Osiris Staffroom article by Isabella Wallace

Isabella Wallace’s blog article for Osiris proved so popular, we decided to publish it here in Staffroom – complete with the ultimate £ competition!


What do a beachball, a bell and an egg-timer have in common? Well, besides all being up for grabs at your average poundstore, they can each be a priceless resource for teachers of any subject. Let me explain.

It was about 20 years ago when, surviving on an NQT’s salary in the late 1990s, I discovered the wonders of poundstores for pedagogical inspiration. I still have my first ‘Throwing Thoughts’ beachball somewhere. It has a picture of Spider Man and sadly no longer inflates, but for several terms it worked wonders for getting pupils to sequence information by passing it around the class, or to announce one learning point before passing it on. I’ve built up an enviable collection of poundstore balls since then. Throwing them out into the waiting audience sends a deliberate message to those youngsters: “Be active in your own learning; get involved; collaborate. Don’t sit passively waiting to be spoon-fed. Your contribution is important! (And yes kids – I’ve been to the poundstore again.)”

After a little more investigative shopping, I soon discovered that your average poundstore also sells post-it notes – of all different colours, shapes and sizes. Let pupils stick their questions to the beachball, pass it around, and it becomes a tool for pupils to challenge one another – removing the questions as they are debated and answered. Nowadays, poundstores seem to have branched out further in their range of inflatable items to include inflatable barbells, inflatable microphones and other obscure shapes to capture a teacher’s imagination in unlikely ways. (NB: Please remember not ALL inflatables are appropriate in the classroom.)

The little bell I picked up in a bargain store in Louth has been a godsend for collaborative activities. One little ‘ding!’ and pupils, trained to respond to the auditory cue, will quickly end their discussion and come together again as a whole class. It’s also brilliant for signalling the start and end of competitive tasks.

And the pound-a-piece buzzing egg timers? Well that’s easy. One on each group table can add a competitive element to any class task, a helpful sense of urgency for the laid-back types, or can simply help pupils to remain focused and excited about their input. And it doesn’t stop there, perfect mini-plenaries involving flyswatters (pack of 6 for £1!), plasticine – not to mention cheap-as-chips wrapping paper – will all be very familiar to readers of ‘Pimp Your Lesson’. These random items lend themselves perfectly to learning activities that allow a teacher to measure and celebrate progress quickly and visibly.


Great Value Visuals

Poundstores are great for classroom displays too. During one October when the aisles were filled with Hallowe’en goodies, I discovered a packaged hanging skeleton that made for an eye-catching Gothic Literature display, not forgetting the plastic plaque of Dracula’s head and the mask of Frankenstein’s Monster. And did I mention they were all just £1 each? Classrooms can be adorned with brightly-coloured clothes pegs and metres of poundstore washing line on which pupils can hang their questions, opinions or maybe even the key learning points of the lesson to form a ‘Progress Line’.

Much to my partner’s dismay, my professional fascination for poundstores hasn’t waned over the years, and often you’ll see my partner waiting a discreet distance outside the shop, defensively clutching his Ted Baker shopping bags and pretending that he has no affiliation whatsoever with the woman inside the poundstore who is whooping in delight at the teaching treasures she is uncovering in the bargain bins.

The other week I made one of my most exciting discoveries to date: a hanging shoe holder. That’s right – one of those big transparent sets of plastic pockets that no one with a shred of taste would ever hang on their wall to display their flip-flops, let alone their Jimmy Choos. However, that crumpled, interior design eyesore was promptly straightened out and turned into a ‘Plenary Pockets’ device.

Hanging by the classroom door, pupils place notes in its pockets as they leave the classroom, each one detailing something new that the pupil has learned that lesson. It also works brilliantly as a ‘Wonder Wall’, allowing pupils to place questions that they have about the learning – things that they are wondering. It’s lovely to be able to have a look at these little ponderings and find ways to ensure that enquiring minds are fulfilled in subsequent lessons. The other day a brilliant teacher suggested to me that because the shoe holder has several rows, it could contain tasks pertaining to different curriculum levels or grades, thus allowing pupils to challenge themselves appropriately – helping themselves to tasks at their own discretion. Another perfect poundstore proposal!

A further fab little gem from the land of poundstores – a pack of six party hats, assorted colours. If you’ve ever used Edward De Bono’s Thinking Hats to help pupils analyse a concept or approach a problem, you’ll know where I went with this one. Even more intriguing are the celebrity masks that have recently begun to pop up on the poundstore shelves; promising exciting hot-seating opportunities or even just simply a more modern representation of De Bono’s Hats. What negatives, risks or problems might the wearer of the Simon Cowell mask identify when reviewing something, whilst ‘Mr Brightside’ Louis Walsh lists all the positives, Nicole Sherzinger gives an emotional, instinctive reaction and Dermot O’Leary gives an objective overview?


The Poundstore Pedagogy Challenge

So here’s the challenge, my teacher friends: try entering one of these wondrous places with a colleague, and task each other to find teaching inspiration from what you see on the shelves. Once you’ve got past the childish temptation to dare each other to take various items to the shop assistant in this ‘Everything’s a Pound’ store and innocently and painstakingly ask how much each one costs, you will actually discover an invigorating eureka feeling; the feeling that comes from realising you’ve invented something inspirational in your head.

To introduce you to the giddy high of pedagogical poundstore probing, we’d love to hear if you can come up with an inspirational way to use any of the poundstore items on these pages as an effective teaching and learning resource in your lessons. Send us your brainwaves and remember colleagues, you may not be able to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but you sure can make a jolly good learning resource out of a poundstore. SR


Written by
Isabella Wallace

Isabella is the co-author of the hugely popular teaching guides ‘Talk-Less Teaching’ and ‘Pimp Your Lesson!’. She has experience on both sides of the observation process, as assessor and assessed. Isabella knows exactly what’s needed to make teaching Outstanding, and shares it through her unique brand of fresh, thoroughly modern, highly practical training.

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