Revisiting thinking frames

It is some years since I was introduced to a particular writing frame structure, developed by a group called the AstraZeneca Science Teaching Trust, supported I think by Hampshire CC and by the University of Southampton, (for details see It was specifically designed to help students (KS2 or KS3) write longer accounts of science observations, and to reach higher National Curriculum levels of comprehension, modelling and analysis. I have used it with older students too.

An example will make it easier to explain, and I should say, this is how I have modified the original model over the years. First activity is to show students an event with a surprising and/or dramatic outcome. My example today is the flying teabag experiment, there is a video for those who are not familiar with this simple demonstration. I think the method could be useful in subjects other than science, but I’ll stick with one I know well to begin with.

Students watch (or perform) the activity, and then draw three (cartoon) pictures to summarise the sequence of events. While they are drawing I collect vocabulary they might use to describe or explain what they have seen, and write it on the IWB. Usually every member of the class can be asked to contribute at least one word. Then the students use the words to label their diagrams (I usually set a minimum requirement). If students offer extra vocabulary I add it to the board. I ask the students to write sentences, first to describe what they saw happen, then to explain. I challenge individuals to add explanations at greater levels of complexity (in terms of the movement of particles/air molecules, explaining how the density equation is relevant, linking to ideas of forces and flotation). The final task is to change their sentences into a logical paragraph, this is often an out of lesson assignment. Assessment for learning is built into the activity, as teacher I can applaud what is achieved while specifying what is needed to improve.

As it is, this is an engaging lesson that results in real learning. How to develop it with the resources we now have in the classroom? First the vocabulary list on the IWB can be sent as a PDF to class members. I find that many ask permission to photograph it anyway. All our students now have iPads, so they can video experiments. As on the video I have posted on Vimeo (link below) students can use Explain Everything to add labels, still photographs and commentary. The commentary could replace the final paragraph or be an addition. My plan in the coming year is to have students collate all their digital work in an ebook. So they will be able to add the completed video, and the feedback it receives, as they build the ebook in CBB.

Differentiation is built into the process, whether we use NC levels as in the original scheme, or other criteria. Individuals can be challenged to more critical thinking, and employment of more sophisticated concepts during the ‘writing sentences’ stage and in afL. Whether students draw cartoons or edit their own videos their is plenty of scope for creativity. As the exercise stands the collaborative process is in the classroom. Communication skills are enhanced as students are encouraged to use correct technical vocabulary and to create complete sentences and longer passages.

Here is the Vimeo link: (here is the URL if the link fails

Other Physics activities that would be suitable: candle under balloon half-ful of water, sparkler on electric drill, bromine diffusion in air and into vacuum, candle floating at oil/water interface, raisins in sparkling water ‘lava lamp’.


About lifelonglearner

Teacher in Southern England enthusiastic about exploring ways to learn and teach, and evangelistic about sharing them. Specialism is Physics, but that's just a useful starting point.
This entry was posted in education and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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 )

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s