphones/ipads to record and upload your presentation.


As mentioned, we used the iPad2 as a ‘one stop shop’. This meant that we were able to film (including connecting an external microphone), edit and post using the one device. The outcome was to save considerable time, while still having a very satisfying presentation.


The most important part, as with implementing any tech based lesson, is to have the content in hand before any “idevices” are brought onto the scene. Brainstorm first, to get a supply of possible ideas. Students will need to script the piece that they intend to present. Having trial runs, both in terms of learning the content, and becoming familiar with appropriate methods of delivery are a good idea. Some tips include:

  • Chunking ideas – put ideas into “paragraph-sized” lengths. This will allow students to present a 20-30 second idea in one hit, without using notes. The aim is to have them present without anything in their hands – as occurs in the TED talks. Reinforce that this is a topic where they are playing the role of  expert so they have the ability, like telling a story, to do so without prompts.
  •  Create three slides – to break up up the speech, students can use some visuals to help explain for emphasise a point. Limit their use as they are meant to be prompts, not the focus
  • Find places to pause – the reason for this is to allow for refamiliarising with the points to cover and to change the camera angle.


With our ‘inaugural’ run at this, we tried to keep the process as simple as possible. To this end, we used an iPad2, with a simple (and cheap) attachable ‘fisheye’ lens that help magnify the subject. I got the students to do it in one go – we were looking to use iMovie to edit the clips thereafter . However, this has highlighted the limitations of importing (say from a second iPad) and/or issues with stopping to introduce slides. Instead, having designated ‘spots’ where the student can stop following a single idea, the iPad can be moved for the next 20-30 second ‘grab’. This also means that inserting any of the slides can be done without disrupting the overall flow.

A student explores the nature of happiness


One student described this as the “best thing” he’d done all year – a time when he felt like he could create his own real-world project and have it valued. We joked about splicing a “TED audience” into the project, to give the impression of a rapt audience. Ironically, with a little more polish and time, there is absolutely no reason why students couldn’t broadcast their ideas out into the wider community. As another student said “Why should we have to wait until we turn 18 so that we can vote and get a tax file number, just so that we share an idea?”

I’ll be looking to do another run towards the end of the year. Would love to hear any similar ideas and approaches, or feedback.