Pop QuizSecondary EducationUncategorized

Pop Quiz: Woah, I Wasn’t Expecting Them To Say That

Hey there, Scholars of Doubt! It’s the weekend and, depending where in the world you are, the end of one of the first weeks of the new school term. I’m really pleased with my classes this year; I haven’t experienced any major discipline issues yet and almost all of the pupils seem keen and ready to learn.

My class of Second Year pupils (which equates to Seventh Grade in the USA) has definitely been the highlight of my working day so far this term. This is an “accelerated” class, meaning that it consists of pupils who have been identified as having particular ability in English. Classes like this are always a joy to teach, but they also require a very high level of preparation. These are kids who want to be pushed, to be intellectually challenged.

One of our first tasks this year involves learning the skills required to write an effective persuasive essay. Rhetoric, essentially. I had planned a carefully-crafetd series of lessons which would introduce (or revise, depending on what they’d covered in previous years) the various persuasive techniques they would need. Each pupil would then go on to research one of a number of pre-chosen topics before writing a (hopefully) well-crafted piece based on their findings.

I usually approach this type of topic in this way with younger classes. I find that providing a pre-selected list of possible research topics allows me to concentrate on teaching the actual mechanics of persuasive writing and prevents pupils from choosing enticing but shallow topics such as CALL OF DUTY IS BETTER THAN HALO. This time, however, the class really surprised me and forced me to seriously re-evaluate my plans.

I had asked, kind of on the spur of the moment, if anyone in the class could give me an example of the kind of topic that might work well for this type of writing. I was expecting the usual mix of “capital punishment”, “abortion”, “animal testing” suggestions, but what I got was far more impressive.

The class came up with so many absolutely superb and unusual suggestions that I realised I had been severely underestimating them. I scrapped my “pre-planned” topic idea and let them choose their own. Some of the topics they suggested included:



  • The legitimacy of military intervention in Syria.
  • Whether the voting system in the UK leads to unfair representation in parliament.
  • The benefits and drawbacks of allowing increased use of personal ICT in the classroom.
  • Whether or not books should be subject to age restrictions like films and games already are.

I was truly impressed and it led to a bit of self-reflection on my behalf. What if I had just pushed ahead with my own plan and hadn’t asked that throw-away question? These kids are all so polite that it’s likely that none of them would have questioned me. I’d have been restricting their choices and possibly forcing them to produce inferior, less heartfelt pieces of writing. Now I have a class of pupils who are actually looking forward to writing an essay because they’ve all chosen a topic they care about.

How about you? If you’re a teacher, have you ever underestimated (or overestimated!) a student or class in the way I did? If so, did you catch it in time?

If you’re a student, have you even been on the receiving end? Has a teacher ever underestimated you? How did you deal with the situation?

What are some of the most interesting discussion topic suggestions you’ve ever heard from students?

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 3pm ET.


Featured Image Credit: RJH School

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Alasdair is a high school English teacher in Scotland. He's a passionate skeptic and science fan, which is why he runs a discussion club for young skeptics in his school. He loves space and astronomy more than pretty much anything and is studying for a physics degree in his spare time in order to become qualified to teach science.

He lives with a cat made of distilled hatred and spikes.

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