Friday, 17 April 2015

How to teach … revision

As the exam season gets underway, we bring you useful lesson plans and ideas for making revision as pain-free as possible.

The advent of spring and the approach of summer are accompanied in school by a less welcome prospect: exam season.

May marks the beginning of Sats in primary schools and the first swathe of GCSEs and A-levels – usually practical or oral tests – in secondary schools. So as teachers try to cajole students into knuckling down, this week’s how to teach explores revision and how to make it as productive and pain-free as possible.

Start by getting students to create their own revision timetables. Author and former teacher Nicola Morgan has created a useful template to help you do this. It covers the three weeks of revision and includes a section in which students can log their exams to ensure theyare organised. It advises students to write in any days they cannot revise to help them plan ahead and includes different wellbeing tips each day to help students cope. Advice for both students and parents is available on Nicola’s blog.

Staying calm and mindful during this time is important. Get your class to think about how they might be feeling with this resource which asks: are you stressed? It includes five multiple choice questions to help students recognise how they are responding to pressure.

The Guardian’s Matthew Jenkin examined the calming benefits of mindfulness in the classroom in an article last year, stating that, according to Katherine Weare, emeritus professor at the universities of Exeter and Southampton’s mood disorder centre, one of the most useful ways of practising calm reflection is to take a very short pause in the middle of a task. Invite “students to stop what they are doing, close their eyes and recognise what is happening in their mind and body right now,” Jenkin writes.

Meditation is another useful revision break. Religious education teacher Andrew Jones has a presentation on compassion meditation for beginners, aimed at 11- to 14-year-olds. It’s based on a classroom scheme of work on Buddhism, but can act as a standalone lesson too. There is also a calming meditation track from Clear Vision that can be used to instill calmness.

Help key stage 4 students develop their exam skills with these useful study sessions from HumansNotRobots. The study resource scanning and skimming looks at useful reading techniques for students, and mind mapping is great for revision and essay planning. Another session looks at how memory works and guides students through a trial run of creating a revision pack for a topic.

This handy guide from Tavistock Tutors helps get essay writing up to scratch. It explores important writing techniques, warning students about the importance of getting on with it: “Structure is important, but writing something is better than handing in a blank sheet.” Teacher Neil Bowen has also written a resource on writing comparative English literature essays that provides useful information for A-level coursework and GCSE exams.

It is good to look at how students can prepare and answer questions. The Guardian Teacher Network has a handy sheet that looks at how to tackle different types of questions for secondary students. For example, if students get a table of information how should they respond? What’s the best way to interpret graphs? What general advice is there on handling oral examinations?

For primary students, you can access past Sats papers here. There’s also a fun look at reproduction in science with this worksheet from Twinkl. It includes a section that lets children fill in the blanks and asks them to draw the male and female reproduction systems, and label them.

Thinking about where students revise is also important. The Guardian Teacher Network has a useful poster that explores all the things to consider. It includes making sure your study area is well lit, and turning off devices to avoid distractions.

Teachers aren’t the only people who deal with students’ exam pressure – parents can also struggle. Teenage boys in particular can find their GCSEs tough. Psychologist Steve Biddulph provides invaluable tips aimed at parents to guide their sons through this difficult period. It includes expert advice from Robert Godber, a former head of Wath Comprehensive school in Rotherham. He says: “Try to be there for your child, both to provide practical things like food, and to help when there’s an emotional crisis”.

Finally, offer helpful advice on the day of exams. This includes making sure students know where and when each exam is being held, getting them to bring their exam slip, making sure they arrive on time and have all the necessary equipment. For hay fever sufferers, get them to take medication.

And last but not least, make sure they remember to eat breakfast.