An English Teacher's Toolbox

An English teacher at a Secondary School in the UK. * Sharing and questioning the day job. * I teach KS3/4/5.
* Looking for inspiration and motivation, to share with others. * Looking to constantly improve and grow. * On Twitter at @MissBex_M *
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Something we’ve focused on in recent department meetings is how we, as individual class teachers, can reduce the amount of ‘teacher talk’ that’s happening.

Our acting HoD set us an interesting challenge before half term, to record the amount of time we ‘teacher talk’ in 6, 1 hour lessons. We then had to reflect and consider, a) at which points in the lesson were we talking the most and why? b) how did the pupils’ behaviour change at different points? and c) what strategies might we be able to employ to reduce the talk?

On reflection, I realised that for me the biggest amount of ‘teacher talk’ was at the start of the lesson, where I was setting up the context of the lesson and the task. One way I’ve dealt with this in the last few months is through the use of ‘bell work’ (see earlier post). This strategy enables students to be actively engaged immediately and independently, as the task requires little or no elaborate instruction from the teacher.
Here are 2 recent examples:




Both of these activities allow for complete independence as soon as the pupils enter the room. If they are unsure, I direct them back to the board or to ask their table or teaching assistant (where applicable).

The use of bell work means I can set up the lesson, deal with issues and sort register etc. without eating into the learning time.

Another strategy which has helped me to decrease ‘teacher talk’ is to give very clear, concise instructions visually as well as verbally. This means using the PowerPoint/ Smartboard to support my task instructions clearly. For an example, see below:


The reinforcement of the LOs and clear instruction means that I can spend more time supporting individual students, rather than repeating and reexplaining tasks.

Of course, there are other strategies to employ. For example, you can use students as teachers, or set tasks up so that the ‘dialogue’ is in the style of verbal football. But I’m interested in other ideas.

What strategies do you see as useful in cutting ‘teacher talk’ and increasing the pupils’ time spent engaged in independent activity?


1. Don’t have a full time job. If you are to teach a perfect lesson, then the first thing you must ensure is that you are not a full time teacher. Full time teachers haven’t got the time to teach perfect lessons. It’s only gurus who can do this because gurus don’t have pigeonholes to check.



Nothing amazing to report, except that tonight we stayed for a 2.5 hour
INSET on Safeguarding children. The Children’s Act sets out a range of parameters that are relevant to schools and it was interesting to hear and discuss the impact we make as teachers.

The Children Act 1989 is designed to help keep children safe and well. If necessary, it helps a child to live with their family by providing services appropriate to the child’s needs.

Local councils have a duty to provide services to ‘children in need’ if these services will help keep a child safe and well.

A ‘child in need’ may be:

  • disabled (for a definition of disability see the Children Act 1989 link)
  • unlikely to have, or to have the opportunity to have, a reasonable standard of health or development without services from a local authority; or
  • unlikely to progress in terms of health or development; or
  • unlikely to progress in terms of health or development, without services from a local authority

Local councils must identify the extent of need in their area and make decisions about levels of service they provide.

There are also the child protection issues within this, which encourages the identification and reporting of suspected abuse.

It all certainly made me think about ‘little Johnny’ who misses a lot of lessons and doesn’t say boo-to-a-goose when he’s in…

Teaching is a profession that allows you to constantly research, reflect and develop your skills and knowledge - one of the best things about this job! Last September, I vowed to try and read a little more on the aspects of our profession and to try new things; I hadn’t read anything since NQT year! I discovered that there is plenty out there to enjoy, learn from - and even laugh out loud at!

Here are some books I recommend from PGCE/ NQT, that are still useful now:

  • 'How to Teach' by Phil Beadle.
    Amazon review: “This book cuts through all the rubbish and helps you to prioritise on what is important and what you need to do to get your children engaged and learning. There are plenty of short-cuts to help, inspire and guide you through the first year and you and you may even find yourself laughing out loud at the familiar antics of the children, SLT, OfStead inspectors and the stressed out teachers, which I had become one of them.
  • 'The Lazy Teacher's Handbook' by Jim Smith.
    Amazon review: "Truly, this is a breath of fresh air. Jim Smith’s book gives permission to teachers to step back and delight in the opportunities for learning that they create. This book provides a practical, real and valuable set of tried and tested approaches that allow teachers to let the learning flow from and with the students."

  • 'Teaching Today: A Practical Guide' by Geoff Petty.
    Amazon Review: “This book was definitely a revelation. Fantastically planned and very easy to read, it has been the a definite staple of my reference diet since the start of the academic year. It provides handy tips and ideas on dealing with students and looks at the psychology behind the whole event without once sounding patronising or condescending in any way.
    If you are new to education - especially further education which has a dearth of resources - this is invaluable. If you buy no other book for your educational career, you need to buy this!”

  • 'Essential Teaching Skills' by Chris Kyriacou.
    Amazon Review: "…. I have found this book invaluable, both for new and trainee teachers in clearly outlining essential aspects of classroom practice, and for experienced teachers as a reminder of those essential aspects in an engaging and refreshing way"

  • 'How to be a Brilliant Teacher' by Trevor Wright.
    Trevor Wright was my PGCE Secondary English Tutor - his advice has continued to work for me, 4 years on. He also has similar books for ‘Trainee Teachers’, ‘English Teachers’ and ‘Mentors’.

  • 'Guerilla Guide to Teaching: The Definitive Resource for New Teachers' by Sue Cowley.
    Amazon Review: "Cowley includes the transcripts of extensive interviews with all different types of people working in education, from student teachers to managers and representatives from teaching unions, which makes it realistic and very practical.

    The book is split into clearly defined sections, comprising questions and answers from Cowley’s own experience, interviews and bullet pointed lists which make it easier to dip into. There are detailed case studies of planning […] blank planning sheets for you to adapt. […] the most complete guide I have come across for those starting in teaching or those already involved in education”

    Hopefully this list is of some use to you! x

Well, actually, no. All is not quiet!

It is the night before the GCSE results are officially available to students across the UK, and tonight there will be sleepless nights aplenty - and that’s just the teachers!

I, like many other Secondary/ High school teachers, will be thinking about the consequences of the results my class achieves, and the results of my school as a whole. Will a reduction in A*-C pass rate bring Ofsted back in? Will my department have to start reporting on a weekly basis how many ‘milli-points’ of progress we’ve achieved with little Katie this week?

Just what will tomorrow’s results mean?…

Well, sadly this is something that shows our society has lost focus, somewhat. Tomorrow’s results should be about my class, those individuals - what they deserved and what they wanted, and importantly what that means for them now. Some of them want to stay on at Sixth Form, others can’t wait to leave and go to…yes you guessed it….college. While many - ‘have had enuff’.

Yet, the media will no doubt focus on ‘how easy the exams have become’ and how ‘little effort is required by the teacher and pupil’ to achieve that grade A.

What the media, society - and actually many parents - don’t realise is that us teachers give blood, sweat and tears to get little Mikey through Y9,10 and 11 with a grade C at the end. Mikey doesn’t care; he wants to play football with his mates and tell you to ‘shut up’ on a regular basis. Whereas, Lucy wants more than anything to get a B grade and is unlikely to scrape a C - no matter how hard she tries and no matter how much her parents want it!

It’s all hugely unfair and it’s extremely stressful. How do we cope? What do we do to push ourselves through it, year after year - keeping up with the changing hoops?

Well - we do it because tomorrow most of my class will get what they deserve, hopefully. If I’m lucky, they’ll get what they’re predicted. They’ll get accepted to sixth form or college. They’ll get enough to start an apprentice at the local mechanics or beauty room - and that, that will be enough of a reward.

I wish you all good luck!

A little bit about #TeachFirst…

Teach First’s mission is to address educational disadvantage by transforming exceptional graduates into effective, inspirational teachers and leaders in all fields.

Educational disadvantage remains one of the most destructive and pervasive problems in the UK – perpetuating inequality and confining thousands of young people up and down the country to a life of unrealised potential.

The charity Teach First is a powerful movement founded to directly address the problem of educational disadvantage…

All those in education - please stand up for yourselves and for fellow colleagues! Stop the UK Government from destroying the teaching profession. Instead, sign the petition to show that the ….

government should make it a legal requirement that any person supervising, covering and teaching classes in England must hold QTS.

Thank you


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Doing English at GCSE? Exams are coming up! Revision, help, advice, tips :)