World Book Day: Every Teacher is an English Teacher

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)
Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Related article –  Vocabulary Values: Helping Students to Learn Key Words

He waddled his way through the corridor like a happy duckling. Amid the giggles and cries of small children he looked liked a giant orange with tentacles as he waded through the masses on his way to the library. Mr Jones was dressed as ‘Mr Tickle’ from the ‘Mr Men’ series of books. 

The outfit must have taken an astronomical amount of time to create. With orange fur and controllable arms it was clear who was going to win the ‘Best Dressed Teacher’ competition. 

I, on the other hand, tend to be a little too lazy with my outfit on World Book Day. This year was no exception. Can you guess who I am?:

James Bond World Book Day

If you said ‘James Bond’ then well done: you’re right! It’s a quick (and a little too lazy) conversion for me: change my tie to a bow, add a dinner shirt and a white pocket square and I’m ready to serve on Her Majesty’s Secret Service!

“Who have you come as?” one of my friends says to me as I walk into the staff room on Friday (we had our World Book Day a day later as Thursday is a religious holiday here in Thailand). “I’m James Bond” I say (rather upset that I wasn’t instantly recognizable). “Is that even a book” he says. “It’s a whole series of books, written by Ian Fleming”

“Wow. I had no idea”

Costume Capers

World Book Day is great for getting people to ask good questions. Often, the characters we dress up as are in fact movie stars which we never knew existed in books. This can really get kids inspired to read more as they gradually realize that good books are often the basis for their favorite movies or TV shows. Good examples include:

  • Harry Potter – The all-time legendary series of fantasy books written by J.K. Rowling. These books have formed the basis for a whopping 8 different movies!
  • The Hunger Games – These action packed dystopian novels featuring stoic and passionate heroin: Katniss Everdeen, have been transformed into five excellent films. 
  • Twilight – Popular with teenagers and young adults: these fantasy/romance novels were brilliantly conceived and written by legendary author Stephenie Meyer

What message does all of this send to kids when they are fully aware of the facts? That’s simple: Books are cool! Books are inspirational. Books change lives. Read books!

With UKEdChat
“An AMAZING book!”

Command Terms

It’s a shame that World Book Day is only once per year. In reality, every day should be a World Book Day as we should encourage our kids to read books and enjoy learning English on a daily basis. 

As a teacher at an International School in Bangkok, I have the unique privilege and pleasure of working with classes where, in many cases, more than 90% of the students are working with English as an additional/second language. One of my unique missions every day is to help my students to see why English is a beautiful language. To help them notice patterns and sounds. To ensure that they use the correct language in their answers to exam-style questions.

Examination language

Try putting up a ‘command-terms’ display in your classroom (like the one below):

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A command terms hierarchy display that follows Bloom’s Taxonomy

I use this display on a daily basis to teach my students how to phrase their answers. I like to turn the command terms into kid-friendly language when going through exam-style and past-paper questions. For instance:

  • Describe: Tell me ‘what’
  • Explain: Tell me ‘why and how’
  • Deduce: Work out the answer and show every step in your work

Eventually, the students can build up a long list of command terms in their Learning Journals or notebooks, coupled with their ‘kid-friendly’ descriptions. The display also follows Bloom’s Taxonomy, with command terms demanding more sophistication in written responses as you go up the pyramid.

The result: Students learn good English vocabulary and score better on exams. What could be better than that! 

Command terms are so important, in fact, that many textbooks are now emphasizing them as students work through the chapters. Take this extract from a book my students were using in one of our Science tutoring sessions this week:

Command Terms Hw
Command terms emboldened in a Science textbook

As I was helping these students, I found that explaining the command term first, before tackling the question, really helped in getting a suitable answer. The two girls who I was tutoring would say “Ah, I get it now” when the command term was made clear.

Do you think that students will use these command terms in their daily and future lives? Absolutely! Command terms come up in a range of contexts when operating through the medium of English. For example: “How can we justify this business decision?”, “On the basis of the previous two-years sales, can you predict likely sales for the first quarter of this year?”, “How can we determine who is the best candidate for this role?”, and on we could go ad infinitum.

Isn’t this what language-learning is all about? Getting students to learn key words, then to enjoy using those words and then to apply them to a range of contexts?

sit n talk

In my honest opinion, command terms offer the ultimate key in cross-curricular learning and should be explored by curriculum leaders as a way to really ‘gel’ their subjects together. The result of this: deep learning and an added sense of importance attached to each subject as students see how they link together. 

Learning Journals

I have a system set up where students in Year 11, 12 and 13 (approx. ages 15 – 18) bring me a journal filled with revision notes, key words, past-paper questions and answers every Monday. It’s such an effective way to boost confidence and performance, but it does require a bit of organisation and leadership from the teacher.

If you have identified students who could use such a journal to focus specifically on learning key words and command terms, then here are the steps to take:

Step 1: Tell the students to get a special notebook. It doesn’t need to be fancy. Just a cheap spiral bound one will do just fine. 

Step 2: The students should divide the first page into three columns:

  • Key word
  • Meaning
  • Pronunciation

For example: Moment, The force applied to a lever multiplied by the distance from the pivot, mo-men-t

For an EAL student you can include a fourth column:

  • Translation

In this column, the student can write the word in his/her native language.

Step 3: The students should write down the key words they learn every week into this journal, along with all of the other information.

Step 4: CRUCIAL! The key words and information must be CHECKED every week. Check the words, the meaning and the pronunciation (you can even get the students to say the words to you – this reinforces their memory of the terminology). 

Explaining

Don’t forget to reward students for good work too: use your school’s points/merits system, write nice comments on their work and even think of special rewards: a ‘star of the week’ for example, where you display the student’s work on the class noticeboard. 

Use voice inflections

Science is great for teaching kids new words. When we, as teachers, genuinely love to pronounce and say key words then our kids will love doing that too.

I have quite a funny little system I use in class. When a key word comes up, I’ll give it a rank:

“Precipitate. Precipitate. Such a beau-ti-ful word. Say “Pre-ci-pi-tate”

Class: Precipitate

“Excellent! Precipitate is number 3 on my ‘Favorite Words in Science’ list”

Student: “What’s number one”

“That’s a secret! One day you’ll find out! A prize to first person to e-mail me my number one Science word when they hear it!”

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Of course, my number one word will come at the end of the academic year when the suspense and excitement has been building up for two terms. 

Use vocabulary jokes

I’ve recently started experimenting with this and it’s working like a treat! It does take some planning and skill though, and is best described through some examples:

Vocabulary Joke 1: ‘Formal Charge’

I recently used this joke with my Year 13 students to reinforce the term ‘Formal Charge’ – a concept in Organic Chemistry. 

“I was walking to the coffee shop yesterday and Mr Davies asked me “Mr Rogers, what is your favorite F.C.? Is it Liverpool F.C.?’ And guess what?”

Class: “What?!!!”

“I said ‘No. My favorite F.C. is ‘Formal Charge'”

Class: (laughing)

I then laugh and say “This is the life of a Chemistry Teacher.  Hashtag #chemistrylife”

Class: (giggles and laughter)

This has long-term effects outside of the classroom too. Effects which fully embed the phrases. For example: when I was actually walking to the coffee shop one of my Year 13 students passed me and I said “What is your favorite F.C.?” and she said “Formal Charge”.

Chapter 5 - drones and hacking

Vocabulary Joke 2: ‘Alkali’

An alkali is the opposite of an acid, having a pH higher than 7 (think of soap, for example). I used this joke recently with my Year 10 students:

“A student of mine in Year 9 asked me: ‘Mr Rogers, do you like my homework?’, and guess what happened!'”

Class: “What?!!” (they know that a joke is coming!)

“I said I more than like your work, I ‘alkalike‘ your homework”

Class: (laughing)

I then laugh and say “This is the life of a Chemistry Teacher. Hashtag #chemistrylife”

Class: (giggles and laughter)

Clean and fun jokes can like this can be very powerful. The kids will say them to their parents and friends, and if you refer to them outside of the classroom (e.g. John, do you like my new notebook? John: I ‘alkalike’ it), then you can really embed these key terms. The result: Kids will love English, will repeat the words you say and will eventually use these key terms frequently in their written responses. 

Other strategies

There are many more strategies you can use to get your learners to enjoy learning the English language. Check out my blog posts on Learning Journals and Vocabulary Values for more tips. 

Conclusion

Our aim must be to get our students to LOVE English – speaking it, reading it, listening to it and writing it. Encourage good language learning by:

  • Taking part fully in English-themed events such as World Book Day
  • Using and embedding command terms
  • Creating a Learning Journals system
  • Pronouncing key words in a funny way and getting students to repeat them out loud (elocution)
  • Making full use of powerful ‘Vocabulary Jokes’
  • Using other strategies, such as vocabulary games, which you can find on my blog posts here and here.

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Marking Week 2: What Should Teachers Actually Mark?

 

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)
Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati

This article follows on from last week’s popularMarking: Why, What and How? blog post: A highly recommended read!

Week 2: What and How?

The long, dark journey of my PGCE was long over. Gone were the constant lesson observations, full-page lesson plans and intense work-scrutiny from my university tutors and in-school mentors. Now I had autonomy. Now I was trusted.

With the onset of my first year as a qualified teacher came the intense sense of duty that one acquires when realizing that this is your chance to ‘sink or swim’.

And swim I did: as hard as I could with the tools I had at the time. But it wasn’t enough.

At about this time of the year in 2006 I was entering my February half-term holiday with an absolute ton of marking to complete. I took inventory of my week’s stock of coffee-inducing baggage and found that it contained:

  • Classwork
  • Homework
  • Tests
  • Online work
  • Journals (which I’d just started after receiving the idea from a friend)
  • Classwork/homework in the form of loose bits of paper and worksheets
  • Coursework for GCSE Science
  • The data entry that would come with recording all of this stuff

with-ukedchatIt was quite a sight to see and I remember Friday drinks with my colleagues that week in which I brought a huge sports bag into the pub. “What’s in the bag, Richard” some said; to which I replied “Marking”. The place erupted with laughter as my friends saw the gritty and not-so-pleased look on my face!

I’m sure they sympathized with me deep-down inside as they were merrily propping-up the bar.

Get a Marking Timetable in Place!

Back then I didn’t have a marking schedule in place and that was a bad idea! Work would just come to me as and when I set the deadlines and I would let it accumulate until I had some semblance of free time in which I would mark, say; four notebooks!

It just wasn’t sustainable.

Nowadays, I follow a very strict marking timetable so that I spread out my marking evenly across a recurring two-week period. I’m happy because I’m getting things done, my students are happy because they are receiving acknowledgement and feedback and parents are happy because they can see measurable steps of improvement due to the way that I mark (more on that later).

walking around wt laptop

I know, for example, that on Tuesday Week 2 I am marking Year 10 IGCSE books. I see them that day so I can easily collect their books. I also know that I’m marking Year 13 IB Diploma books on Friday Week 1; so I’d best get those done on Friday otherwise I’ll have two loads to do the following Monday.

Get a marking timetable in place if you don’t already have one. It’s a self-discipline tool that will set you apart as an organized teacher who actually cares about the everyday work that your students do.

Prioritizing

Some types of marking must take priority over others. 

Take Year 11 GCSE coursework, for example. Now if you had a choice between marking that on-time or marking Year 7 notebooks, then you’re definitely going to go for the coursework. It’s a greater priority.

As teachers we are messing up our schedules and creating added stress because we do not ruthlessly prioritize enough. It’s absolutely essential.

All marking is important: every student must receive feedback and acknowledgement for their efforts. However, you may have to give your exam-preparation classes more detailed feedback than your younger classes at certain points in the year. You may also have to give it back in a more swift and timely manner too (e.g. when you’ve just finished the mock exams, or when you’ve had an end-of-unit test). 

High five

Learn to prioritize. I’ve known some teachers in their first year who were desperately trying to cover every single scrap of work with ‘two stars and wish’, ‘targets’ and literacy/numeracy feedback. This level of dedication is admirable, but it does not accurately reflect the differing needs of different classes. It may also cause long-term health problems for the teacher!

The Students Should be Doing More Work Than The Teachers!

Lazy teachers are the best teachers because they get the students to do all of the work

These words spoken to me in 2008 by a former colleague got me wondering about my workload as a teacher. Was I spoon-feeding my students too much? Was I giving them too much guidance without giving them the chance to think for themselves?

After a difficult self-appraisal, I took a rough-guess that I was somewhere in the middle.

It was at this point that I started to write questions on students’ work. “What is this part called” on a diagram, for example, or simply a “?” next to something that wasn’t clear. 

Mai's wprk
Have you spotted the question I wrote in this IBDP Biology homework? 

Make sure to check that students have actually improved their work! You can set ‘work-improvement’ as a short homework or classwork task. 

Use Marking as a Means of Encouragement and Motivation! 

We all love positive feedback: especially when it’s sincere.

Make your feedback useful and sincere by writing (or saying) “Well done for….” from time to time. It will help the student to store the concept in their long-term memory and will prop-up their confidence so that they enjoy your subject more and more in the future.

Be aware that this must be constantly reinforced. Once or twice won’t be enough – we should be praising the positive attributes of our students’ work on a regular basis for maximum effect. 

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 You should definitely use your school’s reward system for this. If your school doesn’t have one, then create one (stickers, class points, the chance to win chocolate at the end of the month, etc.)

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Showcasing

Placing students’ work on display is an excellent way to take the motivation and inspiration element a step-further.

In my current school we have a weekly ‘Science Stars’ noticeboard where every teacher pins up an excellent piece of work for that week. Students regularly stop by to see their friends’ work, and it offers a great sense of achievement for those students who have been selected to be ‘Stars’.

Showcasing provides a benchmark for other students to aspire too. It shows examples of work considered to be detailed, presentable and accurate, and should aim to teach about the importance of effort in achieving the desired outcome. 

Showcasing doesn’t have to be done on a weekly noticeboard. It can be done electronically on a VLE or school website or blog, and can even be as simple a task as standing in the middle of the class and showing the students an excellent notebook. 

Showcasing also adds an extra level of effectiveness that day-to-day marking doesn’t always reach – it shows that the teacher is noticing things! It makes it really clear what stands out and what does not, and raises the bar for all students to aspire too (when done regularly). 

Recurring Work (Very Powerful)

I use journals a lot in my teaching. It’s a shame they are not used more in the profession as a whole (I write about the amazing effectiveness of student journaling in an earlier blog post here)

Every Monday my Year 11, 12 and 13 Chemists bring me a journal filled with:

  • Revision notes
  • Answers to exam style questions and test corrections done in class
  • Mind maps and memory joggers, such as acronyms and mnemonics
  • A summary of what they’ve learnt that week

Journals used in this way are designed to instill self-discipline in students as they require one to regularly review work done in class. They are also a very excellent way for me to see and address weaknesses quickly, and I can provide feedback on a weekly basis, which helps a lot with focus and improvement.

The students bring their journals to class on Monday and sign their names on the big sheet on the wall. I then read through every book and write one sticky note of feedback in each (this keeps my feedback focused on the essentials, reduces my marking time and ensures that students get a rapid response).

Every Tuesday my students collect their journals from my room, read my feedback and hand them in again the following Monday. 

The kind of regular, recurring feedback is great for me and my students. Common misconceptions become clear very quickly (allowing me to address those issues) and my students feel that their teacher cares deeply about their learning (which he does). 

Conclusion

I’ve found that consistency is key; no matter what methods of marking I use. My students need to know that I care about the work they produce. Often, this sense of ‘someone actually gives two hoots about the work I do’ is the major factor in a student’s success at school.

I think John Hattie summarizes the importance of feedback as a tool for improving performance much better than I can: 

The aim is to get the students actively involved in seeking this evidence: their role is not simply to do tasks as decided by teachers, but to actively manage and understand their learning gains. This includes evaluating their own progress, being more responsible for their learning, and being involved with peers in learning together about gains in learning. If students are to become active evaluators of their own progress, teachers must provide the students with appropriate feedback so that they can engage in this task.

Recommended books for further reading (click on the book images to go to their Amazon pages):

Visible Learning for Teachers by John Hattie. Includes excellent strategies for using feedback to dramatically enhance learning.

hattie.jpg

Formative Assessment by Margaret Heritage. Great for new and experienced teachers alike as it really shows how assessment can be used inform teaching in a practical and easy-to-understand way. 

Heritage

 

NEXT WEEK: Peer-assessment vs. Self-assessment – The Best Methods to Use

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A Teacher’s Christmas Holiday

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

The Christmas vacation is finally here. Many of us in the teaching profession can now look forward to a good couple of weeks of much-needed rest and recuperation. 

Our students deserve a break too.

jenga

I agree that time spent with family and friends is an absolute essential right now, but I’m also mindful of the workload and duties that will hit me like a tornado when I return in January.

When it comes to school holidays I always see them as time to ‘go at my own pace’. The way I see it, I have two choices:

  1. Do nothing for the whole holiday and totally chill out, returning to the normal barrage of work that hits every teacher at the start of Term 2
  2. Still have a holiday and some rest but do some little things to make my work more productive when I get back
with-ukedchat
“An AMAZING book! 5 stars!”

I’ve always found that trying to do option 2 is the best, even if I don’t get through all of the ‘head-start’ work that I plan to do.

 

An admission of failure before I even begin? Maybe, but here are my plans made as realistic as possible: meaning that I can have a rest and do around 50% (minimum) of these things too:

  • Requisitions and orders: I’m a Science Teacher, so I need to order chemicals and equipment for my lessons each week. This Christmas my first priority will be to get all of my requisitions done for each week of Term 2, ahead of time. This will save me many a long night when I get back to school, and will help me to plan ahead and reinforce my long-term curriculum mapping.
  • Termly review: Every Christmas I make it a priority to evaluate where I am at now, and where I want to be with my classes by the end of the term. This kind of self-analysis allows me to see where I’m behind and where I’m ahead and how to address those issues. This is really important for final-level exam classes as they must have covered the whole syllabus and have revised by the time the terminal exams come along. 
  • Getting back to gym: I’ve been slacking off lately. No excuses this time. I’ve got every day free for a few weeks so I’ll be up early and out for a jog before hitting the weights later in the day.
  • Responding to student e-mails: Some students in my exam classes will be e-mailing me with questions about past-papers, coursework and subject-specific stuff. If I can help, then I will help. 
  • Clothes: I’m running out of a few things (such as shirts that actually fit me!). Time for a wardrobe mini-makeover so that I continue to look half-decent at work.
  • Writing my next book: My first book was quite well-received, so I’ve decided to have a go at writing my second. Classroom Genius: Top Teaching Tips will explore the themes of classroom management and assessment to inform learning in even greater depth and breadth than my first book. I see this as ‘downtime’ for me because I really love writing. Can I count this as ‘relaxation’?
  • Going back to karate: Another thing I’ve been putting off. Time to get a regular schedule set up.
  • Contacting people I should have contacted ages ago. Chasing up old leads and projects that I’ve allowed to slip.

on the bike

Of course, as well as all of this I plan to enjoy my freedom in Thailand as much as possible. A trip to the beach is compulsory, along with my long-awaited visit to the Death Railway in Kanchanaburi (still haven’t done that yet – it needs to go on the list!),

How will you use your free-time this Christmas? Is it all one-big holiday or can you think of some small ways to make your life easier when you get back to school?

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Don’t miss the Christmas Giveaway for 2017! From 25th – 29th December, Richard’s book will be free to download on the Amazon Kindle store globally. Merry Christmas and enjoy (and tell your friends)!

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Developing Independent Learning Skills: Teaching Our Students to Teach Themselves

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

The ability to learn independently is a key aspirational skill of all of our students; or at least it should be.

Not only do our top students need to learn how to study independantly when they get to university, but all of our students need to be prepared for careers that may not yet exist.

Empower students through marking

When you first meet your advanced learners, or when they are starting out on their ‘independent learning training’, empower them with encouraging comments on their work.

Take this recent example of mine for instance:

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“Excellent advice!”

This work is from a final year IBDP student. She’s done a good job of finding and filtering relevant information by herself. I’ve praised the things she’s done well, and offered tips on how to extend her research.

Over time, the amount of written comments I give on this kind of project work/research will definitely decrease. This is only needed in the initial stages.

For her next piece of work, peer assessment and some verbal feedback from me may be all that she needs to be encouraged to keep on track and continue to improve.

Design project work with a creative outcome in mind

Here are some ideas for group and individual projects:

  • Create an infographic about a particular topic, to be displayed on the classroom wall
  • Create a class presentation, perhaps on Google slides, to be presented to the class at some future date
  • Create a website summary of a topic
  • Build a model or a demo to show the class
  • Create a dramatized play/news report about a topic
  • Create a song/rap
  • Create a stop-motion animation of a process
  • Create a spatial Learning activity (kids might need some training for this one: see my blog post here for help)
  • Create a leaflet or brochure, to be distributed to another class or Year group (cooperate with other teachers on this one – perhaps a leaflet exchange is a good idea)

Can you think of more to add to the list?

Use Imaginative Evaluation

When people think of an ‘evaluation’ they’re often drawn to their early memories of their Science lessons at school.

In those kinds of evaluations students have to decide what worked well, what didn’t work well and what changes could be made to methods and equipment to make the experiment better next time.

With Imaginative Evaluation, students use their ingenuity to think of what they could do better if there were no limitations in terms of equipment, time, resources and technology.

In an attempt to create the innovators of tomorrow, Imaginative Evaluation aims to get kids thinking about what technology, currently not available, that they would invent to solve the problem they’re facing.

This excerpt from my book shows a planning and evaluation form that can be used with any assignment, in any subject, to encourage Imaginative Evaluation:

Slide1

Slide2

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Build things

Get your students to build what they are learning in some way. You don’t need fancy equipment: straws, bottle caps, crumpled paper, cardboard, paints and even plastic bottles can all be mashed and mangled together by students to create amazing models.

I’ve used this technique across my teaching in Science to get students to create everything from atomic models (a recent example is given below) to makeshift ‘eco gardens’.

Can you think of times where you could use this technique in your curriculum area?

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Spatial Learning: A Powerful Teaching Tool

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

It was a cold October morning in North Wales. I was a fresh, Newly Qualified Teacher at Denbigh High School. 

Young and inexperienced with rose-tinted goggles: I was mindful of my responsibilities as a new Science teacher. Expectations were high.

When the Deputy Head of the school suddenly asked to observe one of my Year 9 Physics lessons I knew I had to perform well. As a thriving school with a great reputation, Denbigh definitely set the bar high.

My Year 9 kids were typical 13 and 14-year-olds. Some days they were great and some days they’d just had enough. Keeping them on-task was a challenge for an unskilled teacher like me. 

Frantically thinking of ideas for this major lesson observation that was coming up, I thought about how to keep the kids interested whilst maintaining challenge at the same time. I was going to be teaching a lesson about series and parallel circuits, but I’d made the mistake of not ordering circuitry and equipment from my Science technician. A class practical was simply out of the question at such short notice, and the circuitry was booked by a number of other teachers that day anyway. I could only order enough equipment for a class demo.

What on Earth was I going to do?

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“An AMAZING book! 5 stars!”

Simulations and online learning was out of the question – this was 2006 and kids didn’t have the right mobile devices and they didn’t carry laptops. Online resources were also limited.

I felt uneasy about taking the kids to the computer lab, even though it was available. My Deputy Head wanted to see me teach, not watch the kids work on computers for 40 minutes (or so I assumed).

In a moment of despair and perplexity I was suddenly given a flash of inspiration: what if I could turn the lab into a giant circuit? The kids could become ‘model electrons’ and could walk around the classroom holding up little signs, pretending to be flowing around a circuit. I could even hold up a sign saying ‘cell’, and a few kids could be model ‘switches’ and ‘bulbs’. Hell, it might just work!

The day comes

I frantically printed a class set of A4 signs – just simple sheets which said ‘electron’, ‘switch’ and ‘bulb’ in big letters. 

‘This crazy idea might save my day after all’, I thought!

The kids came in and sat down. Back then I hadn’t mastered the art of giving students something quick to do as soon as they enter the door (see my three A’s in my book). I got right into this activity as a starter (which turned into a semi-main body of the lesson). 

robot

I lined all the kids up and gave them each a sign. Most of them would pretend to be electrons and a few would be switches and bulbs (‘switch on’, ‘switch off’, ‘bulb on’ and ‘bulb off’ signs were given to these pupils). 

The desks were arranged in rows, so I started with a series circuit. I explained the route the kids had to take and they started walking, holding up their signs. They smiled and giggled along the way. When the ‘electrons’ passed the ‘bulb’ it ‘lit up’, and when the ‘switch off’ student held up his sign, the ‘electrons’ stopped moving and the ‘bulb off’ sign was held up, proudly.

To my astonishment, the kids absolutely loved it. More importantly: they understood the concepts of the lesson brilliantly. They completed a short worksheet after the ‘circuit walk’ (which they all could answer with ease) and then I gave my short circuit demo with actual wires and bulbs and switches. 

Feedback

My deputy head was very impressed. She praised my creativity and said that the ‘circuit walk’ was very effective.

Not bad for a freshy who prepared in rush!

That day I became a hardcore Spatial Learning fan. Fast forward to today and all of my students will tell you that I use spatial learning in almost every lesson I teach. It’s effectiveness speaks for itself.

But what is Spatial Learning?

There are many definitions and interpretations of spatial learning on the web and in various books. Some of this pedagogical mumbo-jumbo can be really confusing, but I believe I’ve nailed it down to one sentence:

Spatial Learning is when students use bodily movements to express themselves, solve problems and model situations. 

Spatial Learning has both general and specific applications. I’ll now go through some great examples that illustrate the power of this excellent teaching tool. 

Here’s a quick video I made about Spatial Learning:

A human graph and true or false?

Do you want to know the opinions of your students on a subject matter? Maybe you’re taking a survey (e.g. which day is the best for canteen food). Maybe you have a list of multiple choice questions and you want a fun way to get the kids through them.

A human graph might be the right tool for you!

What if you just want to quickly check your students’ conceptual understandings (e.g. as a plenary)? You could ask some true/false questions and get the kids to raise their hands, or you could use a way cooler (and more fun) method! 

Choose one wall to be the ‘True’ wall and one to be the ‘False’ wall.  Once you’ve asked the question, get the kids to walk to the correct wall. It’s that simple! Just make sure that the kids walk back to the middle of the classroom before each question. 

This great illustration from Pop shows you the steps to take for each of these activities:

Human graph and true or false

Body numbers

Do your kids need to express numerical answers sometimes? Maybe they need to work out a percentage or a fraction, or translate numbers from one language into another. Maybe they need to express something in Binary Code. Well it’s time to put pen and paper down and get your kids moving!

Turn your students into ‘human numbers’ by following Pop’s beautifully illustrated instructions:

Human numbers

For double and triple-digit numbers you can put students into groups for added fun!

Modelling

The vast majority of the Spatial Learning I do involves modelling a situation, concept or solution. Like the example I gave earlier about the electrons travelling around the circuit, the students actually become the things that you’re teaching about. 

I find that almost everything I teach can be modelled spatially in one form or another. 

I’ll provide some examples to show just how easy it is, with just a little creativity, to turn any monotonous textbook paragraph into a living, breathing, exciting and stimulating task. 

Modelling example one: Diffusion

Textbook definition: Diffusion is the passive movement of liquid or gas particles from a region of high particle concentration to a region of low particle concentration. The speed of diffusion of any given particle is dependent on its molecular mass. This means that a particle of ammonia, for example, will diffuse faster than a particle of hydrogen chloride as ammonia is the lighter of the two particles. 

Modelling activity: As you can see, the textbook definition is rather hard to swallow. So, to jazz things up a little, you can turn the students into ammonia and hydrogen chloride particles and tell them to diffuse! In this activity, the students simply walk across the classroom at different speeds, depending on which molecule they are. Quick, easy to do and a nice break from writing, reading and listening to a lecture. More importantly: it’s really useful as a tool to help kids understand this concept.

See this illustration I drew below (my art work is dire compared to Pop’s, so I hope it’s understandable!):

Spatial Learning Diffusion Richard James Rogers

Modelling example two: A Typical Home Network

In an attempt to show you just how pliable spatial learning is, I’ve designed a task for a subject area I don’t specialise in: ICT

Concept: A typical home network may be wired, wireless or a combination of both. Hardware components process and convey the data message from from part of the network to another.

Spatial learning task: For this task you need moving and stationary students. The stationary students stand at predetermined positions in the classroom (you can put signs on desks or on walls to help). These students represent the hardware. The rest of the students are the ‘data message’, and they move from one component to another. I hope the illustration below helps you to see just how easy this is to implement and how much fun it can be. Students should shout out the name of the hardware component they reach at each stage as they walk around the room. 

Spatial Learning ICT Richard James Rogers

Can you think think of ways to use modelling in your subject area?

Further reading

My debut book is filled with great spatial learning and active engagement tips. After the enormous success of that book I’ve decided to work on a new book that will be released mid-2018 which goes into even greater depth and breadth about the range of classroom management tactics available to teachers. Also, if you’re looking for a great book to build up spatial learning skills in small children, then I strongly recommend Julie Dillemuth’s Lucy in the City:

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Also, a great manual for designing great spatial-learning activities is Dr. Thomas Armstrong’s Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom (highly recommended):

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Vocabulary Values: Helping Students Learn Key Words

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

“Feedback functions formatively only if the information fed back to the learner is used by the learner in improving performance.” 
Dylan WiliamEmbedded Formative Assessment

A half-term has ended and so much has happened already! New students, new classes, new systems, new parents and maybe even a new school. 

walking around wt laptop

If you’re like me: following a British/American academic year, then you’ve probably given your older kids some mid-term exams. In my case, I’ve already had a parent’s consultation evening in which I could discuss the results.

This time of the academic year is a great opportunity to assess your students in some way. It allows you to identify problems early on, so that you can ‘nip them in the bud’, so to speak.

with-ukedchat
“An AMAZING book! 5 stars!”

One key problem area for many students is their use of subject-specific language in examinations. Mark Schemes for external exams, such as iGCSEs, GCSEs, ‘A’ – Levels, the IB Diploma and many others, are often very rigorous with no room for compromise when it comes to key words.

In short, if students don’t use the correct subject-specific terminology, then they perform poorly in examinations. This is a problem that native English speakers often face, as well as students with English as an Additional Language (EAL). 

What follows next are my top three strategies for helping students learn key words. I hope you find them useful, and if you have any strategies that you really like then please do comment using the form at the bottom of the page. 

#1: Vocabulary Journals

I already have a number of students who I’ve identified as needing one of these. It’s such an effective way to boost confidence and performance, but it does require a bit of organisation and leadership from the teacher. Here are the steps:

Step 1: Tell the students to get a special notebook. It doesn’t need to be fancy. Just a cheap spiral bound one will do just fine. 

Step 2: The students should divide the first page into three columns:

  • Key word
  • Meaning
  • Pronunciation

For example: Moment, The force applied to a lever multiplied by the distance from the pivot, mo-men-t

For an EAL student you can include a fourth column:

  • Translation

In this column, the student can write the word in his/her native language.

Step 3: The students should write down the key words they learn every week into this journal, along with all of the other information.

Step 4: CRUCIAL! The key words and information must be CHECKED every week. Check the words, the meaning and the pronunciation (you can even get the students to say the words to you – this reinforces their memory of the terminology). 

Woman reading

For native translations you may have to simply trust the students with that one. You could possibly spot check these every so often with an MfL teacher, but that’s not always possible (e.g. if the native language of the student is Japanese, but the school doesn’t have a Japanese teacher).

To save you time, you could get small groups of students to check each others’ journals. This would also work well with groups of EAL students who all speak the same native language. 

JOUNALING IS SUCH A POWERFUL TEACHING TOOL, BUT IT IS SELDOM USED BY TEACHERS! Make use of it!

#2: Play Vocabulary Games

I’m a HUGE advocate of these. They are so much fun, and can be used by students of almost any age! Here are may favorites:

Splat

This quick game is so easy: all you need is a whiteboard, whiteboard markers and class of kids. It’s a great game for consolidating key vocabulary, and is perfect for E.A.L. learners.

Splat

Here’s a short video showing a quick clip of me playing ‘Splat’ with my students (I will include some more lengthy clips soon, but this is a good start):

Mystery Word

Another easy game. This time, students randomly pick out written words from a hat (or cup, beaker, container, etc.), and then they have to explain their word to the class (without saying the word). The students who are listening have to guess what the word is.

Mystery word

Who am I?

A very simple game. All you need are post-it notes and a class full of energized students! Great fun. Perfect for reinforcing key vocabulary and concepts.

Who am I

There are some more games that you can play with too (no pun intended). Details can be found at my blog post here. Also, if you’re looking for a great book filled with practical and easy-to-implement vocabulary games, then check out this great book (one of my favourites): Vocabulary Games for the Classroom by Lindsay Carleton and Robert J. Marzano. 

vocab games for the classroom

#3: Highlight key words in your marking

Mai's wprkThere’s a number of ways that this can be done:

  • Refer to key words by writing questions on the piece of work (e.g. what’s the name of this part?)
  • You could highlight less technical terminology and get the students to make it more technical (e.g. ‘movement energy’ becomes ‘kinetic energy’)
  • You could circle key words that are spelt incorrectly and get the kids to look them up online or in a dictionary, and change the spelling
  • You could do some peer assessment and get all the kids to write down words spelt or written incorrectly on little bits of paper. These words can then be your ‘feeder vocabulary’ for the games given above.
  • Your school may have it’s own strategy for key words, so check that first!

 

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