Teaching Ideas

Memory and Recall: Practical Strategies for a Linear World

Memory 1

This post is based on my talk at ‘Teaching and Learning Leeds: Encouraging the Leader Within’ on 23rd June 2018.

Memory 2

Teaching is fundamentally about making the best possible use of the human brain and helping students to use theirs to their fullest potential. Why then, is there so little focus on how the brain works in initial teacher training and in school based CPD? There are certainly some pockets of excellent practice out there,  Memory 3but the vast majority of teachers on the ground do not have a solid grounding in how we actually learn, and are therefore living in a fog of uncertainty and vague ‘I reckon this will probably work’ territory…

We must lift the fog and empower ourselves to be the most effective teachers we possibly can!

In this post, I will outline the basics of what a classroom teacher or school leader needs to know about how we form memories, and then suggest a range of practical strategies which you could easily start doing in your school or classroom tomorrow morning…

What is the point?

Memory 4

This is the reason we do what we do (arguments about guiding students to become ‘good people’ aside…!) We aim to increase student knowledge and skill in order to equip them for a future we cannot fully see. This means transferring content from their short term to their long term memories.

How the brain learns (the easy version)…

Memory 5


Information is sent to the brain – e.g. during your lesson – through various stimuli (they hear you speak, look at text and images, ‘do’ activities).

Memory 6



The brain looks at the new information, breaks it up into categories and decides where to put each part.Memory 7



The brain then scans that new information to see if there are any recognisable similarities between the new content and existing knowledge. The brain then makes links between those connected pieces of information – this is how neural networks are created.

Every time a new piece of information comes in, it amends and enhances the existing knowledge. Think of it like this; the brain is NOT an empty vessel which gets gradually more full (like a bath of water), it is more like a lagoon with multiple waterfalls bringing in new information. With every new influx of knowledge (water), the brain (lagoon) changes; old knowledge is updated and enhanced and neural networks are strengthened. This is called brain plasticity.

Memory 8

Memory 10

This changes the way we define learning. It is not helpful to view learning as straightforward knowledge acquisition.

Memory 11

Learning is actually far more complex…

Memory 12

Consequences for ‘The Gap’…

Memory 13Memory 14Memory 15

The very nature of the brain means that the more you already know, the easier you learn. Therefore our most privileged students, who already have the advantages of greater academic and cultural capital, find it even easier to learn and make progress. Students without this head start are sadly left even further behind.

Memory 16

The brain is far more emotional than it is rational. This means that a student who is experiencing less stability (such as anxiety, uncertainty, distress or anger) will struggle to encode information for learning. Happy, stable students learn far better, so it is incumbent upon us to create a safe, positive environment in our classrooms, and to champion good mental health practices in our schools.

Short and Long Term Memory

Memory 17

Unfortunately, we can’t just say to our brains: “We need to learn this now, please! It’s going to be on the exam!”

Our brains will only store something in our long term memory if it carries personal significance to us. For example:

Scenario 1: This morning I drove to work behind a blue car. Five minutes after arriving at work, I forgot the colour of the car because my brain decided it wasn’t important. This is my brain deciding what is a priority, and sieving out the unnecessary information.

Scenario 2: This morning I drove to work behind a blue car. I watched as the car hit an old lady and then sped away. I will always remember the colour of the car, the make and a partial number plate. This is my brain deciding that this is very important information because we will need to recall it later for the police.

If we want our students to store things in their long term memories we must ensure that it carries personal significance to them. For example, my husband encoded my birthday to memory immediately when he first learned it, and has never forgotten it (it helps that failing to recall this piece of information has a punishment associated with it…)Memory 18

Memory 20Memory 21


Ensure that you are creating the best possible environment for students to be able to encode the information you give them.


  1. Manage information…Memory 22

  2. Prepare the brain…Memory 23

  3. Regulate cognitive load…

    Cognitive load refers to the amount of work your working memory has to do at one time. Having to retain lots of pieces of information in the working memory (such as numbers when completing a complex maths problem) can limit the amount of work a student can do. This is why students get a calculator in some maths exams; the calculator is a way to regulate cognitive load so that students can use their working memory on the more complex parts of the problems.Memory 24

  4. Use efficient language…Memory 25

    Memory 27Memory 28

Make it Stick is a fantastic book on memory which highlights this very key point; many of the things we think must work actually don’t. In fact, ‘massed practice’ brings to mind the much repeated phrase ‘practice makes perfect’, one which I heard many times in my own childhood. Research actually shows that repeated ‘practice’, such as Memory 32re-reading texts or notes from lessons, does not help students to embed information into long term memory. Re-reading is quite a passive, easy task. The most effective strategy for long term memory retention is to challenge our students to complete hard recall tasks on a regular basis.

At this point, it is very important to get student ‘buy-in’. Many of your students won’t relish the idea of regular quizzes and embracing challenge. I have always championed the idea of introducing students to the same research I am looking at, and making my intentions and reasoning crystal clear. If I start a lesson with, “today we’re going to start with a difficult test”, they will, quite rightly, be less than enthusiastic. If I start my lesson with, “the best way for you to learn something is by doing lots of little recall quizzes. The harder they are, the better. It doesn’t matter if you get things wrong – getting questions wrong is actually really good for the brain!” they are far more likely to engage. My classes know that if something doesn’t feel hard, then it’s not working! They now regularly ask me for more difficult work because, in the words of one student (we will call her Charlie), “what’s the point in me being here if it’s not working? You might as well give me the hardest one.”

These are the slides I show my students when I’m explaining the research and justifying my regular ‘hard’ quizzes…

It is worth mentioning that other popular memory strategies such as analogies, mnemonics, rhyme, letter linking and stories can be very useful early on in the encoding phase of learning, but can be problematic later on. When students need to delve into more abstract areas of a subject, it is often difficult to extract the original information from the analogy (or packaging) it came in. Don’t stop using them (I still use a few for writing frames), but be aware that students might need to free themselves of them further down the line to avoid being limited.

Variation (for deepening and developing knowledge)

Once knowledge is firmly embedded into long term memory, it is necessary to deepen and refine that knowledge so that it can be used in the most sophisticated way. Variation is a key way in which this can be done.

Memory 39This image uses Conceptual Variation, which is using a range of examples and non-examples to help define an idea. e.g. Show examples of Gothic writing and writing which is not Gothic. Discuss with students what makes things Gothic, and in what circumstances something becomes Gothic.

Rational Variation…

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Contextual Variation is best utilised in TV programs for babies and toddlers – it takes a concept (in this case, ‘connecting things’) and develops a child’s understanding of that concept by showing things being connected in lots of different contexts, such as shoe laces being tied, someone plugging headphones into a socket and someone buttoning up a coat: Twirlywoos

Memory 42

One example of using variation in the classroom is this poetry knowledge crush I have used with my GCSE Literature classes. Students already have the poetry in their long term memories. I have created a NEW poem by taking individual lines from the poems they already know – I have placed them directly next to lines from other poems (contextual variation). This means that they are able to refine and develop their knowledge of the poetry because these lines are now next to others from different genres and styles of poetry (rational variation). The activity also allows from old school hard recall because students first have to annotate the lines with everything they can remember about them without looking at their notes.

Memory 43

Memory 44

Another important strategy for developing knowledge and understanding is ‘Definition’…Memory 45








How to get students to struggle (and love it!)

  • Regular quizzes, from memory, even of things only taught or mentioned once.
  • Remember, retrieval beats re-exposure every time – don’t re-teach it, give them a quiz on it instead!
  • Quiz questions should always be:
    • Unhelpful (NO MULTIPLE CHOICE!)
    • Low stakes (the points aren’t the point! They get all the benefit from doing the quiz itself.)
    • Self serving (get students to mark and correct their own, otherwise they won’t log their mistakes for next time. Also, you do NOT want all these quizzes to add to your workload!)
  • Use ‘Spaced Retrieval’ – build in regular cumulative quizzes to your long and meduium term planning
  • Use ‘Interleaving’ – do quizzes during lessons, weave in between topics, quiz on old topics when you’re in the middle of new ones! MIX IT UP!
  • Ask students to commplete large pieces of work from memory (e.g. revision clocks and grids – see below)
  • When questioning, don’t give answers too easily! Learn to love the awkward silences – they are learning GOLD!

Most importantly; tell them it’s difficult. Tell them it should feel difficult. Get them to embrace the struggle, because that’s where the best learning happens!

In the classroom:

  1. Ring fence classroom time for memory and retrieval (I do it for the first 5-10 minutes of almost every lesson). This includes things like quotation recall, spelling tests, plot and context recall.

Memory 50This shows what a student produced from memory in September, versus what she was able to recall by the end of the following October. I highlight recall activities in blue so that the students can see how much they can do from memory.Memory 49

Revision clocks are quite commonly used in schools now. Revision grids work in the same way but are perhaps a little more versatile – you can put any heading you like in the grid squares and students have the time you give them (this can be directed at a whole class or individual level) to complete it. The first revision grid below also has some boxes which ask students to draw images to go with quotations, which is a form of ‘dual coding’ (see below for more on this). The second revision grid is an example from an art class.

Here are a couple of examples of quiz activities I do with my own students/ They include traditional quiz questions and quotation recall activities. I also use cloze exercises for quotation recall in the earlier stages and then gradually remove that support.:

Dual Coding

Memory 56Memory 57

Here are some examples from History, Biology and English…

Dual coding can also work with other stimuli, such as learning something in more than one language, using music alongside content and using tactile experiences.

Another important ‘hook’ for learning harks back to something I talked about earlier in this post; the emotional brain. If we can tie a piece of information we want students to learn to an emotional experience (such as humour, joy, sadness, empathy), we can help them to embed it more readily, because it has been given personal significance.

When doing quotation recall and chanting with my students, I used my son’s toy guitar. Seeing me dance around at the front of the room was, putting it mildly, memorable. This was because it was funny, and the class shared a sense of ‘what is she doing? She is utterly bizarre.’ This experience, for many students, gave the content some personal significance.

Similarly, I have used a number of current news stories featuring events and people who have a real emotional connection with our students. Many of my students live in the high rise flats which surround our school, so talking about how Stormzy challenged the government over its handling of the Grenfell disaster, was a highly emotional activity for my class. We then went on to discuss the ways in which William Blake and many of the other Romantic poets were pushing for social change, and that Blake’s raw depiction of a young mother struggling to care for her baby in London is the same kind of social protest as Stormzy’s at the MOBO Awards. Again, this gained personal significance for these students, who still remember to talk about Blake’s anti-government, revolutionary stance in their poetry essays.


Memory 69

Metacognition can be a highly effective strategy for promoting retention and recall. If students are able to identify the things they still don’t know, they are noting these things for future encoding.

I use a range of strategies to support my students to master their own learning and engage fully in metacognition. This is one of the things I do very early on in this process in order to scaffold their thinking…

Memory 70

To understand more about metacognition, I would highly recommend the recent report from the EEF: EEF Metacognition


My key goal in creating a memory rich classroom is that students will not reach April of Y11 and suddenly start to revise in panic. The whole point of the strategies above is that, from the very start, we embed routines and good practices for retention and recall, so that students are growing their bank of knowledge over a prolonged period of time. Massed revision, therefore, should not be so important.

It is, however, vital that we teach students how to revise. As we draw close to exams, it is easy for students to fall into some of the bad habits I’ve already mentioned, and start doing ‘revision’ which consists of nothing more than re-reading content and re-writing notes (the easy stuff which has NO positive impact!). They also often fall into the trap of saying they will ‘do History’ for two hours, without any plan for what they will do in that time.

This is an example of a revision menu I have used with my class – it has a bank of challenging activities which they must complete from memory. It has a mix of active and passive activities, and also allows students to make up their revision period (say an hour) with activities of different lengths.

Memory 72Memory 73

In my experience, giving students a revision menu like this has had a very positive effect on their work during the holidays, and given them a more realistic approach to independent work.

Memory 74

I would strongly recommend that you read these authors for more information on memory and recall. I have taken heavily from Peps Mccrae’s book (one of the best things I have ever read on education) and the article on the brain by Kenneth Wesson.

I’d love to hear from you if you find this useful, or have any comments which might improve anything I’ve said on the cognitive science side of things – I am by no means an expert!


Vocabulary Flood



I am very blessed to work in a school where most of my students have a talent I do not possess. Over 75% of our students speak something other than English as their first language, and many of them speak three, four or even five languages fluently. There are 72 languages spoken in our school community. Walking through our corridors is a very humbling experience for someone like myself who scraped a grade C in GCSE French; our students are constantly slipping in and out of various languages, often creating their own unique patois as they attempt to transcend cultural and linguistic barriers to share ideas with their friends.

To me, someone who can converse so freely in a range of languages is someone to be admired. Unfortunately, this trait in a student isn’t always seen as the positive, brilliant thing it truly is. I will confess that, before working at my current school, I used to feel some trepidation when planning for EAL students. It is an inescapable fact that, for some students, EAL becomes a label which is synonymous with being ‘less able’ and, though all schools definitely have the right intentions at heart, the external pressures we face often mean that we don’t have the necessary resources to support these students in the way they deserve. Couple that with a long term government failure to support communities with high levels of immigration, and the fact that these generally fall into areas which are among the most economically deprived in our society, EAL students have a raw deal however you look at it.

Political rant over. My own school has a very strong provision (both pastoral and academic) for EAL students. I teach a Y10 class where all but two students are EAL. I have students speaking Swahili, Romanian, Portugese, Panjabi, Afrikaans, Czech, Spanish, Urdu, Congolese and more. Every student in the class is also Pupil Premium, and they have a range of challenges outside the classroom. They are supremely ambitious and, though their official data would label them ‘LA’ in most schools, students with these advanced linguistic skills can make incredibly rapid progress if we provide them with high levels of challenge and frequently expose them to academic language.


This term I have been conducting a piece of action research with this group and have had quite staggering results.

I started with the premise that: students can’t express high level concepts without the necessary academic vocabulary, and the more students are exposed to vocabulary used in context, the more they will learn, the more they will use!

I have literally FLOODED my lessons with high level vocabulary using the strategies below. If I expose students to 30 new words per week, then at least some will stick and, even if that’s a tiny proportion, that’s still more than they knew before!

Practical Strategies

  1. Paint Samplerspaint sampler: Use these colour scales (easily found for free at your local DIY shop!) to get students to rank students in order of intensity. This allows students to see a range of synonyms and helps them to choose the most appropriate version for a particular task. e.g. you wouldn’t use the word ‘seething’ to describe your emotions in a formal letter of complaint because it’s far too raw, but ‘frustrated’ would be fine. With this strategy, students are able to explore the power and potential of vocabulary, and their writing becomes more precise.
  2. Taxonomies: Categorise words to create vocabulary banks which students can draw upon when completing different tasks. This gives students a greater appreciation of the wealth of vocabulary options at their disposal. Here is one I used with my Y10 class for the GCSE Anthology (Conflict theme):taxonomy
  3. High Level Models: Write model responses with sophisticated vocabulary used in context. ALWAYS be aspirational! Never apologise for pitching things high; my class has official targets between GCSE grade 2-6, but I tell them explicitly that the models are grade 8/9. If you can show a high level model, then break it down and show them how it ticks, you de-mistify their sense of what the top grades look like. Vocabulary is one element of great writing, but it’s one which is really tangible and accessible. In the paragraph below, I use the words: hubris, transitory, central, immortalize, preserve, maintain, fruitless, superficial, critique, exploit, pawns. In their next essays, I challenged students to use at least one of these new words. Most used three or more; the taste of a grade 8/9 paragraph was enough to make them push themselves.model paragraph
  4. ‘Hot’ or ‘Not’ list: (Original idea from Amy Thompson @Ladbroa01) Provide a list of words which your weaker students can use as a ‘hot’ list in their writing, and which your stronger students use as a ‘not’ list to force them to use more sophisticated synonyms. You can also do this by giving two lists of words, such as the one below.hot or not
  5. Vocabulary Explosion: I always tell my students, the examiner doesn’t know anything at all about you, apart from the words on the page. They don’t know your target grade, your EAL status or your history. If you can SOUND like a grade 8+ student, then they will TREAT you like one! When I worked in a private school at the start of my career, the difference was that those students had a wide and varied vocabulary and were able to express their ideas with ease. This year, I have been training my students to memorise vocabulary which will help them with potential exam topics (e.g. a list of words to describe Lady Macbeth). They then do a ‘vocabulary explosion’ when they see an exam question, which helps them to formulate their ideas and express challenging concepts. This has been the most high impact strategy I’ve used with students, and makes a huge difference to their confidence and the sophistication of their writing.question explosion

differentiation (with a small ‘d’)

This post is based on workshops I have led this summer at both the Leeds Trinity University NQT Conference, and at Teaching and Learning Leeds 2017 (hosted by The Grammar School at Leeds). If you attended either of these sessions and have questions, suggestions or comments, I would love to hear them @funkypedagogy, or write a comment below. My thanks to Anne Williams (@agwilliams9) and Charlotte Wright (@commahound) for asking me to speak at these brilliant events and providing the impetus I needed.


differentiation: know your students and act accordingly. Anything which seeks to complicate this beautifully simple idea is missing the point.

There have been a number of heated debates in the teaching community in recent years about inclusion vs. aspiration; accessibility vs. challenge; differentiation vs. mastery. Such debates seek to set educational approaches up in opposition to each other and, in doing so, take each of those approaches to their most ridiculous extreme. differentiation does not mean that we should ‘dumb down’ the curriculum until it has no challenge at all, nor does Mastery mean that we never respond to students’ individual needs. Let’s do ourselves a favour and stop taking things so seriously!

The best practice I have ever seen, blends the best bits from a range of schools of thought like a classroom pick ‘n’ mix. differentiation is a powerful tool, but IT IS NOT THE GRAIL! It is not going to save you! It is not going to give you all the answers and solve all your problems! differentiation is just an umbrella term for a rag tag bunch of ideas which, if used judiciously, might just help your students to engage and make progress.

The following ideas are not new and they are not revolutionary but, in my experience, they work.

Why is it important?

differentiation recognises that every student is an individual. There are a huge number of factors which impact the young people in front of us, and these go beyond academic ability. We might differentiate in a lesson according to a student’s level of skill in our subject, but we might also consider: family circumstances; hobbies and interests; mental health issues (such as anxiety); confidence levels; recently assessed work; SEND needs; spontaneous needs within a lesson; whether they ate lunch today; student ambitions for the future, and even what happened in the local community the night before.

I work in a school in Bradford with very challenging circumstances; our children are faced with a huge number of barriers to their learning. Regardless of the kind of school you work in, every child has complex and significant individual needs at some time or other during their school career, and differentiation is about responding to these needs and ensuring that every child can succeed.


Hard vs. Soft Data

When I was an NQT, I tended to use hard data (test results, target and predicted grades) as a basis for planning and differentiation. I might have had separate work sheets for levels 4, 5 and 6 letter writing, or had a grade A* extension activity. While these strategies do have some benefit, the use of hard data alone can limit us to support students only on the basis of cold numbers (which are probably weeks out of date!), and ignore all of the more flexible soft data which is available to us.


Marking as planning…


Soft data from marking is the most recent and therefore the most relevant information we have. If we mark regularly, we can make key observations:

  • This student doesn’t understand this process…
  • These students are way ahead in this topic…
  • These six students don’t understand the key terminology from the lesson…
  • This student doesn’t know how to embed quotations…

Here is an example of how live marking might develop into differentiated planning:

  1. Identify students…


2. Observe skills through marking…


3. Range of personalised solutions…


n.b. NONE of these strategies is going to work every time – try something out, review it, change it and try again!

Seating Plans

Seating plans are a little controversial. I don’t really use them to arrange the seating in my room; I alter seating on a lesson by lesson basis depending on what activity we are doing. For me, seating plans are a way to record information about students both for my own planning, and to support people who might cover my lessons. This seating plan was first developed at my old school by a very talented AST. Since then, my department at my current school have continued to tinker with it, and this is what they look like:


We use a colour coding system to record information according to literacy levels, engagement (including behaviour), challenge levels and personal context. Here are some examples:


I tend not to include much hard data on seating plans, but often scribble the most recent mock grades etc. on in pen as they happen.

Seating plans should…

  • …be a live document (scribbled on and added to regularly)
  • …include information which is relevant to your school and classroom practice (SEND, EAL, LAC, PPG etc.)
  • …be used to inform planning, seating etc.
  • …be useful (don’t waste your time if you won’t use it!)

Anonymised seating plan:

Strategies and Resources

  1. Support stations

These need a bit of planning and (dare I say it…?) printing! Support stations are areas around a classroom which provide differentiated support and strategies for students. These can be dictated by the teacher, or students can choose for themselves where to go.


In the example above, each table has a very specific target based on my marking of student writing. Each table has a range of resources and activities which will support students in a specific skill.

In the example below, students are able to choose for themselves what level of support they need, and can more up in difficulty over the course of a lesson.


2. Multiple lessons in one

This strategy is useful when you have a clear and sizeable gap in skill within one group. I teach a mixed ability Y8 class which ranges from students who can access GCSE level content, to students who struggle to access their Y8 texts. In the lesson below, I used the same poem with the whole class (‘A Poison Tree’ by William Blake), and they all ended by completing an analytical response to the poem, but they all got there by different means. The pink group worked completely independently and had challenging success criteria and prompts to encourage more sophisticated thinking, the yellow group worked in pairs for their preparation and planning, and the orange group worked with me on a guided group discussion to support their writing.



This kind of planning is VERY time consuming and resource heavy. I would probably only do this once per half term, per class. Any more and it loses its effectiveness.

3. Chilli questioning

This idea has been around for ages, but it works! Write differentiated questions and denote their level of difficulty using the chilli scale. Students then have the information they need in order to choose tasks which will challenge or support them.


@TeacherToolkit has an excellent blog post on using the chilli scale for ‘takeaway homework’.


4. Questioning

Questioning is a gold mine for differentiation strategies. I’m not going to go through every idea here, because there is enough material there for a whole book! Here is one strategy which I use a lot and which has never failed me!

I write questions on a topic based on different skills in Blooms Taxonomy. Here is an example for Animal Farm:


One way to use these is to give a different question to every student (based on their needs), and to get them to answer the question at the start of the lesson. You can then teach your lesson as usual, and then ask students to return to the original question at the end (preferably in a different colour), and add to their answer from earlier. This has always been highly effective for me, and students enjoy seeing really clear evidence of their own progress within a lesson.


5. Differentiated questioning in Maths

A colleague of mine in the maths department uses the names of famous mathematicians to categorise levels of questions in his lessons. Students are able to choose which questions to answer, and can move from one level to another as they gain confidence and skill.


Another excellent strategy he uses is to draw a simple line:


…the line indicates that the questions will suddenly get harder. This could be done in pen in 5 seconds, and can provide information to students to enable them to make choices in your lesson, but also to provide some security for students who tend to have anxiety about certain types of task; the line says, ‘this will be harder, but that’s OK because you’re expecting it.’

6. Group role cards

Again, this is an old one, but it never ceases to be useful for me! I’m enjoying playing with unusual group roles…


7. Breaking things down

A lot of my differentiation is about taking larger, more sophisticated content, and ‘breaking it down’ to make it more accessible. This does NOT mean dumbing down or taking content out, it means giving students a route in. It is important that these strategies can then be given to students themselves so that, as they develop as learners, they are able to use them independently; a student won’t have a scaffolded text in an exam, but they can be taught how to create their own when they see the paper for themselves.


This one uses the magnifying glass reading technique, where students are slowly introduced to a text piece by piece. This can help with student confidence levels; it is far easier to read a full A4 page of text if you have already engaged with a sentence or a paragraph in isolation.

TTLeeds17 Differentiation WEBB

8. Cutting holes in things!


You can cut small holes (for looking at individual words) or larger holes (so students can see whole paragraphs etc.). This is a lovely, low tech, whimsical activity which my students love from Y7 up to Y13. Looking at small sections of text in isolation allows students to access detail before being faced with the whole thing.


An analyser can be used for a range of different things. Take an A3 piece of paper and cut a roughly A4 sized hole in it. Now you have a frame you can use for:

  • A peer or self-assessment tool (key elements of the mark scheme and assessment criteria around the outside)
  • A writing scaffold (students complete a piece of extended writing, and the frame has key structural elements and reminders)
  • A reading scaffold (the frame has key question prompts and statements to help the student to read critically)

9. Chunking writing

Instead of asking students to write on a blank page in their book, get them to fill in smaller boxes. They are often tricked into writing more than they might have otherwise…


10. Vocabulary


The ‘Hot or Not?’ list from Amy Thompson (@Ladbroa01) is a great idea:

Create a list of vocabulary or key ideas. This is a ‘hot’ list for weaker students, and they have to try to use the content in their work. For stronger students, this is a ‘not’ list, so they have to think outside the box and find alternative ideas.


10. Metacognition

Metacognition is an incredibly important skill for students who need to become independent, resilient and ambitious learners. Why not use students’ own observations of their learning as part of your soft data?

You may have seen the comfort/challenge/panic graphic from @teachertweaks. This is a great tool to remind us that we need the right amount of struggle in order to facilitate learning. Why not ask your students to think about what comfort, challenge and panic zones look like for them, and complete their own version? As a teacher, you can then use this student reflection to inform your planning.


I talk about marginal gains wheels a lot. Why not use a marginal gains wheel for students to demonstrate their confidence or level of skill in a topic, and then use this to inform your planning and differentiation? I asked my Y11 class to rate their confidence in the skills for the GCSE English Language paper (see below) and then used this to differentiate homework and revision resources.


12. Make ANY resource a differentiated resource in SECONDS…

  •  Filling a bit in for students (if there is a table or chart to complete, fill in a bit for those who you think will need it)
  •  Highlighting or drawing a box around things
  • Post-its for… Reminders, prompts, spellings, key words…
  • Go around the room with your pen and LOOK at work – write comments, prompts and challenges in books…


differentiation works best when you…

  1. Use soft data as well as hard data to inform planning.
  2. Base tasks and support on your observations of recent work – keep it live and flexible!
  3. Make your intentions, rationale and success criteria clear to students.
  4. Experiment, make mistakes, think creatively and don’t take ANYTHING too seriously!


differentiation is just an umbrella term for all the things you do to respond to the needs of individuals or groups. It isn’t rocket science, it isn’t new and it isn’t all that special. It’s just common sense. Having said that, the impact which truly thoughtful, sensitive and creative practice can have on our students is potentially huge. The best differentiated lessons are those where you can barely see it at all – students are just getting on with it because the teacher has predicted what issues might arise, and the level of challenge is there because students are being pushed and pulled along according to their needs. It’s not flashy or bold; it’s just common sense.

All the resources from this blog can be found in my One Drive here: One Drive Differentiation

Please feel free to use/adapt/share/bin as you see fit.

n.b. I have tried to credit all the ideas I’ve pinched from elsewhere, but I know I might have missed something because a lot of this stuff is well established and has been recycled a lot! If you notice any omissions along the way, PLEASE give me a shout and I’ll happily add names of original creators I’ve left out.


Bird’s-eye View: GCSE top grade statements and evaluation…

Birds pic

This is a resource I have developed for my Y11 class. It is meant to support them in making evaluative comments about texts (looking at them from a bird’s-eye view), and exploring overall text structure. The idea is that it allows students to construct strong opening statements, and also gives them prompts to consider the more challenging structural questions, and author intentions. Only by finding a way to access the BIG ideas, can students really come into ownership of the texts they study…

Enjoy! Feel free to use/adapt or discard as you see fit! Please get in touch with pictures or comments; I’d love to see if and how people use it! Continue reading “Bird’s-eye View: GCSE top grade statements and evaluation…”

Teaching Ideas

27 English reading and analysis resources which work!

The creativity and generosity of the online teaching community never ceases to amaze me. I have spent a couple of weeks collating resources for my department from my Twitter back catalogue, and was blown away by how long the list was. Years of communication with fellow educators has given me a huge collection of ideas and resources, some of which I use regularly, and some which I had forgotten about entirely. In an attempt to bring some order to the chaos, I have started with some reading and analysis resources. All of these resources were created by teachers, and shared online – you can see the creators’ details below in case you want to follow anything up with these very talented people.

Though I’ve collected them here for English resources, most can be very easily adapted to other subjects and disciplines.

For ease of use, I’ve organised the post into four groups:

  • Analysis templates and techniques
  • Understanding or revising texts
  • Explaining and exploring structure
  • Expression

Analysis templates and techniques:

The first few of these are based around using hexagons to scaffold writing, planning and ideas. There are tons of hexagon-based resources out there – these are a few which I know work really well…

  1. Concentric Hexagons from @JamieClark85.

These can be used to revise or explore characters, themes etc in a text. I ask students to write their topic (character, theme, idea) in the middle hexagon, then the next level out is for quotations, leading to a level of anlaysis, and a level of wider exploration (context/wider reading/critical viewpoints/alternative interpretations etc.). This has the potential to work for all age groups and for a lot of disciplines. My Y13 Literature students love it – I break each hexagon into a different assessment objective.

Original Tweet by @JamieClark85

concentric hexagons

2. Visual Hexagons from @misscs_teach

Using images to prompt students to explore or revise a topic without simply looking at a text – this example is from History, but could work brilliantly as a range of images from a poem or novel…

Original Tweet from @misscs_teach

3. Linking Hexagons by @LessonToolbox and @Jivespin – shared by @OLewis_coaching

This is a fab key word linking activity which would work in ANY subject. Students write key words in the hexagons (could also work with quotations for English), then in the boxes at the bottom they explain how each hexagon links to the others.

linking hexagons

Original Tweet from @OLewis_coaching

4. Quotation Explosion

There have been dozens of these resources flying around Twitter for a couple of years, ranging from the functional to the very beautiful. At it’s core, though, the quotation explosion is about detailed exploration of language, encouraging students to literally take a statement or image apart.

The version we have been using in our department is here: Explode a Quotation

A great example I saw recently from @cazzwebbo can be found on her excellent blog, here.


5. 7 deadly sins from @LPuds

MORE hexagons! This is a great way to link abstract ideas to a text. Works brilliantly with An Inspector Calls, but could work with a huge range of literature texts…


Original Tweet from @LPuds

6. Character Outlines

man outline

There are tons of variations on this resource, too. It is basically a nice, visual way to work on characterisation. Give students a blank body outline and get them to make notes inside and outside the shape. I get my students to put character traits inside, and quotations to support it outside, but this has tons of other possibilities.

One really great variation of this idea is one I saw recently from @HeadofEnglish

Original Tweet from @HeadofEnglish

There are tons of other brilliant ideas on Caroline’s blog, here.

7. Linking Extracts from @missfordenglish

A fab group activity where students annotate and make links between extended passages and extracts from texts.


Original Tweet from @missfordenglish

8. Paragraphs exploration map

This is one of my resources from a while ago and, while it uses the dreaded PEEEE(ad infinitum) structure which appears to have gone out of vogue, it is a useful way of looking at paragraphing and textual analysis through the metaphor of exploration and zooming in and out… the resource for the mat is here (front and back pages).

Analysis front

analysis back

9. Peephole Analyser

I designed this resource as a way of scaffolding planning and writing to include all of the required elements in the AOs for A Level, but can also act as a way to read, interrogate or peer assess a document. The example here is an ‘analyser’ for the AQA Literature A legacy spec Victorian paper:


You make the resource by leaving an A4 sized hole in the middle of an A3 piece of paper, and framing the hole with hints, tips, key words, reminders etc for whatever the intended piece of writing is. This works well as a frame for peer and self-assessment because students can look at what the requirements are and produce very detailed feedback. It could also work well as a generic resource for looking for literary elements in extracts or unseen poetry. The document above can be found here. Feel free to use/edit/discard!

AS Context Analyser

10. Dynamite Paragraphs – original idea from @Murphieface, visual designed by @JamieClark85

Blog from @Murphieface here.

Here is the gorgeous adaptation of the idea from @JamieClark85:


11. Character Heads from @siancarter1

This is a totally wacky but brilliant idea! @siancarter1 managed to source some mannequin heads, and did this lovely thing for The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde revision…


Works brilliantly for the internal struggle and duality in this novel, but could be adapted for many other texts and characters.

Original Tweet from @siancarter1

12. Connotation Circles from @MissJLud


Magic Circles (or connotation circles) were designed to encourage students to write analytical answers and think of multiple layers of meaning and to help improve their analysis of sentences or keywords. They can be used by all year groups and in a variety of ways. They are a scaffolding tool which can be removed once students know how to add multiple layers of meaning to their analysis.

Firstly, you  must ensure students know what question they are being asked. They must think about the answer to that question (their point) and write it in the top box. From here, students identify the key quotation they would like to analyse to answer the question. To encouraging students to keep the quotation short, the box is quite small! The middle of the circle says ‘keyword’ but more often than not I tell students to put the whole quotation in. This is important especially with difficult quotations (where it’s hard to find a keyword) for example a quotation from Shakespeare or Chaucer as they also need to remember to explain what they mean before analysing.

Once they have filled in the point and evidence sections, they can begin to think of words to use in their analysis. With a keyword, this is quite simple and students can think of a connotation that is relevant to the question (usually you need to stress this point!). From then on, each box is filled in with a further connotation of the previous word. To make sure they are relevant and developed multiple layers of meaning (rather than just synonyms) it is important that the connotation is of the previous word and not just of the key word in the middle. Hence why the arrows flow as they do! For a difficult quotation, it may be necessary to look at it as a whole and students can then move on from that point.

For the last step, students must think of a link between the final connotation and their overall point. This ensures they are answering the question.

Once the whole circle is complete, students can use a range of linking sentences to fit in their ideas. You can use a range of active verbs to encourage students to analyse in detail. It is very useful to model this to students first of all. There are a range of examples below from Year 7 and Year 10 students where you can see how they have used the connotation circles in a few different ways.

Common issues:

– Students don’t know what connotation means and this needs explaining.

– Students pick connotations that are not relevant to the question. e.g. (Red – Man United!)

– Making the link to the point can be hard/impossible depending on the quotation and question – you and the student can decide whether or not to leave this out.

– Students don’t know how to write up their paragraph without modelling.

Link to Publisher and PPT documents from @MissJLud

Understanding and Revising Texts:

13. Mapping the plot from @MrMoonUnity

This resource enables students to make notes on narrative events, ideas, characters etc, using images from the text. The best part is that, by so explicitly placing their work in the text’s setting, students are forced to consider place, character journeys, and perhaps notice structural elements of the text they might not have seen before.


@MrMoonUnity has very kindly shared the original document – feel free to make of this version.


Original Tweet from @MrMoonUnity

14. 5 A Day Starters from @TLPMsF

This idea is explained brilliantly on Rebecca’s excellent blog, here. She has also very kindly shared a link to the resources in her GoogleDrive!


Original Tweet from @TLPMsF

15. Visual Timelines from @sarahcnokes

A lovely, simple idea, which could be adapted to tons of subjects. Students use both images and text to explain processes or plot lines. This is an example from Geography, but could easily be adapted to explore events in plots, character journeys and arcs in literature. The use of images could be literal or figurative and allow students to map out how imagery is used throughout a text.


Original Tweet from @sarahcnokes

16. Images

Using pictures as stimuli for discussion, promoting recall, making abstract links or just for talking literally about imagery, is part of our English teaching bread and butter. All the same, the simplest ideas are often the best.

This is a nice example I saw in a tweet from @kathydarlison85:


Original Tweet from @kathydarlison85

I used to have a tissue box which I’d covered in pictures (angels, clouds, a monkey, a woman’s face, a bridge and a tree). Students would throw the box around and have to link the text or a quotation to whichever picture was face-up.

17. Mood Boards

A way of creatively exploring a text, mood boards allow students to bring their own ideas and interpretations to a piece of work in a truly multi-sensory way. I’ve had students produce boards with pieces of jewellery, broken glass, fabrics, evocative scents and even sound effects! You can find a post on mood boards with some good examples on my blog here.

This is a very recent example of a beautiful hand drawn board from one of our A Level Literature students, based on Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire…


18. Revision Clock from @teachgeogblog

This is possibly my department’s favourite resource this year. We have used and adapted it across the age range, and students have loved it! The basis premise is that you use the clock in the centre to represent an hour of lesson time, and then you chunk up the hour into segments of the page for separate revision topics (or focuses within a topic).


I’ve used it very successfully with both HA and LA groups, and found that students are liberated by the limitation of 10 minute or 6 minute blocks to complete something. My Y11 top set recently did this as a competition to see who could get the most information down in a hour without any notes or revision material in sight – they had to write down as many facts and quotations as they could remember about the characters in Of Mice and Men. They were really shocked by how much they actually knew!

Original Tweet from @teachgeogblog

Check out @teachgeogblog’s other resources here.

Exploring Structure:

Structure can be a nightmare to teach, particularly at GCSE where a lot of the really technical A Level stuff is a bit unnecessary. Here are a couple of resources to tackle this…

19. Approaching Structure from @DAP206

Great blog post from Danielle Perkins: What is Structure, Miss?

This post talks about using abstract concepts and images to teach structure.

20. Structure Questions from @atharby

A really excellent list of questions which can help us to unveil and dig deeper into the illusive world of structure.


Original Tweet from @atharby


This can be a difficult thing to teach because we are all keen to give students sentence structures, vocabulary and writing structures without producing a load of PEE-ing robots who don’t have individual analytical writing styles! I believe the trick is to give them some sound principles, as many models as you can get your hands on, and lots and lots of options for new vocab, phrases and structures as you can.

21. Academic Expression from @TheSickScholar

This is a fabulous seminar written by my good friend, Leslie Rowland. Find the link to her ppt and handout here.

22. Advanced Vocabulary from @RealGeoffBarton

I’ve used this list with students for ages, and it always serves to boost confidence and creativity in their writing. The post from Geoff Barton is here.

23. Solar System essay planning

This is one of mine. You can find a write up here. I’ve used it primarily with A Level groups, but it has been adapted by other teachers for use across the whole range.


24. Discuss, Define, Refine

Something I stumbled across online (can’t remember where), when I was a PGCE student, this system is brilliant for structuring introductions. I’ve used it for GCSE and A Level. Blog here.


25. Words to describe writers’ choices – shared by @kathydarlison85

There are lots of these lists floating around Twitter, and they can be really useful for giving students the language they need to express the most interesting and nuanced ideas. This is a nice one:


Original Tweet from @kathydarlison85

26. Writing to Show a Viewpoint from @HeadofEnglish

A fab range of phrases and sentence starters for students to help them to express an opinion…


Original Tweet from @HeadofEnglish

27. Analytical Vocabulary Mat

This is one of my resources which we have in our classrooms at Appleton. It has analytical vocabulary grouped for purpose, with a glossary and exemplar on the back. Feel free to use/adapt as you like!

Analytical Vocabulary


Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list! I would like to keep it relevant by adding more to this post as more things come up. Please let me know if you have something you use regularly for reading and analysis which you think I should include up here and I’ll happily edit the post and credit you.

Personal Reflection

What I have learned as a pregnant teacher…

Pregnancy is a wonderful thing which, for us, did not come easily. As a new head of department, it has been an especially difficult time for me; balancing the stresses of exam preparation, coursework and leadership with the very profound concerns of becoming a first time parent is pretty overwhelming. I am constantly trying to reconcile my anxieties and neuroses with my happiness and excitement. I firmly believe that open and honest reflection makes us better in all
aspects of life, and I hope that this post might shine some light on this crazy journey so that other expectant mums in the teaching world might feel slightly less alone. It really is an incredible time, but that doesn’t negate the fact that it is also scary, isolating and unpredictable.

Pregnancy is hard. Probably the hardest thing I have ever done (and I still have two months to go!!!). Your body takes over and no amount of planning, reading or preparation can change the fact that you are no longer the master of your own destiny. This is a scary thing if you’re a control freak like me.Baby-loading---please-wait-T-Shirts

School cultures and support networks are absolutely key to making pregnancy at work bearable. My school have been really excellent, but I know that not everyone is that lucky. I would advise any pregnant teachers out there to think about:

  1. Brain fog. It is inevitable that you will be forgetful, unable to focus, and generally very tired at various points during your pregnancy. This is made doubly hard if you are in teaching where attention to detail and a god memory are pretty vital parts of the job! Try to identify times in the day where you are the least lucid and plan accordingly (for me this is usually from around 2pm onwards). I often teach A Level in the afternoon, and there have been some comedy moments where I’ve been trying to explain some complex and abstract element of literary theory, and forgotten what I was doing mid-sentence. I am combating this by doing a lot more scripting and planning talking points so that I don’t get off track. If I have anything really intricate or important to do (such as coursework annotation or data stuff), I am ensuring that someone can check it for me when finished, because I know I am more prone to make silly mistakes right now.
  2. Duties. I had a lot of lunchtime duties which meant that I couldn’t actually sit down to eat at all. Some days that meant I went from an 8:30 duty to back to back lessons, and then a full lunch duty; this was insane. My school made this part of my risk assessment and took these lunchtime slots off me. If you have  duties which are outdoors in cold weather, it would be worth asking to be moved inside (pregnancy represses your immune system which makes you far more susceptible to colds). If you have duties on staircases or in places which are going to be really busy, ask to be moved to a location where you are less likely to be jostled.
  3. Seating. If you have your own classroom or desk area where you work regularly, see if the site staff at school can find you a comfier chair with proper back support. As you get into your third trimester, this is a real life saver.
  4. Stairs and long journeys. Depending on what your school building is like, it is worth plotting out for yourself what your most common routes around the building will need to be. I don’t have my own classroom, and actually teach over two floors. I am lucky that my school is a very modern building with a lift, and so the site manager gave me one of the much coveted lift keys to make my life easier. If you have lots of stairs and room changes, it might be worth asking if you can do some temporary room swaps with colleagues to keep movement to a minimum.
  5. Get a wheelie trolley! I had one of these already, but it has become a real lifesaver recently because I struggle even to carry a set of books in my arms at this stage!
  6. Morning Sickness. All pregnancies are very different, but morning sickness can be very disruptive to your teaching day. I was lucky and clear by about 14 weeks, but for some people it lasts much longer. I would recommend confiding in a couple of key co-workers and probably your TA (if you have one), so that you can be covered if you need to make a quick getaway!
  7. Plan your food! Once morning sickness is over, you will need to make sure you’re planning your food so that you don’t get dizzy during the day. I eat before I set off in the morning, then again before school starts, then again at morning break, at lunch and finally late in the afternoon. If I don’t have food in school, I get anxious about feeling hungry or dizzy. I tend to stock up on healthy things like fruit and cereal bars, as well as high sugar treats like chocolate (a medical necessity…).
  8. Keep hydrated. I go through about 3 litres of water or squash during the school day, plus any decaf coffee or tea I manage to get my hands on. It’s really important to drink, even if that means more frequent trips to the loo…
  9. Train your students! My Y11 class are now totally trained; two or three students come to our workroom before the start of every lesson and ask if they can take things upstairs to the classroom for me. The students we teach are amazing, and generally feel such loyalty to their teachers that they want to look after you! I regularly get spontaneous guards of honour from even the naughtiest Y9 boys when I’m walking through the corridor, “move out of the way, pregnant lady coming.”
  10. Clothes. Wear literally whatever you want. I have experiemented with lots of different maternity clothes, and have found that some days I am happy in a tighter fitting maternity dress, whereas on others I wish I could wear a cunning fashioned sack. Don’t even bother buying special maternity shoes (waste of money) – I can recommend stocking up on a few pairs of comfy flat sandals or cheap wide-fit pumps.

I feel like I’m on a perpetual emotional roller-coaster and, having talked to some other expectant mums in teaching, I know I’m not alone in feeling like this. One of the main problems is that we feel that the moment we become pregnant, we are supposed to be giving off some life-affirming, loved-up, Earth-mother, barefoot vision of maternal bliss. We feel that we should be constantly happy and in a state of doe-eyed wonder at the impending arrival. It is, therefore, rather disturbing when you are hit with the reality of it all and, while pregnancy really is wonderful, it is also hard; pregnant women have some pretty serious stuff to work through.

In the interests of dispelling some of the doe-eyed myths, here is an honest list of some of the crazy (and sometimes dark) things I have worried about in my pregnancy so far…

  • Am I a bad mum because I have worried more about Y11 exams than about labour? Is this pattern going to continue as my son gets older, or am I going to get my priorities straight?!
  • Will I cope with maternity leave? Spending the whole summer with my husband (also a teacher) and our new arrival is going to be blissful. But what happens when he goes back to work in September and it’s just me and the baby? I like to think I’ll go all super-mum but, in all seriousness, what if I go totally nuts without some adult conversation? Somehow I can’t see myself becoming one of those women who gets really interested in baby yoga and the intricacies of sleep training…
  • As a new head of department, the idea of leaving my team for 9 months is terrifying. They are going to be brilliantly led by one of my colleagues, but this doesn’t stop me from being neurotic…what if they forget me? What if I come back and I’m just not needed?! What if I come back and I’ve forgotten how to teach?!
  • Returning to work. I don’t know whether this will be a manageable and welcome change, or the worst thing I ever have to do. Even worse, if I DO find it bearable, does that make me a bad parent?! If it does break my heart to leave my child in a nursery, will that make me a worse teacher?
  • I have cried about the most ridiculous things:

Not being able to eat a fish hot dog I saw on a TV advert at 11:30pm

Not being able to find my keys

Thinking I’d lost a bra (one I hadn’t even worn in about 2 years…)

Hearing someone ask a beautifully phrased question on Radio 4 Gardener’s Question Time (in my defence, it WAS about Begonias…)

Not being able to stop laughing at a joke during an A level lesson (yes, I laughed for about 5 minutes, and then had a good cry about it. Good thing my A Level students are so cool…)

The EU referendum

The Eurovision Song Contest

A TV advert for a bank (it had a baby in it…)

I feel like now, at the end of May, I am through the worst of the work-related anxiety. Coursework is posted, exams are underway and all I have to think about now is teaching the classes I have left after Y11 and Y13 have gone, and putting things in place for next year. It is a strange thing to plan a calendar when you know you won’t be there, or write a SOL when you know you won’t teach it. I have five working weeks left until I go on maternity leave, and I am making a pledge now to let go of as much of this baggage as I can. Students will still learn, teachers will still teach, and I will be back so quickly that I will lament ANY time that is not spent on cuddles, half-gurgled conversations and watching my baby sleep.

Personal Reflection, Teaching Ideas

The Dyslexic English Teacher

dyslexic_fun_bigIt was only after I had got through GCSEs, A Levels, an English Degree and my PGCE year that I discovered I am dyslexic. My particular brand of dyslexia manifests itself in letter, number and colour recognition. In other words, I misread words, struggle to recognise spelling errors (including my own), read more slowly than average, and have struggled for years with my handwriting. The fact that I am an English teacher just adds to the fun.

Now, I am not a SENCO, and apart from my own experiences and observations, I have no formal training or expertise in dyslexia. However, I’ve been reflecting a lot recently on how my dyslexia has impacted on my teaching, and the many things I’ve learned from working with dyslexic students. Dyslexia is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ problem: it manifests itself in many ways, and something that works for one person may not work for another. It’s also important to recognise that dyslexia is a sliding scale; some people are only very mildly dyslexic, and this may not really impact on their everyday lives, whereas some people with very severe dyslexia need to make adjustments to almost everything they do, particularly in an educational environment. There is a multitude of dyslexics in between these two extremes, and they are all unique.

This post will not be revolutionary – nothing is new, and there are far more informative sources out there about the condition, the science, and best practice. I hope that what is here might simply provide some insight into what life is like for ONE dyslexic, and some strategies which work for me in a real classroom setting.

  1. Good days and bad days


I am worse when I’m tired, so I try to work when I’m fresh (early morning or late at night after a nap…). Every day is different – sometimes I am really efficient and ‘with it,’ but others I work very slowly and get frustrated. On days like this, I put my marking aside, and try to do something less text or paper based.


Dyslexic students have good and bad days too (though this is true for most teenagers to some extent!). I have regular conversations with the dyslexic students I teach, and we talk about being able to identify those times when we are not feeling at our best. If a student is having a difficult time on a day I teach them, I try to find alternative ways for them to work. A student I taught a few years ago, we’ll call her Anna, used to find it easier to do ‘free note taking’ on those days, where you record the lesson in ways other than writing extended passages (i.e. illustrations, mind-mapping, short notes etc.) She would then take her work home and complete it at a time when she was feeling more lucid. I’ve had other students who record sections of the lesson on a dictaphone (or more recently, their mobile phone) so that they can write up what I’ve said later.

I have found that helping students to recognise their own patterns and the things which work best for them is a really effective way to prevent anxiety and issues with engagement.



I use a rose pink overlay (IRLENS) when reading, and a notebook with pink paper – I’ve timed myself reading and this increases my speed by about 20%, and definitely improves my endurance!


A number of my students are diagnosed as needing IRLENS, but all of them benefit from paper and whiteboard backgrounds which are not stark white. I try to use a range of paper colours to colour code activities and provide a softer background to support reading extended passages. Experimenting with different fonts, sizes and line spacing can also be an important way to help students engage with texts. I use Comic Sans on my powerpoints, and when I print texts for students I make sure they are at least 1.5 spaced, size 12-14. Anything we can do to make reading more accessible has to be worthwhile!

3. Handwriting


My handwriting is abysmal, so much so that two Summers ago I tried to completely relearn cursive script. I’ve had some success with this, but it’s still pretty wobbly, and when I’m in a rush (when are teachers not?!), I revert to my illiterate teenage scrawl. This is a major issue with marking books and essays, but my students know that I’m trying my best, and it’s OK to tell me they can’t read my writing!

During lessons, I very rarely write on the board; I even tend to put dates and titles onto a powerpoint rather than subject the kids to my scrawl!


In many ways, I think that being so honest about my issues with handwriting has helped some of my students who also have poor handwriting. In teenagers, this often leads to a real lack of confidence, so I think it’s important for teachers to acknowledge how difficult handwriting can be, and that poor handwriting does not make WHAT you write any less valid or interesting. The rule in my classroom is, if it’s legible and you have tried your best, it is good enough.

4. Reading and performing under pressure


I struggle, especially when I am tired, to read out loud fluently. If I need to read extended passages out loud to or with the class, I practice beforehand so that I don’t trip up and ruin the flow: this especially applies to poetry and novel extracts. I tell the students that I’ve prepared it, because I think it’s important for them to recognise that performance, even if it’s just reading out a few paragraphs of Dickens, is an art in itself and deserves some real thought!


I always give my dyslexic students prior warning if I’m going to ask them to read something to the group. I might approach them before the lesson and give them something to look at overnight, or give them 5 minutes in a lesson just to go over it to themselves before sharing with the class. This can be an effective approach for all students, but it’s particularly important that dyslexics are given the time and space to feel comfortable when faced with a page full of words!

5. Spellings


This is the thing which most frequently affects my teaching day. All of my classes are trained to tell me if they think I’ve spelled something wrong, and they know I won’t be offended. On a good day, I can spell anything they like off the top of my head. On a bad day, I have to write it down a few different ways in my notebook and then look it up, just to be certain!

All my life I’ve struggled with spellings, and I try to teach myself mnemonics, songs and other strategies to overcome my issues. I now use these with my students wherever possible – I once had an A Level class who liked them so much that they wrote a song which incorporated all of their key sophisticated Literature vocabulary!


Spellings are one of the biggest barriers for students who are lacking confidence in their writing, and this generally leads to disengagement with the task and the subject. Being honest with students about our own barriers to learning is really important. My students are trained to do a number of things:

  • When proof reading work, circle any words you are not certain you have spelled correctly (or used correctly), so I will know you were unsure when I mark your book.
  • When writing, if you have used a dictionary to check a spelling, underline the word and write ‘checked’ in the margin, so that you know it’s right and can look back in your book next time you need to use it.
  • They are NEVER too old to do a spelling test, or use ‘look, cover, write, check’!
  • Remember that poor spelling does NOT make you a bad English student, it just means you have to be more aware of what you are doing. I would far rather see you use advanced vocabulary spelled wrong, than read something boring because you were too scared to use it!


Other useful strategies:

  • Help students to access texts easier:

Breaking up or ‘chunking’ the text – do you need to give them the whole thing at once? Could you edit their copy to take out some of the superfluous bits? Could you give it to them in a few smaller chunks so that it’s easier to digest?

Highlighting (not underlining…) key sections, words or phrases before giving the student a passage. This will help them to focus on what’s really important.

Give students a list of key words or phrases to look for in a passage so that they have something to anchor them while reading.

  • Help students to plan writing

Provide planning proformas for paragraphing or essay writing, which you can gradually take away or make simpler as they become more confident.

Explicitly teach sentence starters and key phrases which can start a piece, link sections and end pieces. Students can then repeat these to themselves so that they are embedded. and they can write more confidently.

  • General skills

Handwriting practice books are very cheap, and your SENCO might be able to provide them for you. Getting students to do 15 minutes a night as homework can be really powerful, especially if you give them something to copy out which is related to their academic work!

Help them to organise their time/revision/homework etc by showing them how to prioritise their time. Making a ‘to do’ list and highligting the items which they know will take them longer (extended writing etc.) so that they can plan their time better

I hope this is somewhat useful, and that some other teachers out there can make use of the strategies above (or just have reconfirmed something they already do!).

I’d love to hear your own strategies: @funkypedagogy