‘Research’ based activities for learning


I am currently reading this book:


I thought that I knew quite a lot about memory and understanding (chapter 1) however, I’m pleasantly surprised to have learnt some new things which I can see impact my teaching. In particular I have been thinking about a part of it that says:

“activities which prompt learners to think about and process meaningful information should be encouraged” p12

This is important as it reduces the chance of the isolation of information which is easily forgotten. If students can link their learning it adds to their schema of knowledge and in turn has a better chance of staying in their long-term memory.

It then lists a few examples of how this might be done. I already do some of these and I have always thought they’ve been useful for particualr parts of the specification. This blog is for me to process these ideas and think how they might be practically applied to the classroom and hopefully improve my practice.  These are some further thoughts.


Making Links

The quickest and easiest ways of doing this is to ask students what they already know about X, knowing that you’re going to teach them about Y, which is in someway linked.

  • I start most lessons with a quick 1-10 of prior learning ( a mixture from a long time ago, a while ago and recent lessons). I will deliberately ask them questions in this that I know links to the topic that lesson.
  • Comparing concepts also encourages students to make links. I like using double bubble maps for this.
  • Venn diagrams can also help make links and connections
Suggestions for GCSE RS – compare: Sunni/Shi’a, angels (Islam/Christianity), Life after death (Islam/Christianity), Sacraments (denominations), Just war/Holy war



  • Having a set of cards with keywords/ideas on a particular topic is useful (the dreaded card sort). Students can then sort them into the categories given or decided by themselves. Sometimes I give them a set of cards and get them to decide how to organise them (if I don’t have a specific outcome in mind but just engagement with the concept)
  • Alternatively, a set of images could be used on the cards.
  • Mindmaps ( or simpler spider diagram) – creating a mindmap of a topic can help them pull together a whole topic and can see how things link up. The branches of a mindmap are essentially categories within the overall topic. The more they can do independently the better. However I often do a whole class start where I ask the group what might be the better initial branches. This gives everyone the starting framework to add information. Mindmaps also help with making links as lines can be drawn between items that connect.Consider the best time for a mindmap. At the start of a topic and then add to it? at the end? a while after the topic to help with retreival pratice?
Suggestions for GCSE RS – set of images of different types of punishment, which are acceptable in Islam/Christianity? Why?,  set of cards with quotes from Jesus, which can be applied to war? 


  • The same resources for categorising can be used for this. The difference is that students use the cards and put them into some sort of hierarchy e.g importance, influence, strength of argument, priority, frequency
  • Diamond nine – this forces students to create a differently weighted hierarchy. They have to choose a ‘top’ idea which can sometimes be difficult.
Suggestions for GCSE RS – This type of activity could be really useful for analysis of  reasons in evaluating arguments for the new GCSE.
Examples –  set of cards with reasons for abortion, which might a Muslim/Christian believe is most-least acceptable? set of cards with the events of Jesus’s life on, which were the most important? set of cards on the death penalty, which would be the strongest/weakest arguments?
Students could also complete the task from a faith perspective e.g from the point of view of a Christian, which teaching/belief would be most important when considering euthanasia?

diamond 9


The important aspect of all of these activities is that students have to think;think for themselves. They have to process the information they have in front of them. In my opinion, this is reduced if they work in a group or even a pair. If you’re not careful, one student can dominate and allow others to take a back seat. It’s the thinking process that matters so where possible these should be done alone.

They should be used sparingly and appropriately. Imagine walking into every lesson and having a card sort. It’s one of those things that should be used when you want students to be able to process the knowledge not just an easy lesson filler/time waster.

Thirdly, giving them the chance to explain their choices is very important. This can be done through written work, teacher questioning, paired/group work or as a whole class discussion. Again, the more the emphasis is put onto their own justification the more they have to engage with the content; they can’t just copy somebody else.

Finally, it is essential that the most time is spent on the processing of the information and not on the peripherals of the activity. For example, colouring a mind map or cutting out pieces of card are not a good use of learning time. The strength of these come from the cognitive process not on aesthetics or practicalities.


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