Sunday, 16 April 2017

Revision! How can we make it more effective?

At this time, every year one of the main questions that teachers begin asking is “how am I going to make my revision this year have a greater impact on how students perform in exams?”  This of course leads into the second question, “how can I make students see the importance of revision?” This is a question that has plagued me for years and I feel that I’m no closer to having an answer than I was 10 years ago!  I have however, made a few observations into some of the reasons behind this mind set:

  • Students are afraid of failing, which would only be made worse if they had put in the revision beforehand.    So, there will always be some students that will have decided that if they do little or no revision then don’t perform, they can blame it on a lack of revision rather than admitting that they simply didn’t understand the content.
  • In some cases, students will have had unconditional offers to get onto courses and don’t need any results.  When this is the case, students often have no motivation do any revision as what they will be moving onto doesn’t require any particular grades.
  • At this time of year, students will be bombarded with revision from all angles.  Inevitably, there will always be some students that buckle under this increased pressure. 
  • There can be an entire host of other external problems that help prevent students revising.  One particular favourite that comes to bite me every year is that the fair comes to town in or around the exam period every year.  When faced with this I can’t think on many 16 year olds that would choose to stay in and revise instead of going to the fair with their friends.

The question therefore is, how can I make the most of the revision period before the start of the exams.  Unfortunately, the answer I have come to is that there is no one correct answer, different strategies will work with different students.  There are however, a few tried and tested methods that seem to work with students every year.  I don’t claim that all of these ideas are my own, but I’ve tried to outline some of them below:

Before students begin their own revision get them to carry out a subject knowledge audit.  This is a way of identifying the areas of the syllabus that students are most comfortable with. The information elicited can be used to inform what they need to revise first, and those areas that they don’t need to spend as much time on.  This can be a powerful tool as experience has taught me that 9 times out of 10 students would rather focus on areas that they are already confident with as this is an easier option.

Once students have pin pointed the areas that they need to focus on they need to think about how they are going to do this.  One effective method of doing this is by chucking.  Chunking is an excellent way to make large quantities of information more manageable.  All students need to do to carry this out is to put together similar topics into small groups that they can work through & revise in short sections. 

Concept mapping:  A concept map requires students getting everything they now about a concept down on a sheet of A3.  Students then need to think about a particular question (preferably long answer) and numbering the information in the order that they would need to put it in an exam question.  After students have completed this they can either use their concept map to answer questions, or more effectively, allow students to use their concept map to put together a short presentation that they can use to explain a concept to another student.

Flashcards are proven to improve your long-term memory using the theory of spaced repetition. This practice involves learning a topic and re-visiting it at set intervals to test themselves.  There are a few different ways that students can use flash cards both inside and outside of lessons. 
  • Students can provide flashcards with short pieces of information on them that they can quickly run through when they’re out and about.
  • Students can write an exam question on one side of the card then the answer on the other.  They can then use them to test themselves.
  • Students can work together and split up the work load.  One of them can take half the topics they need to revise and vice versa.  Students can then use them to either question each other on the content or teach each other the content.

Past papers are a vital way that students need to use when revising as an ability to pick out what an exam question is asking is a skill that they need to develop.  There are a variety of different ways that they can be used.
  • The most simplistic way that past papers can be used by students is by downloading them from the exam board, working through them, then using a mark scheme to see how they have done and where they need to improve.  Alternatively, students can work I pairs or in groups, answering questions then peer assessing each other’s work.
  • You can use past paper questions as part of a circus activity.  Stick the question to a large sheet of paper on one side and the answer to the question on the reverse.  Ask students to start answering one question then after a certain amount of time get them to move onto the next question & continue answering it.  After students have moved round 3 or 4 times get the final student to mark the answer using the mark scheme and feedback on how well the question has been answered.
  • Students can be given an exam question an asked to produce a mark scheme for it.  Once they have done that they can let another student answer the question that they can then mark using their own mark scheme.
  • You can ask students to break the exam questions up into smaller sections.  Once they have done this they can then explain to other students how to answer each specific section.

Students teaching each other: Micro teaching involves students teaching each other ideas & content during a lesson.  There is lots of evidence that shows that students make the greatest amount of progress when they have to explain ideas & concepts to each other. Below I have outlined how to carry out a micro teaching activity with students and have tried to detail some of the possible preparation that needs to be in place to ensure that this activity has a meaningful impact on student progress.

The first stage in any micro teaching activity is to enable students to gather the information for themselves.  If students have to find things out for themselves they will make more progress than if they are just spoon fed it.  This can be done in many different ways.
  • Flipped learning:  Before the lesson you can let students know what they will be teaching and then set appropriate videos for them to watch. Students can then use this to make notes on the content they need in preparation for the next lesson.
  • Directed reading:  Students can be given the content they will be producing a micro teaching presentation or short lesson on.  This method works most effectively when students have to pick out key information from the text and then have it taken away before they start interacting with other groups.
  • Use exam questions:  During revision, different groups of students can be given different exam questions that they need to explain to other students how to answer.
  • Information hunt:  Before beginning the micro teaching activity, put key information around the room that students will need to use.  Give students some time in small groups to go around and gather the information they need to carry out the micro teaching activity.

Once students have collected the information they need, they need to put together a short lesson or presentation on a particular concept.  This can take the form of a traditional short presentation or a short lesson where students have prepared some simple resources to help them teach.  Once your students are ready set them up work around rows of tables as shown in the pictures below

After students have worked around all the other groups you can carry out more traditional AFL to assess how much progress students have made. 

Another method that I think is becoming ever more useful is the use of youtube by students when revising.  As with most revision pedagogies there are any number of ways to use it, which realistically deserves more than a short section in a single blog.  The way that I’ve used it this year is to enable students to fill in gaps that they have previously identified by watching one of a range of videos on it on youtube.

Revision games are another really good way to help keep students engaged during lessons.  There are a number of different games you can use but most of them start with students going over content and then within the game answering questions on that content.  Here are a few ideas of games I have used:


Anyone who grew up i the 80s will know what Blockbusters is.  Do not assume that your students will as I found out with my Y13 class who had no idea what it was.  Watching classic Blockbusters for 10 mins during the lesson was time well spent I feel.  The way that this game works is to get students to read some content, then produce a Blockbusters board with questions on based on what they have read.  Students then using counters, need to answer questions and either work horizontally, or vertically across the board.

Snakes & Ladders

How many ways are there to play snakes and ladders?  Surprisingly, a lot more than I ever thought possible.  The basic premise to using snakes and ladders is to set up a board with questions on based on what students have read.  I'd advise briefly running through the rules with them first as many of them will have very different ideas of how to play.

Get through the maze game

This game came out of the fact that I really like the film Labyrinth from the 80s.  After students have read a piece of key information they need to roll a dice to see how many spaces they can move.  If they come to a question square they need to answer the corresponding question before they can move on.  As with all mazes the aim is to get to the finish first

Battle Ships

Growing up one of my favourite games to play on a rainy Saturday afternoon was Battle Ships.  Students need to pick 5 positions to place their ships, they then need to take it in turns to pick grid references to try and find each other's ships.  The twist is that each square has a corresponding question that students need to answer based on some key text printed on the board somewhere.

Dice questions

There are a wide and varied range of different dice games you can use in lessons.  Basically most of them centre around students reading some key information, then picking questions to answer from a list either by rolling one or two dice.

Question Grids

The general idea behind this type of game is to give students a 3 by 3 or 6 by 6 grid with questions on based on something students have previously read. Students then simply need to roll a dice twice to pick a question to answer. After students have been playing this for a bit, you can pick on students at random to answer the questions so you can ensure that they have been getting the correct answers.

Game Boards

This is an idea that once you get it set up, can be used in a range of different lessons.  When putting a board together you need to include a range of different squares to help keep students engaged.  Some of the squares that I include are primarily question squares, miss a go squares, move back or forward squares ect.  Once you have set up a template you can tailor your board to the lesson you are teaching.

Key word game

I like many of my colleges did use to think of literacy was just the domain of English teachers.  However, I have come to the realisation that we all need to try and play our part.  After looking at where students lose marks in exams is by not using key words, or using them incorrectly.  So one of the more recent things I'm trying to give a go is to primarily ensure that the key words for the lesson are embedded in my lesson outcomes, then building up a starter game around those key words.

Come up with your own question game

The last idea that I'm going to discuss are games where students come up with their own questions based on the key information they have read.  This sort of game works in a similar way as many other others I have outlined, with the exception that instead of giving students questions to answer they need to think them up themselves.  I've found that this works particularly well with higher ability students, however, lower ability ones have found it more difficult and need more guidance.

One method that I’ve never been 100% about using as it can lead some students into doing less revision is to produce revision notes for students to use.  The big advantage of this is that it helps ensure that students have all of the important content they need at hand.  There are many ways that they can use them, the method I’ve used a lot this year is to start the lesson with students highlighting key points then building the rest of the lesson around the information they have worked through.

The last area that I’ve tried to look at this year is playing the long game.  At the start of each term I’ve given my students a list of short revision activities to work through each day.  I’ve then put up on displays, and have sent out instructions via a number of different ways more detailed instructions what they students need to do for each task.  I’m hoping that little and often will have made a significant difference this year.

I hope that these ideas are different for many others out there and they have provided some inspiration for things you can do within your own lessons.  If you want anything in this blog clarifying please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

You can follow me on twitter @teacherchalky1 or on Facebook @teachlikeahero. 

Thanks for reading

D Chalk


  1. What a fantastic post! So many ideas that are actually practical. I can see how they can be adapted to any concept and year level - will definitely be giving a few of these a go next term!

    I have a couple of different ideas, hopefully they will be useful for your readers too -

    - Emily

  2. Hi David, thanks for the inspiration. These are some really good ideas, some I use already, but introducing the competitive element really ramps up pace and engagement. Can I ask though, did you make the templates for the games yourself? or are you able to provide a link to them at all. Thanks so much, that's the rest of my Easter holidays sorted now, making revision games!

    1. Hi, I'm glad you found it helpful, if you can send me an email I'll send some templates over

  3. Hi David, thanks for the inspiration. These are some really good ideas, some I use already, but introducing the competitive element really ramps up pace and engagement. Can I ask though, did you make the templates for the games yourself? or are you able to provide a link to them at all. Thanks so much, that's the rest of my Easter holidays sorted now, making revision games!