My top ten tips for trainee teachers

Teachers are magpies. We steal ideas from everywhere. Have no shame about this: I have none, which is why this page is full of ideas I have stolen from all sorts of places.  I’ve put them together as a sort of handy reference for student teachers. It is oriented towards English teachers but most of the tips are applicable to any trainee teacher

1 thing you must never forget

Why you are doing this. PGCE is tough. There are times when you feel like giving up. I don’t know anyone who has got through it without crying at least once. Sometimes it is hard to hang on to the reason you wanted to do it in the first place. So write it down and stick it up on your bedroom wall.

2 things you have to do right now this minute

Join Twitter. Twitter is a great place for exchanging ideas with other teachers and keeping up with the latest education stuff. Follow everyone who looks interesting.

Start a blog. Use it as a reflective journal and to share ideas with others.  At the end of the year you will be able to look back and see how far you’ve come.


3 ways of  keeping the whole class engaged

Pairs to fours. Nothing worse than launching a question at the class only to be confronted with a sea of blank faces. Much better to ask them to discuss the question in pairs. Then get each pair to join up with another and discuss as a four. Much more engagement with the topic will ensue. (For other strategies like this investigate Kagan Cooperative Learning.)

Different coloured pens. If you want to make sure that everyone contributes to a piece of group work, get everyone in the group to use a different coloured pen. Make sure they know that you will be looking to see who has contributed what. Wander around and make appreciative comments when you see good contributions.

Expert Groups. Divide the class into groups and give each a different task eg a different poem to analyse. Then get the groups to break up and reform so that the new groups contain one person from each original group. Their task is to synthesise the information from the first part of the exercise in order to move the learning on. (see Phil Beadle’s How to Teach for more on this one.)

4 fast ways to improve your teaching

Focus on the learning, not the activity. It took me ages to work out that I should never think about the activity in a lesson until I had identified not just the learning objective but how I was going to assess it. Once you’ve done that, you can design your activities.

Let the kids do the work. The biggest trap for student teachers is creating lessons that involve them doing more work for the kids. Design as much independent working (ideally in pairs or groups) into your lesson as possible. That leaves you free to assist, support and, crucially, assess progress during the lesson.

Smart marking. See above. Marking is the English teacher’s biggest burden. You’ve got to make it work. Formative assessment is vital, but ensure pupils are picking up on it. Make your comments focused and insist on a response. Teach peer assessment from the very beginning and give plenty of opportunity for pupils to develop their skills. For self-assessment make the success criteria very, very clear and ensure pupils address them.

Make sure they know where they are going next. All too often we are guilty of putting the lesson objective on the board but failing to ensure that the class has linked it to the ongoing work in hand. Pupils like to know not just what they are expected to know but where it fits in. Plenaries are a good way of doing this – for example by asking what they think the next lesson is going to be about. If the unit is leading to a controlled assessment, share the assessment objectives early on.


5 teaching ideas you need to know about

SOLO. This is a brilliant way of sharing learning objectives in a way that really helps students to understand and progress. See David Didau’s The Perfect Ofsted English Lesson for an explanation and/or look at some of the blogs at the end of this article for examples of teachers putting SOLO into practice. Lisa Jane Ashe’s blog is a good place to start

Kagan Co-operative Learning. Kagan Structures are classroom activities that increase pupil engagement across the whole class.  This pinterest board will help you find out more.

Flipped learning. Also known as the backwards classroom. Basically, you let the pupils study the topic on their own first, often using videos you’ve made for them, then class time is used to explore and apply the learning. Find out more here

Restorative Justice.  A conflict resolution approach to behaviour management that I have seen working brilliantly in one of my placement schools. It’s not something you can try on your own though, it needs whole-school training to make it work. There is a good article on it here.  What you can do off your own bat, however, is implement the restorative questions when dealing with a behaviour management issue. So, for instance, instead of saying ‘What did you do’ try the more neutral ‘What happened?’ The full list of questions are given in the article I’ve linked to.

No pens day. An intriguing idea for improving speaking and listening skills in the classroom.


6 classroom management tips that really work

Learn their names. The key to classroom control. Names are power.

Have a seating plan. Draw it and write names on. If you have access to photos make a photoplan. Watch the amazement on their little faces as you magically know who they are.

Don’t let taking the register delay the start of the lesson. Find a quick way of doing it (the seating plan comes in handy for this) and do it when they are settled into the starter. You don’t have to call names out. If everyone has a place it is easy to quickly count heads and identify who’s not there.

Never say a single thing unless you have the full and undivided attention of every child in the class. Never. Ever. Not once. Every pair of eyes must be trained on you. Every pen must be down. It doesn’t matter how long you have to wait. Hold your nerve and you will get there.  The consequence of NOT doing this is that you spend an infinity of time dealing with interruptions and low-level behaviour issues and get much less teaching done. (For more on this sort of thing see How to Teach.)

Don’t ignore low-level disruption. The minute someone is acting up ask them to step outside. Don’t tell them off, ask them what is happening. Listen to what they say. Then explain the consequences you are going to invoke if they don’t stick to the classroom rules. 

Focus on four or five pupils every week. You can’t give every pupil the full beam of your personality every lesson. The problem is inevitably some children get overlooked. The solution is to pick four or five every week and focus on them, this way those kids get to feel you are taking an interest in them and you get around the whole class every half-term.

7 books that will save your life

OK, I have a whole shelf of books I have picked up along the way. If I had to reduce them to just seven I reckon these are the ones I couldn’t manage without. Whether you are facing the dreaded Sunday night panic, one of those flat days when challenges are high and motivation is low, or a blank scheme of work that you just can’t get inspired about, one of these books will inspire you and get you excited about whatever lesson it is that is getting you down.

The Teacher’s Toolkit, Paul Ginnis

The Perfect Ofsted English Lesson, David Didau

How to Teach, Phil Beadle

Pimp your Lesson, Isabella Wallace and Leah Kirkman

The Lazy Teacher’s handbook, Jim Smith

How to be a brilliant English teacher, Trevor Wright

Essential Motivation in the Classroom, Ian Gilbert

Teaching Shakespeare, Rex Gibson


8 Great Teaching Gurus  

Follow them on twitter, buy their books, check out their blogs. These are the people on the cutting edge of classroom practice. (I’m not sure what that really means but it sounds good.)

David Didau

Tom Bennett

Phil Beadle

Geoff Barton

Ian Gilbert

Trevor Wright

Bill Rogers

Sue Cowley



9 techy things that will help you teach better

Flip cameras

You can still buy these although they went out of production a year ago. Great for impromptu recording in the classroom and sturdy enough to survive a bit of manhandling.


Develop a network of information, advice and support in 140 characters or less.


Presentation software that’s jazzier and more interesting than Powerpoint, especially if you have a smartboard. Also you get to see other people’s Prezis and share your own online. And it’s free. What’s  not to like?


Means you can work on your files wherever you are and not end up with loads of versions with different changes saved on them. As an extra bonus  the ‘left my memory stick on the bus’ nightmare will never happen again.

Download your Youtube clips in advance and avoid those awkward no connection moments. I know someone who ruined an interview lesson that way.


Get pupils to create Pinterest boards for topics rather than a poster. Or make one yourself with revision links. Visually far more appealing than a list of links.

Google docs

Use them to share resources online or to create a joint document that allows pupils to add to or edit it.

You can create a school or class daily paper using content from the web on this website.


One of the best blogging platforms around for educational use.  Single blogs are free. Why not set up a class blog, or get students to set up their own?


10 best blogs by teachers

An English teacher’s learning journey. There’s a post on there called ‘Reply to a letter from an NQT.’ Read  it. Memorise it. Implement it.

Snakewrangling. You need to know what this is? Read this blog.     

Another reflective blog from a teacher interested in trying out new things in the classroom

What it says.

This much I know. Words of wisdom about teaching and learning from a very experienced headteacher

Reflective blog from an NQT English teacher

English teacher who blogs about trying new technology and new ideas in the classroom

Another very candid and funny blog about what it’s really like to be an NQT

Reflections of a Learning Geek. Loads of really good stuff about how to implement SOLO.

Reflective blog about teaching from a very experienced teacher.

Another teacher implementing SOLO in the classroom. I’m a bit obsessed with this. You should be too.

OK. So that was 11. Who cares? I’m an English teacher, not a Maths teacher, luckily for my pupils.