14th May 2010 at 01:00
The problem: I am on my first placement and struggling with my Year 10 bottom set. I prepare lessons with games and word searches but they seem to mess about and learn so little. How can I turn them around?

What you said

"The school needs to be providing adequate support here. The reality with most bottom set Year 10 classes is that they often 'mess about and learn so little' - even with experienced teachers in front of them."


"You have to show them you mean business as quickly as you can. The reality is that you will possibly be unable to get them all marching Glory Hallelujah before you go. Do not beat yourself up over this. We win our battles one man at a time."


"Behaviour management is sometimes impossible if you are in a difficult school and you start late in the year and the pupils are used to having a different teacher. They see you as a stranger and will not respond like they do to their 'real' teacher. Frustrating, but a fact of life for many trainees IMO."



It sounds as if you are preparing your lessons carefully, which is the key to turning around a challenging group. Make sure your lessons are stretching them: games and word searches lose their novelty factor quickly and often do not help pupils to achieve their potential. Ensure your lessons are structured around appropriate learning objectives that are shared with pupils throughout the lessons. You should make it clear to them why they are learning something and how they will demonstrate success in what they have learnt.

Hook pupils into your lesson from the start with interesting and surprising stimulus material that they can't help but be interested in, and ensure you use different types of activities. You could also try occasionally giving pupils a carefully structured choice about how they would like to complete a certain task.

When taking on a challenging group, try to get as much advice as possible about ways to handle particular pupils. Their usual class teacher will be an excellent starting point, but try to find other areas in the school where these pupils work effectively. Ask to observe the teachers and discuss the strategies they use to engage them. You must also ensure that you are clear about the school behaviour and rewards systems and make sure you use these.

Do not be afraid to ask for the most difficult pupils to be removed for a short period of time. This will allow you to try your new strategies with the more compliant members of the group. You could arrange a meeting with the removed pupils and your mentor to discuss their reintegration into your lessons.

Mark Lewis is deputy head at Marshland High School in Norfolk. See



- Make it clear why they are learning something.

- Try to make sure your lessons get children interested from the start.

- Get as much advice as possible about how to handle difficult pupils.


- Be afraid to ask for the most difficult pupils to be removed from your class.

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