A school which is successfully developing as a thinking community will strive to ensure that all students leave us with the ability to demonstrate confidence, independence, innovation, resilience, co-operative learning skills and are able to use a range of thinking tools and strategies. At our school we aim to do this through the medium of ‘Dare, Excel, Share, Create’ DESC or ‘Four to Grow’.

The challenge in any school is how we encourage the development of these skills in lessons without the exercise being a simple ‘add on’ or a token gesture.

Here I share SEVEN ways I have previously used ‘Four to Grow’ or am planning to use this forthcoming academic year, both in individual lessons and also as an ongoing process to support our students in practicing and understanding the value of the skills they are developing.

  1. DESC Tables

Assign each table in your classroom with a D, E, S, or C. During certain tasks, in teams, students complete the task that corresponds to whether their table is Dare, Excel etc. This can also be used to personalise the learning, if you seat according to ability, certain tables can be given more challenging work etc

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 19.00.36   2.  DESC Group roles

On occasions where you require students to collaborate on a task, assign each student with a key role. I give students their group role half termly, they should then experience each of these roles over the course of a year and practice the development of different skills. Additional support can be given with a more detailed description of the role for a specific task or the role’s associated verbs. (e.g. Share= To co-operate, contribute, collaborate, communicate)


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  1. DESC ‘ABC Feedback’

The teacher asks students a question and then targets someone to answer. The student then target one of their peers to Agree with; Build upon; or Challenge their answer and the question then gets bounced around the room by the students. It’s a great way to encourage students to drive the course of the lesson by leading group and classroom discussion and also means all students have to be on their toes at all times, as at any point they could be targeted. This forces them to listen to their peers as they could be called upon to respond. (It’s clear when someone hasn’t been paying attention). 123 it’s as easy as ABC and adds a sophisticated level of inclusivity and differentiation to the lesson.

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    4. EXCEL Thinking

Excel Thinking tasks are ‘challenge’ activities, designed to extend student’s thinking. The expectation is that all students should attempt these tasks.

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Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 17.49.57     5. DESC Questioning

These DESC Questioning cards are based on the principles behind the Socratic questioning technique. The Socratic approach to questioning is based on the practice of disciplined, thoughtful dialogue. Socrates, the early Greek philosopher/teacher, believed that disciplined practice of thoughtful questioning enabled the student to examine ideas logically and to determine the validity of those ideas. Critical thinking skills are practiced while students think, discuss, debate, evaluate, and analyse content through their own thinking and the thinking of those around them. This type of questioning does take some practice on the student’s part! I’ve laminated these into small packs so they are always at hand and for repeated use.


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DESC Socratic questioning cards

  1. DESC Activity Generator

This is a collection of 17, mainly plenary activities, personalised to the verbs associated with Dare, Excel, Share and Create. Easy to navigate, just play from the start, click on any of the verbs and you will be taken to the accompanying activity. Ideal for when you need a quick activity idea, can be used for any subject and gives lots of variety for students.

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4 to Grow Activity Generator

     7.  Sentence DESCalator

I was inspired by an Andy Tharby blog post to create this English related task, applicable to any subject where students have to write. Being new to teaching English has taught me the value of all teachers regardless of subject, teaching and modeling better writing and this activity helps to guide students towards making conscious decisions about their sentence structure choices. The initial verbal comment is moulded into shape, extended and improved upon in a way that involves the whole class.

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