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How to win your pupils' interest - and keep it - with Roy Watson-Davis

The key to starting a lesson is to engage your pupils. Forget doing the register first, do it at your convenience and get the lesson going with a well thought out starter activity. Here are a few suggestions.

Mind map Put the lesson topic or focus on the board and invite pupils to say what they already know about the subject. Put these ideas down around the map and get pupils to copy it into their books. You are then acknowledging that pupils might already know things about the topic, so raising their self-esteem, while also auditing what "knowledge" is out there for development or correction during the lesson.

Memory list Ask them to compile a list of five to 10 pieces of information from the previous lesson on the board, or individually as memory logs in exercise books.

Quick spelling test Identify key words that have been used in the previous lesson, or will be used in the current one, clearly flagging up why this is being done. This is useful for key curricular words and examination phrases. The spelling test can be developed later. Pupils can put the vocabulary into relevant sentences to show comprehension, or build a glossary in the back of their exercise book.

Predictive exercises The simplest involves you recapping the previous lesson content and asking the pupils to predict what is coming next. This prediction can be linked to lesson focus - what are you going to study next?, or content - that is, what might happen next in the topic you are studying? This can be linked to all manner of resources, the simplest idea being asking the pupils to guess which page they will be using in a textbook next, and why? The main area to develop in these predictive exercises is the pupil explanation of reasons for the prediction. This should show that the pupil is reflecting on previous learning, rather than making wild guesses. This should help pupils develop their skills in discussion and argument.

Share assessment and marking schemes These show the pupils how the next run of work is going to be assessed, and why. This should give the work enhanced status and a clearer sense of purpose. Not only will it start a run of work purposefully, but it will also give renewed focus to the pupils, who can tend to drift through lessons.

Let pupils start some lessons off Build on the "show and tell" model used in primary schools. Divide the class into groups and give each a specific lesson to start off for you in the future. Give them the title and a time limit.

Pictures Get them to bring in pictures relevant to the lesson, tack them onto the board or a display, or they can be held up and talked about, or left on tables and pupils invited to tour the room looking at them.

Homework Divide the class into two and give each half different homework based on a fact-sheet approach, such as finding a picture and five facts about a given topic or individual. At the start of the next lesson, pair up the pupils to share their homework - discussing and writing down what the other has found out.

Roy Watson-Davis is an advanced skills teacher in the London borough of Bexley

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