Below are a range of strategies that can be used to develop challenge and develop thinking skills. It’s certainly not recommend that all should be used within one lesson, rather experiment with the techniques and use those that work for you have the greatest impact on learning in your classroom.
Getting students to use newly acquired skills or knowledge to solve a murder or crime that is baffling detectives.
Mystery games help students learn through the discovery process. Information is distributed to each of the students in a series of clues. The process of pooling information is required to enable the mystery to be solved!
Mysteries Across the Curriculum
Which country is the murderer hiding in? A geography murder game.
Why is the Maori boy crying? Exploring racism and inequality in New Zealand.
Who killed our plant? Biology mystery exploring why plants need to grow.
Leaving outcome ambiguous so learners come up with different theories that lead to the truth.
Social Care – what is the mystery surrounding the neglect from an elderly patient?
Maths mysteries – using clues to measure speed distance or time. Code breaking
Why did the company go bankrupt?
What happened next? Changing characters names and endings to explore literature.
What is it?
Looking at images and the odd one out.
The process of identifying the properties of things and all that is associated with it. In food technology a picture of an apple pie might enable students to list ingredients, nutritional value, country of origin, variation of product, calorie and health properties etc.
Same with languages – a picture of a meal could encourage students to talk about food or ask for different types of food in target language.
Putting images on the board with an odd one out promote discussion and rationalisation. Two friendly characters with an evil character. Different genders – anything at all that will allow for discussion, questioning and encourage the thinking process.
Sequencing Ranking Sorting Classifying
This is a great way to get students discussing, analysing and evaluating. Giving them a list of items and and getting them to rank order, to sequence or to sort. By building in ambiguity different groups will have different oytcomes and encourage investigation and discussion.
Challenge Based Learning
is an engaging multidisciplinary approach to teaching and learning that encourages learners to leverage the technology they use in their daily lives to solve real-world problems. Challenge Based Learning is collaborative and hands-on, asking students to work with peers, teachers, and experts in their communities and around the world to ask good questions, develop deep subject area knowledge, identify and solve challenges, take action, and share their experience. You can find out more about Challenge Based learning and download example lessons on the Challenge Based Learning website.
The stages in a process for example in science /geography or business studies.
Stages in events in history or events in a novel or play in English.
Relative importance of various factors. Order of importance – for example persuasive writing:
- use of rhetorical questions
- including counter argument
- use of repetition
- range of punctuation
There may not be a definitive rank order but the process engenders discussion and revision of key points.
Sorting and classifying
|Type of chocolate||taste|
|cadbury’s dairy milk|
|white milky bar|
A more complex one could be used in science to look at components or car maintenance for function of engine parts.
Card sorts are nothing new but we often underestimate the value of them.
Compare and Contrast
Comparing and contrasting has been found to improve students understanding of the topic. It is a great way of getting students to understand difficult topics or concepts that are easily confused.
Students use A3 or sugar paper and create a chart
|Comparing Kinetic energy and Momentum||Similarities – they both||But…|
|DifferencesKinetic energy…. But
You could use a compare and contrast chart for most subjects –
- fractions and percentages in maths
- Charles 1 and Charles 11
- Osmosis and diffusion
- Commas and semi colons
- characters in a novel
Mapping – I know this was very popular with some teachers a while ago but as a one off don’t discredit the map. this activity works as an excellent activity to recap learning at the start of a lesson or as a revision activity.
The activity does exactly what it says. Small group maps are often more effective and again create lots of discussion.
Or show a completed map and use it as a starting point.
Team Challenge lesson
A research activity with built in incentive for team work. This is a straightforward race between groups or against the clock, it forms the basis of a challenge lesson where students work almost independently of the teacher.
- Each table has a set of instructions with challenges on, some will be individual challenges – (an extended 20 minute writing task) others rely on group interaction.The group decide independently the order in which they will complete the challenges.
- Each table is slightly different and can be differentiated up or down according to ability. Questions can be again differentiated as can tasks.
- Use of ICT is incorporated into the lesson so students decide when in the lesson they will research the information they need to present their findings to the whole class.
- Each group is told it will present its information to the rest of the class and a success criteria is shared at the start of the lesson.
- The teacher is then able to facilitate, or work with small groups throughout the lesson -giving individual feedback and guidance to students.
- Activities such as paired reading, research and analysis work well.
- Groups record findings on ipad or sugar paper and present to whole class.
What is it?
Students will produce information at their “stall” for other students to visit and get information. This information will be presented in poster form and will be very visual. This is a fun way of engaging students.
Each group is given a selection of information – they then research their topic and create a poster using sugar paper and pens. This should contain as much information as possible – all students should take a part in creating the poster and presenting the findings. This encourages communication skills and presentation skills.
To assess their knowledge their will be a list of questions or a quiz at the end of this part of the lesson .
Each group then comes back together and feeds back what they have learned from the other market traders to the rest of their group. This encourages verbal communication between groups.
At the very end of the lesson the teacher can go through questions that students that students have found challenging. Remember challenge is a good thing if they can answer all questions easily -they aren’t really challenged!
Examples in action
- Business Studies – different types of businesses, different theories on motivation.
- English – different characters in a book or play. Different stanzas in a poem, different chapters or scenes, different parts of a speech.
- Technology – assessing different materials, evaluating different products
- Maths – revising different topics, learning new procedures and topics.
- History – examining different causes of a conflict, comparing and assessing various primary and secondary sources.
- Geography – comparing different cities: causes and or effects of urbanisation.
- PE – demonstrating different warm-ups; different techniques explored.
- Art – The essential characteristics, with examples of the history of art, different artists or different painting techniques.
Plus Minus Interesting – Edward De Bono
The benefit of this approach to thinking is that it forces students to consider both sides of an idea not just the one they favour. Setting the class a challenge to work in groups and come up with 3-5 positive and negatives along with 2 or 3 that they think are interesting provides a framework to think more deeply about an issue. This tool can prove to be very productive in preparing students for writing essays but please don’t confuse them with the outmoded writing frame which restrict thinking and creativity and limit students by their very nature.
Ofsted 2012: Challenging tasks matched to pupils’ learning needs
“When evaluating the quality of teaching in the school, inspectors must consider:
“the extent to which well judged teaching strategies, including setting challenging tasks matched to pupils’ learning needs, successfully engage all pupils in their learning”
“Teaching promotes pupils’ high levels of resilience, confidence and independence when they tackle challenging activities.”
One of the difficulties lies in being able to gauge successfully just what will challenge a learner, and for that, we have to have some shared understanding of just what “challenge” means in the learning context.
The Oxford Concise Dictionary defines a challenging problem as one “offering interesting difficulties”
Whilst there are thousands of teachers who routinely set challenging tasks for their learners, applying the above definition, often, setting challenging tasks for learners is….well quite frankly, a challenge in itself.
Think about the TV show “Who wants to be a millionaire?”. (Sorry – just indulge me on this one.) The first few questions to be answered in order to get past the first “safe” level of £1000, are pretty easy, and it’s rare for anyone to get them wrong. Many viewers probably see these as a formality and can’t wait to get past them onto the harder ones because they offer little challenge and consequently are of little interest.
Unless they enter the live phone-in competition, few viewers are likely to stand to gain from attempting the subsequent harder questions, but these are the ones they want. Why? Because they present a challenge! Conversely, quizzes, competitions and games that are far too difficult, and present too much challenge, lead to disinterest and demotivation. Competitions and games of any kind quickly lose their appeal once they’re mastered. This is why so many games have levels to select or earn. The challenge to do better each time is addictive trait.
There is, of course, a careful balance to be made between too little and to much challenge, and this is where the skill of the teacher comes in. Challenge with no possibility of success is as unengaging and unmotivating as that with no possibility of failure.
Why should tasks be demanding or stimulating?
Tasks which have just the right amount of challenge:
generate a sense of achievement when mastered;
promote competition with others or with one’s self;
demand creative thinking
require learners to make links between knowledge and experience and to apply their new knowledge to new situations.
help learners to develop resilience and confidence by experiencing the feeling of success and achievement
make assessment for learning a whole lot easier to do. Where a task has just enough challenge, the teacher can see where the students start to struggle, identify the next steps, and so can provide appropriate intervention.
So, what constitutes a challenging task?
An appropriately challenging task:
requires the application of knowledge, skills and experience;
has solutions which are not obvious;
requires thinking skills;
encourages creative solutions – not just one;
has “just the right” amount of difficulty; success is within grasp, but not without effort;
There is recognition of the point of success, and an appreciation of the effort needed to get there.
What skills do teachers need in order to be able to create challenging tasks?
An understanding of the current extent of learners’ knowledge, skills and understanding;
Sound subject knowledge;
The ability to identify an appropriate context for the task;
An understanding of the steps required to achieve success with the task;
The ability to promote thinking by asking questions that challenge understanding;
The ability to recognise misconceptions, and to ask the right questions to eliminate them.
Constructing challenging tasks
When constructing tasks, it might be useful to ask yourself these questions:
What knowledge, skills and understanding are needed for this task?
What is the challenge in the task? This sounds a banal question, but the task must be challenging for the right reasons. If the task is for learners to evaluate the effect that Christianity has had on the commercial sector, they might be asked to research evidence in order to present an argument. The challenge of reading a difficult text should not be the focus. Rather, the challenge should lie in thinking about the interrelated variables in the context.
Do the learners understand that there is more than one right answer?
Is it clear to the learners that they can succeed, and that the task is not impossible for them? To achieve this it might be that you stage or chunk the task so that it gets incrementally more difficult, or design the task so that they can tackle different elements not in a hierarchical way.
Is the context relevant and engaging for the learners? I include this because in recent years, there have been many lessons, particularly in KS4 courses where there is great pressure on teachers to get the grades, in which learners have been given the criteria for success, and as long as they complete all the stages of a simple and often tedious task, and provide the evidence that they have done so, their job is done. Challenging it may be, but more about the challenge of survival than the challenge of an engaging activity.
What is the constraint? Challenge can be increased by constraint, and can often result in higher quality outputs than asks involving too much choice. Producing a dramatised summary of Twelfth Night to be delivered in 12 minutes, could very well result in higher quality work than “Write a summary of Twelfth Night”.
What creative demand is there? Are the learners expected to devise their own solutions or create something with the results of their work?