Wednesday, 10 April 2013

GCSE Revision - 'Tip of the Iceberg'

Earlier in the year, late January, I observed a 'literacy exhibition lesson' that one of our school's English ASTs put on for teachers to attend if they were free and able to do so.

As literacy across the curriculum is a key push by our school this year there have a been a number of these lessons put on by our ASTs and I this is the 1st post of the lessons I have observed and will write about.
Another pull to observe this lesson is that the class that were being taught included a few of my Y11 class, some of which I had, at the time, only recently started to teach after our sets were changed due to recent examination results. So, I had the added bonus of seeing some of my students in another lesson, which I have found extremely useful in the past - how they act/react to a different teacher/subject etc.

The lesson itself was about the class revising for their English GCSE examinations and answering a GCSE question, focusing on structuring an answer and also on analytical skills.

The lesson started with an image of an iceberg of the board. The teacher asked what they could see on the board. This lead to a discussion on the 'tip of the iceberg' and how this was the 'explicit' part of a GCSE question - what it's literally telling/asking you to do. The rest of the iceberg, and majority, was the implicit part of the GCSE question, what is being implied by the question and what is it you need to do/show that they're not actually telling you in order to answer the question.

For example if you saw a question involving an image of a triangle and the question said 'Find x' you would explicitly be asked to work out the missing value of the length of the triangle marked x. What could be implied is that you need to use Pythagoras' Theorem in order to do this.

The lesson then continued to look at some images and the teacher asked the class what was implied by the images. One of the images was of a red rose. The suggestions the class came back with were: danger, love, death, anger, fragility, pride (the English rugby team's logo), beauty etc. Lots of areas here for discussion with each that were explored as the teacher questioned why they had chosen their given suggestion. What was key to this activity is the teacher used a lot of encouraging language to entice the students; 'there are no wrong answers', 'you're not wrong', your opinion can never be wrong' were just some of the phrases that were used.
The teacher then asked how they explain what is beneath the surface and then referred the class to a flipchart which had a load of analytical vocabulary. The class would later be looking out for this vocab in a written answer to the question they would then be asked to answer themselves.

After this, the teacher showed the class an image of a burger and used it to symbolise the stages in structuring an essay answer. The bun was the 'point' they were making, the burger/filling would then be the 'quote' the students would use to back up their point and then the other bun was their 'comment' explaining their point. This was when the exam question ('how does John Agard use imagery in Flag to present attitudes to conflict') was showed on the IWB and the teacher, having given a copy out to each student, asked them to highlight the 3 parts of the example answer and then highlight any analytical language that was used within the answer. This was key to setting the class up to then write their own answer to the question, or (quite nicely) another question of their choosing from the same poem they were studying. There was a brief 'it's quiet work now' before the class then got on with writing their own answers to the question/their chosen question. After the class were given time to do this they were welcomed to read out their answers and students were asked to listen out for their analytical vocabulary.

Whilst the class were working, and throughout the lesson, I was thinking of how I can get the lesson into one of my Mathematics lessons, something that being a Mathematics teacher doesn't necessarily come naturally! I've always thought that getting literacy into a Mathematics lesson is as difficult as getting numeracy into an English lesson!

However, I related everything the teacher did to the Mathematics GCSE paper. Sometimes students fall short as they do not understand what the question is asking them to do. This is often the case where you see questions that just give an equation and say 'Solve'. That is the only information the student is given - to solve the equation. But how? How do they solve the equation, what do they need to do...this is what is implied by the question by what sort of equation they are given. This is what I wanted to look at with my Y11 class and so I thought about 'the tip of an iceberg'...

I decided that I would simply, like in the above observed lesson, start my lesson by showing the class an image that they are likely to see in a GCSE examination paper -  right-angled triangle. From this I started to think of all the things the class could be asked to do and same up with this double sided piece of A3 paper...(the possibilities are seemingly endless, but did my students know this?)

It took me a while to sit down and think of all the possible questions/topics that could involve a right-angled triangle, I was surprised by how many possibilities/variations there could be...just from a right-angled triangle!
'Front and back'!

Having planned all the different things I could cover with the class in the lesson I started to put together a notebook file using the topics I felt the class would need to revise. Here are the initial few slides I showed the class...

This was my 'starter' slide. The amount of things the class suggested in terms of what they may be asked to do (what was implied/suggested by the image) were fantastic. It was also a way of me asking certain questions to gauge what they may have already known about certain topics

I used the 'tip of the iceberg' image the teacher used in the lesson I observed to show some continuity across the school to those students we both teach. I used this opportunity to praise those students in the lesson for their answers in the literacy lesson.
This is one of the slides I used to see if the class knew what they would be asked to do (explicitly stated in the exam question, i.e. rotate the shape 90 degrees about the point (1, 2)) Then, ask them what that implied they'd need to do? i.e. use their knowledge of coordinates and rotations - how do they rotate a shape?  etc
I then, after their suggestions as to what they may be asked to do, and then how they would do it, what they might need to use etc I revealed all the different things they could be asked to do with the image/question presented

I then gave the class some questions involving working out the perimeters/areas of triangles using Integers, decimals, fractions - these questions would test whether they would be able to multiply/add decimals and fractions - something that would be implied by the question just by the values they are given.

Finally, for the 'plenary' of the lesson, I showed the class this slide and gave them each a piece of A3 paper to fill in a 'mind map' style revision sheet based on the image I showed them right at the start of the lesson. They then would take this home and finish it off for 'homework'/their own revision.
I have added this, and a similar 'circles' tip of the iceberg resource to my TES resources for anybody to download (get them both, in the same resource, here) if they feel this may be something that would suit their classes. Both slides include loads of different topics/images to see what the class would glean from them.
I found this to be an excellent way of finding out what students might already know/not know on a given topic that was suggested from the original image shown at the start of the lesson. Then in the lesson itself, using the carefully planned activities, I was able to see if they knew lots of other facts/information by asking them to work with fractions, decimals, percentages (for higher students - surds) etc.
Hopefully, it also enabled my students to interpret the examination questions better too, looking for all the information in the question to help them understand what it may be that they are being asked to do - what the question is implying.
Let me know if you use the resource, if you make any amendments to it or have done something similar. Thanks to 'JB' for his lesson mentioned above, it provided me with the inspiration to create the resources for my own lessons, and hopefully has helped me build in literacy to my Mathematics lessons?!


  1. I am very impressed with your blogs! Really enjoying all your ideas. Do you have this iceberg powerpoint available online? I am also looking to 'magpie' your Maths passport too! Feel very inspired!

  2. Hi 'jbu', here's the link to the 'Tip of the Iceberg' files (notebook)
    Hope they go down well?
    If you need them converted to ppt just ask.