Easy as ABC: Whole Class Discussion


This is a guest post by the blogger Physically Educated (Twitter: @PE_SOC) who is a Lead Teacher in Boys’ PE at a London Academy. Here he explains how he uses the ‘ABC’ approach (add, build, contest) to promote literacy in PE through verbal communication.  A very simple concept, but a high quality method nonetheless that you can read more about below.

I used ‘ABC’ in my year 11 GCSE PE class this morning (period 1) during a whole class discussion on different roles in sport – player/performer, organiser, coach, official and choreographer.  I organised it slightly differently with each individual student allowed to decide to ‘add’, ‘build’ or ‘contest’ a previous response rather than using a reaction ball.  I also made sure each student (there were 15 in this morning) had a chance to contribute by picking which student to ABC next.  I find that this method, instead of the traditional hands up, keeps all the students involved in the discussion because they need to listen at all times becuase they could be picked to ABC at any point.

Please feel free to create your own version!




Teaching all boys PE classes…we all know that boys will find anything to fiddle with while they are sitting down listening…from a ball in their hands, a shuttlcock or my favourite; the small black bits of rubber on the 3G pitch. I decided to introduce my very own A.B.C Ball (a very hi-tech invention consisting of a reaction ball with the letters A.B and C written on the ball). Discussions/Q&A sessions in lesson now involve the ABC Ball…

Quite simply…the ball triggers responses from the pupils. I pose a problem/question; “Whast makes Cristiano Ronaldo so good at beating an opponent in a 1v1 situation?” A quick 30 second pair share discussion and its time for some responses. The first pupil may tell us that one reason is due to the fact that he has excellent close control…time for the ABC Ball…I throw the ball to another pupil who then has to Add (add a whole new point), Build (build on a previous answer…make it a higher level answer, give more depth of understanding) or (if they are feeling brave) they can Contest a previous point…

Honestly, the boys love it…the only management issue is making sure they dont jump on top of another pupil when they try and catch the ball…The ball can control the discussion…ask a pupil to throw to another pupil or back to you if you want to pick a specific pupil…Pick A, B or C for an individual to assist with assessments…

The impact so far is simply that these discussion/lesson dialogues are much more focused and from the moment the question or problem is posed the level of language increases…pupils are constantly striving to ‘show off’ their vocabularly or analytical skills…and pupils learn from other pupils…

So there it is…my most recent technique for raising Literacy through PE…I would love it if you could let me know what you think, what you like or think I could add or change to make it better…or even still let me know something you do that helps drive pupil literacy through Physical Education…

Presentation of Learning Night: Parents’ Evening with a Twist

After reading Ron Berger’s ‘Ethic of Excellence’ and watching the mightily impressive High Tech High clip with their CEO, Larry Rosenstock, speaking about his philosophy of education, there seemed to be one common thread that linked both men’s view on education:

The power of publicly exhibiting and critiquing student work so their peers, teachers, local experts and parents can examine the work and offer specific and helpful feedback. Specifically, the positive affect this public exhibition can have on student commitment and motivation to produce high quality work consistently.

A worthwhile link here is to Jamie Portman’s blog posts that summarise his visit to High Tech High in San Diego, California. Essentially, every single part of the school is one giant exhibition of student work and peer feedback (the corkboard and sticky note idea is just one simple, yet exceptional feedback strategy) with the students responsible for designing and creating their own displays.

With all this world class practice in mind, myself and Matt Dooling (@MattyDooling) decided to replace a traditional parents’ evening format with an interactive, ‘presentation of learning’ night with our Year 12 BTEC PE classes. Here is how we planned and executed the night:

With all this world class practice in mind, myself and Matt Dooling (@MattyDooling) decided to replace a traditional parents’ evening format with an interactive, ‘presentation of learning’ night with our Year 12 BTEC PE classes. Here is how we planned and executed the night:

Student trying to duck! Not for long...

Student trying to duck! Not for long…


  • To give students and parents an opportunity to compare their own/child’s work against their peers, hopefully learning from their own and others’ assignments
  • Improving our BTEC students’ communication skills, engage with and take responsibility for their own learning and quality of work, stimulate student reflection and use the work displayed as a basis for discussion and target setting
  • To share our BTEC PE course structure and unit content with parents, other local schools who teach BTEC PE and experts in individual sporting fields
Discussing progress: BTEC PE student with parents and Mr Dooling.  Work displayed in the background

Discussing progress: BTEC PE student with parents and Mr Dooling. Work displayed in the background


  • Students were asked to exhibit two assignments from a range of units up on a board in an open plan classroom. Students were only told which two assignments they needed to display close to the night itself to ensure everyone involved received an honest picture of student progress so far (so students couldn’t cheery pick their best assignments – we encourage consistent effort across all units of work)
  • The assignments were fully and correctly marked – although it didn’t matter if the student hasn’t met all the marking criteria
  • All success criteria (assignment briefs, teacher feedback sheets) were displayed along with the work itself. This was especially helpful for parents and the local expert coaches who were in attendance
  • Students were still allocated a 10 minute formal slot with a member of our PE team to discuss their general attitude to learning and progress so far, whilst referring to their work displayed up on the board. A conversation then took place between a member of staff, student and their parents regarding the quality of the student’s work
  • Before or after their formal appointment students and parents looked at other students’ work to compare the standard – an open door policy
Local rugby expert with Mr Pickup, parents and a BTEC PE student

Local rugby expert with Mr Pickup, parents and a BTEC PE student


  • Members of the senior leadership team at Wilmslow High School attended
  • Other local secondary school PE teachers from Poynton High School that run their BTEC Sport course were invited to compare the quality of the work between both sets of students and discuss any teaching and learning ideas with our PE team
  • Local experts (Premier Football Coach Ltd and RFU coaches) analysed relevant assignments and discussed the content of these assignments with the students to check their understanding
  • Current year ten and eleven students and their parents were invited who are contemplating choosing the BTEC Sport course when the progress to our sixth form. This increased their understanding of the course that they will potentially be studying in the future – is it the right fit for them? Will the continuous coursework assessment style suit their learning and working habits?

The feedback received was extremely positive from all involved:

  1. Parents left with a much better understanding of how the BTEC PE course works with all its intricacies – how many units are studied / assignments that need completing / success criteria / marking policy etc…
  2. Students, through being able to discuss their work with their peers, local coaching experts and teachers from other schools had a clear sense of what level they were currently working at and what they needed to do to improve. They discovered whether they were producing work of an exceptional quality or, in fact, were coasting and capable of working harder and to a higher standard
  3. Wilmslow High School and Poynton High School PE teachers found the evening to be a useful, informal collaboration of sharing best practice, especially the delivery of similar units, comparing the quality of student work and BTEC Sport marking policies. This will serve both departments well moving forward throughout the BTEC Sport course this year and in the future.

Finally, this email received from a member of our SLT made our PE team feel this experiment was worthwhile and should be built upon for future ’presentation of learning’ nights:

Dear PE team,

Really impressive: a huge step forward in terms of how we make students more accountable for their quality of work. Some really positive feedback from parents who now have a much better understanding of the course and of how they can support/monitor their son’s/daughter’s work.

So, why not try a little experiment that could revolutionize your school’s parents’ evenings? Instead of teachers and parents dominating the traditional ten minute parents’ evening conversation why not flip the model and allow students to lead the learning conversations?  For one thing, it will stop all those nasty dry mouths we’ve all experienced from talking for three hours non-stop!

Active 1: Life Lessons Through PE

Active 1 is an invitation only ‘Xtra’ curricular  sports club at Wilmslow High School that provides students with lower ability, low self-esteem and/or a variety of special educational needs the opportunity to become more confident within themselves and their new educational environment. Numbers are limited at this club which gives the students more time and space enabling them to be more composed when participating in sporting activities which in turn can hopefully transfer across the curriculum into all of their lessons and their everyday life.

This club works in harmony with core PE lessons at WHS to increase the enjoyment of physical education for the students involved and it also allows the successful integration of these students into mainstream PE classes where they can be confident enough to improve and achieve with their fellow peers. There is a great team spirit within the group with an big emphasis on fun, social skills and basic movement and coordination skills rather than competitiveness.

A Happy Bunch: The Active 1 Gang with Mr Taylor & Mr Riley

A Happy Bunch: The Active 1 Gang with Mr Taylor & Mr Riley

Originally this ‘Xtra’ curricular club was designed for key stage 3 students only, but now our original cohort have progressed so muchas they have entered key stage 4 they now act as mentors for the younger Active 1 students to aid their transition into secondary school life.

Active 1 is very popular and is now entering its 6th year.

We would love to hear from schools offering a similar PE experience for their young people.

Glenn Taylor

Wilmslow High School Learning Support Assistant (PE specialist)

Building Anticipation…

How to get kids to look forward to your lessons without dumbing down

A guest post by David Didau, Director of English at Clevedon School

One of the banes of every teachers’ life is that endless, whining chorus of, “Can we do something fun today?” The correct answer to this pitiful plea is of course that learning is always fun and that today’s lesson, along with every other lesson, will contain the gift of knowledge. What could be more fun than that?

But this isn’t what they mean or what they want, is it? Sometimes, especially at the end of term, they’re less subtle and straight for the jugular by asking if they can watch a film. (And they’re not clamouring for Herzog or Kieślowski, are they? What they want, naturally enough, is Pixar or superheroes.) Yes, I tell them, of course you can. When you get home you may watch films to your heart’s content. Why would I waste this precious opportunity to expand your horizons by showing you something that you have already seen?

Surely, our job, at least in part, is to expand students’ cultural capital?

Two recent lessons with my Year 11 class neatly illustrate these issues.

Having sat their English Language exam earlier in the day, Year 11 felt that they deserved a ‘fun lesson’. Knowing that being allowed to watch films is utterly verboten they opted for a somewhat more disingenuous request: can we have a quiz? But this isn’t what they mean either. What they mean is, bless ‘em,”Can we have a lesson off?”

Although they groaned theatrically at having to commence studying Julius Caesar, they are, largely, a biddable lot and were happy enough, once their complaints were duly registered to get on with it. But it did make me think. What I should have done was to have lured them, á la Hywel Roberts, into learning despite themselves.

Today we were looking at Caesar’s dilemma in Act 2 scene 2 where he has to decide whether to heed Calpurnia’s warnings and stay at home or follow the advice of the devious Decius Brutus and toddle off to the Senate to get stabbed. Now this wasn’t a situation I felt that many of my students would recognise so I decided to focus on the familiar and liven it all up with some upbeat music.

So, this is what I confronted them with:

Click the pic for sound!

No one asked whether they could have a fun lesson. Why? Because they were having fun.

After a couple of minutes of this I could, frankly, have followed up with pretty much anything but, not wanting to waste all this anticipation, we moved straight into discussing the language and structure of the scene using The Ultimate Teaching Technique and had one of those lessons where everyone feels disappointed by the bell. Well, I did anyway. And they were discussing Shakespeare’s language! Like it mattered!

Building anticipation is, you’ll be pleased to hear, dead easy. It really doesn’t take much effort at all. While there are all sorts of techniques, Hywel, the master of accidental learning suggests:

5. Change norms (move furniture or rooms)

4. Place a ‘teaser’ poster on the door e.g. Plague Here

3. Dress up

2. Music

1. Fascinators: pics/sounds/objects that stop ‘em in their tracks.

Of these I regularly use 4, 2 and 1, with music being my personal favourite. All I have to think is, what is the sound track to today’s lesson?

And, at the end of the lesson, what is the EastEnders moment?

You see? Engagement doesn’t have to be a dirty word and there is never an argument in favour teaching The Simpsons instead of Macbeth! All it takes is pre-empting the ‘fun lesson’ question by working out what you’ll put on your spoon to help the medicine go down.

The future of homework at Wilmslow High School? A follow up…

From September to December, Wilmslow High School’s history team piloted a new homework concept with their year nine classes.  This concept was adopted to allow student choice and autonomy when completing on their homework which, in turn, hopefully encouraged students to take ownership of their home studies and increase the quality of work produced.

To get some background on how this little experiment was designed to work, please read Helena Clarke’s initial post from September 2012 here.  Below is a picture of the homework sheet each student used to choose their history tasks from:

Now that the initial experiment is complete, Helena has now offered her team’s thoughts on this new homework process with one eye on its future development:

Overall the reaction from our year nines has been really positive. I was surprised that when I asked for feedback most of the class shouted out positive comments – a rare moment when linked with homework! The overwhelming message was that they really enjoyed having the choice of a variety of tasks. One student said that he preferred written tasks and found he was able to choose homework that played to his strengths. Commenting on the points system, where there was a target of points to be achieved, the students liked the challenge – many tried to beat the minimum points set. They said they felt motivated to push themselves more. They also liked the idea of being able to choose a shorter task on a week when they had a lot of other homework, so they could manage their workload more effectively.

A Slave Owner's Guide To Running A Plantation

A Slave Owner’s Guide To Running A Plantation

In terms of our thoughts: I have liked the fact that they have a homework sheet in their books so it has taken less time to set tasks. I have been able to say that they need to choose from task 2 and then just quickly explained my expectations. When homework has been poor I have awarded less than the set points. I have also been pleasantly surprised by some of the quality of homework that was produced – not only by students I would expect but also from some of the quieter middling students. Andy also commented on some exceptional work he received on tasks that he would not have been happy to set for the whole class.

A Museum Exhibition

A Museum Exhibition

It did not solve the issue of engagement with homework for a couple of persistent offenders – but I didn’t really expect it to. It did provide a challenge and a variety of tasks and it was often more interesting to mark homework. We did give ourselves too much homework to mark and would balance it out with a little more time set aside for research. We would change some tasks that we felt did not yield positive results and we must be wary of using the same sheet year after year – it needs to be altered and kept fresh.

We are planning on designing another sheet for year nine after Christmas and we would certainly broaden out the experiment across key stage 3.

Helena (and Andy)