The title of this post comes from a comment I received following my recent Performance Management observation: "You make it clear We're doing English now." I think it was a compliment. Given the need for positivity at the end of what is, as always, a somewhat draining term, I'm certainly going to take it as one. Anyway, what this seemingly innocuous observation triggered was reflection about how we can get students all in, all on task and, fundamentally, all learning, in the crucial first five minutes of a lesson.
It's a pet peeve of mine that some lessons begin with a register, locating a pen etc. Want to kill your subject? Ask your students to first copy down the learning objectives. However, simply starting with an engaging stimulus alone doesn't ensure that you engage the thirty plus brains sat in front of you. So how can we marry this need to both inspire and challenge students with very different needs both in terms of ability and engagement?
Here are a couple of suggestions that might make this seemingly impossible task a little more achievable.
I am an absolute unashamed thief when it comes to teaching strategies. This one (I think) is an original. And, as such, it's mega easy. Step one: ask a hard question. A really hard question. One only the bravest and boldest in the class will attempt. When three or four of your bravest volunteer an answer ask them to stand up and silently whisper their answer in the ear of another student. Crucially, that student must be able to explain the answer. When they can they then also silently whisper in the ear of another student. Before you know it, the whole class will be standing... at which point you ask them to sit back down and ask the question again. In theory, all students should now have their hands up with an answer!
Note: IMHO it doesn't actually matter if the answers given are right at this point in the lesson, simply that all students have felt empowered to attempt to answer a challenging question without you intervening to tell them the answer.
Line of agreement
"Come in. Do NOT sit down. Question on the whiteboard. Agrees near the window. Disagrees near the door. Decide where you stand. I want at least one reason." You get the drift.
Three answers on three walls
The best tactics are often the simplest. I love this one because it is immune to the distractions of late comers, requires all students to participate and suits any topic. The title says it all: you blu tack three pieces of paper giving three possible answers onto the three walls of the classroom. Students come in, read the question on the Powerpoint and immediately have to go and stand next to an answer. No opt outs. Suspect they're just following their friend? Make it clear you'll be asking them for their reason as to why they've chosen that answer.
In the last couple of weeks I've been using this Year 10 who've been studying Macbeth. For example, as an intro to language analysis. Pop up three quotations. Challenge students to stand next to one for which they can explain the meaning. Then, move to another for which you can identify a language technique. Finally, stand next to one where you can explain the effect of a language technique on the audience. It also worked well for the start of their first lesson comparing the texts. Who's most likely to take a selfie? Lady Macbeth, Macbeth or Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde? Who's most likely to pull the legs off a spider? Cheat in an exam?
Stand up/Sit down
Like all of the tactics here this is about ensuring that there is no choice not to respond. If you stay sat down you're giving an answer. If you stand up, that's an answer. And you will be picked on to justify why you answered in this way!
So much better than individual whiteboards which seem irresistible to the doodler, post-it notes ensure every single child contributes. Maybe it's their child-friendly size that does it. Intimidated by a blank white page of A4? Here, try this sunshine shaded snippet that is no bigger than your palm. See, three words in and you've almost filled me! Again, this a late comer immune tactic, simply hand those who have completed their post-it a second one (and a reward).
No nonsense top tip: sick of students sticking their post-it notes at the top of the whiteboard/on each other/anywhere they're not supposed to? Add a box on your Powerpoint in which they have to stick it.
To be continued...