It’s one of those desert island type questions: what five objects do I want in my classroom? Maybe I don’t need five, maybe I need more than five, maybe a year ago (or in another year) my five would be different. This list is offered for a face-to-face classroom in non-pandemic times; however, with a little imagination, everything can be adapted for distance learning.
Pace is an incredibly important ingredient for an effective lesson. Too slow, and students are likely to find their attention wandering and boredom might set in. Too fast, and students aren’t able to complete tasks accurately and might lose interest as they perceive themselves to be failing.
It’s amazing the impact that time pressure can have on dynamism and interest. Time pressure can increase the challenge level without making the work itself more difficult. Giving students less time than they think they need to complete a task can energise a room of students. Suddenly, there’s an achievable goal that still feels like a challenge. Using a timer so that the students know three minutes really means three minutes (although I’ll often give them one more minute!) ensures that the pace and challenge is maintained.
I have a specific pocket-sized device that I like using because it’s specifically not my phone, doesn’t require using my display which I might want for the task and when I take it out of my desk drawer, the students associate it with doing a task in limited time.
I can remember seeing these as essential equipment when I first set foot in the classroom and I still think the same now. Younger (and older!) students enjoy the novelty of being the one with the whiteboard and marker (as opposed to the teacher). They ensure that everyone can offer answers at the same time. They provide other focus points in the room, when groups are working together, they can gather around a mini whiteboard (often with more enthusiasm than a piece of paper!). For quick games, they are likewise more engaging than paper, and produce less waste.
Notebooks and a pencil
There’s something about ink that signals grown-up-ness to young students and they all want to write in pen. There’s something about pencil which indicates that you expect and accept that you will make mistakes, and that these can be easily corrected. I insist that my students use pencil for anything other than submitted, assessed work, so that we see classwork for what it is: work in progress, a draft, changeable.
I remember before insisting that my students all used a notebook that some would write on sheets of paper (sometimes scrap paper). I could see the difference in pride and attention that those writing in notebooks generally had over those writing on sheets of paper. A notebook is something permanent that you take home (that maybe gets looked at home) and the work in it needs to be good; a sheet of paper is disposable, losable, unimportant, single-use. It’s one of the reasons I also avoid handing out worksheets.
I need somewhere to demonstrate, somewhere to write elicited language, somewhere to model. I also need somewhere to record errors that I want to correct with my students and somewhere to record the new vocabulary I specifically want my students to learn.
My whiteboard is divided. I have the big main section where I do the modelling and demonstrating and eliciting. Then, two smaller sections for ‘Errors to be corrected’ and ‘New Vocabulary’ which are always in the same place on the right hand side of the board (they have laminated headings) so that students know where to look.
A Mistakes Wall
I didn’t know what to call this one, so let me explain! I was inspired to do this by something I saw when I did my PGCE ten years ago. A teacher had a washing line of “words we think we can’t spell”. She refreshed this line as the pupils improved their spelling. Each pupil regularly chose a word they were struggling to spell, and made a colourful poster of that word which was then pegged onto a line strung across the front of her classroom.
At the front of my classroom, I keep a display of common errors that students make. It has been a washing line in the past, but right now it takes the form of a wall. I find it useful for a few reasons. First, as a correction tool: when a student says “I have ten years”, I can point (or simply nod my head) to the display and the student can self-correct to “I’m ten years old”. Second, it’s a permanent reminder that these mistakes are common and expected, but also that I celebrate making mistakes in my classroom to the extent that I even display them! Thirdly, it’s a handy cheat sheet/reference point if a student wants to check something. Finally, when I stop hearing a mistake, I can swap that poster for a new mistake and this shows the students that they’re making progress. My posters are A4, handwritten and laminated and I can easily interchange them for different groups.
What are your five objects?