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Jonathan Lear

Described as having a breath-taking understanding of how to engage children, Jonathan Lear is an award-winning teacher and education consultant. He has worked for many years on a compelling mix of inspirational teaching strategies, and has shared his passion for learning as an AST, deputy head, and associate of Independent Thinking Limited.

Read, ‘When Two Tribes Go to War’, Jonathan’s interview with Teachwire.net.

Click here to listen in on Jonathan’s podcast with Pivotal Education on ‘How to Teach Guerrilla Style’.

Connect with Jonathan


Publications by Jonathan Lear

Guerrilla Teaching

Guerrilla Teaching is a revolution. Not a flag-waving, drum-beating revolution,…

There Is Another Way

Edited by Ian Gilbert with chapters by Mark Anderson, Lisa…

Author Blog

CSI Science

January 29 2015

One of the difficulties with our current curriculum is that there is little space for children to develop their creative thinking. The opportunities for them to generate questions, explore possibilities, or find imaginative solutions to problems can be limited. This topic starter aims to address this issue by allowing the children to explore the lighter side of crime and justice without any of the boring bits!

As dramatic starts go, this one takes some beating. It does however require a little behind the scenes preparation.

The Crime scene:

The first step is to collect together the required materials to make a crime scene. For the sake of my explanation, the victims are going to be tulips (we’ll look at some alternatives later). As always when attempting to arrange something out of the ordinary, the first port of call is the caretaker’s cupboard. In most schools, this is an Aladdin’s cave of marvellous bits and bobs. The raid, however, should only ever be done with the blessing of the caretaker – to try it without permission would mean almost certain death. The items needed are: a roll of tape (the kind used to cordon off an area), and four of those folding wet floor signs or similar sized cones. In addition to this, you will need fifteen tulips (or one between two for your class), chalk, small pieces of card numbered one to fifteen, fifteen pairs of forceps (not essential, but very useful), a range of different magnifying glasses (microscopes would be amazing if you have them) and a pack of those plastic knives you get for parties.

Having procured the necessary items, all that remains is to find a space in which to begin creating the scene. The crime scene needs to be in a place that will not be seen by your children until the right time. My preference is inside school; although I’ve used the playground before, you just need to make sure it’s a nice still day so your scene isn’t blown away! The idea is to have a large square area cordoned off by the tape, the tape is held in place by one of the cones or signs at each corner. To add to the look, you could also attach ‘CRIME SCENE’ labels or warnings about not tampering with evidence around the outside of the scene.

Inside the scene, lay the tulip victims out haphazardly on the floor. If the floor permits, draw a chalk line around each victim and complete the scene by resting a numbered piece of card next to each one of them.

The final piece of preparation is a letter, the contents of which must include details about the terrible crime that has been committed and a request for help. If you avoid naming the victims in the letter, you get the added effect of being able to dramatically produce a dead tulip from an evidence bag.

The set up…

With everything in place, we’re ready to go. For added drama, I like to have the letter delivered to class, it works really well if you start some other work with the children and then act surprised when interrupted with ‘urgent’ news. As a frustrated performer, the opening of the letter is my favourite bit – it allows me to demonstrate my finely honed ability to show a range of emotions – shock (wide open mouth), distress (wailing loudly) and outrage (loud voice and angry eyebrows). With the crime out in the open, re-read the sentence about needing help to find the perpetrator – all hands will shoot up.

Have the children take some sort of crime scene investigator oath during which you can sneak in some reminders about how they need to behave when out of classroom. When they’re ready, take them to the crime scene. On arrival, continue your cycle of extreme emotions until the children have taken in the terrible scene. Speak to them about how it is they are going to help. Explain that the first step will be to take the victims away and investigate a little further.

Send pairs into the scene to collect one of the tulip victims and then return to the crime lab (classroom). The next stage is dependent on the direction you wish to take the topic. The reason I chose tulips was to enable the children to explore the parts of a flower. They would use their forceps, scalpel (plastic knife!) and magnifying glasses to carry out an autopsy, recording their observations as they went. If this isn’t something you cover in your year group, there are plenty of other potential victims.

Rocks/stones – can the victims be identified? (Properties of rocks and soils)

Liquorice allsorts – can the dismembered sweets be named? (Classification)

Different fruits/vegetables – who could be behind the murder of these healthy foods? (A different take on healthy/unhealthy foods – good guys v bad guys)

Clothing –socks, gloves, hats – Can you describe the victims? (exploring different materials)

Regardless of victim, the observational skills the children use will be the same. The aim of the session is to allow the children to record and then share, in any form they wish, the evidence or information that they’ve collected.

Any of the above items would work well across a range of years, you would have to judge whether the crime scene is suitable for the particular age group, the children have to ‘get it’ – you don’t want younger children going home upset and telling parents that something terrible has happened!

Taking the investigation further:

Having dealt with the immediate aftermath of the crime scene, regardless of which victims you choose, there are many different directions to explore.

The children’s enthusiasm is likely to be high which will ensure their commitment to whatever follows.


In groups the children work together to make sense of evidence left by the criminals. Set up five (one per group) areas in different places around school. In each area plant a range of different items that can be used to build a profile of the suspect. The objects can be completely random as you are aiming to give the children space to generate their own ideas and make their own connections. When they have collected the clues, they can discuss what information this might give them and build their own suspect. The children can then be encouraged to take this further; having created a suspect how would they go about apprehending them? They could create wanted posters, film television appeals, write news or police reports. If the suspect was caught, they could script and role-play the interview – why did they commit such a terrible crime? (If you’ve gone down the healthy/unhealthy food route, the children could create animations using hamburgers as the villains). If charged, the suspects would be taken to court. Somebody would need to act for the defence as well as the prosecution. There’d have to be a judge and jury too, after all, the murder of innocent tulips is not to be taken lightly.

With their imagination fired, this topic will take on a momentum of its own. The direction the children take is anyone’s guess. The learning that they will experience along the way however, will be impossible to miss.

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Guerrilla Curriculum Part IV: Create

May 24 2014

‘Life through a lens’

From the outset, one of my main aims when redesigning the curriculum was to achieve balance.  In giving the three terms a focus, we’ve so far spent a term on History, a term on Geography, and now we have a term to work on the Arts.   



Throughout the year, art, music, dance, and design & technology have been woven into other topics as enhancements, but in the summer term, they come to the fore and take centre stage. 

As with the topics we looked at in the previous posts, the BRAVE planning model was used to create the bones of what we hoped would become engaging and inspirational units of work.


The topics were selected to include a range of different subjects and also to allow the children to work in different media.

Year 1: Incredible Creatures (Art, Music & Dance)

Year 2: Soundscapes (Music & Design technology)

Year 3: The Great Outdoors (Art, music & Design Technology)

Year 4: Cool Britannia (Design Technology, Art & Music)

Year 5: Life Through a Lens (Art, Enterprise)

Year 6: All the World’s a Stage (Art, Drama &Design Technology)

 To look at how these ideas might be developed, we’ll focus on the Year 5 topic: ‘Life through a Lens’.


There are two key areas of learning in this unit, one being photographic art, and the other being Light. 

The decision to create a topic on photography was initially borne out of a desire to use a different approach to a science unit on light.  I don’t think there’s anything worth knowing about light that couldn’t be accessed through learning about photography.  Shadows, reflection, spectrum of light - certainly everything that’s needed in the Primary curriculum and potentially quite a lot more.

In terms of art, whilst photography isn’t named as an approved media in the embarrassingly brief art section of the new Primary curriculum - it does mention giving children the opportunity to produce creative work whilst exploring ideas and recording their experiences.  Using a modern digital media like this may not be what Mr Gove had in mind, but it will definitely do for me.

As with the topics from Discover and Explore, I decided to draw upon the Mantle of the Expert (MoE) approach to create a meaningful unit with real purpose. 

Of the eleven enterprises that we looked at in the last issue, the one that stands out is ‘Arts establishments’.  As with all MoE projects, there needs to be a client with a problem, and in this case it’s a gallery owner who’s been terribly let down by an unreliable artist.

Setting the scene:

In the last issue, for the ‘Explore’ unit, we used a Skype call to introduce the problem to the children.  This time, it could be an email from the worried gallery owner, or maybe a news report from a local paper along the lines of ‘Local Gallery owner faces ruin after famous artist pulls out!’ 

Following the broad brief, and a consensus among the children that we should help, we can start to delve a bit deeper into what exactly we’ve got ourselves into.

It transpires that the gallery owner has an exhibition planned in six weeks time (or however long the topic is going to last!) and plans for the exhibition are already underway.  The artist he was let down by, was a photographer who was intending to exhibit a range of different works entitled ‘Light and Dark’.  

After identifying the specific nature of the task, there are inevitable questions that need to be asked, and potential areas of learning that we can begin to explore. 

If we are going to create a photographic or digital media exhibition that meets the brief, we need to build our knowledge in two key areas. 

  • Photography:  What do we know about taking photographs? What do we need to know?
  • Science:  What does/could ‘Light and dark’ mean? 

What elements of light and dark could we explore?        

To help develop our knowledge and understanding of the first area, we could ask a local studio, or photographer to come into school and run a workshop.  If we begged, borrowed or stole digital cameras/smart phones/tablets from around school, we might have enough for the children to develop their skills in small groups of three or four.  This might include work on basic camera function, composition, and digital manipulation of images using a range of software or Apps.  

Having the basics of photography in place first now allows us to explore the second science themed area of Light and dark with a little more freedom. 

To begin with, the children are shown photographs or artwork that capture shadows in interesting ways.  This could be used as a discussion starter, which allows the teacher to assess the children’s existing knowledge of how shadows are formed:

How do you think the photographer composed this picture? 

Where might they have been standing? 

Can you tell where the light source is?

The children could also be asked to consider the artistic nature of the work:

What effect do you think the artist wanted to create? 

How does the photograph make you feel? 

Following this, they would be tasked with going off in groups to compose and create their own photographs that demonstrate a range of different effects that could be created through experimenting with shadows. 

Whilst there is a strong sense of the children directing their own learning, to be successful, there needs to be careful, albeit subtle, control from the teacher.  Through sharing photographs, we have already modelled and shared examples of ‘what a good one looks like’, but we’re about to send children off armed with a digital camera and the freedom to take pictures.  In this instance, we’re likely to get back hundreds of hastily taken pictures that will range vastly in quality.  To address this, we can put in place some limitations.  Limiting resources or actions can be a very effective way of managing child led learning.  In this case, the children might be told that they are only allowed to take six pictures that demonstrate a range of different affects created with shadow.  This then automatically encourages more thoughtful, and considered composition of the pictures.  The groups will have to discuss locations, angles, and use of objects to build their picture before the final act of recording their work with a camera. 

Throughout this process, the role of the teacher is to tease out elements of science learning that can later be consolidated.  Predominantly, this would happen through careful questioning:

That’s a really interesting photo, I wonder why the shadow is longer in that one that in the other pictures?

Why do you think shadows are the same shape as the object you used to create them?  Does this always happen? 

Could you create a photograph with no shadow?

At the end of the session, the children’s work could be shared and the scientific language around the creation of their photographs explored together as a class.  A natural development of this would be to then focus on any of the other areas of light that were appropriate.  This may include reflection, diffusion, filtering, splitting (light spectrum) or bending (refraction) of light. 

Alongside the science work, there is also the issue of the gallery opening.  As with all Mantle of the Expert projects, there is a real purpose to the work, and this brings with it a host of complications (opportunities!) that the children might address. 

Where will the exhibition be? 

What space might we use?

Who do we want to come? 

How will they know about it, how might we promote it?

Is it free, or do we charge?

How will we look after the visitors?

How could we help them to understand our work?

Should we have refreshments?

Each one of these questions adds further layers to the topic and additional tension or challenge.  How many of these, and to what degree they are used is very much dependent on how immersed you want the children to be, which connections you think are most valuable, and how much time you want to spend on the topic.  If it was me, I think I’d go all out, and would find it really hard to resist throwing in a last minute, week before opening, surprise booking from a coach load of French or Spanish tourists.  The multilingual challenge would be enough to make most grown adults weep, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the children might just rise to the occasion!

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