Sticky notes

I always have sticky notes to hand!

Here are some ways in which I use them:

1. I ask students to write one idea or key word on a sticky note then rotate them to music around the class. When the music stops, the students look at the idea/key word they have in front of them and make a note of it.

2. Students write down how they’ve met their Learning Objective in the lesson and place it on the board on a level ladder or bronze/silver/gold. Then I nominate another student/some students to come and choose some, read them out & comment on them. This gives a clear visual representation of the achievements of the students in the class for that lesson.

3. Lesson target – students can quickly note down a target for the lesson and have it on the desk in front of them for the lesson. At the back of the their exercise book they can have a ‘targets met page’ and a ‘working towards’ page. They can use the same ones again and again, depending on the lesson focus. The targets can be something not directly related to the lesson outcomes i.e. a literacy target.

4. Feedback to others – students can write feedback for someone else to put in their book – it can be a lot more visual than a comment.

Lolly pop sticks

Enhance your lessons with lolly pop sticks!

I bought a huge amount of lolly pop sticks of different colours from Amazon and I haven’t looked back.

Here are some of the ways in which I use them in my classroom:

1. Questioning – I have one lolly stick for each student I teach, wrapped in elastic bands as a class set.  I use them to randomly select students to ask questions or to pick groups.

2. Questioning in TL – As I teach languages, students can easily take part in choosing other students to answer questions. I will tell a student to choose a colour (in the TL and they reply in the TL). Once I’ve asked a student a question, I will remove their lolly stick from the set so that I never asked the same student twice.

3. Differentiation – For some of my groups I have carefully picked which colour lolly stick each student will have and have differentiated it so that all of the more able/least able/middle ability have the same colour (they aren’t aware of this & haven’t figured it out either).

4. Debates – With older students, (top-ability GCSE/A-Level), I use lolly sticks to encourage students to participate in the debate. Each student is given a number of lolly sticks and when they participate in the debate, they put a lolly stick in the middle of the table. The idea is that they have to get rid of all of their sticks.

5. Differentiation by support – to avoid students asking questions too easily I give them an allocated number of lolly sticks.  Whenever they ask a question I take a stick off them.  It really makes them focus on what to ask & whether or not they actually need to ask a question. It also encourages them to try to find other ways of finding the answer for themselves.  I use this technique particularly when students are writing in French/Spanish as this is when they ask the most questions e.g. “Miss, how do you say X?”  For very mixed ability groups (I have a GCSE class who have target grades ranging from A-E), I give a different number of lolly sticks to students – some may get 1 or none, others 3.

6. Numbered lolly sticks of questions – have a set of numbered lolly sticks that you can use for questions in class. Number the questions on your presentation and randomly select what question to ask.

Please share other ideas on how to use lolly sticks as I’m sure they could be used in so many different ways.

My teacher toolkit…

I thought it might be useful to share some things that I consider useful, if not essential, to have as a part of my teacher toolkit. I will go into detail about how the individual things can be used in future posts. These are not in order of importance as I feel that varying what you use is essential.

  • highlighter pens (see previous post)
  • sticky notes
  • lollipop sticks (preferably coloured)
  • answer buzzers
  • dice (normal, blank, large foam)
  • mini whiteboards, pens, cloths
  • a soft ‘toy’ of some description (used for questioning)
  • coloured hats (for Edward de Bono style activities) – mine are made from coloured border roll.
  • stopwatch (physical or online)
  • scrap paper – ALWAYS useful!
  • Random name picker at
  • Countdown timer at
  • egg timers for students

Using highlighter pens in reading lessons

One of the best things I bought for my classroom this year was a class set of highlighter pens (48 to be exact).  Of course, pencil crayons can be used in exactly the same way but for me, there’s something special about using highlighter pens.  I estimate that I will need a new set of 48 by September.  I paid around £20 but I think they are definitely worth it for a whole year’s worth of activities. Even better if you can get your faculty to buy them for you!

Here are some way I’ve used them in language lessons:

  • students create themselves a key and colour different types of words (e.g. cognates in yellow, words they understand in pink, other words that they can work out because of context). The words that have no colour are the words they don’t understand (which is often surprisingly few). Sometimes I don’t spend any time worrying about what they don’t understand and get them used to not being able to understand everything. However, sometimes I follow this up by giving all students a sticky note (I’m sure I’ll post about how good these are at some point!) and ask them to write down one word from the text they don’t understand. Students then stick these on the board & they are used for discussion (often they come up with the same few words). I never tell them what these words mean, rather I describe them in the target language or use a sentence (with mime) to help them understand the meaning. I encourage annotation too as we are going through these words.
  • students colour in different word types – e.g. verbs in one colour, nouns in another etc.
  • Students colour in examples of tenses in different colours
  • students could use an example text to highlight which parts they could use themselves and which parts they would change.
  • In  terms of collaborative learning & differentiation, each student on the table is given a different colour highlighter and a different task to do. E.g. weakest student could highlight cognates in pink, more able could highlight verbs in orange. Then the students are timed for a couple of minutes (I use an online stopwatch/countdown clock that buzzes at the end of two minutes) to complete that activity on their own copy of the text you’re using.  Once the two minutes is up, students pass their sheets to the next person & the process begins again with students doing the same task but on someone else’s text. This activity can only be successful if there is a follow-up discussion between the students.  This could be followed up with each student talking for one minute about the words they’ve highlighted and others annotate their texts while listening to their peer. 
  • students can also use highlighters when peer-assessing other students’ work. For example, students can highlight parts of the written work that they really like and explain why. They can also highlight mistakes (but this has to be carefully managed of course).
  • In preparation for Controlled Writing Assessments, students can highlight any previous written work that may help them prepare. They could get into the habit of highlighting verbs in paragraphs so that they can spot verb patterns and tenses easily.

There are many more ways of using highlighter pens & I would welcome any other ideas readers may have!

Differentiation by seating

One of the easiest and simplest ways to aid differentiation is how you sit your students.  There are two ways this can be done and I have been known to have two seating plans for each group! I always have my tables in groups of 4.  This means pair work and group work organisation is easy.

Seating plan A is mixed ability – but organised mixed ability based on the Spencer Kagan’s ideas.  Using my mark sheet  I sort my students into ability order using all of the data available to me from most able to least able.  This list gets divided into 4 (this means there are 8 students in each ability group – most able, upper-middle, lower-middle, lower ability.  I colourcode the students and my seating plan so that it’s easy to put students in the correct place.

I choose one student from each ability group and place them on a table.  I always place the most able student in the same seat on every table (likewise with students in other ability groups).

This helps my classroom practice in many ways:

1. I can differentiate on the spot with any task.  For example, I may ask every student sitting in X position on a table to do one part of the task, and every student sitting in Y position to do another aspect of the task.

2. I can easily differentiate my questioning   Just by looking at the table groups, I know who to ask my most challenging questions.

3. I can assign roles during group work.

4. I can assign students to work with their shoulder partner or their face partner and as long as most able and least able are sitting diagonally to one another then they will never be working together.

Seating plan B is by target grade or target level.  This means I have all of my most able together and all of my least able together.  This is great for differentiation purposes as groups of students can be given different tasks to do, or different versions of the same task.  Quite often students are not even aware that their tasks are different, which can have benefits.

With GCSE groups I have them use seating plan A on one day of the week and seating plan B on another day of the week.  This allows for a greater variety of differentiated activities delivered in the space of a week.

I hope some of these ideas prove useful!