Quick and effective lesson ideas #3 – The Recall Challenge

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! 

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Whenever I need to teach a large amount of dry content in a short space of time, the Recall Challenge is my go-to strategy. It’s engaging, highly effective, and turns “cramming” into a competition – and one grounded in solid pedagogical methodology, to boot! I first saw this technique used by a former colleague, Katharine Adams, who used it to teach students Italian conjugations. With a bit of tweaking, I found it to be a particularly effective way of teaching the vast amounts of historical context that students needed to learn for English Literature examinations. The theory behind the lesson, though, can be applied with ease to absolutely any topic and any subject.

The lesson is designed to build up students’ knowledge of a topic, and concludes with opportunities for either a peer-teaching drama activity OR a piece of assessed writing (or both, if you fancy)!

Useful for:

  • Teaching dry content, facts and figures to any age group
  • Revision of key topics
  • Setting up activities for subsequent lessons

Preparation time: Your first attempt may take 30mins or so to set up, but once you have a working template any subsequent variations will be a doddle.

Activity Length: 50mins approx. Can lead directly into a starter activity in the following lesson.


  • 1 x computer + projector
  • Blank paper (enough for a full class)
  • OPTIONAL – 1 x presentation “clicker” / laser pointer
  • OPTIONAL – Prizes (Starburst are always a safe bet!)
  • OPTIONAL – Additional texts for Task 3 (Presentation)


The Recall Challenge is a memory game based around Edgar Dale’s “Cone of Experience” – the principle that students learn:

  • 10% of what they readDale Cone
  • 20% of what they hear
  • 50% of what they see and hear
  • 70% of what they discuss with others
  • 95% of what they teach others

Although Dale’s Cone has been challenged in recent years due to developments in our understanding of learning styles, there nevertheless remains a good deal of sense in the structure he posits – specifically the notion that learning and recall are aided by repetition and careful layering of activities. Furthermore, the percentages may be misleading, but they DO give your students a “score” to beat, which adds to the fun…

Here’s how the Recall Challenge works:

  1. PRIOR TO THE LESSON: create your Powerpoint / Slideshow following this model. You will need to decide on the most important facts that you want your students to learn (you’ll be able to fit 7-8 on an average slideshow); to help your students with their visual recall, ensure that each piece of information is a different colour and pops up in a different location on the board.
  2. Tell your class that they’re about to play a tricky game in which they need to memorise pieces of information related to a specific topic by reading and listening alone! I like to throw down the gauntlet: “according to something I read on a training course recently, you’ll only remember 30% of this information. Let’s see if we can beat that, shall we?”
  3. TASK 1 (Independent Recall): On your slideshow / PowerPoint, bring up the first piece of information for a brief time (20 seconds or so) and get one student to read it aloud. During this period, students are not allowed to write anything down – they must try to absorb the information using only their eyes and ears. When the time is up, the information disappears and is replaced by a new a fact.
  4. The process repeats with every new piece of information; every so often, pause the action and point to a blank space on the board (this is where a laser pointer will be helpful!) to test randomly-selected students: “What was in this space, Harriet? What theme does the current slide share with the information that was here, Cameron? Sam, develop that response with reference to the practical experiment we carried out last lesson…”
  5. Once students have “learnt” everything, return to a blank screen and task students with reproducing what they have learnt onto paper. No talking – they need to do this by themselves: “Ok: by yourselves you have two minutes to write down as much as you can remember. Let’s see if we can beat 30% recall!”
  6. After two minutes, get students to hold up their sheets of paper to show you what they have remembered so far. No one will have everything. Not yet, anyway!
  7. TASK 2 (Paired Work): On the whiteboard, bring up a slide like this one (see below) with pictures and images replacing all of the pieces of information. Give students another two minutes – this time they should work in pairs and help each other to fill in the gaps in their knowledge. Again, lay down the challenge: “According to our friend Edgar Dale, you should be able to recall 50% of what you see and hear, and 70% of what you discuss with others. Do you think you can beat that?”
    StreetCar Context.png
  8. Again, get students to hold up their paper. Take a look – and at this point you could award a prize to the person who has remembered the most! Place the complete set of information up for all to see, and give students an appropriate amount of time to fill in the gaps in their knowledge.
  9. (OPTIONAL) TASK 3 – GROUP DRAMA: Divide students into groups (one group per piece of information) and give each group ONE of the facts that they have covered so far. Now you can set up the peer teaching aspect:
    “Lastly, as you all now know, we retain 95% of the information that we teach others. You now have five minutes in your groups to create a 30-second piece of drama that communicates as much of the information on your group’s slide as possible. There will be a prize for the team who communicates their info in the most imaginative / entertaining fashion!”
    At the end of the allotted time, go around the groups and allow them to perform. Results are usually mixed, but even the most hilariously bad pieces of drama will make the information conveyed more memorable. If a group does a particularly poor job of communicating the pertinent information, encourage other members of the class to offer “Even Better If” suggestions. This will ensure that everyone engages with the purpose of the task.
  10. (OPTIONAL) TASK 3 – GROUP PRESENTATION: As above divide students into groups (one group per piece of information) and give each group ONE of the facts that they have covered so far. This time, however, you should also give each group an additional text related to the topic you’ve you’re studying. This could be an image, poster or advert; an extract from a poem, play or novel; a newspaper article; a clipping from an academic paper… Use this stimulus to set up the peer teaching aspect:
    “Lastly, as you all now know, we retain 95% of the information that we teach others. You now have five minutes in your groups to create a one-minute presentation that links as much of what you’ve learnt today to the additional extract I’ve given you. What connections can you make? What influences can you spot? There will be a prize for the teams that make the most perceptive connections!”

Opportunities for Differentiation:

Even though this entire lesson involves students learning the same key information for the purposes of your curriculum, there are still opportunities for differentiation – particularly around TASK 3.

  • Before the DRAMA task, you may wish to divide your groups by ability. A higher ability group could be challenged EITHER by asking them to communicate more challenging information than other groups (if appropriate) OR to communicate their info through drama without using any of the words on the slide that they have been given (i.e. they will need to use synonyms / body language etc).
  • Before the PRESENTATION task, again, you may wish to divide your groups by ability. A higher ability group could be given a more challenging additional text to explain to the rest of the class.
  • During TASK 1, differentiate via questioning. You could, for example, ask lower ability students to recall one fact that appeared earlier in the task, and you may ask a higher ability student to recall and draw connections between two pieces of information.

6 responses to “Quick and effective lesson ideas #3 – The Recall Challenge”

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