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Lesson Ideas

Head to Head

head to head pic

The 'Head to Head' concept is a fun activity for students that works like this: For each question, students compete with the student in their pair. Once presented with the question on the screen, the first student to answer correctly (by writing down their answer and circling it) 'wins' against their partner. Once the answer is revealed by the teacher, the winner 'advances up' a place while the loser goes down a place, with all students moving. There is a 'head table' and a 'tail table', with the pairs of tables forming some kind of order between so that students are clear where to move.

From experience of doing this in practice, I advise the following:

  • Where both students get the question wrong, a very quick 'rock-paper-scissors' is the most non-fuss way of establishing the winner in the pair.
  • The act of circling the answer is what 'declares' it. Students are advised to turn their piece of paper over to avoid other students copying.
  • Where you have an odd number of students, you could have a single person on a 'King/Queen' table. This person won't compete for this round (although are advised to have a go at the question anyway!), but automatically move down for the next round.
  • I ban 'cheering' when students get the question right, to avoid them getting a bit overexcited.
  • Similarly I count down 10 seconds for students to move between rounds.

There are of course some limitations with this concept from a pedagogical basis, notably, lack of opportunity to explain to individuals where they went wrong beyond your explanation to the whole class, and possibly demotivating to sensitive students who keep moving down (although I have not found this to be the case). However the game gets all students engaged and they (on the whole!) love the concept. Credit goes to colleague Mr O'Connell who uncovered the concept a number of years ago.

All resources with Head to Heads are listed below:

'Levelled' Activities

This is a differentiated activity designed to engage students by allowing them to 'progress up a level', and test knowledge and problem solving skills on a particular topic. All students initially start on 'Level 1' (not a curriculum 'level'!). Level 1 questions are designed to be more standard less-problem-solvey questions that test core knowledge and understanding of the topic. Once students finish these questions, they're allowed to approach the teacher to check their answers. The teacher identifies which questions they get wrong (with feedback), giving the student the opportunity to go away and reattempt to subsequently get the correct answer. Upon getting all questions correct, they are given a sheet of Level 2 questions, designed to have a greater degree of problem solving. Level 3 questions are very difficult questions designed to stretch the very most able.

After doing the activity a few times, I decided to stick answers to Level 1 questions on the board where students could check and mark themselves (before requested the Level 2 sheet off me), giving me more time to go around the classroom and help where appropriate.

This kind of format has the potential for allowing less work-conscious students to slip under the radar, so be conscious of this. I generally allow students to work in pairs if they wish.


These activities are for whole class engagement. Students get to choose one of the puzzles (numbered 1 to 8) in a manner similar to the gameshow Blockbusters/Jeopardy. Perfect for interactive whiteboards.

Coloured cards for assessment

Our students have coloured cards at their back of their diary: red, green and orange. While working on exercises, I often get students to put their diaries on their desk with the colour indicating their level of understanding. This is certainly not an original idea, but it works wonderfully effectively and allows me to pinpoint support to struggling students much more easily. Orange is sometimes code for "I really don't get it, but feel awkward putting red", so be wary of this!

Coloured cards for voting

My KS3 slides often contain questions where four options are provided, each coded with a colour. Students are given a few moments to work out the answer before all putting up their corresponding colour at the same time. I insist that students keep their colour secret before revealing simultaneously, as weaker students try to otherwise copy the majority answer of others around the room. Where the wrong answers are chosen appropriately in the slides, this can be quite good at diagnosing key misunderstandings. (www.diagnosticquestions.com by the indefatigable Craig Barton, does this well)

On the odd occasion I avoid using their coloured cards and instead get them to fold a piece of A4 paper into 4 as a sort of 'disposable mini-whiteboard'. Truth be told, in the past I've found mini-whiteboards to be practically cumbersome (pens that don't work, etc.) so tend to avoid.