Gold star preparation

21st January 2005 at 00:00
Terence Copley thinks that games can provide a fun learning experience

Remember revision in the "good" old days? Teachers grudgingly allowed a bit of class time for silent learning a few lessons before the exam. This was nearly impossible because of fidgeting or whispering by bored pupils. Then students were left to their own devices at home, glumly staring at the notebook or, in the case of the "goodies", using home-made revision cards to learn key information.

In contrast, revision now is almost an industry, part of the complete package of GCSE religious studies, with an array of books by seasoned teachers and examiners dedicated to specific syllabuses. Some of these are reviewed elsewhere on this page. But is that the end of it? Should the teacher just turn to the revision book? And what if you can't afford to buy them?

Revision for GCSE RS has three elements: acquiring necessary information; demonstrating understanding including key skills; and examination practice.

But since revision in any subject is also very much about student morale - feeling prepared - there is a fourth element, the check list that reassures me that I know that I know.

Some do-it-yourself revision aids can do just as well what commercial texts do -a vocabulary exercise book is sufficient for regular informal tests on key terms. As a joke, I regressed one GCSE group back to their primary school days, awarding gold and silver stars for top marks in these "RS vocab" checks. To my surprise they became great incentives and led to students vying with each other for full marks.

Game-based RS offers help with revision - Adrian Brown's "Interconnect" in the photocopiable Skills Challenge (published by RMEP) provides a game in which key-word cards have to be played next to each other rather like dominoes, with the connection between them explained by the student. For example, you can play the card "sanctity of life" next to "abortion issue" but a student who wrongly tries to play "transcendent" next to it has to pick up a penalty card in a game in which the first to dispose of all their cards is the winner.

My own "Knight's Move", in the same collection, demonstrates a principle - moving across a chessboard like a knight - that can be adapted to any RS content. "RE So and So" is similar, involving two packs of cards with statements and possible consequences, for example, from one GCSE syllabus:

"Buddhists are concerned about the intentions behind TV programmes" and the matching "So" card is "They see if it might harm living things" (to fit AQA B syllabus). Game-based activities like these lead to enjoyable group work, especially if the deadening word "revision" does not pass the teacher's lips.

A stage further on, and equally good revision for students, is to get them to devise and test the cards before these game-based activities are actually played.

Question-setting by students can also be done with exam practice - the third area of revision. Having practised several questions and seen specimen answers, students can be asked to mark anonymous answers, so that they understand what is involved in the mark range.

Then they can devise a similar question with mark scheme, which can then be administered to someone else in the group. A group of less able students is not so likely to reach the dizzy heights of question-setting, but understanding what the question requires and how to gain extra marks is just as important for them.

These varied activities contribute towards that final important goal - the students feeling they have been prepared for the exam and seeing what they have to do - in preparation and on the great day - to achieve their optimum grade. Hopefully, the whole experience will mean that they want to "pass go", collect a good grade and enter AS-level RS.

Terence Copley is professor of religious education at Exeter University

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