Some ideas to try

A Taste of PEEL - extracts from PEEL resources

In the following article (posted 19/02/2018) Vojtech Markus explains how he uses analogies to promte better understanding in his students. Althouhg this is a Science example it can readily be applied to ther subject areas.


A continual challenge in Science classes is to try and get students to make connections with concepts that may appear abstract or unimaginable. One of the strategies often utilised is the idea of analogies. We have all used them at some stage in our teaching. One of the most common in biology would be the "cell is like a city". In this article I would like to share a few other biology analogies that I have used with the Year 12 class that have led to some interesting results. I came across the analogies mentioned while searching the internet.

The physical analogy: explaining enzyme interactions

It is difficult to imagine the interaction between enzyme and substrate at the chemical level. After covering some theory in a previous lesson, I brought to class a bucket, basketball, baseball, golf ball (or marble), tennis ball and my trusty baseball glove. I asked one of the students to lob the basketball towards me and then proceeded to catch it in the bucket. At this point I flipped the bucket over to show that the basketball was fitting tightly in the bucket. The next step was to ask a student to lob the golf ball at the bucket. In this case, the golf ball was able to fit into the bucket but when flipped it fell out, thereby demonstrating that the enzyme-substrate interaction involves a "snug" fit and is specific in nature.

Now it was time for the baseball glove. I asked another student to throw the baseball towards me. It enabled me to show how the glove s shape moulded around the baseball. At this point one of the students called out "It s an induced fit". I couldn t help but smile. The next step was to have one of the students throw the basketball towards me. As you can imagine student laughter was plentiful as I tried to catch the basketball with the baseball glove. Again, the specific nature of enzymes was highlighted again. The final demonstration involved the use of a tennis ball. With the tennis ball snugly in the glove, I asked yet again for the baseball to be thrown. Before the baseball was even thrown students were already calling out that the tennis ball was acting like a competitive inhibitor.

The party mixing analogy: explaining the role of enzymes

By year 12 going to parties, dating and socialising are an on going topic of discussion amongst students. In this analogy, I refer to a party where the chance for someone to meet a potential partner can be seen as a random event which involves moving around and "bumping" into people. The opportunity for time to talk to each other and ultimately bond is limited. This process, however, can be quickened and strengthened with the assistance of a third party. If there is a mutual friend at the party who introduces two people to each other then that is simulating what an enzyme does when it brings two reactants together.

The use of analogies is something that I hadn t tried before and the effect this had on the students wasn't revealed until a later lesson about the transmission of a nerve impulse. The propagation of an action potential along a neuron can become a complicated concept and easily confuse students. While demonstrating the "all or nothing" idea by referring to my arm moving or not moving, one student commented "Is it sort of like a Mexican wave?" "What an insightful comment", I thought to myself. A discussion followed about how the Mexican wave was like an action potential moving along a nerve. Students began to search for any connection between the analogy and theory. One example was the idea of a threshold being reached (represent by the arms being half way up) and then exceeded (hands go all the way up). If a person put their hands up then this was the stimulus for the next person. In addition, some students also mentioned inaccuracies with the analogy. Of course the students couldn t resist and began their own Mexican wave in the classroom. Why not?


I had not expected the students to come up with their own analogy for the nerve impulse. Perhaps it was the earlier analogies that I had presented to them that assisted or inspired them to try and visualise some of the more intangible concepts. Irrespective of the accuracy of any analogy, they are still worthwhile if students are asked to evaluate their accuracy, searching for valid connections and also determine where the analogy falls down, all examples of high-order thinking. Based on the experiences in this classroom, having students physically involved and using an analogy that is very relevant to them (at this point of time in their lives) helps develop a stronger learning experience. Upon reflection, the "party" scenario could have been given to them as comic strip which required them to look for similarities with the theory. Another possibility is to role play the "party scenario", an idea I will consider in the future.


Active Listening

The following article by Sarah Langford (Posted 15/02/2018) highlights the importance of developing active listening skills in students if teachers are to develop greater understanding and improved learning in their students.

My Year 6/7 group is particularly sociable and chatty. During group discussions they have a tendency to become distracted and off-task. While these discussion times result in students becoming quite motivated, they subsequently forget the communication rule of "no calling out!" Whilst it is great that students wish to share ideas with the group, it is imperative that this is a controlled process so that chaos doesn t reign. If students call out ideas, they miss hearing others ideas and some students get all the "airtime".

I therefore decided to focus on "students actively listening during discussion time" for my involvement with PEEL. I introduced the topic to my students firstly, by discussing poor and good learning behaviours in general. We talked about some examples and what impact they had on the students learning. We then discussed our target which was to focus on students actively listening to one another and not interrupting during discussion times. We talked about why we had a rule of "no calling out" using the "Five Whys Strategy". I asked the question, "Why don t we call out during discussions?" Then continued to ask "Why?" of the responses that followed. We reinforced the need for such a rule to exist.

A strategy I used with the students during brainstorming activities was to get them to jot down their ideas rather than call them out. After I'd given them time to write down their ideas I would randomly select students to share an idea with the group. This way students who don' t normally volunteer to share ideas can also be included in the discussion. Alternatively, in groups, I get students to construct charts where they brainstorm and record all ideas and then one member reports back to the group.

During discussion times I say to students "no hands up". After giving them some thinking time I select individuals to share ideas without getting everyone to write down ideas. I find this strategy is more useful when time doesn t allow for students to write down their ideas. When time is more plentiful (not often, but occasionally!) I get students to sit in a sharing circle and each share an idea as we go around the circle. This encourages all students to share thoughts and builds confidence in public speaking.

If students continue to call out during discussions I stop the discussion and ask the student what rule they have broken, and why the need for such a rule to exist. This simply reminds the student they are breaking a rule that we decided upon together at the beginning of the year. When following up from this I would choose only students who were doing the "right thing" to answer questions and share ideas. I also engage in "tactical ignoring" those students who call out, and do not select them to share their thoughts.

I also acknowledge those students doing the right thing. This is in the form of positive feedback to them and occasionally a reward if students achieve a goal - i.e., in my classroom, students get a "pot luck" (raffle ticket) when they achieve something, and they then go into the draw. At the end of the week a ticket is drawn from the "Pot Luck Box" and the winner chooses a prize. A goal to suit this focus might be if the students don t call out in a set time frame (the goal needs to be seen as achievable by the student in order for them to be successful). I do, however, keep this strategy to a minimum as I try to avoid extrinsic rewards and focus on encouraging intrinsic rewards.

In discussing all of these everyday teaching practices I realise that I still don't really address the question, "What can we do teach active listening and teach students to value listening?" In order for students to actively engage in listening, I believe that the tasks set by the teacher need to rely upon students listening and acting upon other students opinions and ideas in order to be successful. For example, when students make verbal presentations to the class, peers might assess the presentation through constructing questions based on the content of the presentation. They than have to actively listen in order to construct their own understanding to form a basis for their questions.

A game I play with my students which involves a form of active listening is "Beat the Panel". The object of the game is to gain the main ideas of a text. The game needs 4 students who volunteer to be "the experts" on the topic in question. They form the panel. All class members then have time to read through the text and pick out the main points. They then write questions about the text; these must be able to be answered by the information they are given. The panel doesn t write questions, it continues to re-read the text to absorb as much information as possible. After a time the information is taken away from the panel members and they answer questions from the floor. For each correct answer they gain 5 points; incorrect responses lose 5 points. Students then actively listen to classmates questions in order to be successful.

Actively listening is also crucial when introducing a task to students. As a teacher, I need to focus on making my "tuning in" activities exciting and unique in order to engage my students in active listening. After all, there is only a narrow "window of opportunity" in order to engage students. I think the key to all of this is variety. In order to keep students excited and on their toes I need to provide various "attention getting" and "tuning in activities" for, as they say, "variety is the spice of life".


This is the first of a series of posts where we will highlight a number of ways teachers have addressed the problem of students not thinking about what they read or hear in class. All of the teachers are aiming to develop deeper learning and greater understanding in their students.

The Harvey Krumpet Project by Damien Toussaint   (Posted 5/02/2018)

To start with I wanted to do a number of things including:

  • introduce them to a range of good question asking techniques and move them beyond basic comprehension questions;
  • help them understand that some questions are better than others;
  • empower them with a range of question asking starters and stems to help them develop their own questions;
  • use short animated films as a way of engaging the kids and encouraging them to develop their own questions.

The first activity involved a couple of Adam Elliot s (of Harvey Krumpet fame) early short animated films.

I had the students watch the film Uncle without the sound. I wanted them to explore their ideas through questioning. I wanted to shift their thinking from Sunday afternoon, passive film spectators to participating, active, analytical film critics. I wanted them to engage with the visual imagery the film used and focus on how the film created meaning and conveyed its message. However, I really wanted to use the film without sound activity as a stepping-stone to the kids devising their own questions as a way of making sense of the film s or text s ideas, characters etc and eventually promote some discussion about some questions being better or more effective than others.

As expected, the kids found watching a film without the sound daunting and confusing and some of their questions included "Why are we doing this Sir?", "Why watch a film if we can t hear what s going on?", "How are we going to know what the film s about if we can t hear it?" and "This is stupid!". I wanted to try and move them from being passive film observers to thinking harder about what the film was doing and trying to say - the meaning . Their task was to record their own list of questions that they could ask me (or someone who had seen the film) to help them work it out . The film only runs for about 4 minutes, so we watched the film in short sections and I gave them a chance to record their questions as they watched. From the moment the film started, the kids were transfixed. Looking at the detailed questions more carefully, it was obvious there was some hard thinking going on. I then asked them to organise their questions into Groups (if they could). Some kids could do this, others really struggled. In most cases, the kids who had difficulty forming groups only had one group which came to be known as FACTUAL questions. Most of these questions started with What , Who , or Why . Only Mat and Sarah had two groups, including questions like: "What if the Uncle got better treatment in the nursing home?"

"What if Uncle s family kept in contact with him?"

We then moved into a discussion about the types of questions the kids had asked and formed two groups - FACTUAL QUESTIONS and POSSIBILITY (their term but also referred to as HYPOTHETICAL by me) questions. The kids swapped questions with a partner and for homework they had to have a go at answering some of their partner s questions through speculating about possible answers. Part of this homework activity was for them to build an interpretation of the film by being able to justify their responses. An answer would be no acceptable if there was not a reason or some justification included.

The next lesson I wanted to introduce them to another two groups of questions. I split the kids into groups of 5 and handed each group an envelope that contained a mixed up bunch of question stems. They had about 10 minutes to sort through the question stems and sort them into groups of their groups choosing. I explained that they would need to think about forming new groups of questions. This jigsaw activity and post-activity discussion resulted in the class deciding on two new groups of questions - OPINION questions and COMPARE / CONTRAST questions.

(Later that week I talked with a Science teacher about the idea of watching a science documentary without the sound and ask the students to write the narrative for the documentary as a way of demonstrating their knowledge and understanding of a topic or idea. Small groups of students could be given a 10-minute section of a documentary and asked to become experts in that area and write the narrative. We talked about the potential of this as a unit test, a way of developing students literacy skills in Science or as revision in using some of the fantastic Discovery Channel Science documentaries without the sound and asking students to write the narration for different sections or as a way of promoting more thoughtful student questions.)

We then watched the next film in the series Cousin which was only 3 minutes long. This time (before they were allowed to watch the film with sound - at this stage the kids would do anything just to hear the real narrative and work out some of the more confusing and ambiguous parts of the film) the kids had to use the all of the 4 question groups and decide on questions they would use to work out the characters, meaning and themes being explored in Cousin . This time, they were only allowed to create 5 questions from each group, giving them 20 questions. I limited the number of questions they could create to encourage them to develop 5 good questions.

Before watching the films with sound, to explore their thinking and their questions and to engage them in some creative writing, I asked to them swap their questions with their partner, have a go at answering their questions and then write their own original narrative to accompany the short film of their choice (they could choose between Uncle or Cousin ). I also gave them the option of writing a 1 st or 3 rd person narrative.

This was an amazing activity to do and a great way to make the point about developing your own interpretation of a text and being able to justify it. The narratives that the kids wrote were not only fantastic and highly imaginative pieces of creative writing, but they also demonstrated how I started to realise that this initial activity was leading to so many different learning opportunities.

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