Golden Retrievers

Good, loyal and dependable: have a few good boi retrieval strategies ready to go.

Retrieval practice has been a hot-topic issue in the Twittersphere and in general educational discourse for some time now, and particularly since the release of Kate Jones’ (@87History) accessible and insightful edubook of the same title.

Many teachers can be put off ‘new’ methods by the idea that these – in their mind – ‘fads’ come around periodically and then dissolve into nothing. I would counter this by saying that many educational ideas are in fact old ones with a new name, and they dissolve into nothing in many cases due to the fact that they become so ingrained in our practice that they no longer stick out as a something shiny, new or whizzy.

In fact, Retrieval is nothing new – many teachers and formers students will remember this perhaps as ‘revision’. The main difference is that it has now been re-imagined into a cognitive scientific framework in order to give weight and reason that its implementation is a good idea.

Without going too far into what retrieval practice is (I feel as is this would be the subject of another blog), it can be whittled down quite simply.

Implementing effective retrieval practice in its essence simply means that as classroom practitioners, we must make room in our routines to give the students ample and frequent opportunity to reflect on prior learning.

A summary penned by Dunlosky (2013) looks at a number of common retrieval methods, and raises and interesting point  – frequent low-stakes testing has a considerable and noticeable impact on the retention of information. This is corrobrated by cognitive science and is termed as the Testing Effect.

How, then, do we replicate this effect in our classes? Low stakes testing can be considered a good in-road. However, after a while, Multiple Choice Quizzes and Tests lose their novelty. The answer then is to diversify our retrieval practice repertoire and create a Testing Effect without explicitly doing a test or quiz.

I know, I know – finally I have made it to my actual point of this blog.

Below are but 3 retrieval methods I like to implement in my classes.

However, as I implied earlier, nothing is new in education, and these have come to me through word of mouth, and colleagues over Twitter, whose genius I have magpied for my own diabolical ends. I will credit the talented colleagues from whom I have magpied the ideas. Please contact me if you have been wrongly credited, or not credited and it can be changed swiftly and with no fuss!

Method 1: Find and Fix


Find and fix – easy to prepare and excellent to address misconceptions.

Simple and easy to prepare. Create a set of statements that are incorrect in at least one place, and ask the students to underline where the error(s) is and rewrite the statement in its correct form underneath. I have enclosed an example from my OCR Ancient History course on Alexander the Great, the Battle of the Persian Gates, the burning of the Persian capital, Persepolis, and the Pursuit of the Persian King, Darius II after he flees.

This strategy is an excellent opportunity to address any misconceptions that have come up in previous lessons, or simply a general review of key facts and events form the narrative of the course.

Of course, this could also be interleaved, by including incorrect statements from other modules or previous topics.

Method 2: Make the Link


Useful to encourage more joined-up thinking

Include a series of linked words or concepts on a sheet, ask the students to select two keywords and explain the link between them.

This can encourage higher order thinking while also reviewing past material. I find this especialyl useful in history to encourage joined up thinking – the idea that these things do not exist as isolated concepts from one another, but often interact, exacerbating or diminishing the impact of another.

Opportunity for interleaving could be including key concepts from previous modules or topics and see if students are able to link those concepts into the current module or topic of study.

Method 3: Plot Clock

Creates opportunity for dual coding, interleaving and spaced retrieval

This method is exciting as it can involve a chance for a spot of dual coding. These icons had been drip-fed to the students along with the appropriate information to calculate what they represent over a series of lessons.

These same icons are included on the plot clock: The students must first decipher each icon, and think about how it relates to the narrative of Alexander the Great and his perception of his own divinity, which began from a young age.

Students write next to each icon what it represents, and work their way around clockwise as they progress through Alexander’s life. Another caveat to the task, which is facilitated by its shape, is to turn it into a pie chart, depending on which events they consider to be the most poignant in shaping Alexander’s view of himself, which would inevitably affect his behaviour for the rest of his life.

Retrieval is important for teacher practice – it is enforced by cognitive science. Not only this, but retrieval can be done little and often throughout the course, with the possibility of spacing and interleving with other topics and modules of the course. This will actually save time  – frequent retrieval will lessen the need to teach the course twice, once for first wave teaching, and the second time at the end of the course for a frenzied ‘review’ of the courses material.

Therefore, I recommend that you keep a diverse retrieval repertoire, with a library of blank editable templates, to allow for minimum effort and stress in exchange for maximum benefit yielded.

In the same way that your life will be amplified by a horde of Golden Retrievers, so too will your life be amplified by some golden retrievers of another sort.

Ben Windsor


Youtube: Mr Windsor Teaches…

For more retrieval ideas, visit:

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