Tips and techniques

Use RAG cups to transform teaching and learning

RAG cup on red, partner helping

RAG cup on red, partner helping

RAG cups are red, amber and green paper cups which some schools make available to every child in every lesson.  The expectation is that children will continuously reflect on their learning, asking themselves throughout the lesson How is my learning going? and showing their answer using the cups. In simple terms red means I’m stuck, amber means I‘m not sure, green means I understand.

Here’s what a deputy headteacher in Manchester had to say about their transformational effect:

I used to give children differentiated tasks based on my own preconceptions of their ability. But one day after we introduced the RAG cups, a ‘lower ability’ child put her cup on Green, meaning she wanted to try the most challenging fractions activity. I really wanted to stop her – but resisted. The child did the ‘Green’ activity – and she excelled!
I reflected and realised that in the moment, the children are probably in the best position to select their right level of challenge. I realised that in the past, I may have put a limit on what some pupils can achieve.
— Rob Jones, Manley Park Primary, Manchester

Here are some quotes from Manley Park pupils:

The cups build your honesty. You have to trust yourself – you have to make the right choice about your learning.
— 11 year old
The teacher knows if we don’t know.
— 5 year old

Talk prompts which enable children to express they're stuck

As well as providing talk prompts to help children express their ideas, I’ve noticed it’s also useful to have some that enable them to ask for thinking time or help.

So, I’ve developed some new prompts - examples shown here. Teachers have already fed back to me the difference these make during class discussion, with children now expressing that they need help rather than sitting with that worried “rabbit in the headlights” expression.

Children are realising it’s ok to say I need some help… and are asking for time to think rather than missing out on their opportunity to contribute.

These prompts change pupils’ status from passive to active learners.

Pupil talk prompt: I’m a bit confused about…
Pupil talk prompt: I’m not sure yet. Please can I have some time to think?

Tips for using lolly sticks

I wrote recently about the benefits of random selection over ‘hands up’.  Lolly sticks are a really simple way to randomly select children, but like anything they need to be used properly to ensure the intended positive outcome. Here are some tips:

A cup containing flat wooden sticks (‘lolly sticks’) with names on, one per child.

A cup containing flat wooden sticks (‘lolly sticks’) with names on, one per child.

  • ask the question before picking a stick out of the cup

  • use a variety of questions, not just recall

  • give children time to think, and jot

  • let children talk to a partner

  • always put back the sticks so that children know they may be asked again

  • use the sticks genuinely as they are intended (e.g. don’t use tricks such as colour coding to select specific children; if you really do want to occasionally ask a specific child, just ask them - no need for lolly sticks!)

  • always use lolly sticks positively, never punitively