It's 1pm on a Tuesday afternoon in the east end of Glasgow. A lively group of nine-year-olds is heatedly debating the rules for a game they have just invented, which involves a softball, two die, coloured Plasticine, pieces of string and some card. This is a literacy lesson at St Anne's Primary School, but there are no textbooks or worksheets in sight.
It is a group task designed to encourage children to speak competently and creatively while exploring, developing and sustaining ideas through talk, based on cognitive acceleration activities devised by Ken Gouge and Carolyn Yates, who are education consultants.
Now the games are put to the test. The groups swap games and play them, and are given specific questions such as: "What do you like and dislike about the game?" and "How could it be improved?"
The pupils can hardly wait to get back to their original game to read the comments, discuss them and hone their products.
Having worked through the tasks, the final question is: "What makes a good game?" The groups make three recommendations intended to help another team invent a new game, giving the pupils lots to think about.
The scheme is not all Plasticine and string. It employs a variety of drama-related techniques such as thought tracking and hot seating, as well as imagery and music.
The tasks are open ended, with teachers and pupils having to think on their feet. Feedback comes from peers keen to modify ideas, in contrast to a teacher-led lesson where the outcomes are pre-determined.
Minimal but timely questioning by the teacher is vital in order to challenge and extend children's thinking, sustaining discussion without stifling creative flow. This is where the challenge lies for teachers, who sometimes find it hard not to take centre stage.
Tips to incorporate cognitive acceleration techniques into your classroom are:
- Get pupils to check for evidence that confirms, extends or changes their initial expectations.
- Keep in mind the type of reasoning the lesson is designed to develop. That way you can be flexible and focused.
- Keep referring to what the "group brain" thinks (to promote debate), rather than selecting individual pupils to respond.
- Experiment with different groups of pupils for various tasks.
Sue Reeve teaches at Scotstoun Primary School and Margaret McKay teaches at St Anne's Primary School, both in Glasgow.