Over September and October I will be publishing weekly articles on effective teaching strategies for trainee teachers and NQTs, offering brief (and, I hope, useful and practical!) examples of lessons, ideas, and resources that saved my bacon on more than one occasion!
This is one of my favourite variations of what Alex Quigley, writer of The Confident Teacher, calls “Post it note pedagogy”. The mileage of this task depends very much on the subject and the topic; while it may not be appropriate for everything on the curriculum, it works a treat when revising concepts that provoke discussion!
I sell this to my students (with tongue ever-so- slightly in cheek) as “the educational party game where everyone’s a winner!” Once the chorus of groans subsides, this activity consistently results in exciting ad-hoc educational opportunities, encourages top-notch student responses, and offers the potential for student-led collaborative learning. It’s also a good way of finding out what “banging choons” the kids are into this week…
- Revision of large or detailed topics (I found it really useful with poems)
- Knowledge consolidation / plenaries
- Linking ideas and topics
- Building to homework / leading into a starter activity next lesson
Preparation time: 10mins approx.
Activity Length: 15mins, and leads into an assessment task or a homework that you can tailor depending on your requirements.
- 1 x small cardboard box with a lid – mine was once home to 80 bags of Yorkshire Tea, which felt like the ideal size. (In a pinch, 1 large envelope will do!) Decorate it. Make it your own. Keep it on your desk where the students can all see it.
- Post-it notes (enough for a class)
- Music! (If your classroom has internet access, YouTube will be your friend here. If not, music played through a phone will do the job just fine. If you’re letting students choose the tune, make sure that you specify “radio edits only, please”)
- Spare pens (just in case)
This activity involves either a teacher or students breaking down a learning topic into component pieces on post-it notes, putting these notes into a box (or envelope) and passing the ideas around to music.
Whenever the teacher stops the music, whoever is in possession of the box pulls out a note and reads it aloud. The rest of the class then have 30 seconds discussion time to respond to the note in some way, per the teacher’s directions, before the person with the note chooses classmates to share their ideas. Once the topic has been discussed to a satisfactory degree, the music starts up again…!
Once students are comfortable with the concept, the challenge can be increased by drawing multiple post-it notes (i.e. the box makes a couple of stops), then using the discussion period to reflect on links between the ideas that have been drawn.
Here’s how the activity might look if, for example, I was concluding a lesson in which the students had studied a poem…
- Prior to the lesson, I write line numbers on post-it notes that represent small sections of the poem (e.g. 1-2; 3; 5-7 etc). These notes are folded and put in the box. I also throw in some notes containing multiples of other relevant ideas and terms: “Imagery”; “The theme of Solitude”; “Historical Context” and so on and so forth.
- During the lesson, the class read the poem and learn about its various features.
- I pull out the box. “It’s time to see how much we’ve learned!” (Good opportunity for fun here – when teaching A Doll’s House, I named the box “Nora the Explorer”; when teaching Blake, it became “Pass the Pastoral”). Students roll their eyes.
- The music plays, the box is passed, the music stops. Rosie pulls out “lines 2-4”.
- Depending on the class, I might begin the 30-second discussion period: “OK – you’ve got 30 seconds to analyse Rosie’s lines in detail, paying attention to the effects of language and structure. Go!”
- This class are battle-hardened veterans of Pass the Parcel, though, so in this instance we’ll increase the challenge. Rosie keeps her note, and the music continues. This time, the parcel is in Dominique’s capable hands when the music stops. Dominique pulls out “The theme of Solitude”. Now the class may begin discussion: “you have one minute, everybody, to analyse lines 2-4 in relation to the theme of Solitude. Go!”
- I give the class the allotted time, circulating if possible to make sure that all are on task. I don’t interfere unless absolutely necessary: this is their discussion, not mine.
- “Ok, Rosie – pick somebody else in the class [here, I might hand Rosie my class-specific lollypop sticks] and challenge that person to analyse the lines.” Rosie chooses Charlie, whose response is good, but could be developed.
- “Thanks, Charlie – great start! Dominique, pick someone else and challenge them to develop Charlie’s point with reference to another technique / word / image”. Dominique picks Matt, who does a grand job.
- Having done lines 2-4 justice, the music starts and the game continues.
- To set up homework, the box is passed around one more time. This time, anyone who hasn’t already got a post-it note makes sure that they reach in and grab one. “For our next lesson, you need to write me 2 paragraphs about the poem in relation to the note you’ve drawn. Each paragraph should discuss a different poetic technique. Clear?”
Opportunities for Differentiation
While it’s tricky to differentiate a task with a “random” component like this one, it’s still possible to create opportunities for varied challenge! You could:
- Challenge students to write their own post-it notes to put into the box. Perhaps they write down a line number or the name of a technique that they would feel confident about discussing. This encourages students of all abilities to reflect on what they already know, and mentally prepares them with an idea or concept that they will be able to relate to whatever idea is drawn from the box.
- Before the activity, write down some differentiated challenges on the whiteboard to complement the game. During the discussion periods, students must choose one of the challenges and respond to it using whatever post-it comes out of the box as a launching pad (be sure to extend the discussion period to factor in the extra “thinking time” needed here).
For the poetry lesson outlined above, a task for less-confident students might be: “Identify ways in which the post-it note reflects the theme of Isolation”. A task for students who require more of a challenge might be: “Analyse the contents of the post-it note in relation to three different structural features of the poem”.