Planning and teaching well structured lessons

Last month I delivered CPD to our trainee teachers about planning and teaching well structured lessons. I’ve collated the main points from the CPD into this post in the hope that some of the strategies and ideas may be of use to some! None of them are original or new, but can help us to focus on what to include and plan for lessons.

When planning a lesson, I focus on 4 things. Where my learners starting from? Where do I want them to get to? How will I know when they’re there and have achieved? and, how will I help them get there?

  1. Where are your learners starting from? This involves taking into account prior knowledge of learners. Some questions you could consider here are… what did they learn last lesson? What have they learnt in a previous topic that could support them with this lesson?

• Don’t just consider a lesson on an individual basis, also think about the bigger picture and how your lesson fits into the unit.

• The sequence of lessons are really important here, consider how your learners are continually building upon their prior knowledge. Have they studied something previously that could support them in this lesson? This could be build into the lesson, and also supports with their recall and retention.

Settlers are a great way to start any lesson as it gets learners engaged straight away and gives the lesson good structure. It’s also a great way to recap on prior knowledge. All of our learners in RE have the settler grid (see attached below) glued into the front of their books and are expected to complete an activity if waiting for a teacher.

2. Where do you want them to get to? What do you want learners to be able to do by the end of the lesson? However also think about the bigger picture in how this lesson fits and sequences into the unit of learning/topic. How will you build upon skills and knowledge over a sequence of lessons?

Think about what you want learners to achieve and work backwards – consider the lesson like building blocks where learners are building upon their knowledge in the lesson. I try not to cram loads into a lesson and pin point the focus to one piece of work/task/activity that should be done a high standard.

For example, lesson objectives for a GCSE lesson on capital punishment may be…

  • Understand what capital punishment is
  • Explain different Christian attitudes towards the use of capital punishment

    If learners do not understand what capital punishment is, then they will struggle to explain the different Christian attitudes towards it. Consider what vital information they need to know in order to access the lesson.

Consider if the progress/learning is measurable. How will you know your lesson objectives have been met? A good outcome is SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound.

3. How will you know when they’re there? How will you know if your learners have achieved and made progress? This could be a range of questioning, assessment points, AFL in the lesson and so on. In the COVID classroom no circulating classes means this will be tricky – how will you plan your lesson around this?

•Build in clear and focused opportunities for quick fire and low stake quizzing – with a focus on whole class feedback. This can include lots of low level questioning/multiple choice quizzes/low stakes quizzes that learners can then self mark.

•Targeted questioning – write some questions when planning the lesson and ask learners. The add, change, challenge and develop strategy for questioning is useful to scaffold and generate deep, meaningful discussion. There are some resources attached below with strategies for questioning.

4. How can you help learners get there? What supportive techniques will you put in place (this could be planned in or on the spot)? Differentiation is not about producing 3 different types of worksheet (waste of time) I have a previous blog post dedicated to this should you wish to know more!

•What support can you plan into the lesson? If learners are answering a question, how can you break this down for them to support them? See below for an idea of how this can be done

• Anticipate common errors/misconceptions and build this into your lesson. For example, learners will sometimes confuse incarnation with reincarnation in RE lessons. Planning in opportunities to address these misconceptions will provide another layer of support for learners. This can be done using lots of low stake quizzing, getting students to spot errors and correct them, or asking learners to explain why something is wrong. See below for an example in an RE lesson.

 • Modelling answers and responses for learners that are both good and poor. Plan in time for students to improve answers, but scaffold this for learners. This could involve you as the teacher directing them towards keywords to include, some key evidence/examples to include, or where things could be developed. See below for some ideas of how to do this.

• Using literacy mats is another great way to support learners with their writing. The two below are what we use as a RE department and every student has them glued into their books.

Introductions and getting to know a new class

“Don’t smile before Christmas” used to be a common piece of advice for new teachers entering the classroom. By being an authoritarian teacher, you’ll have complete control over your class and you’ll never have any behaviour management issues ever! There is some truth in this, it’s much more difficult to begin with all jokes and smiles and then try to become strict. However, you must ask yourself ‘do I want students to behave and learn because they feel that they’re being forced to?’. As a teacher myself I want my students to learn and engage because they genuinely enjoy being in the classroom. My personal view is that the ‘don’t smile until Christmas’ advice negatively impacts the building of positive relationships in the classroom (Of course, there are teachers out there who use this style and are amazing teachers, it’s just not for me!). Secondly, the total ‘authoritarian’ style of teaching doesn’t suit everyone and your students will see right through it if you try and fake it.
Research into teacher-student relations has found that ‘when students viewed their language teacher as tolerant yet exacting discipline, a positive relationship was found with student wellbeing. Students also felt better when their mathematics teachers were less authoritarian, but the cooperative component was still important.’ (Petegem et al, 2007). Striking that balance between strict, personal and tolerant is difficult as a new teacher – especially if you don’t know your class beforehand. The ultimate goal for all our classes is to have positive student-teacher relationships and that comes with time, and some of the things you do in the first few weeks with new classes can help. Hopefully some of the ideas listed here will be useful (some may be rubbish!) and remember you won’t always get it right and that’s okay.

Before you set foot in the classroom…

1) Speak to your mentor and other teachers

• Could I have a copy of your previous seating plan? (if it’s the same class)
• Am I teaching any high-profile students in terms of behaviour/needs? What strategies help to engage them?
• What is the ability of my classes?

2) Print out student support plans and file them away somewhere safe

You would have done this during your training year, but it’s good practice to keep doing this. Have a file for each class and read their student support plans.

3) Create seating plans in advance

Get your seating plans ready and printed before you meet your class. This can be tricky if you don’t know the class, however you can use random name generators to do this and some programmes like classcharts (if your school has it) can do this for you. Some things to consider are…
• Ask your mentor to quickly check your plans in advance if possible. They might be able to spot any issues (e.g. chatty best friends sat next to each other).
• Students with visual/auditory impairments may need to be sat in certain areas of the classroom.
• You may want to sit SEN/EAL students near you for extra support or with a supportive peer.

4) Get a copy of the school’s behaviour policy

Read it over and over. It is crucial that you know how to apply it consistently and fairly. Ask your mentor if you’re not sure of anything. Remember that you are not their ‘mate’ and you are there to educate them and prepare them for when they leave school.

First lesson…

1) Get the students in

Greet your new students at the door, welcome them into your classroom. Keep an eye on the door and also what is going on inside the classroom. Here you can spot and correct any uniform issues such as untucked shirt. Just politely ask them to tuck their shirt in “Hello, it would be great if you could tuck your shirt in before you come into my classroom. The rest of your class are so smart and well dressed and I expect the same from you”. Be sure to highlight how well dressed other members of the group are and thank them for doing what you’ve asked! If they refuse don’t make a massive deal out of it at the door, get them in and address it later in the lesson (with a sanction if necessary).

2) Seating plan

Put the students in your seating plan from lesson 1. Do not let them sit where they want (even if they complain) doing that sets the tone that they are in control of the class, not you. Having the plan ready in advance communicates to your students that you’re organised and you have control. Tell the students that it will help you to learn their names more quickly (which is true) and you expect them to sit where you ask them to.
During this time get students to complete ‘admin’ type tasks like filling out information on the front of their new books. This helps those students already seated to focus and not get distracted.

3) Expectations

The first few weeks with your new classes are vital for communicating and embedding what you expect as a teacher. This doesn’t need to be a list of 15 things that students must do, I normally communicate 3 expectations which are…
• Don’t disrupt the learning of others and be respectful to every person in the classroom
• Put 100% effort into your work
• Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re not sure
These are simple and easy to follow. Outline the consequences for not doing so, which should be according to your schools behaviour policy. Don’t spend ages lecturing them on expectations, rules and sanctions as they know how and why they should behave appropriately in a classroom. Just making these clear to students from the beginning again communicates that you want a positive learning environment for your students.

Make sure you highlight the positive rewards for students who consistently meet your expectations. Positive praise points, emails/phone calls home etc.

4) Get on with the learning

There is often a temptation to do ‘ice-breaker’ type activities, however they’ve probably done this in tutor periods or transition activities (year 7). Secondly if you have a year 10 class for example they probably already know each other. My advice is just get on with the learning! Some good ideas for starter tasks may be to…
• Write down what they learnt last year, what they enjoyed and anything they found difficult. This can also help you to get an idea for what the class may need extra intervention with. This is useful for GCSE groups especially, and it shows to your class that you want to help and support them.
• Discussion based activities around your subject. For example with year 7 RE introduction lesson I will ask (if they feel comfortable disclosing) who considers themselves to be religious. If it’s a subject like History it could be ‘if you could go back in time and visit any period of time what would it be and why?’ This helps students to focus on the learning and helps you to build positive relationships with your students.

5) Use positive, personalised and meaningful praise

One of the most powerful ways to build positive relationships with new classes is the use of praise. Just don’t make it generic and meaningless (i.e. don’t praise students for underlining their date and title!). Something like ‘Your use of keywords in that sentence was great and shows a good understanding of the topic’ will help you to create good relationships with your classes.

6) Speak to every student during the first lesson

Plan an independent activity for your first lesson and use that time to speak to every student in your class. This communicates to them that you are invested in each student as an individual and you want to get to know them. Don’t spend the entire lesson stood at the front of the classroom.

The first few weeks…

1) Don’t be afraid to set detentions/use sanctions

Use your schools behaviour policy and set sanctions/detentions. Use time in detentions to speak to the student and engage in a conversation about their behaviour. Let the student speak and listen to them. Come up with a meaningful and achievable target together for the next lesson, for example ‘I would like you to complete all your work to a high standard, ask me for help if you’re not sure of anything’. Remind them of their target (and the fact it was decided TOGETHER) and use praise if this is met.

2) Contact parents

Parental contact is incredibly powerful for building relationships. If you’re nervous or unsure of what to say have a template ready, but make sure it’s personalised for the student. Contact parents for both positive and negative reasons.

  • Choose 3 students from each class halfway through the Autumn term and ring/email parents to communicate how well they have worked in your lessons, or for any other positive reasons.
  • Contact parents about negative behaviour. I like to use a sandwich technique, this is where the negative behaviour is ‘sandwiched’ between positives. It looks something like this…

‘Becky started off the year fantastic, engaging well in class discussions and completing work to a high standard. However recently I have had to set her detentions for persistently being off task and chatting with her friend in class. I would love for her to get back on track, is there anything I can do to support her with this?

3) Seek support if you feel you need it

If there is anything you are struggling with in terms of your new classes, seek support and help. It is not a sign of weakness and your mentor/other teachers will be able to offer advice and strategies. Being able to seek help is a sign of strength.

More tips from @davisliam (massive thank you!)

  1. Humour

Use your sense of humour – with your older students that you teach remember they have been there longer than you and invariably will always test a new teacher and especially a teacher who is brand new. Be firm but also use your humour and common sense to manage them effectively otherwise you find yourself in more conflict with them than you would a year 7 class where you will have the bigger advantage. Have a laugh when the time is right with them but making sure they understand that the line is a strong one.

2. Contact home


Make calls early doors with students. In your first few weeks ensure that you are doing calls home especially with students who test you. The earlier you nip it in the bud the easier it will be in the long term. You mark out your territory and the students know you are prepared to follow things up. Once you have put this hard work in early on, the need for less phone calls later on should come.

3. Dress smart

You are telling students about their uniform and ensuring they have correct uniform and this is fantastic that the students see you are strong, additionally students will know not to try it on in your lessons by having no tie or wearing trainers. However continue to Ensure that you are role modelling and setting the standard with how you are dressing. It’s all too easy having been there a little while to slip into a bit more casual form of dress. Make sure you Keep it professional and set the standard for your students by setting the example.

4. Move forward

Don’t feel demoralised after a bad lesson. This happens when you are new and the students will bring trying to test you. Keep your composure and sense of humour to move forward. Don’t drag anything that happened in a previous lesson into a new lesson.

Differentiation – it’s not about producing three different versions of a worksheet.

Differentiation through questioning and discussion.

My plan is to write a series on differentiation, rather than one post because it’s such a huge topic. I thought I’d start off with questioning as it’s something that student teachers/NQT’s have often cited as difficult to master.

I wrote this post because when I completed my teacher training, I really wish someone told me that ‘differentiation isn’t about producing three different worksheets for a lesson’. Early on in my training year I fell victim to this mind set and would spend hours into the night producing resources. I quickly realised that what I was actually doing in the classroom and the ‘on the spot’ differentiation was much more effective. Not only is it a massive waste of time, the research suggests that it does not support student progress either. The aim of this post is to suggest some practical strategies to use/adapt for lessons and in the classroom. They are in no way perfect, completely original or going to get every single one of your students a grade  9!

Section 5 of the teacher standards states that teachers “must adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils.” It does not say ‘reinvent the wheel’, ‘teach different’, or ‘give your SEN students a different worksheet’ it says adapt. The teacher is the most effective tool in the classroom, and adapting your lessons/questioning/resources will enable high quality teaching and learning. During my teacher training/NQT year I tried many different ideas, some I still use to this day and some I will never ever use again. Always be reflective in your practice, do not be afraid to try new things and do not feel guilty if something doesn’t work well.

Asking scaffolded questions allows teachers to differentiate instantly and in real time. It has the added advantage that you can adapt it at any point if you feel it isn’t working as well as you would like. I’ll be honest the vast majority of my differentiation is through questioning. It does not require great amounts of additional planning and it’s also AFL at the same time!

  1. Differentiation through questioning – Blooms taxonomy

Think about scaffolding the difficultly of questions using something like Blooms Taxonomy.  You can then differentiate your questioning by asking the ‘describe’ ‘give me an example of’ type questioning to your less able, and building up the higher order thinking skills. I have includes a Blooms resource in this post that is great for this.

Let’s imagine a lesson on Christian attitudes towards divorce. Pre-written questions might look something like this…

  1. Which denomination of Christianity do not allow divorce? (answer – Catholics)
  2. Give me one reason why Catholics do not allow divorce (it’s a sacrament/Jesus did not agree with divorce etc)
  3. Could you give me a reason why someone might disagree with the Catholic view on divorce? (divorce is more socially acceptable/divorce is better in cases of abuse etc).

You can see that the questions progress from basic knowledge, through to considering different views (evaluation). You can differentiate by choosing which students you’ll ask which questions to (this is why I don’t have hands up). You can pre write some questions before the lesson (I used to do this before lesson observations as a trainee) if questioning does not come naturally.

2. Add, change, challenge and develop

This is a strategy I picked up in my training year, it’s a great way to involve students in structured discussions and differentiation at the same time. Students can choose, or you can direct them to add, change, challenge or develop during questioning.

Add – students can add something to the discussion (e.g. add another keyword to a list)

Change – students can pick up on errors or misconceptions and change it to the correct answer

Challenge – students can create a challenging question for another

Develop – students can develop upon what another student has said (e.g. a piece of scripture to support Adam’s point is…)

You can see that add is relatively simple, whereas develop/challenge requires higher order thinking skills from the student.

3. Allow processing time

Give students time to process and think. Some students may struggle to answer a question instantly and will need the processing time. A useful way to differentiate here is to use visual timers – really simple and effective for some students. I have attached a power point below with visual timers you can add into your lessons.

4. Open ended ‘big questions’

Use lots of open ended questions which don’t always have a correct answer. This allows you to cultivate a classroom environment where students aren’t afraid to make mistakes. You can differentiate your questioning here too.

See examples below
Ask for students opinions on their learning/topics:
‘Do you agree with…?’
‘What would you have done if…?’
‘How might you have responded to…?’
‘How might your learning link to issues outside of school?’
‘How might you use your learning today in the future?’
‘How might people view this in ‘X’ years time?’

Respond to students giving their opinions by asking:
‘Why do you think this?’
‘Why might someone disagree with you?’
‘Would someone living in ‘x’ agree or disagree with you?’

5. Mini whiteboards

You can give students who have difficultly processing information/retaining information a mini white board so they can jot down words/answers to your questions. This helps students to structure their answers and feel more confident in class discussions.

6. Student led discussions and questioning

A really great way to push and challenge students is to choose a student who can lead a group discussion and pose questions to the class. This requires a high level of knowledge from the student and is a great way to quickly differentiate. You can prep the student beforehand if you’re worried about this not working! ‘Next lesson I’d love for you to lead our discussion on Christian worship. Is that something you would be happy to do?’.

Using settlers to embed scripture knowledge

One of the most common difficulties students come across in RE is remembering the vast amounts of scripture. For the AQA GCSE (and other boards) student are expected to know and explain religious scripture in the 5 and 12 mark questions. Something I have focused and implemented into my own teaching practice is using settlers to embed the scripture knowledge and improve recall. Below you’ll find examples of how I use this in the classroom and when planning lessons.

  1. Simple recall
    Students write down as many pieces of scripture they can remember in 3 minutes from the previous lesson. undefined

2. Linking with keywords
Choose 3 keywords from previous lessons and ask students to write down a piece of scripture for each keyword. undefined
3. Scripture scramble
Jumble up pieces of scripture and ask students to put the scripture in the correct order. undefined

4. Find the odd one out
Produce a list of scripture from the previous topic and include one that would not support the topic. Students need to figure out which is the odd one out and explain why. undefined

Complementing the Philosophy A Level with videos.

I compiled a list of philosophy videos and radio interviews for my year 12’s to complement and embed their A Level topics. For WJEC board, but would be useful for others too! Could also be a great bridging resource for year 11. I’ve always found that I rarely have the time to use videos when teaching, so I am using school closures as the opportunity to do so!

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