One of the hardest lessons for us to learn as teachers is how fundamentally different revision lessons are compared with so called "normal lessons".
They require a completely different skillset from teachers and students alike and they usually occur at a time of the academic year when you and your colleagues don’t have a lot of time to be creative; usually we're drowning under moderation deadlines, report-writing and the myriad emergencies that always emerge in the run-up to exam season.
It's a folly to circumvent the need for creative, engaging revision activities by simply ramping up the amount of practice papers and dragging out the powerpoints from last November, though these techniques do have their place.
Rather than reminding students what they have already done, the most effective use of revision time has always been to get them to apply their prior learning in unexpected ways.
Teachers have been doing this for decades with mind maps, hot-seating, quizzes and even creating fake social media accounts for fictional characters.
This time last year I found myself struggling with the problem of how to revise the poetry of Ted Hughes for an A-Level literature paper, when I hit an idea.
The issues of teaching Ted Hughes’ poetry for this paper were threefold; the poems themselves are incredibly complex, there was a particularly large number of seemingly disparate poems that the students had to be familiar with and be able to make links between.
Eventually I hit on an idea that worked so well with my Year 12 literature class that I've reused it whenever I am required to teach a content-heavy unit.
The idea itself is a simple one: the students were told at the beginning of the lessons that they had been given the task of designing a theme park based on the poetry of Ted Hughes. Once we looked at some examples of real life theme park maps – Disneyland, Universal Studios, and Banksy’s terrifying Dismal-Land project – the designing process began.
In order to ensure that my class were approaching the task in the best way to apply their prior learning on Ted Hughes’ poetry, I got each group to answer the following questions before drawing the actual map for the theme park:
What would be a fitting title for this theme park?
Students came up with ideas ranging from the fairly literal ‘Hughes-Land’ to more literary allusions such as WODWOrld.
What should be the different zones or lands within the theme park and what rides would you find in them?
My class found themselves envisioning an "Animal Enclosure" in which they could have the Jaguar, the Pike, the Famous Poet, and other mythical beasts. They also dreamed up a dilapidated set of ruins where one might see The Remains of Elmet and a sort of Nihilistic Vortex World where the bleak poems of The Crow might find their place.
What characters might you find strolling around the park and where would you find them?
Obviously we had Sylvia Plath, but also figures such as Al Alvarez manning the entrance to the park and refusing admission to some, Assia Wevvil welcoming visitors into the Land of Nihilism and, as a nod to the influence of Robert Graves, a suggestion was made that we could have a White Goddess testing the sturdiness of each of the rides.
For each of the rides, what could you have displayed for people to look at while they are queueing so that they are properly prepared for what they are about to experience?
Some really interesting suggestions came from this – photographs of Ted Hughes’ father in war uniform for the First World War pieces was a popular idea, a brief video-montage of the invention of the nuclear bomb was another, students really got to demonstrate their knowledge of context in this section.
A task of this nature is best done as group work but it is of course up to individual teachers.
Phil Brown is a writer and English teacher from South London
Visit our revision hub and wave goodbye to stress during exam season. It’s packed with tips, tricks and techniques that can help set your students on the path to success.