Some ideas to try

A Taste of PEEL - extracts from PEEL resources

Very often students see each lesson as a one off. They don't link what they are learning one day to what they learned last week. They often fail to see any relevence to real life in what they are learning. What they learn in one subject is not connected to something they learned in another.

PEEL teachers have written many articles about this addressing the teacher concern:  students don't link different lessons. 

In the following article (Posted 28/05/2018) Misja Carbo writes about how he uses analogies to promote understanding and as a way of linking ideas. There is also some useful comment from Professor John Loughran and Dr Ian Mitchell from Monash University.

This article explains how student understanding of science terms can be developed through the use of analogy. In this case, the example of cell organelles is explored with year 7 students. Through the task students come to a stronger sense of the function of the organelles and a more well developed sense of the function of analogy (including limitations) in learning science.

Last year, when teaching Cells and Microscopes in Year 7 I used a common analogy to explain the function and structure of cells. I told my students a cell is a bit like a building block. We also looked at and discussed the function of some organelles within the cell.
After the lesson I was thinking about the use of analogies and why we use them and I came up with the following activity.

A traffic light is like a cell membrane?

You might have been told that a living cell is a bit like a brick or building block.
A cell is like a building block because cells are joined together to make larger organisms, just like building blocks are joined to make larger structures.
We call this kind of comparison an analogy. Analogies are useful, because they can help us to better understand things we cannot easily see or imagine.

Your task is to find analogies for the following organelles:

Nucleus cell membrane cytoplasm chloroplast mitochondrion Vacuole cell wall
- In Word, use clip-art to find pictures to represent your chosen analogy.
- Under each picture write:.......  is like ........ because .........
Use the images and text to produce a mini-poster (one or two pages A4) print it out and submit it by .........

The next lesson I brought in a set of laptops and gave the students the task. They worked on it with great enthusiasm. They worked in pairs, mostly because of limited numbers of computers, but also because I felt that bouncing ideas off each other might lead them to better, more creative solutions. They loved the creative side of the task and many used the internet to increase their range of available clip art pictures. A few even drew their own.

I believe that this was a very useful activity as it forced my students to really think about what each organelle was for and how they might communicate this through an analogy. They were thinking and discussing the topic at a deeper more profound level.

My students and I enjoyed the activity so much that I have now decided to use it again in Year 8 when teaching the structure of blood and the circulatory system. This time I started by saying to my classes: "A capillary is a bit like an extension cord". And then I asked them why a capillary is a bit like an extension cord. The discussion was immediately interesting and led us to explore the nature and limitations of such an analogy (only 2 students in one of my year 8 s did the original activity in Year 7 last year).
Then I got them to suggest analogies for several structures in the circulatory system along the same lines as the Year 7 activity. This time added: Make your analogies as interesting, far fetched, original, wacky as you like; as long as you can justify your analogy by saying ........  is like a ........ because ..........

(This article originally appeared in an online blog where teachers participating in the Monash ASISTM (Australian School Innovation in Science, Technology and Mathematics) project posted their teaching strategies. These were then commented on, with further entries, by academics in the Science Education area at Monash University)

John Loughran writes:


As Misja makes clear in this article, the use of analogies immediately changes ways of thinking about teaching. In this case the use of analogies has not only been engaging for the students but also for the teacher too as both have seen new ways of seeing into the content. The use of analogies is one way of encouraging different ways of linking ideas and phenomena as ways of explaining situations.

Misja set out to use analogies to promote thinking; one outcome of this was that what his students wrote in the example he includes gives insights into meanings that students had constructed for what he had taught them that were not what he expected (or wanted). For example, there are important differences between what a turtle shell does for turtles and what cell walls do for cells. Identifying these conceptions is enormously helpful to the teacher.


The way in which analogies influence thinking about a situation means that students - when given the opportunity to create their own analogies - are able to make their own links and to question the content in different ways as the analogy is both a concrete response to the situation and a prompt for alternative thinking

Building a list of the kinds of alternative conceptions that students may construct from teaching a particular piece of science is typically a gradual process - too often we are unaware of these ideas and don t make allowances for this in our teaching. There is value in a Department building a communal bank of these as well as perhaps ways of both illuminating them in ways that are not embarrassing to students. A Department meeting about the use of analogies, the one s that work well in different content areas and the limitations that they have in terms of how quickly they break down could be a very useful discussion.

Ian Mitchell writes:

There are two important things that Misja did here that are different from merely presenting an analogy to help with an explanation. Firstly Misja focussed not just on how the target science idea (e.g. capillary) was link the analogy (extension cord), but, just as importantly, how it was NOT like the analogy (e.g. materials are exchanged through the walls of capillaries, not extension cords. This encourages much richer thinking about the science. Secondly, he encouraged them to find offbeat analogies, where presumably only one or two aspects of the analogy are like the target science. This gets students thinking about lots of aspects of the target science.


Jackie Beckworth in the following article (Posted 21/05/2018) describes how she encourages linking in her subject.

One of the most useful Good learning Behaviours to develop in students is undoubtedly seeking links between:

  • different activities and ideas
  • different topics or subjects
  • schoolwork and personal life.

In Year 10 Maths, we have often spent time looking at links between the topics we are studying. We have drawn Venn diagrams showing the overlap between topics - e.g., Surface Area and Algebra, Graphing and Algebra, etc. We also talk about the topics covered in earlier years and how there has been a big picture, each year putting the building blocks in place. Although this seems obvious to us, it is sometimes a revelation to students.

I have found that the students enjoy their Algebra more as a result of realising its usefulness in so many areas. Quite often, the students suggest that Algebra makes a particular area of work easier and therefore they want to use their knowledge of Algebra. This is a high level Good Learning Behaviour. To suggest an alternative procedure incorporating some strategy learnt elsewhere is powerful stuff!

The other linking which I find most motivating to a Maths student is the linking of their Maths to other subjects. I ask students to report back to me when they find Maths being used in other subjects. I do this on the pretext that I am doing some research and that they would help me if they could be my research assistant, as it were. Students discover the use of arithmetic, graphs, formulas, statistics, probability, measurement, ratios, percentages etc., in a variety of other subject areas. This makes them realise that Maths is a very useful discipline and that success in Maths can lead to success in so many other areas.

Linking their Maths to everyday life can be carried out in a similar fashion. An alternative strategy that has worked well is to get the students to interview two employed acquaintances. They are to find out a number of facts about the job. These may include:

  • the level reached at school before getting the job
  • the Maths involved in the day to day work in the job
  • whether a calculator is used
  • the method used to secure the job (this could have involved an aptitude test which involved Maths).

This strategy may start them thinking about where their Maths might be useful in the future.

When linking Maths begins in Year 7, or earlier, it becomes a part of life and the path through secondary college Maths can become more enjoyable and more successful.

Linking could be encouraged in any subject!


In the following article Jill Flack explains how she helps students to go back over what they have already learned and link it to the present.

"Start from what the students know! That makes sense, then I can work out what is most important to teach and away we will go. Simple!"

Have you ever asked your students, "What can you tell me about??"

Have they ever said, "Nothing, I don't know anything about that."


"Ooh I know we ve learnt that but I can't remember it!"


"Mrs Smith taught us that last year but I've forgotten it all!"

Students frequently respond in this way and teachers wearily back-track over ground, that they know should be familiar, before they move on to what it is they need to teach. As you re back-tracking the students will often respond with comments like, "Ooh now, I remember!" "Oh yeah that s right!" (While we re thinking to ourselves "Why couldn t you remember that before!")

What is the message about this sort of exchange?

I wonder if it could be that many students haven t really forgotten what they ve been taught, rather they have developed habitual passive learning behaviours that display themselves, conveniently, as a poor memory. Active engagement in learning can be rigorous and exhausting, maybe we need to remind our students about how rewarding and affirming it can be.

We think it is possible to assist, even challenge our students to access their relevant prior knowledge in a strategic and systematic way through a variety of different procedures.

Following are two procedures that require students to access, organise and sort their prior knowledge in a way that is simple and effective. We look at Thought balloons and Semantic maps. We believe that their strength as procedures is that they require students to actively engage with their own knowledge and draw upon it as the basis for new learning. They also allow for individual differences and can cross several curriculum areas. We have found these to be extremely useful and affirms to our students that they generally know quite a lot before they begin. We invite other teachers to explore their use, modify them or recreate the concept in another form.



  • Teachers can identify student s views and.prior knowledge.
  • The procedure will highlight specific information of interest.
  • Visually display student s knowledge.
  • Students can share their ideas with others.


  • Students are asked to briefly record any of their knowledge, reactions or questions, to ideas, understandings, or views about a particular issue or topic. They could use key words, sentences or diagrams to show their thoughts in the balloon.
  • One thought per compartment.

Teacher Tips

  • Thought balloons can be divided into any number of components. (See example)
  • Students can be encouraged to draw, write or a combination of both.
  • Students can work as individuals or in pairs.
  • The concept can be adapted to suit any theme. For example spiders become thought webs.
  • Comparisons between before and after topics can be made - showing students  growth in understanding.
  • All students can participate with varying degrees of success.
  • Balloons make an interesting visual display of student work.
  • Ideal as a proforma for reflecting on events of learning.

Common Outcomes

  • This procedure can show the accuracy of information regarding a specific topic.
  • Reflects the nature of a student s understanding.
  • Highlight the student s ability to articulate information that is most relevant to him/her.
  • Shows the level of thinking student is using.
  • Identifies prior knowledge.



  • To categorise students knowledge of a particular topic so that it can be used more effectively as a resource for new learning.
  • To identify group knowledge.
  • To summarise and store new information to make it more accessible at a later time.


  • Using a semantic map proforma or after asking students to draw up their semantic map, to list their knowledge and ideas under the different category headings.
  • Students record in point form.
  • Compare/contrast with other students.

Teacher Tips

  • Four significant categories are generally enough.
  • When teaching the procedure model, first compile the information with the class.
  • Sometimes teachers will want to nominate categories, but students should be free to include another if they wish.
  • Ideal for pairs, groups and individuals.
  • Can combine drawing and writing.
  • Return to the semantic map throughout a unit of work and top-up in a different color pen, to show growth in understanding. Students should be encouraged to cross out (not erase) their ideas if they change them.


  • What information has the student chosen to include?
  • What growth has the student shown in knowledge and understanding.


Use in many different curriculum areas to organise information. For example:

  • Characters in a novel
  • Summary of. the content of a novel - plot, setting, characters and main events.
  • Science experiment - equipment, observation and actions.
  • Can be used as a planning tool - for example; writing stories and plays.
  • research facts organiser.

The following article was written very early on in the PEEL project but is just as relevant today. All of these articles and many more can be found on the PEEL online resource PEEL in Practice

Coasts: Linking Photos and Ideas by Rod Greer (posted 07/05/2018)

"Find as many links as you can between these photos and write them around the sheet"

The aim of this task was to encourage students to see as many ways as possible which link ideas. In this case ideas about photos of two well known local coastal landforms.


  1. Most students started by wanting to write "right" answers only.
  2. When they were confident they began by writing simple links, eg water, sea, cliffs, erosion, fallen rocks.
  3. Eventually more complex links/observations were made by some, eg "Photo 2 should be first", "The top photo would have started like the bottom one."
I then "tested" the group by using my limited art skills to draw two quick pictures on the board, one of bush hills and native animals and one of a plain with grass sheel and a river. They were able to offer a lot of simple links. I then asked for some complicated links and was amazed by the response that the second drawing is after the land was cleared and settled; the hills were eroded; the erosion resulted in the river forming! A very complex link from year seven.

The important feature is that this type of exercise can apply to graphs, written text, art work, creative writing and a lot more.


Oral Linking PEEL Procedure A33 (Published 23/04/2018)

Good concept maps contain lots of links with each term linked to as many others as possible; they encourage students to link terms that they may not otherwise have thought of linking. Concept maps are written, Oral Linking provides a way of promoting the same sort of thinking orally as well as including some physical activity. It can make a good revision activity, however for it to work well, it is important that everyone understands that one major purpose is to identify terms that are either not understood at all or understood poorly. In other words, students need to accept that "wrong" answers can be more useful than "right" answers and that having a go - offering a link that they are not at all sure about - is useful in getting ideas sorted out.

Make up a list of terms in the same way that you would for a concept map, however in this case there is no problem with having a large number of terms - the task does not increase in size with the number of terms as happens with concept maps. Each term is put in large print on a sticker and every student sticks one on their chest (or hangs it around their neck if you use cardboard for the cards. There is no reason why some terms cannot be used twice. With very young students, the terms could be represented by a picture.

The students stand in a circle and the teacher gives a ball to one student who passes it to another student. As they pass the ball, they have to construct and say a statement that links their term with that of the student who receives the ball. For example the terms could be characters, themes and events in Romeo and Juliet; the ball starts with the theme Hate who passes to Juliet saying "Juliet s family hates the Montegues."

There are several ways that this could be done. One is that the ball is passed to the next person in the circle. In this case it does not matter if the circle is a large one. The ball can make two (or more) circuits and everyone has to make a different, or more elaborate link on the next circuit. Then you rearrange the students so that no-one is beside the same term (every second student could move two places on as a starting move here) and do it again with different terms now being linked. Another variation is that the students can toss the ball to anyone in the circle and cannot toss to the same person twice. In this case, a large circle may present a problem of accurate tossing and catching and the students could work as a pair andalternate who stands in the circle.

If the students can select any term, then it is likely that some terms will either never be selected, or only rarely. This can reveal the fact that few (or no) students are clear on what this term means or only have a very limited meaning for it. Concept maps bring out exactly the same issue. The teacher could give each person (or pair) a marker and get them to put a tally score on their label each time they are singled out. The "rules" can then be manipulated to get students either tossing to people with low tallies or the teacher could occasionally stop the game to run a quick discussion/explanation of a term that seems to be a problem.

A more challenging version is when it is the student who receives the ball who has to construct the link; one may or may not require the passer to have a link in their mind before they pass the ball. The teacher might have a small prize for what she or he considers to be the most creative or original link to encourage students to think outside the square.

In all cases, the students should be encouraged to listen carefully to what others say, either to use the ideas, or to challenge them if they do not agree with the link.


Perhaps the best known procedure for linking is Concept mapping  This is published below  (Posted 16/04/2018)

Concept Mapping (PEEL Procedure A1).

Concept mapping is a procedure that assists students in their understanding of the connections between the major concepts in a content area. The process also requires students to understand the concepts themselves. It is a procedure that has consistently worked early in the change process. It looks a "legitimate" task to students and teachers, but demonstrably engages students in different, and improved, learning. It can be used in a range of ways and it has been common to see improved linking in students questions and comments.

In a concept map some terms are arranged on a piece of paper and each is connected by lines to as many others as is sensibly possible. On every line is written the nature of the connection the learner is making. Drawing concept maps requires students to form links - usually many more links than they would make while reading notes or participating in a lesson. Because one sequence must be chosen in classrooms or textbooks to present ideas and events, students commonly fail to think about linking ideas which appeared 3 weeks or 15 pages apart - they display "linear learning". Depending on the types of terms chosen the teacher can stimulate different types of links.

Concept maps can be used in a number of ways for different purposes. As some of these purposes are mutually exclusive, teachers need to be clear as to why they are using a concept map on any particular occasion. Various features of concept maps are discussed next.

  1. Concept maps are a powerful diagnostic tool. Diagnosis requires not just looking for correct/incorrect links, but reading what students say and using this to help decide what they currently believe. For instance in the example shown in Figure 1, the student firstly does not link between photosynthesis and any of the energy concepts and secondly seems to regard photosynthesis (which is a process) as a place - a part of the leaf.

    Figure 1 Concept Map of Photosynthesis

  2. Concept maps can be used either early in a unit of work as one way of probing the ideas students hold, or later in the unit to monitor student progress (see Using Concept Maps as A Before and After). In the former case, as with all probes of student views, it is essential that students are not assessed or judged; the teacher should stress that the maps are being used to identify the range of views in the class.
  3. Concept maps can give valuable feedback on the effectiveness of previous teaching. Weaknesses in the teaching are often reflected in a particular link or links being incorrect or missed in many maps.
  4. Including one or two of the activities done by the class as terms on the map, such as "experiment 3" and a "zoo excursion", will promote reflection on the purposes of the activities.
  5. Asking students to replace one concept with another on a completed map and then make the adjustments they see necessary, can focus on their understanding of the similarities and differences between the terms. For the concept map in Figure 1, replacing photosynthesis with respiration focuses on the relationships between these two processes.
  6. Including a relevant application, such as "light bulb", with electricity concepts can give information about the ways students are linking science concepts with their everyday world.
  7. Concept maps can provide excellent summaries of units of work. When used in this way, the students need a more complete list of concepts than for some other purposes.
  8. Maps can be used to help students integrate a new concept into their thinking. After they have produced a concept map using known concepts, introduce and discuss the new concept and then ask them to add the new concept to their map.
  9. Concept maps are an excellent stimulus for small group or whole class discussion. English teachers in particular have found that generating maps such as that in Figure 2 stimulates high quality discussion and analysis of literature.
  10. Concept maps are a powerful way of stimulating higher order thinking. Maps can force students to link ideas in new ways. The more widely separated the terms, such as terms from both chemistry and biology, the more divergent is the thinking promoted.

We have found students learn to use concept maps fairly quickly - after two or three attempts most students are quite competent. However these first one or two attempts do involve a different and difficult task for students; a little time and encouragement is essential if negative reactions are to be avoided. We offer the following advice for training students, particularly younger students, to use this procedure.

  1. Show the students a completed example. This applies to many procedures - students need to be able to imagine the final product.
  2. Begin with a simple and familiar example. A good start is to have the links definitional, such as contour line, altitude, map and slope. If the students are working alone, use only 4 to 6 concepts. If they are working in pairs, more concepts can be used.
  3. Emphasise the importance of thinking about all possible links and writing on the links. These are the two most common sources of errors with inexperienced users.
  4. Do not expect students first attempts to be good. If the attempts are poor, give students a second attempt at the same map, perhaps with one or two extra terms.
  5. For the first map they attempt, give a suggested layout for the concepts, or even give one possible link.
  6. It is vital to stress that there is no one correct answer; layouts can vary, more than one form of appropriate link between a pair of concepts is often possible, and there are occasions when it is not clear whether a link exists.
  7. Before and after the first attempt, discuss some of the different sorts of links that are possible in order to broaden the students perspectives about what kinds of links can be constructed.

The next five pieces of advice are relevant once students are familiar with the procedure.

  1. Generally we would suggest using 7 to 10 terms only (see Figure 2). However, more can usefully be used where some terms have only 1 or 2 links, and where there is a strong hierarchy of concepts. For instance, the map of rock, sedimentary, lava, slate, marble, metamorphic, granite, igneous, shale, pumice, magma, limestone and sediment contains a manageable number of links even though there are 13 terms.

    Figure 2 Concept Map on Romeo & Juliet

  2. Require students to organise their own layout of concepts.  Giving students a suggested layout can prompt them in ways that reduces the effectiveness of the procedure.  On the other hand, giving suggestions about how to form their layout can be helpful to students.  These suggestions would include thinking about the number of links a concept has, putting linked concepts close to each other and non-linked apart, beginning with the concept(s) they see as the key or most central ones in terms of links.  Our usual advice is to put the central concept(s) in the middle of the diagram, as in Figure 1.  Others have suggested putting the central concept(s) at the top.
  3. Initially it is best to select terms from a small area of content because the links are fairly easy to find. However the most powerful thinking comes when the terms are drawn from much broader domains: whole units, groups of units and even different subjects.  In other words, choose some terms which will generate quite new linking.
  4. A concept map of a novel can include the names of characters as well as concepts, and often the names of objects, if they symbolise concepts.  Figure 2 shows a concept map of the play Romeo and Juliet.

    Another variation, called a relationship map, includes only the names of characters. Students have to link the characters by explaining the relationships between them.  This requires the students to provide the concepts.

  5. The task can be varied for students experienced in mapping by asking them to select the concepts.  This can be done at the end of a topic, or from a chapter of a textbook, or from their class notes (see Developing Effective Note-Taking Skills).  This variation can be very valuable in that they have to both identify the concepts they perceive to be significant and map them. A half-way position is obviously possible - give students some concepts and invite them to add others if they feel others are needed.
With younger students concept maps can be made more engaging by constructing the map on a table top. The selected items can be linked with masking tape with the connection written on the tape. (Concept Mapping SEEDS 97 p24)

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