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Fun tips to engage the unengaged – and boys!

boy-listening-through-glassFor the ninth year, SSAT has celebrated and shared outstanding practice from schools across the country in the Achievement Show – this year, back at the site of the original show, the Emirates Stadium, North London.

Leaders and teachers from over 50 schools gave presentations of no longer than 45 minutes, highlighting their challenges and successes. Most importantly, the speakers gave the detail, and advice on what worked and what didn’t, and why.

The presentations covered a wide range of subjects and approaches: there was something there for everyone. Over the next week, we are publishing on our blog reports from a small selection, covering mobile technology in and outside the classroom, motivating disparate categories of students, retaining learning, school radio stations, special needs education, and oracy in young people from severely deprived backgrounds.

We began with Greg Hughes’ session on the impact of learning technologies at de Ferrers Academy. A second report gave you four advantages of investing in mobile technology. Our third piece recalled how a north London school has tackled severe language deprivation. A fourth report contained advice from a special school for mainstream schools on supporting students with autism. This fifth summary covers the age-old challenge of unengaged boys…


Grabbing attention really quickly when students come into the classroom is crucial, Kevin Kehoe, curriculum leader, MFL/SLE for Red Kite Alliance, Ilkley Grammar School, West Yorkshire began. “You need something that grabs their attention – anything from, for example, pop culture.” He showed images of floods, a matador being gored, and a montage of mouth closeups, where the tongues were twisted into strange shapes (to communicate the difficulties in pronouncing some words in the target foreign language).

Distinguishing, unusually, between learners and boys, he listed factors that engage both groups:

  • timed, snappy pacing
  • colour
  • images
  • traffic lighting, to create challenge
  • making students feel they are in charge, eg by enabling them to select the next person to answer a question
  • competitions
  • appropriate and timely use of iPads or other ICT.

Boys, and unengaged learners generally, like to talk, Mr Kehoe said. “So get them to talk; but you tell them what about.” He advocated cooperative learning structures, processes such as ‘stand up, hand up, pair up’, and Rally Robin.

For differentiation, he suggests setting individual targets with pupils as they come into class; then, when they have completed a task, each student assesses whether they met their target, giving evidence for their view. This can done on Post-Its, for example.

Students test – and assess – each other

A more sophisticated approach involves students testing each other on a particular MFL question – for no more than 2-3 minutes. Here he recommends using flash cards or the like (freely available from Quizlet.com). This works well with more able (though unengaged) KS3 students, he has found. For such activities, he likes to group students in sets of four to six. When each group has found the answer to a particular question, they all stand up.

In one example, he gets students in pairs: one has to explain a word (the name of a sport, say) without using the word, and the other has to work out what it is. The sports vary in difficulty, from football to skeet, and correct answers are awarded bronze, silver or gold points accordingly. Students are empowered by such games “because they are managing the learning.” He uses it for key words in A-level foreign languages. Apps such as Doodle Buddy and Showme are useful in this context.

Another game involves showing the class a word in another language. They have to say what country it comes from, what it means, and give another word from the same language. “Everyone has their hands up, everyone is looking at the board, everyone is engaged.”

And the final example Kevin Kehoe gives of this approach is a question with multiple possible answers, for which the class split into two teams take turns in providing an answer. It’s an example he says of “assessment for learning built up by the class.”


Check out photos from the SSAT Achievement Show 2016 on our Facebook page.

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