Not Kegel, Kagan!

A slight double-take, as I mistake the topic of this week’s professional studies lecture for those exercises your pilates teacher makes you do, using obscure motivational phrases like ‘Zip and lock, darlings! Zip and lock!’

‘No, not Kegel, Kagan!’ whispers a fellow student helpfully, and, confusion sorted, we settle down to learn all about the ‘revolutionary approach to teaching’ developed by Dr Spencer Kagan of the University of California and brought to us today by Sarah Martin of The Challenger Multi-Academy Trust in Chelmsford.

Kagan promises great things: ‘instructional strategies designed to promote cooperation and communication in the classroom, boost students’ confidence and retain their interest in classroom interaction.’ After spending the morning taking part in live demonstrations of Stand Up, Hand Up, Pair Up; Timed Pair Share; and Rally Robin I am excited to get back to school to try these collaborative structures with my own classes.

Madly scribbling all over my lesson plans for the morning, I arrive at school on Friday prepared to go straight in with Rally Write Robin as a starter with my year 10s. We are three lessons in to Romeo and Juliet, and I want to know how much they can remember about the Elizabethan context we covered on Monday. You know, the usual cheery stuff about public executions, bear baiting, and young girls being carted off to marry whomsoever their fathers say they should. Today, instead of the usual ‘beach ball of knowledge’ or ‘quiz quiz trade’, we would work in pairs to complete a Rally Write Robin.

Preparation was very quick – just a simple A4 table laid out with A and B at the top, and they were off, taking turns to write down a key fact and racing to see who could fill the sheet first. Rather than the only active person being the one answering my oral question, pretty much every student was busy. A couple got off to a false start, filling in what they could remember about themes and characters as well as context, but the beauty of it was, that I could walk around the room, quickly sort out any such misconceptions and spot at a glance who was struggling to remember and who was racing ahead. The simple table format was better than a blank sheet, because it forced both students in the pair to take part. After about 5 minutes, one team were declared winners and we went through a few of the main points as a class. Several students asked to keep the sheet for revision. So far, so good!

Use of Kagan in the next lesson was more ambitious. The objective was for my year 8s to produce a piece of extended written work exploring structure in the opening chapters of the class novel. I wanted to use the Kagan structure for group tasks, to build up an answer as a class, before writing it individually. This took a bit more organisation, but a couple of keen students turned up early and helped me to rearrange the desks into groups of four or five. After a quick ‘think – pair -share’ about the opening line of the novel, each group was asked to assign their team members to the following roles, according to their talents:


One of the things that had made such an impression on me during the training session was the clarity of Sarah Martin’s explanation. I tried hard to emulate this with my class, taking time to make each team member stand up in turn, and for one person to repeat back to me what their specific role was. Once I was confident that they all knew exactly what they were doing, I gave each group a specific page number to analyse and report back on. Phew, the starter, the grouping and the explanation had eaten up almost 25 minutes of the 60 minute lesson!

But they were off, all busily searching, discussing, describing, drafting, questioning and arguing. Did it take a lot longer than it would have done to do it in the usual way? Probably. But it did seem to get all the students actively involved. Once they came to report back, the information presented allowed us to build up notes as a class which would give them the material for a really thorough analysis of the way the opening of the novel was structured. The down side? Well, we ran out of time to complete the individual written answer… However, I am quietly confident that they went away with everything they needed to complete it at home. More importantly, there were no passengers in the class, everyone had been involved in active learning.

On reflection, I will certainly be sticking with Kagan structures to engage and motivate students, and look forward to trying more this week. I think my students will thank me for it!

Jenny, English trainee teacher, Greensward Academy