Preparing for the new year

Remarkably, we are almost ready to start another new school year. This will be my 5th start to an academic year. I still remember spending almost all of my summer as an NQT trying to prepare for what was ahead, but nothing can prepare you for that! However, this year, with my previous experience, I am feeling a bit more confident.

So, where to start?

Seating plans

Well, I always like to begin with the arrangement of my classroom. For the past few years I have always followed the Kagan method. What I like the most about this method is it allows learners to learn from one another. The only downside to this is at the beginning of the year you don’t really know the academic ability of the children before you have had chance to work with them. We all know that test papers don’t show the full capacity of a child, and are often misleading, but they can be used as a starting point.

I tend to opt for the HA, HM, M, L seating option. You do not always have these abilities but as long as a child can learn and observe from a higher child it can work extremely well for learning.

It looks something like this…


For further reading on the Kagan structures see the official website linked here. 

Display boards

This year I want to do more practical research into displays and their impact on student learning. Usually I have English, Maths, Enquiry, Merit (reward system) and celebration of work displays. I always have a fear that the resources displayed may become ‘wallpaper’ and how actively are students engaging in those displays; as well as the whole class environment.  I believe the clearer they are, the easier they are for students to read from, so I try to keep them decluttered. I enjoy displays with a question as I find those generally more intriguing. I also like to have an element of interactivity with the display, a question for the students to answer on post-it notes, or QR codes that link to more information. Something that turns the display from wallpaper into something more valued.

Preparing to building positive relationships

The first week should be around building positive relationships with your students. Create lessons that allow you to build on these relationships as this will be the most important start to your year together. I like to use ‘The 5 love languages’ quiz with some students to give an indictor as how I can connect more with them. I plan a lot of 1:1 reading time, shared writing activities and paired work into my first week. You want to create a positive classroom where all the students know that we are working together, we want everyone to achieve together and we support one another.

Organisation for parents

Having clear communication from the beginning is so important to creative positive relationships with parents. Ensure they know their child’s timetable and make things obvious by highlighting them. When is P.E? When is homework due? What things does their child need to remember on a daily basis? Because they want to support them with this as much as they can. Give them your school email and let them know when it is best to contact you. Show your willingness to meet with them by letting them know your availability. Having a strong parent-teacher relationship can have a huge impact on the child’s learning and emotions towards school life.

Organisation for yourself

Have a journal or create a Google Doc with your ‘to-do’ items or things you need to jot-down before you forget. I found using a Google Doc really useful as 1. I couldn’t lose that and 2. It made deleting off items much more satisfying.

Have a google sheet with all of your students names listed and duplicate the sheet many times. You can use this for a number of things across the year that you want to record next to each student.

Have a copy of the school calendar printed and saved to your device.

Make sure you roughly know what your first day looks like.

Finally…. eat well, sleep well and look forward to getting to know your new students.







Using IPAD games to enhance writing

As a teacher I am passionate about creative writing. Each week I try to use a new stimulus/prompt to enthuse the writers in my class. I know I have achieved this when it comes to Friday and the children say ‘What are we doing for Big Write this week?’, ‘When is Big Write?’ and ‘Yay! Big Write!’.

Big Write is something which is consistent in my ever changing timetable. It is the one lesson a week which I will not alter or give-up.

This week I wanted to inspire them through the use of games. The children in my class are constantly told they cannot play games on their IPAD, it is not allowed. They now have a stigma attached to them.

When the children read ‘download Temple Run 2’ on Google Classroom nearly all of them came to me and said, ‘Can we really download this game?’ to which I replied, of course. I am not sure whether the parents completely agreed with this, however I have yet to receive a complaint.

I gave the children a couple of days to ensure they had the game installed on their Ipads, as they rightly do not all have access to the App store.

When Friday came the children had an idea that the game may be used as a stimulus for writing. Then the words appeared on the board…. play temple run 2. They couldn’t believe their eyes…  Play a game? In class? Has Miss Gemma lost her mind?

I think it is important for children to explore and experience what they will be handling before they do it, this prevents any behavioural issues later in the session.

Once they had finished exploring the game, I then got them to think of ways in which we could use it as a stimulus for writing. My class are very aware of what a stimulus is and different genres of writing. They came up with ideas like, stories, persuasive texts, instructions, diary entry etc.

We then decided as a class to create instructions. We discussed the use of technology to enhance our writing, what could we do? We continued to discuss how instructional writing has developed, going from written to verbal. They spoke about how they watch videos such as: how to improve in Minecraft, or jewellery making. After, we decided to combine the old with the new and have verbal with written instructions.

We used the APP explain everything for our instructions. The children inserted images, recorded videos of each other playing the game, recorded their voices onto the document. You name it they did it!

This weeks stimulus was perfect for collaborative learning. It benefitted all leaners as they were in mixed ability groupings. Learning different vocabulary from one another both spoken and written.

It has made me consider the use of other gaming apps to support and engage children when writing. This is something which I will further investigate.

The role of creative learning in the classroom.

I believe creative thinking can be achieved within the classroom. Many times I have had discussions with friends, colleagues, and even children who feel that ‘creativity’ is something which you either have or you do not have, I disagree.

Creativity is something which is developed. It is a form of thinking which has to be nurtured within children.

The ability to think creativity can be damaged by children believing that when things going wrong it is a bad thing. One way you can change this idea is by encouraging children to make mistakes in order to learn from them. This can be achieved by giving children opportunities to solve problems in a variety of challenges. I enjoy having a ‘creative challenge’ on the board in a morning, as an activity for the children to solve. There are many of these WB challenges available on TES.

You can also enhance creativity in creative writing tasks. I ensure the children complete one of these a week. It gives them time to use their imaginations and explore new possibilities in the context of writing.

During this time, and in other subjects, I like to use Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats. De Bono believes that these thinking hats develop better thinking. Each hat represents a new way of thinking. It gives focus to one particular way so that you can broaden these ideas and avoid other distractions.


the six hats.png

Another way to teach creative thinking is by using  Philosophy for children, better known as P4C. This process allows children to generate critical thinking skills and be able to contribute their ideas in a confident way to the other students in the class.

Now in my 2nd year of teaching, with a new class, I have instilled this method of teaching from the beginning. Half way through the year I have found the children to be much more confident, critical and creative when sharing their views with the rest of the class. This, I believe, is something which can be taught and developed in schools.


There are many ways in which teachers and schools can promote creative learning.

  •  Use of technology
  • Experimental learning
  • Flexibility within the timetable
  • Effective planning


I will follow this blog with a post all about Enquiry-based learning and it’s benefits in the classroom.


How to use Google forms as an AFL tool

Here are some Step by Step instructions of how to create a google form to feed your AFL. This can be applied to any subject.

Search Google forms and click on the website, if you are on the right page it will look like this…

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One on the website click ‘go to Google forms’. Once there you will see this.

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Click on the red button with the white cross on the bottom right of the page.

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Insert an appropriate title for your subject and always ask for the students name… this is a step I often miss!

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Once you have completed this step, you can click the little pages symbol; next to the pen symbol. This will allow you to duplicate questions which makes the process quicker.

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After you have created your questions, click on ‘responses’ at the top of the page. Then click on ‘view responses’ this will take you to a google sheet.

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The sheet will appear as seen above. Along the first column, timestamp, will show the questions you have generated in order.

Check your questions are correct and then you need to send the google form to your email account.

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Complete the form sent in your email inbox with all of the correct answers. This will allow you to set-up a self marking programme.

Open the google sheets document with the correct answers completed.

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Then select the ‘add-ons’ You need to make sure you have Flubaroo installed to create a self marking document. Once selected, click on ‘enable Flubaroo in this sheet’.

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When you click back onto add-ons and Flubaroo you will be able to check ‘enable autograde’.

If you want to ensure the document is fully working complete another set of questions with the wrong answers in them.

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Below on the tabs you will then see a ‘grades’ tab. Once you click on this all of the work marked will be stored here.

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It gives percentages and highlights the ones which are not correct.


As a teacher this has enabled me to assess at various stages in my lessons, and target those children that need extra support.


I hope you find this post useful!



What makes a lesson successful?

It is not usual that I reflect on lessons that went well… but today I can!

I am going to reflect below on both my English and Math lessons and then consider what it is that made them both successful.

English, the objective – to organise information into paragraphs.

The lesson –

Start: looking at two adjectives together to make a sentence more descriptive. Modelled, taught, paired work, shared.

Main teach, Question – what are paragraphs? Why do we use them? What kind of genres of texts do you see paragraphs in?  Mini game, whole class, AFL ‘hands up for… A, B or C’.

Student work – various texts to choose from, 1 chilli, 2 chillies, 3 chillies, organised the text on their ipads, created or used subheadings given, submitted work.

Plenary – Write three things you have learnt above paragraphs.

So what worked the best during this lesson?

AFL strategy 1, visual:  I know myself that I have always said,’children will be reluctant to put their thumbs, hands, fans etc in the air if they do not think they are correct’ however ‘voting’ as a whole class on A, B or C and discussing the ‘whys’ worked greatly in terms of assessment. There were no feelings of being judged as the children felt as though they were voting alongside other peers and not as an individual. It enabled many teaching points and opportunities for learning.

AFL strategy 2, questioning: I am an advocate of using Blooms Taxonomy of questioning. I truly believe that with the right questions posed you can deepen and extend the children’s learning further than without it. I think it is easy to throw questions in the air during a lesson, you do it naturally. However, planning to include maybe 3 or 4 structured questions allows for the progression of learning to occur rapidly.


Math lesson, the objective – to convert units of measure.

Start: AFL mini quiz, google forms, on units of measure

Main: discuss units of measure, How would I measure…? Online game, Voting A,B or C. W/B activity converting measures X 10 X 100 etc.

Student activity: In pairs children find nouns and measure them in cm and convert to mm.

Plenary: AFL quiz, google forms, on X 10, X100, divide by 10, divide by 100.

AFL google form: An online form which you create yourself, you structure the questions around the given topic. The data is collected for each individual child, self-marked and given a percentage. It highlights in orange areas which you need to re-visit. The information gathered from other of these google document quizzes enabled me to identify children who needed support both at the very beginning and at the end of the lesson. The data is sorted safety on my computer and I can use it to assess the children against when marking their work.

So what I have discovered?

In order to make a lesson successful you must use a variety of AFL tools to guide your learning. The AFL you use will shape your lesson and allow you to push children further and help those who need more support. This will be nothing new to many teachers, but I myself did not fully understand the impact AFL can have when used appropriately throughout a lesson. Now that I do I will continue to trial various methods to gain the most accurate of AFL. At the moment the best tool I have used is Google forms.

There will be a follow-up blog post on how to use Google forms, watch this space!


Supporting EAL learners in a mainstream classroom with technology.

When teaching in England I taught in two very different schools.

The first was a small school in the British countryside. This school had no EAL learners.

The second school was larger, but still small, in Manchester which had some EAL learners.

Now I am teaching in a gigantic International school in Malaysia were nearly all of the children are EAL. So when asked to think about my own professional development target for my class, EAL learners became my focus.

At the beginning of the year I was nervous about the amount of EAL learners in the classroom. Not because they are EAL but because of the variety of strands, new to english, beginning and intermediate.

I started the year using what I already knew, be visual, be resourceful, use imagery, videos, pre-teach. All of these strategies I had learnt not only in university but whilst teaching previously.

However, I began researching and trying, observing and testing and I uncovered more strategies to support my learners.

IPADs are brilliant, fortunately all of the children in my class have one. I have recently been using PADLET in variety of ways. For the EAL learners it becomes my ‘word mat’ however it contains the language underneath the images and voice recordings. You can do the same thing in explain anything except PADLET is much quicker to resource

I have also set up the children’s IPADs so that anything they select, on any platform can be read aloud. In addition to this, they all have google translate, they provide these learners which much more than I could offer at any one time. I have noticed the dynamic shift in the classroom. Where I once noticed the learners becoming reluctant to talk or become involved in class discussions, they are now eager and enthusiastic.

Here is how to set your students IPAD up so it can speak items on the screen.

  1. Open up your settings and click on general


2. Click on accessibility


3. Click on VoiceOver


4. Finally, slide the icon next to VoiceOver so it shows as green. Tap once to select an item double-tap to activate the selected item and swipe three fingers to scroll.


I believe it is important to create learners that are independent, that can be resourceful and know what will best support them but the teacher must guide them through this first.

Motivating the unmotivated

Over the past few weeks I have been thinking an awful lot about motivation, my passion for teaching and the progression in my skills.

During my PGCE year, I was completely immersed in PD, visiting various schools and conversation between teachers. This was my driving force, I wanted to be good, I wanted to be the best, I wanted to succeed and pass the year. I was driven by everyone around me. We were all fighting to become the best teachers we could be.

After my training I was employed straight away, a huge success! I worked hard throughout the NQT year with the challenges of The New Curriculum alongside colleagues at my school. Knowing everyone was in the same boat meant I was able to have honest conversations, however being the only teacher in year 4 which meant sometimes I was alone.

Now I am currently in an International school with hundreds of staff and 7 year 4 classes. This allows for long discussions in weekly meetings concerning every aspect of school life.

What the 3 years I have spent so far learning, teaching and learning more has taught me is dialogue is essential to forwarding progress in teaching. My Twitter feed has become my CPD. I embrace the opportunity it gives to actively learn alongside hundreds of thousands of teachers in the world. Posing questions, reading articles and honest reflections. I am an advocate of Twitter and I believe all teachers should be encouraged to use it.

Without effective, reflective dialogue however, there is a risk of becoming unmotivated. There have been days where I have felt it. Honestly, those days have been the ones when speaking to teachers who are against change, lack passion and kill the positive working spaces.

Education is a continuum of change, it requires resilience, creativity, research, open-mindedness and passion. If you do not have the ability to change and adapt to new situations then it could become something you could end up resenting.

It should also be the responsibility for your team to encourage you, to make you take those leaps and risks, to guide you and fill your day with positivity. You should remember to smile at your colleagues, let them know they are doing a great job and celebrate their achievements.

I have realised that my most favourable and inspiring professional development are the ones I have picked. PD should be enquiry based, what is it you want to learn about? What do you know already? What do you know now? This should be the way teachers learning is represented, exactly the same as the children’s. This is not only beneficial for you, as you see clearly the success of your learning and how far you have come but so does your school. This would make it inspiring, motivating and encourage teachers to try new things, take risks.

I also think it is important to mention that teachers who are motivated do not need to be ‘enthusiastic and bubbly’. Teachers work hard and sometimes they just need to vent, this is motivational too. Talking about what went wrong helps tremendously to relieve stress and tension and start fresh with new ideas and new solutions coming from other colleagues.

What have I learnt from this? 

Top tips to motivate yourself to become a better teacher:

  • Take risks
  • Have conversations with colleagues
  • Use Twitter as a PD tool
  • Make mistakes, learn from them
  • Your PD is personal to you
  • Arrange observations, it challenges you

Top tips to motivate your colleagues:

  • Smile at them
  • Have conversations
  • Visit their classrooms
  • Show an appreciation for their work

Effective strategies of gathering progress throughout a lesson

Over the course of 2 weeks and across two observational lessons I have been thinking about how I can gather the progress children are making during my lessons but by using a live feed.

I am extremely fortunate to work in a school where the children in my class each have their own IPADs. This enables me to use technology where ever possible to support the learning in the classroom.

Myself and another colleague both began to think about how we can use the IPADs to create a live feed. My colleague is an expert in the technology field and I took a lot from observing his lesson.

During the lesson he used various tools to gather information from the students: PearDeck, Google Forms, and Zaption. Each tool allowed him to gather research into what the children knew, and how he could best support them throughout the lesson. This was an enquiry based lesson, a lesson where the children are in control or guide their learning about a given subject. Our new topic is active planet and they have so many questions, it really is wonderful.

I wanted to see whether I could apply what I had learnt through the observation to another subject. I chose English as I feel this is a subject which I want to be better at teaching and as I was going to be observed I thought it would make a perfect match.

The lesson:

I took a risk and decided to create an enquiry based English lesson. I had various activities in the classroom for the children to look at all focused on diaries. QR codes, printed sheets, books and laptops. They were not told the objective and they had to try and work out what they were learning. This was an interesting concept that I played with as the children are always force fed the objective but having them come up with it themselves was more meaningful, it worked well.

I had planned to use PearDeck first, this was to gather data as to what the children knew about aspects of diaries, past tense, slang, informal writing etc. this data would allow me to pin point who needed more support with what types of language features that are used to be able to write a diary later in the week. Unfortunately, the PeckDear that I had created was a slideshow… this was a rookie mistake and it meant that I didn’t have the data that I needed for the next lesson.

The next part of the lesson had the children using a platform called padlet. Padlet is almost like google docs, it allows all children to work in one space at a time. This creates a live feed of information which you can then look at and support the children in the class. I had created a QR code and the children were all coming to the board to scan it, it took a lot of time and lots of children where being thrown out of it or couldn’t get onto it.

Then the language teacher walked in.

I reflected on this and spoke to my colleague. I went away with various tips that I then used to improve the lesson again the next day. I create a google form for the data, this data was all stored directly into a google sheet. The information gathered created percentages and highlighted children who needed more support, immediately. This tool is something I would highly recommend and can be transferred across any subject.

I was able to fix the padlet by setting the document so that all information could be stored directly one above the other. This stopped children being kicked out of the platform, and I shared the link to the class using Google Classroom.

Google classroom is now the spine of most of my lessons. I publish the objective, any work we are doing and other things which will support the lesson and the learning.

I have learnt a lot from my observations and trials through technology. The most important thing I have remembered is always have a plan B when it comes to technology. The second important thing I learnt was always know the application inside out before you try and use it with your class.

Learning using Ipads.  

Today as I sat amongst the children while they were using the IPADs I thought…. What are they learning? The question popped into my head as I imagined an Ofsted inspector marching in and quizzing the children. 

The children were all using the IPADs to produce books on book creator. They were putting their written folktales on to them in preparation for Friday. 

On Friday we will be showcasing everything we have learnt about our topic to the parents. 

The children were focused, engaged and independent. They are completely aware of how to use technology, they are always teaching me something I did not know. I enjoy learning from them and I take pleasure in it. They feel confident in using technology and I like enhancing their confidence.

As I went around the classroom I began to question the children. Why are you using that font, that colour, those images? Their responses were judged and justified. They were relating their choices to books they had enjoyed themselves. Relating prior experiences and encorporating them into their own work. 

I noticed a child turning on their camera and trying to take a selfie, when I asked them what they were doing (as I thought they were distracted) they replied, ‘authors have images of themselves on books, I’ve seen them with information about themselves’. This took me by surprise. At that moment I realised the children were in control of their learning. They had completely understood the writing process and in fact by using the book creator they felt empowered. They were publishers. 

It is important to give purpose to their learning. Giving them an opportunity to relate their outcomes to real life is what catches their enthusiasm and interest. 


Since starting teaching in Malaysia, I have taken on a different role as a teacher, the facilitator. I feel this has developed through the use of ‘enquiry’ as a way of teaching.

In the UK, our ‘enquiry’ was topic. It changed every term and it was based on a particular subject, i.e The Tudors, or Ancient Egyptians. Whilst teaching using topic based schemes, I enjoyed many aspects of it. Changing my classroom into a themed one, having a role play area, focusing on something in more depth. What I never really thought about was how much I stood at the front of the class and taught. These topics throughout the year were very historically based and so I became reliant on ‘research’ and standing at the front talking. I know this because I kept setting my own targets as ‘reduce teacher talking time’.

Enquiry is much different. The children are in complete control of there learning journeys. They are so much more aware of what it is they are learning, and how they can best achieve their learning goals. I have found myself listening to conversations between groups and being surprised at the outcomes, knowing that I could not have got them to those points by talking at them.

Enquiry focuses on changing the learning each half term. At first, the idea of shorter periods worried me. How would the children fully understand the concept by then? However, the focuses are much different. They are based on a variety of things which before I would not have considered. The arts and culture, sciences, people, geography, history and many more. They are condensed so you don’t flip between geography, then science, then history each on a different week. It is immersing and works well.

This half term we have been looking at the arts and culture. The children have been making their own fashion outfits as a way of showing what they have learnt about their chosen culture. They have been independent, focused and creative. I believe this is because they decided what they wanted to produce, what their outcome would be and how they wanted to demonstrate it.

One memorable lesson was an introduction to sewing. I gave the children videos to watch which contained different stitches to copy. The children first watched the videos and then replayed, rewinded, and completed the stitches. I could not believe the results. The classroom was flipped completely and I was able to watch the process rather than lead it.

I understand not all lessons can work in this way but now I have experienced some of them I will actively seek to introduce more of these types of lessons where possible.