Pop-up museum

A member of staff said to me at INSET last Friday that all they wanted from INSET was to take away at least one idea to make their teaching better or their lessons more exciting. I agree and this was my favourite idea: a pop-up museum. This came from an inspirational talk from Mandie Haywood, a headteacher from a primary school in Telford. Not only did her school sound like a great place to work – always reinventing the curriculum to make it relevant to today’s learners – but their lessons and activities sounded like so much fun and reminded me why it was that I had chosen to become a primary school teacher. Also they make incredibly good music videos, like they did with this one to celebrate Tim Peake’s space adventure.

I will certainly be using this idea in the future. So here it is:

The pop-up museum

For a lesson with some element of investigation and research, where pupils are being asked to learn about something they haven’t previously had experience of, this is ideal.

  1. Create small groups within the class, who will create their museum exhibits together.
  2. Provide each group with an envelope with a few key ideas, pieces of information, maybe a website or an image to investigate further.
  3. Each group are given a tablecloth and have access to tools and resources to create museum exhibits based around their topic.
  4. Time is provided for pupils to research – maybe using tablets or the web to gather more information. Alternatively books or pre-printed information from the web can give groups a head-start.
  5. Once pupils have become ‘experts’ at their topic and they have made any exhibits they want to, they arrange their items on their table.
  6. As each table has a different set of exhibits, you have in no time at all, created a pop-up museum.
  7. Pupils are then free to browse the museum, reading the information and looking at the exhibits at each table.

Ideas to extend this:

  • Maybe QR codes could be used to link to additional information about the topic.
  • Use homework or projects to provide additional time for this project.
  • Write recounts of their ‘visit’ to the museum. Perhaps even open it up to different year groups or classes.
  • Other year groups could also create their own pop-up museums at the same time so that the entire school are able to experience a wide range of topics.

Using QR code to increase engagement

The children we teach are constantly surrounded by technology. They are used to finding out instantly what they want to know at the touch of a button, as most of them will have a smart phone or tablet to hand. QR (quick response) codes can be used effectively to engage pupils, who may prefer to engage with their phones and social media as opposed to their work, especially for homework.qrcode

Some teachers may find the idea of introducing QR codes into their teaching as daunting, or perhaps even unnecessary, but when you consider how easy they are to generate, combined with the high interest from pupils that they generate, I would recommend their implementation as a fantastic way of increasing engagement in learning.

What are QR codes?

A QR code is like a bar code and it contains information. You can easily generate your own to show information you want them to see. When they are scanned by someone (a pupil) that information will be displayed to them.

How QR codes can be used:

There are plenty of websites that allow you to create your own QR codes. I use http://goqr.me/ but there are many other alternatives.

I tend to use QR codes in two ways: to take a pupil to a website and to display a piece of text.

You can add printed QR codes to your displays to link to class blogs or additional information. Additionally, they can be used as a way of increasing engagement and communication with parents by displaying QR links to topics being studied in class. You could send home printed QR codes of these topics to parents if your classroom environment or school routines (e.g. maybe parents don’t wait by the classroom to collect their child) prevent you being able to display the QR codes in a place easily accessible to parents.

QR codes in lessons:

If you are fortunate enough to have access to a class set of iPads or tablets, or your school allows pupils to use their own devices, then a simple QR scanner app would mean that you could introduce QR codes into your lessons, instantly making them seem more appealing to pupils. You could be setting what could be seen by many as a fairly mundane task, e.g. answering questions, but the technology element would elevate its interest to your pupils.

You may have heard of QR treasure hunts, where pupils answer questions from QR codes around the school. Websites like this: http://www.classtools.net/QR/ make a QR treasure hunt an easy lesson to organise. The most time-consuming element would probably be putting the QR codes up around the school! Adding a small incentive for completing the task first, (e.g. house points, raffle tickets or something that fits in with your own school’s behaviour system) you may find that pupils who would normally struggle to complete tasks, will be more successful in this activity due to its competitive nature and the added element of moving around the school.

QR codes for homework:

You can use QR codes in a similar way to how you would in a lesson. One way would be to give them a sheet with printed QR codes that lead to questions being displayed. They then bring their answers back to school or write them on an answer sheet that you provide them with.

I find that pupils are much more likely to visit a website that I provide to them in the form of a QR code, than as a URL. You avoid typos this way and the time spent in accessing the homework is reduced (something that will also appeal to your pupils!).

Sometimes I produce a sheet of QR codes that lead to additional websites that aren’t necessary to complete the task but are related to the topic we are learning about. I find pupils are more likely to engage with this additional information when they can scan it on their smart phone and browse at their leisure than if I give them a list of websites. If you provide a list of websites, pupils will have an idea from the URL what it is you are asking them to access. However, if you provide a sheet of QR codes with no additional information about where they lead, they will be far more likely to visit all of them, therefore engaging with far more material than they might initially choose to.

Flipped or blended learning

If you are in an environment where you are able ‘flip the classroom’ (supportive parents, engaged children, home access to internet etc.), you may find the use of QR codes a useful tool.

You could generate QR codes that link to videos, photographs, websites or texts and if not providing a hard copy of these to your pupils, you could always add the QR codes to your school’s VLE (if you have one) so that they are stored for future use.

Using mind maps to reflect on learning throughout a topic

I am a big fan of using mind maps as a way of tracking learning and understanding. I always use mind maps in Science lessons and we always create a new mind map at the start of each topic. I encourage pupils to use their mind map as a ‘working document’ and to be constantly updating them throughout the topic.

In order to track what they have learnt, we do our mind mapping in stages.

Start of topic:

  • We begin our mind map by adding anything we already know about the topic.
  • We highlight or shade in with pencil crayon anything we have added.
  • In a corner of the page, we write WINK (What I Now Know) and the date.

Research-based lessons:

  • At the end of (or during) a research-based lesson, pupils have the opportunity to add anything new that they have learnt about the topic to their mind map.
  • Again, we highlight or shade in with pencil crayon anything we have added, but in a different colour.
  • In a corner of the page, we write WINK (What I Now Know) and the date.

Throughout the topic:

  • I provide opportunities at the end of lessons to update the mind map.
  • The updating is always in a different colour and I always emphasise the importance of writing the date with WINK.

End of topic:

  • A final opportunity to reflect on their learning throughout the unit or topic takes places (again in a different colour).
  • The result is a somewhat colourful mind map that should be full of key words and essential information that can be added to and used for revision purposes.

Why I like using mind maps throughout topics.

  • It isn’t resource-heavy (just highlighters or colours, a ruler and something to write with and on).
  • It is an easy way to track learning. I can see what has been learnt when.

5-4-3-2-1 Summary

Independence displayThis is a really quick way for pupils to summarise their learning. I tend to use it at the end of a lesson where I have introduced a new concept. At first pupils find it hard, but they soon get the hang of it. I have used it in a range of subjects and find it an effective reflective tool for pupils that requires no additional resources (I have a little sheet to stick in but this isn’t necessary) or much additional time – pupils can do it before they hand in work.

All pupils do is summarise a new concept or a topic in 5 words, then 4, then 3, then 2, then 1. Simple! It makes them think about the key points and what is most important. Hopefully they are then more familiar with it when we revisit it later in the topic or they come across it in another context.


More exciting than learning from text books!

text bookI recently read an article by Doug Belshaw (5 ways to make’ textbook lessons’ more interesting) which made me think about what I do in my classroom.

Text books contain a wealth of information that shouldn’t be overlooked. A more ‘old-style’ way of learning (‘turn to page 27 and answer all the questions’) can be turned into a far more exciting experience with a competitive element.

You can do this type of activity with any subject. I have used it in Science, History, Geography, RE and reading comprehension (making answering mock SATs reading questions more interesting).

To make this activity more competitive, provide the questions one at a time and reinforce the idea that they can’t have the next question until the first is correct.

How I do this in my classroom:

I take questions (perhaps from text books; perhaps some of my own) and have a set of them for each group cut up so that each question can be handed out individually. I also tend to have the questions on brightly coloured card (partly because I am a primary teacher; partly because it makes it easier to track which question each group is on).

I have a range of information that I arrange around the room. The information contains the answers for the questions, so there is no reason why all pupils can’t achieve. I have information on tables (maybe text books) and other information (from the internet) on walls, doors, and any other space I can find around the room.

I provide all groups with the first question. They then need to answer this and either tell me or write it on an answer grid before showing me. If correct, I then hand over the next question. There are obviously many ways of doing this, but one way I like to engage the lower ability pupils in mixed ability groups is to assign them the job of telling me the answer. I normally give them some kind of title (e.g. ‘the question collector’), as this elevates their importance within the group, and seems to increase their competitiveness.

Bizarrely, pupils don’t seem to realise that all they are doing is reading through information and answering questions, and instead become really engaged and extremely competitive. They really want to ‘win’ and beat all the other groups. They improve their skimming and scanning skills when it comes to finding the information; they learn what they need to know and are more likely to remember it as they will remember the activity. This activity allows them to take more responsibility for their own learning, increases independence and it is easy and quick for me to organise and facilitate.

This is an example of a style of lesson that easily adapts to a range of topics and subjects and doesn’t take days of planning to arrange.

With this type of activity, where I am trying to encourage effective teamwork, I will very often use a reflective activity at the end to evaluate how well they have individually participated, such as using raffle tickets, where I assign each group a number of raffle tickets or house points (more than children in each group) and they have to discuss who deserves them. I find pupils to be very honest and realistic when doing this, but obviously this takes some training.

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.

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.

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.

EMW: Early Morning Work

To create a calm classroom environment as pupils arrive in the morning, introduce Early Morning Work. Pupils enter the room, follow the directions on the board, and work on the task they have been directed towards.

Ideas for EMW:
Times tables
Basic maths operations
Write down an adjective for every letter of the alphabet
Countdown maths or letters
Countdown conundrum or anagram

EMW can be organised to suit any age group and fit in with your curriculum. You may want to encourage participation by rewarding pupils for participation using a reward system that they are engaged with. Pupils could complete tasks on a mini whiteboard or book to keep track of their EMW. You may just want them to complete tasks in their rough books or something similar.