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Self-Organised Learning Environments: Revision Lesson

Last week I was observed delivering a revision lesson to Year 11s on Religion and Medicine (WJEC) and was asked by a colleague to talk about what I had done to achieve the “1” I was graded. Here goes..

The problem with revision lessons is that, most of the time, they’re boring. You’re going over old material and it’s really hard to, as a teacher, not get pulled into delivering more of the same. If you’ve read my other posts, you’ll know that this blog is aimed specifically at bringing creativity into teaching, and if not, now you do!

So, with this in mind, when I was sat in my dark hovel trying to concoct this lesson, I wanted to design creative revision tasks that shied away from the more of the same technique. Now I will admit, this was much easier for me as I’m sure it would be for a long-standing teacher, as I had not been teaching the class very long. I’m sure that if I’d had them from Year 7 they might have come across these particular techniques before. However, your classes might not have, which is why we’re all here.

On with the show.

I decided I would set up ‘stations’ where each stop provided pupils with a different learning experience. These were:

1. Learning Log
2. Case Study (De Bono)
3. Dartboard questions
4. Chest of Challenges

They joy with this lesson was that there was hardly any teacher talk. I briefly described what we were going to do and what pupils were expected to do at each station. I kept the basic outline of the lesson on the board so that pupils could see the progression of the lesson, and how these linked to the lesson’s objectives.


The first station – the Learning Log – is an idea borrowed (stolen) from Tim Shelton (see The way that the log is structured means that pupils can show clear steps of progression through the stages of the learning log, starting at the scarily happy stump of wood (get it? Log!) and moving out towards the green boxes.

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This station scaffolds the structure of written arguments in, what I think is, a fun and colourful way. Obviously these descriptors are relative and extremely biased, but the benefit of the station is clear: argument development. As an extension you could get your pupils to exhaust that line of argument – to keep arguing for and against until they completely run out of ideas.

Station 2 was the Case Study using De Bono’s Thinking Hats, only, we were using Thinking Lanyards. The Case Study looked at the case of Tony Nicklinson who fought for the right to die. Using the Thinking Lanyards, pupils had to work as a team to come up with a complete Thought Map about Tony’s case, and then decide as a group whether, if the decision were in their hands, they would have allowed Tony the right to die.


Using De Bono’s Thinking Hats generated a lot of discussion and meant that each pupil took charge and became ‘experts’ of their own colour of hat, peer-teaching what the case study meant to their lanyard. The exercise also gave pupils grounds to argue for or against assisted suicide because the result of the activity was they they had formed their own opinion on the issue where they might not have had one before. Seeing the whole study via their Thought Maps meant that pupils could make an informed and meaningful decision about the outcome of the case, whilst assembling their own thoughts on the medical debate.

Station 3 was put in to break up the seriousness embedded into the other activities. The children played darts. That’s all it was really. Each number on the dart board was linked to a question which the pupils had to answer. Instead of working as a group (as with the other stations) they played competitively to win the most scores.

Just to clarify, these were magnetic darts and not actual darts. Please don’t assume that I’m getting my pupils to launch dangerous objects around the classroom! I did have a brief word about expectations before the tasks began, but I was happy to find this wasn’t needed, and the pupils got on danger-free without it. Although, one pupil did almost take me out with one of her shots. It wasn’t intentional. I think. I hope!

The good thing about the dartboard activity is that it’s really just a dressed up quiz. This is something I’ve learned about teaching: dress anything up and it’s amazing, even though, at base, it’s still just a quiz.

The last station was the Chest of Challenges. This activity was harder and, as the name suggests, was challenging for all pupils. The questions were differentiated – there being easier and harder ones, and I left it up to the pupils to choose their own level of challenge. There were prompts on the cards of what to include in terms of opinions, facts and others’ opinions. Once the pupils had written their initial response to the question on their own, they came together as a group again and used the Level Up! wheel to improve their answer.

The Level Up! wheel features 16 foci for improvement. The idea being that as a pupil uses the wheel more and more, checking written answers for these foci becomes automatic. The wheel can be altered to suit any topic, but as you can see the wheel is specifically tailored to RS.


During the activities, I monitored each group and assisted where I was needed. However in general the pupils were able to get by on their own. This brings to mind the Self-Organised Learning Environments that Sugata Mitra talks about – so if any of you have seen/read his work on TED, this is how I have applied it.

I was the ‘facilitator’ or, as Mitra calls it, ‘grandmother’ that aids learning. Ask the right questions, set the right sort of activities and pupils can learn from themselves and from each other with greater benefit to their PLTs than by feeding the information.

Please let me know if you’ve done something similar, or adapted this using your own variations! Or even if you outright teach this lesson – I’d love to know how it goes!


Demonstrating Progress: Tree of Knowledge

This being my first official post I would like to start out by sharing this one fact: I love my laminator. You will see as this blog progresses that almost everything will be laminated, so let’s just get this out of the way: yes, I am aware that it is an addiction; no, I don’t want to ‘see someone’; and actually, I think that a healthy obsession in “To Preserve and Protect” can be a positive thing. For example…

The Tree of Knowledge

This is not a new idea. I am not claiming it as my own. However, I have turned it into a colourful, laminated and differentiated display of learning progress.

The 'Tree of Knowledge'

The ‘Tree of Knowledge’

This image shows the finished piece (minus the learning). It was set up outside of the classroom – so please don’t go away and think that no learning takes place in my lessons!

The backboard displays the outline of the tree – naked branches, lack of foliage, random velcro pieces – everything you would expect from classroom shrubbery. The leaves vary in colour and size, but there is a method to the madness. The larger leaves are for ‘big ideas’ and the smaller leaves are for ‘small ideas’. Big ideas include arguments, debates or anything where the children have to explain why. The smaller leaves are for things like key words, or information that is necessary to the learning, but might not require a description. In other words, they’re differentiated, and the idea is that pupils can either choose their own level of challenge when it comes to what they have learned.

Of course, you could give each child one of each – a small idea, a medium-sized idea and a big idea – and that way you won’t always get that one child who is capable of more but ‘cops out’ of all the self-management and independent learner tasks you throw their way.

The whole idea of this tree is that is shows progress – however quickly you want it to. In theory, you could get it added to every 20 minutes, and tick that wonderfully welcomed OFSTED box. I find, however, that at the end of every session, or even unit, is better because of the quality of progress that is expressed on the leaves. Then again, you’re always going to get that one kid who, no matter how much you know that he’s learned about Judaism, and no matter how much he knows he has learned about Judaism, always writes something about Hitler.

A bit of a reflection:

If I was to make this again I’d put ‘roots’ onto the bottom to show foundational knowledge. Plus, deciding whether their contribution is foundational or developmental encourages the children to be reflective about their work and helps the visual learners especially to grasp the ‘big picture’.


“PGCE” – a term that even now drives discomfort through the hearts of many a long-practicing teacher, ever a reminder of the 18 hour working days and the unhappy knowledge that 23 year olds can indeed get crow’s feet.

I’m sure many, if not most, of you reading this are thrilled to have left that year behind you – happy to look on at the unfortunate trainee who is battling, again, with the behaviour of that overly-hormonal year nine group. You’re so glad not to be them, and also slightly annoyed that they are taking up so much space in the staff room.

Well that person is me. I’m that annoying trainee who hogs all the table surfaces. I like to think the space is taken up with exciting and creative teaching ideas, which is why I’ve created this blog. I am well aware that I am still in training and that my experience is but a dot on the vast and endless sky of education, but my creativity is what makes me unique as a teacher, so I would like to share some of my ideas with those of you who might be interested.
I would like to thank Mr. Tim Shelton, who also has a blog (, who encouraged me to share the creation.

Any comments and ideas are welcome and appreciated.