Category Archives for "Teaching tip"

Teaching Action Scenes in Creative Writing

It was a real joy this summer to participate in Team English National Conference Online. My recorded session is available for you to watch for free here – on YouTube. Below you can download my slides – if that would be useful.

My session covered:

Action? Drama? Blood? Violence? Do your students want to write these stories? Do you never want to mark another mediocre action story?

If your answer is yes, then this free CPD training is for you! If you know students who want to write action sequences, fight scenes, and even gruesome murders, then now is the time to teach them to do it well.

This session will help you with some clear and practical strategies to use in your classroom.

This free creative writing CPD includes:

– my favourite Creative Writing CPD books

– exploring short story writing at school!

– examples of student writing

– Activity 1 – nouns for writing action

– Activity 2 – creating a shot by shot scene

– Activity 3 – adding urgency and interruptions

– Mentor texts

– Recommendations for further reading

Introducing Creative Writing

A while ago on Twitter, I shared some photos from my Year 10’s books showing how I introduce Creative Writing at the beginning of the academic year.


Some relevant context

This blog post gives a quick overview of how I introduce Creative Writing to my new GCSE students. Before I start a little bit of context (mostly for my friends in the US). I use these lessons at the very beginning of Year 10 (students will be turning 15 during this academic year), it is a brief introduction to narrative writing. My students sit national standardised exams at the end of a compulsory 2-year English Language course. This examination includes creative writing. In fact, writing makes up 50% of the examination grade and of this, creative writing is 50% again. The next vital fact is that students must achieve a certain pass grade in their English Language GCSE – otherwise they must retake!

For my UK based teacher-friends, my school sits the Edexcel exam board. For the creative writing section, they are given a choice of 2 narrative prompts. No pure description. So these are working towards narrative.

Phewee, ok, now that’s over. Let’s get into the writing!

Lesson 1 (download the PowerPoint here)

  1. As this is my first lesson of the year, with a brand-new class – there is a good 15 minutes of faffing about at the beginning of the lesson. Think seating plans, books etc. We do set up two pages at the front classwork books for sophisticated vocabulary.
  2. Discuss the difference between basic writing and good writing. Let me be honest here, the point of this exercise is not really to make a list of basic writing skills (SPaG etc) and advanced writing skills. What I really want my students to understand upfront is that the exam board expect a lot from them. As writers they need to demonstrate a level of sophistication that goes far beyond ordinary writing.
  3. I explicitly teach new vocabulary each lesson (text dependent or not) – these go in a special section at the front of my students’ classwork books.
  4. Then we do a quick write – it can be based on anything really. The reason is two fold: 1) to refocus students on that list we made, and 2) to make it clear, we are writing in every lesson! If there’s time, we self-assess or peer assess.

Lesson 2 (download the PowerPoints below)

  1. This lesson is all about unpicking a model (two versions: one from Atwood, one from Harry Potter) and then learning about scientific, observational description of setting. If you’re curious what I mean about scientific description then I explain it in this blog post!
  2. We go through the simple process of highlighting nouns, then adjectives. Again, read the above blog post for more details. In taking this approach, we talk about creating accurate, observational description.
  3. My students then have a go. I give them an image. They list the nouns (the bedrock of description), then add precise adjectives focusing on size, shape, colour, text, age etc. This is a great time to recap the correct order of adjectives!

I am sharing two versions of this lesson. One with an extract from The Handmaid’s Tale  (I tend to use this with my older students) and then one with an extract from Harry Potter (hey, don’t judge it). Just click to download the files.

Lesson 3 (download the PowerPoint here)

Once my pupils have mastered writing accurate description, we move onto looking at how we add atmosphere to settings. It could be just one sentence, just one phrase to take description from simple to layered with sub-text. This is where I want my students to focus.

  1. We start again with a mentor text. This time once we have focus on the nouns, we look at the words and phrases that create atmosphere.
  2. This then moves into our writing. You will notice here that I used an image that would lend itself well to a ‘moody’ description.
  3. In addition to this, I also introduce my students to my ‘5 golden rules of short story’ writing. By short story, I really mean flash fiction, after 45 minutes isn’t long enough to write a full short story. I keep meaning to blog on this. Suffice to say – at this point we move from descriptive writing onto narrative writing. So watch this space for another post. Anyway, I’ve included my slides above for you!

Lesson 4 (download the PowerPoint here)

I have a lot to say about writing characters and well, writing short stories in general. So this is going to have to be a summary.

  1. I start this lesson with a variety of famous fictional ‘characters’. The ones I choose often depend on my class. I ask pupils to describe their personalities using just 3 words. Again this is a bit of a skill. So I ask them how their friends would describe them (using just 3 words).
  2. I talk about the importance of writing a character who has personality.
  3. Then I introduce them to Hermione Granger – except we call her Kate. Once we discuss her personality traits, how she talks, thinks, acts towards other people, I then pose the question – how would this character behave when searching for something she’s lost.
  4. A quick write and share follows.
  5. Then it’s time to swing to the other end of the pendulum, and we meet The Joker – aka Jack. Jack is waiting at a crowded bus stop – how would you describe this? How would his personality traits come out in his behaviour, actions, thoughts?
  6. Several quick writes later, I ask my students to come up with their own character. It can be based on someone they know, from a book, TV show or film. This person has to be pulled from whatever world they live in, into our world. They have to be rational to a certain extent. They can’t be running around with guns and bombs. But all of the personality traits can remain the same.

Lesson 5 consists of planning a story – we spend a lot of time talking about structuring stories, more on this later.

As soon as I have other posts finished, I’ll link them here. So far the plan is:


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Teaching restraint in writing

This blog post is a few years old now (I think I first published it in 2011), so many things in my teaching have changed since them, however, this necessity for restraint in description is something that has never left my practice. So, enjoy…

What does good descriptive writing look like?

This was written by one of my year 7 students. It reads:
Bottles lay on the ground, in front of an unused bin. A small dark melancholy cat sat on the cold stone ground looking around for any sign of food. There was an eerie silence. Drops of water flushed out…

It continues in a similar vein for several paragraphs.

This is the picture the student was describing:

Many students believe that good writing is technique heavy. Perhaps because they don’t read widely, perhaps they don’t read regularly. So they are convinced that adjectives and adverbs are what’s needed. i want students to be able to write with subtlety and sub-text. They can learn when to withhold and when to run free.

Technique heavy?

If we layer technique upon technique, our writing can become cumbersome and over-embellished.

  • When we being writing, we begin with simple sentences: The boy ran.
  • We develop these to add visual imagery – The boy ran quickly.
  • Later we add more precise adverbs – The boy ran sluggishly.
  • Modifying adjectives and verbs: The overweight boy staggered painfully.
  • We introduce different openers: Late again, the overweight boy staggered painfully onward.
  • Vocabulary work adds:  The corpulent man-child blunders unseeingly onward into the grimly lit darkening streets.

When I ask my pupils what good descriptive writing looks like – this is what they seem to think I want.

The curse of “show and don’t tell” has meant that pupils as writers are spoon-feeding their readers on a whole new level.  Don’t show and don’t tell is perhaps a better maxim.  (A side note on this – when we teach students techniques like ‘show and don’t tell’ remember they internalise language and I end up marking GCSE exam papers that read “The writer’s use of show and don’t tell suggests…) As I said, don’t show and don’t tell is sometimes better.

On becoming writers who read

The literature that we study at school is only worthy of study because we have to study it.  The reader’s interaction with the language of text – gleaning meaning where it is hidden, is what we do when we analyse.  It’s not easy to write an essay paragraph using the quote “He slammed the fork down angrily” as there is nothing to infer.  The writer has set it out for us.

When we teach pupils that they must create such a vivid image for the reader and that they must include as much detail as possible. Then we leave our readers with no work to do.  Often their writing is filled with subjective emotional language, but by placing this into the text, they have robbed the reader of their own reaction.

Writing as detectives

I am teaching a scheme of work studying Mystery and next week we are due to start reading Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue. In order to get into the mystery swing of things – this week I wanted pupils to pare back their writing, by writing description as detectives.

The lesson began with this extract from The Road by Cormac McCarthy (*klaxon* you might not want to use this text with every class!)

As detectives, pupils identified all the nouns and then explained what exactly was being described.  I then asked them to remove all the grammatical words to force their focus on to the nouns and noun phrases.  Finally we identified the adjectives.

By focusing on the nouns – students were more able to understand the ‘mystery’ in this extract. It almost sounds counter-intuitive but this literal description allows for detailed inference – “the sagging hands”.

Scientific, observational description

Students had to explain this forensic, scientific approach to writing, that did not use any emotional, subjective language. They described McCarthy’s landscape as realistic or ‘true’ as the students named it.

This image then required a detective’s eye to describe.  We started with nouns – precise and detailed.

A few we listed were:
– a man, wearing an overcoat and hat
– a shuttered door
– four windows with six panes
– a building with high eves

Next I asked pupils to describe these nouns in the most scientific way possible and I asked why the sentence below is not forensic.

The shadowy, mysterious path went up to the crumbly, ancient building.

It was this part of the lesson that resulted in the most discussion and debate among students.

“You can’t use ‘eerie’ since when would a detective say it was ‘eerie’?”
“Gloomy is out – right Miss?”
“How can I say the building is old without exaggerating, it’s not ancient.”

By giving students the vocabulary ‘subjective’ and ’emotional’ they were able to critique their own ideas. Often writing down and then removing words that were considered to be weak.

The final 15 minutes of the lesson was spent writing just 10 sentences of scientific description.  Here are some of their attempts:

  • “Walking towards the light, a man alone digs his hands into the pockets of a long overcoat.”
  • “Stretching away to the left, the uneven cobbles absorb the black and grey of night.”
  • “Four, six paned windows reflect the streetlight exaggerating the darkness beyond”
  • “Darkness to the left and to the right. Light cuts threw the centre”

On the face of it, this ability to show restraint in writing allows students to write in a manner that is more ‘true’.

Subjectively, I think this writing is closer to ‘good writing’ than writing that is created via a checklist of word types, sentence types, and techniques.  It would certainly uphold more analytical scrutiny.


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Questioning Strategies

Question eggs

I love this questioning and review activity, is it perfect for the Spring and Easter season to bring a little fun to my classroom.

An eggs-cellent idea!

It’s about this time of year that supermarkets and pound (dollar) stores fill up with Easter goods. These little plastic eggs are a fabulous and cheap addition to your teacher-toolkit! They are great because the eggs come in 2 halves so you can put stuff inside. In my local store, you can buy a set of 12 plastic eggs like this for £1.

So as you can imagine, I have a whole load of them.

Ways to use your eggs in the classroom!

1. Question eggs!

Place a different quiz question in each egg. Pass them around and get students to answer different questions from different eggs. All you need to do is to make a list of quiz questions on one page. Print and cut them into strips. You can create enough so that everyone has a different question or you can double up and have two sets circulating at once. This is a great way to review material in a low stakes test.

2. Challenge and reward eggs

Fill some eggs with rewards and some eggs with challenges to generate a little bit of engagement in your activities.

3. New learning eggs

Break up your new learning/information and place it into several eggs. Then get students to do an egg hunt to gather all the new information. So I would create 10 slips of paper with our new learning on. You can’t fit big pieces of paper in these eggs so you have to be concise. One strategy would be to number the slips and have students make sure they’ve gathered all of them. Or you could challenge your class by telling them there are 10 pieces of new information, they have to find them all and then get them into the correct order.

Question eggs

4. Analysis eggs

If you are teaching a text, then you could place quotations or textual references in different eggs for students to analyse.

5. Writing eggs

For a writing task, you could place new vocabulary, writing techniques, different sentence structures into the eggs and students to self-select to create a success criteria or rubric for their own writing. I might choose to be a little more structured and include specific elements I want to see in writing. For example, one might say ‘simile’, another ‘metaphor’, another ‘personification’. I might also include instructions like ‘an 8-word sentence showing emotion’. Another might state ‘a character with a sinister motivation’. I have these in a huge bowl at the front and I ask the class to take 3 – 4, then they write these down as their success criteria. They can then return them and choose more.

6. Word Eggs

Introduce new vocabulary by placing sentences on slips into the eggs. The new vocabulary word could be in capital letters. Students have to work out the meaning of the new vocabulary from the context of the sentence.

As you can see there are loads of different ways that you can use these plastic eggs in your classroom,  just to add a little bit of fun and variety to your learning.

So if you see them in the shops this Spring, I would highly recommend picking while they are there!  If you would prefer buying them online, then you can find them here:

US Amazon*                                                            UK Amazon*


*These are affiliate links. This doesn’t mean you pay any more or any less for the items shown. The price stays exactly the same. It does mean that I get paid a small commission if you buy these items using my link. It’s just enough to keep me going in cups of tea.

Question eggs


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Literature Task Cards


Reading literature is a huge part of English and ELA lesson time. Whether you are reading articles, short stories, or studying Shakespeare – it can be difficult often to find tasks that have the ability to engage and challenge students. I was finding that I was setting the same boring worksheets again and again. Fill out a table. Answer these quiz questions. While these are all fine. I wanted something more for my students. That is why I decided to create a set of task cards just for my literature texts.

What are literature task cards?

Very simply these are a set of printable task cards with activities on that students can complete independently or in groups. All I had to do was print them once, in colour, and laminate them. Now I can take them out 4 – 5 times a week and use them with different classes.

Literature Task Cards

The cards I created (and there is a free download here) are based on Blooms’ Taxonomy. There was no particular reason behind this, other than that I wanted to cover a range of skills. Some people treat Blooms’ like it is a hierarchy.

I didn’t want the task cards to be like that. Each of the tasks, I created 60 in total, are designed to get my students thinking. None is better than another.

How to use them in the classroom:

  1. Give different cards to individual students after reading an excerpt or during your normal reading lesson. Each student completes their individual task. Of course, you can use this as a quick win for differentiation!
  2. Turn them face down and have students select without knowing. They could work individually or in pairs to complete the task, this way no one will be able to keep picking the same task over and over.
  3. Select one level: say comprehension or synthesis. Then just give out the tasks from this level to really focus on developing one skill set
  4. Give a pupil one card from each level (so every colour) and have them work through to work on a range of skills.
  5. Obviously, these are great for collaborative work. Assign them to pairs or groups. Then students can work collaboratively or independently at first and then share their ideas.
  6. They are also great as starters, plenaries, challenge tasks for early finishers, and homework tasks.
  7. Use them as part of a centers or stations rotation. Using the worksheet to help students keep a record of their work!

Interested in downloading 10 tasks cards to try for free? Just click here!

If you love this activity – then sign up for my weekly “Making Sense on Sunday” email where I share two teaching ideas each week that you can use in your classroom straight away!

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3 fun teen group work activities

3 ideas for group work

Do you want your teenage students to be more active and engaged in group work? Well, this blog post has some group work gems. These activities are guaranteed to get your students moving, keep them engaged, and get them more involved in their learning!

The human photocopy

This activity is exactly what the title suggests. You turn student teams into human photocopiers! They work in groups to create an exact copy of a document you give them. This is great for teaching new material, reviewing prior learning, or consolidating your current unit.

Group work activities

Decide the topic and content

Before you begin, you will need to decide what you want your students to recreate. I usually create A3 sheets with information that I want my class to understand.

Each sheet needs to contain a mixture of images, labels, short phrases, and text written in long form. I don’t produce these to be beautiful (this is partly the point). They are often handwritten and my own drawings to make them a little more tricky to recreate!

Sometimes I give all the groups the same sheet to reproduce. Sometimes I give them different information sheets to reproduce and then teach the rest of the class (a bit of reciprocal teaching is always good)!

Here’s what comes next!

  1. Take 5 A3 sheets of information, place these facedown at the front of my room.
  2. Put students into 5 teams. Give each team member a number, say 1 – 6. Each team needs a table to work at, their own piece of A3 paper, and pens/pencils etc.
  3. The aim is for each team has to recreate their allocated original sheet. They become a literal human photocopier.
  4. I will call out ‘number 1s go!’. Each of the team members who has number 1 will come up to the front. They then have 20 seconds to look at the image before they have to turn it back over, return to their table, and recreate as much as they can remember.
  5. I will then call out ‘number 2 go!’.
  6. So each team member takes it in turn. At any given time, one team member will be at the front memorising the information sheet. While the others will be working on their copy at the table.
  7. They have to work together to recreate the whole text. All the while remembering what they have added already and what is missing.
  8. Depending on your class, you may want to let each number go twice. Or you can give the whole team 30 seconds to look at the entire image and another minute to finish it.
  9. After the activity, each group has to present the information they ‘human copied’ to the class and explain the ideas etc.

This activity is a great way to review information and ideas, as well as work on short/long memorisation of key knowledge.

Race the horses

This super-simple strategy helps you manage team or group work but with a twist! It creates a sense of competition and can help keep students on task.

It is really simple – just click to download this PowerPoint slide

Race the horses activity

Then set up your group or teamwork as you usually would. This time use the racehorses to track the progress of each team. The team that completes all the tasks first wins 20 pts (or whatever you choose).


I have made the file completely editable so you can adjust it to fit your classes. The clipart is royalty free.

Dry Erase Table Debate

If you follow me on IG (please do!) – then you have probably seen me talking about the power of letting students write on your desks!

Yep, I said write on your desks. Of course, what I should have added was – with a dry-erase pen. This group work idea takes writing on the tables to another level.  All you need to have to run this group work activity is dry erase pens for your students!

Dry erase table debate

Ok, so how does this dry erase table debate thing work?

  1. First, I tack a discussion question or debate topic to the centre of the table.
  2. Now the debate part can work in a couple of ways: sometimes I give each student their own color dry erase pen and they have to debate/discuss on their table. Each student notes down all the ideas as they go. They can build on each other’s ideas, challenging, changing noted etc. But all their discussion must be written down.
  3. OR you can give each table just one color to work with. They can debate and write notes as above – then – get up and they go to another table (with a different topic) and add their own ideas, questions, and challenges to that particular discussion.

This is a really great strategy to use for classes who get distracted during group discussions, or where some students opt-out of participating (they can scribe). I just take a photo of the debate, quick print, and they stick in their notebooks!

Did you love these 3 group work ideas? I share teaching tips with my teacher-friends every Sunday via email. My “Making Sense on Sunday” email goes out each Sunday morning and it contains one classroom activity (like the ones above) and one activity to use with any reading or literature text. If you would like to hear my teaching tips first, then sign up below!

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3 group work activities

Zap recap activity

This recap/revision game is perfect for any GCSE subject and is a fun and engaging way to interest your students in their revision. It does require a little bit of preparation. But it is definitely worth it! Once you have it ready to go, it’s done for future use.

Here, I have shared my Valentine’s edition of the game. But it would be super easy to make seasonal – you could do coins for St Patrick’s Day, eggs for Easter, flowers for the summer, apples and pumpkins in the autumn, or gravestones at Halloween. Whatever shapes you like for the season! Of course, you can also use generic shapes: stars, clouds, fish – you choose!

Here is the basic idea: the aim of the game is for your team to score as many points as possible.


  1. Cut a variety of shapes out of coloured paper. For my Valentine’s edition, I will do small, medium, and large sized hearts.
  2. Label each one with different scores: 1pt, 5pts, 10pts, 20pts, and ZAP. These need to be big enough for students to see them – they are going to want to aim for the high scoring shapes!
  3. Pin the shapes on the wall in a group, so it isn’t too easy to hit a specific one.
  4. Finally plan your 1pt, 5pt, 10pt, and 20pt questions. Ready to ask students as part of the game.


Playing the game:

  1. Divide the class into 2 teams (more if necessary).
  2. Give each team has their own ball (I use a soft tennis ball – but a ball of old paper would work).
  3. Each team member takes it in turn to hit the wall with their ball. If they hit one of the shapes with a point score on it. Then ask them the relevant question. If they get it right, they gain the points. But if they miss all the shapes, then the next team goes. Also if they hit a ZAP, they lose all the points they’ve gained so far.
  4. Go through each team member, asking questions, and scoring points. You can decide the winner a number of ways: the first to 50 or 100 wins, or the team with the highest score after every team member has had a go.
  5. I tend to keep a running tally on my whiteboard.

This is a great fun activity for a tired Friday afternoon class and for reviewing key knowledge and information. Once you have made the shapes once, get them laminated and you can use them again and again.

GCSE revision game

23rd February 2019

Word Grid Challenge

The word grid challenge

Have you heard of the word grid challenge? This activity can be used in any subject area. It would make a great lesson starter, review task, or even as a homework activity. The best thing about this activity: it is super easy to create. In fact, I now have a bunch of word grids made up and ready to go in my classroom.

So what exactly is a word grid?

Simple, a word grid is, well exactly as it sounds, a grid with words in. I create a grid or table of 3 x 3 or 4 x 4 boxes. Inside each box, I place a different word. The challenge for my students is to connect each word on the grid to the topic we are currently studying. I make sure there is plenty of space around the grid for them to write notes.

How do I choose the words for each grid?

Real talk time: I have a bunch of these made up and ready to use in my classroom. I make them so there are 2 per page. I tend to have a few leftovers. So sometimes I will just grab a set – with no prior thought (!) and ask my students to link the words to whatever text we are studying.

And you know what?! They always do it. They prove to me that they are capable of creative, out of the box thinking.

This week, the words I used with 3 different classes were:

  • money;
  • hope;
  • celebration;
  • questions;
  • sound;
  • fear;
  • plans;
  • shape;
  • and freedom.

I plucked these out of the air with no particular purpose in mind. My students were able to link them to a Shakespeare play, modern poetry, and a short non-fiction text on survival. This same set of words.

Words with purpose

Generally, I do write these grids with specific words in mind. Perhaps I have taught my class the word ‘Machiavellian’ and I want to give them an opportunity to circle back round to the keyword from a new angle.  Another strategy is to take key terms from a prior topic and see if they can apply them to this new topic. So for example, when reading A Christmas Carol, I might have looked at the idea of ’empathy’. I would add empathy to the word grid for a new topic on a different novel or text.

How do I use these grids in my classroom?

It’s super simple! Create the word grid: I simply make 2 tables in a Word document – ensuring there is enough room for pupils to write their ideas around the outside. Then:

  1. Print and copy
  2. Give to each student (or pair)
  3. Ask them to link all of these words in some way to the topic we are covering
  4. Feedback with ideas

Another strategy is to use your ‘leftover’ grids and give different grids to different students. That way you have more words being covered and more discussion about your topic.

The word grid challenge


If you love these teaching ideas, then you can sign up to my teaching tips email! Each Sunday you will receive “Making Sense on Sunday” and email stuff full of teaching ideas! Just sign up below!

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Hidden Content


Blackout Writing

Examples of blackout writing

Blackout Writing (with a twist)

If you teach English or ELA, then you have probably heard of blackout poetry and blackout art. You might have even used this activity with your classes. Here is my take on blackout art -with a twist! You can use it with any literature text you are studying.

I wanted to find something new to do with those book-page scraps knocking about my classroom. So I decided to adjust the blackout poetry concept to fit studying literature. This activity is designed to be used after having read a little way into the novel or play because students will need to have a few things to say about the events, characters, or ideas.

Here’s how I run it:

  1. Allocate each student with a different event, theme, character, setting, or relationship in your novel or play. The first time you use this activity you could do this in pairs.
  2. Handout book pages to each student. It honestly doesn’t matter what book they end up with a page from.
  3. Ask them to use the words on the page to create ideas about the topic they have been given.
  4. Students have to look at the words on their page and carefully link them together to create cohesive statements or ideas about the text. These can be just 2-3 words long or much longer depending on their preference.
  5. Once they have identified the words they draw a square around the words so they are still readable. Then colour the rest of the page in.
  6. If students are feeling confident, they can draw an image on the page as well. It can be with an image to represent the character, theme, etc. It can be colourful or not depending on their topic!


Examples of blackout writing


If you are looking for other fun and engaging activities to use in your ELA classroom, why not check out these blog posts:

The Perfect Review Game

One Amazing Debate Idea

Also, each week I send an email out to my teacher-friends, in this message, I include one classroom activity (like the perfect review game) and one literature activity (like this blackout writing activity). They are always fun, engaging, and designed to create brilliant learning moments for your students. If you would like to receive this weekly email (I send it on a Sunday morning – ready to help stave off those Sunday scaries), then all you need to do is fill out the email sign up below!

Subscribe to my weekly teaching tips email!

Sign up below to receive regular emails from me jammed packed with ELA teaching tips, tricks and free resources. Also access my free resource library!

Hidden Content

The power of dual coding

Dual coding

This activity is great to use with any class and almost any topic area. It makes sense, doesn’t it? To mix words and visuals to aid memory. Our students now need to memorize and to retrieve information for testing than ever before. Dual coding is one way to help students remember.

What is dual coding?

Dual coding is combining 2 ways that the mind remembers things – most commonly in the classroom – this is words and visuals.

Here you can see the beginning of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy “to be or not to be”. The challenge for students was to come up with as many visuals to replace the words in the speech as possible. They could be as creative as they liked – as long as they could read the whole speech based on what they produced. You can see the word “whether” is replaced by the sun and cloud and the word “suffer” is replaced by a sofa! The aural closeness of these words is the memory trigger.

Dual coding


This activity isn’t a quick crafty task or something for a Friday afternoon. It took my students a good hour to think through each word in the speech and then work out how to visualize it. This close attention to the text is just another memorization technique. The very work of recreating it, helps us remember it.

I first did this activity with a group of students 5 years ago. They are now in their final year of education and English hasn’t been compulsory for the last 2 years. But when I see these kids around the school – they still love to show off for me how much of this soliloquy they can remember. So they have been through 4 full school years since they learnt this speech and they can still remember it. Dual coding works!

Here are some ways you can use dual-coding in your classroom:

  1. At the beginning of the year when you agree your classroom rules and procedures with students, use dual-coding to help students remember the rules. Even just a small card with one image on it can be an excellent memory trigger. Have your students create those visuals for you.
  2. Use dual coding as one of your stations or center activities, to review everything learnt in a particular lesson or unit.
  3. Ask students to dual code some knowledge or information at one particular center or station, then have other groups translate the dual coded work at another station or center.
  4. Use dual coding as a way to remember key concepts in grammar, spelling, punctuation rules, or maths.
  5. Give dual coded information as a starter or bell ringer task and ask your students to translate or explain it.
  6. Ask your students to dual code as a homework task.

Here are some ways you can use dual-coding as a literature activity:

  1. Visual note-taking or dual coding makes sense for lots of literature activities: to summarise the action of a text, to look at a character, a theme, or a setting.
  2. One-pagers are super popular at the moment for helping students review what they have read. You can read more about them here (on my friend Betsy’s blog).
  3. Use dual coding as an annotation tool for annotating or making notes on specific themes or concepts. Assign each theme or idea a symbol, then annotate this in the text and also track it in notes.
  4. Create infographics to explain ideas in a text.
  5. Use dual coded timelines to review the events in a story.
  6. Assign each literary device a symbol and use this to annotate a passage.
  7. Symbols are also great for annotating emotions, mood/atmosphere, authorial intention, social and historical context.

I teach symbols and literary devices when I am covering creative writing – we use them as marking codes as well. Then we also use the same codes for our literature units. Then we layer them up as we read through the text. Does that make sense?

Dual coding


If you are looking for other fun and engaging activities to use in your ELA classroom, why not check out these blog posts:

The Perfect Review Game

One Amazing Debate Idea

Also, each week I send an email out to my teacher-friends, in this message, I include one classroom activity (like the perfect review game) and one literature activity (like this blackout writing activity). They are always fun, engaging, and designed to create brilliant learning moments for your students. If you would like to receive this weekly email (I send it on a Sunday morning – ready to help stave off those Sunday scaries), then all you need to do is fill out the email sign up below!

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