Boiling the frog: Revision for locked-out learners (and also everyone else).

This blog comes off a series of tweets I’ve read about ‘revision lesson’ requests and also discussion about how to use KO’s in class. It’s easier to put it in a blog than tweets. I also want to discuss the pros and cons of revision lesson structure.

Revision lessons

I wonder how many of us are guilty of planning revision lessons that are a waste of time?

I know I definitely have over the years.

Some of my worst revision lessons have included:

  1. Posters
  2. Students looking for the answers to questions dotted around the room
  3. Make a group presentation and teach the class
  4. Students build a board game and then play their friends
  5. Make a song
  6. Animate digestion using this playdough

All of these prioritise ‘edutainment’ over the amount of time the student spends thinking and the depth they think at. They also suffer from a poor think ratio.

“But you don’t know the students I have to teach!” I’m sure will be the rebuttal.

“They are reluctant learners who refuse to do anything too demanding. At least this way they are engaging with the content and reminding themselves of information. Also their engagement will motivate them to revise at home!”

This was what I was taught when I trained and by various experts through the years.

I now believe this is wrong, I also think this kind of thinking is what leads to the lowering of standards, especially of less able students, and leads to the erosion of  motivation and ‘locked-out learners’.

Boiling the frog


Student motivation is a fascinating and complex issue. Adam Boxer recently summarised some of the research and its implications in an article for IMPACT; Harry Fletcher-Wood has also written many blogs on aspects of motivation and habits.

I think essentially the best metaphor for student motivation, especially for those that struggle, is boiling the frogwe need to get them moving with very easy compliance-based questions before slowly ramping up the demand.

I am sure we all have locked-out learners in some of the classes we teach. I have a class of mainly boys who really struggle in science and are very prone to using avoidance strategies to prevent them completing work.

In their recent mocks they are hovering around the grade 2 so we’ve got some work to do over the next few weeks to see if we can help them do better in the final exam.

The problem is that they have very little knowledge to revise from and they are willing to give up the second it gets hard. They have been a battle all year and at times I’ve been on the losing side.

My priorities were to design a task that started very easy, built up to requiring thinking and reminded them of the resources they have available to support them (in our case this was a school-wide set of knowledge organisers called ‘The Regis SP’)

The solution became surprisingly simple: a series of questions, all of which can be answered by information on a particular page of the KO.

Here is the KO and the questions below:

c1sp1c1sp2c1sp3c1 quiz 1c1 quiz2

You can see the initial questions are simply copying, allowing me to get everyone going or use extrinsic motivation and behaviour management strategies on those that refuse. This also gives me plenty of opportunity to praise them and remind them verbally how useful their KO is – remember, one of my aims is to get them to use it at home.

As we progress to the later questions, the information is still available on the KO but now it needs interpreting and applying to the question. They need to think carefully and this increases the demand on them. They get stuck, but because they are stuck on question 15 instead of question 1 they are more likely to persevere and ask for help. This gives the chance for some discussion and support. Their attention is high so it improves their understanding.

The task worked really well. Once the first couple of students had finished (in about 20 mins) the rest were given 2 minutes to get as far as they could, before we discussed all the answers using the visualiser and students’ work.

Then we drilled p,n,e numbers from the periodic table and electron configuration using mini-white boards, before completing an example exam question.

This blog post is not to say how amazing a teacher I am, I’m not. I just wanted to share how task design can support meaningful revision for all levels of ability and engagement.

I have repeated the task with a middle ability class. The only change I made was for the first 10 minutes they were not allowed the KO to increase the retrieval aspect as they have more secure subject knowledge.

I don’t teach any high ability students in year 11, but I think the task would work just as well but probably in half the time and no KO.

I hope you found this useful. If you think this is obvious, then you would be right, but it’s important to remember that things don’t have to be complex  and elaborate. Some of the best practice in education right now is gloriously simple and should be actively encouraged, to make the most of both teacher and student time.

If you want a .pdf of all the KOs click here

The quiz word doc is here

You might find this post about designing SLOP resources interesting.



4 thoughts on “Boiling the frog: Revision for locked-out learners (and also everyone else).

Add yours

  1. A great article Andrew, something I feel I could adapt to my ks2 class – we have only just started using KOs but I think the idea of checking understanding through questions starting simple and increasing the challenge with the support of KOs would be a great motivator for hard to motivate children. Thanks


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