Use of computers / tablets for research in lessons

SurfaceA few years ago, I attended an INSET with Chris Moyse (@ChrisMoyse) about independent learning. One of the things I took from it was the use of computers for research within lessons (I think pupils had been asked to find specific answers to questions). In the scenario given, pupils had to find answers to a range of questions in the context of a Science lesson and given the opportunity, pupils would go straight to the computer instead of accessing the other resources provided to find answers. Their skills when it came to the effective use of a search engine were slightly lacking and as a result, pupils who had opted to use the other resources provided (printed information and books) were far more successful in the task.

A great focus in my teaching is in creating an environment that benefits and encourages independent learning, and in facilitating learning, without me constantly standing at the front talking at pupils.

I am fortunate in that I have access to tablet computers for use in class, without having to relocate to a computer room. Bearing in mind what I learnt from Chris, in research-based lessons, I provide a range of resources (books, printed information, sometimes a list of websites etc.) but I also provide access to a few (2 or 3) tablet computers. Whilst sometimes I find that it is beneficial to provide each group with one or more tablets, in the type of lesson I refer to, I limit the time pupils can access the tablets for to a 5 minute period. (I provide stopwatches for timing, and if the IWB isn’t needed for other uses, I have the number of interactive stopwatches that I have tablet computers displayed on the board). This means that all pupils in the class are aware when they can access the internet if they choose to. They write their names down on the board so there is an obvious order to the computer time, and groups can decide whether or not the use of the computer is beneficial to them. I often find that pupils initially opt for the internet, but soon find that their time is more effectively spent finding out the information in other ways.


Last Man Standing

whiteboard 2This is an activity that can be used at any point of a lesson, in any subject, to check understanding of a topic. I find it particularly useful in Science.

  1. Pupils work in groups within a short time period to write down everything they know about a specific topic on one whiteboard (you could use paper).
  2. After the time is up, one member of each group stands up.
  3. Go around each group and they must say one thing from their list. They cannot hesitate or repeat anything already said. (If they do, they are out). Emphasise the importance of excellent listening skills (to avoid repetition).
  4. The last group with a person standing wins.

This is a very simple and very speedy activity that allows you to ascertain where pupils’ understanding is and how to move it on. It also focuses on listening skills and encourages effective group work.

If you encounter problems with participation, you could combine the activity with the ‘String web group work’ activity as an immediate visual clue as to who is struggling to fully participate in the activity.

Pupils are engaged as they want to win. I often provide house points or raffle tickets to the winning team.

Mini Whiteboards

whiteboardUsing mini whiteboards isn’t a revolutionary idea but I find that sometimes teachers forget that they have this resource to hand.

They are great for AfL in that you can immediately work out who understands a concept and who needs support, especially if you introduce basic rules, such as not showing the teacher the board until you say “Show me!” or count for them to show you. Encouraging pupils to do this will give you a more accurate understanding of who needs more help, as in a larger class, it can be easy for pupils to copy the correct answer from a fellow pupil without you seeing.

I use whiteboards constantly in Maths lessons, but I also encourage the use of them constantly in other subjects. Giving pupils the opportunity to draft ideas, mindmap or use them to support other pupils (consolidating their own understanding) will create good habits and should help pupils to produce a higher quality of work.

Learning Journeys Displayed As Tube Maps

Example of a learning journey
Example of a learning journey

This is a great website that has allowed me to create learning journeys displayed as tube maps. I create one for the start of each topic. Pupils like them as they know which direction their learning is taking and there is a clear structure that they are aware of. I encourage pupils to tick the tube stop after we have covered that part of the topic.

I have used them in English and History but I would also like to use them in Science and for other Humanities topics in the future. The only negative I find with the website is that it isn’t that user-friendly so I tend to draw out my learning journeys beforehand. Here are two examples I have created and used with my class: Beowulf Learning Journey and Riven Learning Journey (based around the iPad app, Riven, inspired by the work of Tim Rylands adapted into a scheme of work by BeeGnuEd @GnuBee.

This is a website that I found in a great book called Teaching Backwards by Andy Griffith and Mark Burns and is part of Osiris Education’s ‘Outstanding Teaching’ range of books. I also recommend their previous book, Engaging Learners.

Making Marking More Manageable

EBI stampI have found that using these stampers in my marking: WWW (What Went Well); EBI (Even Better If) and Next Steps has made my marking more manageable through the time it now takes.

I bought my stampers from here: but there are plenty of other places you can get similar stampers or stickers from.

I also find that not only is it far more targeted, but by asking pupils to complete these regularly (they stamp WWW, EBI or Next Steps, or a combination of these into their books on completion of a piece of work) it ensures that pupils take more responsibility for their learning and are more aware of their targets and how to make progress.


In English, we complete a weekly DIRT session (Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time) where we are able to spend time looking back through work, proof-reading and improving, before completing a WWW, EBI and Next Steps target based on work completed that week. By incorporating this into my teaching as a regular activity, pupils know that there is that expectation of them and they know they have to take responsibility for moving their learning on.

This is not only used as a self-assessment task, but I also provide time for peer assessment of work where peers are able to also provide WWW, EBI and Next Steps targets.

More information about DIRT can be found on David Didau’s Learning Spy blog.

Real Life Maths: Potions Lesson

PotionsThis is a really good way of testing out practical measuring skills in Maths lessons.

I always teach measuring by incorporating a Harry Potter themed Potions lesson. Pupils follow potion recipes to create potions from the Harry Potter universe, e.g. Polyjuice Potion or Skele-gro. I have a mixture of powders (cornflour), plants (herbs) and potions (water with food colouring). I then have pipettes, a range of different containers with different scales for measuring liquids, scales for measuring the plants and powders, in addition to gloves for handling the ‘poisonous’ plants, a pestle and mMagical Plantsortar for the plants and stopwatches for timing. This lesson incorporates so many areas of measuring and could be extended for higher ability (maybe include conversions) and differentiated for lower ability easily. Fortunately we have a great Science department at our school, who are always able to provide me with an interesting collection of glass containers. Additionally, I have test tubes in a test tube rack, a bowl and a wooden spoon per pair.

Pupils follow the instructions in the recipes, choosing appropriate equipment. They then pour their final potion into a test tube to be judged. Teachers and teaching assistants always dress up in their Hogwarts robes for this lesson and pupils’ potions are then judged on ‘appearance’ and ‘aroma’. To continue the Harry Potter theme, we judge them as if they are O.W.L.s (Ordinary Wizarding Levels) where pass grades are O (Outstanding), E (Exceeds Expectations), and A (Acceptable) with fail grades being P (Poor), D (Dreadful), and T (Troll). This continues the theme and provides the lesson with a clear structure. In the past I have also ‘sorted’ pupils into houses and then awarded house points, so there are many ways in which this can be extended.

The advantage of this kind of activity is that not only does it allow pupils the opportunity to test out skills they need to be able to apply, but it provides a memorable activity that engages even the most disengaged children and leaves them with an experience they will remember.

Wristbands for group work and jigsawing

wristbandsI find wristbands to be particularly useful when I am including jigsawing in my lessons. They are great for grouping and pupils love them! Rubber wristbands are easily found on the internet. I bought mine from Ebay.

  1. Pupils are in groups and learn about a topic or concept.
  2. Pupils form new groups with a representative of each topic from each of the original groups.
  3. All pupils should have learnt about each of the topics.
  4. Pupils go back to their original groups to share what they have learnt and consolidate their learning.

All red pupils learn about a specific topic or concept, whilst pupils with a different coloured band learn about something else. It is then easy to form new groups with pupils of each different colour. They are then able to share their knowledge of each topic or concept so that by the end of the time, all pupils should have learnt everything you need them to.

Problems can occur when pupils have not spent their initial learning time effectively as this can mean that some groups do not benefit from all the knowledge you intend them to gain. Ideas for overcoming this include pairing up pupils (particularly effective for lower ability pupils); giving each group time to discuss and summarise their topic before imparting what they have learnt on the other groups; providing the newly formed groups with additional resources to support them in learning about the additional topics that they weren’t originally responsible for.

I find that providing additional time at the end for the original groups to reform provides an opportunity for pupils to reinforce and consolidate their understanding of the different topics. It also prevents any pupils being disadvantaged by being in the second group with any pupils who may have originally been disengaged in their part of the information gathering.


Boarding card and landing card

Airport staff badges
Airport staff badges
Landing card
Landing card

This idea has been developed from an idea in Talk-Less Teaching by Isabella Wallace and Leah Kirkman.

I used it in the context of a SPAG lesson where Y6 pupils were answering test questions in preparation for the SATs test.


In a previous lesson, pupils identified areas of weakness from mock SPAG tests and CGP grammar tests they had completed. I gave them a boarding card with SPAG topics. They used the previous tests to help them identify areas they needed to focus on in this lesson. Each area was colour coded with the questions, which were laminated in the correct colours.

The lesson

Back of the boarding and landing cards
Back of the boarding and landing cards

I turned the classroom into an airport with 5 ‘airline staff’ who were children secure in L5 grammar. The rest of the class were ‘passengers’.

All pupils had their boarding cards. They went to he staff to ‘check in their spaggage’ and were directed to a particular question type by the staff. The staff had all the answers, a grammar revision guide and a whiteboard and pen to help them resolve any misconceptions with passengers.

Passengers completed a question, returned to the check-in desk, their form was initialled by staff and then passengers repeated the activity.

Pupils had a form to fill in with the question number, topic, quick smiley face to  show their understanding, and a column to say whether they needed further support with that particular topic.

The landing card (reflecting on learning and future learning)

Before the end of the lesson, pupils again queued at the check-in desks to receive their landing card. This was almost exactly the same as their boarding card. Pupils could seek help from airline staff if necessary.

Using their form and boarding card, pupils ticked areas they needed further support with in future.

Contribution tokens

CountersUsing counters or some other type of token, pupils should collect a token when they contribute in a discussion or group activity.

Each token could equate to some kind of reward.

This is particularly effective if you have pupils who are engaged with the school or class reward system but often choose not to participate in group discussions or activities.

You could develop it so that other members of the group decide whether the contribution was worthy of a token.


Photocopier is an activity that is useful when you want a pupil to end up with a copy of something. This could be a map, a diagram, a piece of text, or anything that suits you.

An example would be a science lesson where you want all pupils to have a diagram of a heart drawn with key words added. Pupils visit you as you have the only copy. You allow them to only see a small amount of the diagram or a key word before sending them back to their partner or group to draw a copy of it. Pupils return repeatedly until they have an accurate ‘photocopy’ of the diagram. It should include accurate spellings of key words and look the same as the original.

This can be done individually or in pairs or groups easily.

This type of activity works well when you want pupils to engage more with something perhaps when it would have been easy to just give them a photocopy in the first place. The repeated visits to the original and limited time should mean that pupils become competitive, wanting to complete their copy before their peers, in addition to having a greater understanding than they perhaps would have just by sticking in a sheet.