5. Helping pupils master important concepts, knowledge and skills – Part 2

This session will take approximately 35 minutes to complete.

Session overview

In module 3 you learnt about other teaching practices which will help pupils to master important concepts, knowledge and skills. We are now going to revisit them and consider how they can be incorporated in the context of curriculum design.

This session will focus on:

  • Revisiting classroom practice

Revisiting classroom practice: Activity

Take some time now to review the following content from module 3:

In these sessions you learnt about how to support pupils to gradually build pupils’ knowledge throughout a lesson, but the same principles apply to a learning objective that may need to extend over a series of lessons.

You were introduced to how you could use teacher input, guided practice and independent practice to help pupils reach a learning goal. The importance of spending enough time guiding pupil practice (through explanations and modelling) before moving onto independent work was emphasised. You also explored how the use of concrete examples and non-examples can be used to support pupils to understand a more abstract concept.   

Watch the video of either Emily (Primary and Secondary) or Maria (Early Years) talking through how they developed pupils’ knowledge over the course of scheme of work.

Developing pupils’ knowledge throughout a scheme of work – Emily Maule

Video transcript

Scaffolding builds pupils’ skills and confidence and helps them to realise that they can use their prior knowledge to move forwards. I always like to provide some form of scaffold, but as we go through a scheme, the guidance becomes less as pupils build confidence. 

When introducing a new or abstract idea in a scheme of work, I always ensure that these are supported with clear and concrete examples, to support pupils’ understanding. For example, when teaching pupils about a collision plate margin, they learn that two tectonic plates of comparable density collide and buckle. As an abstract concept it makes little sense to pupils learning this for the first time. However, when presented with the cartoon of two cars of similar sizes in a head-on collision, showing both car bonnets crumpling, pupils are then immediately able to understand what is happening with the collision plate margin. And then, knowing that tectonic plates can be imagined as cars in collisions, they then have an understanding of the concept which they can use to predict what might happen at the margin between other tectonic plates.  And I think that sometimes, the more creative you can be with the illustrations, the more likely it is that pupils will remember the illustration. 

Another favourite example from a different scheme is used when teaching about air pressure. Pupils (and teachers!) often find the global atmospheric circulation system difficult to get their head around, with the behaviour of air pressure and the resulting weather particularly challenging. To help illustrate how air pressure affects weather I use an example that always makes pupils laugh and so helps them remember. I’ve even seen pupils discretely re-enacting the illustration in exams! I ask them to imagine they have a puppy on the table in front of them and I ask them to visualise themselves with their hands above the puppy, moving their hands in an upwards direction away from the puppy, as I tell them that their hands represent the air. Following some questioning they can tell me that upwards moving air and the resulting low pressure that is applied to the puppy, makes for unstable weather, as demonstrated by the wriggling and moving puppy. I then ask them to imagine they are applying downward pressure to the puppy and ask them how high pressure will affect the puppy – and usually they are able to say that the puppy will stop moving as much, and so see how high pressure creates stable weather conditions that are not moving or changing. It is a bit of a silly illustration but definitely helps pupils visualise how air pressure affects the weather conditions.

Video script – How have you developed pupils’ knowledge over the course of the scheme of work?

The final version of this video will be available from spring 2021, as the publication of this programme was fast-tracked in response to disruptions to this year’s initial teacher training.

One of the wonderful, but challenging, things about the EYFS is that there is no statutory knowledge that children have to acquire by the age of five. There are some common themes that you will see occurring in most settings e.g. Traditional Tales. Again, it is important to refer to the guidance and see what needs to be taught. For this series of lessons, I not only wanted to support pupils’ English development but also link that to their development of Understanding the World, specifically, “they know about similarities and differences between themselves and others, and among families, communities and traditions.” It was important, therefore, to provide opportunities to explore both the text itself and the context within which it was written. I chose this this text due to the large proportion of Ghanaian students within my class group and was fortunate enough to be able to draw upon their families’ experiences who provided support and personal accounts of the country and its culture. 

For a large proportion of students, this topic, along with most others, presented them with new ideas and information that they hadn’t previously encountered; some of them were slightly more abstract. It was therefore really important to ensure that there were as many concrete examples as possible in this story. In the context of ‘The Leopard’s Drum’ we used music to explore the ‘huge, magnificent drum’ and share ideas as to why it would have been so popular among the other animals. Creating opportunities to make these cross curricular links also extended the children’s schema enabling more chances for retrieval and recall. This was also done by sharing videos and images of Ghana itself to explore animals in their natural habitat which was useful as we had previously studied ‘Handa’s Surprise’ which had some similar animals as characters but provided opportunities to compare and contrast two African countries. 

One of the key objectives of this lesson series was to be able to re-tell the story. There was therefore a lot of scaffolding that was put in place at the start of the week i.e. a story map. This scaffolding empowered students with the confidence they needed initially, and then as the week went on, I gradually removed the scaffold until all students were able to confidently retell the story independently.


Now review your scheme of work, considering the questions below:

  • With a focus on your learning objectives, where do you need to build in time for teacher input, guided practice and independent practice?
  • Where would it be helpful to interleave concrete examples and non-examples to support pupils’ understanding of an abstract concept?

Prepare to share your evolving scheme of work with your mentor.

Related ECF strands

Subject and curriculum

3f. Discussing curriculum design with experienced colleagues and balancing exposition, repetition, practice of critical skills and knowledge.

3l. Interleaving concrete and abstract examples, slowly withdrawing concrete examples and drawing attention to the underlying structure of problems.