How to cruise into September.

Hopefully you have not spent your summer working and enjoyed the r and r of the imagessummer holidays but, when the new year in September arrives, it can bring us crashing back from our holidays with a start. There are lessons to plan, seating plans to do and potentially even SOW to write, and that’s before the marking piles up! Here are 5 ideas to help you cruise into September:


  1. Is there a lesson which can be used with multiple classes and year groups? A Geography or Science in the news set of lessons? Creative writing from your holidays? Calculating how many miles the class has travelled on their holidays (has the class collectively travelled around the world?) Sharing new languages learnt? Recipes from students travels? etc etc. If there is something, a lesson(s) which can be re-used with different classes or year groups could really reduce the pressure those first few days.
  2. Avoid giving new books out or getting students to do lots of extended writing in their books (which may require written/ individual feedback). We start year 7 with a 6 lesson SOW where they work on flip chart paper in groups.
  3. Seating plans can be quite time consuming, with lots of thinking time looking at data, student groups, identifying key characters, colour coding, etc and there is often the desire to get the students organised perfectly in their seats from day one. However, especially if you do not know the class, starting the year with a more randomised seating plan is fine. Try register order, by age, or first name for the first few lessons while you get to grips with working out who you want where and the needs of the students.
  4. If SOW need planning I really can not advocate the benefits of joint planning enough. More thoughts here. Also, if your team uses Powerpoints or something similar to teach with and still has detailed word SOW I would really consider if you need both. We have moved away from word processed, lesson by lesson, activity by activity SOW and moved to a medium term overview (at KS3 this is one A3 page which identifies the main aims of each of our topics, and at KS4 we just use knowledge organisers/ topic checklists which we give to the students) which identify the main points to be covered in the lessons and then just share our PowerPoints for each lesson- significantly reduced workload.
  5. Get into a routine:
    • Spend 10 minutes going through the school calendar and identifying when parents evening, open evenings, and reports are due.
    • Decide which evening you are going home early and not doing any work.
    • Have your green pen in your hand ever lesson to reduce marking load.
    • Write to do lists (and stick to them!)



How to encourage trainees to try new things!

I love delivering teacher training! As trainees approach the end of the year and have trialled lots of different pedagogy methods it is sometimes beneficial to ask them to go out of their comfort zone and trial something new. These takeaway teaching ideas do just that and hopefully reduce workload in terms of time required to think of ideas! (As well as share the takeaway homework templates that we have all come to know!) Please feel free to use and adapt!

Trainee takeaway homework

trainee challenges

How to reduce your workload: advice from twitter

Twitter@teachingcharlie has posed a series of questions to his twitter followers. One of which caught my eye when he asked the question; “if you could offer a piece of advice on how to reduce your workload, what would it be?”

What followed was some fantastic advice from a range of tweachers which showcased how brilliant twitter teacher networks can be. Below is a summary of that advice collated into common themes. A huge thank you to everyone that continues to share, network and advise- without you twitter would be very different!

Evaluate and Prioritise

Lots of the advice focused on deciding what to spend your time on. @Rosieprimrose tweeted “look at things that are taking up most of your time- what is the impact on the pupils and their learning in whatever form it might take? If you are taking up time with jobs that don’t have any impact then change them or ditch them! (That includes laminating displays).” @MsFordEnglish and @robin2reader stressed the importance of making decisions which are child focused and do tasks which are only going to make a difference. @Cherrylkid advised us to prioritise and re-prioritise regularly as often the agenda changes and @ChrsinteCouser encouraged teachers to check that the priorities are in line with the department and schools. There was also a stress on realising that teaching is a profession where you have to “understand that you will never get everything done. Forgive yourself in advance for not doing it all” (@inarcadiaego)

Routines and lifestyle

For many establishing effective routines and time management seems to be the key to balancing teacher workload. Top tips included:

  • Start every day by taking a few minutes to write a list (@FloraBarton).
  • Chunk up tasks (@flynnjon).
  • Set a time limit on tasks (@e_greenacre, @CarlaGotcha81, & @080Belle).
  • Set a time to go home (@Mr_R_Ferdy).
  • Don’t link your work emails to your phone. Even if you don’t act on them they are a constant reminder (@jw_teach).
  • Set up email folders to file emails, and if possive use inboc “rules” to help (@Skippity_doo, @mrsartytextiles).
  • Follow #teacher5aday (@FloraBarton).
  • Keep energy up through exercise and focus on YOUR health (@pickleholic and @bridportshakesp).

Say no

One of the major themes of advice from @zygote23, @Bigkid4, @KristianStill, @MrLeMasurier, @Dukeyjk, and @MrsSingleton referred to getting the confidence to say “no”.  When asked to do something you don’t want to (or don’t have to) do, either politely explain why you are unable to do it. It is a very hard skill to master (and I think even harder for us teachers!) @Bigkid4 suggests trying to master saying no without actually saying the word ‘no’. Instead use phrases like “I’ll try to find time for that” or “I might get round to it”.

Marking and feedback. 

Not surprisingly lots of the advice focused on marking and feedback. Top tips included:

  • Mark during lessons. For example during a written task move round room with highlighter & identify problem e.g. homophones. Then teach skill from the front (@carole_XLIX, @FranNantongwe).
  • Mark soecific key tasks and have a clear focus as to why you are marking it (@Beanylass).
  • Establish effective self and peer marking (@pickleholic).
  • Focus on feedback rather than marking (@ EnserMark). for more info see his blog
  • Use checklists- get students to “find me an example of….” to help proof read work (@_sarahmc_).
  • If you’re lucky to have 1-1 tech devices then Go Formative is great for immediate feedback (@sarahb292).
  • Use verbal feedback (@simonpatchett1, @sarahb292).
 Other top tips. 
Other great ideas included:
  •  I would suggest using my motto “teach like no one is watching” – A lot of workload is created when we work for a perceived audience (@EnserMark).
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel- sharing is caring- ask others if they have resources and share when others ask you and have strong department SOLs whether they are done by individuals, through joint planning, or are bought in, they make everything manageable (@booksrokmyworld, @laalpotts, and @bookskidsshould).
  • Buy a visualiser or tablet (@Davowills & @ICTevangelist).
  • Ditch PowerPoints (@iQuirky_Teacher).
  • Make sure staff meetings are necessary & useful. If not don’t bother- give staff time for lesson preparation instead (@SarahMurphy41).
  • -Sometimes you have to do loads of work- embrace it! We should love our jobs as teachers and not constantly look for shortcuts to do less (@MrWalkerKPPS).

How to use assessment grids

I am passionate about using assessment grids for 3 reasons:

  1. Students are clear of the assessment criteria- this helps support their progress and dialogue about their progress.
  2. It supports moderation between teachers, ensuring the team know the focus of the assessment.
  3. It speeds up marking.

Some images of the ones we use in geography are below:

However there are many different formats/ layouts/ techniques that can be used, and you need to select which is best for your needs, assessment systems and subject area. However you design them, these are my top tips for creating your own assessment grids:

  1. Link to the grade scheme you use (whether that be GCSE or your life without levels).
  2. Make sure they are in student friendly language.
  3. Make them specific to the assessment- a “one size fits all” just is not student friendly- there are far too many strands that we all assess on- it ends up becoming a confusing and unclear document which confuses staff and pupils alike.
  4. Include peer/ self assessment- this gets students engaging with the criteria and reduces workload!
  5. Include an area for DIRT/ improvement tasks- you can clearly see how students have engaged in your marking and how they have made progress!

How to get students to engage in mark schemes

Maybe it is just me… but I find mark schemes for level marked questions very vague and subjective. I might give it a level 1 but another teacher could justify a level 2. Like many teachers, I try and get my students to understand the mark schemes (even though us teachers struggle), but it was this idea, shared by Laura McQuade regarding her research using self regulation strategy development (SRSD) which has revolutionised how I get students to engage in mark schemes.

Simply put, students allocate scores to good components that you would expect to find in an answer. Here is how I have used it;

What to do:

1)Give students an exam question- allow them to answer it in pairs in a limited time on large paper.

In my first trial I used “Use a case study to describe the responses to river flooding” (an 8 mark AQA Geography GCSE question)

2) During a teacher led Q and A students feedback the criteria for a good answer

  1. Connectives – additional, also, another, etc
  2. facts and figures
  3. Naming the case study in the opening sentence
  4. 2 paragraphs- 1 on immediate responses 1 on long term
  5. using key words from the question – flooding/ responses

3) Students then gave each criteria a score. E.g. 10 marks for using describing connectives. 20 marks for facts and figures. I led them towards giving the most important aspects the highest score (e.g. if they don’t name a place they can’t get level 2 or 3- so gave this 100).

success criteria4) They then scored their answer. Every time they used a describing connective they got 10 marks. When ever they used a specific fact or figure they got 20 marks. Each time they wrote the place name AND they gave it a capital letter they got 5 marks.

marked answer5) Students reflected on where they gained and lost marks.

6) Students individually rewrote their answer- they tried to beat their original score

7) Final feedback task reflecting on what they had learnt.

student reflections 2

This idea really helped students to see the important components of their answer. It put the mark scheme in simple terms and added an aspect of competition (which really engaged by middle ability boys).

How to provide feedback following mocks

Marking exams can always be a difficult process. There’s the emotion (for the teacher and the students) that grades aren’t where they should be and the realisation that students are still making the same mistake. It can also be very difficult for students to process any feedback other than the grade.

These ideas, courtesy of the fabulous @Laura_oleary allows students to engage with their feedback and close gaps.

When using either- I am very selective about which questions I give detailed feedback on. There is limited impact writing on every question what the students should have done to get full marks. Be selective and only give detailed feedback on a small number of questions.

The exam review sheet – how to use. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  1. Mark exam paper- highlight one question that the student will improve (throughout a class I will select no more than 3 questions that they will improve- this will make the resource making for point 5 easier to manage!)
  2. Students identify their target grade, their raw mark and how many marks they were off (or above their target) .
  3. They then do a question analysis to process individual question marks.
  4. Students then identify something they did well and something they did not do so well on (I might give examples, e.g. I attempted all the questions, I completed the case study questions well etc).
  5. Students then find their target question, and using resources I have made prior to the lesson they improve their answer.
  6. Finally students look at how their mark has improved.

Download: exam-question-review

Mock review sheets- how to use 

mock-review-sheetThis resource is great for larger exam



  1. students identify their target grade and read through the feedback given. I will give detailed feedback on a select number of questions 
  2. The students then do a question analysis. The “how many marks lost by not attempting questions” is really interesting for students that this is an issue with.
  3. Students identify what they have learnt from the mock exam- this is usually skills/ technique focus (again I might give some examples).
  4. They identify a new priority for the next term/ year.


Download: mock-review-sheets



How to… reduce your work in the holidays

img_1731This blog isn’t designed for telling people how to manage their workload but instead is a place to share ideas which reduce workload… however.. due to twitter I am constantly seeing people tweet about all the work they have to do other the holidays, the piles of books they have taken home, the SOW to plan etc and I believe this is not healthy, efficient or beneficial and creates a culture and pressure for teachers to use their holidays to work. This article by the guardian  talks about the need to not work during the holidays to reduce burnout. I fully agree with it.


Someone once said to me that teaching is like having multiple tabs open on your internet browser. It is a never ending to do list and epitomises the idea of spinning plates. We are never done! There is always more to do, lessons to plan, SOW to tweak, books to mark, resources to make, reading to do. I believe, the more we come to terms with this the easier it is to say NO, I won’t do that in the holidays. So here is my top tips to reduce (and ideally not work) in the holidays:

  1. Ask yourself- what happens if this task isn’t done until you return to school. If the answer is nothing- DO NOT DO IT!
  2. Remember that there is always something on the to do list, and while twitter and other colleagues may increase the pressure to come back to school with sparkling new resources and lessons, remember that you have probably survived without it before and you will again.
  3. Take a break from social media, it really can at times make you feel like you need to work.
  4. If you use your holidays to catch up with marking- again refer to point 1 or if they really have been neglected try a one page feedback sheet. 
  5. If there really are things that must be achieved for the first day back- write a very small to do list (no more than 3 things) and set one day to do it, therefore you have multiple days where you do nothing work related!

Enjoy your holidays- you deserve them!

How to use a one sheet feedback crib sheet

I first heard about marking sheets a few years back, but they were often used in conjuction with a mark book and purely for the teacher to see. Since then many of these feedback/marking crib sheet designs have floated around on Twitter- with the main difference being sharing this information with students. I first saw the idea from @MrThornton who (I believe) shared this idea first. This was then followed by @Jennnnnn_x ‘s version and I decided I had to have a trial and see what the hype was about. My version combines the two templates and works as follows: img_1350

  1. I carry out a book look through all the books- making notes as I go.
  2. In the heart shape I identify the names of students who have done very well.
  3. Identify those who need to finish work (and what the piece of work is).
  4. Check to make sure that there are not any misconceptions-if there are write an explanation of what that misconception is.
  5. List out the correct spellings of commonly misspelt words.
  6. In the “steps to progress” section list a number of tasks that students can complete to make progress- these tasks are differentiated.
  7. Photocopy the sheet for the class- give one to everyone.
  8. Students write out all spellings (I made everyone do this- practice makes perfect!)
  9. I made sure students who had unfinished work had the resources to complete.
  10. Students picked 1-2 tasks from the list and completed them. I told them to pick tasks IMG_1344 (2).JPGthat they felt challenged them, I checked which tasks they were completing and advised them to complete a different one if more appropriate. In future I might make a list of names of each student who should complete which task and display it on the board to ensure they are picking the appropriate ones.







Reflective thoughts

+ it is definitely workload reducing- I “marked” 2 year 10 sets in one hour

+feedback can still be personalised

+ students want to be in the heart shape- it promotes positive ATL

+ students still make progress and close the gap in the knowledge/ skill they have not understood

–  it can’t be used in isolation- students still need traditional feedback

– Next time I would definitely tell the students at least one task they should complete.



How to easily prove progress in a lesson

This simple idea allows progress to be clearly demonstrated within a lesson and within books. In this example students were given a picture at the start of the lesson and asked to write down what problems they would have if they lived there.


The remainder of the lesson took place, where students looked at the impacts of living along the Holderness Coast. They were then asked to repeat the task they did at the start. As you can see in the example below the student clearly showed progress throughout the lesson. Processed with MOLDIVThe green arrow in the margin is where I want students to write until or past- it clearly demonstrates the expectation required.

A really simple idea which can be adapted to suit lots of needs and subjects!

How to use displays to reduce planning

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Having ready to go activities for those students who finish tasks quickly reduces the need to plan multiple extension tasks. I have already posted about how useful challenge cards are here and they have fundamentally made my teaching easier. Combined with this review boards are another great way to ensure your students are always kept busy and learning/ reflecting. The range of resources offer students some choice to try different plenary activities and reflect on their learning in the lesson. Some resources which feature on it I have designed myself from inspiration from the twitterspere (see below for downloads- huge thanks to all those who inspired them!), others have been taken from the fantastic resource who has some amazing resources to download for free. So if you have a noticeboard which is redundant or is not supporting teaching and learning, I highly suggest creating your own review board!

My Literacy Checklist

I wish my teacher knew that…..

Train ticket exit

Scrabble those key words

Review your learning

Twitter exit ticket