6 ways to carpe diem!

Jennifer Turner

Jennifer Turner is head of English, literacy coordinator and deputy head of Sixth Form at St. David’s College, a boarding school for 9-19 year olds in Llandudno, North Wales. The school is CRESTED approved for supporting students with dyslexia and is an ambassador school for Nessy software. Jennifer has been teaching English for 11 years, and loves nothing more than finding ways for pupils to have fun and learn both in and out of the classroom.

Follow @StDavidsCollege

Website: www.stdavidscollege.co.uk Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Images courtesy of author. Images courtesy of author.

Every teacher surely thinks of Robin Williams’ character, John Keating, in Dead Poets’ Society, who said, “There’s a time for daring, and a time for caution, and a wise man understands which is called for”, who then dreams of standing up on the desk and generally being truly inspirational in an effortless, lesson-plan-thrown-out-the-window kind of way (or is it just me?). That sort of maverick behaviour is perhaps possible when it’s the last few weeks of the summer term, or when the government inspection has just finished and nobody is looking to observe anything beyond the speed limit on the driveway out of school. But surely the rest of the time is ‘a time for caution’, right?

I have never thought about myself as being a ‘disruptor’. At least, I hadn’t until I handed out some whiteboard marker pens to my Year 9s and asked them to write examples of their assigned descriptive device on the desk. They looked absolutely horrified – the Dettol spray and J cloths only mildly mollifying them. It was when I did this that I felt a little thrilled at the thought that they were doing something educational that made them feel a bit naughty - and I was the cause of it! And they were writing. Lots.

I’d picked this idea up from somewhere on the internet, but it got me thinking. I made them write on windows. Whiteboard marker pens and Dettol spray were played harmoniously through our descriptive writing symphony. I could hear Williams’ voice resonating in my ears, conducting our creativity: “Carpe diem, boys!” Actually, it was probably the Year 9 boys’ voices telling me to “stop spraying smelly Dettol”, but you get my point. In the end, they thought it was pretty cool (although I paraphrase and they have reliably informed me that nobody says ‘cool’ anymore, except me.)

So, who fancies being a renegade? Maybe some of the following quick and easy ideas will persuade you:

1. Literature analysis with balls of wool

Before you think I’ve gone completely baaarmy (sorry, I couldn’t help myself!), please be persuaded that this takes very little time to prepare and could be adapted to other subjects, such as History. I ask pupils to write key quotations onto A4 pieces of card. I then have A4 cards with all the characters in the text above the quotation, and A4 cards with all the themes beneath the quotation.

Using wool, the pupils then have to make connections from one of the quotations to link it to the characters involved in the quotation – who said it, who they said it to, who it was about etc – and then they use more wool to make connections to which themes are involved in the quotation. This works well as both a whole group activity or as group work. The key thing is making it big, so getting outside on a calm day or in an assembly hall works best. The key purpose is to show how to infer a lot of meaning from a short quotation, and the whole group discussion or feedback from groups is so important in helping all pupils to grasp this. They can then take photographs of this task for revision and/or to stick in their books.

2. Penalty Shootout

I’m pretty sure many teachers have used the game Penalty Shootout for quizzes about any subject they are teaching. To add that extra element of competitiveness (that isn’t ‘fixed’ by a computer game), I like to take the pupils to a real goal post with a real football. The teacher can be in goal, or the pupils can nominate a team member to be ‘goalie’. The point is allocated to the team who answers the question correctly and then scores a goal. If they don’t score, they don’t get the point. Questions can be devised by the teacher (remember to have one for a sudden death situation!), or prepared by the teams in class before going outside. If you don’t have a goal post, go old-school and throw some school jumpers, mats or bags on the floor. Don’t forget your red card!

3. Basketball

Not many of my pupils are the stature of Michael Jordan, but they soon dream of his success when doing a quiz and using the basketball hoop for scoring. As with Penalty Shootout, it is another fun way of keeping score that includes that extra competitive edge to the occasion.

4. Hula hoop challenge

This one is inspired by Paul Ginnis’ The Teacher’s Toolkit, where he uses a hula hoop for his Centre of the Universe activity (another immediately engaging task that requires very little preparation, if any!). I use a hoola hoop for challenging pupils to answer as many questions as they can in the time they can hula hoop for. This might be a fairly quick event, but the catch is they have to answer the one question before they start hula-hooping in order to start their challenge. That way, everyone still has to answer a question!

5. Pass the Parcel

I read about this activity somewhere a couple of years ago. You can wrap questions up with a prize in the middle, but if you’re short on time as I always am, a tub with folded paper is equally effective - so long as you have the prize on standby for the person who’s answering the last question, and smaller edible treats for all involved! The thing I have discovered that really makes the moment is playing Justin Fletcher’s Pass the Parcel song from YouTube. If you do this, be sure that you will be serenaded with the song for lessons to come.

YouTube link

Remember, I gave you fair warning!

6. Creative writing chain

Sometimes, getting ideas flowing is half of the battle for children, and using a human writing chain is a way of showing how ideas link together in this tactile activity. You can give the pupils a topic to ‘write’ collectively about, although this is a verbal exercise. One pupil will start the story or poem with a sentence, and then the other pupils have to jump in and connect by linking arms and say a sentence that follows on from the previous one. Some pupils enjoy jumping in (and getting it over and done with). Others hang back; if they do, they need to make sure that the last line finishes the narrative or poem in a coherent way. It’s a bit like ‘consequences’, except they do know what is preceding their input, but it can still be really funny and challenges them to get started on being creative in a low-pressured way. Taking them outside for this can work well as they can then use what is around them for inspiration. This activity could also be made cross-curricular by giving a breakdown of the stages of an experiment from memory in Science, for example, or having a conversation in a foreign language.

To conclude

All of these activities make me feel a little daring. There is the risk of possibilities for error and, as with any taught lesson, you have to be prepared to manage the situation. But in the end, if you feel like you’ve broken the mould, the pupils have had fun and learnt something, then surely that makes ‘the wise man’ amongst us feel a little bit more inclined to ‘carpe diem’? And maybe we are in fact a little bit more like Keating than we actually think?

Want to receive cutting-edge insights from leading educators each week? Sign up to our Community Update and be part of the action!

Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support us.
When you register, you'll join a grassroots community where you can:
• Enjoy unlimited access to articles
• Get recommendations tailored to your interests
• Attend virtual events with our leading contributors
Register Now

Latest stories

  • How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country
    How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country

    Teaching English in a foreign country is likely to be one of the most demanding experiences you'll ever have. It entails relocating to a new country, relocating to a new home, and beginning a new career, all of which are stressful in and of themselves, but now you're doing it all at once. And you'll have to converse in a strange language you may not understand.

  • Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?
    Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?

    Over the weekend, my family of five went to an Orlando theme park, and I decided we should really enjoy ourselves by purchasing an Unlimited Quick Queue pass. It was so worth the money! We rode every ride in the park at least twice, but one ride required us to ride down a rapidly flowing river, which quenched us with water. It was incredible that my two-year-old was laughing as well. We rode the Infinity Falls ride four times in one day—BEST DAY EVER for FAMILY FUN in the Sun! The entire experience was epic, full of energizing emotions and, most importantly, lots of smiles. What made this ride so cool was that the whole family could experience it together, the motions were on point, and the water was the icing on the cake. It had been a while since I had that type of fun, and I will never forget it.

  • Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2
    Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2

    The Action Pack is back for the start of the brand new school year, just in time for Recycle Week 2021 on 20 - 26 September, to empower pupils to make the world a better and more sustainable place. The free recycling-themed resources are designed for KS1 and KS2 and cover the topics of Art, English, PSHE, Science and Maths and have been created to easily fit into day-to-day lesson planning.

  • Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu
    Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu

    Following the exceptional performance from British breakthrough star Emma Raducanu, who captured her first Grand Slam at the US Open recently, Emmamania is already inspiring pupils aged 4 - 11 to get more involved in tennis - and LTA Youth, the flagship
    programme from The LTA, the governing body of tennis in Britain, has teachers across the country covered.

  • 5 ways to boost your school's eSafety
    5 ways to boost your school's eSafety

    eSafety is a term that constantly comes up in school communities, and with good reason. Students across the world are engaging with technology in ways that have never been seen before. This article addresses 5 beginning tips to help you boost your school’s eSafety. 

  • Tackling inequality in EdTech
    Tackling inequality in EdTech

    We have all been devastated by this pandemic that has swept the world in a matter of weeks. Schools have rapidly had to change the way they operate and be available for key workers' children. The inequalities that have long existed in communities and schools are now being amplified by the virus.

  • EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab
    EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab

    The world is catching up with a truth that we’ve championed at Learning Ladders for the last 5 years - that children’s learning outcomes are greatly improved by teachers, parents and learners working in partnership. 

  • Reducing primary to secondary transition stress
    Reducing primary to secondary transition stress

    As school leaders grapple with the near impossible mission to start bringing more students into schools from 1st June, there are hundreds of thousands of Year 6 pupils thinking anxiously about their move to secondary school.

  • Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?
    Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?

    The K-12 online tutoring market is booming around the world, with recent research estimating it to grow by 12% per year over the next five years, a USD $60bn increase. By breaking down geographic barriers and moving beyond the limits of local teaching expertise, online tutoring platforms are an especially valuable tool for those looking to supplement their studies in the developing world, and students globally are increasingly signing up to online tuition early on in their secondary education schooling. 

  • Employable young people or human robots?
    Employable young people or human robots?

    STEM skills have been a major focus in education for over a decade and more young people are taking science, technology, engineering, and maths subjects at university than ever before, according to statistics published by UCAS. The downside of this is that the UK is now facing a soft skills crisis and the modern world will also require children to develop strong social skills as the workplaces are transformed by technology. 

In order to make our website better for you, we use cookies!

Some firefox users may experience missing content, to fix this, click the shield in the top left and "disable tracking protection"