Active revision strategies for the classroom

Four revision techniques

The very word ‘revision’ can strike fear into the hearts of students and teachers. Revision is associated with prolonged periods of stress in preparing students for examinations and assessments, extra sessions in an already overburdened workload and teachers being on their knees at the end of June exhausted after investing so much energy and time in their young charges before they enter the exam room. It does not have to be like this. Revision and reviewing knowledge can be an extremely engaging and enjoyable experience.

The active revision strategies that follow in this article all aim to tackle the traditional image of revision being cooped up in a room reading and writing endless notes. All of the following ideas can be applied to any lesson and requires minimal preparation for the teacher.

Revision shopping

This activity can take up most, if not all, of a revision lesson and online materials which can be adapted for any lesson can be found on my blog Revision shopping works in the following stages using a history topic as an example –

  1. Prep-prepare a list of terms or factors associated with the topic to be revised, for example the rise of Hitler.
  2. Add a price tag to each factor depending upon the importance to the topic or exam question that you are focusing on. For instance, on the topic of the rise of Hitler you could price the Treaty of Versailles at £2, the Great Depression at £3 and so on.
  3. Give your students a budget, deliberately keeping it short so they cannot afford all the factors.
  4. Ask the students which factors would they buy and they have to record their choices and the reasons for their decisions.
  5. The evaluation and class discussion are crucial for this task. Key questions could be – ‘Were the prices fair?’, ‘Would you adjust the prices for any of the factors?’ and ‘Were there any factors that were missing?’

Crocodile creek

Students can work in pairs or groups for this activity and they will need a grid like the one below to represent a crocodile-infested creek.

The aim of this activity is to move a counter across the river, row by row, by selecting one square from each of the rows. Each chosen square must link with the previous one in order to make a successful passage across. The student with the most successful series of links wins.

The first stage of the activity is to ask students to fill in their blank creek with items of information from a topic that they need to revise. It would be a good idea to model this stage so the students know what they should be producing. So for example, a crocodile creek on The Cold War could look like this –

  • Successful routes across the creek could be Churchill – 1946 – Iron Curtain or Roosevelt – 1945 – Yalta.
  • Once the students play crocodile creek in their pairs or groups, challenge them with a target of how many links they need to make. This can them be shared in a plenary session with the students sharing the different links they have made.

Visual hexagons

  • The main objective in using visual hexagons for revision is to encourage students to make links between different elements of a topic and to explain them.
  • Visual hexagons have a fixed pattern like the one below with images relating to a central question or topic to be revised in each hexagon.

The first stage of the activity is students must identify the images and how they relate to the central question. The image can represent not only a specific person or event but also a larger point that may summarise an area or bigger aspect which link to the set question. Once students are clear about each image, students can then complete the main task which is to explain each link between the images where the sides of the hexagons touch.

These visual hexagon activities can provide students with a great revision visual learning aid which gives the hooks to prompt memory as well as an attractive summary of a topic or question within a students’ notes.

The lift test

The lift test allows students to consider carefully the core of a specific argument, its importance and the central pieces of evidence that support a specific point.

The lift test must be placed in a scenario such as the following – you need to start this activity by giving each student, pair or group a particular argument, this could be in the form of –

  • You have written a book about To Kill a Mockingbird and it could be used to support the causes of Civil Rights Movement in 1960s America.
  • You have produced a documentary called Henry VIII – hero or tyrant?
  • You have written an article about the significance of bees.
  • You have created a public art project about the three most influential modern artists.

The student has been granted five minutes of the publisher/TV producer/editor/gallery owner’s time to present your pitch [i.e. argument]. However, once you arrive for your appointment, the publisher/TV producer/editor/ gallery owner has double booked and says ‘Sorry, something has come up give me an overview on the way to my car’. You now have one minute to pitch your argument as you join them in the lift down to the car park. Students make their presentations.

This form of presentation can work extremely well in a revision context as it makes the students think about giving an overview of a specific issue or argument which they may face in the exam you are training them for. The task is flexible enough to modify for any subject and for any arguments and issues and requires very little preparation on your part. Also, the lift test allows students to practice important exam skills such as –

  • Communicating an important argument in a concise manner.
  • Evaluation of the main points of an argument and their importance.
  • Consider the significance of the evidence that supports the key points of an argument and to emphasise the ‘selling point’ of the argument.
  • Application of knowledge and present it in a structured manner.

This article was influenced by the work of Isabella Wallace, Leah Kirkman, Mark Cowan and Neil Watkin.

This article first appeared in our free UKEdMagazine, which is available to view by clicking here.

John Mitchell – History Teacher and author of 100 Ideas for Secondary School Teachers: Revision published by Bloomsbury Find him on Twitter at @Jivespin and read his blog at

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