8 Ways to Increase Lesson Clarity

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management). Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Accompanying video:

Our lessons need to be clear in order for students to understand the subject content they are expected to learn. This is particularly important for older students who are preparing for exams, and who are therefore expected to memorize, understand and apply vast amounts of information.

An unclear teacher who presents information in a confusing way can be a source of dread for students who are expected to perform highly on end-of-unit tests and exams. A clear teacher, on the other hand, can make students feel confident, relaxed and comfortable with the learning process contained within each lesson.

The good news for us is that it is easy to make our lessons clearer with just a few, simple, proactive tweaks. In today’s blog post I offer my top eight suggestions for maximizing lesson clarity: all of which have been distilled from just over 16 years of experience. Within these paragraphs I will present the conclusions garnered from the many mistakes I have made in my teaching career, so that you don’t have to make those same mistakes yourself.

Lesson Clarity Tip #1: Share resources with your students in advance of each lesson

When we share instructional resources with our students in-advance of each lesson we provide an opportunity to read-ahead. And, of course, we should be encouraging our students to read-ahead before each lesson anyway, as this process will cement some foundational principles before greater detail is presented within each lesson itself.

Nowadays most teachers are competent in the use of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) such as Google Classroom, Firefly, Moodle and so on. However, one aspect of this digital realm that’s not fully exploited is the ability to upload PowerPoints, Google Slides, PDF summaries, worksheets and other resources in advance of each lesson.

One big challenge that this poses for teachers is that these resources actually need to be ready and stored somewhere, in an organized fashion, before they can be uploaded en masse. This problem becomes further compounded when syllabuses change, and resources need to be adapted accordingly.

Where possible, we should have a sequence of slideshows, worksheets, summaries and other resources mapped out for a course before the course begins. Then, when day one of the course starts, all of the resources needed for the entire course can be ready for students to access right away. At the moment, for example, all of my PowerPoints for my entire two year IB Diploma Chemistry course are uploaded on the students Google Classroom, and are classified on there by topic.

Advantages to us, as teachers, when we do this are:

  1. We don’t have to scramble to upload resources on the day of teaching. Our time can be better spent on other things.
  2. We don’t have to scramble to find resources on a USB drive or some kind of shared folder. The resources are all in one place, online, ready to go.
  3. Students can view the presentations, worksheets, PDF textbooks and other materials on their individual device screens in real-time, as the lesson is happening. This aids our instruction, reduces note-taking time for students and even saves paper for printing (students can view worksheets on their screens, without the need for a printed copy, for example).

Lesson Clarity Tip #2: Don’t put too much information on slides

  • Keep text large and clear.
  • Make diagrams and illustrations as large as possible (as large as the slide is perfect, where possible).
  • Avoid ‘crowding’ slides with too much information. A slide filled with paragraphs of small text can be very off-putting for students, not least because the the text can be difficult to read when it’s so small.
  • Keep information digestible – present material in bitesize chunks. Avoid presenting tons of information all at once.

Lesson Clarity Tip #3: Avoid irrelevant information

It can be tempting to bring-in content that’s indirectly related to the material we are presenting: often to provide an extra dimension of fun and interest to the subject. A good example I can think of from my experience is when I was teaching physics to young teenagers some years ago. The topic they were learning was entitled ‘Sound and Hearing’, and the students had to learn about sound waves, the Doppler Effect and how human ears work.

In my youthful stupidity, however, I thought (for some bizarre reason) that it would be a good idea to teach the students about sign language. I thought that it would bring a bit of fun to the classroom and allow my learners to empathize with those in society who cannot hear properly. This proved to be a mistake on my part, however, as some students were confused about what exactly they needed to know for their upcoming test.

“Do we need to know about sign language for our test, Mr Rogers?” was a question I was asked.

The answer was no, of course. I had essentially wasted a good portion of teaching time bringing-in extra material that was unnecessary. That time could have been better spent reinforcing the foundational concepts needed to pass the test.

We must keep our lessons focused on the curriculum statements we are expected to teach. When we want to bring in topical information, then let’s do that after the students have learnt the main material. At the end of a recent physics lesson, for example, I played a short video of the recent Mars Perseverance Rover landing from NASA, as this was related to velocity, acceleration and distance (concepts we had been exploring in class). This NASA video didn’t form the main-body of the lesson, but was rather a short ‘treat’ for the students at the end of an hour of hard-work.

Lesson Clarity Tip #4: Always assign focused activities

Have you ever been in a rush at school and quickly found an online quiz or web-activity that relates to your topic, only to share it with your students and later find out that the activity wasn’t quit up-to-standard?

I’ve fallen into this trap many times in the past. I’ve assigned Quizlets, Wordwalls, Kahoot! activities and other online quizzes in a rush, only to later find the following errors:

  • Spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes.
  • Content mistakes (in some cases).
  • Too much information (more than the students needed to know).
  • Too little information (not enough for the task to be substantial).
  • Irrelevant information (content that the students didn’t need to know).
  • Poor usability (problems with software interactivity and the user experience).

It’s vital that we check our third-party content thoroughly before we assign it to our students. This level of due process needs to be extended to offline resources, such as textbooks, too.

Lesson Clarity Tip #5: Speak loudly and clearly

We must avoid the following:

  • Mumbling.
  • Using colloquialisms that our students may not understand.
  • Speaking with an accent that may be unclear to some learners.

I quickly learnt the importance of the above three points when I moved to Thailand in 2008 to teach Chemistry at an international school. My students mostly had Thai as their first language, so I had to lose my thick North Wales accent (which even native English speakers would find difficult to understand at times) and I had to speak classical, textbook English. I’m “sound as a pound” became “I’m fine, thank you”, “That doesn’t quite cut the mustard” became “This work is not up-to-standard”, and so on.

We must ensure that our speech is clear and, just as importantly: loud. This latter point is of more importance now than ever before as teachers all over the world are wearing masks and visors when speaking. One thing that surprised me when I wore a visor to teach last summer was that my voice sounded louder to myself when I wore the visor, then when I took it off (due to vibrations and bone conduction).

Lesson Clarity Tip #6: Speak slowly

Our students need time to process information: especially when it is presented verbally. We must include pauses in our speech, and check for understanding along the way. It may be necessary to repeat key sentences a few times too, especially if the concept being explained is advanced, or technically challenging to understand.

Lesson Clarity Tip #7: Reinforce key words

Technical vocabulary feature prominently in official mark schemes, and are often the core components of a well-formulated answer to an exam-style question. Consider the following strategies:

  • Ask students to say key words when they appear in your lessons. In a recent chemistry lesson, for example, I said “Everyone say the word ‘resonance'”, after which the whole class said it. Forcefully getting students to articulate key words through deliberate speech can be a good way to prime the brain to remember those words when they are used in some thought process later on in the lesson.
  • Use exam-style questions and official mark schemes to show students just how important it is to write key words within an acceptable context during an exam.
  • Differentiate texts to make key words more digestible.
  • Encourage students to highlight key words in their notes along the way.

Lesson Clarity Tip #8: Use everyday language to explain advanced concepts (where possible)

Rephrasing sentences that contain subject-specific vocabulary can be a good way to help students understand the underlying concepts being taught. Here are some examples:

  • The train accelerated = the train sped up
  • The bond enthalpy of the C-C bond is…… = the energy contained within the C-C bond is…….
  • The dinner was sublime = the dinner was superb

We can prompt this process by repeating technical sentences in an everyday format, and we can ask our students “What does ___________ mean?”. This can lead to meaningful discussion that will serve to reinforce key words (Tip #7) and clarify the underlying theory of the lesson.

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

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My Top 5 Tips – From an NQT During a Pandemic

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management. This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

We’re facing tough times as teachers during a pandemic right now. In today’s exclusive guest blog post, Tayla Elson (who’s a UK-based Newly Qualified Teacher and Blogger) shares her tips for succeeding as an educator during Covid. Enjoy!

Hey! My name is Tayla and I was asked by Richard to write a short piece on teaching from the NQT standpoint. It is not my full intention to write from a pandemic standpoint, but as someone who lost half of my training year to Lockdown 1, barely survived face to face teaching in Lockdown 2 and is now teaching online during Lockdown 3 – it’s all I’ve really got. And it’s been hard. So, I wanted to used this time to give you my top tips, from a realistic standpoint. We haven’t got the privilege right now to talk inspirational classrooms and a roaming classroom presence so I’m going to try and be a bit more practical and honest. 

#1: Remember how you got here. Just like your peers you trained hard to get here, and no one trained for this, and we’re doing the best we can. A year on, it is easy to forget that we are all living through a crisis, we cannot be expected to work and live ‘as normal’ right now. So, stop feeling guilty that you’re not.

#2: Be Creative. This is probably one of the hardest things, both right now whilst we are teaching online, but also when you’re faced with a really difficult group. It always feels safer to teach in a simpler, easier way, but often times it is when I have been a bit more creative and daring that it has paid off the most. Teach in a way that gets you excited, especially with the groups that are the hardest to teach. Smile, show them you care.

#3: Teach the basics. It almost feels criminal to add this as a tip as it is something I have only just (stupidly) realised for myself, but I wanted to include it in case, like me, you just had no idea. We are there to teach our students, we often know our subject well, and of course we know we need to teach students how to behave. But after focusing on how to improve my behaviour management, a book highlighted something pretty obvious to me. We need to teach students what good behaviour looks like. For some students, they simply do not know what it looks like, so how can we expect them to just do it when we ask? So, I have included this in the list, teach them the basics. This will be my sole focus when we return to face to face teaching. The basics. Right from the start, the simplest of actions. That’s something they really don’t teach you in your training year.

“An AMAZING Book!”

#4: This is a career. Remember what this job really is, no one is expecting you to become an amazing teacher in your first year. That’s why they say it is the hardest teaching year. Comparison is the thief of joy. I often find myself comparing my own teaching abilities to those around me, those that have behaviour management in the palm of their hand, those that are organised beyond belief and those that have simply been in the school for a much longer time. THESE THINGS WILL COME. They just take time; this career is not a quick fix – accept it and work hard to improve in the long run.

#5: Breathe. If you’ve made it this far through the blog post without breathing, then I really suggest you take a deep breath right now! Some days will be hard, some days will be so hard you cry after your first lesson of the day, or you cry at home wondering what the heck you are doing trying to be a teacher. And yes, I am totally speaking from personal experience. This job is hard. But we’re all here for a reason, so just breathe through it and keep turning up. And remember: we are living through a global crisis, this is not normal. No-one is expecting you to work as it is.

So, if you’ve made it this far (and taken that deep breath we talked about) then I would like to thank you! Thanks for taking the time to listen to the panic-stricken reality of a very much bewildered NQT. I am currently an NQT at a secondary school in Worcestershire, teaching Geography as my subject specialism as well as some History to year 7. I write on my own blog, which you may have guessed is more ramblings, and tweet sometimes too.

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

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Four tips to reignite your students’ interest in learning as they return to school

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management. This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Is it possible to rekindle our students’ interest in their subjects and a generate a love of learning when they finally return to school? Jessica Robinson of The Speaking Polymath believes so, and today I’ve invited her to share some expert tips on how to get our learners stimulated, on-task and determined to succeed. Enjoy!

As the number of active Covid cases has started declining globally and the vaccination processes have begun, lockdowns and other restrictions are slowly being lifted in various countries. As a result, educational institutions have also started reopening and again blooming with students’ presence. Although it is immensely joyous for us teachers to have our students back with us in schools, somewhere in our minds, there is a distant alarm that tries to draw our attention towards some impending challenges which we are likely to face. The loss of our students’ interest in learning is a major one of those potential challenges. 

No doubt online learning has helped us keep the flow of education somehow uninterrupted during the pandemic, but it has also led to many students losing their sincerity towards studies. Now that our students are back with us in school, we have a vast new responsibility to reignite their learning interest. We have to direct our efforts only towards effective teaching and ensure that our students get back on track and start learning efficiently. Yes, I know it will be challenging, but believe me, we, the teachers, have all the willpower and enthusiasm required to reestablish our students’ curiosity for learning despite all the hardships. 

So, ardent teachers, let’s embark on this new mission with courage and gaiety. Now, here are four tips to support you in the mission of reigniting your students’ interest in learning as they get back to school.

#1: Gamifying the learning process

The first tip we have here is to gamify the learning process. It involves converting the learning process into play for the students. This tip works well! The reason is the same as is already in your mind that children of all age groups love playing. You ask them to play a game at any time; they are always ready! So, if you gamify learning for your students, you’ll take a big step of success towards reigniting their interest in learning. Now, you may be wondering how you can add the play element to studies? It will just need a little bit of searching the internet and thinking. To help make things more transparent, let us consider an example.

Suppose you are a Social Studies teacher and you have to make your students learn about the location of different countries on the world map. You can then search the internet for popular games to play with students and then find one such game that can help you gamify world map learning. One example is Pictionary

You can first help your students identify different countries’ outlines as depicted on the world map. You can then give them around 5 to 10 minutes to remember the outlines of different countries and move towards playing Pictionary with them. For this, you can divide your students into two or three groups. Turn by Turn, one group will draw the outline of a country on the board, and the rest two groups will discuss among themselves, guess and write the name of the respective country on a sheet of paper. The team which gives the maximum number of correct answers will win the game. 

This way, you can gamify the learning process and make studies interesting for them. This gamification technique will, over time, enhance your students’ academic performance.

#2: Making things appear more effortless

Simple and easy things always attract us more. This is because the nature of our mind is like that only. For example, if given a choice to solve a word puzzle or a mathematical problem, most of us are likely to go with the form one as most find mathematics problematic. If we go with this basic understanding of the human mind, students are likely to be more interested in learning more straightforward concepts than complex ones.

One effective way to reignite the students’ curiosity for learning is to make things appear more effortless.  For example, in the initial days after schools reopen, we can start teaching more straightforward concepts. Along with this, we cannot spend the entire session on teaching. Instead, we can teach for some time and then indulge in interacting with our students. This will help them feel relaxed and not much burdened. Further, assigning less and more comfortable homework can also motivate them to learn effectively. This is again because students are more likely to do their homework with sincerity when they find it easy. Later on, as the flow becomes continuous, we can teach complex concepts to our students.

#3: Extend regular appreciation and rewards to your students

Appreciation and recognition are two of the biggest motivation boosters. If you appreciate a student for his class performance, you motivate him to perform even better and kindle in the rest of the students a wish to be appreciated. This wish further inspires them to start paying more attention towards studies. 

Here we have another effective way to rekindle our students’ interest in learning and extend regular appreciation and rewards to them. Whenever a student appears to be attentive in class, submits his homework in time, or gives the right answers to the questions you pose in class and does anything like that, you can try to shower words of praise on him.

“An AMAZING book for teachers!”

Moreover, you can also give rewards to the most receptive students weekly or fortnightly. To find out the most receptive students, all you’ll have to do is ask some questions regarding what you have taught on a particular day in class. The students who give the maximum number of correct answers during the decided period, maybe weekly or fortnightly, will be eligible to receive the reward.

#4: Reconnecting with the students at an emotional level

Students are more likely to exhibit a greater interest in learning when their favorite teacher teaches them. This implies that our emotional bonding is also a factor that impacts their curiosity towards studies. As a long period of physical separation during the pandemic might have caused damage to our emotional connection with our students, we’ll have to reconnect with them. For this, we can do two critical things.

The first is to portray open and cordial body language. It includes having a smile on our face, a relaxed body posture without much stiffness, and covering up more space with hand gestures. When we have open body language, we are perceived as friendly. This brings our students closer to us and makes them feel more comfortable.

The second is to have regular interactions with them. We can try to spend 5 to 10 minutes on alternative days, having informal conversations with our students regarding life, the problems they are facing, their life stories, etc. Such conversations are useful in making a way to children’s hearts. You can also share your childhood stories with them. As you keep having these interactions with your students, they’ll develop a strong emotional connection with you over time. This connection will be of great help in rekindling their interest in learning. 

Conclusion

Our students might have lost their interest in learning while staying back in the comforting ambiance of their homes for such a long period. As they start coming back to school, we’ll have to direct our efforts to rekindle their interest in learning. Otherwise, we won’t teach effectively despite giving our best. Further, we can utilize the different tips given above to make our students curious about studying again. I wish you All the very best and a good time with your lovely students.

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

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Five Tips for Becoming a Happy Teacher

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management. This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Happy teachers make happy students. When we’re happy we have energy, passion for the job and a greater sense of overall purpose in life. Happiness can be difficult to achieve, however, when we’re dealing with the daily stresses of being a teacher: duties such as paperwork, writing reports, meeting tight deadlines, marking, and even trying to teach remotely and face-to-face at the same time (a very recent challenge that teachers all over the world have had to deal with). Today, I’ve invited Jessica Robinson, educational writer at The Speaking Polymathto share her insights and tips for being, and staying, happy in your role as a teacher.

If we look closely, everything we do in life is focused on one thing – becoming happy. The same is true for our profession. Most of us have chosen teaching as our profession, most likely for two reasons. One is that we feel happy to teach students. The second is to earn money. If we look at both these reasons, they are related to happiness. Teaching gives us happiness, and money helps us buy things we need to be happy. Now here is an important question we need to ask ourselves: Are we delighted? The answer is most likely a no. This is because teaching is a stressful profession. Every day we have to deal with several stressful events as teachers. Noisy students, teaching effectively, and shouldering our responsibilities well are all in some way causes of stress for us, and when there is stress, there cannot be true happiness. But, we all need happiness, right? As discussed above, it is the primary goal behind everything we do. Now, the question is how to become happy teachers? Here are five tips that will help you.

#1: Cultivate acceptance for your students’ behavior

One of the biggest causes of stress we face every day is our students’ wrong behavior. Even if we are thrilled, it takes just a single lousy remark from a student to make us feel stressed and unhappy. However, if we simply understand that kids are kids, then we will be in a much better place of acceptance. They will make such mistakes, and there is no need for us to take things personally. Instead, we can try to help them become better human beings. This simple acceptance of our students’ behavior can help us become happy teachers. So, we should all try to cultivate acceptance for our students’ behavior and then take steps to improve their behavior without being impacted by them.

“An AMAZING book for teachers!”

#2: Spend some time playing with your students

Playing is the key to feeling happy. I know we are teachers, but don’t we all have a little child who is always excited to play? Yes, we do! At times, we should try to let this inner child out and spend some time playing with our students. There is nothing terrible in playing with kids for 10 to 15 minutes. When we play with our students, they become more connected to us. As a result, they pay more attention in our classes, which is the key to effective classroom management. So, if you like, you can give this tip a try. I’m sure if you do, you’ll end up falling in love with it. [Note from Richard: This can be done with students of any age, even high-school students. Read my blog post entitled 10 Learning Games to Play With Your Students here.].

#3: Make meditation a part of your daily routine

A calm mind is a happy mind. There are no two opinions regarding it. This implies that to become satisfied teachers, we need to cultivate a relaxed mindset. For this, one of the best techniques which we can practice is meditation. It doesn’t mean that there will be no fluctuations once you start meditating, and your mental state will always remain calm. No, it is not so, but with regular meditation, you will be able to re-establish a relaxed mental state soon after your peace gets disturbed. This implies that the duration of your unhappy cycles will get significantly reduced. So, to become a happy teacher, you should try to make meditation a part of your daily routine. You can use guided meditation videos to meditate initially, and later you can switch to meditating all by yourself.

#4: Make friends with your colleagues

Does spending time with your near and dear ones make you feel good? The answer is a yes, as it is right for all of us. Whenever we spend time with our loved ones, our body gets flooded with oxytocin: a happy hormone that triggers positive feelings and reduces our stress levels. One trick to stay happy at work is to have some loved ones. This means that we should try to make friends with our colleagues. We can try to cultivate a big friend circle at work. This will help us significantly increment our happiness levels as teachers. If something goes wrong in class, we can share it with our friends, or if we are feeling stressed, we can share our feelings with them and feel lighter.

#5: Take a short walk during your free time at work

It has been scientifically proven that exercise is good for our physical health and mental health. When we exercise, our brain secretes happy hormones like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin, which trigger positive feelings and make us feel satisfied. Although you cannot exercise at work, you can still take a short walk during your free time at work. This will help you induce positive feelings and feel happier.

Conclusion

Happiness is the primary motive behind everything we do. So, becoming happy teachers should be one of our goals despite all the stress associated with our profession. We can utilize the above-mentioned tips for the fulfillment of this goal. Now, I wish you all the Best and have a happy time teaching!

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

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