My awful lessons

This has been blogged about elsewhere:

and I’d like to add my contribution.

I have an embarrassment of riches from which to choose.


1. Ask the expert.

This had been suggested to me on my PGCE and I had been dying to try it out. Teach a topic, get the children to put together questions to ‘test an expert’ then invite one of them up to the front to be the expert. In doing so, the children allegedly test their own knowledge and someone gets to show off what they’ve learned.

What could possibly go right?

I can’t remember the exact topic but it was something related to prime factorisation. The first question – seared into my brain – was “What is the prime root of five?”. I tried to explain to the class that the ‘expert’ wasn’t doing badly but rather, this was a meaningless question but of course, I couldn’t be heard over the heckling. I struggled vainly onwards but the lesson was a washout. Sorry Year 10.

I never tried it again although remained convinced for some time that it hadn’t worked because I had done it badly, rather than because it was a bad idea.


2. Paper aeroplanes.

The topic: speed.

I was determined not to teach this via speed/distance/time triangles (which was how the textbook wanted it done) and knowing they had already covered this topic a bit in science (I didn’t bother to investigate just how much), I decided that the way to keep the students enthused was to spend a whole lesson in the hall attempting to design a paper airplane that would travel the furthest (I timed it so they could work out its speed).

Paper everywhere, which for some reason I didn’t get them to tidy up themselves so I had to do it after school.

And because that wasn’t enough, I had them spend a second lesson creating posters explaining what they had done and which plane had won. They did give the speed of their craft on each poster but no further maths was involved.

Sorry Year 9. You were a lovely class and I wasted your time.


3. The geography lesson (in my training year)

I wanted the children to practise reading and interpreting information from different kinds of graphs (please note, this was not a revision lesson, they had not yet covered how to read all the types of graph I intended to use. My plan was for some sort of learning-by-immersion).

I spent hours collating statistics on a variety of countries (literacy rate, birth rate, life expectancy, hours of sun, income etc) and getting the information into the requisite different graphs. Realising as I was preparing the resource that at least some of them would not yet be able to read pie charts, I had written the percentages into each section, thus basically nullifying the point. I put the children into groups, gave them a mystery country each, told them to read the graphs and put together a report to persuade me that I should move there. At the end of the lesson, I revealed which country they had been working with.

Did they learn anything more about reading different types of graphs? I doubt it. I didn’t test them before or after to find out either.

What will they have remembered from the lesson? Probably that it was ‘the time we persuaded Mrs Treen to move to Zimbabwe’.

I repeated a version of this lesson for an official observation, did very well and was told “What do outstanding teachers do? They take risks” and so walked off with the message that I should be doing more of this.


Honourable mentions:

  • the time I decided writing on the whiteboard was ‘boring’ and wrote on the windows instead. Ten minutes in, some students very politely pointed out that it was difficult to read. Confident that the extra engagement was worth any other loss, I pressed on.
  • the time I decided to jazz up proof to a sixth form class by doing it on the floor with post its and string. Not everyone could see the work the right way but they were engaged, right?
  • the time I ‘taught’ plotting points to Year 7 by making human sized graphs and placing the students as points. Not everyone could see, not everyone was trying to, we made a lot of noise disturbing the room next door, and I then taught the topic properly the next lesson.


Don’t do it like I did.



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