Monthly Archives: February 2015

Fun and Games

We all play games.

It might be just a quick “hangman” to break up a lesson when they’re struggling to remember a key term. It might be biological charades in an end of term session (always a joy to watch them trying to do “endoplasmic reticulum”). Blockbusters is perenially popular – here’s a pre-made grid that will fill in the colours when you click on the block (click once for red, twice for green), Blockbusters Grid though you might want to prepare your words/questions in advance – whenever I try to improvise, my mind goes blank. I like the way that the same answer (e.g. Penicillin) can have multiple questions depending on the age and ability of the group (compare: “what P was the first antibiotic discovered?” to “which P inhibits the synthesis of bacterial cell walls?”).

There are lots of others. A colleague discovered a splendid set of Top Trumps cards on SAPS, featuring plant secondary metabolites. The LD50 data was particularly intriguing. I sometimes get classes to design games for homework – a board game based on Metabolic pathways, perhaps. And there’s the transcription/translation race…

But if I had to choose just one game to use with a class, it would be this version of Biological Articulate. I like it because it’s brilliant fun, it’s very simple (just needs a bit of preparation time), every student has to be involved (not true for some of the games mentioned above) and every student, every student, absolutely loves it. Does it have educational value? Judge for yourselves.

This is based on a class of 20 students.

Make a list in Word of all the new biological vocabulary they’ve covered in the year/term/topic. 40 to 50 words is a minimum. Add some random spoilers (“I love sausages”, “my cousin is an elderberry”, “One Direction are rubbish”). Format it as 2 columns in Calibri 24 font with a line break between each word/phrase. Print it all off and make 5 photocopies.

Take one of the copies and cut out each word on to a separate strip of paper. Put them all into a large, brown envelope. Repeat with the remaining 4 copies. This will take a while, but now you’re ready for action. You should have 5 large brown envelopes, each with the same collection of words/phrases.

In the lesson, ask the class to divide into pairs, encouraging them to pair up with someone they feel a special, mental affinity for, someone with whom they feel almost telepathic. Pick a pair at random and ask them to challenge another pair.  These 4 students now need to sit, one at each side of a desk, facing their partner. Set up all the other students in the same way. With a class of 20, you’ll have 5 desks with 2 pairs on each.

Now explain the rules. Each table has an envelope (brandish envelope theatrically). In the envelope are many strips of paper with words or phrases on them. The envelope will start with one person on the table. When you shout, “Go!”, that person removes one strip of paper and attempts to describe the word/phrase to their partner. If their partner says the exact word/phrase on the strip, put it on the desk (it’s a point to that team) and take out another one. After one minute, you will shout, “Change!” (and trust me, you’ll need to shout) and it passes to the person on the right. After 4 minutes, everyone on the table will have had a turn describing, and every person will have had a turn guessing. The winners (obviously) are the team with the most correctly guessed words.


  • You can’t do rhymes (e.g. “it sounds like “bell””).
  • You can’t do spelling (e.g. “C, E, L, L…”).
  • You can’t do foreign language equivalents (e.g. “C’est un cell….”).
  • You can’t use any of the words in the phrase (e.g. “washing machine” cannot be described as a machine that does the washing).

The job of the pair waiting their turn is to observe and enforce the rules.

And it’s wonderful. The shyest, quietest student gets stuck in. You and they will cry with laughter at some of the frantic descriptions and the increasingly noisy frustrations when students fail to get something obvious. You have to keep a close eye on the clock in order to yell “change!” at the right moment (or you can project a big countdown clock on the board, but it’s otherwise pretty bomb proof. And they will spend the rest of the year asking when they can play the word game again.

So I like it for all those reasons. But I think it works at another level too. They can’t do well at the game without both recognising the word/phrase and understanding it. It also forces them to try and explain it in their own words. Similarly, you can’t recognise the word without understanding the description and knowing the vocabulary. And the combination of noisy anonymity and competitiveness means they’re not afraid to get it wrong, or clam up because they feel the weight of people looking at them.

Enzymes and Immigration

I love using role play in Biology lessons to help illustrate or clarify biological processes. The Osmosis paper fight that I mentioned last week is one example. Role play works, I think, because as well as being fun and a bit different, it provides a vivid way of visualising something that’s working on an invisible, molecular scale. I always urge my students to try and “see” what’s going on in the test tube, and good role play can do this at least as well as a good animation.

Here’s an idea for helping clarify enzyme kinetics with your Year 12s. This one gets rave reviews – indeed, one student now studying medicine at Bristol said she still uses it in exams to help her answer questions. Goes something like this…

Bring all the students over to one side of the lab.

So, any of you ever been abroad?

Everyone’s hands go up.

When you went abroad, how many of you went in an aeroplane?

Again, it’s unanimous.

So, when your aeroplane landed in this abroad place, what happened next?

They run through the various rituals from baggage collection to passport control.

Right, let’s focus on passport control. I ask slightly less than half of the class (so 5 students from a class of 12) to come and sit on the 5 chairs I’ve arranged in a row along the side of the lab. I send the rest of the students over to the other side of the lab.

Right, I say to the 5 seated students, you lot are Immigration Officials. You’ve been given some Key Performance Indicators which include how quickly you can clear passengers as they come off an aeroplane. You’re super keen and you’ve all arrived early for work this morning!

But, I say to the rest of them, you passengers, after your 12 hour flight to Mongolia (or wherever), are feeling a bit frustrated because your plane has been put in a holding pattern above the airport while they wait for the pollution to clear.

Back to the seated students. So, what’s your rate of passenger clearance? How many passengers are you processing per unit time?



There aren’t any passengers!

Right! So how could we increase your rate of passenger clearance?

Give us some passengers!

OK! Back to the plane. Good news! Your plane has finally landed and you’re starting to disembark. Some of you are still struggling with the overhead lockers, but one of you has sprinted clear with your carry on bag and have got to Immigration!

Ask them to go and stand in front of an available immigration officer.

What’s happened to your rate of passenger clearance?

It’s gone up.

Can it go any higher?



More passengers!

And so I bring the rest of the flight through one by one, making sure they stay opposite their immigration officer.

When all the immigration officers are busy, I ask, can the rate of passenger clearance go any higher?

They can all immediately see it – No!

Why not?

They’re/We’re all busy!

So, turning to the passengers remaining, what do you have to do?

Wait for an immigration officer to become available.


Now reverse it! Send the 5 immigration officers to one side and have all the passengers landed and waiting at passport control…. Facing 5 empty seats!

What’s the rate of passenger clearance?


But why? There’s loads of passengers!

But there’s no immigration officers!

So how do we increase the rate?

Add an immigration officer!

I ask one of the 5 to take a seat and a passenger to be processed.

Can I increase it any more?



Add another immigration officer!

Keep going. Every time you add an officer, the rate goes up.

Wrap it all up by asking them to go back to their seats, and use the analogy to identify two factors that affect the rate of enzyme action, and sketch two separate graphs predicting the shape of the curve when these factors are plotted against rate.

They see the analogy immediately. It really helps them explain key ideas about available active sites and so on. They argue back and forth about the graphs, especially enzyme concentration (they quickly work out that substrate concentration must level off). This powerpoint animation might be useful at this point. enzyme and substrate conc animation Notice how it gets them to count the active sites vs substrate molecules.

The Casein/Trypsin practical is also a good follow up activity, partly because it illustrates the trend so nicely, but also for practising evaluation. Enzyme Concentration casein 2015

Next week is half term so will be Burble-less. Normal service will be resumed during the week of Mocks which follows.

Have a good fortnight!


Good Golly, Miss Molymod

Just a quick idea this week as I was working on the George learns to walk page.

Do your GCSE students struggle to remember the balanced formula equation for respiration?

Try this.


Draw a molecule of glucose on the board and get them to build a molymod version (in pairs). They enjoy this. It’s a challenge and they’ve got to concentrate.

Get them to count the atoms. Link this to the formula for glucose.


Now give each pair 10 (it’s important that it’s 10!) oxygen molecules.


Burning (i.e. oxidising) things in oxygen gives what waste products? Carbon dioxide and water.

So get them to completely oxidise their glucose molecule, using as many oxygens as they need, to give carbon dioxide and water.



Look at the molecules they’ve built now. How many carbon dioxides? How many waters? And how many oxygens did you need? Can’t remember? Well, how many have you got left from the 10?

You could line the molecules up and get them to take a photo with their phone. Or get them to take photos as they go along.


But, and here’s the thing, they remember the balanced formula.