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A Taste of PEEL - Extracts from PEEL Resources

Some ideas to try

Students don’t contribute ideas 

A key feature of PEEL right from the start has been to encourage students to move away from passive learning. Students are encouraged to try new ideas and develop deeper understanding. The articles below demonstrate this well.


Engagement to Deep Thinking through Visual Cueing by Arthur Firipis

I wanted to stimulate positive learning behaviours amongst my Year 9E Media Studies students by trialling the use of mind maps during teaching and learning and in-class activities. The students were encouraged to move from their seats and add their thoughts to a shared work space on an electronic whiteboard. As student ideas sprang to mind during class, they were encouraged to share them with the wider class by writing them on the whiteboard. Prior to implementing the positive learning behaviour the students were briefed about classroom edict and what is acceptable and unacceptable participation and contribution to the shared work space. I hoped that as the students gained confidence in sharing their ideas on the shared work space that it will lead to intelligent and purposeful deep thinking, where students can draw upon their prior learning experiences and build connections both concrete and abstract during the teaching and learning of media.

What happened?

At first students were reluctant to share their ideas, however after a few weeks the students adopted the shared workspace as their own. There were a percentage of shy students that did not participate, although the need to stretch and have a walk around the room during double periods gave them a legitimate reason to get up. I noticed that while the students were walking to and from the shared workspace, they were interacting about their work and adopting the shared vocabulary.

My role was to facilitate the orderly participation of all students and to act as a coach to prompt the less outgoing students to participate and to monitor the dominant personalities.

The workspace has been a very positive learning tool as I believe the students have begun to work cooperatively, which they were not doing that well at the beginning of the semester.

After a short time with the students, I was thinking that there are some very good opportunities to foster positive learning behaviours as a number of the students were quite settled and keen to learn. Also, another teacher had commented that this group had progressed well in their education in past years and I wanted to build on that eagerness. As this was my first year of teaching, I felt that I would be learning along with my students and so I made this clear to the class at the beginning of the year and I think it helped to build a solid foundation to introduce new ideas in a non-threatening and positive way. I was thinking the shared workspace would provide an informal method for me to reflect upon my own teaching and receive feedback from the students about its effectiveness.

The elements of the event included setting clear expectations for the use of the whiteboard, establishing a classroom routine that included the shared work space, and establishing an effective and safe learning environment whereby students could feel safe to contribute to the shared work space, and the reflection time at the end of each session where students were asked to consider the shared whiteboard space notations.

Student Comments

The shared workspace has helped me to see what others are thinking, which has helped me to sort things out for myself.

I like the idea that I can get up from my table and stretch my legs, while on my way to writing my ideas on the shared workspace board.

I hadn t considered using a mind map as a planning tool to organise my ideas, until this time.


A key PEEL resource is the set of over 200 generic teaching procedures, each designed to stimulate and support specific aspects of quality learning. The articles that describe each of these are highlighted in yellow when you interrogate the database. Rather than being a story from a classroom , they describe the procedure in a way that is intended to show how it could be used in multiple subjects and year levels. What follows is an example.

PEEL Procedure A15 Challenge the right answer

The central act of this procedure is that students are invited to challenge an answer that either the teacher, or a text, or another student has put up as being “correct”. For example, some notes and diagrams about the arrangement of particles in solids, liquids and gases were given to a Year 7 class. The notes, while having no actual errors, did not contain all the ideas that the teacher wished the students to learn and thus did not provide a completely satisfactory explanation for the behaviour and properties of solids, liquids and gases. The students were encouraged to challenge these “right answers” by identifying (with some reason) parts they thought were implausible. They listed questions and challenges that were collated into a class list, such as:

  • If the particles in the desk are vibrating why can’t I feel them?
  • Why doesn’t the hole in a desk fill up?
  • Why doesn’t water leak out between the particles in a cup?

This procedure asked the students to think carefully about the implications of the ideas in the notes and generated a need for further information about particles. The value of the students’ questions in leading to a need for more information was explicitly acknowledged. The fact that the new information came in response to the students challenges provided one way of building a sense of shared intellectual control (PEEL Principle 1); the affirmation of the value of their ideas helped build a classroom environment that supports risk-taking (PEEL Principle 7) and the procedure stimulate student talk that is exploratory, tentative and hypothetical (PEEL Principle 5).

Other examples have involved students challenging interpretive statements about a short story, challenging the way a problem has been solved and challenging how a piece of text had been punctuated – after the students had inserted their own punctuation into an unpunctuated version. An example in History is to challenge how people behaved in the past. This procedure allows students to explore the extent of their content understanding. It also allows them to explore their own views and attitudes. Another reason for using it is that it gives excellent feedback to the teacher about the understandings the students are constructing.

Experience has shown that some students who are not seen as very successful in many traditional tasks can be very good at picking flaws in these correct (albeit incomplete) answers. This success can be very helpful for their intellectual self-esteem (PEEL Principle 4).

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Students don’t link different lessons

Very often students see each lesson as a one off. They don’t link what they are learning one day to what they learned last week. They often fail to see any relevance to real life in what they are learning. What they learn in one subject is not connected to something they learned in another.

PEEL teachers have written many articles about this addressing the Teacher Concerns:  students don’t link different lessons.

In the following article Misja Carbo writes about how he uses analogies to promote understanding and as a way of linking ideas. There is also some useful comment from Professor John Loughran and Dr Ian Mitchell from Monash University.

This article explains how student understanding of science terms can be developed through the use of analogy. In this case, the example of cell organelles is explored with year 7 students. Through the task students come to a stronger sense of the function of the organelles and a more well developed sense of the function of analogy (including limitations) in learning science.

Last year, when teaching Cells and Microscopes in Year 7 I used a common analogy to explain the function and structure of cells. I told my students a cell is a bit like a building block. We also looked at and discussed the function of some organelles within the cell. After the lesson I was thinking about the use of analogies and why we use them and I came up with the following activity.

A traffic light is like a cell membrane?

You might have been told that a living cell is a bit like a brick or building block. A cell is like a building block because cells are joined together to make larger organisms, just like building blocks are joined to make larger structures. We call this kind of comparison an analogy. Analogies are useful, because they can help us to better understand things we cannot easily see or imagine.

Your task is to find analogies for the following organelles:

Nucleus cell membrane cytoplasm chloroplast mitochondrion Vacuole cell wall

– In Word, use clip-art to find pictures to represent your chosen analogy.

– Under each picture write:…….  is like …….. because ………

Use the images and text to produce a mini-poster (one or two pages A4) print it out and submit it by ………

The next lesson I brought in a set of laptops and gave the students the task. They worked on it with great enthusiasm. They worked in pairs, mostly because of limited numbers of computers, but also because I felt that bouncing ideas off each other might lead them to better, more creative solutions. They loved the creative side of the task and many used the internet to increase their range of available clip art pictures. A few even drew their own.

I believe that this was a very useful activity as it forced my students to really think about what each organelle was for and how they might communicate this through an analogy. They were thinking and discussing the topic at a deeper more profound level.

My students and I enjoyed the activity so much that I have now decided to use it again in Year 8 when teaching the structure of blood and the circulatory system. This time I started by saying to my classes: “A capillary is a bit like an extension cord”. And then I asked them why a capillary is a bit like an extension cord. The discussion was immediately interesting and led us to explore the nature and limitations of such an analogy (only 2 students in one of my year 8 s did the original activity in Year 7 last year).

Then I got them to suggest analogies for several structures in the circulatory system along the same lines as the Year 7 activity. This time added: Make your analogies as interesting, far fetched, original, wacky as you like; as long as you can justify your analogy by saying ……..  is like a …….. because ……….

(This article originally appeared in an online blog where teachers participating in the Monash ASISTM (Australian School Innovation in Science, Technology and Mathematics) project posted their teaching strategies. These were then commented on, with further entries, by academics in the Science Education area at Monash University)

John Loughran writes:

As Misja makes clear in this article, the use of analogies immediately changes ways of thinking about teaching. In this case the use of analogies has not only been engaging for the students but also for the teacher too as both have seen new ways of seeing into the content. The use of analogies is one way of encouraging different ways of linking ideas and phenomena as ways of explaining situations.
Misja set out to use analogies to promote thinking; one outcome of this was that what his students wrote in the example he includes gives insights into meanings that students had constructed for what he had taught them that were not what he expected (or wanted). For example, there are important differences between what a turtle shell does for turtles and what cell walls do for cells. Identifying these conceptions is enormously helpful to the teacher.

The way in which analogies influence thinking about a situation means that students – when given the opportunity to create their own analogies – are able to make their own links and to question the content in different ways as the analogy is both a concrete response to the situation and a prompt for alternative thinking

Building a list of the kinds of alternative conceptions that students may construct from teaching a particular piece of science is typically a gradual process – too often we are unaware of these ideas and don’t make allowances for this in our teaching. There is value in a Department building a communal bank of these as well as perhaps ways of both illuminating them in ways that are not embarrassing to students. A Department meeting about the use of analogies, the ones that work well in different content areas and the limitations that they have in terms of how quickly they break down could be a very useful discussion.

Ian Mitchell writes:

There are two important things that Misja did here that are different from merely presenting an analogy to help with an explanation. Firstly, Misja focussed not just on how the target science idea (e.g. capillary) was link the analogy (extension cord), but, just as importantly, how it was NOT like the analogy (e.g. materials are exchanged through the walls of capillaries, not extension cords. This encourages much richer thinking about the science. Secondly, he encouraged them to find offbeat analogies, where presumably only one or two aspects of the analogy are like the target science. This gets students thinking about lots of aspects of the target science.

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Jackie Beckworth in the following article describes how she encourages linking in her subject.

One of the most useful Good learning Behaviours to develop in students is undoubtedly seeking links between:

  • Different activities and ideas
  • Different topics or subjects
  • Schoolwork and personal life.

In Year 10 Maths, we have often spent time looking at links between the topics we are studying. We have drawn Venn diagrams showing the overlap between topics – e.g., Surface Area and Algebra, Graphing and Algebra, etc. We also talk about the topics covered in earlier years and how there has been a big picture, each year putting the building blocks in place. Although this seems obvious to us, it is sometimes a revelation to students.

I have found that the students enjoy their Algebra more as a result of realising its usefulness in so many areas. Quite often, the students suggest that Algebra makes a particular area of work easier and therefore they want to use their knowledge of Algebra. This is a high level Good Learning Behaviour. To suggest an alternative procedure incorporating some strategy learnt elsewhere is powerful stuff!

The other linking which I find most motivating to a Maths student is the linking of their Maths to other subjects. I ask students to report back to me when they find Maths being used in other subjects. I do this on the pretext that I am doing some research and that they would help me if they could be my research assistant, as it were. Students discover the use of arithmetic, graphs, formulas, statistics, probability, measurement, ratios, percentages etc., in a variety of other subject areas. This makes them realise that Maths is a very useful discipline and that success in Maths can lead to success in so many other areas.

Linking their Maths to everyday life can be carried out in a similar fashion. An alternative strategy that has worked well is to get the students to interview two employed acquaintances. They are to find out a number of facts about the job. These may include:

  • The level reached at school before getting the job
  • The Maths involved in the day to day work in the job
  • Whether a calculator is used
  • The method used to secure the job (this could have involved an aptitude test which involved Maths).

This strategy may start them thinking about where their Maths might be useful in the future.

When linking Maths begins in Year 7, or earlier, it becomes a part of life and the path through secondary college Maths can become more enjoyable and more successful.

Linking could be encouraged in any subject!

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In the following article Jill Flack explains how she helps students to go back over what they have already learned and link it to the present.

“Start from what the students know! That makes sense, then I can work out what is most important to teach and away we will go. Simple!”

Have you ever asked your students, “What can you tell me about??”

Have they ever said, “Nothing, I don’t know anything about that.”


“Ooh I know we’ve learnt that but I can’t remember it!”


“Mrs Smith taught us that last year but I’ve forgotten it all!”

Students frequently respond in this way and teachers wearily back-track over ground, that they know should be familiar, before they move on to what it is they need to teach. As you re back-tracking the students will often respond with comments like, “Ooh now, I remember!” “Oh yeah that s right!” (While we’re thinking to ourselves “Why couldn’t you remember that before!”)

What is the message about this sort of exchange?

I wonder if it could be that many students haven’t really forgotten what they’ve been taught, rather they have developed habitual passive learning behaviours that display themselves, conveniently, as a poor memory. Active engagement in learning can be rigorous and exhausting, maybe we need to remind our students about how rewarding and affirming it can be.

We think it is possible to assist, even challenge our students to access their relevant prior knowledge in a strategic and systematic way through a variety of different procedures.

Following are two procedures that require students to access, organise and sort their prior knowledge in a way that is simple and effective. We look at Thought balloons and Semantic maps. We believe that their strength as procedures is that they require students to actively engage with their own knowledge and draw upon it as the basis for new learning. They also allow for individual differences and can cross several curriculum areas. We have found these to be extremely useful and affirms to our students that they generally know quite a lot before they begin. We invite other teachers to explore their use, modify them or recreate the concept in another form.


  • Teachers can identify student’s views and prior knowledge.
  • The procedure will highlight specific information of interest.
  • Visually display student s knowledge.
  • Students can share their ideas with others.
Thought Ballon
  • Students are asked to briefly record any of their knowledge, reactions or questions, to ideas, understandings, or views about a particular issue or topic. They could use key words, sentences or diagrams to show their thoughts in the balloon.
  • One thought per compartment.


Teacher Tips
  • Thought balloons can be divided into any number of components. (See example)
  • Students can be encouraged to draw, write or a combination of both.
  • Students can work as individuals or in pairs.
  • The concept can be adapted to suit any theme. For example, spiders become thought webs.
  • Comparisons between before and after topics can be made – showing students’  growth in understanding.
  • All students can participate with varying degrees of success.
  • Balloons make an interesting visual display of student work.
  • Ideal as a proforma for reflecting on events of learning.


Common Outcomes
  • This procedure can show the accuracy of information regarding a specific topic.
  • Reflects the nature of a student s understanding.
  • Highlight the student s ability to articulate information that is most relevant to him/her.
  • Shows the level of thinking student is using.
  • Identifies prior knowledge.


  • To categorise students knowledge of a particular topic so that it can be used more effectively as a resource for new learning.
  • To identify group knowledge.
  • To summarise and store new information to make it more accessible at a later time.


  • Using a semantic map proforma or after asking students to draw up their semantic map, to list their knowledge and ideas under the different category headings.
  • Students record in point form.
  • Compare/contrast with other students.


Teacher Tips
  • Four significant categories are generally enough.
  • When teaching the procedure model, first compile the information with the class.
  • Sometimes teachers will want to nominate categories, but students should be free to include another if they wish.
  • Ideal for pairs, groups and individuals.
  • Can combine drawing and writing.
  • Return to the semantic map throughout a unit of work and top-up in a different color pen, to show growth in understanding. Students should be encouraged to cross out (not erase) their ideas if they change them.


  • What information has the student chosen to include?
  • What growth has the student shown in knowledge and understanding.



Use in many different curriculum areas to organise information. For example:

  • Characters in a novel
  • Summary of. the content of a novel – plot, setting, characters and main events.
  • Science experiment – equipment, observation and actions.
  • Can be used as a planning tool – for example; writing stories and plays.
  • research facts organiser.
Semantic Map

The following article was written very early on in the PEEL project but is just as relevant today. All of these articles and many more can be found on the PEEL online resource PEEL in Practice


Coasts: Linking Photos and Ideas by Rod Greer

“Find as many links as you can between these photos and write them around the sheet”

The aim of this task was to encourage students to see as many ways as possible which link ideas. In this case ideas about photos of two well-known local coastal landforms.


1. Most students started by wanting to write “right” answers only.

2. When they were confident they began by writing simple links, eg water, sea, cliffs, erosion, fallen rocks.

3. Eventually more complex links/observations were made by some, eg “Photo 2 should be first”, “The top photo would have started like the bottom one.”

I then “tested” the group by using my limited art skills to draw two quick pictures on the board, one of bush hills and native animals and one of a plain with grass sheel and a river. They were able to offer a lot of simple links. I then asked for some complicated links and was amazed by the response that the second drawing is after the land was cleared and settled; the hills were eroded; the erosion resulted in the river forming! A very complex link from year seven.

The important feature is that this type of exercise can apply to graphs, written text, art work, creative writing and a lot more.