Well begun is half done – Three Engaging Starters

This week I contributed to a session entitled “Engaging Starters” at my school by sharing three activities to start a lesson. These activities are started as pupils enter the room, require minimal explanation (indeed when used a second time they require no introduction), encourage pupils to collaborate, to peer teach, self and peer assess, and is engaging and enjoyable. The task Switch Switch I picked up on an NQT course run by Alan Jervis of Dragonfly Training back in 2004, and Linking just last year when Mr Jervis came to my school.


The task: You write keywords relating to the topic onto flip chart paper and fix to walls (enough for pupils to work in pairs ideal but three’s if space an issue). Each pair is given a pen and challenged to draw links between keywords with the tricky bit they have to write on the line why they have made the link.

This can be used at the start of a topic to assess prior knowledge, or at the end of a topic, but it is best used with both so you can demonstrate progress. I have also used this as starter and plenary to show progress in a single lesson.

Here are some examples:

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You can extend this activity by having pupils move to the next pair’s page to assess, improve and feedback (especially at the end of a unit where each group has a different topic), or pupil A from each pair moves on to be taught by pupil B. Pupil As then return and teach pupil B.

This can be set up in previous lesson by having pupil identify the key words and create the sheet themselves. Alternatively you can put the keywords onto A4 to do individually or even provide list and ask pupils to scatter them onto page in book and start linking.

Switch Switch

The task: Pupils are each given a card with a key question and answer on entry to class. They circulate and who ever they meet ask their question – they should allow the pupil to attempt an answer but then read out the correct answer. The pupil answering then asks their own question in the same manner and they switch questions. This continues and potentially pupils can experience 30 key questions and answers in a very short space of time. It really encourages pupils to remember the correct answers as they want to get it right and they may see the same questions several times. As the teacher you are free to circulate and listen to responses, encourage pupils to expand answers, and even deliver some additional questions based on responses.

This can be used to assess prior knowledge, at the end of a topic, prior to an assessment, or as a three minute motivator as featured in Engaging Learners. The only issue I have had with this is when pupils are not keen to venture outside friendship groups but some chivvying along helps. Pupils who would rarely answer questions in front of the whole class often thrive with this activity as the audience is so small.

Here are some examples for GCSE Diet & Exercise; GCSE Respiration; and Year 7 topic What is Science?

Homework: Give pupils a template and ask them to make three questions each (this should cover any pupils absent when set or failed to complete). They are even more motivated when they have made this resource although you have to check answers are correct!

This activity can be used repeatedly during a topic (although too often would be boring) but its a great activity and my favourite of the three here.

Peer to Peer

The Task: Students collaborate on answering a key question on a topic which you have written onto flip chart paper and fixed to wall, they then either move in pairs to the next (different) question and read / correct and add to the answer, or you can split the pairs into A and B to have Bs teach As from different pairs.

Here are some examples:

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I do not give pairs enough time to completely finish the first question so each group definitely has to assess another groups work and add to complete the question. I have found this activity especially good at producing model answer for the dreaded 6 mark questions in Science.

To take this further you can take pictures of the completed work and create a video on YouTube as I have done here: http://youtu.be/TNiLITyyYEQ

Pupils are then given a QR code to view this which they stick in books (this at the end of Year 9 topic Photosynthesis).


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