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Guiding question

Set a theme for a lesson by asking a typical essay question, such as inviting students to apply a theory to a practical context, or compare and contrast perspectives. Ask the question at the start of the lesson, then returned to at different stages, having students talk briefly in pairs to share ideas on how they would respond to the question.

Think pair share

Ask a question then follow this process: have student silently think about how they would answer the question (think); find a partner and discuss their answers (pair); go around the room getting each pair to report back (share).


Form groups and give each group one area of the topic to become an expert on. In groups, decide on a good way to teach someone else about your area of the topic. This might be a set of terms and definitions; a 3 step process to follow or a diagram. Split the groups so that each person is in a new group with no one from the previous group. Have each person teach the rest of their group about their topic, using the strategy their group has devised.

Different Tasks

In small group work, give all students some content such as a section of a reading, a set of data, a scenario or a case study. Get the students to work in smaller groups - each group has the same content but a different set of instructions. The students can then share the outcomes of their discussions. This exercise can help students to get inside commonly used instruction terms such as analyse, apply, critique and evaluate.

Analyse success criteria

Provide students with student examples of the task and ask them to grade the examples according to the marking schedule. Have each group explain their grades to the class and discuss how they applied the criteria. This process will help to surface any misunderstandings and oversights.

Terms and definitions

As a class, brainstorm the key vocabulary for a topic (the 10 or 20 most important words). Pair students up, allocate several words from the list to each pair and have them write definitions for their words. By gathering the definitions together and reviewing (adjusting where necessary) the definitions, the students can build their own shared language of learning.