Top 10 ‘Afternoon’ Teaching Strategies

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What ‘end of the week’ teaching ideas do you have up your sleeve?

Teachers will be back to school all the bright-eyed with enthusiasm(?), renewed and ready to perform during the term ahead. But, the looming spectre of lethargy and inattention is only ever one poorly chosen activity away. Here are my top-10 afternoon classroom activities.

1. Self-Guided Worksheets

Much like Ronseal, this does exactly what it says on the tin. From knowledge organisers to extended note taking and consolidation exercises, self-guided worksheets generates both student accountability and time for you to manage the inevitable bubbles of poor behaviour that a Friday afternoon produces. By placing the majority of work onto the students, you can develop valuable independent learning skills and provide focused support to those students who require it. Consider kicking student accountability up a notch through an individual progress chart visible to the whole class…

2. ‘Blockbuster’ Self-Guided Study

For those of you unfamiliar with Blockbuster, it was a late 80’s quiz show that saw contestants move across a hexagonal playing board by answering questions correctly and choosing which hexagon they would jump to next. In a classroom context, this is a great opportunity for self-differentiated study or practice of recently covered material. Using different colours for different levels of question or activity, students can work their way through different tasks in order to complete the Blockbuster board. Still confused? Download a template here.

3. Pomodoro Revision

Not only useful at exam crunch time but throughout the year, the Pomodoro technique is a structured approach to revision that can encourage lethargic students into action. The Pomodoro technique uses focused blocks of 20 minutes working time, interspersed with 5-minute breaks to generate focus. In a revision context, students should revise independently for 15 minutes, test themselves (or a partner) for 5 minutes and then take a 5-minute break. Note here, it is important to teach students how to revise effectively.

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4. Student Teachers

Students can become teachers themselves and peer-teaching is a powerful tool when deployed correctly. Multiple studies have shown that individuals are better able to retain and recall knowledge by teaching it to others. This activity can work either in small groups (where individuals teach each other on a rotating basis) or class-wide (as a golden opportunity to stretch more able students). Give students time to prepare their micro-lesson and then allow 2-5 minutes for delivery.

5. Decision-Making Exercises

Students frequently have a good grasp of subject content, but struggle when it comes to the contextual application of knowledge. So, why not create an exercise that requires them to apply their knowledge and justify decisions based on their understanding? In my native subject of geography, students have tackled scenarios including international disaster response and resource distribution around different global regions. What is important in this example, is being explicit with the boundaries of the scenario. Students should be given clear constraints and rules to work within. This will encourage them to apply their understanding (creatively) to solve a problem or situation.

6. Presentation Planning/Delivery

In a packed timetable, oracy doesn’t always get the air time it deserves. Why not channel the frequently ‘chatty energy of a Friday afternoon lesson’ into the planning and delivery of a subject-specific presentation With a focus on pace, students should develop short presentations based on existing work. Alternatively, they can undertake a short, guided research task as the basis for their presentation. Set time aside for focused practice before groups present their work.

7. Speakers Corner

This is neither a presentation or debate, but vital to both is prepared speeches as a powerful tool for oracy. Practising and delivering speeches allows teachers to support the cognitive development of a whole raft of skills, both hard and soft. Public speaking, confidence, academic literacy and subject familiarity are all aspects that can be focused. Consider changing the fictional ‘audience’ of a speech to shape the language that students use. An ‘Apprentice’ style pitch could encourage the use of business English or a ‘town hall’ approach could allow students to bridge the world between informal and formal lexicons.

8. News Report Role-Play

Sticking with the theme of oracy and adding in a much-needed dose of current affairs awareness – a role-play (very much a proverbial teaspoon of sugar to hide the medicine of the News) centred around subject-specific news can invigorate sleepy lessons. Students can work in groups as a ‘news team’ to cover various aspects of a story, and time should be given to focus on presentation skills and the importance of fact-checking when delivering a news piece. One consideration here (if students are conducting their own research), is to consider the resources that groups are accessing. All too often, free use of the internet results in distracted, confused or otherwise unproductive activity!

9. Subject-Specific Scavenger Hunt

Depending on the subject, this is an easy fallback task that can be as simple or stretching as necessary. Arming pairs of students with a collection of subject-specific resources and giving them a list of things to find is a solid independent activity. This can help build practical skills and underlying subject knowledge. As long as you have resources to hand a scavenger hunt is never too hard to organise. Pick 20 – 30 scavenger ‘objects’ and away you go!

10. Creative Brief

Turn your students into tiny Jo Jonah Jamesons or Don Drapers and give them a creative brief based on a recent topic. They then have to come up with an advertising campaign, billboard advert or newspaper article and convince the general public of a particular view or opinion. The focus here should be twofold. First, students should consider potential counterarguments to their work. Students should also focus on packaging their subject-specific knowledge in a format that is accessible by the public. This encourages students to consider exactly how they communicate their knowledge, rather than just regurgitating it.

So, there you have it! What teacher hasn’t felt a familiar weariness at the prospect of herding 30 pupils for 40 – 60 minutes of revision? 10 quick ideas that should keep any class interested and engaged through those challenging afternoons.

Tom Davidson

Tom is a newly minted NQT, having just finished his first year of the Teach First (love them or hate them) Leadership Development Programme. In a previous life he was a civil servant, contributing to education policy in the Youth Justice System. Since September 2017 he has traded Whitehall for the whiteboard as he works as a Secondary Geography teacher in South East London. Asides from surviving the next year, he is excited to begin teaching in one of the capital's most deprived communities. If he has any spare time over the coming year, you’ll find him on the rugby pitch or in the kitchen.

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