The past five weeks I have attempted to invigorate my planning. I had twenty five days of teaching, so I aimed to establish 25 different starters. I initially divided them into five areas: writing, s&l, general, comparison chart, and spelling. This was perhaps unnecessary.

I don’t plan on paper, and haven’t for two years. I use google documents to create a general template of two weeks of lessons, and from that generic template I have my lessons prepared in note form. My minimal level of planning is one to two hours on a weekend, followed by half an hour or so of tweaking each morning. When I adjust my planning prior to the previous lesson, I try to limit the amount of time I take to do so. An exam class might have an hour in the evening of extra planning (based on their prior assessments) or it might have fifteen minutes. Occasionally I have found myself running over the 15 minutes of lesson planning for a lesson, but I find that leaving it has been reasonably successful: planning for English teaching always remain at the back of your mind.

Each week I have attempted to make an explicit focus – this is introduced the students, although perhaps not often enough. The focus is often administrative, too.

I have plenty of writing starters; a summer holiday running and writing saw to that two years ago. At this stage, I pick between 3-5 writing starters and work them substantially, and use my experiences to differentiate the work. For example, I focussed on noun phrases last term at some point with all my classes. Those completing descriptive writing (Year 10) received more substantial direction than others. Those in lower years, and who required more support, were given choice phrases. Those more able were expected to devise phrases of their own. These starters are very useful, not least because it allows the students who work independently at the beginning of a lesson, which is essential on a regular basis to improve generic study sills.

I found myself not using the ‘Thunks’ as much as I thought I would. My focus was for the students to devise questions that would show a certain focus. For example:

“If I composed a piece of music but it was never played, would it still be music?”

Can something exist in itself? No, too abstract. Can something exist without being experienced?
What part does experience play in something? Relates to Sonnet 18 I think.
It will still exist in potential. It could always potentially be played.
If potential is never realised, does it exist at all?

I think setting them as homework, and seeing if students can devise an incisive question. A good case for two homeworks a week.
Who did my general starters work?
I find myself using the list starter fairly frequently: it focusses, and it invites useful feedback from all students. A great classroom mechanic.  Perhaps more varied lists (i.e. themes in poetry) rather than concrete things (characters in OMAM.) And lists outside literature, too.
The ‘what is this’ picture revealing worked well for newspapers. have an excellent picture tool for this. It requires, I think, someone able to think out loud for the class.
A-Z of words. This works well, although is challenging. XYZ needs to have its own category for itself. I recommend the students do not work in order, but change the order as necessary.
Ridiculous arguments: Was enjoyed, and achieved the purpose of the Thunks without being highbrow. Which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Learning Objectives
This was the cause for greatest lessons improvement. Previously I had students enter and read their books in silent for 5 minutes. This is very useful, but it lack variety. Some students who are extremely reluctant readers will require so much direction in doing this that they will simply shut up, rather than focus on their reading. So, not always ideal.

I used this learning objective PowerPoint to great effect:

Essentially it suggests creative ways to present the learning objective. My first classroom tutor in York suggested phrasing my learning objectives as questions. However, after a few years, these questions have become increasingly generic and staid (at least to my eyes.)

So, the L/O techniques I have used this term are:

Anagram: I use to present the learning objective as an anagram. Works well, although I have to encourage the students to work out what it is in rough. Since I always end with a question mark and begin with an interrogative pronoun (what, how, etc.), all students can begin to answer them at least. Takes moments to create, although should be done before the students enter the classroom.

FB status: Bit of a gimmick this one. The idea is that the students reflect on the lesson in FB speak at the end of the lesson. Not much opportunity for incisive commentary, although it did present a useful chance to students to express themselves informally in the books of their peers. Perhaps most useful in a lesson that speculates, or is very high-brow to bring some levity.

My Rebus: Has been reasonably successful – the students attempt to decipher the L/O via pictures and missing letters. Some students are excellent, some struggle. More than a gimmick, though, as I think it assesses how receptive the students are if nothing else.

Associating Music/Film with the L/O : Has been reasonably successful, especially in conjunction to extensive think/pair/share. I would use this L/O type for an observed lesson, as it allows the students to show their progress through the quality of their answers prior to discussion. Problems I’ve had with this L/O stem from the fact that I have a poor knowledge of films suitable for students below 15, and (as far as I’m aware now, although I’m researching this) trailers have the same certification as their films. Personally I have no issue if a teacher hypothetically shows a trailer for a film like Inception or Schindler’s List (or even just the soundtrack and a picture after explaining the premise), but if trailers have the same certification as the films, then it’s simply a no-go. Even though many would have watched the film: that’s not a decision for a teacher to make.

Do you agree? 54312 : This learning objective involves the students thinking, discussing and then writing a response to a learning objective question. I thought this worked very well, especially if the question was contentious (Like Curley’s Wife, people over 18 deserve no sympathy for naivety.) It was particularly good when students were not allowed to pick up their pens at all.

With images: I’ve used to present L/Os a few times without interactivity. Not always clear on my board, but keeps me entertained. More appropriate when the lesson/starter requires creativity and time.

There were several L/Os that I didn’t try: (I thought Rebus was more highbrow, although I should at least try that website.

Using Plenaries

Teaching is more than getting kids into a room and giving them stuff to do. A teacher thirty years ago was great if they had the kids receptive and under control. Education has more stringent criteria (even if not all teachers can get kids receptive and under control. And that’s even if all kids can be managed. Find an effective school!)

I would say that 15 minutes is a suitable time for a plenary. Needless to say, it can be cut down to 10 minutes depending on the content covered in the lesson, or if the feedback of a task (or even the completion of a task) is reflective enough. 5 minutes isn’t enough time to pack away properly, let alone conduct a plenary, although a ‘quick’ round up of the lesson is possible. No plenary at all just feels wrong.

Pyramid Plenary: Very useful for assessing students’ understanding, particularly if they are unable to devise suitable questions. Incredibly time-consuming, but very useful. Especially if completed over two lessons.


Animal Magic

reflect on what learned

higher-level thinking

                                                          Summarize your learning in the character of an animal of your choosing: Worked surprisingly well with a lower-set, although one student did choose ‘ostrich’ with accurate reasoning!



Camera, Action

reflect on what learned

higher-level thinking

Make a 30/60 second news bulletin about the lesson/learning and capture on a webcam or student mobile phone. Upload if you can and play back to the class: as with all drama plenaries, I offer students the opportunity to write a script. All students perform to each other, one performs to class. Was powerful in terms of the celebration of what had been achieved.




reflect on what learned

reflect on how learned
higher-level thinking

How would a famous celebrity summarize today’s learning? Choose a celebrity and make your summary: I didn’t manage this one, as I know few celebrities. One for next term.




reflect on what learned Write what you have learn backwards. Swap books and decode!: Didn’t complete this one – seems a gimmick to me. Unless there is one specific sentence to be learned, not so suitable to English.



Voice Over

reflect on what learned                                                     Students work in groups of four.


2 students sit facing each other and have a silent conversation, moving their mouths whilst the other two stand behind them and provide the voice-over. Have the beginnings of a conversation about the lesson on the board to start them off.

Sitters must sound the alarm if speakers go ‘off-topic’ or fail to synchronize their speech with the sitter’s mouth movements:

Some students struggled with this, so I offered the chance to write. Apparently Mock the Week do this, and it is very funny.



Pyramid Plenary

reflect on what learned

reflect on how learned

higher-level thinking

 I don’t have the picture for this. Just the requirement to write one thing known before, three things learned today, and two questions you still have. takes

Different Writing Styles

reflect on what learned Write up what you have learnt in the lesson as an article for a ‘broadsheet’ newspaper, as a spy report for MI5, as 1-2 pages in a Ladybird book for 10 year-olds etc.

Higher level this, and suitable for descriptive writing lesson. Requires some analysis of text types beforehand, I think.



Objective Traffic Lights

reflect on what learned How do you feel about the lesson objectives?

Red = don’t think I have grasped this

Amber = feeling OK about this, have just about got there

Green = Confident I have achieved this

A little limited – I prefer a fist of five, and an explanation written.




reflect on what learned Ask students to review the lesson through their neighbour. For example:

What three things has your neighbour learnt today?

What would your neighbour like to find out more about?

What does your neighbour think about….

What answer to the overall question can your neighbour give?

Set targets with your neighbour by sharing your work

(Develop by sitting different abilities together, snowballing so that a pair of neighbours then become the neighbours of another pair,)

– This is useful, and I use it regularly. All students have to feedback to someone else, and then some to the class.



reflect on what learned Draw a flow-chart

showing the lesson

This is most useful when we have modelled how to approach a task, so the steps are reflected upon. Begin with entering the room, end with leaving the room, and require between 3-5 points in the middle. I offer kudos for those who can expand such as chart with reasoning for the task (so it’s not just content based.)


59 5-5-1 Deluxe! reflect on what learned Write 5 sentences summarising today’s topic…

Strangely, I did not do this so much. Requires some practice, otherwise the first 5 minutes doesn’t always lead to 5 sentences (if they discuss for 2 minutes, at least.)



reflect on how learned

higher-level thinking

Ask students where they feel they are on the tree in relation to the lesson or topic.

Can be used repeatedly to articulate progress/problems.

Could print out on A3/A2 and get students to put post-it notes on with their name. Could then pair up strong and weaker students etc.

Very good, this is, for students reflecting on where they are. Very useful for completing at the beginning and end of a task.


Get Creative

reflect on what learned

higher-level thinking

–          Show how each of these random words might link to today’s lesson.

–          Explain the influence or link

–          Could do quick-fire point and say, A+B pairs, increasing links (i.e. first link 1, then 2 etc.)

I used the following: it was incredibly useful. I didn’t expand this task, although I should. At times when students needed to reflect more on the content, this is a plenary that students can complete with minimal prep and time, and still find useful.

































































Leaving the room question:
All classes either pack up on the bell, or are leaving the room on the bell. As they leave the room, I require some (all, if it’s the end of the day) to offer a contribution in the form of a question or a creative link (depending on the plenary.) Judgement is necessary here, as if a student takes too long, then the rest don’t deserve to be held up. However, if the student is being idle, then they can wait to one side and observe their peers answering. Of course, those who require support can be offered a closed-question choice to allow a swift exit.


To make a list of the starters, L/Os and plenaries I intend to use in a half-term takes a fair amount of time. However, I have found in the past that I cannot peruse my expanded starter and plenary lists; too much choice is no choice at all. Therefore, I will continue next term with several of the most effective generic techniques, and use some of my own.

I will also begin to make a separate Year 11 planning sheet, seeing as my students are counting down a minimal number of lessons. I am happy with the content being covered: it is time for me now to begin ramping up the timed essays.

Finally, the purpose of all this planning is to save time. Not all learning can be planned out a year in advance. Some teaching involves creativity and planning on the fly. A task might be set, but its focus, or the way the students feedback, or the way you model it, might change. This is essential for your professional sanity, if nothing else. However, planning in the middle of the week doesn’t necessarily facilitate the desire to try something creative.  Therefore, I have found that this goal setting has been more than useful. We’ll see how it goes next term.