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01 January 2023

Achieving when Retrieving

Adrienne Tough profile image
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Adrienne Tough

Retrieval – being able to recall/access information or knowledge. We check for this typically at the start of a lesson (insert your choice of do now / starter/ quiz it/ entry ticket), at the end of the lesson (plenary, exit ticket, check it) and several times in between. No matter what you call it, there’s the same objective: to check what students can remember from content taught previously.

There are several tools that can help you use this, blank placemats, blank knowledge organisers, series of questioning, exam style questions etc. I don’t think anyone can deny their importance. But what works best…? Here are my top 4.

1. Last four, one more!

This has several different names, but the idea is that there’s four questions based on previous learning. These can be grouped e.g., last lesson, last week, last month, last topic or 4 ‘random topics’ (good of course to try assess a previous misconception if you can!). They can be really short questions or slightly longer tasks. The beauty of these is they can be applied to individual context and circumstances.

The ‘one more’ part I often use to either introduce a new topic, have a wider curricular topic question (e.g. a career, pioneer, something news-worthy etc) or just use it for another question. A bank of these is great for challenge tasks or homework too.


2. Blooket/Kahoot

My students love Blooket, and I do mean love. It has been a very powerful tool in managing behaviour in my more disruptive classes due the gamification. My year eleven’s also love our final ten-minute Friday Blooket. At the end of the lesson, we use this to assess learning and the software also provides insight into data trends, which can be useful to analyse. Plus, there is a hack mode which allows us to discuss security measures whilst the slower students are setting their devices up or when students are trying to shoulder surf their partners. 

3. Retrieval Grid

Retrieval grids are a series of questions that students have to try answer in a set time. There are several ways that this can be implemented but the most successful for me has been colour coding the questions; assigning points; starting independently and then allowing a partner to share and setting a specific time.

Colour coding the questions allows students to choose which ones they want to attempt and lets them know which ones are more challenging. The lower-level questions may sometimes have hints and scaffolding too. This way every student can feel successful with remembering some content.

The points gives some motivation and encourages students to attempt the more challenging questions. Plus, students tend to enjoy competition so this can help lead to more engagement.

The independent start allows students (and teacher) to check what individuals know and gives them that sense of pride. Then by discussing they can help each other with lower stakes and cover more content.

These can take a long time if not careful, so setting a specific time tends to work best. I also do not go over each question individually as this again is quite time consuming. I circulate when discussing and address any misconceptions and then ask students which questions they want me to review. We then discuss those and then the rest of the answers are shown. This is a quick and fun way to cover quite a lot of content in class and one of the favourite revision activities we use.

ABCDE – prove what you’ve learnt to me!

A final activity that works particularly well for GCSE students is to have students write what they’ve learnt beginning with each letter of the alphabet. There are many ways this can be implemented. Students could do this by themselves, in partners, walk around the class and complete big A3 papers…. The idea though is that they can only use words beginning with the letter given. This allows students to think about content across a whole range of topics. When they’ve written all the words the task can then be developed into having students defining the words or trying to add words that connect to the one given.

When introducing this to my students, it was a pleasant surprise for both myself and the class just how many words they could remember and define. Plus, like with the revision grids they were really getting quite competitive with who could write the most, or provide the best definitions which was lovely to see. One of the activities that really helped to create a nice classroom climate!

There are of course many other retrieval activities. Some have been successful, and some have been fails which will not be repeated (the snowball spelling task was chaos). However, the above are four that I can consistently rely on and will continue to use.


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