Knowledge Organisers – the way forward or the road to ruin?

An update just for Angus Laidlaw – What the historians are up to at Hayesbrook? (Or CPD for our Irish friends)


Since September 2016 I have been mourning the loss of teaching the OCR Schools History Project GCSE to Year 10 pupils. This loss was heightened by a growing realisation that our pupils were not progressing well with the new specification GCSE from Edexcel which we had chosen as the replacement. Both staff and pupils felt that they were drowning under the scale of the content and having spoken to other teachers at the school I knew that we were not the only department concerned by this.

I have always been pretty confident about teaching content, as well as the more important bit of getting it to stick with the pupils. History outcomes have been pretty consistent now for 4/5 years and above the national average for GCSEs. Working in an all boy secondary modern in a highly selective area (West Kent) I had however got a bit complacent – certainly the new specification has shaken this off and led me to consider using knowledge organisers again, something I had always discounted as I didn’t think I/we needed to.

I was always pretty interested when I first started to see knowledge organisers discussed on twitter – probably nearly two years ago. I could clearly see their value and agreed with much of the sentiment in posts I read from people such as Joe Kirby – found here. But, I never went as far as producing one as I felt comfortable that our pupils didn’t need one and their outcomes suggested my assessment was correct. Since September it has been nagging at me, and to be honest some people’s evangelical belief in them has triggered my stubborn side and delayed earlier use of them. However I decided early in January that we needed to make a change so I have been preparing a, ‘knowledge organiser trial’, on the next unit in the GCSE course, which just happens to be the ‘Medicine on the British sector of the Western Front’. We are teaching it between February half term and Easter, and having put it together I’m actually looking forward to seeing how it goes. I followed the structure of the Pearson textbook when putting it together and although I would like in the future to reduce it down slightly, as a starting position I’m reasonably happy with it. Feel free to have a look below.


I did know that I wanted to ensure that we launched the concept properly with parents and pupils so letters have been sent home via email, with a PDF version of the organiser and our intentions. Also all pupils have their own paper copy and each of the three classes have enough A3 laminate versions to have one between two. I also felt pretty strongly that just producing these would not be enough so I have been busy producing the low stakes tests and quizzes which we will use alongside the organisers to assist the pupils retention of it –  this will be for all staff with greater scope to track class participation and outcomes using Show my Homework and Quizlet. My desire to create more resources on quizlet was the result of presenting at the schools Year 11, ‘How to revise evening’, and deciding to push the retrieval and low stakes testing I always do but in a more organised manner. (Currently this is normally me reeling of 20 questions for pupils at the start of a lesson)

(I always like talking to parents about revision – I lean heavily on material from Daniel Willingham, Deans for Impact and the Learning Scientists. If you want to know more about revision, the brain and how we learn those links will provide plenty of material to keep you going. )

So that’s it – all the information has been emailed out and using SMHW I can actually see that 14 pupils out of 29 have accessed the pdf online so far in half term (Not sure why seeing as they have a paper copy…). We toyed with the idea of having a ‘control group’ class out of the 3 in Year 10 that didn’t receive the organisers; so we could see how effective they are. However when it came to it I just felt that this approach is much better and it seemed unfair to leave a group out.

I will provide some feedback on here as to how it goes.


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