GCSE Key Stage 3 Secondary Secondary English

Using post-its to improve AfL

A strategy for improving AfL and plenaries in the classroom that could be used in a cross-curricular and cross-phase context.

Post-its have got to be my favourite stationary item. There is something about the confined space and adhesive qualities that is instantly alluring. And apparently it isn’t just me: students seem to find them just as enticing as I do.

At my school, we have recently been experimenting with using these sticky paper squares to improve AfL. This has included using them as: ‘Exit Tickets’ (where students write down what they have learned and stick it on the board/door/my head as they leave the classroom); starters (students write down what they learned in previous lesson before books are given out);  and on Learning Continuums (students place their post it on an arrow, which stretches from 0-100%, to show their understanding of the learning objective).

These have all been very successful but here are two of my favourites in a bit more detail.

Method 1: give students a question, e.g. What are the features of a good essay? Students then write down their answer on the post-it and sit on it. At the end of the lesson, students then re-visit the post-it and check how their learning has progressed. This can be used in of in conjunction with Plenary boxes, which I wrote about last year (21.01.13). Students begin the lesson by answering the question on the post-it, draw the plenary box in their exercise book, then at the end of the lesson, check the post-it and write a revised answer in the plenary box. If your students can write about how their understanding has improved since the beginning of the lesson, then even better! This will give you a focus for your marking, enabling you to engage in a conversation with students about their learning and progress.

Method 2: present students with a topic, e.g. Prejudice in ‘Of Mice and Men’. Students write at least one question about the topic on the post-it then stick it on their chair. After this, students have to move around the room, answering the questions on the chairs. This could even be turned into a game of musical chairs, if you are feeling brave. Once the allocated time has elapsed, any unanswered questions should be shared and ways to research the answers discussed, informing the next stage in the students’ learning journey.

I think that the sitting on the questions is a necessary stage in the process. It makes students take ownership of their questions/answers and also avoids distracting them during the lesson (maybe it is just me but loose post-its on the table often end up in crumbled balls in my class). The revelation of the post-it and its contents at the end of the lesson consequently becomes more dramatic as students compare their previous knowledge with their, hopefully, improved understanding.

So, let’s hear it for the post-it note! A powerful way to make students’ learning stick.


Naomi Hursthouse, Head of English, Ormiston Six Villages Academy, West Sussex.


Naomi Hursthouse has been teaching English for ten years, and in four different schools, in West Sussex. She was an Advanced Skills Teacher for four years and now works as Head of Department in a mixed 11-16 Academy in rural Sussex.

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