Chemistry - Captivation tactics

11th May 2012 at 01:00
Engage pupils to keep them interested and learning

Are we engaging our pupils or simply trying to entertain them? It's an important question. The dictionary definition of entertain is "to hold the attention of, with something amusing or diverting". To engage, on the other hand, is "to get someone interested in". In class, I think the latter is more effective.

I recently observed a history lesson where the teacher set fire to a couple of #163;20 notes (albeit good counterfeits) in a carefully planned demonstration linked to the Treaty of Versailles, designed to show how money had become worthless. It was a lesson the pupils are unlikely to forget.

My lab includes wall displays of pupils' work (changed regularly), alongside posters from the Royal Society of Chemistry's fantastic "Not all chemists" range and several different versions of the periodic table. Sometimes balloon models (representing shapes of molecules) or models of atomic structure hang from the ceiling.

Music, images - even cartoons - can create a hook for the lesson. So can questions. "When faced with a question we naturally try to answer it; whereas, when faced with a statement we just read it," says Peter Anstee in the Differentiation Pocketbook.

Having captured their attention, we also need to notice when pupils are drifting and need help to re-engage. Try handing out Post-it notes and asking them to write an answer to a potential question. Then put them in pairs and get them to write a question to their partner's answer.

Another favourite, useful for developing extended writing skills, is storyboarding. This works well on subjects such as acid rain, eutrophication and the history of atomic structure. As you tell a "story", pupils record the information as images, not words. They retell the story to their partner, using their images, then write the text underneath. Flow diagrams can be used in a similar way. Both work because the pupils process the information, rather than simply reproducing it.

Engagement involves careful planning and thinking about the lesson's range of activities, how it is structured and what you want pupils to remember. But it's worth the effort.

Sarah Longshaw is head of chemistry at Eaton Bank School in Congleton, Cheshire

What else?

Put science on screen with fantastic chemistry storyboard lessons from kirstybotham, can21 and ljb108.

Get creative with chemistry using MagisterArtium's cross-curricular sci-art scheme of work.

In the forums

Excite pupils and colleagues with some inspiring ideas for an inset as suggested by science teachers on the TES Science forum.

Find all links and resources at

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