Samantha Torr – Teaching in schools with Social Distancing

I had the fortunate (and a currently rare) opportunity last week, to observe a wonderful trainee teaching a bubble group with social distancing. It was great to see more students return to school, although the levels of ability were vast and the normal methods we use as teachers to engage and the use of Kagan activities, the value of paired and group activities are now more challenging with social distancing in place.

What are the opportunities?

There are lots of opportunities to build resilience, develop confidence and oracy skills within our young learners. As teachers it is the opportune time, to encourage our students to be brave and highlight the ever more importance of the ‘can do’ attitude and entrepreneurial creative spirit.

Curriculum Considerations

Heads of department and faculties will need to consider identifying which individuals/groups of students might have the biggest gaps and where they will be within catch up plans. IE: who did not have access to technology during the lockdown, who did not engage with the remote learning activities, vulnerable and family circumstances should also be taken into account. Medium term targets should be linked to learning outcomes in the schemes of work. From the schemes of work it would be a good exercise to decide and highlight the key concepts that are essential to be taught and run through the curriculum. Mary Myatt suggests to heads of departments “to decide what is essential to re-teach and let the rest go; recap within 2/3 weeks only and she recommends knowledge organisers (a matt with essential knowledge)”.




Diagnostic testing, low stakes assessment activities such as multiple choice questions and personal learning checklists can help to identify confidence levels and identify gaps in knowledge. Quick quizzes can allow students could explain a concept in their own words. Suggestion – each student could have their own pack of white boards, abcd cards, traffic light cards in a plastic zipped wallet.

Save yourself time and use the displays around your classroom to support AFL and plenaries. Have a challenge wall of generic questions. Number them and you can ask students to consider that particular question during the lesson or in the plenary.


Scaffolding, Misconceptions & Cognitive Load

Scaffolding and ensuring clear explicit descriptions and explanations are important on return and during teaching online learning. Ensure that you design lessons to ensure early successes for students to build their confidences. Link your learning outcomes with success criteria to support students understanding. Feedback at interims and at the end of key activities will help to build upon learning during catch up periods. Plan your feedback, decide if you are going to do this for individual students, groups, or ask them to set their own targets in relation to shared success criteria.


Pre-empting misconceptions will help to build confidence in students. They may be feeling nervous to contribute to whole class discussions and exposed in the initial stages. Planning how to deal with the misconceptions through modelling and questioning will support more of the students and build confidence. The use of analogies are a great way to identify misconceptions with higher ability learners.



 Model, Model and Model

When modelling make it explicit for lower ability learners, apply cognitive load techniques. For example, tailor lessons according to students existing knowledge and skills. Use worked examples to teach new content, gradually increase independent problem solving, and cut out non-essential information and graphics, which do not directly relate to the topic. Use powerpoints, ensure all the essential information is presented together. Get students to use their imagination and visualise concepts. Use visual aids where possible, easy descriptions and highlight key words and concepts. For higher ability students you could use more challenging texts or vocabulary or allow them to develop or consider differing perspectives.



Literacy development is one of the key factors in social mobility and life success for students. Consider setting reading homework’s. Perhaps consider setting up a ‘reading buddy’ scheme across the school so that students can read together or answer questions on the reading together using virtual methods.

Reminders of engaging ideas that can be used in teaching during times of social distancing.


  • Edward de Bono’s thinking hats – Each student in the class can be assigned a role and white boards or use of questioning to share ideas within a social distance class.

  • Teacher demonstrations – ask students to have roles in observing the demonstration and feedback what they see and have learnt. Some could have roles suggesting ways of improving demonstrations/modelling or changing the methods.

  • Use learning objectives and ask students to frame and ask questions to you as the teacher. This can be used as a starter. You can ask them to hold the questions and throughout the lessons they feedback at points to see if they can answer them. This can develop higher order thinking.

  • At the end of the lesson you can ask them what questions they still have. They can research for homework and present findings as a starter in the next lesson.

  • Diamond 9 activities – consider numbering them and students can use white boards to rank items to save time.

  • Mix and Match activities – label with numbers and letters for students to match to save time and check on white boards.

  • Mix and Match Scenarios – Write the scenario and the outcome. Ask students what might have happened. This can evoke whole class discussion.

  • Odd one out – visual ideas (can be adapted to abilities – perhaps 3 stepped versions) Great to recall or classifying. Also to discuss cause effect and solutions.

  • Pictionary/Catchphrase – good warm up task and support vocab

  • Mysteries – plan your narrative or story. Open up possibility of different scenarios. For example, in food the mystery could be ‘what caused the food poisoning?.

  • Pecha Kucha – display 20 pictures (no words) and students discuss what they might mean – what they are showing/learning from them.

  • Word race – students race to tell the teacher as many words they don’t Then go through them as a class.

  • Structured whole class debates – assign roles to students to present the introduction, propositions, rebuttal, conclusion.

  • Use of SMART phones – if your school allows, you could use kahoot and learning support for research .

  • Create memes

  • – has a great app for languages.

  • Podcasts – students can make their own podcasts of knowledge they need to know for homework

  • Create rhythm or movements standing at their desks to help support memory of learning concepts. I used this method for finance calculations in business studies to support students with exams. Using a clap rhythm could also help some learners.

  • Use brain gym to help enhance memory, allows more oxygen to the brain and support kinaesthetic learners.

  • Use of smells to create multisensory input

  • Role play – charades, creating mimes, freezes, monologue, short verbal play with assigned roles

  • Verbal football – tests knowledge and understanding. Teacher questions – students have 5 seconds to answer. They retain possession if they answer correctly. 3 correct answers and it’s a goal. Incorrect and it goes to the opposition.

  • Whole class lyrics/word games

  • Broken pieces – there is a problem to be solved or a code to be cracked, sequences to be decided or decision to be made. Each student is given a piece of information. They are not allowed to leave their seats, they have to piece together through verbal contributions only.

  • Beat the teacher – students spot the teachers mistakes and correct them as they are modelling.

  • To support those with learning difficulties instructions or the lesson can be displayed in a flow chart, pictures/diagrams, list of key words, timeline or clock face.

  • Record key teaching points – that way if a student misses it or needs a reminder – it will save you time in explanation.

  • Rally robin – whole class. Can adapt to also decide on consensus.

  • Use the Kagan cooperative roles within an activity. (