Norwich High School for Girls; A tailored workshop lesson plan#2

(continued from previous post this is a detailing of a 60-minute  workshop presented at Norwich High School for Girls June 9, 2014).

Stage 1: Activating schemata, testing assumptions

Time: 10  minutes
Level: multiple pairs
CLIP: Ladders


After making students aware that this workshop would simulates some of the interdependence, individual accountability and the pressure they would be facing as diplomats – and in their future workplaces in the 21st Century –  we opened with  Ladders.

The objective was to make students aware  of “what you know and what you think you know about education and governance – traditional and modern, East and West” and breaking up friends to create heterogeneous teams to facilitate thinking along new lines. When replicating this lesson, teachers simply ask the questions they would normally pose in open class. (Further discussions on activating schemata and the thoughts on opening an enquiry lesson, see the post The Order of Things).

Ladders – a CELTA classic – consists of students standing in two rows facing each other. They perform a task, and then one line takes a step to move one partner up, last student running to the other end of the line.  As students were grouped in six tables of four,  it was a simple matter to get three tables worth standing against the door, and then let the remaining three tables choose a partner.





The choice of Ladders over alternatives such as Catch1Partner or Carousel in this workshop is simple: Both demand more time and I wanted to quickly get to the core content. In C1P, where students mill about the class and find new partners freely, more time spent on movement and finding the next “best friend”. Also questions posed by the teacher mean those quick to partner up have to wait for the less quick.  A way around this is to put the questions on flashcards or other materials changing hands as discussed in Newsletter no. 1.

Carousel, where two concentric circles face each other, needs a bit of space even if students circle several tables, and is harder to stage. Overlooking a line against a wall is comes easier to students already contending with a new way of working together. Note than flashcards could just as easily be used here.

 Do you think traditional Islamic 

education  was unified or diverse?


Note the distinction between the interaction and the tasks. The objective was to activate and rattle pre-conceptions, so questions included:

  • Do you think Islamic education was was it unified or diverse?” Why?
  • “Is this statement true or false: ‘Pre-modern Islamic education was primarily concerned with memorization of Qur’an’ – discuss!”
  • “The area of which the nation state of Syria now forms a part is a patchwork of ethnic and religious groups, (…) How did the Ottoman empire manage to keep peace in that area for centuries?” 
  • “What is the rationale behind modern mass education?”

After giving them 30 seconds to discuss – which is actually a long time – I’d simply read out an answer (with a source) occasionally after culling responses by asking “What did your partner say?” (To their credit, only one participant out of close to a hundred had not been paying attention).  Many students automatically assumed the Ottomans kept control of the region by brute force, and were surprised at the concept of the milletthe separate legal courts pertaining to personal law under which minorities were allowed to rule themselves.

In one group, which had a slightly late start, I left out some of the answers, leaving the questions hanging to be discovered later in the session. In another, which might potentially have time cut down by the next group coming in, I posed the questions to them as shoulder partners in groups and left them where they were.

Here, it is a key point that for all the apparent structure and timing, every step of the way in Cooperative Learning is instantly adaptable in the classroom at the teachers discretion – sticking to the few ground rules provided by the CLIPs (Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns) will always ensure the defining requirements of Cooperative Learning are in place.

Note also that the given the specific aim here is to activate schemata and thinking, the details of how they understand the questions and concept is secondary. For an example understanding terms such as diverse and unified in the above question on education, some students discussed whether the curriculum was meant, or whether it was more general, the point being that both are valid interpretations, but suit the specific preconception of each student getting a chance to negotiate her own take on each concept and negotiate the meaning.

This blocks the classic danger of Teacher Talk, which is that we often assume students understand what we mean in the way we understand it as they sit starring and taking notes. As pointed out on several occasion the monitoring of though processes in Cooperative Learning is unparalleled. (More on activating schemata is available in The Order of Things).

“Cooperate or Die”

A final benefit of Ladders:  the two rows allow the teacher to neatly slice of teams of four; a natural breakup of the “inbred” teams that form from free choice of seats when students pile into the classroom. When given a choice people naturally gravitate towards known faces, so one may be reasonably sure they ended up with friends, and not the heterogeneous teams we are looking for.


Next post on Stage 2: Read materials, take notes, prepare oral summary


Get notifications of related posts on twitter. is the business end of



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: