Practical suggestions for using Knowledge Organisers in the classroom.
This blog is made up of two parts. The first is a little overview of KOs and why they can be so helpful in your medium term planning. I’ll structure this part as an FAQ based on the last year of working with departments. The second is a list of 20 practical lesson planning ideas for using KOs with pupils in which I’ll seek to answer the question at the top of this blog.
Part 1 – Overview / FAQ
What do you mean by a knowledge based curriculum?
Since working with KOs and developing a more knowledge-based curriculum, the way I plan my teaching has changed dramatically. Whereas previously I would start with a list of skills I wanted pupils to develop, I now create (or refer to) a KO with the key content I want pupils to know. This change in starting point is one of the fundamental differences which underpins what we mean by a ‘knowledge-based curriculum’ (more later about where to go next!)
Aren’t KOs a bit simplistic? / Isn’t this spoon feeding? / How will this make pupils more independent? (and other similar gripes)
Hopefully, at no point I’ve said that a KO should contain everything a pupil needs to know about a topic. To be frank if you could fit everything you taught in a half term or unit onto a sheet of A4, I would be quite worried about the depth of our curriculum. Rather, these documents should contain fundamental information that underpins the learning in that topic. This should be factual information that you want pupils to learn really well and think is worth returning to repeatedly.
I actually think this is the opposite of spoon feeding. We are saying to pupils, here is the key information you need to advance in this subject: it’s your responsibility to learn this outside of lessons too and you will be held accountable for this! Equally, I think it stands to make pupils more independent. The more they know, the easier they will find it to solve problems independently, the easier it will be for them to find and access new information and the more empowered they will feel to engage with challenging material.
Why will KOs benefit my pupils?
Information which is repeated and systematically tested is far more likely to be recalled later. Interleaving information has also been shown to demonstrate much improved learning gains (this video explains if you want to know more). Pupils are now taking more exams than ever before with fewer and fewer centre-assessed and modular opportunities. By planning out the knowledge in advance, it allows us (and pupils) to return to it systematically, interleave it effectively and test is regularly. Crucially it also ensures consistency of information across these opportunities and between teachers.
How do I turn my KO into a unit of work?
Whilst there is no science to this, here is what I do (as a very broad overview!)
- Write knowledge organiser.
- Write a list of short questions, usually multiple choice, based on the knowledge
- Create a set of longer tasks, assessment tasks, exam questions or similar for various points in my unit
- Arrange the sub-topics logically so that learning develops over time
- Plan my lessons:
- start each with a quiz (I like Plickers (google it), 5 in 5 and Memory Platforms – see below) based on the short questions I’ve planned, which are repeated and recycled at intervals
- New learning – covering the content
- Regular assessment tasks based on the tasks I designed for point 3.
There will be different ways to go about this, but the point is that my questioning and the assessment are lined up with the knowledge I decided was important at the outset. This is particularly important as research suggests that our testing in the classroom ‘sets the agenda’ for what pupils think of as important knowledge and therefore prioritise in their revision.
Part 2 – 20 Practical Suggestions
This is a list of practical suggestions that I came up with together with Phil Griffiths, our Head of Music. We’ve tried to keep everything as usable and low-prep as possible. We’re not claiming that any of these ideas are revolutionary, but hopefully they fit well with a KO based approach. So, in no particular order…
- KO Bingo – pupils use the KO as a Bingo card and highlight key terms and ideas as they are referenced either throughout a lesson or a series of lessons.
- Exam Questions – pupils start or finish the lesson by writing 5 exam questions based on their KOs.
- Sentences – pick 5 keywords from the KO and link them in a paragraph. Alternatively, they each create a sentence using a keyword and answer the register with it.
- Model – Give students a model answer and ask them to highlight key words and ideas from the KO.
- Use a KO as a framework for answering exam questions, either individually or as a class. Gradually remove the level of support.
- Create KOs as a department – not really a lesson activity, but important for the team to have a shared understanding amongst themselves of each point in the KO – leads to interesting discussions about what exactly things means and what is and isn’t worth inclusion.
- Distillation – ask pupils to distill KOs into their most important points. Could focus on a particular exam focus or topic.
- Expand the KO – require pupils to write a sentence on one of the keywords or ideas, then two sentences, then a paragraph etc… how far can they go?
- Create a practical demonstration of elements of the KO. Works well in practical subjects, but I’ve seen great geometry and science lessons in the playground with pupils enacting concepts on a grand scale.
- Annotate KOs for revision.
- Turn KOs into quizzes (or get pupils to) – ‘Quizlet’, ‘Memrise’, ‘Kahoot’, ‘Plickers’ etc.
- Get pupils to create their own KOs.
- Ask pupils to RAG rate their KOs based on understanding to turn them into a detailed PLC.
- KO Taboo – one pupil describes a term or idea on the KO and the other has to guess what they’re describing.
- Create exit tickets to assess all pupils and inform future planning. I’ve always been a bit on the fence about these, but this blog converted me recently.
- Use KOs to write memory platforms: 6 questions to ask as a ‘do it now’, on the board at the beginning of the lesson. Q1-3 about last lesson, Q4 about last week, Q5 about last term and Q6 connecting ideas from last lesson to last term. I got this idea here.
- Gap fill – pupils revise their knowledge organisers. Tip-Ex out a bit each week and photocopy it for them. They fill the blanks each week as the information gradually disappears.
- Dice game (stolen from a colleague!) – one person fills blanks in a KO (or completes any knowledge-based activity) whilst the other rolls a dice. When the roller gets a 6 the roles are reversed. See who can answer/complete the most.
- KO bookmarks – pupils create condensed KOs as bookmarks for their exercise books or folder dividers when they get to revision. A study method whilst getting them organised!
- Knowledge then application – pupils revise the KOs at home and then apply the information in class to a question. Flip the learning.
Lots of ideas to consider here: I hope that some of them are useful to you in your classroom. Please share any other ideas you’ve had for knowledge focused teaching below!