Ten teaching techniques to practise – deliberately.


It’s a well-established idea that, to develop expertise in a particular skill or technique, you need to practise. The more you practise, the better you get.  As outlined by the excellent people at Deans for Impact in their Practice with Purpose document, it helps to identify a specific element of your teaching to practise on and then focus very deliberately on improving in that area.

Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 00.56.10

Instead of flitting from one thing to another, dipping in and out, the suggestion is that teachers would do better to select one thing from all the options and try hard to keep at it until the practice feels more like a habit. This approach absolutely applies to numerous elements of behaviour management and most of the Silver Arrows I highlighted in this popular post.  However, for this post I wanted to focus on pedagogical elements of teaching.

Here are ten things you might want to try to practice – deliberately:

1. Developing routine knowledge recall procedures.  

It takes practice to establish this as a snappy, low-stakes routine, conducted in a disciplined fashion, at a frequency that really helps your students to retain the knowledge you’ve taught them.  You need to establish a pattern that you can stick to:

  • identify the specific knowledge elements that lend themselves to snappy tests – a knowledge organiser broken into sections that students can focus on.
  • a quizzing method that students are familiar with and can organise readily – are you going to read out the questions, prepare each test or use ppt slide?
  • a quick method for self or peer checking of the answer – eg with answers on a visualiser or ppt slide.
  • a routine that returns to the same knowledge elements repeatedly so that the recall is strengthened; it needs not to take up too much time in any given lesson and happen often enough to become low stakes and habitual.

Develop the technique with  multiple choice questions,  sequencing of concepts/events and more sophisticated ‘which is a better answer’ style questions.

2.  All-student response: using mini-whiteboards really well. 

As I outline in this post – the No1 bit of classroom kit is a set of mini-whiteboards. The trick is to use them really well.  You need to drill the class to use them seriously, to do the ‘show me’ action simultaneously in a crisp, prompt manner and, crucially, you need to get students to hold up the boards long enough for you to engage with their responses. Who is stuck? Who has got it right? Are there any interesting variations/ideas? Use the opportunity to ask ‘why did you say that? how did you know that?’ – and so on. It takes practice to make this technique work but it’s so good when done well.

3. Questioning techniques: 

Each questioning technique takes practice, especially if you are in the default-mode habit of asking the whole class every question and taking answers from those with their hands up. Make a deliberate effort to try out and practise these methods:

  • Random selection: use an online name generator or lollisticks or some other means of selecting students at random. It’a powerful effect. (Lollisticks need to be a no-nonsense practical tool, not a fussy gimmick – I’ve seen this done superbly well.)
  • Cold Calling: just check out technique 33 in Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion 2.0.  I prefer this when combined with wait time and the name selected after the question. eg “What is 7 cubed?…..pause….. John?”  With “John, what is 7 cubed?”, only John has to think about it.
  • Probing:  routinely ask follow-up questions for every question you ask, two or three times.  Go deeper.  I’ve explored this in Great Lessons 1: Probing. 
  • Going Dialogic.  An extension of probing – you set up the expectation that one student might engage in an extended dialogue to probe ever more deeply into their understanding with the rest of the class as an audience.  It takes practice but works incredibly well. See Pedagogy Postcard 1.

4.  Think Pair Share

A strategy I firmly believe is underused relative to its power.  It takes practice to make it a routine with the necessary behaviour management strategies.  It is fully explained in this post: The Washing Hands of Learning

5. Metacognition and modelling


Metacognition scored very highly in several ranked lists of effective teaching and learning strategies – eg Hattie’s visible learning effects or the EEF toolkit. In a nutshell, it is the process of teaching students how to solve problems and complete complex tasks by  making the strategies and thought processes explicit by modelling them.  For example, in these non-verbal reasoning questions, you can show students how you go about solving them, narrating the process explicitly including double-checking all the wrong answers. This is something they can then practice.  It works for modelling writing too – you need to  walk through the full details of how you construct sentences and paragraphs to convey what you want to say in the way you want it said.  Doing this well takes practice – try it.

Look no further than John Tomsett’s posts on this, featuring some videos of modelling in action:  Modelling and meta-cognition – and this one too. 

6. Whole-class feedback instead of marking

Instead of slaving away late into the night with your red pen poised to ink up a massive set of exercise books, just read this brilliant post by Jo Facer: Giving feedback the ‘Michaela’ way.  Read through the books, make some notes and give whole-class feedback instead.  Do it over and over again and get good at doing it – practise. It’s a game changer.

7.  Critique-method feedback

Instead of merely nodding in jaded recognition at the Austin’s Butterfly video, why not actually use the critique method it describes and develop real expertise with it.  There are lots of ideas and resources to support you – nicely compiled in this excellent post by Dave Fawcett Creating a culture of critique .  Let’s see your students developing the expectation that their work will be critiqued in a  specific, support manner allowing them to reach higher standards than they thought possible.

8.  Deliberate vocab development 

This links to the recall method above but here I’m thinking about a technique to cement vocabulary development specifically.  Very often new words are encountered in lessons and teachers might explain them at the time – only for them to be completely forgotten about and, consequently, not learned.  I suggest adopting a routine:

  •  a region of a board is dedicated to new vocab;
  • new words are listed during the lesson with awkward spellings explored explicitly
  • new words are sounded out through choral repetition so that students all experience saying the words
  • students are asked to put the words in a sentence orally or in a place in their books for new words
  • the lesson list forms the basis of a systematic recall test the following day/week/month – something students learn to expect thus supporting their engagement with the words in the first place.

9. Embedded tiering:  Mild, Spicy, Hot or Challenge, Turbo-challenge

Instead of differentiation meaning providing different work, develop a collaborative planning approach where question relating to any given topic are constructed with in-built tiering.  I’ve seen this used superbly well at primary and secondary with labels such as bronze, silver, gold; mild, spicy and hot or, Core, Challenge, Turbo-Challenge.

This is not the same as setting artificially differentiated learning objectives – but it supports the organisation of a class where students progress at different rates, allowing everyone to find a suitable challenge level (seeking an optimal 80% success rate).  Practice is needed not only to devise really good tiered sets of questions that still offer enough repetition at each level – but also to manage the learning in the classroom when everyone has diverged from the initial instruction phase.

10. Third time for excellence: Draft, re-draft, publish.

Again, taking something from Austin’s Butterfly, try to create space in your curriculum planning to go the whole hog on redrafting so that students get to the third version: the third draft of a poem, story, essay or piece of writing in French; the third attempt at a painting; the third run-through of the performance, recitation or speech.  The first one might be ‘a great start’. After feedback, the second version is a big step forward, taking the feedback onboard.  But you will find that Version 3 is where you see Excellence emerging. This is where it gets exciting.   You can’t do it for every piece of work – so pick your moment – but when you can, go for the power of three.  You can get better at this – more streamlined; less bogged down in the individual feedback; less fussy about every detail of the first draft, focusing on specific elements over others.  Try it.

Let me know how you get on.




  1. The Embedded Tiering came up in a Professional Studies session during my PGCE last year. The speaker saw that I had a rather disgruntled look on my face and asked me why.

    The thing is, I have an issue with sharing tiering with students for various reasons:

    1.) If All/Most/Some language is used, students (especially GTA students) can become lazy or complacent – “I’ve done the all work, so I can stop now.” Ultimately, the issue here is that we rely on students being good indicator of their own understanding and performance. Surely self-awareness of such issues is a complicated thing that requires a great deal of understanding of how knowledge and learning fits together? I don’t know…

    2.) If you win a race, you get a gold medal. Second gets silver, third gets bronze. Everybody knows that the person who wins the gold medal is the “best”. Using such lingo allows students to rank themselves – they are better than me, they are worse than me. How does this affect the confidence of students?

    I don’t think that providing these labels to students is a necessity. I don’t think you *need* these things in mind when planning – if you know your students, you can plan your questioning, but don’t have to think about “grouping” into what are, effectively, All/Most/Some groups.

    Perhaps I’m thinking too much into it?


    • This is a good point to raise. I’m not at all in favour of differentiated learning objectives as such. Tiering actually applies to any individual – giving a ladder of challenge to build confidence and then extend. I’ve seen this used well in top Maths set in a selective school and a lower attaining mixed ability class elsewhere – it’s simply a devise for making sure students don’t hit a ceiling when they’re taught in a group with others. I saw it recently in a primary classroom where Spicy and Hot were on different tables but just for that particular task, not permanently. The labelling issue is always there but if the core thrust of the work is pitched to the top, then the tiering is simply seen as something everyone gets. You can either work up through the levels or dive straight in. Teachers should be directing this to a high degree but students can actually learn to guide themselves especially where confidence-building is a key factor. The Turbo Challenge was great feature of MFL lessons at my last school – there for everyone, almost like a dare for those who were ready. It was motivational.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I must say I agree that the Gold, Silver and Bronze monikers can be misused – there is a specific semantic echo about competition and rank – but I think that’s a failure of the terminology and not the practice. I love the Core, Challenge and Turbo Challenge, for example.

        For me, if there was one desired outcome of such a tiering system, it would be that the un-enthused ‘Core’ don’t think they can just stay there if they’re not up to a ‘challenge’. I saw this all too frequently in my Physics classroom. Any calibration to this end should see the entry level being ‘a good start’ – like that of Austin’s butterfly; an achievement but not a completion.

        Something like (though this is just for clarity’s sake and not necessarily a pupil friendly paradigm):

        The Tools, The Engine, The Turbo.

        This way the initial level is inherently ‘not finished’, and implies that the pupil has what they need to build the understanding which actually runs the race. From there they can make the ‘engine’ faster, and you could even include a ‘Supercharger’ for those who accomplish this, with which they can fine tune / pick up the last few marks en route to a ‘9’.

        Just a thought.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I struggle to believe that people are still looking to EEF toolkit and Hattie style league tables to back up their arguments. They are increasingly seen as misleading (something like today’s version of ‘learning styles’ and ‘fish oil’). The ‘evidence’ they use is not in any way a measure of educational effectiveness. It relies on meta-analyses of research, reduced to ‘effect sizes’ (or, equivalently but very misleadingly ‘months progress’). This measure is seen as something which simply is not a proxy for educational importance at all and the league tables of more or less effective interventions is thoroughly misleading.

    Psychologists like Jan Vanhove have been saying this for a while: standardised effect size is just a measure of how good your research design is (see http://janhove.github.io/design/2015/03/16/standardised-es-revisited). In education, The EEF toolkit and Hattie’s Visible Learning are based on this notion of ‘effect size’. In education, a recent paper by Simpson really knocks the EEF toolkit to bits by showing that the effect size is just something which a researcher chooses (https://goo.gl/EzdcJT). For example, metacognition looks like it has a big effect size because it is easy to research, not necessarily because it has a big educational impact.

    Whether intended to or not, these ‘months progress’ numbers push teachers and schools in directions which aren’t grounded in a reasonable interpretation of the research. They shouldn’t be used to situate any educational discussion or advice.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Techniques that make the internal world of the learner visible are absolutely essential. “Metacognition”… “Growth mindset”… often misused and abused phrases…. but that should not prevent us as explorer teachers searching out new frontiers! Streatgy 5… very similar to some of Reuben Feuerstein’s cognitive tools. The test is not as important as the dialogue that takes place during and after with the learner.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. A fantastic reminder of things that make a difference. Do you have any specific examples of embedded tiering. I tend to understand things better when I can see an example.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So happy to see that I already do much of this already but a timely reminder of what is good practice and some brilliant new ideas to put in place. 👍


  5. Teaching techniques helpful to deal with students in a good manner, because of every student, not a genius. Thanks for sharing these techniques.

    Best Regards

    A School Management System


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s