3 Revision Strategies for Last Minute Lessons

It’s the time of year when exams are looming and workload seems at an all-time high. Revision sessions, extra marking and last minute interventions take their toll on your time and energy. It’s all for the best cause and with the best of intentions, but it can be a lot to deal with.

This year, I am teaching Literature to three year groups. I have loved it, and feel immensely lucky in an age of English Language priority to be able to do so. However, the revision stress and pressure is looming (we have had over 100 students from various years at revision regularly), and I have found myself searching for ideas for revision tasks and lessons that let the students feel they have really made some progress, but are not too laborious to put together. My top three are below.

1. Quote Quilts

Adapted from a History and MFL idea I saw on Twitter, these work really well for essay practice without the write-up (and the resultant written marking). Feedback can be verbal and quick, making students feel they have progressed and learnt in a faster loop than a traditional written response. I have used these as preparation before an exam style write-up, and have also used them to prepare quotes for a competitive ‘quote tennis’ style match, pitching half the room against the other.

The concept is simple: take a grid (4×4 for the whole text, or you could do 2×2 or 3×3 for individual characters) and write a list of themes or essay question topics. Colour code the topic list as a key and fill in the grid with quotes. Then, colour each quote with all the colours you can link it to. The more colourful the quilt, the better your quotes!

quilt inspiration

A history themed inspiration from Karen Knight (@KKNteachlearn) on Twitter)

This has been good to do in groups on big bits of paper, or individually to revise quotes and think critically about them.

2. Revision Clocks

 

revision clock

Picture from Slideshare

I discovered these via Twitter (again) and they are brilliant! If you have loads of things students want to cover in a lesson, or you want to cover all the characters or themes in a text, one sheet and five-minute increments make even the rowdiest of classes focus. It’s really clear to see what segments students are confident in and where they need a little more help, and they have a piece of revision they can be really proud of at the end. they can be used in a number of ways, but here are some I have tried:

Student-led (individual): Students are given the timings by the teacher and simply fill each segment in with what they know. They can have a minute at the start of each segment for questions, then it’s them and their individual knowledge. This works best with success criteria (eg. aim for 3 quotes, 3 points and 3 links to context in each segment).

Student-led (group): Using fewer segments (6 instead of twelve) students complete the clock but all start at different points. Every five minutes they swap their work with the person next to them, or around a small group. This means they will have a mixture of their own work and others’ ideas on their sheet at the end. it also encourages them to further others’ ideas and think beyond the obvious.

Teacher-led: The class decide the topics they are unsure about and the teacher delivers notes covering these in five-minute segments, with time for questions in each bit too. This allows for a structured approach, constant motivation due to time constraint, and everyone to have lesson time on something they want to cover.

I’ve found these particularly useful with lower sets, but higher sets have found it good to take home and use in a structured revision hour.

3. Who Am I?

post it notes.jpgI must admit, my penchant for colour coding and stationery has garnered me a bit of a reputation in my department, but I do love a good post-it note. They are just so useful. And that’s all you need for this game (which has saved me on numerous occasions when half the year group has shown up for revision and I’ve planned for 25 students). Students simply write a character name, theme or essay topic on the post-it note, and stick it on another’s head. That student then has to ask questions and guess what their note says, but the only information they will have from others will be in the form of quotes. This has kept students who have finished early amused for a long time, and they ended up writing and guessing things like ‘The Boss’ and ‘Candy’s Dog’ and ‘The girl from Weed’ which was pretty impressive.

So there you have it! My top three newfangled revision methods for this season. What revision methods are you enjoying at the moment? Have you discovered anything new? Let me know, and thanks for stopping by!

 

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10. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

5 random facts about myself:

  • I have written several screenplays, nearly a whole novel and some monologues
  • I have different coloured eyes
  • I worked on BBC’s Hinterland
  • I have performed across the UK doing improvised comedy
  • My dad’s name is Will Power (seriously)

4 things on my bucket list:

  • To visit Italy
  • To get my book published
  • To have children
  • To launch a full range of illustrated products

3 things I hope for this year:

  • To get enough students together for a GCSE Media class
  • To get our TED style talk initiative to take off
  • To live up to my role and support others through the year

2 things that have made me laugh or cry as an educator:

  • Laugh: student logic and general awkward navigation of being teenagers. There are so many stories, I wouldn’t even know where to start!
  • Laugh/cry (in a positive way!): student enthusiasm for little clubs or idiosyncrasies in lessons. I have a Mario mushroom I throw around and use for quick fire grammar games. it was an off the cuff activity which has now become a permanent feature because of the boundless joy and excitement when the ‘Grammarshroom’ is brought out!
  • Bonus: I get weirdly emotional sometimes when speaking to parents about how well their child is doing and if they say anything nice to me. I think I just don’t really know how to respond and my body just goes into reaction overdrive and start welling up! I even get it if a child emails to say thank you or just says thank you at the end of the lesson as they leave. It’s all very strange!

1 thing I wish more people knew about me:

  • I am massively insecure, and worry constantly I am not doing a good job. I sometimes overcompensate for this and try to mask it with bounciness and cheer, but it overwhelms me every so often. I wish people knew that’s why I am the way I am and why I run things by people so much. I just hope it makes my habits less annoying, or at least provides a reason for them!

There you have it! If you are thinking of blogging, you could maybe try this one as a first post. It’s a pretty easy one to write, and it can be quite short too! That’s all from me, so thanks for stopping by!

7. My Most Inspirational Colleague(s)!

It feels appropriate to write this post when #thankateacher is trending on my Twitter feed, as Tweachers are one of my inspirations. I mentioned in a previous post that, due to many factors, I very nearly left teaching two years ago. Then, to my utter surprise, I got a call from my current school asking if I was still looking for a job. I had questioned whether to accept, but to this day I think it was the best decision I have ever made.

I work in a school where I feel fortunate enough to count my colleagues among my closest friends. Not only that, I am in an environment where teaching talk is positive. It can be so easy to sit and moan and groan all day, and if you are in a more challenging school its probably cathartic to do that. But I am made to feel excited about teaching. I didn’t realise how valuable that was until it happened.

I now go to work feeling like I want to be a better teacher every day because of the inspiring people around me. We work in a 1:1 technology environment, and the enthusiasm of colleagues embracing this technology and really exploring its potential is simply amazing. I see people going above and beyond every day and doing it with a smile on their face without the slightest hint of resentment.

My department houses a head who leads by example and is one of the hardest working people I know. He is one of those people who just lives and breathes teaching, and students are consistently seen leaving his lessons in awe. He shares his successes and his failures, and throws himself in as one of the team. He is approachable and friendly, yet utterly professional and supportive when it matters. He is held in admiration by students and staff alike (though we can’t tell him too much, or his head won’t fit through the door!) and has shown me what a truly great leader looks like.

My department also houses a bunch of incredibly dedicated and hard working people. While I truly love them and am inspired by them all, one colleague in particular springs to mind. She fosters a love for learning and explores new ideas every day. Her dedication, organisation and spirit is something I admire and aspire to in my teaching, and it is down to her I revived this blog, have reactivated Twitter and and strive to be the best I can so I can give my kids even half of what she gives. I jokingly call her my work wife, but in reality I would be batting well above my weight.

I know this is an incoherent and sentimental post, and I know the people concerned will probably never read this. However, when #thankateacher is trending, I feel I should at least do my bit and thank the people who have made me fall in love with my profession, and make it my vocation.

Sincerely,

Thank you.

11. My Favourite Part of the School Day

I have two moments in the day which are my favourite. I love to get in early, and it’s a lovely quiet start to the day. Especially in winter, I like to go in and get a coffee whilst my computer boots up, then snuggle in my desk corner and catch up on emails and open presentations for the day. I also like it when my form group come in early and have little chats with me. I love these little 1:1s and I really feel like this had improved my relationship with my form no end.

My other favourite time is that moment when the last child in the the last lesson of your day leaves the room and you get that few seconds of silence before the meetings and the admin begins. I am fortunate enough to have a soundproof classroom door and the contrast of kids talking and utter silence is a beautiful thing at the end of a full day. I often had Y7 or Y8 at the end of a day too, which seems to make the maximum difference.

What’s your favourite moment of the school day? Thanks for stopping by!

6. What Does a Good Mentor Do?

I am going to come back to number 5 and my classroom makeover, as it is still a work in progress!

I have been a mentor to both adults and children this year, but I am going to focus on being a children’s mentor in this post. I don’t know whether it was because I was lucky in having a fabulous NQT, but I found being an NQT mentor a fairly straightforward and very rewarding job. Being a mentor to my form class has, on the other hand, been a much more rocky road.

I was a Year 7 mentor this year, and my form class were a mixed bag. There were plenty of model students, students who were academically excellent, students who tried their best and needed a little help academically (in a variety of contexts), and students with behavioural challenges. I started the year as a new teacher and it soon became apparent my form were going to make or break me. I am not saying for a second that I have cracked it, and we have a looong way to go, but if you have a class like this and are looking for something new to try then maybe some of this may help.

Treat them as individuals

My form is made up of 27 individuals, and without hesitation I could recite their names and talk about them for at least a few minutes each. I know some of them respond to a good shouting, and some need a gentle talk and a sense of disappointment from me for a punishment to hit home. I know favourite subjects, struggling subjects, context galore and friendship dramas. This is what most form teachers will know about their students. I have really found it invaluable to have this information, because it allows me to approach things from a new angle. I am also really fortunate to have fortnightly 1:1 sessions on my timetable, so once a fortnight I have an hour to make appointments with my form members. I usually work through the register, but if I know an incident has occurred I can call any significant individuals to see me too. This really fosters the relationship and has helped when dealing with any issues.

A great example from my lot is Welsh. Most of my students are EAL, so Welsh is a massive struggle as a subject. Lots try, but some would rather mess around than try and fail. It constantly crops up as a problem area on the class report and the same students get detentions all the time.

I am fortunate in that I speak Welsh, so when the notorious students attended their double up detentions (see below) I used that time to teach some conversational Welsh one to one and then get them to teach me something. Some taught me some conversational phrases in their own language. Some taught me some origami, or how to stand best when throwing a javelin. They then had the challenge of getting a merit in Welsh before I saw them for their 1:1 session again. This worked well in the short term and really built up the relationship between me and the students. Long term, they started to lose the focus again. But, with repetition, I think it could have some impact.

Aside from this, recognising the good students when the class get told off is really important. It hurts to be tarnished with the same brush as your classmates when you are always trying your best, so at every possible opportunity I make it clear I know lots of students are doing well and I am pleased with them.

Treat them as a team

Whilst treating them as individuals is essential and is what everyone will tell you is the key to teaching or mentoring, what I have found works just as well is treating them as a team. A dressing down is given extra impact when students are told they are letting each other down and they don’t respect their friends Realistically, they don’t care too much about upsetting you, but upsetting their mates can have far more disastrous consequences. Similarly, celebrating success as a team, even the smallest of things (like a merit in Welsh) brings the team together, so they want to let each other down even less.

There was a lovely moment where one of my students got his merit in Welsh. He really struggled with the subject and tried to hide rather than go to class on more than one occasion. I had told the whole class about his challenge, and said that they had to help him out as a team. When he got it, they all rushed to form to tell me, so excited for him as they were. We all waited for him to arrive and gave him a standing ovation. He was so happy he cried. He was mortified, of course, because it was totally not cool for something like that to happen, but he knew in that moment everyone was on his side. I have found, undoubtedly, mentoring my form as a team and a collective is as important as nurturing them individually.

Be real

I am strict with my form. We have rigid routine and a double up policy: They get a detention and they serve another with me. They get a praise card and they get a card or a call home from me. We are formal and almost military. But we also have a laugh. I tell them about my day and they tell me about theirs. I joke around with them. I dab behind some of them and then deny it vehemently, leaving a furious debate raging as to whether it actually happened. I talk about the big things: racism, sexism, terrorism. I am open when I don’t know things or make mistakes. I tell them when I learn from them. I tell them when I am tired or stressed, and say they should be mindful of other teachers or students who may feel the same. I don’t know if this would work with an older form, but they seemed to respect this a lot. It was really enjoyable to learn things from them about their cultures and beliefs, and I feel I have shown them genuine respect by doing so.

Next steps

They are not perfect. No way. But, in a way, I like that. I really do have a sense of responsibility and a sort of love towards them. We have the basics now, and they are fully aware of my expectations. In this academic year, I hope to continue all of the above and to now build some restorative justice into the mix. They really want to do well but struggle a lot, and relationships between them and classroom teachers are not all great. So, I am introducing ‘thank a teacher’ day and teacher praise postcards. We are going to set targets and track them as a class and make sure we thank other students and teachers whenever we can. Hopefully, by getting them to focus on the positive moments of the week, they can see how good they are and want more of them. It’s a gamble, but worth a try.

What strategies do you use as a mentor? Do you have any strategies to share? Let me know, and thanks for stopping by!

 

3. An ‘Observation’ Area to Improve on

I feel all areas of my practice could be improved upon, as I constantly need new methods to cater to new classes. Observations themselves, however, are something I really struggle with. I pull myself to pieces and work myself up until I am certain I am going to be fired as soon as my observer steps through the door. I want to work on this. Observations are meant to be constructive, and I’m fortunate enough to be in a department where they are definitely just that. I want to work on my mindset and use a more open door policy with my peers this year, and hopefully my mindset will shift and view observations as a positive thing.

What open door policies do you guys have in your departments? How do you deal with observations? Let me know, and thanks for stopping by!

2. Technology in the Classroom

Something I really want to utilise this year is the opportunities 1:1 technology in our school offers. It’s easy to brush technology to one side in English; after all, you don’t need a computer to learn reading and writing, right? But the thing is, we are training young people to go out and function effectively in the real world as working adults. And, in most jobs, communicating effectively with technology is an integral part of the day to day requirements.

Now, I’m not saying we should abandon pen and paper. I am a massive advocate of traditional methods, and am a proud owner of a paper planner and a guzzilllion Post-it notes in a paperless school. I do calligraphy, for crying out loud. But I also know the value of using online communication and the value of teaching with it. Our students use the internet to communicate every day. They use word processors, presentation software, email clients and social media to function. Tapping into this as a teacher is valuable for both parties.

So. This year I plan to get students blogging and vlogging. I plan to get them creating print and audio-visual media and considering how to make them effective. I even plan on doing a whole unit dedicated to generating an interactive e-magazine. I also plan to document it on Twitter and think about what works and what doesn’t when using the students’ iPad minis. Hopefully we will see an increase in creative writing engagement, an awareness of why correct grammar and syntax is important, and some enthusiasm for English which seems more vocational and tangible in terms of links to the workplace. I’ll keep you posted!

What are your technology based goals for this year? Are you thinking of setting up social media for your department? Are you using technology successfully? Share your ideas and links down below, and thanks for stopping by!