A few preparation-light revision activity ideas

Just in time for (the final) January modules

Preparing and teaching revision lessons can be particularly labour intensive for teachers. Hours spent making a game or quiz can feel wasted when it transpires that your students haven’t quite got round to doing their “proper” revision yet and simply want you to re-teach the entire topic, being scarily over-reliant on notes even days before an exam.

For revision lessons to be effective students need to engage in a constant cycle of retrieving, using and mentally re-filing their knowledge, with lots of opportunities to ask questions to clarify and deepen their understanding. Clearly working with past paper questions and writing and reviewing responses in relation to the mark scheme is a good use of lesson time but this doesn’t have to be all lesson.

Activities that reveal a gap in knowledge or a misconception are useful as this gap or error can be addressed straight away, whilst activities that make links between knowledge of concepts can increase the likelihood students will later retrieve the appropriate learning.

Here are a few ideas for class activities intended to achieve the revision outcomes outlined above without being time consuming to prepare. If you are working harder than your students at this stage in the course (in the run up to an exam) there is something seriously wrong!

Revision idea 1: How, what, and so, really..?

In terms of specifics about research studies students are likely to be asked about methods (e.g. how have researchers gone about investigating…?), research findings (the what) and/or conclusions (the and so…) as well as criticising and evaluating the research they have learned about  (the really…?).  Unless a question says “one” study students should refer to a range of knowledge.

Display broad research headings using the specification (e.g. “the impact of different forms of day care on Social Development” or “models of memory”) then ask students to divide a page into 4 columns (as per the 4 bolded terms above) and add very brief key-term-focused notes, drawing on all their knowledge in this area, under the headings keeping to one page to view.

Example of what this might look like
Example of what this might look like in progress

This will help students revisit their notes and, by organising their knowledge in a different way to their original notes, should aid their retention as well as allow a teaching point about appropriate selection of knowledge relevant for the question in hand.

Revision idea 2: Have an opinion

Students who have retained appropriate knowledge and understand it are likely to be able to express an opinion about the content of their learning (as opposed to just being able to recite it when heavily prompted). Ask students generic questions that would work with any topic area and ask them to refer to what they have learned in the course to support their opinions. This might make a suitable starter or plenary to a lesson focussed on review and exam preparation.

Example questions:

  1. Which study in this area would you most like to see replicated to see if the findings still hold true and why?
  2. How does this area of research as a whole compare to others you have studied in terms of how scientific the approach to study is?
  3. How much impact do you think the knowledge you have gained from research in this area will have on you personally in the future?
  4. What would you be happy to tell someone who knows nothing about the areas you have studied that is definitely true related to … (insert topic) without first adding the prefix “research suggests”?

These are just a few suggestions off the top of my head, I’m sure there are many better ones. The idea is to encourage students to draw on their knowledge in a variety of ways and discourage superficial answers, rather than spend class time on rote learning which does not suit the exam questioning style.

Revision idea 3: Study list with tag lines

Students often feel overburdened by the number of studies they need to learn and recall in the exam. In my experience students like revision lists; no one likes ambiguity, so knowing what is vital and what might be a bonus if you can remember it can make the difference between feeling able to get started with exam preparations and allowing any doubt to justify putting it off a bit longer (we’ve all be there). I put together with my students a list of studies to be able to recall in some detail (in class) for each area (based on the textbook we use and the students own preference where there are multiple studies). Although this can duplicate resources that students have already had, psychologically the students like it and it also gives us as a class the opportunity to talk about each study as we go along.

I encourage students to be selective and consider how they might use a particular study productively. For example, it is not necessary to learn every study into day care and social development, as there are many, but you need a good range of findings to draw on. Asking students to be selective and choose studies to put on their list based on differing methods or contrasting findings is effective revision. Students are obviously highly likely to remember much more than is on their list but I think having the list makes them relax a bit because they trust that their knowledge is complete.

You could make a washing line for your classroom with cardboard T-shirts that act like flash cards.
You could make a washing line for your classroom and hang cardboard T-shirts that can be used as flash cards.

Once the list is complete come up with a “tag line” for each study which will act as a retrieval cue. For example, I always think of the Harlow and Harlow study into whether attachments are based on food as “the cloth monkey, milk monkey study” or Loftus and Palmer’s (1974) EWT study as “the bumped, crashed, smashed study”. Some studies lend themselves to a tag line better than others but having to think of a short snappy slogan that encapsulates the study is useful revision.


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