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How green are my students?

Peter Ransom encourages free traffic in problem-solving

One of the areas where many students ask for revision help is algebra.

Knowing where to start is the key to maximising revision time, so establish this first by using traffic lights.

Give students a few examples (no more than five) from one area of algebra (eg linear equations, quadratic equations, graphs, expanding brackets, factorising, powers) starting from very simple to very difficult.

Next to each example, I ask them to sketch a set of traffic lights and shade or colour it appropriately - green if they could do it without any problem, amber if they are unsure about it, or red if they have no idea what to do by sketching a set of traffic lights and shadingcolouring accordingly.

Then they do some smart revision by helping each other, looking at each example in turn. If everyone is green, move on. If some are amber and green then they pair up so green helps the amber. Red and amber students try to resolve their problems - if they have no success they will seek help from me. If they are all amber or all red then we do some whole-class work.

Once the examples are solved to everybody's satisfaction, I ask them to set a similar problem for another student who had the same traffic light colour - of course they have to have solved the equation themselves before passing it on, so there is some check. The advantages of using this include: l Students find their own start level and are not out of their depth.

* They help each other and consolidate their own skills.

* They move on to another topic quickly without losing concentration.

* They receive explanations in a way which can make more sense to them.

Traffic lights work with other topics as well as algebra.

Peter Ransom is leading maths teacher at the Mountbatten School and Language College, Romsey, Hampshire

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