Awesome Lesson Starters

Start the lesson with a bang!

What students experience in the first couple of minutes of a lesson makes a crucial difference in how well they engage with the learning intentions and as such, starter activites should be exciting, enthusing and unpredictable.

Here are some ideas for creating that ‘hook’ and maintaining the curiosity of students from the get-go.

  • Start the lesson with a fun or even explosive demonstration which ties in to the main body of the lesson. Sick Science has lots of great ideas.
  • Pass around mystery objects inside sealed bags. Ask the students to guess what they are and what they do.
  • Display apparatus, interesting objects and photographs around the room.
  • Play a short video on a loop and hand out questions about its content. This is even better if it is a video that you or the students have made. For example, a time-lapse video to recap the previous lesson or the steps of a practical investigation presented in Adobe Voice.
  • Write a true / false question or a statement on the board. As pupils arrive ask them to choose whether they think it is ‘true’ or ‘false’ or whether they ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’ and to stand to one side or another of an imaginary line down the middle of the room.
  • Display a picture and a question. Alternatively, you can display a number of different pictures related to a theme and simply ask ‘What have I Googled?’
  • Play ‘Backs to the Board.’ Divide your students into two or three teams. One volunteer from each team sits in a chair with their backs to the board, facing their friends. Write a key word on the board, making sure that the players in the ‘hot seats’ can not see it. After you say ‘Go!’, the members of each team must try to elicit the word from the volunteer without saying the word or giving any clues as to its spelling. The players in the ‘hot seats’ then swap with another member of their respective teams.
  • Arrange for a guest speaker to be standing in the room as the students arrive.
  • Recap the last lesson by displaying true / false statements or multiple choice questions and asking students to answer on mini whiteboards.
  • Use Socrative or Kahoot to prepare a fun quiz or questionnaire.
  • Play a song relating to the lesson as the students arrive.
  • Display multiple choice questions around the room. Give the students a time limit (these classroom timers are fun) and get them to move around the room looking for and answering the questions.
  • Set up apparatus for the lesson and display one or more questions about what it might be for and how it works. Alternatively, hide the appartus under a cloth and, before revealing it, ask questions about what it might be.
  • When they arrive, hand each student or pair of students a mystery object and ask them to come up with ideas about what it might be used for.
  • Greet the students at the classroom door wearing full protective equipment including visor or goggles.
  • Hand each student a question or an answer to a question and ask them to find their pair.
  • Play the ‘Who Am I?’ game but instead of a famous person designate each student a key word relating to the current topic. Remember, participants can only use ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ questions to work out who or what they are.

No matter how you start the lesson try to involve the students whenever you can and make sure it does not go on for too long. Link the activity to the main body of the lesson and allow time for questions and answers. Have fun!

Project-Based Learning

Over the past eight weeks our Year 10 students have been involved in an extended project-based learning (PBL) task. Each group of 3-4 students was presented with a real-life problem which could not be solved by one ‘right’ or easy to find answer and asked to present their ideas to an audience of parents, teachers and peers.

The problems were purposely open-ended in order to emphasise active, student-directed learning across a plurality of disciplines. The students all effectively investigated the problem, carried out scientific research and then constructed their own solutions. New technology was used throughout to communicate, collaborate and present their work.

The students decided that the theme for presentation day should be ‘Jurassic World’. They produced invitations for guests and decorated the science corridor.

ticketjurrasic corridor

On arrival guests were shown an introductory video. The quality of this is exceptional.

Innovations included an ant deterrent made from kaffir limes, a hanging storage facility for utilising the space beneath a work desk, a wind-up torch and this device for removing the shells from hard boiled eggs.



WAGOLL stands for ‘What A Good One Looks Like’ and are exemplary models of students’ work including essays, completed graphs, use of apparatus, experimental write-ups and so on. These can form an ever-changing display of outstanding work or be used in critique sessions by providing enlarged laminated photocopies on which the students can highlight or annotate evidence of its quality. I recommend building a library of WAGOLLs on your school VLE for the students to refer to.

Thinking Maps in Science

thinking maps

Thinking maps are a set of eight visual tools which each correspond to different higher-order thinking skills. First published by David Hyerle in 1989 they are now a common feature in classrooms around the world. The maps help learners to grasp new concepts by allowing them to construct visual representations of otherwise abstract ideas. They also promote cooperative learning and critical thinking through processes such as ordering, prioritising and sequencing.

Here are some examples of how I have used a few of the thinking maps recently in my science teaching.

(Incidentally there are same great apps available for constructing thinking maps but I find that large sheets of paper or laminated, wipe-clean outlines of the maps and coloured board pens are actually more conducive to collaboration when concept mapping.)

Circle map

Circle maps are used to put things into context. The ‘thing’ represented is written or drawn in the centre circle and contextual information is shown in the outer circle. The activity can be extended by drawing a rectangular frame around the outside of both circles to represent a frame of reference. The circle map highlights that how people represent or define something is very much influenced by context and by personal experience.


Most recently I have asked students to use circle maps to:

  • Consider the points of view of various interest groups towards a proposed factory development prior to a public-hearing role play activity
  • Highlight plant and animal adaptations to different habitats
  • Demonstrate prior knowledge of the Periodic Table.

Bridge map

Bridge maps are used to visualise analogies by quite literally bridging the gap between the familiar and the new. The line of the bridge shows the common relationship that exists between two or more pairs of things.

For example:

  • Comparing thermoregulation in the body with the negative feedback used by the classroom air conditioning system
  • Using a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant as an analogy for the cardiovascular system
  • Modelling an electric circuit with a water pump.


Bubble map and double-bubble map

The bubble map shares some similarities with the mind map but it is usually used simply to qualify or describe something using adjectives or phrases. For example, students could outline the properties of metallic elements or list the parts of an insect. However, the double-bubble map takes things one step further and allows students to compare and contrast the perceived qualities of two things in much the same way as a Venn diagram.

Double Bubble Map Example

For example, compare and contrast the following:

  • Nervous system and endocrine system
  • Metals and non-metals
  • Longitudinal waves and transverse waves
  • Plant cells and animal cells
  • Sexual reproduction and asexual reproduction
  • Nuclear fusion and nuclear fission.

Flow map


Flow maps are used for interpreting changes or sequences and is probably the map I use most often in the classroom. Remember that flow maps do not have to be linear (life cycles for example).


Lots of possibilities including:

  • The stages of mitosis or meiosis
  • The life cycle of a flowering plant, butterfly, frog etc.
  • The process of DNA replication
  • The steps involved in conducting an experiment.

DNA repl

Multi-flow map

Multi-flow maps are used to represent the causes and effects of a given situation, for example:

  • Global warming
  • Eutrophication
  • Health and safety scenarios
  • Infectious diseases.


Brace map

The brace map which is used to visualise the relationship between a whole object and its parts (e.g. the human body, body systems, organs, tissues, cells)

Tree map

The tree map is used to represent hierarchical information (e.g. classification or ecological keys).

More information

For more information about thinking maps and how they can be used effectively in your lessons visit the Thinking Maps Learning Community.

Not Quite Rocket Science

I’ve just been reading about a brilliant project being run between the UK Space Agency and the RHS in which participating schools can grow seeds that have been sent into space.

Sadly, it’s only available to UK schools. Here in Thailand, Year 7 students have been learning about the conditions necessary for germination and we now have lots of different seedlings growing in planters in the corridor outside my classroom.


Keeping it Simple

I often find that really simple visual aids are all that are needed to make otherwise quite complex concepts spring to life in the students’ minds. For example, a balloon inside a cardboard box to represent the protoplast inside the cell wall of a plant cell (particularly useful when teaching plasmolysis), pipe cleaners as polysaccharide chains or for demonstrating protein structure, and drawing pins stuck in ping-pong balls as viruses or cell-surface antigens.