Category Archives: Resources

Headline hangman – get your pupils discussing today’s news

The chief complaint by pupils about schooling is that it is not relevant. It bears little connection to the “real world” as they experience it. As part of my ongoing series of practical activities to promote “critical thinking” I would recommend the following quick activity to address this in an engaging way.

  • Headline Hangman

Everyone knows Hangman. So, take any headline from the newspaper of the day and play “Headline Hangman”. You draw lines for each letter and separate each word. If pupils guess a letter correctly, enter that letter wherever it appears in the headline. Incorrect guesses lead to the gradual construction of the hangman.

Introduce local rules at your discretion. For example, pupils can’t call out 2 vowels in a row; if more than one pupil calls out a letter at the same time you can add to the hangman; pupils can guess a whole word but if they get it wrong, you can add 2 lines to the hangman etc etc.

  • Benefits

I have always found this game amazingly popular, with children, and adults on courses too. Apart from being quick, its benefits are many.

At word level, children can learn spelling rules or anomalies. If a pupil calls out a letter, you can ask them where they think it goes and why. It becomes quickly apparent those pupils who think strategically.

At sentence and text level, there is always room for discussion about the choice of words, because headlines often contain alliteration or wordplay. After the headline has been guessed, you can invite pupils to see whether they could improve on it, substitute synonyms to make it more or less shouty, more nuanced, less biased or whatever.

  • Real world events

But even more importantly, the language learning is undertaken in the context of real world events. When the headline is guessed, it’s important to show the actual headline from the paper or Internet immediately so that pupils know the material is of the real world and not made up for the classroom. The key is to select something that interests you but this activity lends itself especially well to global events or issues that invite discussion. The very topicality, the fact that the stuff is in the papers today, makes it gripping and relevant.

Obviously, the opportunity also arises to become immersed in media literacy – the nature of truth as perceived through the prism of a report and so on.

In a crowded curriculum, Headline Hangman affords you and your class the opportunity to discuss news stories frequently and you will be surprised at how this can inspire pupils to read about current events. Your discussion about the article can be as long or short as you wish, but regular practice can only enhance speaking and listening skills and the ability of your class to argue and disagree gracefully.

Simple, but effective (The Independent)

I’ve used this game for ages and can’t remember where I stole it from. Apologies, but I would love to hear of any similar games or activities you have to introduce topical events into the fabric of teaching and learning…


How to inspire your pupils to be creative

This wonderful TED talk by Janine Benyus on biomimicry got me thinking…

You know when you ask your pupils to create a new machine, they come up with some incredible ideas …most of the time. There is extraordinary inventiveness lurking in their grey matter. Sometimes you wonder where they could possibly derive their ideas. Occasionally, the answer is a bit prosaic – a cartoon they’ve seen. Sometimes, you just have to marvel.

What about using biomimicry as a tool to spark creativity? Looking, really looking, at nature’s myriad wonders and using the water repellant properties of some leaf forms (cabbage or alchemilla mollis), the cooling systems, energy conservation methods, heat retaining qualities or flexible building materials of flora and fauna as a starting point for sparking your pupils’ creative fire.

Apart from being a growing area of current scientific enquiry, which has already yielded spectacular results, it helps us stop and wonder at nature. It provides us with a reminder that we still have so much to learn about the natural world which is able to adapt  to stimuli. In doing so, it may help us to regain a little humility in the face of the natural world, which sustains us and which we are in the process of trashing. Rather than trying to dominate and force nature to bend to our will, we could be using (as opposed to using up) natural resources to live in a more sustainable manner.

What would your students make of Janine Benyus’ talk?

Global Citizenship – resources for looking at the impact of our choices

I’ve posted this clip before, but I love it. The captions are in French. Your task is to translate them! This speaks of so many things, including the worth of individual action…

  • Why act alone?

I appreciate that thousands of individual actions, uncoordinated and disparate, are not sufficient to combat climate change, resource depletion, abject poverty or any of the major challenges facing us. Those issues require political leadership. But individual action is necessary too, to put a rocket under the bums of our leaders and to engage in a manner of living that more fairly shares the planet’s finite resources.

  • Good citizens

As educators, we have a vital role in discussing with students what it means to be a good citizen. This includes at the very least an appreciation of who we are and who are our “neighbours”, those to whom we owe a duty of care. I argue that in our interdependent world, that duty extends to everyone on every continent. I would argue it extends also to future generations, as well as to our biodiverse flora and fauna. Our collaborative approach matters.

  • Concerns

On top of this, we have to teach optimism. Looking forward without hope is terrifying and ultimately discourages action. Teachers often tell us that they avoid tackling difficult issues like climate change because the prognosis is too bleak and depressing for students, especially the younger ones, who should be shielded from such dark visions until they’re older.

I couldn’t disagree more profoundly. Like all scary things, the fear is in the unknown. Sweeping under the carpet does nothing to allay the fear, it only exacerbates it…like the unwritten essay with deadline looming or that call that you should have responded to much sooner. Avoidance does not diminish the problem.

And the thing is that children have concerns about the climate and disappearing polar bears and war and poverty. Their concerns should be discussed openly, stage appropriately and without being infantilised or patronised.

  • Positive outcomes

The research is positive and heartening. Both the comprehensive Cambridge Review on Primary education (totally outrageous that it was sidelined) and research done for the DEA, now Think Global, shows conclusively that those students who engage in global learning (about real world events beyond our borders):

  1. want to change the world for the better
  2. believe they can do so
  3. understand that their actions have an impact on the lives of others near and far
  4. think it is worth taking personal steps to combat climate change
  5. think it is a good idea to spend 0.7% of GDP on aid
  6. are comfortable living with people of different heritages

Students who have engaged in global learning do these things significantly more than their counterparts who have not had such learning experiences in school…and there are lots of those!

So this is really heartening. Confronting those difficult problems that don’t look like they’re going away actually leads to a more positive outlook.

  • Ways forward

To progress pupils’ thinking on this, one of the keys for the teacher is to have pupils understand the impact of their own choices. At times, we all try to shift responsibility, but one of my theories of behavioural change is that it comes after an acceptance of one’s own responsibility. There are a zillion ways to approach this. Consider this clip about our use of plastic and the consequences for bird and marine life. How would you use this as a stimulus for discussion with your pupils about tackling the problem? Change starts the moment you start considering the issue. Why wait?

(If I haven’t managed to edit the Oxfam ad at the beginning, please ignore that)