1. Begin a unit of work or a lesson by using an organiser to gather students’ prior understandings.  One method is the concept map, with which most teachers and students are familiar.  The concept web or map (also known as a schematic map) attempts to visually represent a complex concept by indicating the relationships between certain elements.  Concept webs can be shaped in different ways- students should be taught to use the most appropriate layout to match a concept. For example, a Lotus Map (or a Consequences Wheel) indicates relationships between a single concept and sub concepts.  These are useful for cause –effect relationships or analysing sub elements of a topic. Flow charts are a better way of representing systems or cycles or procedures, and Organisational Charts are best for representing layered or hierarchical concepts.

2. A second method of beginning and reviewing a unit or lesson is the three column K-W-L Chart.  These columns, WHAT I ALREADY KNOW, WHAT I WANT TO KNOW, and WHAT I HAVE LEARNED help identify prior knowledge, build upon this in a purposeful direction and then provide a review mechanism at the conclusion of the unit or lesson. It is also useful toad a H column to indicate ideas about HOW I MIGHT INVESTIGATE the issue. (see the attached example)

3. Another strategy involves using an Inquiry Plan to orient students to a particular topic. The inquiry Plan (see the attached example) has students divide an A4 sheet in four segments.  In the top segment they should list (working individually) all the questions they have about the topic.  In the next segment, they should list (by working with other people) the new questions their team-mates can add about the topic.  In the third segment, the team should identify the new understandings as they begin to address these questions in class work during the coming lesson or unit of work. At the conclusion of the lesson or unit, students should reflect on all initial questions and identify areas where their study has ‘filled the gaps’ and list this new knowledge in area three. In Area Four, they should try to find connections between this new learning and other subjects or experiences.

4. Use lots of Visual organisers.  Use Venn Diagrams to identify areas of similarity and difference.  Build the complexity of this activity by asking students to contrast three, four or five topics they have individually investigated.

5. Teach students to create Mind Maps using diagrams, colour and symbols as well as mnemonics to visually represent an idea.  The mind map was developed by Tony Buzan in 1974 and differ from concept webs in that the mind map investigates a single key concept as its starting point and uses visual cues as hints to importance. For example, the bigger, bolder and closer an idea the more important it is to the central concept. Using Google Images to explore mind maps will provide plenty of wonderful examples for classroom use.  See the wonderful Mind Map on Mind Mapping at the end of this blog.

6. Focus on the linkages to student experience.  Ask students to stop regularly during classwork to reflect upon what they are learning. Students should get used to recording how what they’re learning can be related to their real life experiences, and other subjects.  Create charts and poster of their comments and put these around the world. If the context doesn’t immediately relate to their life experience, make the link by examining the lesson from a metacognitive point of view. That is, when might you need this skill?

7. Build in scaffolded reflection and self-criticism in every unit of work.  Teach students to reflect on how they learn best, the strategies they are using, their persistence and effort, and every element they need to be able to assess if they’re to become lifetime learners.  Be sure the attributes and skills of effective learners are made explicit in your teaching, and ensure students have positive opportunities to develop these skills. Students can do this on feedback sheets or by addressing one or two focus questions only. These can begin or end a lesson, or serve to review midway in a lesson.  These might include such questions as:

  • One idea I really understood today was……
  • What I need to do next is ……
  • The best way to do this is probably ………….  because ……………..
  • I need to know ……….
  • A new idea for me today was……….
  • The hardest idea for me is ………….. because ………
  • One thing I did wrong today was …………… because…………..
  • One thing I agree with was………
  • I’m still confused about….
  • Next time I try this, I will ………………..
  • This fits in with ………….
  • This contradicts ………..
  • Other areas I might use what I learned today are ……………

8. Use Agree-Disagree Statements before and after examining a topic or investigating a text.  Develop a series of statements which relate to critical concepts to be covered in the lesson and ask students to indicate whether they agree or disagree before the investigation.  After the investigation, ask students to revisit these statements. Investigate areas where students have indicated a change of thinking and ask students to explore these areas. Ask students whose views didn’t change but who have views which contrast to explain their position to each other. This might be a useful time to use a people barometer and have students line up from strongly agree to strongly disagree. It may be worthwhile to call on students at the extreme ends of the barometer to try to persuade the middle group to their ways of thinking.

9. For homework, have students pre-read the text to be covered the next day and select what they believe to be the three (or five, or ten) key ideas only and record these.  In the next lesson compare selections with the emphasis upon contrasting and justifying their choices. A variation on this strategy is to allocate a chunk of text to be read and then ask students to summarize the key points in a specific number of words, e.g. twenty words.  Another variation is to use this strategy to revisit ideas covered in class during the day.

10. Ground the abstract in the concrete in a physical way.  Have students physically do the learning.  For example, give students the problem of dividing a chocolate cake with an 8-inch diameter amongst the class of 32!  Have students design and draw their solution and then select the best to cut a real cake. Study force and friction using model cars on different surfaces.  Investigate how adding sand, soapy water or oil affects speed. Have students hold on to ribbons as they spin around the central Sun to explore the effect of forces upon the emerging planets. (If you teach in a P to 12 school- Have a strong Senior play the sun while smaller primary students take the part of the forming planets. Do this on a grassy area to protect emerging asteroids!) Have students behave like atoms as they heat up or cool down. Invite students to invent ways to make abstract concepts concrete and physical.  Reward the cleverest ideas.

This Wonderful mind map on mind mapping  was created by Bruce, Adrian, n. d. Mind Mapping, April 21 2008, http://www.adrianbruce.com/computers/mindmap/mindmap.htm  https://www.myeducationstuff.com/computers/mindmap/mindmap.htm

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