Goodbye GCSE…Hello A Level: Where to start when teaching A Level R.S

First impressions are very important at the start of a new year. You always want to set the right tone for your classes – one that is both enjoyable and serious. It is about setting the bar with high expectations, introducing early challenge whilst making sure that students don’t drown with A level despair!

In the lead up to the start of term (and often during the first week back) you hear a lot of “What are your ice breakers?” I don’t have any for three main reasons: Firstly I believe that students soon get to know each other through the activities you do in lessons. I use two main activities to introduce Philosophy – the first is a movie maker “What is Philosophy” which instigates initial discussion (YouTube) and the second activity is a picture of Socrates Death with “What is Happening” (download the PowerPoint and worksheet free from: TES Resources).

socratesBoth of these activities work perfectly as ice breakers because the students cannot get the wrong answer, it is directly linked to the learning and enables students to contribute freely if they are comfortable (giving off those initial impressions).

The second reason I don’t use ice breakers (by ‘ice breaker’ I mean those ‘talk to the person next to you, now tell the class what you have learnt’ sort of activities) is because we have so little time. I am half way through Plato at this point because we do not have the luxury to introduce students back slowly.

The third reason is because the course is tough, the content is heavy and the ideas are difficult to understand. I don’t want to lull my students into a false sense of security then surprise them with what the course really is like. Start as you mean to go on!

So here are my top tips for starting the year:

  1. Get on with it! – As I have explained above students soon get to know each other so don’t waste time with things that are not on the spec.
  2. Establish rules that are important in your classroom – students will know what the college or institution rules are but what are your rules. I have three: do not swear, do not leave litter and listen when others are speaking.
  3. Folders – with such heavy content it is very important that students maintain organized folders immediately. So the first homework is shopping: one small ring binder for the current topic and one large leaver folder at home to leave the topic in once finished. I also give the students an outline of topics so they can arrange file dividers. If you have two teachers teaching different modules alongside each other, get students to colour co- ordinate their folders etc. to help recall.
  1. Note taking and highlighters – I ensure I use a PowerPoint within the first week. I get students right from the start to make notes from the PowerPoint as we go through it (I give tips for note taking such as short hand as we go along) as this sets high expectations straight away. I also promote the use of highlighters, getting students to highlight key words to help them focus on the new language they need to learn.
  2. Glossaries – students are given these at the beginning of every new topic. It is a table of all the key/ new words in a topic. Not only do glossaries focus students attention on the most important words to achieve high marks in the exam they are brilliant as a ‘brain break’ or lesson filler. So my advice if you worry about a lesson finishing early or a discussion falling flat or students turning off because they have had enough = glossaries are the perfect way to maintain engagement whilst giving students something easier to focus on. You can then make them into games e.g one student says a word their partner has to explain the meaning.
  3. Quotes, original texts and exam references– One of my colleagues was very surprised last year when they found out that I use quotes and original texts within the first couple of weeks (Plato’s Republic moving onto Aristotle’s Metaphysics). Students need to develop the important skills early on. That’s why I promote glossaries (learning key word with spelling tests), using quotes in answers with explanation in their own words and reading original texts. Whilst these are hard skills to learn at first, this is what students need to be successful in the ultimate exams. So why put it off? Earlier the better.

I hope that everyone’s first week back has gone well. There is no shame in going to bed at 9 or having a drink on a Tuesday night – both happened to me this week!

If you have any other tips or questions please do not hesitate to leave a comment at the bottom or go to the ‘contact me’ from the home page.

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