GUEST BLOG: Standing on the shoulders of giants, Biology Shed Loads Of Practice.

This is my first ever blog and I’m not sure how to begin and so I’d like to thank you for reading this, even if it only this initial line. I work at a small mixed secondary school in the south of England, it has been easy in the past to feel isolated which joining twitter almost completely ameliorated as it opened me up to ideas and conversation from all over the edusphere.  This leads me to the two bits of ‘CPD’ or advice I would give all new teachers:

  • Join twitter
  • Get a visualiser

I have been working on this project with Adam and Rachel (@BioRachProject) who have been absolutely critical and the ideas covered this blog are not mine alone just an amalgamation of different ideas from a range of different people. If I have misrepresented anyone’s ideas please get in touch and I will change any issues.

Making the booklets

‘SLOP’ or ‘mastery’ booklets are not a new thing in science with their use having been pioneered in Chemistry and Physics by Adam Boxer and Ruth Walker respectively.  Biology whilst considered by many to be the easiest of the sciences, poses it’s own difficulties when it comes to the teaching of it. Biology, more than the other sciences lies in the realm or ‘declarative knowledge’ and previously when teaching students large parts of the lesson would be dedicated to notetaking. This led me to think whether there were more efficient uses of this time. It was around this time I stumbled upon an enlightening blog by Ruth Walker where she put forth a potential model for the creating of SLOP booklets for this type of material. This model is one that we have adhered to in the creating of these booklets. An example is shown below.


An example SLOP booklet



The reading section is the information that students need to know, in past lessons I would of got students to copy this information down. This text is best used when supplemented with images where appropriate, as this allows the benefits of dual coding to be utilised. As when combining text information and visual information, a student’s learning can be enhanced as they process verbal and visual information through separate channels.  After that there is a comprehension section which are your seemingly basic but ever so important recall questions. When designing these questions the work of Amanda Fleck on literacy in science was incredibly helpful. Before seeing Amanda at ResearchEd too many of the questions I designed were literal with students being able to just search for statements appearing in the text that match the question. One part of the talk had us answer questions on the jabberwocky (shown below) which is a wonderfully nonsensical poem which was the catalyst leading me to the redesign of future comprehension questions. The questions on the jabberwocky could be answered without any understanding of the poem which led me to worry that my questions did the same. After this I tried to design the questions to be interpretive or to not involve directly picking a statement word for word from the text where appropriate.  The graphic organiser changes dependent upon the nature of the knowledge within that lesson (for a more complete description –


Using the booklets

I have been using these booklets in class for almost a year now with a range of ability with a generally positive reception from students.  They provide instantaneous extension work for those who have finished and provide structure and support for those who are struggling. In particular I have found myself covering so much more each lesson as haven’t had to wait for the slowest student in the class to copy off the board.

At the start of each topic students are issued with their own booklet. I will also have a teacher copy during lessons. Teaching using these booklets follows a fairly simple pattern: We begin with me sitting under a visualiser with my booklet and reading aloud to students. This is the area I’ve had most trouble with as it seemed almost sacrosanct to not get students to read along with me as I read. However, as David Didau argues (  this may not be the best idea. I then tried getting students to read silently themselves and then answer the comprehension questions. However, I feel that this negated one of the greatest advantages of the booklet and visualiser: the teacher as the expert.  I settled on me reading and them listening to me only using or annotating the booklet when directed to do so. This annotation could be in the form of a synoptic link, the etymology of a difficult word or a diagram to increase understanding.  This method has been far from perfect, however, with students still persisting in trying to read ahead.

After reading and completing the comprehension patter students work through the other aspects in a fairly predictable way. Once students reach the extended writing section the visualiser becomes so important again as can be used to model work or display either model or unmodel answers.

An unforeseen benefit of the booklets were in setting cover work as they can be used to ensure students still cover the correct content and have opportunity to practise it.



Making these booklets has been a learning curve and they are far from perfect. There are certain things I’d still like to do and there will be improvements I’ve not thought of. If anyone has any suggestions about improvement please contact me on twitter. One thing I would change is the inclusion of interleaved questions. This would enable the building of synoptic links for students and would allow for the spaced practice of material which will help retention of content. I would also add line numbers and page numbers as think it wold help me when directing students.

Once more, thank you to Adam and Rachel for their work on this project and thank you for reading this.  If anyone else would like to upload any SLOP booklets link shown below please do.

My twitter is here for anyone that would like to follow me or suggest improvements

The biology mastery booklets can be found here:


Finally, the next project myself and Rachel are looking to work in is the development of KS3 booklets. If anyone knows people already doing good work here please point me in the right direction.


“I have gathered a posy of other men’s flowers and nothing but the thread that binds them is mine own.” John Bartlett

Adam’s bit: When Ryan approached me I thought it was an excellent idea to team up. It was the educational equivalent of a child hood dream being realised. Together we would combine our forces to become greater than the sum of our individual parts, like the power rangers! (or if you are older the protectobots) our educational Zords would become a Megazord of biological practice.


Personally, it took me years to be open to sharing ideas and resources. The measuring of schools is by its very nature divisive. The zero-sum grading system and ofsted grading schools both increase pressure and stakes to the point of lunacy. Now I realise that it’s not about performance management or school successes. Sharing practice is all about keeping good teachers in the profession. It’s about a collegiate spirit of sharing that develops ideas to their maximum. So please use, improve and re-share. Thanks Ryan.

References and further links

Amanda fleck and literacy in science

Physics and Chemistry SLOP

Declarative knowledge

David Didau on reading



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