Engaging Teaching Strategies #3

Three more strategies that I find indispensable in my everyday teaching. The first is directly linked to SOLO taxonomy; the second and third are quite specifically English-related but can be used in a variety of ways.


Using cut out paper hexagons is a great way of consolidating current knowledge and building multi-structural and relational knowledge. I keep a bag full of these in my classroom ready to hand out. At any point in a topic you can hand them out and get students to write a isolated facts on a set number of them (you can differentiate here). Once they’ve got their facts they can lay them down in turn, discussing how the one they are putting down links to the others that it touches. They’ll end up with something like the old Blockbusters grid. Once they’ve done this you have many options: you could get them to circulate round the room and talk through other groups’ grids; you could get them to trade hexagons with other groups; or you could get them to take the grid apart and get them to rebuild it differently; you can get them to use the grid as a scaffold for writing; you could even set up debates between groups where they have to argue for whose grid is best, justifying their reasons. I find 2 inch hexagons are best, but you could also explore the possibilities of different sizes and of using different colours to represent different aspects or qualities. They are also useful for teaching sentence structure. Get them to write different word types onto different hexagons and get them to build up different types of sentence structures , all the time thinking about why words can and can’t go in certain places.

Images of settings (link to theme and character)

Providing students with a series of images can be used as a foundation for a variety of activities or types of learning. I last used this when we had finished reading About A Boy. There are many, many locations used in the novel and providing students with them in picture format helps with revision and embedding learning. As with the dice, the possibilities are limitless: they can arrange them in the order they appear and try to summarise the story through discussion of the pictures; they can change the order they appear in to try and evaluate how changed narrative structure would have affected the story’s effect on the reader; they can rank them in order of importance in relation to the outcome of the story; they can group them by related themes or in relation to character. Having the images in front of them is just a really great way to engage them in the learning and get them talking.

Ingredients List

This can be used for creative writing or speaking and listening activities. Very often the hardest thing for students getting started is a phobia of the blank page. If you give them a list of things to include it automatically eradicates that fear and they will begin thinking how they can fit the ingredients together in a narrative. You can vary this either for genre writing or by using ingredients from a variety of genres to create more challenge. I’ve used this recently in two ways. First of all I gave a top set of year 10 students a list of twelve ingredients (a murder, a European city, a jilted lover, a terrible dream, an old man, a flood, a beautiful forest, a gang of wandering entertainers, a lone hill amid flat countryside, a family heirloom, an angry mammal and a coastal tavern). The class’s job, in groups, was to create a narrative that they would present to the rest of the class in an entertaining way. Some of the stories they came up with were fantastic and the list meant they were stimulated from the outset as fitting the elements in requires a problem solving approach. The other way I used an ingredients list lately was to ask groups to list 10 key ingredients they would expect to see in a ghost story, draw them on paper and then order the pieces of paper to create a narrative which they then wrote up independently. Again this led to some extremely productive discussion and writing.


About Andrew Warner

Mostly English teacher, AHT (T&L/literacy/CPD) & bibliophile. Irregular examiner, MTBer, armchair anthropologist & bassist. Fascinated by language & behaviour.

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