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Activate & Demonstrate: First thinking to best thinking

Often when I am engaged in dialogue about lesson planning with colleagues a similar question arises; something along the lines of:

“I understand the concept of the connect and consolidate elements of the plan for learning but am struggling to differentiate between the activate and demonstrate elements. Help!”


I often wonder if this is a hangover from very prescriptive 3 part lesson expectations or whether my explanations in the past have been inadequate or hazy…anyway to try to help clear the fog here is my view:

I view the process of learning within lessons as being developmental and progressive; I believe that we should always be trying to build knowledge, skills or understanding or consolidating what has gone before. I totally accept that learning happens at different rates for different students and that supporting this diversity is part of the rich challenge that teaching presents. However I do believe that if we provide opportunities during lessons and across a series of lessons for students to develop their thinking and then show us what they know we are providing a framework within which students are going to succeed (make progress) with the appropriate support.

Our planning for learning template has four areas; connect , activate, demonstrate and consolidate; the two areas I would like to discuss further are the activate and demonstrate sections.

lesson plan


This is the area in our lessons where we aim to support our students to start thinking about the planned learning. Ideally however, when the planned learning is presented to the students it should promote thinking and discussion. Recently I have seen really effective lessons that presented the learning as a mystery, “what links these objects?” With ensuing discussion making use of think, pair share to support and facilitate discussion in a non threatening way for the students. I have also seen lessons where the learning is presented as a problem, “what might be the possible solutions to (problem x)….?”

In this stage of the learning process students should be given the opportunity to discuss, draft and formulate ideas. The skill of the teacher is then to support the development of these ideas via feedback. This feedback can come from the teacher or from peers but it is fundamental to the progress of the students from first thinking to best thinking. Before feedback can occur the teacher needs to plan an opportunity in the lesson for assessment of the progress towards the learning goal; I should say that this does not have to be onerous, more of an understanding check to see where the learning has got to! I would argue that this point is the start of the demonstration stage and the start of the process when the teacher can support a development of student thinking from initial, possibly basic, thinking towards a more sophisticated and multi faceted thought process. Several teachers at OHS have successfully experimented with SOLO taxonomy to support this process.


At this point it is important to allow students the opportunity to showcase (in an appropriate subject or topic specific way) the developments they have made in their knowledge or skills; it’s the chance to catch the students at their best….if we worked hard at providing students the opportunity to present themselves in their best light, what might happen to levels of motivation and engagement with learning and subsequent progress?

Before we review the progress that has been made at this stage in the lesson it is important to consolidate the feedback that individual students have received from the various possible sources. If students understand the feedback and (knows how to) apply it to their learning then they will be able to clearly demonstrate the progress that they have made in their learning. However if a student has been unable to access or understand the feedback provided (become stuck) now is the time that the teacher needs to re-shape the learning to help unstick those students whose progress has slowed.

To achieve regular and sustained progress a teacher needs to design learning episodes that cause students to become stuck and then with appropriate feedback become unstuck and make progress. For me this is the essence of the activate and demonstrate elements of our plan for learning. Over time, students who are progressing will develop a wider base of knowledge and skills and develop their levels of understanding in terms of complexity of thought and subsequent demonstration of learning.

If the planned learning is challenging enough students will become stuck, at this point, with feedback progress and learning occurs!

All that then is left is to consolidate but that is a blog for another time…..!



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