A familiar scenario: I ask students to reread passages from a text and they duly appear to do so. Heads are down; the room is silent. All good. Five or so minutes later, I ask some questions and it turns out that no one has really absorbed anything. This phenomenon isn’t particularly curious or unusual. As Henry Roediger and Jeffrey Karpicke highlight in their paper on test-enhanced learning from 2006: simple re-exposure to material ‘produces poor long-term retention.’
So, what to do? It’s widely accepted that retrieval practice, particularly when spaced, can help students to retain information. Typical activities include…
- Quiz questions
- Multiple choice questions
- Quotation retrieval
- Brain dumps (hate that phrase)
- Think, pair, share
In terms of my own practice, I tend to use four different types of resource. I’ve chosen some of my recent stuff on An Inspector Calls to illustrate.
1. Starter for five questions
These are simple questions that I use either at the start of a lesson or, sometimes, midway through. I choose a mixture of areas to focus on – quotations, adjectives, contextual information, and so on. Usually, students write down their answers and then we discuss them afterwards. I’ve put some examples on a document that you can access by clicking here.
2. Review questions
Whenever students finish a chapter or an act of a text, I provide them with 25 questions. Some of them are fairly straightforward (How is Gerald described in the stage directions?) and others are more obscure (In which year did Birling serve as Lord Mayor?). They’re constructed so that students have to actively look back over the material they’ve previously read. You can access questions for each act of the play by clicking here.
3. Key images
Often, I’ll ask students to explore the connotations of a particular image and make links with whatever text we’re studying. I save the images as I go and collate them on a single document to use for retrieval practice at various points – usually every couple of weeks. Click here to access an example I used last year to help students reflect on the plot of An Inspector Calls.
4. Cornell notes templates
Periodically, I think it’s useful to ask students to write down everything they can remember about a particular aspect of a text on Cornell templates. Having a template – as opposed to a blank sheet of paper – is helpful because it provides a structure and clear focal points. Click here to access templates that I made on the main characters of the play.
Hope the resources are helpful. Feedback always welcome –
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