Illustrated by Tikumporn Boonchuaylue
Related article: 7 Starter Activities for PGCE Students and Newly Qualified Teachers
Here’s a video I made about the ‘Three As’, which should act as a nice supplement to this blog post:
Firstly, please accept my apologies for missing my scheduled blog post last Sunday. Last weekend was a little crazy, and this past week was busy as I was perfecting, editing and preparing end-of-year exam papers for my Chemistry students. I also wanted to write a genuine blog post (which requires time), rather than just copy and paste something and make do with that.
Hopefully the seven-day delay (I know, I feel bad about it too!) is compensated with a better reading experience for you.
Enough groveling. Time for the nitty-gritty.
That’s a word that most teachers and students have heard. The idea of making our kids aware of the ‘mission’, ‘aim’ or ‘purpose’ of the lesson, right at the start of the lesson, was drilled into me hard during my PGCE placements back in 2005 and 2006.
‘The kids must know where they are going, in order to realise how to get there’, seemed to be the central dogma of the time.
So, I followed the parade of keen twenty-somethings who were eagerly trying to inspire their new students. I wrote my objectives on the whiteboard every single lesson, or I projected them onto a screen. This ticked my appraisal boxes brilliantly, and gave my observers something positive to write about.
The strange thing was, however, that this ritual seemed to help me more than it helped the kids. It helped me to know what I must cover that lesson, but when I forgot to write those objectives I didn’t notice any detrimental effect on my pupil-enagagement. In fact, my lessons were often better when I didn’t follow the ritual of writing those objectives – I was more relaxed, and I think my kids were more relaxed too.
I learnt later that my personality, and effort/attention during the lesson itself and in the planning process, were the key determining factors in how successful my lessons were. When I realised this, I boldly allowed myself to be more creative with my starter activities, and therefore more fun in my approach to each lesson.
The ‘Three As’
A turning point in my personal teaching philosophy came when I devised the ‘Three As’ and delineated them in my bestselling debut book: The Quick Guide to Classroom Management.
It seemed to make sense to people.
The ‘Three As’ stand for Assign, Analyse and Ask. It’s a simple three-step process for starting each lesson, and allows for the teacher to be as creative as he or she wishes when articulating lesson objectives:
- Assign a starter activity, that links to the topic somehow. This can be as simple as a video playing on the screen as the kids walk in, a worksheet or even a learning game.
- Analyse the starter activity: This may involve peer-assessing the task, having a class discussion, quick-fire questions or a ‘True or False’ activity
- Ask the students: What do you think we are learning about today? This may generate some discussion, but if the ‘Assign’ and ‘Analyse’ parts have been designed properly, then it should be obvious.
This three-step method ensures that the students discover the lesson objectives by themselves, hopefully in a fun and interesting way, which makes those objectives far more memorable than if they were simply written on the whiteboard for the kids to copy down.
Let’s look at a real example of the ‘ Three As’ in action.
Year 9 Volcanoes Lesson (Science, the Rock Cycle)
Assign: National Geographic video on volcanoes (with subtitles enabled for extra clarity) plays for five minutes as the students enter the room and settle down
Analyse: I choose one wall to be the ‘True’ wall, one wall to be the ‘False’ wall. I ask true or false questions about the video and the kids move to the corresponding wall (see the bottom half of the picture below):
Ask: “So, everybody, what do you think we’re learning about today?”
“Volacanoes” chirps one kid
“Kind of, but what comes out of volcanoes?”
“Lava” say a few kids
“Yes, and lava cools to form…?”
“Igneous rock” say another group of kids
“Yes, correct, we’re learning about igneous rocks. Give yourself a clap for figuring that out!”
- Lesson objectives are more memorable when the kids have discovered them, rather than when they’ve been told them
- Use the ‘Three As’ to make your kids aware of the lesson objectives in a fun and interesting way