Poundland Pedagogy and the power of play

Isabella Wallace

Isabella Wallace is co-author of the best-selling teaching guides, “Pimp Your Lesson!” and “Talk-Less Teaching”. She has worked for many years as an AST, Curriculum Coordinator and Governor. She is consultant and contributor for the Oxford Dictionary of Education and presents nationally and internationally on Teaching and Learning. Isabella is also director of the charity Reach Out 2 Schools, which works to get quality training and resources into impoverished schools overseas.

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Originally published on 25th September 2014 // Image credit: Poundland.co.uk. Originally published on 25th September 2014 // Image credit: Poundland.co.uk.

People sometimes mistake the concept of pupil engagement for frivolous, time-wasting fun. In fact, in any school staff room it’s likely that there will be at least one colleague shaking their head sadly and muttering the word “Edutainment” when particular classroom approaches are mentioned. The thing is, sometimes that cynicism is entirely reasonable; sometimes a wariness about “play” in the classroom is absolutely warranted. Why? Because there is an overwhelmingly important distinction between inspiring intrigue and engagement in a topic or skill, and simply sugar-coating the work with a meaningless, superficial “fun” activity.

I don’t believe in disguising learning. I think pupils should have a clear view of how their skills and understanding are developing and they should revel in that progress. Pupils should know that it’s going to be hard work, and derive great pleasure from effort and challenge. If fun and play are just used to distract from the learning - or to masque it – then we send a damaging and untrue message to the pupils, one that says: “learning is not naturally enjoyable; I’m sorry that you have to do this horrible learning, so here is some fun to wash it down with”.

Finding ways to make the real business of learning an exciting and engaging one need not be equated with this kind of “masquing” or with "Engagement will arise naturally out of rigour and challenge."the dumbing-down of education. In fact, engagement will arise naturally out of rigour and challenge. Creating a scenario where learning is so enticing, so irresistible, that there is simply no choice but to be involved will ensure that even our most reluctant pupils are drawn in to accept the missions we offer them. In my experience, Poundland Pedagogy, if used with careful thought and planning, can assist magnificently in this quest.

When I first introduced the “Poundland Pedagogy Challenge”, it was a simple invitation to teachers: walk along the aisles of your local pound shop with an innovative and open mind,and notice how suddenly all kinds of unlikely objects begin to present themselves to you as potential aids for teaching and revising complex concepts in your subject.

Opening up the creative possibilities of a topic in this manner allows you to think about schemes of work that you’ve taught for maybe 10 years in new and exciting ways. Sometimes it can cause you to consider the careful steps involved for pupils in grasping the skill or knowledge, or it can help you to think about how you might reach those pupils who have failed to grasp a concept through your default approach thus far.

How might, for example, you use dry spaghetti to teach a maths topic? Or balloons to explore a style of writing...?

I never guessed how quickly and how far the Poundland Pedagogy challenge would spread. The use of intriguing resources by innovative teachers is, of course, a well-established phenomenon. The #PoundlandPedagogy challenge seemed to capture the imagination of teachers at a time when many in the profession have reported that the thrill, the flare, the buzz of teaching is being sucked from classrooms by an obligation to repeatedly drill pupils for tests.

Happily, Poundland Pedagogy can even put enjoyment back into the interminable slog of exam preparation! In fact, it’s interesting to note that a great many of the amazing #PoundlandPedagogy ideas shared by teachers on Twitter are specifically designed to make revision sessions enjoyable, as well as to aid the acquisition and retention of new knowledge. Learning while we ‘play’? – It’s not the only valid way to learn, but it’s a very natural, non-threatening way, and one which can be the most accessible for anxious or reluctant learners.

So, here are 5 tried-and-tested Poundland Pedagogy specials to engage, intrigue and challenge:


When pupils are working in small groups or pairs, place buzzing egg-timers on each group table to add a sense of urgency to the task and encourage unwavering focus. As well as keeping pupils very conscious of their use of the time allocated, this can also be a useful behaviour management technique - as ‘off-task’, disruptive behaviour often occurs when pupils do not feel under pressure to produce a specified level of work within a specified time.


Buy a spray bottle of glass cleaner and let pupils use drywipe board pens or liquid chalk pens to create mind maps / diagrams / lists on the classroom windows. Alternatively, use paper tablecloths on classroom desks! Offering a larger expanse of space for recording ideas or an intriguingly new surface to compose on can be a great incentive for young writers and budding geniuses.


Hang one of those plastic monstrosities up in your classroom – the ones that are designed to display multiple pairs of shoes. These can be used to contain items to which pupils help themselves: tasks of varying levels of difficulty, for example, synonyms for over-used words, or perhaps clues or prompts for pupils who get ‘stuck’. Alternatively, you can ask pupils to insert items into the pockets – questions that they still have, answers to the questions they recorded previously, a summary of what they feel they’ve learnt. As the innovative Tweacher population of Twitter have shown, CD cases can also be displayed on walls and used for a similar purpose!


These are great because you can write on them and label them easily. You can use them to categorise items, quotes, examples. You can explore links between concepts, creatures, events, numbers. With a bit of accompanying washing line you can also help pupils to consider the hierarchy of ideas, chronological order, order of preference, order of steps to be taken in a task. You can even get pupils to create a progress display as the scheme of work unfolds - pegging up key points and suggestions to an ever-growing ‘line of learning’!


These can be drawn on or written inside / underneath for revision. They can be arranged in a certain order to explore connections and relationships. They can be used to contain written ideas or catch the correct items, they can be passed and swapped, matched together, turned around to reveal something new... The possibilities are endless!

The Poundland Pedagogy craze has been about passionate classroom practitioners recognising that all hard work in ANY topic (yes, any!) "Try dipping your toe in the water next time you’re in town."can be made captivating for learners, because there is always a ‘playful’ way to approach the teaching of it. And no - ‘playful’ learning doesn’t necessarily mean giggles and merriment. Every parent knows that youngsters can ‘play’ seriously; they can play hard.

To any teacher who has not yet had a go at the Poundland Pedagogy Challenge, try dipping your toe in the water next time you’re in town and pop into your local pound store. Try going in with a teaching colleague! A bit of purposeful play, no matter how old you are can add joy or fascination to a task and make learning infinitely memorable. It can help unwilling youngsters to connect to others, relax the stressed-out child, foster a culture of trust and let young people leave our classrooms inspired and motivated to know more.

We want our learners to move beyond tolerating their learning and come to love it too. Very few of us manage to make it to 20 years old without noticing that the quality of our work and general output in life can depend significantly on our well-being and cheerfulness. If we ever need an argument for injecting a little playfulness into lessons then let this be it. And remember: the feeling’ pupils get when they walk in to see an array of intriguing resources? It’s the same one we teachers get when we walk into a good stationery store…

Have you employed #PoundlandPedagogy in your school? Let us know in the comments.

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