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Using thinking organisers in the classroom: Secondary examples

Using thinking organisers in the classroom: Secondary examples
[Kate] I plan to differentiate by giving the students scaffolding to construct their answers. So ahead of giving them the exam question and letting them get on with it, I gave them Venn diagrams, double bubbles, statements to sequence, and access to a whole lot of other learning resources that would enable them to scaffold and plan their answers, giving them a bit more support where they would normally struggle with a blank piece of paper in front of them. The other thing that was really interesting was that, although the students are aware of the structures of the heart, and they’re really aware of the functions of the two sides the heart, they actually struggle to link those two things together.
So having those tools enabled them to put their thoughts down on paper. I could then read it, and question them, and give them a bit of feedback to help them get on the right track. The approaches I used help everyone make progress because there were a whole lot of different tools they could access.
[STUDENTS TALKING] Another benefit of using these tools is that it helps them get to a really high level of thinking, because it’s all laid out clearly in front of them, and they can start to make those links in a more meaningful way. By differentiating the lesson, it meant the students were completely independent of me and able to access the content and the science really, really quickly. It meant they were able to get started. And it freed me up to give verbal feedback as I walked around the classroom, and really question for that deeper, higher level of understanding. Why do you think it’s the oxygenated? It’s oxygenated, then it goes to your lungs. Has been to the lungs yet? No.
So what’s happened to this blood before it comes back here?
It’s been around the body. OK, keep going.
Give out the oxygen to the muscles. And how does that happen? You said the blood gives out oxygen. Does it? Drops it off. How does it do that? I’m going to give you some thinking time. Alveoli in your body?
Alveoli. Ask some people around your table. I’ll come back to you in a second. All the oxygen has gone to the body cells. And how does that happen? Diffusion. OK, go to full sentence for me, Jasmine.
The blood that comes from the rest of the body is deoxygenated because oxygen has diffused into the body cells. Lovely. OK, what’s the oxygen used for? Come on, link it back to something we did a few weeks ago. Is it for energy? To make glucose? Making glucose? I don’t know. Come on. Have to think. I’ll come back to you. Have a think. What’s it used for?
The reasons for using these ideas and these scaffolds were to enable students to structure their thinking, to organise their thoughts, and to correctly compare and contrast the two sides of the heart before starting writing. Quite often the students get themselves in a real muddle when they start to write and lose their train of thought quite quickly. So having all their thoughts organised before they started meant that they were able to attack the question in a really intelligent way and sequence their statements and their understanding before they even started writing the paragraphs. I feel the lesson went really well. The students used the writing frames really effectively to scaffold their learning.
And they were able to write much more than they normally did on a six-mark question, which I was really impressed with. OK, keep going. Remember your punctuation. The left, and where’s that pumping blood to? The body. The body. So start make those comparisons then, OK?
At this stage of their learning, I feel really confident that almost all of the students in that class have a really good understanding of how the structures in the heart relate to their function. I feel really confident to be able to move on from this topic and start our next unit of work, which is the digestive system. I’ll take some time to read back through their work and give them some written feedback as well. But the structures that I put in place today have enabled them to all get to a really good point. Despite the fact they all started in different places, I feel they’ve all ended with a really good understanding of the heart and its job.
Kate discusses her use of different approaches she implemented to scaffold the learning for her students.
In this video we observe with her Year 11 class (15-16 year olds) :
  • Using a Venn diagram to help students compare and contrast ideas.
  • A double bubble diagram to help students compare and contrast ideas.
  • A card sort of statements to help students sequence ideas.


  • Having seen the ideas exemplified by Kate, what challenges and barriers may there be in getting students to engage in working in this way?
  • What approaches have you found that have enabled you and your students to overcome any of these identified barriers?
Note: In this course we provide both primary and secondary school examples. Whilst you can focus on just your phase, we encourage you to see the practices used across both primary and secondary.
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