The 5 Minute Research Plan

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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How does a teacher get started with action research?

The nature of Continuing Professional Development is changing in schools; from the one day course chosen from a booklet or website to teachers engaging in their own action-research.

Getting started

This research may be undertaken as part of the National Professional Qualification for Senior/Middle Leader, or as part of an extended leadership programme – for example, the SSAT Aspiring Senior Leaders Programme – or the more traditional Masters qualification. The original #5MinCPDPlan has been developed by @TeacherToolkit and @LeadingLearner to help teachers organise and maximise the impact of their work.  We are both grateful to David Weston and Bridget Clay of the Teacher Development Trust for offering critique, but were not involved in the development of the idea and it is not exactly the model The Teacher Development Trust would use.

The Trust is a charity that is dedicated to improving the educational outcomes for children by raising the quality of teacher professional development. Its work, through the National Teacher Enquiry Network is doing some fascinating work around the country. If you are serious about the professional development of teachers you should apply to become a member of the network here.

The 5 Minute Research Plan

The 5 Minute Research Plan

Issue or concern?

It’s quite interesting to think of our normal approach to the professional development of staff.  We too often start with some “good practice” to share, before we have decided what the problem is or, which particular teachers or students should be involved. The #5MinResearchPlan tips this thinking on its head. You are (in essence) working towards developing a “Final Research Question” that you can investigate.  There are two ways to think about the issue or concern:

What is going quite well that I would like to go even better?

“The quality of feedback I give students is pretty good but it is still not having the impact I want.”

 “The value-added for CLA/FSM students in RAISE is in line with expectation but what could we do to make it sig+?”

What is really a problem and needs to improve?

“The behaviour in my classes is a real problem, students just aren’t learning.”

 “The Best 8 (Capped Average Point Score) for High Ability Student by Prior Attainment is sig- (blue) in RAISE.  We have to do something about this.”

Target cohort

It is very important to narrow down the research focus to a target cohort. Remember, this is a small-scale piece of research often classroom-based, though for some leadership qualifications it can be across a department or whole school. Think about the following concern:

“The behaviour in my classes is a real problem, students just aren’t learning.”

It is important to narrow this down, as it is unlikely to be all classes and all students.

What all classes?

Well, actually it’s really the Year 9 classes.

What, all students in Year 9 classes?

No, it seems to be a group of boys in my Year 9 middle-ability class.

You have started the important process of narrowing down the research focus to a small manageable cohort that you are particularly interested in.

Intervention period

There is no hard or fast rule for the period the intervention will run for. Typically projects, including for some involving external accreditation, run for between six to twelve months. This includes the initial research, implementation of a particular programme and writing up the findings. A good rule of thumb is to think about allocating times in thirds. So, for a six-month programme, there would be two months for initial research, two months for implementation and two months for writing up.


This can be one of the really interesting and fun elements of the programme. What different ideas can you find about possible ways to impact on the particular issue or concern you want to address? Keep a note of the key ideas that are of interest to you. The research can be from the academic – research books and papers; alternatively, it could be from a course or INSET day, blogs or other schools or simply ideas from and discussions with colleagues about what they are doing. As you intend to disseminate the research, it is important to keep a note of the different sources you have got the ideas from and reference them in your final write-up.

A good tool for referencing sources is Neil’s Toolbox: Harvard Style Reference Generator.

Having completed your research, it is important to narrow down all the options to a chosen intervention.  It may be you have a number of different interventions that you are interested in and quite excited about.  It is important to be disciplined. Just implement one at a time and see the impact before looking at another one.

Final research questions

 This is an important moment in the whole plan – a poorly expressed research question or one lacking focus will produce problems further down the line.  Try using the following template to help you devise your final research question:

I / We intend to implement <chosen intervention> with <chosen pupil cohort, subject & topic> to investigate whether it has <add impact you hope to achieve> because <state your reasons>.

 For example:

“I intend to implement a flipped-classroom approach to the teaching of Kinetic Theory in my middle ability Y8 8 Science class to investigate whether it leads to higher levels as students tend to be able to describe particle movement but show little understanding of it.”   

Research process

You need to think through and make a note of the main methodology you are going to use in your research. The following will have an impact on your research process:

  • Is the intervention classroom-based or outside of normal lesson time?
  • Will you be the sole person involved in the research project or is it a collaborative approach in terms of planning, implementing and evaluating?
  • What measures are you using?


This can be one of the most difficult parts of the research plan for teachers. Sometimes people set off without a clear idea of what they want to measure or how it could be measured. Instead of an interesting piece of research, you’ll end up with a nice little anecdote that lacks the depth required. Think about whether your measures are going to be quantitative (numbers based) or more qualitative (descriptions or discussions). It’s common to measure both, but you must ensure that your measures are reasonable and manageable, alongside the other work you have to do. Remember to get a baseline measure before you start the intervention.

Some examples of quantitative measures are tests and examinations (don’t be afraid to use the same one as the baseline and final assessment), tally charts recording behaviours or incidents you want to measure (e.g. shouting out in class) or surveys (for example student voice responses to particular questions). More qualitative measures would involve direct observations by a colleague, just describing what s/he saw in a particular lesson or interviews with students. Care needs to be taken, to ensure there is a particular area or set of areas you want a colleague to focus on.  The same is true when devising questions to use when interviewing students. These records can be very useful in identifying reoccurring themes or responses, which will help you determine whether the chosen intervention is having an impact.

The final thing to think about is whether you will include a control group in your analysis.  This is considered good practice in research. The control group will have all the same measures taken but there will be no intervention with this group.  This can sometimes cause a bit of a “moral dilemma” for teachers as they feel they are denying one group a potentially positive experience that another group is having.  Another way to think about this is that until you are sure that your chosen intervention does have a positive impact, it would be too risky to involve a higher number of students. If the chosen intervention does have a positive impact, then it will be shared and spread wide, so all students may benefit from it.


One form of quantitative measure is using effect size which is often used by researchers.

Atherton J S (2013) Learning and Teaching; What works best [On-line: UK] retrieved 21 November 2013 from
Atherton J S (2013) Learning and Teaching; What works best [On-line: UK] retrieved 21 November 2013 from
An average effect size is 0.4 and so researchers are often looking for 0.4 or higher when measuring the impact of a particular intervention.  Below is an example of measuring effect size.  It was completed as part of an INSET Day when working with a whole staff on Outstanding Teaching & Learning.  All teachers completed a simple on-line multiple-choice test, consisting of ten Spanish language questions.  With the help resources from the Head of Modern Foreign Languages, we taught a thirty-minute Spanish lesson, having analysed where the most common mistakes where. The staff then re-sat the on-line test.

Spanish Test – Effect Size
Spanish Test – Effect Size

The initial test and final test results are simply entered for each student or the results from students in the control class and intervention class.  The spreadsheet has been set up to calculate the effect size.  A copy of the spreadsheet can be downloaded below:

Download here: Calculating Effect-size

Research process

You need to think through and make a note of the main methodology you are going to use in your research. The following will have an impact on your research process: Is the intervention classroom-based or outside of normal lesson time? Will you be the sole person involved in the research project, or is it a collaborative approach in terms of planning, implementing and evaluating?What measures are you using?


Increasingly the action research work completed by teachers in the classroom will form part of the wide body of evidence that will influence what happens in schools. With the proliferation of blogging – a trend that is likely to continue – it is possible for teachers to make their work available to an international audience. A number of schools are sharing teacher-led research through in-house magazines, TeachMeets or market places, as well as staff or departmental meetings.  Don’t underestimate the interest from colleagues in the work you have done, and also in the process you went through to gather your findings.  It is important for you to consider the best way to disseminate your work and include this within the #5MinResearchPlan.

We hope to have a number of examples of the #5MinResearchPlan. Please share your own examples with us.


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To view each example, click here; here and here.

If you are responsible for organising professional development within your school or institution you may want to also use The #5MinCPDPlan by @TeacherToolkit and @LeadingLearner.

 Download a copy!

#5MinResearchPlan Downlodable Version: (PDF)


 The #5MinResearchPlan by Ross Morrison McGill and Stephen Tierney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Based on all work published at and

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Creative Commons.


9 thoughts on “The 5 Minute Research Plan

  1. Another excellent blog full of good ideas. I have a few things I want to implement/tweak and may well use this to plan it out and take a baseline reading to then compare outcomes against. I might fill one in “retrospectively” for my RAG123 marking experiment so I have a record of the strategy and the outcomes. The idea of doing some research and making a focused tweak/change to see if there is an improvement is an exciting one.

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