10 low-tech online learning lesson starters

Getting your online lesson off to a strong start can be a challenge – but Helen Mars has handy starters to help you
5th January 2021, 12:00pm
Helen Mars


10 low-tech online learning lesson starters

Coronavirus School Closures: 10 Handy Lessons Starters For Online Learning

In online lessons, as in face-to-face ones, the start of a lesson is key - and getting off on the wrong foot can be stressful for everyone.

You may not have used on-screen starters before, but these can be engaging, accessible and useful, as well as giving you time to take the register and get yourself set up for the lesson (particularly useful when teaching back-to-back).

There's a knack to getting them right: they need to be self-explanatory, relevant, accessible to all and differentiated by outcome.

Coronavirus: Lesson starters for online learning

Here are my favourites:

1. Yesterday, today, tomorrow

Ask pupils what they have learned in previous lessons or years that will help in their study of the topic today, what they need to learn today, and what questions they can pursue in their follow up work.

2. 5,4,3,2,1

This can be anything. In a poetry lesson, for example, it could be five quotes, four dates, three key terms, two key names and one technique.

3. Anagrams

Give the key terms of the topic jumbled up or, alternatively, give one long word and ask pupils to make as many words as they can from it.

For example, ISEMTHNOOM might produce mine, this, them, but also mono, the, theos, helping an RE class to think about the root words and constituent parts, as well as looking very carefully at the spellings.

4. If it were a…

A slightly more abstract and entertaining approach here, along the lines of: "If Zeus were a teacher in this school, who would he be and why?" It can offer a little comic relief, and also help pupils to think about the more subtle aspects of the figures in question.

You can get really metaphorical and play this game for concepts, too. What colour would this poem be and why? Make sure to ask why and prime all pupils to be ready to answer.

5. Self-quiz

A selection of questions is a classic starter, but what about having the same 10 questions to begin each lesson in a sequence with key knowledge? Pupils can keep their score each week and have the satisfaction of seeing their marks improve, helping to underline the impact of retrieval practice.

6. Ask me

Does what it says in the tin: you announce the topic and they get to set three (relevant) questions that you must cover during the lesson or sequence.

7. Useful verbs

You can promote tier two vocabulary by asking pupils for the most useful verbs they will use in this topic, or giving them a selection to rank or find the odd one out. It can be a wonderful way of introducing some stretch and challenge to the very start of the lesson.

8. Art and image

Keep incorporating cultural capital and visuals into lessons by beginning with a canonical image linked to your lesson content. Picasso's Guernica sparked empathic exploration of civilians in war with my Year 10s recently, for example.

9. Moral decision/difficult question

Which Renaissance writer's texts would you rescue from a fire in a library? How can you make this class a safe and comfortable space today as we discuss this challenging PSHE topic? Who is the most important figure in the discovery of DNA and why?

10. Design your notes page

Put the onus on your learners to turn their blank page into a structured and appealing page of notes. Provide a few bullet points to tell them what they can expect from the lesson; for example, dates between 1860 and 1865, a diagram of a battlefield, and the five steps leading to the war.

Get some to share their shapes and spaces at the start of the lesson and talk about ways to use these to revise.

Helen Mars is an English teacher in Yorkshire

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