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Analogies in teaching

October 6, 2017

I thought I’d share a few analogies that I use to get ideas across to students.

The rugby player

One I’ve borrowed from a Welsh colleague is that of a school-level rugby player. They are bigger than the other kids in their year and can comfortably smash their way through the opposition and score tries. The coach tells them they need to learn to pass the ball as they’re tackled but they don’t see the need as they can just plough through the tackles and go on to score. At county level, they use the same approach and since the opposition are now better, this player is getting successfully tackled, driven back and the team are suffering turn-overs because they haven’t learnt to pass the ball on contact. They are dropped from the team and  progress no further.

This is like students that refuse to show working out in maths when they feel that the questions are easy enough. They are not developing the skills needed (think of solving equations) when the questions are straight-forward and therefore don’t have suitable strategies for when the questions are more advanced. I have seen this happen multiple times and having used this analogy, more students have started showing better workings.

The passport

“That homework isn’t good enough – you need to do it again.”

“Oh, but I tried some of it and I didn’t get how to do the rest.”

When you apply for a passport (or a driving license) you probably would not hand in a form when you’re not sure if it’s correct and/or with bits incomplete. If you do, it WILL get sent back to you and you’ll have to do it again. In fact, there is a post office service where you can pay to have someone check the form for you before it’s sent off to help avoid this. I offer a service where you can show me your homework before it’s due in and I’ll help you fill in the bits you’re struggling with. For free.

(You could mention that homework is like a passport to future success if you want to. I can’t quite bring myself to say it but you might like to!)

The bath

How do you fill a bath when the plug is out? By making sure that the taps are on fast enough to put more water in than is leaking out.

Which water goes down the plug hole first? The water near the bottom.

I use this to help describe a revision process. Of course, it is absolutely normal to forget things. The things that were learnt in year 9 are more likely to be the things that were forgotten (unless they’ve been revisited). Students can combat this by revising topics and keeping the bath topped up as they go through the course.

I also point out that if the plug is mostly in (this could be effective revision strategies that make forgetting the stuff less likely) then a steady drip over time will fill the bath too. It’ll also be a lot less stressful than trying to slosh bucket loads in just before bath time.


Hopefully you might find these useful and can use them with your classes!


From → Maths, Teaching

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