Greg's Favourite Lessons

It happened again this week!

I heard someone talking about a brilliant lesson they had seen… and I just had to have it.

This ‘someone’ was my extremely beautiful daughter and the lesson was a science demonstration lesson with year one students on the digestive system, which ends in a fairly realistic simulation of “poo” and now I will not rest until I have tried it, polished it and added it to my repertoire for classes of all ages with their teachers watching.

This is a habit that I am sure most teachers have developed over their teaching journey and after thirty-eight years of teaching practice I still love a new idea.

So this Wednesday’s Window on Wonderful is approx. two thousand words on great lessons I have stolen or am about to steal or I’ve at least heard of and would like to see more of.

But, first the Year One science lesson on the digestive system.

It starts with an oversized poster of the digestive system with a picture of a person who has been sliced in half for the benefit of science! In a pictorial way that is.

Then there is coloured post it notes to stick on all of the parts of the digestive system starting with the mouth and ending in the anus, with a few other bits and pieces like heart and lungs which live in the area but are not relatives to the day’s big performers.

Then the fun starts.

In a bowl representing the mouth are placed three Weet-bix, a banana and a cup of black coffee… this is called breakfast. Using a potato-masher that represents teeth, little kid gets to vigorously “Chew” breakfast before it is swallowed by adding a good squirt of cornflower and water “saliva” from a squeezable plastic bottle and placed in a self-seal plastic bag.

Here all of the kids get to feel the bag “Because that’s what your stomach feels like when it is full of food.”

To aid digestion some yellow (colouring) bile and digestive acids are added from two other squeezable bottles.

The contents of the stomach are then emptied into a longer narrow bowl called the large intestine but on the journey, sponge one for the liver and another for the pancreas take out some of the liquid and then the contents are funnelled into a stocking, that represents the small intestines.

Students get to be helpers with all of these jobs until finally a sting tie in the open end of the stocking is released (I think that’s called a sphincter!) and a healthy sized pile of excrement is squeezed from the anus!

By this stage by all reports students are pulling faces and making retching sounds which is not helped by the teacher asking “Would anyone like to taste it? It’s just Weet-bix and banana!”

Now who doesn’t want to teach a lesson like that one?

All great lessons have narrative and a hook. I keep a file with close to 300 hooks which I download from YouTube for whenever I need them. You will find many of these in our Mindset Manoeuvre Workshop and Bali Teachers Retreat.

There is an Australian guy called John Joseph who comes to your school to teach students about neurological approaches to learning. He throws plastic sheets over the desks and gives each kid a sheep’s brain to dissect!

Now that is a hook!

A hook is something that you use to get students addicted to your concept and so engaged that they neglect misbehaving.

These hooks need to appeal to the senses.

A brilliant book, a fabulous picture, a story that will make you cry, an artefact, an experiment, a game, a song, a thumping dance beat, a live animal of just about any description, a beautiful math puzzle, someone from a distant country, a dessert, a hands on experience, a walk to the park, an old person with a tale, a baby of any type, photos from a trip, a concert poster, a sporting triumph, a bag of lollies, a cooking experience, fruit on a tree, anything that hatches, a scientist with a cause, a survivor, a celebrity, a person with a cool job, anything dangerous, something you should never do at home, an artist, any-thing that has been in outer space, performers and jugglers, singers and climbers, a little kid who needs your help, a present, water pistols, favourite things, a long lost friend, free stuff, places that make things, smooth new technology, fashion, new kids, birthday cakes, all you can eat buffets, a trip to a theatre, butterflies, instant parties, plant some-thing, toys, snow, marshmallows, famous studies, sport stars, weapons, pictures of the principal dancing…

Difficult kids appreciate effort. They are difficult because life is complicated and love it when someone does something simple like finds something that fascinates them. There are a million hooks out there that do not take much time to find. All you will need is for one of them to take and you will have this group.

I can bet you every kid who cut up a brain with John Joseph remembers it forever!

And then there’s the internet.

Take this little collection of ads from Ameriquest that I have used possibly about a thousand times to teach pupils, teachers and parents to develop the habit of ASK.

ASK has three possible sets of Acronym titles (haha)

· Anger Salvation Kit

· Ask Show Know

· Arse Saving Kit

See more cool ads:




Put simply before you blow up or get angry or just make a rash judgement statement, consider that you might be wrong and simply ASK.

Over forty years ago a lecturer called George Barret told me about a lesson on cleaning your teeth which involved a trainee teacher with a length of rope (Giant Dental Floss) extracting a smelly towel (Food Scrap!) from between two students (Molars!) when she stopped and ask the students a strange question.

“Who feeds their dog?”

A scattering of hands went up.

“What does it smell like when you dog leaves some meat and it doesn’t get eaten?”

“It stinks.” One student replied.

“Well that’s what meat smells like when it’s caught between your teeth for a day!”


I had to do this lesson every time dental health got anywhere near my class level.

Here’s a great activity from Whole Brain Teaching which has some really good lessons.

It’s called the Crazy Professor Reading game… and I love it. (Please excuse all of the call and response stuff… but it’s great.)

Now how cool is that?

Try it with any year level and any reading material… it works.

My beautiful wife Kate's favourite lesson is the human clock.

Kate taught a lot of year three.

Eight year olds have lot of trouble with reading the analogue clock face, but when Kate breaks out a very large building nail, a length of string, with a large piece chalk tied on the ends and starts making a three meter radius clock face on the classroom floor even the terminally bored get interested.

She then gets the students to be the hands on an analogue clock and calls out a variety of different time measures from 4:05 to “A half past 7”.

Kids love it and suddenly everyone learns how to tell the time and wants a watch.

Kate backs this up by having three different clocks in the room. A functioning analogue clock, an old windup “Clockwork” clock with the case removed so you can see it working and a deconstructed bag full of all of the pieces that were in a windup clockwork clock.

My simplest hands on lesson has always been shave cream spelling or sums.

This is where you by some cheap spray on shave cream. Spay it on a desk top and get the students to smear it over the desk and then write their spelling words with their finger on the desk.

Kids love it, the desks get washed, the students get really clean hands, spelling practice becomes fun and the room smells better. Win/win/ win.

One of my most awesome lessons and certainly my most used demonstration lessons which I have done numerically hundreds of times is what I call Memory Circle.

Basically it is a giant memory game involving the whole class remembering what everyone else in the room likes to eat.

It starts with me going through my five major social skills which are

· Mutual Respect,

· No Put Downs,

· Active Listening,

· Be your best self,

· Get help

I then randomly mix up the students and have them do a quick TTYPA (Turn to Your Partner and…) “Find out what your partners favourite food to eat is.”

Then I have each student stand up and introduce their partner and tell us all what their favourite food is.” Then they share their partners answer with the class.

When a couple of pairs have shared I choose students at random to see if they can recall the answers given so far.

I then get them to turn to each other and practice remembering who likes to eat what.

I usually go in the same order but reverse the order once we get going so they get practice on the later ones.

After this I pick on another kid.

If a student struggles they can ask their partner or as many people as it takes to help them learn it.

There is no opting out but the price of getting help is that they have to demonstrate that they have tried hard and used metacognition by pulling thoughtful faces.

I then progress around the room in groups of four to six replies.

All students who get picked on succeed, with less or more help, and all get applauded with cool one second parties like these from strong works

I build up their resilience by asking rapid fire questions like “Who’s the pizza kid?”, “What does Germaine like?” and so forth so they get lots of practice.

Remarkably everyone is good at it with practice and they can remember each other’s favourite foods for months.

The Ultimate High Energy Warm Up

Here is one of the best demonstrations I have ever seen online, it’s by a guy called Randy Parish and it is simply a gym warm up but his timing is PERFECT.

Making Maths Marvellous

The key is with all of these great lessons is that kids are involved and inspired by action.

Here’s a really great example with bad sound… adjust the sound but love the math.

What Dave Burgess is doing here is simply turning great mathematics into a performance art.

Alex Kajitani does the same with his Rappin’ Mathematician approach…

Dan Finkel does the same with this little number…

But his real insight is his “Five Key Principles of extra ordinary Maths Teaching.”

Them being….

1. Start with a question

2. Students need time to struggle

3. You are not the answer key

4. Say yes to your students' ideas

5. Play

So let’s play with this for a bit.

1. Start with a question

Nearly every lesson idea starts with a KUDO… that is what is it that you want your students to Know, Understand and DO?

If you are looking to create a fabulous lesson, try the next question which is “What is it I REALLY want them to know say and do?”

Like “This was the best lesson of all time!” “I’ll remember this forever.” “I had the best time!”

Sure you can’t do this every lesson. But why not try for once a week.

2. Students need to struggle.

Plan a challenge. I threw one of my classes off a cliff once. One at a time on a camp in SW Western Australia… They were abseiling and they will remember it forever.

I certainly do.

3. You are not the answer key.

Great teachers are the questions not the answers. They irritate and annoy like Taylor Mali demonstrates here.

Be a miracle worker that makes students think.

4. Say yes to student’s ideas

Get used to saying “Good” to all of your student’s ideas, let them learn about problems and the future and to make predictions and fail. Let them be smarter than you and the whole thing comes alive.

5. Play

I used a concept called “Crazy Days” to seriously change the behaviour of a number of classes who needed much more love than normal to perform anywhere near satisfactorily. The concept was quite simple. If you showed me anywhere near the 100% I was demanding of you constantly, you suddenly had something brilliant happen in your class.

Making your own pizza lunches. Mystery sausage sizzles with chocolate cake. The arrival of a whole litter of gorgeous puppies. Shooting off water rockets on the basketball courts. Amazing science experiments, and so on appear out of nowhere on the timetable.

These were astounding and somewhat bemusing for some students whose only acknowledgement of their behavioural improvement was that they just were punished less.

They never had a Crazy Day when they expected it, or asked for it because “If you ask you don’t get!”

My thinking was, “If they behave badly we do no work… so let’s teach them that good things happen to people who do good things.”

If they misbehave on a Crazy Day they get to watch that “good things happen to people who do good things.”

The simple rule hidden here is never punish your whole class but reward them all until they prove you otherwise.

And they will reward you with a lesson you’ll never forget.

Learn more tools, strategies and lesson plans at our hands on Mindset Manoeuvre Workshop or Bali Teacher's Retreat where you can take home more of Greg's phenomenal lessons.

  • YouTube - White Circle
  • Twitter - White Circle
  • Instagram - White Circle
  • Facebook - White Circle

<script type="text/javascript">
    (function(e,t,o,n,p,r,i){e.visitorGlobalObjectAlias=n;e[e.visitorGlobalObjectAlias]=e[e.visitorGlobalObjectAlias]||function(){(e[e.visitorGlobalObjectAlias].q=e[e.visitorGlobalObjectAlias].q||[]).push(arguments)};e[e.visitorGlobalObjectAlias].l=(new Date).getTime();r=t.createElement("script");r.src=o;r.async=true;i=t.getElementsByTagName("script")[0];i.parentNode.insertBefore(r,i)})(window,document,"","vgo");
    vgo('setAccount', '224098593');
    vgo('setTrackByDefault', true);