Improving pupil engagement with The Banned List

Andy Colley

Andy Colley teaches Computing at St Mary's Catholic High School in Astley, Greater Manchester. He is in his 11th year and is an advanced skills teacher of ICT, a lead practitioner of teaching & learning, a trained coach/& facilitator and an untrained dad. Active on Twitter as @MrAColley, he shares his lesson resources at, has trained over 500 teachers from all backgrounds, organised and presented at various teachmeets as well as the SSAT National Computing Conference.

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Originally published on 17th November 2015 Originally published on 17th November 2015

I teach Computing. This means that, at least twice per day I get asked this question:

“Are we going on the computers today Sir?”

As an NQT, I was flattered by this, thinking that it displayed an enthusiasm for the subject. However I soon learned that it was, in the wise words of Admiral Ackbar, a trap.

The students who asked me this question were the ones who wanted to log on and bash buttons. They weren’t interested in the deeper learning or explanation skills required to achieve the higher levels (or whatever we’re calling them this week). In fact, their seemingly enthusiastic greeting actually meant:

“Please God, don’t ask me any questions.”

When these students were tasked with written explanations, research based exercises, project summaries, program write ups and such, they would respond in one of two ways.

Way 1 - Copy & Paste

Seriously, the sooner we present a united front and make students aware that flat out plagiarism is lazy, immoral and has zero benefit to their learning, the better. It’s unbelievably easy to spot a sudden, massive improvement in the quality of writing, sophistication of language and the same verbatim answer from ⅔ of the class.

I’d urge you to add the W marking code to your arsenal. W for Wikipedia, meaning “This is a straight copy/paste job. Rewrite in your own words.” It communicates high expectations and helps avoid a minimum effort response.

Way 2 - The Lazy Answer

Where I wasn’t getting copy and paste students were testing me out, hoping that I would settle for a really low standard of response like the one below.

Or giving the classic ‘mirror answer’. Rephrasing the question without adding any new information.

Some words kept cropping up again and again in this type of response. These were the 'lazy answer' words. The 'can't be bothered to formulate a proper response' words. The 'here you go sir, now get off my back, Sir' words.
I’m a teacher so I did what came naturally. I made a list, here it is:

  • It
  • Stuff
  • Thing/Things/Thingy
  • Something
  • Quicker
  • Easier
  • Faster

Students aren't allowed to use these words when they could/should use a keyword instead. I have an associated 'BL' (banned list) marking code that means 'rewrite the sentence replacing the banned word with a key term. Here’s an example from my Y8.

When combined with Think Pair Share, the banned list has encouraged redrafting and reinforce the habit of high quality responses. In this example, we ended up combining the pair and share responses to form a final answer.

I keep meaning to make a spiffy poster out of the list, but I like it handwritten on my board where it can be amended and referred to with a sideways nod. It works for verbal responses too. I often catch kids looking over my shoulder and pausing mid reply because they know that they will be picked up when using a BL word by someone in the class.

A few of these words are the ones that keep cropping up in ICT/Computing GCSE mark schemes in the ‘don’t award a mark for this’ column, so I’m getting my students into good habits early.

It has also had a side-effect of making me better at explaining, as my pupils hold me to the same standard, pointing out when I'm habitually using the same words. They seem to enjoy catching me out a little too much!

Banning words: it's the future.

Do you have any banned words? Share them below!

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