We’ve all been there. It’s 8.55am, and the students are going to arrive in five minutes. You’ve been coming down with something for the last couple of days, the cat was sick on the carpet this morning just as you were leaving for work, the Principal stopped by for a ‘quick chat’ that went on for twenty minutes and – oh the students are here now. Better start teaching! Except, you don’t have a lesson plan.
You’re a pro, so you start the lesson with a decent(ish) starter: remind the person next to you what you did last lesson and come up with three words that summarise the experience. Great, they’re doing something that’ll keep them busy for a few minutes while you turn on the projector and find BBC One Minute World News or CNN10 to fill time while you work out what the lesson will be, all the while secretly panicking that you’ll appear unprepared or worse, incompetent.
But, as a pro, you know the kind of thing you want to do. You know the basic arguments, and you know the rough outline of the evidence that might be useful. At this point, it’s a great opportunity to turn the content generation to the students. Give them an outline of the issue from the top of your head; use two different colour markers on the board with a secret colour coding of your choice, then ask what the colours mean, so it looks planned. And then, ask the students to find four graphs, images, diagrams or something else that they think explain the issue. They will all have a browser on their phone as a minimum, and if not then you’re probably in a school with textbooks so they can search through those instead. (Meanwhile, you can quickly check the syllabus to find out what the essential points are.)
Ah! But that’s just an ‘off you go’ lesson isn’t it? That’s going to get you a ‘poor’ in your teacher evaluations. If you leave it there – or just ask students to ‘write about the results’ – no, you’re not going to win a teaching award.
But the lesson actually revolves around where you go next. And this is where you can emphasise skills, synthesis, evaluation and content. For example:
- Split the whiteboard into sections so that each student/pair/group has a space. They have to choose the most interesting/convincing/controversial/simple graphic and copy it onto the board by hand. This is a good test of sketching skills. After briefly discussing the results as a class, students can sit down again and decide the order to present the evidence. Make it even more interesting by creating a CSI-style ‘murder board’ linking evidence together with lines using a big red marker. And that becomes the essay plan that they can write for the rest of the lesson.
- Students have to present an elevator pitch for their chosen graphic. It must explain why this is the most interesting/convincing/controversial/simple graphic in under one minute. Make it even more challenging by not allowing them to share the graphic itself, so they have to describe it first.
- Create an exhibition in the room. Students can either print out their graphic(s) or show them on the original screen if digital citizenship isn’t a fraught issue in the school (well done! what’s your secret?). Put a sheet of A4 paper by each ‘exhibit’ and ask students to provide feedback on each one. This is great practice for critically reviewing evidence.
- Knock outs are a great form of collaborative competition if you have 4, 8, 16 or 32 students (and can be adapted to other numbers by having the ‘match’ between groups of three with one winner). Each person ‘plays’ against another, with the winner being the better graphic as decided between either the two students or by another ‘spectator’ group. Players then form a team to defend their graphic in the next round. Add the winners to a knock-out systems diagram on the board. You’ll end up with a very convincing graphic at the top and the less convincing at the lower stages. Importantly, the students with the weakest graphics will see what made the strongest graphics better as they progress through the rounds.
These are simple ways to ensure that information found by the students is accurate, useful and critically evaluated. And best of all, it requires almost no planning. So now you can go home tonight and enjoy that third glass of wine without worrying about the consequences for tomorrow morning!