Sunday, 31 May 2015

Brilliant Art & Design ideas: tried and tested tips for lessons

Looking for inspiration to brighten up your Art & Design lessons? You've come to the right place
Art and design teachers share ideas for getting creative with lessons, including message for mum, success on the cards, snow far so good, and morris major.

Ages 4 to 6

Message for Mum

For Mother’s Day my Year 1s make cards and photo frames. 3D flowers are nice. Cut the card into a flower shape, then fold the petals into flaps. My reception class like a teapot-shaped card with a tea bag inside, plus a poem about mum. Or make a photo frame of card, with art straws to cut, twist or bend and decorate the border. Spray with silver or gold paint. Then each child sticks a photograph of themselves in the frame.
Lianne Boyce is a Year 1 teacher at Morna International College in Ibiza, Spain

Ages 11 to 16

Success on the cards

Art & design can make a valuable contribution to speaking and listening skills. In our art department we have devised a set of review cards that we use as our “pass the puppet” plenary game.
The cards have questions such as:
1. Explain your use of colour in your work (comprehension).
2. Tell us the properties of PVA glue (knowledge).
3. Argue why your work should be chosen to hang in the staff room (evaluation).
The music plays and when it stops the pupil with the puppet puts it on, chooses, reads out and responds to a review card. If they answer confidently they keep the card and the pupil with the most cards wins.
Liz Stevens is head of art at Frankley High School in Birmingham

Ages 5 to 11

Painting by numbers

Creating a “wow factor” mural enables pupils to appreciate an artist’s work and apply different techniques as they create an original piece of art. Select a picture by an artist you are studying and make a coloured copy. Measure your display space, then divide the coloured copy into enough squares for each pupil. Number the squares. Each pupil reproduces the details in their square using art materials as appropriate — for example, thick paint or oil pastels are effective for the swirls in the work of Vincent Van Gogh. Sugar paper is also a strong base. Encourage
pupils to fill their paper with detail and watch their responses when it’s time for the assembling
of the finished work.
Lesley Higgerson is a primary teacher on a short career break

Ages 8 to 11

In the picture

One of the biggest problems children have with writing stories is the ability to empathise with their characters enough to understand and describe how they are thinking, feeling and reacting to events. One way of overcoming this is to use paintings in combination with drama techniques, such as freeze frame or thought tracking. Paintings, such as An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump by Joseph Wright of Derby, help to solve the thorny problem of structuring a story. By analysing and describing the different reactions of each of the characters to the cockatoo’s suffering in the air pump, with the help of drama children can structure and write powerful narrative with plenty of emotion and rich use of vocabulary.
The description of each character also helps them to plan paragraphs and the foreboding setting in the background provides many opportunities for powerful word sketches about settings as well.
Libby Lee is a primary teacher at North Mymms St Mary’s C of E in Welham Green, Hertfordshire

Ages 7 to 11

Snow far, so good

Your pupils can produce masterpieces from simple items: a sheet of paper, black and white crayons and a pot of blue paint mixed with a lot of water. Ask them to sketch the outline of a large old house that almost fills the page, colour in the walls of the house with black crayon and the roofs with white crayon for snow. Have them paint over the entire page with their wash of blue paint. Combine their pictures and the result is a stunning display of an old village of snow covered houses with a background of clear blue sky. Lack of perspective helps to make the buildings appear full of character. Every pupil can be proud of their  contribution, and may become the next Pieter Brueghel, a painter of landscapes such
as Hunters in the Snow.
Rosemary Westwell is a teacher in Cambridgeshire

Ages 8 to 11

Morris major

To start our art topic on the Victorians in Year 4, we looked at the William Morris website, This shows a range of the great craftsman’s work in various media and, in class, pupils discussed which wallpaper, tapestries and tiles they preferred. I explained that Morris was fascinated by patterns in nature and wanted to reflect this in his art. Pupils made close observational drawings of leaves, flowers and natural objects collected locally. They designed their own Morris-style tiles on card using felt-tips and pastels, based on their original drawings. They then copied their designs on to plain ceramic tiles. The result was a beautiful display of Victorian tiles and happy pupils who had gained insights into 19th-century
refurbishment and the ideas of an innovative Victorian.
Charlotte Dowling teaches at St Mark’s C of E First School in Dorset

Ages 9 to 11

Well matched

While still in Year 5, each child was allocated a Premiership football club. In Year 6, their art and design brief was to design next season’s kit. The children found out about the traditional kit colours (home and away) and logos and designs. They then designed a range of possible kits and sent their designs to the club chairmen for their comments. Eighteen out of the 20 clubs responded, many with letters from the chairmen. Some clubs, though, went further: Everton sent a signed first team shirt and said it plans to put the young boy’s work either on its website or in its club magazine. Manchester United sent goody bags and footballs as well as a signed shirt. Middlesbrough sent its own kit manufacturer’s design portfolio along with three replica shirts (this season’s actual kit and two designs that were ultimately rejected). Fulham gave the boy in question tickets for his family (and thankfully me) to go and watch the recent match against Reading from a directors’ lounge. We plan to continue the project and for the children to make up sample shirts of their designs. Many of the clubs have expressed an interest in seeing the results.
Mark Gilronan is a deputy head at Elaine Primary in Rochester, Kent

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Brilliant Language ideas: tried and tested tips for lessons

Language teachers share some of their favourite ideas to spice up MFL lessons
Language teachers share some of their favourite ideas to spice up modern foreign language lessons, including Chinese whispers, chunks of fun, strong language and toon town

Ages 5 to 13

Speaking out

If I am practising, say, weather phrases, I hold two flashcards behind my back, one saying “Il fait froid”, the other “Il fait chaud”. A pupil plays “La Marseillaise” on the CD player and I march around the room swapping the flashcards between each hand.
The pupil pauses the music and I stop and ask another child, in French, “What have I got in my right hand?” If correct, the class shouts, “Bravo!” and “Oh l... l...!” if wrong. I do this until everyone has answered. Pupils get to practise speaking, hear the French national anthem, and learn to congratulate and commiserate each other.
Margaret Riley teaches at Rumworth special school in Bolton, Lancashire

Ages 8 to 11

Getting the message

Psssst... pass it on. Play Chinese whispers to pass on newly learnt target language. Teach the pronunciation of simple vocabulary or phrases to the class.
This may be recapping work you have already covered or introducing new material. Once pupils have absorbed the new information, divide them into teams of seven. Have each team form a line standing one behind the other. All but the first pupil must turn and face the opposite direction with their fingers in their ears. The pupil at the front will be the first one to pass on the message after you have whispered some of the target language in their ear. They must wait until each first pupil in each team has the message before passing it on. They tap the next pupil’s shoulder so they know to take their fingers out of their ears and listen to the message. The last person to get the message runs to the front and shouts it out.
Points can be awarded for the most accurate message. Begin again with the last person for the new messages so all pupils get a turn.
Vary each team’s message or use the same one. Make the task difficult by using more than one word or a phrase.
Lindsay Slack teaches at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Wakefield, West Yorkshire

Chunks of fun

“A verb is like a bar of chocolate.” This is my lesson title when I introduce tense in French or German. Pupils need to understand about “breaking up” the verbs they will need (avoir and ĂȘtre in French or haben and sein in German). A great way to demonstrate this is with chocolate bars. I label one bar avoir and another ĂȘtre. I then tear off the wrapping and break off the first piece. I say: “j’ai” and the second piece “tu as”. Pupils are all ears and by the end of the lesson can form sentences.
Sara Sullivan is head of languages at Woodlands School in Basildon, Essex

Play with words

Give each pupil a small piece of paper and ask each one to draw a specific picture representing an activity — a football, a TV screen or iPod. Fold the paper in four to conceal the picture, and place in a bag. Shuffle and ask pupils to pick one each.
They mustn’t show the picture to anyone. They must pick another if they get their own. Give them 10 minutes to get up and find who has the picture they drew by asking everyone the question: Tu as regarde la television samedi dernier?/ Tu as joue au foot samedi dernier?
Forbid any use of English. Answers might be: Non, je n'ai pas joue au foot, etc/Oui, j'ai joue au foot, etc. Once they find what they are looking for, they sit down.
When everyone is seated, the game is over. Pupils have now practised the perfect tense, negative construction, je and tu forms and their accent.
Ana Anstead teaches at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Ashbourne, Derbyshire

Not so stupid

Estupido. This is a game that requires a sense of humour on your part and a sensible class that won’t get carried away with the opportunity to insult you and question your intelligence. Estupido is, of course, Spanish for stupid. Small groups or a divided classroom listen attentively to you speaking in the target language. Adapt the rules to suit the learning point, but you are asking the pupils to recognise certain triggers, at which point they will call out  “estupido”.
Leave deliberate gaps or mistakes in your sentences for pupils to pick up on. Have the language written out because doing this from memory can cause scoring dilemmas. Have a log of all missing verbs, unconjugated verbs, missing adjectival agreements, wrong genders etc, so when each team calls out “estupido” you can award them a point, or take one away if they are mistaken or cannot tell you why something was wrong. At the end of the game, the scores from all of the teams should add up to the number of mistakes you had planned in your speech. If there are discrepancies, you can give a transcript to the teams so that they can sort out the remaining errors for bonus points. Tailoring this activity renders it more useful and directs learning on specific issues. Pupils start to make connections from previous games or examples.
Andrew Bruton is a cover teacher in Herefordshire

Ages 14 to 16

Strong language

I play “The Weakest Link” with my language pupils. They sit in a circle and play for sweets or merit marks. Each pupil is given a statement or asked a question. For instance, “How do you say ‘how do I get to the railway station?’” After you have five correct responses, the fifth child must say “Bank” and they bank a sweet or point.
We play until we have banked enough for the class. Anne Robinson-style insults can be a bonus. For instance, in German: “Du redest volligen Blodsinn” (You’re talking complete nonsense).
Sara Sullivan is head of languages at Woodlands School in Basildon, Essex

Ages 7 to 18

Welcome to toon town

Gorseville is an imaginary French town situated on my dining room table. It features characters and locations bought at the Early Learning Centre (Happyland range). My pupils record the voices of the characters in French and, at the weekend, my own children bring them to life with stop-motion animation. At this early stage, the project features a purchase at the market, a pedestrian asking directions, and the arrival of an English tourist who sends a video postcard. The process is time-consuming, but inspires and motivates pupils — they all want to appear animated in Gorseville.
It is a resource I have made available to other teachers. The process is as follows: I record monologue/dialogue at school, save it on a pen drive and take it home. My children then set up the characters on Saturday. Using my standard digital video camera, I take a still picture. We move the people a bit and take another snap. On the PC, we import the pictures and sounds to Windows Movie Maker. Patience is required to synchronise the movements and music/sounds. It is saved as a movie file and uploaded to YouTube or similar.
Stuart Gorse teaches at Lancaster Royal Grammar School, Lancashire

Friday, 29 May 2015

Brilliant Geography ideas: tried and tested tips for lessons

Geography teachers share some of their best lesson ideas
Geography teachers share some of their best lesson ideas, including place value, maintaining atmospheres, Indian cuisine and model plans

All ages

Place value

Use photos and images at the start of a lesson to introduce pupils to a place of study. This encourages them to interpret the image as opposed to looking at it at face value. Placing themselves inside the image, pupils notice more details as they connect with and use their senses.

On a small piece of paper, pupils sketch a small stick drawing to represent themselves, pair up, swap the portraits, take it in turns to place each other in the image and then ask some questions: What can you hear? What can you see? What can you smell? The other responds. The task can be adapted for use with images shared on the interactive whiteboard. Use bigger pieces of paper, though.
Sarah Watts is a teaching and learning consultant for the children’s service department at Hampshire County Council

It’s all about atmosphere

If a lesson gets off to a good start, it is easier to maintain that atmosphere. Putting a smile on pupils’ faces as they enter the room also has an impact. When my geography pupils enter the classroom and sit down, most are immediately captivated (or amused) by the starter images placed on my whiteboard. These are normally unusual images linked to the topic we will study.

As a result, they are in a better frame of mind to begin the lesson. This activity works particularly well with lower- ability groups and those with behavioural issues. Go to Google and select “images”. In the random searches box type “unusual weather images”. I have collected many useful pictures to use as starter images.
Inga Irvine is head of geography at The Westwood School in Coventry, West Midlands

Ages 10 to 11

Tikka look at this idea

In geography (QCA Unit 10 – a village in India) pupils learn about traditional Indian cuisine by exploring the village of Chembakolli. We achieved this by approaching a local Indian restaurant — in exchange for a photograph in the local newspaper, the staff are generally more than happy to provide traditional Indian cuisine free of charge to help in the practical element of this unit.
My class of 33 pupils was able to sample poppadoms, naan bread, rice, dahl and four varieties of curry with a range of spices (mild to hot).
Kari Anson teaches at Ladygrove Primary School in Dawley, Telford

Climbing to the top

Topics on mountains get pupils learning outside the classroom. But a trip to the Andes is costly, so why not bring the mountain to them? Use two 50-metre climbing ropes and lay them across the school field. Set up a series of physical team activities — these can be anything that involves working together — leave signs with base camp, second base camp and so on, giving the idea of climbing a mountain. Split pupils into teams and talk about working as a team. Make sure that when they are walking along the rope they always hold it in two hands.
Get them to form a circle each time they get to a base. Along the way, stop and talk about what the weather conditions and climate may be like. This lesson stimulated questions about mountains and provided a good level of physical activity without the cost or long plane journey.
Martin Van Hecke is a Year 6 teacher at Higher Lane Primary School in Bury, Manchester

Ages 11 to 16

A new angle

Help pupils master basic skills by making your local Ordnance Survey map come to life in class. All you need is the map, muscle for moving furniture, chalk, shoe boxes, toy cars and Action Man figures.
First, move the tables to make a frame around the outside of the room. Then draw the OS map in chalk on the classroom floor, to a larger scale but including the grid lines and main symbols. Make buildings and key places out of shoe boxes and raid a toy box for cars and figures. It’s definitely worth the preparation. Then invite your pupils into the room (I did this with a small but challenging group of Year 7s) and surprise them by asking them to stand on their table.
Looking down on the map, they begin to spot things they recognise — their school, the local park, the station. Then ask one pupil to jump into the map. The others can then guide him or her on a route using only the compass points or grid references for directions. Next, they can construct routes to school that avoid busy or unlit roads, and discuss the safest routes.
Nicky Reckless is secondary projects leader of the Geographical Association’s Action Plan for Geography

Look up for inspiration

I was looking for a way to improve the quality of written responses, especially for examinations and assessments. In particular, I noticed that pupils’ responses could be quite vague where  they needed to be specific. The introduction of the “banned word” board and “heavenly words” display has worked wonders. The banned words include “stuff”, “things”, “it” and “people”.
There are also semi-bans on words that require qualification, such as “pollution” — air pollution. The idea is that pupils are not allowed to use these words in writing or in verbal contributions, but substitute them for a specific term. This is supported by the heavenly words, which provide alternatives such as “local residents” instead of “people”.
The idea can be easily adapted for any subject.
David Rogers is a teacher of geography and outdoor learning at Portchester Community School in Fareham, Hampshire

Ages 16 to 17

Model plan

A modelling game has been voted the “most popular activity” by students. Place a set of cards containing the name of a landscape feature on each group’s table. One student per group takes a card and makes a model of it. The first student in each group to name the feature gets the card and begins modelling the next landscape. You can take turns so that everyone gets to model. Remarkably, two of the features on my cards came up in the next exam.
Janet Hutson teaches at South Hunsley School in Yorkshire

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Brilliant History ideas: tried and tested tips for lessons

Tips from experienced teachers to help you get your pupils excited about history
Tried and tested tips from experienced teachers to help you get your pupils excited about history, including set a date, a drop of action, gene therapy and guess who?

Ages 8 to 11

Set a date

Pupils will love this outdoor, visual and kinaesthetic activity to learn chronology. Give 15 pupils a card with a range of different dates written on each one, ranging from 2000BC to 2007AD. Include key dates such as 0, 1066, 1665, 1939 (and any others that relate to your topic). Take pupils to the playground and ask them to arrange themselves in date order.
Give the more able the BC cards as this can lead to higher order questioning, such as why their numbers go “backwards” and what the 0 represents. Give the rest of the pupils A4 cards with pictures of famous people on and the dates when they lived. You could include Winston Churchill, Florence Nightingale, or people from their current topic. Ask them to position themselves on the human number line where they think their character should be. This can lead to a further discussion of dates and the order things happen in.
Helen Towler teaches at Rye Oak School in London

Turning new ground

Let’s play archaeologists. Here is a timeline activity that will add fun to learning about ancient civilisations and give your pupils a feel for archaeology. Bring some plastic bags, each filled with a smashed clay flower pot (one for each group of three). Ask pupils to reconstruct each pot using drafting tape, so they can take it apart to put in the difficult pieces. An outdoor variation of this activity is to cordon off three or four patches of field (or use sandboxes) and have them excavate the broken pots using simple digging tools such as spades and brushes to gently remove dirt from the pieces.
Once back in the classroom, pupils can proceed with reconstructing the flower pots.
John Skinner is a teacher at St Aubyn’s School in Woodford Green, Essex

Ages 14 to 16

A drop of action

Having given up history to teach science, I could never resist bringing up a company of eclectic, inspirational and bonkers scientists. Newton was a rich source. A devout woman-hater (his mother left him at two), he spawned vast amounts of ground-breaking research and then lost them for years. His feud with Robert Hooke, the self-aggrandising first describer of a “cell”, was legendary. Newton became a Member of Parliament, but said nothing beyond, “Can you close that window?”
Humanising science with past giants brings empathy and context. The tragic tale of how Marie Curie lost her husband and co-worker, Pierre, under the wheels of a Parisian carriage raised a laugh — maybe it was the way I told it. It seems poetic justice that the man who invented CFCs and sent us down the road to global warming was struck down with polio. He invented a mechanised bed that strangled him. Galileo remained my favourite. He was the first scientist to experiment. And despite a row with the Church, which usually saw scientists being crisped at the stake, Galileo held on. It helped that his old school chum had become the Pope. As a lesson in sticking to your principles, it worked for me.
Katy Bloom is professional development leader at the National Science Learning Centre

Gene therapy

Literacy, ICT, science and a bit of history are thrown into this lesson on sex determination.

After teaching determining sex chromosomes, invite the class to write a letter to Henry VIII explaining that it is his fault that he hasn’t had a son and nothing to do with his wives.
The letters need to be tactful if the pupils are to avoid being beheaded. I usually give the openings of a number of sentences to start them off, such as: “While I must acknowledge the superiority of your royal genes...” Computers allow pupils to use old-fashioned fonts. Then, get them to age the paper with old tea bags for homework.
Judith Green is a science AST at The Robert Smyth School in Market Harborough, Leicestershire

Ages 11 to 16

Compete with pupils

Pupils love competition, and nothing beats competing with their teacher. I used this for a review session of the Black Death with Year 7s. I displayed and read a prepared paragraph about the causes and consequences of the Black Death. This included 10 deliberate mistakes.
Pupils were provided with a grid sheet on A4 paper and the paragraph on another. They wrote the mistakes on one side, and the correct information on the other. They spotted my mistakes and produced a corrected version.
David Alford teaches at Ysgol Uwchradd Tywyn in Gywnedd, Wales

Guess who?

A great way to introduce a new topic and to break the ice for pupils who don’t know each other very well is to hold a cocktail party. Allocate each pupil a person they will be learning about in the new topic — for example, Alexander Fleming and Florence Nightingale. Have each pupil research that character for homework and encourage them to find props/simple costumes that link to their characters.
The next lesson is the party. As each character arrives at the party, give them a chart that they must complete as they meet other party guests. For each guest they must find out their name, date of birth, family background, what they contributed to the history of medicine and links they may have to other characters at the party.
Acting as the waiter, the teacher circulates the room, ensuring everyone is on task and finding out information.
Helen Towler teaches at Rye Oak School in London


Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Brilliant English ideas: tried and tested tips for lessons

A treasure trove of ideas from teachers across the UK to help add excitement to your English lessons, including syllables using football, vim and verb, Bard language and farm fun
A treasure trove of ideas from teachers across the UK to help add excitement to your English lessons, including syllables using football, vim and verb, Bard language and farm fun

Ages 5 to 7

Top score

Teach syllables using football. Ask children to suggest two teams, such as Chelsea and Liverpool. The result here would be Chelsea 2 — because there are two syllables in the name. Liverpool scores 3.
Once you put that idea in front of a class, they start devising their own games. They even start announcing it like the results on the radio. Extensions involve exploring how the use of syllables can help us spell the names of teams. Manchester United, Wigan and Everton all provide good examples — though it galls me to see Man U notch up so many syllables. Children can search for the team that scores the most. If you include the Scottish divisions, you can find high scorers.
Huw Thomas is head of Emmaus Primary, in Sheffield

Ages 4 to 11

Under cover

The great trunk mystery took a writing project to a new level by developing pupils’ questioning and writing skills. A battered trunk was filled with various unusual objects, ranging from a feather boa to a carved walnut. In Monday assembly, the school secretary interrupted normal proceedings to announce its mysterious arrival. The trunk was brought into the hall and excited debate ensued as to whether we should look inside.
Eventually, it was opened and classes later took turns to examine its contents closely. The local press covered the story and tension mounted about the identity of the trunk’s owner. Meanwhile, a wide variety of text types were produced across the school in excited response.
Finally, the mystery person appeared in another assembly in the form of a “Swiss Countess” and her chauffeur, courtesy of the local amateur dramatic society. She gave a convincing account of her life through the objects and the children listened spellbound — even the cynics in Year 6.
Nadia Stanbridge is a Year 4 assistant head at Steeple Morden Primary in Cambridgeshire

Ages 7 to 11

Piece of cake

A good, accessible way to explain genre is through making a cake. I bring in recipes and we talk about how different ingredients, combined together, make different types of cakes. Having established this, we move on to different types of books and that we recognise these by their different ingredients. There  only remains the terminology of genre and conventions to be mentioned to replace type and ingredient. As a class, we then have a go at “baking” different genres. Pupils write, in the format of the exemplars, recipes for different types of writing. For instance, a gothic cake might require 10g of ghosts, 5ml of blood, a spoonful of vampires and a mix in a graveyard. Drawing what these genre cakes would look like can be fun too.
Chris Bond teaches at Warwick School, Warwickshire

Vim and verb

Acting can help reinforce the idea of what an adverb is, and how it can complement an accompanying verb. Ask the class to write down the present participle of a verb secretly on a slip of paper, then to do the same with an adverb of their choice. Fold the pieces of paper and put all the verbs in one box and all the adverbs in another. Invite a child to come up and pick a verb and an adverb from the boxes.
Their job is to act out the random combination; speaking is not allowed. Thus they may pretend, for instance, to swim sadly. Other pupils are invited to guess the verb and adverb. A point could be gained both for a correct guess and a convincing piece of acting from the child.
This activity is great fun and adaptable, and could be used as a regular lesson starter or “spare time” game.
Paul Warnes is a supply teacher in Kent

Bard language

Shakespeare’s language is often an enormous barrier. I used an online “Shakespearean insult generator” to help inspire the children. We are studying A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
We began with three short extracts from a scene in which Lysander, Helena and Hermia are quarrelling. I read this as dramatically as possible, then asked for volunteers. Pupils practised in pairs before acting in front of the class. I then gave out the insult generator: a three- column list of nouns and adjectives from Shakespeare which the children could combine and preface with “thou” to produce phrases such as: “Thou droning, hell-hated foot-licker.”
In pairs, they chose favourite phrases and stand up and insult another pupil. This pupil retaliates with his or her own phrase. Finally, the children created written phrases which they extended into sentences or short paragraphs, using the extracts from A Midsummer Night’s Dream as models.
Joanne Jones is literacy co-ordinator at Gipsey Bridge Primary in Lincolnshire

Free expressions

As children develop story- writing skills, an additional element we seek is the inner voice of characters — insights into their thoughts and feelings.
Gather newspapers and glossy magazines and ask children to hunt through them, finding as many diverse facial expressions as they can. Then ask them to make  cloud-shaped thought bubbles, like those in a comic strip. Their task is to write what their chosen faces are thinking or feeling, but stress that they should be imaginative and unpick the feeling in a few sentences.
So “I feel happy” needs developing. It could become, “I feel happy because I won the  lottery.” Or, “That means I can make my dream come true and sail round the world.” This enriches the children’s narratives.
Huw Thomas is head at Emmaus Primary in Sheffield

Farm fun

Young spellers struggling to tell you why you add an “s” to “key” or “toy” but change the “y” in “baby” to “ies” clearly need a helping hand — so why not enlist the help of Old MacDonald?
Pupils can have great fun setting nouns ending in “y” to the tune of “Old MacDonald had a farm”.
A shop makes more sense than a farm for example, “And in that shop he had some toys.” The class then sing the question Y or I-E-S? instead of the chorus ee-ay-ee-ay-oh, and each time a different pupil completes the verse “with an A-Y- S” or “with an I-E-S“, as appropriate. Give them a couple of moments’ thinking time to consider their options and remember the rule (vowel before the y, just add s; if there is a consonant before the y, change to ies). Then on cue, each pupil should — hopefully — have reinforced the spelling rule and set it memorably to music for an increasingly varied and imaginative set of words.
John Gallagher is head of English at Stratford-upon- Avon Grammar School for Girls in Warwickshire


Dance auditions and literacy don’t normally mix, but it’s certainly one way to liven up a lesson on prefixes.
Divide pupils into groups of four and assign a prefix to each group member: dis, un, mis and im. Ask everyone to write a word beginning with their prefix. Check spellings, then copy the word on to card and cut it in two, separating the prefix from the rest of the word. Ask groups to shuffle their eight cards before moving to the hall. There, every group swaps card packs. Start the music as pupils deal their cards and then skip around hunting for their partner until all are paired up. Hold a final audition when all the cards have been collected, shuffled and dealt. How long will all the partners take to be matched? To finish, partners should tango to the front of the hall with a flourish and announce their combined word.
Eileen Jones is a literacy specialist in Warwickshire

Kitchen sink drama

Newspaper articles can be a good source of stories for literacy. The Times ran a story about a hamster called Henry, who got stuck behind the kitchen sink. A neighbour tried tying hamster ladders together, then two community wardens used a wire with cord spiralled around it for him to climb. Finally, they cut the base from a yoghurt pot and lowered it on wire to scoop him out. Nothing worked until the vacuum cleaner was called for and put on its lowest setting. Henry was sucked gently on to the end of the nozzle.
I produced an annotated copy for teacher use, highlighting unfamiliar vocabulary and noting adverbial clauses and a mind map of all the directions in which we could take this story. The poem structure was to select a preposition under, over, above, next to or across, then pair it with a noun such as sofa, curtains or toy box. Finally, add an exciting or powerful verb. The result was lines such as:
“Under the sofa Henry scuttled. Up the curtains Henry scrabbled. Inside the toy box Henry nibbled.”
Michelle Gregory is AST/ literacy leader at Oakfield First School in Windsor, Berkshire

Ages 11 to 14

Top of the pack

A resurgence of interest in Top Trumps, the card game, helped my pupils think about characterisation and setting in relation to a text as a whole. I explained the conventional appearance of a Top Trumps card with its picture and table of values and showed some examples.
The children’s task was to design a small pack of Top Trumps for their text. Their first task was to decide, as a class, on the list of “ratings” that would appear on every card, which had to be relevant to the text. For example, “Evilness” might be included in Macbeth (cards can have any character from the text and any key setting from the text on them). Pupils then decided which characters and settings they were going to put on their cards, then thought about the respective profiles they were going to create.
Provided with some card, pupils were set homework to make their Top Trumps. The follow-up activity was to bring the cards in to play the game. However, before starting, pupils had to justify to each other why their profile on each card was as they had decided. The game allows all to interact on a basic level with key aspects of the text.
Chris Bond teaches at Warwick School in Warwickshire

Talk show

Here’s a simple game designed to help pupils understand the importance of adjectives. English Pupil A sits with their back to a screen (a large card or an electronic whiteboard, for example) showing a picture. Without explicitly naming it, Pupil B describes the image in such a way that Pupil A can guess what it is.
To encourage more subtle and imaginative descriptions, each picture could be accompanied by a short list of “banned” words. For instance, a picture of an elephant could have “trunk” and “tusks” banned. Guessing a picture gets the players a point and moves them on to the next picture. Teams have two minutes to score as many points as possible.
This game is great for speaking and listening and encourages pupils to be thoughtful and creative with their use of descriptive words.
Irfan Shah teaches at Lawnswood High School in Leeds

Ages 14 to 18

Boxing clever

Put your pupils into the ring for a round of verbal boxing to assess their oral skills of arguing, discussing and persuading, in English and other subjects. Divide into teams of three to six. Set up home and away matches and give each home team a motion to argue. Give pupils time to prepare their arguments for both the home and away matches.
Each match begins with two teams sending one of their members into the ring, the classroom, for the first round. After two minutes of robust debate, in which each “boxer” tries to out-argue their opponent, the round ends and the boxers return to their respective corners for one minute; either to tag a fellow team member into the ring or collect new ideas to use in the next round.
The best argument over three rounds decides the winning team. This series of lessons soon runs itself, leaving you time and space to listen, assess and record pupils’ achievements.
Josephine Smith is head of English at Casterton Community College in Rutland

The king is dead

Have you ever reached the end of a Shakespeare tragedy to discover that, despite having an overview of the plot and a grasp of the major themes, even your brightest and keenest A-level English pupils are unclear about some of the finer details?
To remedy this, have pupils establish the causes of death of the pile of corpses at the end of King Lear by setting them the task of writing a brief — and possibly humorous — obituary of each character. This encourages pupils to look again at the text and helps  consolidate what happens to whom and why. My Year 13 group produced fruitful discussions about Shakespeare's intentions and audience sympathies, as well as responses to the tragic ending of the play.
Heather Owens is deputy headteacher at King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Girls, Birmingham

Ages 11 to 18

Step into their shoes

“I’ll do it too.” Pupils may become more motivated in a timed or independent assignment if they see that you, their teacher, are doing the same thing. Set out the instructions for the task and put yourself in their shoes. For example, begin with: “Before we start, let’s discuss what’s worrying us — for instance, we don’t know how to start.” (This is a common one in the English classroom.) Or that “we won’t have enough time” (possibly leading to some collaborative planning before embarking on the task).
Once you understand the instructions, undertake the same task as your pupils, and under the same conditions. As you do the task (for example, a set of comprehension questions or piece of creative writing), jot down any problems you encounter and use them as a basis for a plenary summing up.
This technique can be extended by copying your work for the class for the next lesson and, if you are feeling brave, allowing them to critique using their knowledge of what constitutes success in this type of activity.
Kerry Hopkins is head of English at The Grammar School in Leeds

Grammar games

Grammaticus is a card game I developed to teach grammar. It consists of a set of 110 playing cards, with words on one side and their word class (verb, noun, adjective) on the other, and a colour for each word class. You can adapt card games — rummy, racing demon, snap — aiming to structure sentences or collect words of a certain word class instead of collecting suits or making straights.
Although developed with A-level pupils in mind, the games would work well lower down the school.
David Kinder teaches at Alton Sixth Form College in Hampshire

Ages 15 to 16

Colour me happy

To encourage my pupils to use a wider range of punctuation, I tell them to highlight all the full stops with one colour. They then choose a new colour for different punctuation. By the end, they might have used yellow for full stops, red for commas and blue for semicolons. Those who use a good range of punctuation have colourful drafts, while others have not.
This gives pupils immediate feedback and a sense of fun about developing their writing.
Anne Carman teaches at Ripley St Thomas C of E High School in Lancaster

Teenage kicks

Here’s a sure-fire way to get the first piece of written coursework done with a new GCSE English group and get to know the pupils. It’s based on the long-running celebrity Sunday newspaper magazine feature “A Room of My Own”.
Teenagers are often equally proud of their own space at home and, with the right prompts, can turn this into an original piece. Questions that get them thinking include how the room reflects their personality, clues about their past and future, and the thing they’d save if the room was on fire. Getting pupils to map their room at home is a vital first step. They see things they took for granted. And the map then forms the basis for individual oral assessment as they describe it.
Some less adventurous pupils tend towards listing the room’s contents, so why not give them a different perspective? How would the room seem to a detective searching for clues about the occupant? I have even had a piece narrated by one pupil’s PC as it was unpacked and set up. The written piece can qualify as explore, imagine, entertain, as well as personal description.
John Gallagher is head of English at Stratford-upon- Avon Grammar School for Girls in Warwickshire

Musical memories

“Our castaway today has been lost in Sainsbury’s and successfully destroyed all the aliens in Halo 2.” This is a typical introduction to my Desert Island Discs lesson, a speaking and listening activity for GCSE. (The idea came from the BBC Radio 4 programme.)
Pupils write some autobiographical material for me and I interview them. I ask about family, early experiences, memories, hobbies, achievements and ambitions. The interview is interspersed with selections of their favourite music.
They are allowed to take three pieces to the island and are permitted a book and a luxury item, in addition to a religious text and the works of Shakespeare. The pupils explain their choices.
This is an excellent way for them to gain a mark for an extended speech in front of their class.
Francis Farrell teaches at Sale High School in Cheshire