Music is the sound of …revision

Miss Dunkley led a fantastic session on Wednesday about using Music to engage and inspire pupils during revision.


As teachers we can appreciate the vast range of subjects and content our pupils have to revise coming up to exam season. Therefore we thought we would give a different method a go!

In English Lessons this week we have been using the Macbeth revision song as a challenge to remember Key quotes! It has worked fantastically (even if the boys pretended it wasn’t their preferred music genre)




The rule is- use the song if it is able to do 1 of the following:

  • Explain a formula or rule
  • Recite key themes
  • Recite key quotes
  • Understands the topic/ genre or context

You might even like to go as far as making one of your own You tube videos or setting it for homework so the pupils make their own.

A lovely Heart song for budding scientists!


The key to success with music and revision is to enable the pupils to apply their knowledge after listening to the song 2-3 times.

Mrs Keys did this with her year 11 class and they then produced mind maps of key scenes- feeling very proud of their ability to remember a great amount of key quotes for their literature exam.



Here is a fantastic worth-a-read Guardian article by an educational psychologist who talks about the benefits of varying your revision strategies’.

We would love to hear your success stories using music for revision! 🙂






Challenge in Sixth Form Lessons


For this week’s Teaching and Learning briefing I was asked to present on ‘Challenge in Sixth Form Lessons’ which I tried to narrow down to ‘Visual Learning’. What did I mean by ‘Visual Learning’? Well, let me try to explain. I started by stating the premise that in general Sixth Form students want to be treated like adults and they, like most learners, will give less time to a task or activity if they do not find it engaging or understand its purpose.

I started by explaining that in A Level English Literature we teach Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry collection Feminine Gospels. Because this collection is all about female experiences, it is useful for students to understand the seminal changes that took place in the 20th and 21st centuries that have contributed to many modern female experiences and liberties, for instance, the suffragette movement. A fun way of getting students to engage with the experience of the suffragettes was to get them to play a ‘Corpse Talk: Grave Matters’ board game called ‘Suffragette: The Board Game’. The game has been cleverly and wittily devised to get students to reflect on the hardships experienced by the suffragettes. For example, one square reads, ‘Heckle some anti-suffragette politicians. You’re promoting the cause. Go to jail!’ while another more positive square reads, ‘You took part in a suffragette march. March forward three spaces!’ After giving students time to play the board game, I asked them to explain what they learned about how the suffragettes were treated, how they were seen by others, how little support they had, how they gained support, and whether more squares had bad luck than good luck and why this perhaps reflected the treatment of the suffragettes. While they played the game during the session I asked staff to think about:

  • What a suffragette is
  • The types of experiences that females went through to get the vote
  • How you are meant to feel while playing the game
  • In what ways women felt oppressed
  • Why the movement was important – what its purpose/goal was, who stood in its way and why.
  • Whether the idea of luck while playing is relevant to the treatment of the suffragettes

a level game

Shortly afterwards in the session I talked about how sometimes I try to get creative and visual with the homework I set for sixth form students. The most interesting one has to be ‘The Real Housewives of Mississippi, 1960s Edition’ where students had to do a key scene enactment followed by turn-to-camera style mockumentary interviews (in the style of TV shows like The Office and Modern Family) acting as characters from The Help. The purpose of this was to get students to demonstrate an in-depth understanding of the characters, theme and context and to have fun doing so. In this particular case, I got them to achieve this goal by becoming the characters. Truthfully the results ranged from disastrous slapstick chaos to hilarious asides through to scenes that were genuinely thoughtful and insightful. Additionally, when teaching Streetcar it’s important students understand the setting, New Orleans. One of my first homework tasks set was to create a pamphlet on New Orleans. The parameters I set were that students should demonstrate an understanding of the following key words: The New South (or the post-war South), The Beat Generation and Women in the 1940s. The results were excellent, as captured in the image below.

alevel 2

This way the staff, like the students who I’d played this game with the year before, learned about the suffragettes, had fun doing so, and actually engaged with (on a miniscule scale albeit) some of the frustration felt by the cause – especially when locked up in jail or told to miss a go for challenging the government! At these moments it was great to hear that universal teenager exasperated sigh that indicates things aren’t going their way as they engaged with the plight of women a hundred years ago! It is worth admitting that a board game lesson might take a little extra preparation and planning time, depending on how much of a perfectionist you are, including the challenge of gathering up a box of dice; that said, it can take the same time as a well-planned lesson but is often more stimulating and easier to get students on side with. I planned my questions in advance, but I could just have easily have typed them up and printed them off for students to complete as they played the game. If you’re feeling extra creative you might insert a 5×5 table into word and even make your own board game on the topic you want the students to engage with! Typically the squares state a fact, tell players to move forward, tell students to miss a go, tell them to go to jail (usually centre of the board) or to roll again. Once you’ve done this, get it printed A3 and laminate! It might sound like a lot but it isn’t usually too difficult to get your sixth formers to focus when you tell them they’re playing a game that lesson, so it pays off in the long-term.

a level 1

In short, I try to be as inventive as possible when setting homework for sixth form students to avoid the dredge and monotony that can sometimes be tempting to set because the students are a little older. I encourage you to do the same, see the results and share your ideas and your results in the comments section below!

Last but not least I set the teachers’ minds racing early in the morning by getting them to try to crack a cryptogram! I used (and highly recommend) Discovery Education’s cryptogram maker to make our school’s Code of Conduct into a difficult code to be cracked, thus introducing an element of competition into a task where I wanted them to think about what it was they were actually reading and talking about. Admittedly, I think the website doesn’t yet autogenerate an answer sheet so it’s worth adding that you may want to crack the code yourself before setting the students off to do so! Nevertheless, you know a task like this is a huge success when you have teachers frantically trying to recite the Code of Conduct at pace to solve the cryptogram first! I think a cryptogram is a great way to get students reciting harder passages or key bits of information or reading a source you need them to that is perhaps a little less exciting to read.

a level chris


Continuing to show Year 11 the water…


Every Wednesday morning at 7.55am we meet as a teaching cohort to discuss and share strategies. This follows our Butterfly programme from previous years, and is an opportunity for colleagues and faculties to showcase what works for them. These then become further choices and opportunities to stretch and challenge our students.

Showing how to… is vital. The platitudes of ‘you need to get on’ are just not enough; strategies have to be modelled to students to equip them for study and success. Why should they know before we show them? We certainly didn’t.

Following up  the Year 11 Study Skills day in January, all teachers have been trained this week in a system to further strengthen the 12 revision techniques that all GCSE students now know .Picture2

Any revision resources are strengthened by using the following:







The theory behind this is that the very act of thinking about which colour pen to use or stopping to underline a word helps the brain make links which improves our memory; it also means that looking at the resource later, whilst revising, is so much more stimulating.

Consider mind-maps.  Creating them on computer doesn’t have nearly as many benefits and looking back at a personalised one has far more meaning than a computer-generated one.

So Year 11 and 13 as you move in to this final intense period of revision and Year 11s start their Saturday revision – a few packs of post-its, some highlighter pens and a ruler can take you a long way!

Staff session on revision strategies

Teachers during their 1 minute trying to remember a set of 25 words with using the PUCCU system.


As a staffing body, we gave now been putting this into action with our own teaching…

Music students trialled a Will Smith-style rap

Mel has gone from a post-it to a sing-it!

“Now here’s the development all about how

Beethoven turned tonality all the way round

The expo’s in C and now it’s in E

Then straight after he turns it in to a G

He’s like a rollercoaster going round an’ round

Uses legato to make real smooth sounds

Now it’s staccato and mums, it’s not relaxed

It makes it bare lively, short and detached

All dynamic contrast, it’s so extreme,

Including f, double f, triple f, FP!

Crescendo’s, diminues, everythings used

You’ll have to be a virtoH or be confused!”

 Our Saturday sessions started this weekend, and were fantastically attended. Well done to all involved!



The Journey of Year 11: Revision Techniques that quench the thirst

This week’s training focused on revision for Year 11 and the old adage of leading a horse to water, and its’ conundrum of how do you make the students thirsty? Intrinsic motivation is ideal, but our focus has been on strategies that will engage and inspire students to crack open the books and (re-)learn their stuff.

In January, The Life Skills Company worked with our Year 11 cohort in building their own independent skills to revise, and they came up with 12 strategies. On Monday, Jacqui and Katy led a staff session sharing these strategies, with the aim of building them into our day-to-day teaching.

  1. Map It – This technique is all about mind maps and the best ways of using them to make them work.

There are 2 options – the first looks like the more traditional way with the title of the revision in the middle and lines coming off from it.  The importance of this technique however, is that the lines must include capital letters over them with the part they are looking at in bold before they splinter off at the ends.

For example:

The students will also need to use colour, bold writing, underlining and pictures to make the information stand out and bold.

The alternative way of using the spider diagram would be more chronological from one side to the other using more straight lines and boxes however, still using colour, bold writing, underlining and pictures to make the information stand out and bold.

For example:

2. Journey it.  This technique is where students remember items or lists of information by placing them on a journey – preferably somewhere that is familiar to them.  This technique would work well for subjects that have lists of ingredients or indeed lists of chemicals that could go into an experiment.

The best sorts of journeys would be ones that are familiar to the students so they can picture it easily in their minds.

For example for a list of ingredients:

‘As I entered my front door, I encountered a huge red tomato that was pulsating and blocking the doorway.  I took my knife and cut the tomato in half and stepped through it into my hallway that seemed to be covered in long strands of spaghetti.  This made a slippery route to the couch where I fell into a pile of raw mince waiting to be cooked.’ (and so on)

  1. Index it. This technique is where students use their revision cards to transfer the key points of a topic/paragraph. The card should have as few words as possible and should include pictures/colour/diagrams/capital letters etc to make them stand out.  The card should only cover one topic and not more so that they do not get confused.

4. Story it.  This technique is where the students create a weird and vivid story using the key points.  This would work well for remembering steps of an experiment, ingredients or processes.

For example, remembering the eight principle that a Data Controller has a duty to abide by when using personal data.  They must make sure:

  1. Data must be collected and processed fairly and lawfully.
  2. Data must be collected for specific purposes and cannot be used in ways that are not compatible with those purposes.
  3. Data must be adequate, relevant and not excessive for the purposes.
  4. Data must be accurate and kept up to date.
  5. Data must not be kept longer than necessary.
  6. Data must be processed in accordance with the data subjects rights under the act.
  7. Data must be protected against unauthorised access and against accidental loss or damage.
  8. Data must not be transferred to a country that does not have appropriate data protection legislation.

The students would then put the key words from this into a weird and wacky story so that they remember them.

  1. Mnemonic it. This technique is where the students use the first letter of the key words to create a sentence to help them remember key information in order. This would work particularly well for students to help them remember chemical symbols or the order of the planets in the solar system. For example:

My Very Early Morning Jam Sandwich Usually Needs Plums.’ (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto)


  1. Click it. This technique involves students creating a power point presentation about the key points of a topic or a unit of work. This technique would work best for subjects with a lot of information that would be needed to be recorded. Students can then use these visual aids to help them revise.
  1. Flip it. This technique is where students create cards that have a question on one side and an answer on the other. This would work best with a small flip book that is on a keyring that the students then could write short snappy questions and answers on.

For example:

‘What did Queen Victoria reign?  1837-1901’


  1. Timeline it. This technique is where the students have to put key points along a line in date order. This technique would work best for topics that have a chronological sequence such as the plot of a book, the events of a play, historical dates etc.Image
  2. Sing it. This technique involves students putting key information onto a popular song background. This could be used for any subject but it does involve some creativity and time if the students are going to do it properly. For example – one on Macbeth: could find some that are already made or you could get the students to make their own versions.
    1. Record it. This technique involves students recording themselves saying key points or key ideas and then playing it back to themselves. This technique would work well for audio learners.

    This technique does involve the students being confident enough to hear their own voices so will not work for them all.

    1. Post-it. This technique involves students putting key words/phrases onto post-it notes and then moving between them to learn them. This technique would work well if students have access at home to put the information onto their steps upstairs, around their bedroom/bathroom etc.  This technique can be used for any subject and can involve as little or as many post-it notes that the students can remember.

    For example, the students may want to put down the chapter titles of ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ onto separate post-it notes and remember them as they go up and downstairs.

    1. Comic it. This technique involves students putting key information into a comic strip with images/pictures to go with the key events.   This technique would work in most subjects however, I would suggest best for subjects that need students to remember events/sequences in order.Ultimately, it is whatever works best for students, in enabling their confidence and learning in a sustainable way.

Differentiating FIRST things first


Mike Gershon states that “differentiation is simple. It involves planning and teaching in a way that takes account of all learners in a class.”

Differentiation encompasses a whole range of strategies, activities and techniques.

We hope this Blog post will help you make differentiating lessons that little less stressful and increase the productivity and pupil progress in every lesson.

First things FIRST

Whilst searching twitter for inspirational CPD ideas- I came across a wonderful acronym created by Caroline Spalding @MrsSpalding and it worked perfectly for our weekly T&L briefing on ‘differentiation made easy.’

Think FIRST for Differentiation

First marked?

Identified on context sheet?

Relentlessly challenged?

Seated strategically?

Talked to and questioned? 

We found this such an easy but though-provoking question to ask ourselves.

First marked– a lot of teachers admitted (including myself) that we have markinga tendency to put the most messy books to the bottom of the pile. However- are they not really the books we should be spending the most time on? Should we always go to the brightest pupil who is finished first to mark, or the pupil who has fulfilled their best potential and could do with constructive feedback?

Identified– We use G04S and it has an array of go4sinformation for teachers about FSM/ PP/ SEN/ Religion/ G&T- but are we using this information in the right way? are  we using this information to base our lessons? to provide scaffolding? To include challenging stretch? Are we using our amazing SENCO and asking for advice?

Relentlessly challenged– and we are not always talking behaviour here. What we mean is- is your questioning on point?questioning Are you using a variety of higher vs lower order questions? Are you ensuring that every pupil has understood the objective and is on the path to make progress? Are you phoning home for pupils who aren’t working hard enough? are you constantly praising the hard work and efforts? but most importantly, is this a consistent habit?

Seated strategically– have you used your best strategy when placing pupils in your room? Are the weaker students appropriately placed near you? or beside a stronger pupil? Have you grouped them according to ability? seating planDoes this work? if it isn’t, are you adapting? Have you talked to teachers of the same class- how do they seat them?

Talked to and questioned– sometimes this can be as simple as asking thtraffic lightsem how their day is, showing that you care about them as well as their grades. If you are using AFL strategies and they are confused- are you asking them how you can help them? Are you allowing them to vocalise their misunderstandings or concerns? Are you enabling them to be independent? Do you try and question every pupil in a lesson? How is this working for you?

By using FIRST as a daily go-to practice, teachers can simply but very effectively, ensure all pupils are appropriately differentiated and supported.

Simple and effective differentiation strategies:wagoll wall

  1. Modelling best work- Model EVERYTHING- especially when it is exam-style questions
  2. Providing stretch & challenge to all pupils- Extension work should be explicit and not optional! It should never be an addition PEEL or Qs- make it more CHALLENGING!
  3. Sentence starters or key word banks every lesson (consistently)
  4. Using min whiteboards to help pupils’ confidencemini whiteboards
  5. Asking purposeful and stimulating questions
  6. Moving around the room- marking or questioning on the go.
  7. Aware of the needs of all learners in your class (using the class context sheet)
  8. Checking understanding at every given opportunity and adapting where necessary (killer questioning)
  9. Create classroom displays with model work and examples

These FIRST principles are the foundation stones for what we what to embed in all Westfield classrooms this year.

From this we really can achieve Accessible Learning, 

‘The best classrooms are those where nobody feels anonymous, unsupported or undervalued- and that includes the teachers & teaching assistants.’


How we can improve T&L within your department:

  • Make T&L a weekly talking point
  • Share ideas and teach each other segments of your lesson- feedback on different strategies you could use
  • SHARE resources and team plansharing is caring
  • Carry out  informal coaching and informal observations- where you can see differentiation happen there and then
  • Create a twitter account- it is the best place for free CPD ideastwitter
  • reflect on best and worst lessons- talk about what you would do differently
  • Do not judge each other- support one another to be the best- teaching is not a competition.

I have attached an audit we have used in our departments to help see where we can improve our differentiation- please feel free to use and adapt.

Differentiation audit 

Emma Keys

Lead practitioner of T&L Westfield Academy

Many thanks to Caroline Spalding and TeamEnglish.