For a personal, social and health education teacher with a class of 11- to 12-year-olds, few topics are more important than puberty, and few are as fraught with difficulty.
Placing this unit at the right point during the year is critical. If you start too early, your students are unlikely to know each other well and won't feel particularly comfortable with each other. This leads to extra embarrassment that manifests in children either clamming up entirely or becoming ridiculously silly - neither of which is conducive to good learning. Starting too late in the year is just as bad, as many children - girls, especially - are likely to have started puberty already.
I always teach this unit just after the Christmas holidays as it is a useful midpoint between the two extremes. Sending a letter home letting students and parents know that this unit is on the horizon when they get back from their break is advisable, as it means students can prepare and parents have time to talk to their children beforehand if they wish to.
It is important to set the tone in the first lesson. I remind students that they are going to be learning factual information, just the same as in any academic lesson; and that learning new facts, even embarrassing ones, is fundamentally a good thing.
I like to point out that giggling when certain words are said is all right, provided that it doesn't get out of hand.
Despite it being old hat these days, I always begin with that wonderful "Kevin becomes a teenager" clip, pictured left, from the BBC television series Harry Enfield amp; Chums (bit.lyKevinPuberty). I ask students to identify as many changes that Kevin goes through in the clip as they can. It is good to use because, as with all great comedy, it touches on so many truths. This is still a real favourite with students because they can relate it to older brothers or sisters, which also reaffirms the idea that we all go through puberty so it is not something to be overly scared of.
One factor to consider is that sex and relationships education before the age of 11 is extremely patchy. Three of our feeder primary schools teach extensively on the subject but one does almost nothing at all. Assuming that parents have not broached this topic yet, and many do not, it is likely that you will have some students in the lesson who know literally nothing and some who have detailed information. Given the kind of material they are covering, this can make it a very difficult experience for those few in the former camp.
A simple but effective activity for the first lesson, which takes this into consideration, is to put students into groups and give them a large sheet of paper. On one side, they should list as many of the changes that we go through during puberty as they can think of. Have separate columns for what happens to girls and boys but encourage everyone to write in both. On the back, the group should come up with at least five questions they want to ask about puberty.
Working in small groups encourages students to volunteer information or questions they might be reluctant to divulge to the whole class. The activity is also a great way for the teacher to be able to sift fact from fiction when groups give feedback. Emphasise that it is OK to get things wrong and explain that a lot of myths and misinformation surround this topic.
I always end the first lesson by giving students a booklet to take away, allowing them to find out more in privacy. It's also a good way to begin a discussion with parents.
Tom Finn-Kelcey is head of politics at Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School in Faversham, Kent
1. Hormones v hearsay
This starter lesson on the changes that occur during puberty includes a true-or-false activity that sorts the hormones from the hearsay.
2. Organ recitals
These worksheets cover puberty and reproductive organs. There is also an assessment to find out how much the exercise actually helped students.
3. Gender games
This is a potentially embarrassing activity for students who have not been paying attention to lessons. The class has to decide whether the changes detailed occur in boys, girls or both sexes. bit.lyPubertyPosers
4. Match points
In this match-up activity, nine keywords and their meanings can be cut out as cards for students to pair up.
5. Chain of change
Labelling a diagram hammers home the message in these popular activities that ask students to identify the changes that occur during puberty.
6. Term time
With this worksheet, your students can sound like experts by learning the proper scientific terms to describe the changes. The phrases are sorted into columns according to sex.
7. Natural progression
The water cycle and the carbon cycle are already taught in schools, and now here's another to add to the roster: the human cycle. This comprehensive lesson plan and collection of activities show students what it's all about.
8. Monthly matters
This focus on menstruation comprises activities such as a menstrual timeline, a problem-page task and a worksheet.
9. Emotional rescue
Hormones can throw teenagers from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other in the blink of a disenchanted eye. This innovative lesson helps them - and teachers - to identify why these mood swings occur and what other emotional changes should be expected.
10. Film facts
The diagram in this animated PowerPoint helps students to visualise the different stages of the menstrual cycle. It contains a link to a clip from the film My Girl as a starter.