Resources

The following activities and resources have all been used successfully in vertical tutor groups, either by myself or at schools I have done research in:

Talking About the Holidays (planned discussion):
Beginning as the tutees were coming in and sitting down, the tutor asked them one by one what they did during the half-term holiday. The tutor made positive comments and asked a few further questions to find out more detail and other tutees interjected with their own comments (for example ‘Oh, I went there too’) and questions. This took approximately 20 minutes.

Story Discussion (planned discussion):
The tutor asked the whole class for suggestions about what would make a good story and what a good story needs, eliciting suggestions from her tutees. Then, using her laptop and BBC iPlayer, the tutor played a recording of a story written by a teenage girl about the death of a relative, which had originally been broadcast on BBC Radio 2. The whole class listened and then the tutor asked each one for their reaction to the story, using open questions to try and elicit a deeper, more empathic response. This took about 15 minutes because in this case the pupils did not have much to say about the story they had heard.

In the News (planned discussion):
This was a regular planned discussion done in several different ways. In every case, news stories from the media were used as stimulus for whole class discussion. For example, the tutor might conduct a whole class discussion by holding up a newspaper article she had brought in so the tutor group could see the headline and then reading the article to them and asking each tutee for their response, using further questioning to elicit a deeper and more nuanced response, to challenge assumptions and encourage discussion between different tutees. The same thing was done by projecting a story from the BBC News website onto the Interactive Whiteboard. This took between 15 and 20 minutes.

Another variation was to give newspapers from that morning to pairs or threes of pupils and ask them to find an article that interested them. Then after 10 minutes, spokespersons from each pair/three were asked to summarise the story for the rest of the tutor group and explain why they found it interesting. The tutor would use this as stimulus for further discussion by using further questioning to elicit a deeper and more nuanced response, to challenge assumptions and encourage discussion between different tutees. This took 20-25 minutes and there was never enough time for all pairs/threes to contribute an article.

A similar activity was done individually using computers and the BBC News website, and again individuals were asked to contribute stories they had found online as a stimulus for further discussion. Once again, this took 20-25 minutes and there was not enough time for every individual to contribute an article.

Buddy Day Grade Review
This was done once a week. The tutor sat down with a pair of students from the same year group (a different pair each week) and, one at a time, they looked at each students’ most recent grade review on the tutor’s laptop (the students got a grade review at the end of each half term). They looked at the grades each student had been given for each subject, compared them to their target grade for that subject and discussed why they had exceeded, met or missed their target. The tutor asked questions to elicit reflection from each student whose grade review was being discussed, and to elicit observations from the other who, being in the same classes, saw the other student first hand. The tutor then elicited suggestions from each student about how they and their partner could do better. So, for example, the student whose grade review was being discussed might ask his partner ‘Do you think I muck about in French?’ and their partner might say ‘Yeah, maybe you should sit near the front instead.’ The tutor noted the actions each student decided to take and returned to these notes the next time this pair discussed their grade reviews.

This took the whole tutor time of 25 minutes, which was just enough to discuss both students’ grade reviews.

Writing Self-report and Talking About Achievements
This activity was related to that half term’s theme, which was celebrating achievement. Students had to complete a ‘self report’ form which included a section (about a third of an A4 page long) about what they had achieved that year (personally and academically). As they did so, they discussed what they were putting down with the student sitting next to them.
The tutor group spent the two tutor time sessions of 25 minutes doing this but some finished quicker than others and discussed other things.

The Describing Game
This game was played as a whole tutor group. One student, the describer, stood at the front of the class and thought of another student in the tutor group. One by one, starting with whomever the tutor chose (for instance, at the top-left of the room), each student asked the describer to describe the person they were thinking of in a particular manner, for example: ‘Describe them as a colour.’ The describer would reply with their description, for example: ‘They’re a sort of fiery orange.’ From these descriptions the students would try to guess who the describer was thinking of. The first student to guess correctly became the next describer and the tutor would restart the game with the next student in line to ask for a description. This ensured that everyone in turn got a chance to ask for a description.
Rounds of the game varied in length depending on how quickly a student could guess who the describer was thinking of, but five minutes was fairly typical. The game kept the students engaged for the whole tutor time of 25 minutes.

Finding Out Something New About Partner
Students were asked to find out something new about their partner by asking them questions about their hobbies, holidays, family etc. At the end, the tutor asked for feedback from each student about what new thing they had found out.
In the example I saw, the activity did not take a whole tutor time because it was near the end of the year and the students were asking the person they sat next to, who was already very well known to them. With students who were less well-known to each other it would probably take a whole session, especially if students had to circulate (perhaps a bit like speed-dating).

Birthday Party
The tutor group celebrated the birthday of one of the students by first eating cake and crisps, and drinking soft drinks, which the tutor had brought in, and then playing musical chairs. Music was also played while the tutor group ate and chatted.
This took the entire tutor time of 25 minutes.

Drama Games:

The Clap Rhythm Game (also known as ‘President, President’): The players (all the tutees and the tutor) sit in a circle. Each position in the circle has a number rank, with the top one being called the ‘President’, the next ‘Treasurer’, then ‘Secretary and the rest proceeding in number order from number 1 (see diagram below).

Pasted Graphic

The President starts by clapping in rhythm, which everyone else has to join in and maintain. Then, in time with that rhythm, the President says their own title: ‘President, President’. Next, without breaking the clap rhythm, they say the title of another player, for example ‘Number seven, number seven’. That player then has to say their title (in our example, ‘Number seven, number seven’) followed by the title of another, for example ‘Number two, number two.’ When anyone hesitates, gets words wrong or otherwise breaks the rhythm they go to the bottom position (in the diagram above, that would be number 7) and everyone below them moves up one position. The aim is to be President at the end of the game.

The game I saw took about 10 minutes to play once but the tutor told me that it is quite addictive and her students usually wanted to play it over and over again.

The Tick Tock Game:
One person is ‘it’, and they start off standing in a corner of the room. All the chairs are spread around the room with the rest of the tutor group sitting on them, so that there is only one empty chair. The aim of the person who is ‘it’ is to get to a free chair and sit on it, but they can only walk slowly with a rocking ‘tick tock’ motion, whilst saying ‘tick tock’ in time with their rocking walk. The aim of the rest of the tutor group is to block them by moving to sit on the free chair before the person who is ‘it’. Apart from the person who is ‘it’, only one other person can be out of their seat at any time and no talking is allowed. This means that the tutor group have to be very aware of what is going on, and use eye contact and body language, to ensure that they do not leave a free seat close enough to the person who is ‘it’.

When I saw it, the students played it for about 10 minutes after a game of ‘President, President’. They found it extremely challenging to do without talking or without more than one person getting out of their seat at a time. The tutor had to be very strict with the rules, but it seems likely that a tutor group who learned to do this well would be working extremely well as a team.

Peer-teaching
The tutor put the students into mixed year group pairs and directed them to each teach the other something. In the example I saw one pair, who were friends with only one year between them, just chatted, whilst the other pair, who had two years between them, only had time for the older one to teach the younger one something (in this case, how to play a few bars on a keyboard in the tutor group room, which was a music room).
In the example I saw, the tutor only gave the two pairs about 10 minutes to do this before moving on to the jewellery-making when the rest of the tutor group arrived from something they had been doing outside the tutor group.

Jewellery-making
The tutor provided each student with a plastic necklace string and metal clasp. She also placed a box full of variously coloured and shaped plastic beads in the middle of the table (the desks were arranged into one ‘conference-style’ island around which the whole tutor group could sit). Then she showed the students how to thread beads onto the string and tie on both ends of the clasp to make a necklace for their mothers. The students then proceeded to make necklaces, chatting and discussing their work as they did so, with the tutor and the eldest helping the others occasionally (but also making their own). The following day the tutor showed them how to make ear-rings in a similar way.

All the resources were provided by the tutor and the activity took one and a half tutor time sessions of 25 minutes each.

Buddy Day (In the News)
In this activity two tutor groups joined together in one tutor room. Most students sat in groups of three from their own tutor group, but one group was mixed. The students then flicked through newspapers provided by the tutors, looking for interesting stories. At the end of the session, each group fed back to the whole room (two tutor groups) about one story they had found, summarising what happened and explaining why they had picked it.
This took one tutor time session (about 20 minutes after the students had gathered together).