“All The Critics Love U In New York”

It’s time 4 a new direction

Prince – All The Critics Love U In New York – 1999


On Tuesday 17th October my amazing Headteacher sent me to CamSTAR* Conference 2017.  I picked two sessions that put me out of my comfort zone:

  1. From ‘LOTS’ to ‘HOTS’ – Scaffolding students to higher order thinking skills and better outcomes. Emma Wilkinson, Director of Studies/History teacher, CATS Canterbury; and Louisa Horner, T&L Coordinator, CD Humanities History and Sociology teacher.
  2. DiDiAC – TalkWall: Developing a dialogic classroom. Catherine Davis, Ass Headteacher, Safron Walden Country High School. (I won’t be discussing this session in this blog, hopefully when I use it in my class I will blog then).


If anyone reads my posts regularly you’ll know I dislike anything that isn’t silent writing! It’s easy to criticise an idea/activity without really buying into it. Everyone has an opinion on classroom teaching!

So, for me, the first session was a must. They discussed everything that makes my eyes twitch; flipped learning, group work and activities. Guess what? I think they’ve converted me! I’ve come to realise perhaps my dislike for these types of activities could just be that I’ve been doing them wrong all this time! And the best bit – they’re all differentiated without you doing anything!

1.Hexagons. A series of hexagons are used filled with various pieces of information. The students then use the hexagons to use as a base for a critical analysis essay. Students are given blank hexagons to make secure links.  Each student or group arrange their hexagons differently and make links to other sources or blanks as they see fit.

Why do I like this? You can give students basic scaffolding, however, they add blanks to complete links and main structure. Ensuring their essay is their own work based on their understanding.


2. Students are given a grid of 20 facts. Very detailed. They then have to arrange the 20 facts onto a graph deciding which is the most important at different points.

How can I use this? In English, we study novels and one thing students can find hard is the structure of a story; how has an author created an overall effect. So, for example in A Christmas Carol, I will give my student 5 key events in each stave, then will then mark their graph at the bottom, and along the Y-axis they can add; characters, themes, context, etc in different colours and mark the importance of each at different parts of a story. At the end, they have a clear visual representation of the story. I will then get my students to finish this off with a paragraph evaluating their choices.

In case you were wondering about a graph being confusing, I was thinking like this:


3. A stretch and challenge activity. Again students are given a sheet with 3 facts, in the blank box students need to compare the facts to their own ideas; do they agree with the evidence? If not, what are they basing their argument on? Students have to show an analytical approach. This makes students engage with critical arguments and consider other aspects.


4. Text tiles. This is very similar to the hexagons and are mostly used for flipped learning homework (students need to research a concept/idea, eg read a piece of text, research or watch a video, before the next lesson).  They for example then need to prioritise each tile – which is the most important to the least important. Then evaluate, making a judgement with an exam style question and finally transfer to a written piece of work.


5. Concept task – I’ve already used this one with my A level class. It’s fairly self-explanatory, but I got my students to write an Alevel concept eg Grice’s Maxims in the centre of a page, then they just work their way around the 5 questions answering each one to help them understand. This worked really well. Loved it!



6. Students are given large sheets of paper and in different colours annotate as much as they know about several given topics. Once they can see all the information around them they begin to see patterns, that they can’t often see.


7. Students are given blank grids and fill in with as much information that they know/understand on a given topic, split into subheadings. When finished they then have to arrange and discuss their cards in different orders according to the 2nd resource. You can get students to order the ideas in a different order according to different questions or ideas, does this change their perception of a concept? In English, their questions could easily be adapted to a book/poem students are studying.

8. Students are given an exam style question and then a scaffolded resource to help them develop their critical analysis skills. Students work through the steps, with modelled examples to help them understand how they need to bring all the information together.


Why I liked these so much was the school has seen a rise in the quality of essays written by their students and their results have gone up in their subject. They don’t use these as a 10-minute filler in a lesson. These are planned and created to have a purpose and ultimately help students become analytical in their thinking and writing ability. The activities are used over a period of several lessons, building up to a full written analytical essay.

It’s easy to criticise an idea, but what I can’t argue with is their results have increased because they are writing better critical essays. I suppose (maybe) it depends on how much you’re willing to buy into it.

I will be using these myself as the year progresses.  All of the above can be transferred to other subjects easily.

Thank you for reading!


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