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Making time to solve problems

I have realised that too often in class I have been asking questions which require time and thought, yet have wondered why no hands went up within seconds of asking. I would then pick the same individuals or answer the question myself.

To make the most of discussion or question-and-answer sessions, I now try to ensure pupils have time to think and gain confidence before sharing their ideas with the class. The key is short, structured activities between asking a question and getting answers to produce greater involvement of pupils.

Here are a couple of strategies which I've found useful: this is for initial thoughts rather than final ideas. Give pupils two minutes to jot down two ideas in response to a question. Allow one minute to share with the person next to them, changing their notes. You can extend this to make groups of four or more, until you feel pupils have enough material for discussion. When you return to whole-class response, they've had time to consolidate ideas and so feel more willing to contribute.

Another idea is to set up "expert groups". Take a topic, allocate a different aspect to each small group (eg, if looking at a poem: structure, rhyme scheme, imagery). Each group then answers questions or makes notes on A3 paper. In the whole-class discussion afterwards, you can call on the "experts" in the relevant group to give their ideas.

Alternatively, after five minutes, make new groups of one representative from each of the original groups. Each representative then feeds their expertise back to the new group. This builds confidence and allows for effective differentiation; mixed-ability grouping means more able pupils support less able, whereas ability-based groups means you can allocate more difficult topics to some and offer greater structure to others.

Katharine Lee Assistant co-ordinator of English, Park View Community School, Durham LEA

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