Random Name Generators

I love random name generators, whether they be digital or old-school because the students understand that it is pure chance if they are called on to answer a question or give feedback. This also gives a sense of excitement and mystery to the lesson.

There are lots of random name generators available both for the PC and as an app. Personally I prefer the app version as it doesn’t disrupt the lesson or require me too change whatever is being shown on the whiteboard at that time.

For the PC I have used both my own creation using PowerPoint. Using this version you can customize the spinner  or format to sort your purposes. In times past I have used cartoon characters with names as speech bubbles, I have used graffiti fonts so they look like a name is being sprayed on the wall. However the big problem with using PowerPoint is that you have to come out of what ever program you are using in order to use it, and it doesn’t take out the students who have already been selected, it can also be a pain to take out students who are absent.  To get around this I used to take in my little netbook to lessons just so that I didn’t have to come out of the program I was using on the main board. The issue with this was that I had to stand next to the machine in order to  stop and start the spinner and it isn’t the lightest of machines.

When this didn’t work I reverted back to the age old lolly stick routine. This again wasn’t the solution for me as I teach far too many different classes, in far too many different rooms. I found that my sets would get mixed up or I would forget to take them to the lesson.

My solution came when I  brought myself a Kindle Fire tablet and downloaded a random name generator. I always carry my kindle with me anyway (grab 5 mins here and there to read or listen to music) so to find apps which help me in the classroom are great. The great thing with this app is that it has 9 themes to choose from with sounds (my favorites are the popcorn and  fish). The App that I have gone with is an android app so could also have it on my phone if I wanted.

There are lots of great apps available for both android and ipad but once you find one that works for you it can add that little bit of excitement to the lesson and prevent the same people from contributing all the time.

Other ways I used the random name picker include creating groups for small group work, pairing students up for peer assessment so that they are not always marking their friends work, even deciding who is going to collect or give out resources for me. 

Graffiti Tables

I can’t take any of the credit of this idea but personally I think it is brilliant and all due credit and awesomeness  points go to


@mrgill who posted an activity he had done with his key stage 4 History groups on his twitter account using what I have called Graffiti Tables and I just had to try it. As usual when I get a new idea for anywhere the first group it gets tried out on is one of my A Level classes. The reason for this is that they are a smaller class (6 in A2 and 16 in AS) which means I have better control over the situation then if I were to try it with my Yr7 History class of 28. Also a lot of the time A Level lessons can be quite didactic so it is great to find ways to make their lessons as creative as main school lessons.

I do suggest that you make sure that the tables in your classroom are okay to be written on with whiteboard pens, there are some special tables you can get which have whiteboard tops but there are ways of doing this sort of activity without having to completely refurbish your classroom. One alternative is to use the static whiteboards and lay them over the tables to cover them. Or alternatively you can see if you are able to write directly on the tables. I am lucky that the tables in my A Level room allow me to write directly on them and the whiteboard ink comes off with a bit of kitchen cleaner.


I really like using and creating mindmaps with students, it allows them to get the information out of their heads and organise it without having to worry about sentence structure. It also allows for collaborative learning, allowing for students to share ideas and information in a more informal way. The problem I find with mind mapping is the big bits of paper that the students work on and what to do with them after the lesson. I don’t have a lot of space for storage nor do I have a lot of display space considering I don’t really have my own room but share 23! So this idea is great for me as all I need to carry with me is a set of whiteboard pens, some kitchen cleaner and kitchen roll. It is also environmentally friendly and budget friendly making most bursars and budget holders happy.


In the lesson today I got my year 12 students to mind map the internal and external factors which affect educational achievement by class. They put two classroom desks together using one side for the internal and one side for the external. They then had to add information using the key sociologists and key concepts I had on the board as well as their own notes and reading.

My year 12 students can be somewhat apathetic about doing anything and often prefer to be lectured to but I have finally found an activity which had the whole group engaged and working collaboratively to achieve an objective. At the end of the time given they had produced some great work which we photographed for their notes (I put copies on the school VLE as well for them to access if they want to.They also used these mind maps to create essay plans which I then photocopied for their own notes.



It was one of those lessons that you just wanted someone to walk in for a learning walk or random 5 minute observation. All the students were engaged, working and on task. They were showing collaborative learning as well as reflective learning. It was fantastic even if I do say so myself!

Target Setting and Tracking (Key Stage 3)

Over the years I have tried many different ways to track student progress for both myself and the students. As a teacher I really like to have both a hard copy mark book as well as an electronic one that can do averages and colour coding for me. But when it comes to the students keeping track of their own progress and targets I have found it more difficult to find a method which they can easily update but also have to hand if they are asked by someone other then me what their target grade is and what they currently working at.

Over the years I have tried stickers in books, feedback sheets with space for AfL on them which students keep in folders, tracking graphs you name it, but nothing really seemed to be effective. Especially during observations when students are asked for this information about themselves and they look blankly at said observer as through they are talking a foreign language. I think it is slightly easier to do in Key Stage 4 or 5 because the students seem acutely aware of their progress and what grades they got on their last piece of work, however with Key Stage 3 it is more difficult, or at least I have found it more difficult.

So in another attempt at trying to get students to take ownership of their learning I have created an assessment tracking booklet. Now in my current place of work we have between 5 and 6 formal assessment tasks a year in Key Stage 3. By this I mean pieces of work which are not just levelled according to National Curriculum Levels but levels are recorded in a departmental mark book (as well as the Teachers), the assessments are retained by the department (just in case Ofsted comes in) and they are used for target setting.

I am going to use History as my example here as that is the booklet I have uploaded to the Box.net account. In history, at my current school, we have an assessment focus for year 7 and year 8. In year 7 we are looking at essay writing skills and skills of analysis and evaluation. In Year 8 we focus more in Source work and the interpretation and evaluation of sources. This works really well with the A4L and target setting as the students will have the same sort of assessment throughout the year so will be able to show progress in those areas.

The booklet it self contains an initial target setting grid that the students fill in a the the beginning of the year. I have 3 targets here; 1 for behaviour, 1 for skills and 1 for knowledge; and I make sure that the students use SMART when creating these targets. The first page also has the tracking bar graph which the students colour in after each assessment so that they can see very quickly how they are improving or not as the case maybe.


After this are the AfL tables where the students fill in the information on what they achieved as well as identifying two things that they did well (2 STARS) and a target (WISH) for next time. Although I do write comments on their work I think it is important for the students to identify what they did well and how they are going to improve in order for them to take ownership of their learning. This also means that you are giving the students the time to absorb what you are saying and advising them rather then just looking at their achieved grades and leaving it at that.

I have printed the booklets off so they are just under A5 size so that they will fit nicely on the back page of the students exercise books. That way they are to hand for both the students and any observers that come round.

These lovely booklets seem to be working at the moment but only time will tell and of course I will let you know how I get on.

Homework – Takeaway Menu

This homework idea is something that I picked up from the Teacher’s Toolkit (@teacherstoolkit) and have adapted to work with my year 7 students and also links into a post I was on another blog I follow: Headteacherguru  (http://headguruteacher.com/2012/09/02/homework-matters-great-teachers-set-great-homework/) which talks about the purpose of homework and ways to make it more creative. This also gets the students practising higher order thinking skills such as synthesis.


The Homework takeaway menu is a task where you tell the students the objectives of a    task but it is up to them to choose the outcome from either a list of options (good idea for the first time trying the activity) or from their own imaginations.  I did this with

my Year 7 PSHCEE group who had been looking at Healthy Eating over the past few weeks. I gave them the outline – which you can find attached (Promoting Healthy Eating Task Sheet) which told them that they had to come up with a way to promote healthy eating to Secondary aged students but they could choose any appropriate format that they wanted. I gave them a few ideas on the board, for example poster, booklet, leaflet, video etc. to get them thinking but it was up to them to choose for themselves.

As I only see this class once a week and set homework once a fortnight I gave the students 3 weeks to work on the project. Today


was hand in day and rather then me collecting them all in each of the students presented their work to the class where it was peer assessed using the 2 stars and a wish format.

For a first time trying the activity it worked quite well, we had quite a few posters, a couple of leaflets and a rather fantastic video from one student. We didn’t manage to get through all of the presentations in one lesson but I am looking forward to seeing the rest next week.


AfL: Active Involvement, Differentiation (through outcome), Positive Influence.

SEAL: Motivation.

ECM: Enjoying and Achieving, Making a positive contribution.

PLTS: Creative Thinkers, Self Managers, Independent Enquirers.

Using a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) – Simple version

I am a big fan of using VLE’s for encouraging independent learning with students. There are so many VLE packages available out there and I am only really familiar with the one we use at my school (FROG) but I hope that my thoughts can transfer to other systems.

In September with the start of the new school year I decided that I wanted to use the VLE more effectively for both my convince as well a further developing the students independent learning. This has happened with some success but it has taken till now for most of the students to get their head around actually checking it and looking  in the right place. Now this in itself is not exactly difficult because as soon as you log into a school computer the VLE home page comes up or if you are outside of school there is a very clear link on the schools website. Unfortunately I seem to have to explain this to the students every time I set them something the requires them to go anywhere near it – so much for the cyber generation :/

The way I have used the VLE is like a shared drive where I can upload files and post links to websites that

Specifically I post lesson resources (after the lesson) along with activity instructions so that if students are absent from the lesson they are able to keep up without me having to email them every time. I also post the homework task sheets on there so that both the students and their parents can see what it is they need to do and no one has the excuse that they didn’t know what the homework was. I also use it in my lessons (particularly when doing a ICT based lesson) By posting the links I want the students to use I can control what they are doing more, as they know that if they are caught on a site that is not specifically set there will be consequences.I want the students to look at, including Youtube videos and Ted Talks. I have also uploaded my resources to share with other teachers in my department, and by changing the accessibility to Staff only means that students can’t access what I don’t want them too.

I use it more extensively with my sixth form students. For A level I not only post lesson resources and homeworks but also have a files called “Supplementary Resources” and “Extension Tasks”. These contain clips, articles and documents that help enhance the students and push them further. The extension task section links to the unit outline which records which

tasks they have completed and they are then discussed during the 1-2-1 meetings they have.

There are still lots of other applications that the VLE offers which I will continue to explore and post about as I get to grips with them and find useful ways to employ them in my teaching.

Moveable Whiteboards


These are very similar to the mini whiteboards and are sometimes called static or sticky whiteboards as they stick to flat surfaces such as walls without using blu tac or tape.

The A3 size ones are great for round robin activities or small group brainstorms so that the students are able to show their work without you being stuck with big sheets of sugar or flip chart paper (so they are environmentally friendly as well.)

I have used the A4 instead of the of “Show Me” boards because a box of them is far too heavy to be carting around all the classrooms I teach in!!! These work well as the students just stick them on the desk until you want them to show you what they have done. I have also given these to students who find it difficult to sit still so that they can doodle on them rather then their books!

The whiteboards can be purchased from most stationary suppliers and come on a roll so you just tear off the number you need when you need them. As the are static they are good for using in displays  on or demonstrating student work in your room without having lots of big pieces of work to store.