How to squeeze GCSE revision into every lesson

We all know that retrieval practice is key to making learning last - and Yousuf Hamid has simple techniques to build it into every lesson

Yousuf Hamid

GCSE revision

One of the biggest challenges when teaching exam classes is fitting in time for revision in lessons while trying to cram in a packed curriculum. And this year, this challenge will be even greater, as teachers will be helping students to catch up on learning they may have missed during lockdown.

Fortunately, there are several activities that can be incorporated into lessons that means pupils can effectively revise throughout the year. 

GCSE revision ideas

These require limited time in lessons, almost no planning and absolutely no marking.

Spaced practice starters

All my starters follow the same format, with five questions for pupils to answer with no notes.

The first two questions are about content learned in the last lesson, the next question about a lesson last week, a fourth question about what was learned several months ago with a final question linking the topics referenced above together.

By regularly reviewing previously learned material, the retrieval is spaced so by the time of their exam pupils will have retrieved key content from each topic five or six times in their starters alone. 

The final question is designed to ensure interleaving as pupils learn the links between various topics. Pupils are then given answers and self-mark, making improvements as necessary.

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Low-stakes quiz

The most understood form of retrieval practice is a quiz where pupils are forced to retrieve information with no access to notes.

I give pupils 10 questions to answer and ensure all answers are no more than one sentence long so the entire quiz can be completed in 10 minutes with pupils self-marking.

I then ask differentiated questions to pupils to interrogate their answers to ensure pupils are stretched further to go beyond the answers they have written down.

It is a myth that retrieval practice is only about improving factual recall.

Linking topics together

I utilise interleaving in lessons by ensuring pupils can discriminate between different topics.

One way I do this is by writing the name of three key words on a worksheet and asking pupils to write a sentence explaining how they link together.

For example, for business GCSE pupils I might give pupils “market research”, “segmentation” and “customer base” and expect the relationship between these terms, in doing so strengthening their understanding of all three topics.

As these topics are learned at different times, this is also a form of spaced practice and the class is given immediate feedback.

Brain dump

One of my favourite forms of retrieval practice is a brain dump. Half way through a lesson, pupils stop and have four minutes to write everything they know about a topic with no notes and no further guidance. 

Research shows that this free recall helps pupils organise knowledge as they are forced to think harder than being directed to answer specific questions. Thinking harder means pupils are more likely to get to the desired difficulties needed to ensure long-term retention.

This can either be about the topic being taught or can be a form of spaced practice by asking pupils to recall a previously taught topic. Pupils then share answers, so they get immediate feedback.

All-year revision

Each of these activities takes no longer than 10 minutes within a lesson and requires no marking.

The key is that you specify what the key knowledge is you want pupils to know from the curriculum and that pupils practise recalling these right from the start of the year.

This means by exam time these revision techniques coupled with pupils self-quizzing regularly means pupils have practised retrieving the key information they need to remember up to 10 times before their exam – remember revision is most effective if it is something that happens all year round and not just at exam time!

Yousuf Hamid is a business and economics teacher at a high school in London

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