Being a teacher means you instinctively want to "give students the answer", particularly when you're faced with a sea of blank faces after a PowerPoint presentation - and you think you've explained it perfectly. The solution? Try not teaching them at all.
In some lessons, I have used the "20 per cent teacher, 80 per cent student" guideline, ensuring I'm not talking at the front of the class for more than 20 per cent of the lesson. The key to achieving this is to be selective with the resources you provide.
Ideally, these will encourage students to choose their answers and discuss their ideas. For me, the best are visuals with a minimum of text - for example a storyboard, in colour, enlarged on A3 paper and laminated. If you give students something that looks polished, they take more care in how they look at it and use it.
A good example of an independent learning resource is an acid-rain storyboard I made, telling the story of how acid rain is formed and showing its effect on the environment. I used six sections, with pictures in each one to explain the ideas, but no text.
The next stage is to give students the questions you want them to discuss and answer, then give them a time limit to work in pairs or small groups to discuss their solutions. Getting them to write their ideas on Post-it notes that can be stuck around the resource is an excellent way for them to document their thoughts.
While this is going on you are free to move around the groups and eavesdrop on the discussions. It is amazing what you can learn about their understanding and progress. If you like what you hear, you can ask groups extended questions to develop their ideas. Or if you find that a group is struggling, you can ask more structured questions to help them access the resource and find the answers at their own pace.
When this "finding answers for themselves" is over, the teacher can address any misconceptions and get a group that understood to explain how they found the answer. And when the plenary is over, the students (with the resource, Post-it notes and a head full of ideas) can complete whatever task you set them, whether a worksheet or exam questions on what they have just learnt.
Making these resources can take time, but there's nothing more satisfying than seeing a whole class focused on a topic, discussing it, and coming to the correct conclusion without you, the teacher, having to mutter one answer.
Kirsty Biggar is a science teacher at a Merseyside secondary
For another learning activity, try pand's resource on acids, alkalis and salts. Pupils can use it on their own or in groups to work through a topic
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