The Blog, now in its 10th year, features resources for teachers and students of Sociology, Psychology and Criminology and contains a mix of Revision Resources, Notes, Lesson Plans, PowerPoint Presentations, Films, Digested Research and more.

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Education: Control, Inequality and Innovation

Michel Foucault

1979 is a key date in the development of education in England and Wales because it was in that year that Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister and began a process of modernising conservatism, under both Conservative and Labour governments, that still, nearly 50 years later, exerts a vice-like grip on primary, secondary and, increasingly tertiary (University), education.

This period, for example, has seen the introduction of a wide range of policies that reflect what Foucault (1977) characterised as indicative of how the modern state tries to exert social control through institutions such as education. These include:

  • A National curriculum (1988) that set out the subjects to be taught in all state schools with a special emphasis on English, Maths and Science (a recurrent theme in subsequent reforms).
  • Key Stage testing began in 1991 at ages 7, 11 and 14 and set attainment targets in English and maths for all pupils.
  • Literacy and numeracy hours were introduced into primary schools in 1998.
  • The “English Baccalaureate” (EBacc) was introduced in 2010 to specify the “core subjects” students should study to GCSE – with, again, a particular emphasis on English and Maths.
  • The compulsory teaching of Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar (SPaG) was introduced in 2013.

Alongside these developments we could also cite a wide range of reforms, from the Academisation programme that started under the Blair Labour government and increased rapidly in pace under subsequent Conservative governments to changes in the way students are assessed, such as the removal of a coursework element in GCSE and A-level assessments in favour of written exams.

In other words, the education system in England and Wales has, over the past 50 years, been subjected to increasingly centralised control.

With one key exception.

Public or Independent Schools (i.e. private businesses or charities who charge fees for educating students).

These schools are exempt from the reforms governing State schools and while many may follow some, or all, of the rules and regulations governing schools in the State sector – particularly in relation to things like examinations – the key concept here is choice. Private Schools can pick-and-choose which rules they follow. State schools can’t.

This is something of a roundabout way of introducing the idea that when it comes to education there are – and have been for over 100 years – many different types of “alternative education” in our society. Among the more well-known are schools like Summerhill, founded in 1922 by AS Neill, that has a rich history of “alternative education” and Steiner Waldorf Schools based around the educational philosophies of Rudolf Steiner.

Among the less well-known – but nevertheless instructive – are schools like Burgess Hill who persued what one might charitably term an esoteric system of teaching and learning…

You can add a further dimension to the discussion about the relationship between education, control and economic inequality by introducing the example of Risinghill, one of the first Comprehensive State-maintained schools in England. Although it’s existence pre-dated the educational reforms of the 1980s its experience might well be considered indicative of how challenges to the educational status quo that originate within the State system are handled compared to how challenges that originate in the Private sphere are considered.

Better Sleep: Better Grades

The 9th film in our Dynamic Learning series designed to introduce students to a range of important ideas and skills related to the science of studying.

The series combines both theoretical insights and practical demonstrations of how an understanding of study skills can enhance student exam performance.

Better Sleep is a companion-piece to our earlier Sleep and Memory film (and you thought we just pumped-out films randomly). The latter, you may recall, looked at how sleep – and the lack of same – impacts on our ability to remember and recall information. It also revealed some of the simple sleep hacks students can use to improve their academic performance.

Now, you may be thinking this is all-well-and-good but that’s not much comfort or use to students who find it difficult to get a good night’s sleep – particularly when faced with upcoming tests or exams.

Well, we’ve got that base covered with the latest film in the series, Better Sleep: Better Grades. Here we demonstrate four scientifically tried-and-tested strategies students can use in order to actually get the kind of good night’s sleep that aides the development of strong, successful, memories.

Sweet Dreams…

Spaced Repetition

The 8th film in our Dynamic Learning Series designed to introduce students to a range of important ideas and skills related to the science of studying.

The series combines both theoretical insights and practical demonstrations of how an understanding of study skills can enhance student exam performance.

This short film introduces a tried-and-tested technique for memorising information, both as part of a general course of study and as a way to fine-tune your revision. In basic terms the film explains why students should be doing spaced repetition and, more-importantly, how they can make it an integral part of their learning.

Historically, research has shown that when we learn new information we’ll have forgotten around half of it within a day and three-quarters within a week. This is called The Forgetting Curve and while it’s useful for getting rid of all the stuff we don’t need to remember, it can be a big problem if we forget the stuff we really need to recall.

This is where Spaced Repetition comes into play. It’s a simple to implement learning technique that helps us remember more of the material we need to remember by reviewing new information soon after we’ve learned it – and continuing to review and recall it at increasingly-lengthy interviews.

It is, in short, a relatively simple way to ensure the transfer of information into our long-term memory – where instead of forgetting 80 or 90% of what they’ve just learned, students actually remember 80 – 90% of it.

Dynamic Learning: Spaced Repetition is now available to Buy and on 7-day Rental.

Psychology OER PowerPoints

As with their Sociology counterpart, Lumen Learning also supply a range of Psychology PowerPoint Presentations to support their (free) online Psychology course and complement the equally-free Openstax Introduction to Psychology Textbook.

If you’re not familiar with this particualr text it’s an example of a growing field called OER (Open Educational Resources). These are resources created by educational institutions, companies and individuals that are given away under a Create Commons license to anyone who wants to use them. This particular Openstax CC license allows anyone to take the basic text and change it in any way they want to meet the needs of their particular students.

Each of the 16 modules contains around 30 individual slides and while they’re not going to win any prizes for pushing the boundaries of design they do their job.

Although one big advantage of having a basic design is that the slides are easy to edit, because there’s no need to mess around with tricky (or indeed tricksy) formatting.

You can either download the modules individually, if there’s some you don’t teach or don’t need, or in a Single Big (Zipped) Batch.

The choice, as they say, is yours…

Psychological Foundations
Psychological Research
States of Consciousness
Sensation and Perception
Thinking and Intelligence
Memory Learning and Conditioning  
Lifespan Development
Social Psychology
Personality Emotion and Motivation
Industrial-Organizational Psychology
Psychological Disorders
Therapy and Treatment
Stress, Lifestyle, and Health  

Sociology OER PowerPoints

If you’re interested in free textbooks – of either the Sociology or Psychology variety – you may well have come across the Openstax Introduction to Sociology textbook published by Lumen Learning.

Deviance Powerpoint slide

And if you haven’t Openstax is an example of a growing field in education called OER (Open Educational Resources). These are resources created by educational institutions, companies and individuals that are given away under a Create Commons license to anyone who wants to use them. In this particular instance the Openstax CC license allows anyone to take the basic text and change it in any way they want to meet the needs of their particular students.

While the basic textbook is widely available online there aren’t that many free resources to accompany it. And while this isn’t an insurmountable problem – teachers are obviously well-used to making their own resource materials – it can help if you’ve got something to fall back on. This is where Luman Learning’s free PowerPoint Presentations come into the picture.

Each module runs to around 35 – 40 slides and while, as you can see from the screenshot, the slides are what one might charitably describe as “functional” they do the job.

Whatever that job might be.

One advantage of having such a  basic set of slides is, of course, that you can easily edit them, either to make them a bit more attractive / less text intensive or to add / subtract information.

Having said that, these are something of a gift horse and, as we know from bitter experience, we should look into a gift horse’s mouth.

Or something.

Anyway, there are 18 different modules from which to choose and you can either download them individually (if there are some you don’t teach / need):

Foundations of Sociology
Sociological Research
Society and Groups
Deviance, Crime, and Social Control
Stratification and Inequality
Race and Ethnicity
Gender, Sex, and Sexuality
Marriage and Family
Health and Medicine
Aging and the Elderly
Government and Politics
Work and the Economy
Population, Urbanization, and the Environment
Social Movements and Social Change

Or if you fancy having the lot then you can download them in a Single Big Batch.

Power Notes

In the normal course of events Power Notes are a simple way to organise your note-taking.

If push-comes-to-shove, however, they can also be a very effective way to re-organise your conventional linear notes to make them more revision-friendly.

Although there are a variety of patterned / visual note-taking techniques around, it’s a good bet the default mode for most teachers and students tends to be linear: which, when you come to think about it, isn’t that surprising.

Not only do linear notes mimic how we conventionally learn to write across a page, so there’s no great learning curve involved, they’re also well-suited to a variety of situations in which we need to take notes. This is particularly the case for fast-paced situations like lectures or videos where large amounts of information are often delivered and received at such a speed as to require an accurate recording system that can process this data quickly and efficiently.

Unfortunately, one downside to the speed and efficiency of linear note-taking tends to be that by the end of a two-year course you end up with a lot of notes. And by a lot I mean several folders packed with closely-written pages of text.

Power Notes Example

And if you’re the kind of student that leaves revision until you’ve finished the course, you’re going to have around 12 weeks max to relearn all the stuff you last studied up to a year and a half ago.

A relatively short amount of time, coupled with an intimidatingly large number of folders filled with notes tends to result in just one thing: a feeling of being overwhelmed. And this, in turn, makes it much less likely you’re going to remember what you’re revising because, of necessity, you’ll try to cover it all too quickly.

You’ll use, for example, techniques like reading and re-reading your notes, coupled with things like highlighting key ideas. While these are a super-efficient way to cover all the course information quickly, research has shown them to be a very inefficient way of remembering and understanding information.

The upshot of all this is that while you end-up doing a massive amount of work, you don’t really remember much of what you’ve revised. And you don’t have to take my word for it (although, if we’re being honest, you probably should). Tom Stafford, Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of Sheffield, says it’s pointless to “stress yourself with revision where you read and re-read textbooks and course notes” (Make study more effective, the easy way: 2011).

“Trying to remember something has been shown to have almost no effect on whether you do remember it. The implication for revision is clear: just looking at your notes won’t help you learn them” (Five secrets to revising that can improve your grades: 2014).

While this seems to leave you with no room for manoeuvre – on the one hand you’ve got all those notes taking up valuable storage space while on the other your exams are, if you’re lucky, a few short weeks away – all’s not lost:

“You’ll remember better (and understand much better) if you try and re-organise the material you’ve been given in your own way” (Make study more effective, the easy way: 2011).

While completely re-organising your notes might sound a bit desperate – why waste precious revision time restructuring notes you already have? – it’s actually going to help you revise. Power Notes are a tool to help you re-organise and categorise your existing notes in a way that focuses on the essential things you need to know for your exams. And by doing this you make your revision easier, more-productive and more-useful.

How to create power notes…

Revision Tips

You probably won’t be too surprised to learn that this is the time of the year when revision advice is thrown around more freely than confetti at a wedding. If you’re taking an exam in the next few months it probably feels like everyone and their dog is only too willing and able to offer guidance about how to revise.

exam tips poster

And I, of course, am no exception.

Although in my defence I would say I’m not so much offering advice as conveying that of others.

Which in this instance is some useful stuff I’ve found on the Innerdrive web site – a site that’s well-worth the time to visit for things like free posters and studies. Although you should probably be aware they really, really, really, like the work of Rosenshine and, to-a-lesser-extent-but-even-then-I-personally-wouldn’t-touch-him-with-a-ten-foot-pole, Lemov.

Even if you’re not particularly interested in Rosenshine (he seems harmless enough) and his “10 Principles of Instruction” the site actually offers a lot of solid study-related information and their “10 tips to prepare for your first exam” (I’m starting to sense a theme here…) gives teachers a Pretty Poster to put on the wall (so that SMT can see how seriously you take this whole revision thang) and students revision tips that range from the essential (spaced learning!) to the “Maybe we should have just gone with 6 or 7 tips?” (“surround yourself with positive people”).


Defining Religion | 2: PowerPoint

You know that thing they say about buses – you wait ages for one and then two arrive at once? Well, by what some might call a mysterious and inexplicable coincidence, the same seems to be true of PowerPoint Presentations on religion.

Having seen neither hide nor hair of anything vaguely religious-looking on the site for ages, along came Defining Religion, to be followed in quick order by Defining Religion | 2 – about which you’ll probably be wanting to know a bit more before you download it.

So, where the first Presentation laid the groundwork by outlining three basic aspects of religion (Beliefs, Practices and Organisation), Part 2 digs quite a bit deeper by looking at three more complex areas:

  • religious diversity
  • inclusive approaches
  • exclusive approaches.

For the sake of continuity between the two Presentations, this second part continues with the Timeline format, where information slides on and off the screen like a thing that slides. While the basic navigation system is the same across both Presentations, Part 2 adds a new feature whereby moving the mouse pointer to the left or right edge of the screen automatically moves the Presentation forward or, indeed, backward.

As ever, you’ve got a range of download options, from the standard PowerPoint Presentation (.pptx) you can use if you have later versions of the program (2019, 365…) and want to see how it all works, to the PowerPoint Show (.ppsx) version you can use if you just want a Presentation that auto-runs without the need for the main PowerPoint program. As an added bonus there’s also a version that has background music.

Although you may be thankful this only runs when the main menu’s onscreen.

Defining Religion: PowerPoint

This PowerPoint Presentation is designed to be a fairly simple introduction to the topic of religion by suggesting how it can be defined in terms of three main criteria:

Background image of a church and title "Defining Religion"
  • Beliefs
  • Practices
  • Organisation

It introduces students, in other words, to some instances of how religious behaviour differs from other types of non-religious (secular) behaviour.

As such, it’s a perfectly serviceable Introduction to Religion and rather than go down the traditional “bullet point list” route, this Presentation uses a simple timeline effect to introduce the information.

And although I say “simple”, you probably wouldn’t believe the huge amount of sweat and tears that went into creating it and making it work (and yes, before you ask, that is a psuedo-parallax scoll you think you’re seeing).

One small step for PowerPoint. One giant leap for me…

Trust me when I say the relatively calm, stripped-down, visuals are hiding a whole heap of work going on under the hood – and this means you’ll need an up-to-date version of PowerPoint if you want to run the pptx version of the Presentation.

If you’ve got an earlier version of PowerPoint – or don’t have the program available at all – you can still run the standalone PowerPoint Show (ppsx) version.

Structuration: A Bluffer’s Guide

While A-level students are usually well-versed in the difference between structural and action approaches, a lot less time, effort and teaching tends to given-over to alternative perspectives, such as Structuration. Which is a national disgrace bit disappointing.

To remedy this potential learning deficit I’ve put together this quick ‘n’ dirty guide to the main features of Structuration that will undoubtedly get you out of a tight spot in an exam.

Which, since you’re reading this, is not something entirely beyond the realms of probability.

Structure and action represent two sociological approaches to understanding the social world in the sense that each is interested in seeing and understanding human behaviour in different ways.

  • Structural sociology – which includes perspectives like functionalism, Marxism and feminism – is similar to looking at a society from a satellite in space; from this view you might see things like the shape of a society’s borders, its road and railway systems and so forth. You would, in other words, get a broad picture of that society – but what you wouldn’t see is people.

Anthony Giddens
  • Interactionism, in a similar way to perspectives like postmodernism and post-feminism, is like observing behaviour from a street corner; you get a close-up view of the hustle and bustle of people going about their daily lives, but you would have little or no sense of the “bigger picture”.

We could, however, argue concepts of structure and action are both important, in terms of understanding the relationship between society and the individual and in some ways complementary. Although we’re all individuals, our behavioural choices are influenced, limited and enhanced by the network of rules and responsibilities (social structures) that surround us. Just as we can’t conceive of society without individuals, it’s impossible to think about people without referring to the various ways our behaviour is structured.

Giddens (1984) Structuration theory argues structure and action are equally significant in terms of our ability to understand the relationship between the individual and society and the key to understanding this perspective, he argues, is the idea of practices (the things people do):

Structuration states that the basic domain of social science study is neither the experience of the individual nor the existence of any form of societal totality, but social practices. Through social activities people reproduce the actions that make these practices possible’

In other words, as people develop relationships, the rules they use to govern their respective behaviours are formalised (as norms, for example) into practices or routine ways of behaving towards each other. Once we start to think of the huge range of practices surrounding our lives we start to develop a sense of structure to the social world, which necessarily involves:

• Rules considered in terms of both the way our actions create behavioural rules and the idea that such rules become externalised (they seem to take on a life of their own, separate from our individual behaviours). In effect, therefore, although we may be involved in rule-making behaviour, such rules ‘reflect back’ on our behaviour in ways that suggest or demand conformity.

• Resources refers to concepts such as power and relates to how and why rules are created. Some rules, for example, are negotiated between individuals (your relationship with your friends, for example, is based on a series of unwritten and unspoken rules you’ve negotiated among yourselves), but others – such as laws governing things like the definition of murder – are, in some respects, non-negotiable; some rules are created by powerful groups and are simply imposed on people. Whatever your beliefs about a particular law, it applies to you whether you believe it does or not.

A couple of key criticisms of this perspective relate to:

• Power: One possible criticism of structuration is it doesn’t sufficiently take account of the way power in society is unequally distributed (for example, the rich have more power than the poor, men have more power than women). The practices of the powerful may become entrenched, in the sense they are beyond the ability of the powerless to change. In other words, the relatively powerless do not, through their everyday practices, ‘create society’; rather, it’s through everyday practice that people experience the power of ‘society’.

• Structure or action: A number of criticisms have been aimed at the claim we can easily combine these two very different ideas. Clegg (1989), for example, argues that although structuration theory talks about structure and action being equally significant, Giddens, in effect, considers human action as being considerably more significant. Similarly, Layder (1987) argues structuration gives very little attention to the concept of social structures as ‘determinants of action’. In other words, there is little sense that social structures (as opposed to human practices) can have very much effect on people’s behaviour.

Anticipation Guides

Although Anticipation Guides are similar to pre-questioning in both form and purpose – they encourage much the same kinds of skills – there are significant differences between the two approaches.

Anticipation Guide Templates

Where pre-questioning asks students to predict the answers to a set of questions they receive before being exposed to a lecture, video or reading, Anticipation Guides require students to think about the extent to which they agree or disagree with a small number of statements, typically 4 – 6, about a topic both before and after they study it. In addition, Anticipation Guides can be used to ask students to explain both their pre-learning and post-learning beliefs about a topic.

The objective of Anticipation Guides is, in this respect, both subtly different and worth trying for a range of reasons:

1. They encourage students to identify and explore their own preconceived ideas about a topic. This can be both objective (asking them to estimate a number, for example) or subjective (such as asking them about their beliefs).

2. They can be used to demonstrate how sociological thinking can be counter-intuitive to commonsense thinking.

3. They encourage students to be curious about their beliefs and whether or not these beliefs are confirmed or refuted by sociological evidence. Curiosity is also a very valuable quality to encourage in students.

4. They can be used to encourage students to make predictions about things they don’t know (such as how many crimes were committed last year) based on what they do know (their perception of the extent of crime in society). This kind of predictive learning can be a valuable skill because it enables students to reasonably speculate about something they may not have explicitly studied based on the knowledge they have about a related topic.

If, for example, students understand the general principles of a sociological perspective like functionalism or interactionism they should be able to broadly predict how functionalists or interactionists view institutions like the family or education system.


PowerPoint: The ABC of Investigating

This spin-off from the burgeoning Sociological Detectives Universe™ is a vehicle by which you can simply and not-a-little-secretly introduce a soupcon of Study Skills into what we’re contractually obliged to call “The Student eXperience” (sic).

In other words this PowerPoint Presentation is a slightly different way to encourage your students to take information you provide (via lectures, handouts, books, video, audio or whatever else you use) and do something more with it than simply store it neatly away somewhere.

And the “more” in this instance involves three simple tasks (Attach, Broaden and Challenge (hence the “ABC” method) that will help your students master some simple – but hugely effective – study skills without really being aware this is what they’re doing).

study skills

Although the Presentation has been designed (yes, really) to be fairly self-explicable there’s a couple of things you might want to note before launching it upon unsuspecting students.

Firstly, you need to provide some sort of information they have to analyse / understand. This can take whatever form you want (lecture, book chapter, video, podcast…) so you could, if you want use the Presentation at the end of a lecture to push your students into extending their knowledge and understanding.

Secondly, you can use the Presentation in a couple of different ways, depending on your teaching style and the time available. You could, as I’ve said, introduce it as a whole class exercise. Alternatively you could take a flipped teaching approach whereby your students do the tasks in their own time and then you spend time in the classroom discussing their ideas. If you go down this route it will probably be easiest to run the Presentation past the whole class first so your students can understand what the three tasks involve.

Aside from these choices all you really need to do before you use the Presentation is familiarise yourself with its little foibles. As ever, while the basic mechanics are fairly simple I’ve added a few little twists you’d do well to understand before you let the Presentation loose in the wild.

As ever, for reasons I’ve previously explained and can’t be bothered to explain again (that’s what hyperlinks were invented for. Possibly), I’ve included two versions of the Presentation:

Choose PowerPoint Presentation if you want to have a look at how I’ve put it together (or if you want to alter any of the text. Each task currently requires students to identify one idea, you might want them to do more…). A word of warning here. Because the Presentation uses the Morph function that’s not available in earlier versions of PowerPoint you need to make sure you’ve got a reasonably up-to-date version available (such as PowerPoint 365) if you want to poke around changing stuff.

Choose PowerPoint Show for a standalone version that doesn’t require PowerPoint (but might mean you have to negotiate your browser’s over-efficient anti-virus protection).

Podcasts with Pictures: Learning Academy

Another in the “Podcasts with Pictures” series designed to bring to your attention video materials you or your students might find useful. In this instance we have a series of “video lessons” created by The Learning Academy.

Each of the 14 lessons lasts between 10 and 15 minutes and consists of someone talking about a topic while you look at a slide that, by-and-large, contains the information being talked about. Although this is supplemented by a few pictures and direct screen annotations these don’t necessarily add much to the lesson – although to be fair this does vary from lesson to lesson. In some the annotations just mirror what’s presented on-screen while in others they do introduce new information.

learning academy screen

One problem with this approach is that it wastes a lot of time while the viewer watches the narrator annotate the screen while telling us what they’re writing. Why not just prepare the slide beforehand with this information?

That quibble aside – and there are others: the pictures that appear on-screen don’t seem to have much connection to what’s being discussed, small white text on a black background is very tiring to watch – the lessons cover three broad areas:

  • “Introduction to Sociology” gives you a brief overview of the subject.
  • Perspectives introduces 5 approaches (Functionalism, Marxism, Interactionism, Feminism, The New Right)
  • Education covers a slightly-odd amalgam of perspectives, school organisation, labelling, subcultures and identity. These categories are, however slightly-misleading in terms of content because, for whatever reason, more-conventional categories (such as differential educational achievement) seem to be covered. Why they’ve done things this way I can only guess. It may be because they’re trying to cover different Specifications, but I could be wrong.

The content itself is generally sound and there’s a welcome, if slightly obsessive and overdone, focus on intersectionality – although I chanced upon some curious and jarring errors in the films I watched (I didn’t sit through all of them so maybe I was just unlucky).

The Functionalism film, for example, had a section on “Talcott Parson” who apparently viewed society “in a similar way to the functionings of a human body” which is, apparently, an “organic analogy”. While the latter is a common mistake (it’s an “organismic analogy” because it’s based on the idea of bodily organs) this view of society was actually proposed by Herbert Spencer in the 19th century. Parsons (note the “s”) didn’t see society in this simplistic way – it’s just a device we use to help students get a basic grip on the underlying ideas contained in general Functionalist thought.

There was also the rather curious assertion that “Interactionism rejects the concept of socialisation since individuals have free-will to make their own choices” – a statement that illustrates one of the main potential problems with these lessons: they’re not really long enough to cover the stuff they’re aiming to discuss. Things get said that sometimes require further elucidation, otherwise they just sit on the screen looking (and sounding) a bit daft.

There were quite a few other mistakes I picked-up on (the suggestion that the “nuclear family” was a relatively modern (1950’s) invention because “nuclear” was a modern word (it’s not…) kind-of misses the point quite spectacularly) so you need to be a bit careful when using these materials.

Another thing that might be a problem is that the lessons only cover education, a brief Introduction to Sociology and some stuff on Perspectives. Whether there were supposed to be more lessons in the series isn’t clear – there are a couple of mentions of topics like Crime and Deviance – but since all the lessons were made in 2022 I think we should probably infer form this there will be no more.

As you can probably tell, I’m a bit ambivalent about these materials. On the one hand, the format makes them a bit dull at times and they aren’t really long enough to cover topics in any sort of depth. On the other, if you’re looking for some relatively short revision films – particularly for Education – these might help (but if you’re a student it might be useful to ask your teacher to give them the once-over to identify any misconceptions…).

Origins of Sociology: PowerPoint

This new PowerPoint Presentation introduces students to some (okay, 9) of Sociology’s founders, from the Big Three of Marx, Durkheim and Weber to lesser-known, but equally important in their own way, names such as Harriet Martineau and William Du Bois.

And while Sociology Specifications in the UK no-longer feature discrete sections on the Founders of Sociology this doesn’t mean a quick and relatively simple introduction to sociology’s origins isn’t both useful and academically important.

Many of the writers featured in the Presentation are not merely historically significant. Their ideas and work still, in many cases, inform contemporary sociology. They are, in this respect, writers that students will come across time and again throughout their course of study – either as contributors to our understanding of social processes in their own right or, in some cases, founders of, or major contributors to, the various sociological perspectives that seem to form such a large part of the various curricula.

In terms of the Presentation itself, it’s designed to be used in a kiosk style: students view the Presentation individually rather than as a classroom group. And because it’s not the usual kind of

“here’s a load of bullet points that I’m going to show you and then slowly read aloud to you” PowerPoint, the Presentation might take a little getting used to.

Having said that, I’ve included simple Instructions (using a nifty little menu system, of which I’m not a little proud) and once students start to play around with the Presentation they should pick it up fairly quickly.

There are two versions of the Presentation you can download:

1. Origins of Sociology PowerPoint Show is a standalone (.ppsx) version that doesn’t need a copy of PowerPoint to run. It also means that if you have an earlier version of PowerPoint on your system the file will still play. The only downside to using this version is that when you try to download it from this site some browsers will warn you the file is “unsafe”. What they mean is that it could conceivably contain a virus. This warning is given because what you’re downloading is a runtime program – a program that will run automatically once you click it (a bit like an app or an exe file). Since PowerPoint Presentations can contain macro files than can be used to change files in ways that might well be construed as “unwanted” this type of warning is both fair and useful.

Unfortunately, if you don’t have an up-to-date version of PowerPoint (2021 onward) and you load the alternative version I’ve provided into it (see below) then it will very likely not work because earlier versions don’t support the morph and zoom functions used in this Presentation.

If in doubt, therefore, download this version and run it through a virus check (or disable macros in your version of PowerPoint). Since it doesn’t contain macros there is nothing untoward about the file and it’s perfectly safe to run.

2. Origins of Sociology PowerPoint is a version (.pptx) that will load into PowerPoint if you have it on your system. This must be 2021 onward (this includes Microsoft 365) otherwise some of the functioning will get messed-up and the Presentation won’t work as intended (presupposing you can even load this file into earlier versions of PowerPoint).

Situational Action Theory

Click to download copy of SAT
Situational Action Theory

Most a-level teachers and students will probably be most familiar with Per-Olof Wikstrom’s work on the Peterborough Adolescent Development Study (PADS), a longitudinal study of youth crime in a “provincial English town”. One that sits mid-way between the teeming Birmingham metropolis and Norwich. Which, with the best will in the world, can neither be described as “teeming” nor metropolitan. Trust me. I’ve been there.

What you may be less familiar with is situational action theory (SAT), the theory that, among other things, underpins the study.

In basic terms, SAT represents an attempt to understand crime and criminality by integrating two levels of analysis:

  • The individual: this refers to the various processes, such as family socialisation and formative experiences that shape individual moralities – the way in which they see and think about the social world.
  • The situational: this refers to the specific social situations through which the individual moves at various points in their life. It represents, as it were, the contexts against which individual moralities are played-out.

Both an awareness of the significance of these two levels and, perhaps more importantly, how they are integrated is, for Wikstrom, the key to understanding youth crime (an idea we explore in more detail in subsequent posts: Situational Action Theory: Crime and Social Disadvantage and Crime and Social Disadvantage: The Evidence).

This short introduction to Situational Action Theory covers the basic ideas involved and includes examples you can use to sensitise your students to how the theory works.

The subsequent posts noted above can be used to show how the theory has been applied to both understand youth crime and the limitations of various New Right crime theories (such as Routine Activities).

Crime and Social Disadvantage: The Evidence

One of the more-interesting things about the use of Situational Action Theory (SAT) to explore the relationship between crime and social disadvantage is that it developed alongside Wikstrom’s Peterborough Adolescent and Young Adult Development Study (PADS+). This longitudinal study of young people’s behaviour in the early part of the 21st century has proven to be both a valuable resource in its own right and, more-importantly perhaps, a rich source of empirical evidence with which to test many of the hypotheses Wikstrom developed out of his application of SAT to an understanding of how and why youth crime occurs.

Peterborough courts

In this final part of what no-one is calling the SAT Trilogy we can examine some of this evidence (the previous parts – Situational Action Theory [coming soon] and Situational Action Theory: Crime and Social Disadvantage – will also be available if you’d like to read them).

As Wikstrom and Trieber (2016) argue, the objective here is “to advance knowledge about the relationship between social disadvantage and crime involvement through the application of situational action theory (SAT) and the analysis of data from a random sample of U.K. adolescents from the longitudinal Peterborough Adolescent and Young Adult Development Study (PADS+).”. To this end we can have a look at a broad overview of what, according to Wikstrom, PADS+ data tells us about both criminal involvement and its relationship to social disadvantage.

Wikstrom’s longitudinal study followed a randomly selected sample of 716 young people, aged 12 – 16, living in and around the English city of Peterborough over a period of 13 years (roughly 2002 – 2015). One of the unique features of the study was that, in line with Wikstrom’s focus on the idea of situational action, it was interested in studying the participants as both individual actors (their sense of moral purpose in particular) and the social environments (situational settings) in which they lived and moved.


Situational Action Theory: Crime and Social Disadvantage

While the relationship between social disadvantage and crime  has long been known, an important question that’s often ignored is why only a relatively small proportion of the socially disadvantaged seem to engage in persistent criminal offending?

Wikstrom’s Situational Action Theory provides an interesting, thought-provoking, possible answer…

The Crime Paradox

Most A-level crime and deviance students will quickly come to understand the relationship between social disadvantage – what Wikström and Treiber (2016) term “the comparative lack of social and economic resources”- and various forms of persistent, mainly low-level, criminality, overwhelmingly committed by young, lower class, males. Crimes that involve relatively small levels of economic reward (arson, vandalism, theft, shoplifting, robbery, car crime and burglary) or which involve routine low-level violence (assault). In basic terms, social disadvantage is generally seen as a cause of crime.

Professor Per-Olof Wikstrom

The problem with this characterisation, however, is that it’s both true – statistically, most persistent offenders do come from a socially-disadvantaged background (at least as far as the kinds of crimes we’ve just listed are concerned) and not true: social disadvantage doesn’t, in and of itself, cause crime because only a relatively small proportion of those classified as socially disadvantaged become persistent offenders. The majority do not. Which is not something we would expect if the relationship was a causal one.


GCSE Sociology: Terms and Concepts Visualised

Free online Introductory Sociology Flipbook aimed at GCSE students.

As you may be aware – I may have mentioned it once or twice – I really like the idea of a visual sociology that involves integrating text and graphics to create narratives for students that have much greater appeal than the simple textbooks of yore (or even the more-complex Textbooks of Today that plonk a few pictures next to some text and call it innovative…).

Maybe it was the distant echo of childhood comics – both the bog-standard British and, very, very, occasionally the wonderful world of Marvel and DC – that appealed to my sense of sociology as story-telling.

Until very recently it certainly wasn’t the idea of dual coding information in a way that made it accessible and memorable. That, as they say, was an unintended bonus.

Anyway, while there have been a couple of reasonably-successful attempts to produce visual sociology books, such as Sociology in Pictures (2012) which covers Theories and Concepts and a follow-up (2016) covering Research Methods, the main drawback with these is that they’re print books and hence rather expensive for what you get. Although, given their relative age, you can at least pick up cheap 2nd hand copies.

My favoured format for this kind of endeavour is, of course, Flipbook and Free. I don’t know why but there’s something about being able to flip online pages as if they were a real-world magazine that appeals to my infantile sensibilities.

The “free” part is, of course, optional and it’s rare to come across a publication that combines the two, which is why I was interested to discover Sociology: Terms & Concepts Visualised. Created by Sanjana Saxena for the Indian Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) the flipbook combines interesting visuals with short descriptive text on a range of Introductory Sociological Terms (mainly  around the idea of different groups – primary, secondary and the like) and Concepts such as Stratification, status and role. Both the style and content fit the English GCSE curriculum.

One drawback is that the flipbook was published in 2017 and since then Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Which is a bit of a shame because the flipbook is beautifully drawn and will definitely appeal to GCSE students (and teachers) looking for a different, potentially more-interesting, way to get into Sociology.

Crime and Victimisation: 1. Victimology

This section of Crime Notes focuses on a number of different aspects of victimisation with the initial emphasis on the concept of victimology, the social construction of victims and a range of victim-orientated policies introduced into England and Wales in the 21st century.

Over the past 50 or so years there has been a growth of interest in what Maguire et al. (2006) called the ‘experiences and needs of crime victims’ that has informed debates about ‘the relative rights of victims and offenders, policing policy, crime prevention and court processes’. This change of focus, particularly in the UK, from the offender to the offence and the victim, is significant for how crime impacts on three types of victimisation:

  • primary – individual victims
  • secondary – people such as family and friends close to the victim
  • tertiary – the communities in which victims live.


Dynamic Learning: Metacognition

The 7th film in our Dynamic Learning Series designed to introduce students to a range of important ideas and skills related to the science of studying.

Understandably perhaps, most students spend the vast majority of their study time thinking about what they’re learning, rather than how they’re learning it, on the not-too-questionable  basis that if they can’t learn something they’re unlikely to succeed in examinations that test them on their knowledge of that information.

But there’s increasing evidence that understanding how we learn things can play an important part in actually helping us learn stuff.

And over 30 years of educational research has shown that metacognition – in broad terms, an awareness of how we think – helps students take more control over their learning, improve their grades and become more independent and confident learners.

The objective of this short film, therefore, is to show students how to develop a metacognitive outlook in their your by using three simple interrelated processes – planning, monitoring and reflecting – that can boost their understanding of whatever subjects they’re studying.

Dynamic Learning: Metacognition is available now to Buy or Rent (7 days).

Explanations for Crime and Deviance: 6. Left Realism

Short set of Notes on a kind of complementary, albeit less revolutionary, approach to understanding crime and deviance that you can either lump-in with Critical Criminology or treat as a separate, neo-critical, perspective.

Your choice.

But let’s just hope it’s the right one, for everyone’s sake…

Left Realism: A Young Man’s Game?

Young (2003) suggests the job of realism is ‘to tackle all three sides of the deviancy process’. This three-cornered approach addresses the multidimensional nature of crime in terms of the relationshipbetween:

  • offender
  • victim
  • social reactions

Only by understanding their interaction – how each impacts on the other – can we understand crime as both a

  • private problem, in terms of its effects on victims
  • public issue, in terms of how it impacts on the quality of community life


Explanations for Crime and Deviance: 5. Marxism

A broad overview of a range of different Marxist interpretations of crime and deviance in words and pictures Or, if you want to be picky, film.

Marxist (or critical) theories of crime assume that no behaviour is inherently deviant. Behaviour only becomes criminalised through the creation and application of laws – and in capitalist societies to understand how and why criminal forms of deviance occur we must understand the economic relationships that give rise to class-based laws. As Croall (2001) argues, for Marxists ‘the criminal law and its enforcement reflect the interests of the powerful and are a means of controlling the activities of powerless lower-class offenders’.

Rule of law

Milliband (1973), for example, suggests that laws favouring the general interests of a ruling class are an extension of its political and ideological dominance – an instrumental form of Marxism that sees the law as a tool used to control the working classes. Poulantzas (1975), however, argues that while contemporary capitalist societies need laws that benefit the interests of the ruling class, these laws have (lesser) benefits for subject classes. This form of hegemonic Marxism sees a ruling class as able to head-off class conflicts by co-opting subject classes into the ‘benefits’ of capitalism and the ‘rule of law’ (as opposed to the reality – the rule of capital).

For Marxists, laws are framed to protect both social order and property relationships:

  • Social order relates to the legality of killing people, violent behaviour and the like. Everyone benefits from being able to go about their daily lives unmolested, but a ruling class gains additional benefits; an orderly society is one where those making the greatest profits gets to keep their wealth safe and sound.
  • Property/contract laws relate to the requirements of capitalism as an economic system; they exist to enshrine in law certain rights, such as private property ownership. While everyone benefits from a law against theft, those with the most to lose reap the greatest benefit.

For Marxists, crime is part of a structural process that sees the working classes as both more criminal and more criminalised. The working class experiences greater social pressures (higher levels of economic deprivation coupled with constant ideological injunctions to consume) that lead to higher levels of crime, while their behaviour is more closely defined, surveilled and policed as criminal. While these related processes go some way towards explaining crime, they do not excuse it.


Explanations for Crime and Deviance: 4. Feminism

A short overview of Feminist perspectives on crime and deviance combining a bit of text with quite a lot of video.

Feminist approaches are many and varied, but all, to varying extents, focus on women as both offenders and victims — partly as a response to what Sharp (2006) suggests has been the male bias of traditional criminological research and partly because ‘the study of crime became equated with the study of male criminality’.

Feminist criminology attempts to redress this ‘malestream bias’ in two ways:

  • by confronting the conventional wisdom of greater male involvement in crime — what Maguire (2002) argues is a ‘universal feature…of all modern countries’
  • by exploring the reasons for female criminality. In this respect, knowledge of female offending is largely based around two main sources, official crime statistics and offender surveys, and we can use these as a way of exploring feminist criminology and explanations for female offending.

Statistical accuracy

Official crime statistics consistently show that men, in terms of raw numbers, have greater involvement in crime than women. Self and Zealey (2007), however, make the important point that males and females commit similar typesof crime. Theft, drug offences and personal violence are the main offences for both sexes.

From a feminist standpoint these observations are interesting, mainly because most explanations for crime have focused on explaining male criminality by using women as a form of control group. Where women are considered more likely to conform to social norms, the criminological focus is switched to the search for the attributes – biological, psychological and sociological – not shared by women and which supposedly explain male criminality.

An example here is the notion of males and females having different attitudes to risk-taking, which, in turn, explains greater or lesser involvement in crime. In basic terms, risk-taking is bound up with cultural ideas about masculinity, while conformity is held to be a cultural feature of femininity.

McIvor (1998), for example, argues that greater male involvement in youth crime is ‘linked to a range of other risk-taking behaviours which in turn are associated with the search for [masculine] identity in the transition from adolescence to adulthood’. Lyng’s (1990, 2004) concept of edgework also argues that many young males are attracted to crime precisely because of the risks involved; risk-taking affirms their masculinity.

There are two objections to this argument:

  • women are defined negatively in such theories, ‘by the absence’ of something men have (a need to take risks) rather than as individuals in their own right
  • there is an ecological fallacy: while many women are not involved in crime the same is true for men – yet significant numbers of each do offend.

Explanations for Crime and Deviance: 3. Interactionism

A quick’n’dirty overview of the Interactionist perspective on crime and deviance.

Two ideas closely associated with Interactionist approaches are those of deviance as both relative and socially constructed.

Relativity refers to the idea that the same behaviour can be considered deviant in one context (or society) but non-deviant in another. A simple example here might be punching someone in the face. If you do this in the street you could be arrested, charged, convicted and imprisoned. If you do it in a boxing ring people might cheer…

This suggests, as Durkheim argued, that “if societies make the rules whose infraction constitutes deviance” then deviance is socially constructed – and this is important, as Becker (1963) argues, because it means deviance is not a quality of what someone does but rather a qualityof how others react to what they do.

And if this argument is valid it means that looking for “solutions to the problem of crime” in the behaviour or demeanour of ‘criminals’ is pointless because ‘criminals’ are only different from ‘non criminals’ when they are publicly labelled as such.


Explanations for Crime and Deviance: 2. New Right

In the late 1960s and early 1970s there was a general political perception that the ‘fight against crime’ was not only being lost, but that attempts to explain and solve offending behaviours were largely ineffective. The best that could be done was to develop ways that limited the impact of crime on communities and this led to a range of policies aimed at preventing crime, developed under the umbrella of New Right approaches to reflect a more conservative approach to dealing with crime. These approaches involved crime-reduction polices that drew on ecologicalideas about people’s relationship to their immediate environment – specifically in terms of their impact on encouraging or discouraging deviant behaviour.

Crime prevention

Indicative of this general perspective, Clarke (1980) argues that crime theory should focus on a realistic approach to crime prevention and management, rather than search for the ‘causes of crime’. He argues that criminal behaviour takes many forms – property theft, for example, is very different from rape – and it makes little sense to assume they have similar causes or outcomes. However, the majority of crimes had two important characteristics that made them amenable to prevention: first, the majority are opportunistic, and second, crime is territorial.

  • Opportunistic crime is the outcome of what Clarke terms, ‘the immediate choices and decisions made by the offender’. In other words, most crime is unplanned and carried out ‘on the spur of the moment’; if an opportunity occurs (a purse left unattended, for example) an offender may be tempted if the chances of being detected are less than the likely benefits. This reflects what Right Realists call a cost / benefit analysis of crime.

Analysis of Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) data for 2020 suggests that opportunistic crimes are not restricted to relatively small-scale thefts. Around 50% of all home burglaries, for example, were spur-of-the-moment decisions by the perpetrators as they responded to favourable opportunities to commit a crime that hadn’t necessarily planned or prepared to commit.

  • Territorial crime is, Wiles and Costello (2000) argue, generally local to the offender. Their research showed the ‘average distance travelled to commit domestic burglary was 1.8 miles’, which confirmed Forrester et al’s (1988) research into patterns of burglary in Rochdale.

While this “average” does, of course, hide wide individual behaviour discrepancies – some burglars, for example, target properties well outside this average – recent CSEW (2020) data has shown that around 50% of burglars knew their victims.

Territorialism is important for crime prevention and control since offences committed outside the offender’s local area are mainly related, as Wiles and Costello argue, to opportunities presenting themselves ‘during normal routines’, rather than being consciously planned (a ‘routine activity theory’ of crime). If measures are taken to reduce opportunities for crime in a particular area, crime rates will fall. The denial of opportunity, allied to territoriality, means the majority of crimes will not be displacedto other areas (although there are exceptions – activities like drug smuggling and prostitution, for example, are sensitive to displacement).

These ideas led to a range of crime prevention strategies, designed to make crime more difficult, less attractive and more costly for the potential offender, based around changes to the cultural and physical environments.


Explanations for Crime and Deviance: 1. Functionalism

A short set of Notes covering a range of Functionalist explanations for crime and deviance, largely based around the concepts of anomie (both the Durkheimian and Mertonian interpretations) and Strain (Merton again plus Agnew’s General Strain Theory). There’s also a little bit of subcultural stuff thrown-in for good measure.

Traditional Functionalism

Functionalist approaches are based around an understanding of how societies solve what Durkheim (1938) called two problems of existence: how to create order and maintain social stability in a situation where millions of unique individuals, each with their own particular (self) interests, must be persuaded to behave collectively.

The simple answer involves the notion of collective sentiments – shared beliefs about society and the development of behavioural rules designed to reinforce this collective consciousness. However, the existence of behavioural rules, in the shape of formal and informal norms, presupposes that some will break the rules, because if they didn’t, rules would be unnecessary.

For Durkheim, therefore, deviance was normal, by which he meant functional (as opposed to beneficial). Deviance contributed to social stability because when people act ‘as a group or society’ against deviants it becomes a mechanism through which the collective conscience is both recognised and affirmed.

Behavioural boundaries

In complex societies, for example, the fact some people ‘break rules’ tells everyone where the boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour lie. The public condemnation of deviants, through media, for example, establishes and reinforces consensual boundaries. In this respect, crime promotes social integrationand social solidarity through its ‘public naming and shaming’ function. Popular alarm and outrage at criminal acts serve to draw people closer together ‘against a common enemy’.

Testing tolerance

Deviance is also a mechanism for social change because it tests the boundaries of public tolerance and morality. It is a social dynamicthat forces people to assess and reassess the nature of social statics(such as written laws). Laws criminalising homosexuality in our society, for example, have gradually been abandoned in line with changing social attitudes.

Moral values

Matza’s (1964) study of juvenile delinquency provides empirical support for Durkheim’s basic argument when he suggests young people have little commitment to deviant (or ‘subterranean’) values that threaten the moral consensus. Matza found that, when caught, people employ techniques of neutralisation in an attempt to explain or justify their deviance. They deny, for example, personal responsibility (‘I was drunk…’), injury (‘no one was hurt’) or victimisation (‘they hit me first’) and by so doing show a commitment to conventional moral values. If they did not respect those values there would be little point trying to justify their guilt.


Crime Trends and Patterns in England and Wales

A short set of Notes looking at crime trends and patterns in England and Wales over the past 50-odd years. While students don’t require a detailed factual knowledge of trends and patterns they do provide a useful introduction to the next set of Notes covering theoretical explanations for crime and deviance.

One reason for measuring crime is to identify trends and patterns in the data, based around the categories of class, age, gender, ethnicity and location, that can then be explained sociologically.

There are two main sources of official crime data generally used to identity patterns and trends:

  1. Police-recorded crime statistics are, as the name suggests, recorded by the police each time a crime is reported.
  2. Official Crime Surveys: Ther initial type of official crime survey covering the years 1982 – 2012 was the British Crime Survey consisting of face-to-face interviews with a representative population sample. In 2012 the BCS was renamed as the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) to reflect the fact the data only covered England and Wales and not Scotland. During the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 the Survey switched to carrying-out telephone-based representative samples.

Crime Trends

Over the past 50 years official (police-recorded) crime statistics and the BCS / CSEW have both shown an initially upward trend that peaked in the mid-1990s and then gradually declined. Both sets of statistics have, however, shown a recent upward trend in crime that reflects the influence of Internet-based crimes – particularly varieties of fraud. In 2023, for example, an estimated 2 million additional crimes were attributed to computer-based fraud in the police-recorded statistics.

Crime Trends in England and Wales

YearBCS / CSEW (millions)Police-Recorded (millions)
Office for National Statistics

Defining and Measuring Crime

Some Notes that have been hanging around on my hard drive doing nothing useful that I’ve finally got around to posting. There are plenty more where these came from but whether or not I’ll ever get around to digging them out is anyone’s guess.

Defining Crime and Deviance


‘To deviate’ means ‘to stray from the path’ and the path here is behaviour that a society considers normal – something that is always a matter for debate. In our society, for example, it’s normal to maintain a circle of space around our body extending roughly 60 cm, and we feel uncomfortable if people enter this ‘personal space’ uninvited. In other cultures, concepts of personal space are different – in Argentina, for example, personal space can be so small as to be almost non-existent. This example illustrates that:

  • all cultures develop ideas about ‘normal behaviour’
  • the rules – or norms – governing normal behaviour can be different from culture to culture (and frequently within the same culture at different times)

Deviance, therefore, refers to actions that deviate from the norm – the ‘underlying rules of social interaction’ that take two basic forms:

  • Formal norms involve laws and organisational rules that represent official standards of behaviour. They are usually written, formally policed and punishment (or ‘negative sanctions’) for deviance is clearly specified as part of the rule. If you break the law, for example, you risk being arrested and imprisoned. Unlike laws, organisational rules apply to a particular group or organisation, rather than society as a whole. School pupils, for example, may have to wear a uniform, but this rule doesn’t apply to their parents.
  • Informal norms are unwritten, informally policed and carry informal punishments that vary from group to group. This means the same behaviour may be seen differently depending on its context; swearing when with a group of friends may be considered acceptable behaviour, while swearing in front of your parents may be considered quite differently.



The Psychology Teacher’s Resource Guide

Lesson Plan…

The Resource Guide is a compendium of 50 “Standards-Based Lesson Plans” created by  Amanda Vanderbur and aligned with the US National Standards for High School Psychology. These, as you might expect, have evolved somewhat between the year this Guide was published (2014) and the year in which this post was published (2024).

If you’re an American High School Psychology teacher you will, hopefully, be aware of both the current standards and how they’ve changed. But in case you’re neither of those I’ve included a link that explains the difference. Because I’m nice like that.

The Guide also helpfully aligns the NSHSP standards to AP Psychology standards (for non-US readers, Advanced Placement (AP) Psychology is broadly equivalent to A-level standard).

Now we’ve got the standards-stuff out of the way, the Lesson Plans are organised into 7 sections:

  • Scientific Inquiry
  • Biopsychology
  • Cognition
  • Development and Learning
  • Sociocultural Context
  • Individual Variation
  • Application of Psychological Science

and each Plan provides you with details of the objectives they’re designed to achieve, details of the procedures involved and the preparation they require (including things like Handouts that are included in the Guide).

And that’s about it, really. All you have to do is download the Resource Guide and spend some time browsing its pages to see if there’s anything within you want to use.

And if you’re in the market for more-of-the-same-but-a-bit-different then why not have a gander at The Psychology Teacher’s Toolkit – a UK-based collection of Notes, Starter, Plenaries, Strategies and Sims with nary a Standard in sight.

A New Year and a New Resolution

To finally understand the significance of metacognition as an important cog in the dynamic of learning. And although you’re a little late to the Party, why not ease yourself in gently…

The 6th film in our Dynamic Learning Series covers an area of learning frequently neglected by students, namely the art of Active Listening.

But why, you may be thinking, do students need to understand how to listen when the majority of them – you know who you are – spend a great deal of their school / college time in what scientists call “listening situations”?

And the answer is, of course, deceptively simple: because even though we’re physically present in the classroom we don’t always mentally engage with what we’re hearing. Information either passes passively from teacher to student to page or it’s never even recorded because it simply hasn’t been heard.

Either way, I think you’d agree if you were listening, it means we frequently miss a lot of important information.

And if we’re not taking something in, we can’t recall it when we really need it. Which, while it’s not rocket science, is a bit of a downer when it comes to exams.

However, as you probably secretly suspected, it’s actually not that difficult to become a more active listener.

You just haven’t been shown how.

So in this short film we show you three simple strategies to improve your listening and make you better learners:

  • Pre-learning. Or how to prepare in advance for classes to enhance your ability to listen.
  • Focus. Or some simple things you can do when you’re actually in class to actively listen.
  • Over-learning. Or the idea of writing simple summaries and reviews of what you’ve just learnt in class.

As I suggested, Active Listening isn’t difficult.

All it takes is a little bit of preparation and application.

More Classic Studies in Psychology

A set of 21 short commentaries on a range of psychological studies by an ex-A-level Examiner.

I previously posted Tom Butler-Bowdon’s 50 Classic Studies in Psychology in which he provided a student-friendly commentary on said classic studies to save you the time and trouble of actually having to read the originals.

So why, you might well ask, do you need this collection of student-friendly commentaries on Classic Studies in Psychology by Stephen Williams?

Milgram and Obedience
If you want to give your students a visual reinforcement of some of these classic studies…

I’m glad you asked because there are a few reasons why you might want to add this collection to your…err…collection, the first being that it’s been put together by an ex-A-level Examiner, so you know the standard is going to be squarely on the money for this (pre-University) level.

The second is that it’s slap-bang-up-to-date (2023) and the third is that the Creative Commons logo means you’re not only free to copy / reproduce the document as many times as you like, you can also adapt the text to whatever your immediate teaching / learning needs may be.

And there’s more.

The 21 (count ‘em) studies are spread across 7 course areas:

  • About Psychology
  • Biological Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Research Issues
  • Age (Developmental Psychology)
  • Differences between people (Abnormal Psychology)
  • Social Psychology

Each of these contains commentaries on three studies – from researchers as diverse as Milgram, Zimbardo, Rosenhan and Levinson – and there are exam-type questions to answer at the end of each section if you need them.

Who doesn’t need a free set of “exam-type” questions?

And in the unlikely event you want to consult the original study, a full reference is provided.

One final reason you might want to download this document is that, unlike its 50 Classic Studies counterpart, the commentaries are really short.

Which means they don’t take a lot of time to read.

Unless you like to read through stuff really slowly.

Although the presentation leaves a lot to be desired – it’s basically a Word text document that I’ve converted to pdf – the content is something all A-level psychology students should find useful. Not the least because, as the author notes, “These notes should give you a head start” in A-level Psychology examinations.

Which is something we can all probably agree is a Good Thing.

Anchoring the Abstract: Curiosity

One of the things I’ve found students find difficult about subjects like Sociology is the frequently abstract nature of the ideas they’re being asked to understand and apply. Ideas that range from the relatively simple (socialisation, identity, culture…) to the not-quite-so-simple (positivism, postmodernism, methodology…) and the downright difficult (risk society, hegemony, autopoiesis …)

Creating Curiosity…

And since grasping as wide a range of key concepts as possible is pretty much central to doing well in the subject, it follows that anything students and teachers can do to make this material more accessible is going to be beneficial for everyone. The problem, as you probably know, is how to achieve this desirable goal?

One way to do this is by anchoring the abstract in the concrete.

In other words, by using concrete examples to illustrate things that are, by their very nature, somewhat intangible. An added bonus of this process is that it encourages students to develop a sense of curiosity through their ability to both explore the abstract and tie it down to something more tangible. And as you’ll probably be aware (or maybe not) we’ve previously posted about curiosity and how to create it as part of a general metacognition thing we’ve been developing in our recent films.


A Whole Bundle of Risk

I think it’s fair to say Beck’s concepts of Risk and Risk Society aren’t well-covered at A-level, partly because his ideas are difficult to get across to students and partly because, not to put too fine a point on things, they’re not easy to understand and encapsulate in a few pithy points.

Be that as it may, the basic idea of Risk Society is an important one in the context of a lot of sociological development because it gives students to opportunity to challenge the (over-) easy distinction that’s often made in textbooks and exams between modernity and postmodernity. Risk Society is very much a concept that rejects postmodernity (despite what you may have been lead to believe in some quarters…) in favour of understanding how “the modernist project” has evolved in what Beck – in common with theorists like Giddens – considers to be Late Modernity.

This post brings together the disparate resources, both text and film, we’ve posted over the past few years into one handy Bundle that’s ideal for teachers looking to update and expand their knowledge and understanding of Risk and for students wanting to get some sort of handle on the topic.

While it’s conventional at this point to say something like “Enjoy!”, if you’ve got even a passing acquaintance with the subject matter you’ll know how ridiculous that would sound.

Endure!” would probably be entirely more-appropriate, but I’ve done my best to make the whole thing as understandable as is humanly possible. Whether or not I’ve succeeded, I’ll leave you to be the judge.


Research Methods: Consuming Passions?

Some time ago I was asked by a publisher (who shall remain nameless because I’ve mercifully forgotten their actual name) to run an introductory computing course for sociology teachers. I initially agreed because it was a topic that interested me and the money they were paying was okay. Always the most important consideration. Or so I thought.

It wasn’t until I’d started to discuss what I’d planned with them that they casually let slip that “there wouldn’t be any computers available for anyone to use on the day”. At which point I made my excuses etc. Even I drew the line at trying to teach a computing course sans computers.

And yet, when it comes to research methods that’s precisely what many teachers do: teach methods sans research.

Which isn’t a criticism because it’s not really a choice, mainly because trying to give students hands-on experience of the methods they’re studying invariably takes up too much time for too little payback. Teaching students about problems of reliability with different methods may not be very interesting, exciting or illuminating, but it takes a fraction of the time compared to students experiencing some or all of these problems for themselves.

While in an ideal teaching world (something that definitely doesn’t include English education in the 21st century) teachers and students would have the time and space to explore both the practical and theoretical dimensions of research methods. But even though this world’s not ideal and you don’t, doesn’t mean you can’t. You just have to use a little bit of initiative. Or deceptiveness, if we’re being really honest.


Dual Coding: The Film


Retrieval Practice: The Film

In this series of films we take a new and dynamic approach to selling the advantages of study skills to students. This film, the 4th in the series, provides an insight into retrieval practice and how to use it effectively.

Research has shown that we spend most of our free study time re-reading, underlining and highlighting our books and notes. But a problem with passively going over what’s familiar to us is that it can create an illusion of memory, called recognition: a belief that we know something when it’s staring us in the face, but which we can’t recall when it’s no-longer there.

As it won’t be in an exam.


Approaches to Health and Illness: Biomedical and Social

Quite by chance, the other day I came across a very useful diagrammatic representation of the debate between biomedical and social approaches to health and illness. Probably when I was looking for something else. You know how it is.

The diagram is based on the American County Health Rankings National Findings Report created by The University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and while it has obvious applications to American health care, its basic conclusion holds broadly true for both the UK and Western Europe: of the factors contributing to health care, a relatively consistent 80% are social in some shape or form, with the remaining 20% the result of biomedical clinical care.

And if you want to explore the issue in a bit more detail, I’ve added some general notes on the biomedical and social approaches to health. I’m nice like that.

For that dwindling band among you who study the Sociology of Health, one of the key debates is the different approaches to understanding health encapsulated by two opposing models: the biomedical and the social.

Most of us will already be familiar with the former approach, the dominant medical discourse in Britian and America for 200 years or more. It focuses on the clinical care and treatment of illness with the doctor-patient relationship being central to the model. It is sometimes characterised as a “curative” model of illness in the sense that it focuses resources on curing patients through a variety of medical interventions.

The social model, on the other hand, is an oppositional discourse on the nature of health and illness. It challenges biomedical assumptions concerning both the way to promote health (and well-being) and the doctor–patient relationship. It is, in this respect, sometimes seen as a “preventative” model in the sense that the causes of health and illness are seen to be located in wider social processes – such as  clean air and water.

While this debate may seem fairly academic, it actually has a range of important real world consequences, not the least being the funding of health care and treatment in countries like Britian with it’s socialised medical system and the United States with its privatised insurance system.

If you want to expand your understanding of the biomedical and social models I’ve written some basic notes that allow you to do just that..

Click for notes on biomedical and social models

Review: Equity in Education

In their new book Equity in Education Professor Lee Elliot Major and Emily Briant offer a practical guide for teachers looking to play their part in levelling the playing field of learning.

Jack Elliot-Major

When I used to teach about equality of opportunity in education I’d start things off by choosing the smallest student in the class (I’m over 6’ tall) and telling them we both had an equal opportunity to achieve by touching the ceiling. A fact I mention because although I was offering the student equality, I was deliberately denying them equity (at least until I offered them a chair to stand on. But that’s a whole other discussion).

And this, in a nutshell, is the argument put-forward by Lee Elliot Major and Emily Briant in their new book Equity in Education. A short (159 pages) but very accessible book that describes itself as “a practical guide for teachers” interested in “Levelling the playing field of learning”. It is, of course, a bit more complicated than teaching students harsh-but-fair lessons in inequality.

The book is divided into 4 sections, the first of which sets the scene by going over the well-trodden ground of post-war educational inequality: the myth of meritocracy, the persistence of the belief in education as a motor of social mobility, despite all evidence to the contrary and a seemingly ever-increasing “educational arms race”, the cruder manifestations of which occur at the level of private tutoring and exclusive schooling and whose wider ramifications play-out in the notion of elite universities and degrees…

This will, of course, be very familiar to sociology teachers, as will short chapters on Bourdieu and cultural capital – a concept that has both contemporary resonance and one that highlights how even radical ideas and processes can become twisted to support the educational status quo in contemporary Britian. Although Ofsted have chosen to highlight the importance of cultural capital, their adopted definition (“the essential knowledge that pupils need to be educated citizens, introducing them to the best that has been thought and said and helping to engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement.”) contorts the concept to fit a much more-persistent theme in post-war British (and, to be fair, American) schooling: compensatory education. The vampire belief that if schools could just be made to “compensate” working class kids for their “deficient” culture, everything would be (educationally) hunky dory.

As familiar as these ideas may be, it’s no bad thing to introduce them to teachers who’ve never studied sociology by asking them to recognise and confront their own beliefs and assumptions about both the world, the role of the education system and their place, as teachers, within this system. This sets-up the main arguments in the book, beginning with the idea that “a realistic and ambitious role for schools is to act as engines of equity rather than social mobility machines”.

The implication here is that while “This means acknowledging the range of material and cultural barriers to learning faced by pupils inside and outside of school” teachers can and should make a difference by “prioritising support for pupils that they can most help”.

If you’re into that sort of thing this section, as with all the others, lists a small number of “Headline Takeaways” that provide a relatively simple summary of its key ideas before we get to the meat of the matter.


The Sociological Detectives: Creating Curiosity

As you may have noticed if you’ve looked at our latest Psychology releases, we’ve recently turned our collective attention towards the topic of metacognition which, in basic terms, involves understanding how and why students learn.

Or, equally-importantly, why they fail to learn.

Either way, the first batch of films in what promises to be a long-running series that you probably won’t be bothered to explore include topics as diverse as The Power of Habits, the relationship between Sleep and Memory and how to take more-effective and memorable notes using the Cornell Method.

For the second issue we’ve dabbled in the related areas of Retrieval Practice and Dual Coding although not, you’ll be massively relieved to learn (I’m guessing here) in the same film.

Next up we’ve decided to look at the role played by curiosity in the learning process and one of the things research has shown about curiosity, apart from its widely-reported role in the killing of cats, is that the more curious we are about something, the more involved we become in trying to understand it. And it’s not just that we become more-interested in whatever we’re studying. Curiosity makes it easier to learn, so it actually makes us better at learning it. Not just in the short term but over a much longer period too.

It does this, according to Gruber et al (2014) by creating increased activity in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that plays a central role in forming and retrieving memories (think of it as a kind of all-purpose memory manager). In addition, it creates increased activity in the areas of the brain associated with rewards.

Both of these increases are associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine. This not only facilitates memory retrieval in the hippocampus, it’s also associated with things like pleasure, reward and motivation. So not only does curiosity stimulate our memory, it makes us feel good while it’s doing it.

Which is a bonus.

Even better is the fact it’s possible to create curiosity in a couple of ways:


GCSE Sociology Revision Booklets

From time-to-time I come across GCSE Sociology resources that I think are worth passing-on to teachers and students and these two documents are no exception.

Because if they were I wouldn’t be linking to them. Obviously.

The first is a Revision Pack created by C Pym of Whalley Range High School. It covers the 2022 exam series so you’ll need to ignore the couple of pages covering “Advanced Information” that was issued for those COVID-affected exams.

I could have removed the pages but was too lazy to bother thought I’d leave them be as my small contribution to the historical record.

The Pack covers Family, Education, Crime and Deviance and Social Stratification plus a little bit of Research Methods (a Knowledge Organiser and Glossary), with each topic given its own:

  • Glossary
  • Key Studies
  • Practice Questions
GCSE Research Methods

The Pack is completed by a selection of sentence starters and model answers and a Mark Scheme for the 12-mark question.

To complement the Revision Pack I’ve added a Research Methods Booklet created by Simon Lewis of The Polesworth School. This consists of general information and short, simple, exercises covering:

  • Types of data and Methods
  • Reliability, Validity and Representativeness
  • Advantages and Disadvantages of different methods
  • The Research Process
  • Types of sampling
  • Choosing a Research Method
  • Practical, Ethical and Theoretical Factors.


Out of interest I ran this post through the WordPress AI Assistent to see if it found any errors or inconsistencies. This is what the little chap had to say:

“The post content provides helpful GCSE Sociology resources in the form of a Revision Pack and a Research Methods Booklet. The Revision Pack covers Family, Education, Crime and Deviance, Social Stratification, and Research Methods. It includes glossaries, key studies, practice questions, sentence starters and model answers, and a Mark Scheme. The Research Methods Booklet provides general information and exercises on various topics related to research methods. Both resources can be valuable for teachers and students studying GCSE Sociology.”

No specific improvements are needed for this content. It effectively introduces the resources, provides relevant details about their contents, and includes links to access them. Well done!

For some weird reason I feel quite proud…

50 Psychology Classics

Encouraging students to explore the rich history of psychological studies can sometimes seem a bit like being caught between a rock and a (very) hard place:

On the one hand there’s the bare-bones overviews of classic studies that appear in many textbooks, where space is at a premium and the price of pictures is a level of understanding that is, at best, partial and, at worst, potentially misleading.

On the other there’s the sink-or-swim approach of giving them the original research to read. Most, at a guess, probably sink.

One way to give your students a more in-depth view of classic studies without the turn-off of wading through complex arguments is through the approach adopted by this text: take 50 classic studies and provide a short commentary for each.

And that’s exactly what you get with this volume of 50 Psychology Classics by Tom Butler-Bowden, arranged alphabetically from Adler to Thayer.

And if you’re looking for further “classic study” stuff there’s a couple of previous posts – Psychology Classic Studies Resources and 40 Studies That Changed Psychology – you might find useful.

Creative Commentaries: What Were You Thinking?

Sample Word Template

The basic idea here is to understand what your students were thinking when they complete a piece of work, something that can be useful for a couple of reasons:

Firstly, it can help teachers identify strengths and weaknesses in their students understanding of how they need to construct something like an extended piece of work.

Secondly, and more-specifically, it can help to identify how students understand – or not as the case may be – what they have to do to meet particular assessment objectives.

Although the exercise was originally designed for use with extended pieces of work, such as essays, there’s probably no-reason why you couldn’t use it in the context of practice exam questions of varying length and complexity.

If you find it useful as a tool for understanding your students’ thought processes it might also be helepful to combine it with something like Colour-Coded Assessments.

The Process

The basic idea here is that once a student has completed a piece of work, such as an essay, they then need to go back and write a short commentary outlining their thoughts about why they wrote what they did for each paragraph in their answer. This can be as detailed as they like, although it’s perhaps best to try to encourage them not to write a second essay.

You can give your students hints and pointers to the kinds of things you’re looking for in the Commentary – what assessment objectives they think they’ve used, how successfully did they cover particular points and the like – but it’s probably better if you leave them to their own devices rather than get them to complete a checklist of ideas.

The Commentaries your students provide should give you interesting indications of where they’re going right and wrong in the construction of different types of (exam) answer.


You don’t need to create any specific materials for this exercise, but if you want to give them a bit of initial guidance you could ask them to use this simple Word Template (or create something similar of their own).

British Social Attitudes: Domestic Work

Every year the British Social Attitudes survey asks a representative sample of the population what it’s like to live in Britain” and this year there are a few areas surveyed that might be of particular interest to A-level teachers and students.

The first of these is Gender Roles, a chapter divided into 4 main subsections covering:

As you’ll hopefully not be too surprised to learn, the latter is the main focus of this particular post, partly because the domestic labour debate is an integral part of the Families and Households curriculum and partly because it gives a lead into a dimension of the debate that’s probably unfamiliar to most contemporary students – about which, more in a moment.

If you want to read the Domestic Labour section just use the link above to download it. It’s only 7 pages long but for those who are time and attention poor I’ve also included a summary of the key points to save you having to trawl through 50-odd pages.

In addition, you might find this recent BBC Report on the survey useful – and if you’re in a comparative frame of mind it might be worth looking at the Scandinavian experience by way of contrast.


Colour-Coded Assessment

Understanding Assessment Objectives, as every teacher knows, is a crucial component of exam success.

And a great deal of time and effort is expended inside and outside classrooms up and down the land learning and applying various mnemonics designed to help students structure their answers in ways that cover the required exam AO’s.


While a popular mnemonic like PEEL (Point, Example, Explanation, Link) encourage students to structure extended answers in a way that at least covers the Assessment Objectives, it’s use generally assumes students always understand how and why they’re using it.

And if they’re not clear about what common Assessment Objectives like Knowledge, Understanding, Application, Analysis and Evaluation actually mean in practice, this creates problems. If you’re asking students to apply ideas they don’t necessarily fully understand, all the scaffolding in the world’s not going to make much difference.

This is where a simple colour-coding technique comes into play: to complement your favourite teaching mnemonic in a way that allows you to quickly and efficiently identify whether your students understand what each Assessment Objective actually means when using it in exam-type answers.

As an added bonus this technique also enables you to immediately see which Objectives are being over-and-under used by individual students in their answers – an important, if often  overlooked, consideration in understanding how exam answers are marked.


Start the process by giving your students an exam question that involves some sort of extended writing. This will vary depending on the exam board you use and how you want to build your students up to answering the highest mark questions.

While you could start with a single-paragraph answer, the colour-coding technique works best as a diagnostic tool when you ask your students to write an answer that’s a few paragraphs long. Again, what constitutes “a few” is for you to decide but it shouldn’t be too difficult to assess the level at which your students are currently working and adjust things accordingly.

For the sake of illustration, therefore, let’s assume your students have to write a 4 or 5 paragraph answer that assesses them in terms of three common exam Objectives:

  • Knowledge and Understanding
  • Application
  • Analysis and Evaluation.

Once they’ve answered the question – and before submitting it for marking – get them to highlight every instance of:

  • Knowledge and Understanding in blue.
  • Application in green.
  • Analysis and Evaluation in yellow.

As you mark each student’s work you’ll have an immediate visual representation of what each understands by these terms – and whether or not their understanding is correct.

Colour-coding can, in this respect, be a useful diagnostic tool because it will clearly identify things like students misunderstanding the Assessment Objectives or focusing too much on one Objective to the exclusion of others.

By way of variation you can break-down the AO’s even further (such as Analysis in red and Evaluation in yellow) if you think that will help.

In addition you can get your students to do the colour-coding after you’ve marked and returned their work as a separate exercise.

Collections 4 | Introductory Sociology

At the start of a New Academic Year I thought it might be useful to bring together all the Introductory Sociology stuff I’ve created and posted over the past 10 years.

As you’ll understand if you have a look at the range of resources I’ve interpreted “Introductory” fairly widely – from pretty basic stuff around What Is Sociology? to a variety of different materials covering socialisation, culture and identity at different levels and a few bits-and-bobs around sociological perspectives.

If you’ve followed the Blog for any length of time you’ll probably be aware it’s a serendipitous mix of resources aimed at both teachers (such as lesson ideas) and students (mainly Notes, although there are a few other resources you might like to check out) and this Collection is no different.

So be aware that while there’s probably something here you’re going to find life changing vaguely useful, you may have to sift through stuff that’s not just to find it.

The Collection

Teaching Sociological Perspectives | 2: Into the Multiverse

As you’ll know if you’re up on your Marvel films (or have a passing interest in Ancient Greek philosophy) the concept of a multiverse is the idea that multiple universes exist in parallel with one another, side-by-side as it were, a bit like a 3-dimensional patchwork quilt.

Whether you see this idea as an exciting scientific hypothesis (albeit one that you can’t actually test or, indeed, falsify), an interesting philosophical question or a desperate attempt by massive media conglomerates to retcon the fact that while many of their superheroes clearly exist in the same space and time they all seem blissfully unaware of each other’s existence, is probably only something you can decide.

While the above, with the possible exception of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, raises some interesting sociological questions, of more interest for our current purposes is the fact that:

1. The concept of a multiverse is becoming increasingly well-known, thanks to the pervasive influence of the aforementioned media conglomerates.

2. The concept of separate universes all existing in the same time and space sounds uncannily like the idea of different sociological perspectives – a range of “universes of meaning” that, by-and-large, exist quite independently, more-or-less, of each other.

In other words, if you’re having trouble getting the idea of sociological perspectives across to students you could do worse than use the analogy of “The Multiverse” as a way of helping them get to grips with how and why perspectives as diverse as:

  • Functionalism
  • Conflict Theory
  • Action Theory and
  • Feminism

can all sit alongside each other as different interpretations of the world…

Introduction to Psychology Textbook

I did say there was a lot of text…

This is a free, open-source, psychology textbook similar in scope to the OpenStax Introduction to Psychology text. While the latter is, in my opinion, probably a better option, that’s mainly because the OpenStax text has a more up-to-date feel and isn’t quite so text heavy.

Having said that, if you’re into text-heavy texts this could be a good choice particularly, as I’ve noted, it’s free: so you and your students could happily have a copy each (or even a copy of both) to sit alongside whatever over-priced picture-heavy text you currently use as your main book.

Aside from the massive amount of text etc., this is a specifically Canadian text which uses Canadian spelling (don’t know how important that might be), the content broadly “reflects a Canadian perspective” (whatever that actually means) and the “images reflect Canadian specific content and references”. Which is nice if you’re a big fan of All-Things-Canadian. Or, optionally, you happen to be Canadian.

For everyone else? Maybe not so much?

Although, having said that, the OpenStax text is aimed squarely at a US audience so, as ever when looking at a gift horse in the mouth, you pays your money etc. and mix your metaphors.

One little extra that comes with Introduction to Psychology that might swing things in it’s favour is an accompanying Study Guide containing all kinds of test type questions – True/False, Short-Answer, Fill-in-the-Blank etc.

While the Study Guide contains nothing very sophisticated, it too is free and so not to be sniffed at.


Video Learning: GCSE Sociology

This set of resources produced by Calderstones School seems to have come into being during the recent pandemic when “video learning” was something schools were forced to develop to cover the times when their students couldn’t attend in person.

Most video lessons, I’d hazard a guess, were delivered by platforms like Zoom or, if your institution was really into collaborative stuff, Microsoft Teams. While it was possible to record these sessions I’m guessing it’s fairly unlikely anyone bothered because, with the best will in the world, they’re not likely to repay constant rewatching.

Click here for the Video course

Revision: Rolling the Dice?

Technically it’s a die.
But I won’t tell if you don’t…

As you’ll probably be aware, “asking questions” is one of the main tools teachers have in their imaginary toolbox and research has consistently shown that, done well and in the right hands, it’s an effective way to judge students’ comprehension, test their knowledge and encourage critical thinking.

So, on the basis it’s helpful for teachers to ask questions of their students, it probably makes sense for students to ask questions of themselves. And while self-questioning is generally beneficial at any point in your studies, it’s particularly useful for revision.

And one way to do it effectively is through a process called elaborative interrogation which, despite sounding disturbingly complex, is actually quite simple:

  • elaboration involves developing your understanding of something, such as a concept, theory or method, by explaining it in some way.

  • interrogation is the means to achieving this, by asking yourself questions.

The objective of elaborative interrogation, therefore, is to encourage you to develop your understanding of key ideas (concept, theories, methods or whatever) through a process of self-questioning – one that has two potential benefits:

First, it makes for more-interesting and personally challenging revision. You’re not simply trying to “remember things” – something that can become monotonous and self-defeating (if you lose interest in what you’re revising, revision itself becomes less effective). Rather, you’re trying to actively engage with the materials you need to recall and explain: a process that, almost by definition, helps you retain interest in the things you’re revising.

Second, higher-level exams such as A-levels require you to display a range of skills, such as interpretation, analysis and evaluation, that you need to encourage through your revision. Elaborative interrogation can help you cover these bases by asking three types of question:


Dynamic Learning: Active Learning and Cornell Notes

Dynamic Learning is the series title for a new set films we’re currently developing and rolling-out related to the psychology of learning.

The films are designed to give students practical, science-based, advice about a wide range of study techniques – from how to revise more-effectively using techniques like Spaced Learning and Retrieval Practice to, as with the third film in series, how to take more active and effective notes using the Cornell system.

Rather than mirror the didactic approaches of many past and present study skills films, Dynamic Learning is designed to be:

  • informative – suggesting, for example, key study opportunities students might want to try that are backed by scientific research – and

  • supportive: the focus is on how and why students might like to try different study techniques.

In relation to note-taking – one of the most important skills students need to understand and apply – most of us tend to write simple linear notes.

And while there’s nothing wrong with this method, there is a way to improve the quality of student note-taking that makes it more active, inquiring and revision-friendly.

Without radically changing how they take notes.

It’s called the Cornell Method and it’s been helping to improve academic performance for over 50 years.

This short film takes students through the simple steps they need to follow to transform the way they take notes and improve their chances of academic success.

Check-out the other films in the Dynamic Learning series:

The Power of Habits

Sleep and Memory

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