How I Teach The Heart: Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts where I will go through how I teach different topics in biology. This post will focus on how I teach the structure of the heart so pupils can identify the four chambers of the heart, the vessels of the heart, which parts of the heart contain oxygenated or deoxygenated blood, and finally the pupils should be able to describe the route blood takes through the heart.

The aim of these posts is to explicitly guide you through my lesson, including all the diagrams I draw under my visualiser, the questions I ask the pupils, what I think ‘differentiation’ is at any given point, the tasks I give pupils, and any other aspect I think is important to teaching the structure of the heart.

This blog will be split into the following sections:

  1. Introducing what the pupils will be learning
  2. ‘Dialogic’ Direct Instruction of the initial teaching of the heart

1a: How I introduce what I am teaching the pupils

The pupils have just completed self-assessing the retrieval Do Now quiz on the components of the blood, so I skip to the next slide (or image of the heart from the textbook placed under the visualiser). The slide has one image, which is a fully labelled diagram of the heart.

I pause, and then point at the image and say:

“Year 10… Today you will learn the structure of the heart, and by the end of the lesson you will be able to describe the route blood flows through the heart.”

That’s it. There are no meaningless out of context Learning Outcomes for pupils to read through, copy down, or stick in their books – just an image of the heart – an image that contextualises what success will look like at the end of the lesson.

1b: ‘Dialogic’ Direct Instruction

When you ask people to envisage what good Direct Instruction looks like, many people will see a teacher explaining something with absolute clarity, while the pupils sit in silence, as they nod along.

But I have added the word dialogic, because I see Direct Instruction as a shared dialogue between teacher and pupil, where I explain something, and after every new explanation I ask the pupils questions to check for understanding and explore it’s meaning. This is as opposed to monologic Direct Instruction which refers to the teacher simply transferring the knowledge to the pupils without clarification of meaning through questioning (or discussion).

I see teaching as a conversation of ideas. I tell the pupils something and they show me they understand it by speaking to me about it by answering my questions and then answering the questions I set them during their independent practice.

In my opinion direct instruction is singularly the most important part of the lesson, and hence the most important aspect of your practice as a teacher. This is because Dialogic Direct Instruction is what separates you from a lecturer or YouTube video, which is your ability to check for understanding and change the course of the lesson while/after you explain something.

I always tell PGCE or NQTs (or any teacher) that they can give the students the most well thought through activity or ask them with expert skill every question under the sun to check for understanding. But if you haven’t explained the science with absolute clarity, then the pupils can’t access your perfectly designed activity, answer your perfectly crafted questions, or answer the perfect retrieval Do Now questions in the next lesson. If you have’t explained it well, then they won’t learn.

I am robotic in my teaching, and the first thing I do with a new topic is think about how I can break down the whole picture into smaller chunks that build on one another through the lesson.

I firstly decide what the chunks are in the topic I am teaching, and when teaching the heart these chunks will be:

  1. name of four chambers
  2. artery vs vein
  3. naming the vessels
  4. describing the route blood takes through the heart
  5. oxygenated and deoxygenated blood
  6. describing the route blood takes through the heart including step v.

After I have decided on the chunks of the topic, the next thing I think about is how I will explain it under the visualizer using a technique called dual coding, which is drawing the thing you’re teaching and explaining it as you are drawing it. For this topic, I will spend a few minutes practicing drawing the outline of The Heart and blood vessels.

I have now planned what I will be teaching and in what order, now I think about the questions I will ask the pupils during each chunk, and after each chunk. These questions are checking to see if they are following and understand, so when they get to the independent practice part of the lesson, they can answer the questions.

I use the following techniques for the different parts of each chunk.

  1. During a chunk: I use Cold Calling to target random pupils
  2. After a chunk: I use mini whiteboards to assess the whole class

I now know the chunks I will teach the pupils, I have planned the drawings I will draw to explain each chunk, and I have planned the questions I will ask the pupils during each chunk.

This brings me on to what I do during Direct Instruction for each chunk. I am now going to explain how I use dual coding to teach my pupils the structure of The Heart.

Chunk 1a: The four chambers of the heart (atrium and ventricles)

I draw the image of the heart below under my visualiser, and as I draw I am describing what I am drawing.

“This is the structure of the heart. I am drawing the four chambers of the heart. The two top chambers are called atrium, the two bottom chambers are the ventricles”

It’s at this point that I check for understanding. I use Cold Calling, whereby I chose a student at ‘random’ to ask question(s), although I almost always chose the pupil in the class who typically doesn’t listen or can be silly, or the underachieving pupil, I rarely chose the brightest pupil.

With the diagram on the board I ask them:

‘Are the atria the top or bottom chambers?’

‘What’s the name given to the bottom chambers?’

I will then Cold Call another pupil with these questions or similar ones, again choosing a ‘silly’ or ‘underachieving’ pupil.

We are now at the end of the chunk – Pupils prepare their mini whiteboards.

I replace my labelled heart diagram with an unlabelled diagram under the visualiser.

I ask the following questions:

[pointing at unlabelled atrium]          “What are the top two chambers called?”

[pointing at unlabelled ventricle]       “What are the bottom two chambers called?”

Chunk 1b: The four chambers of the heart (left and right sides)

I now add to this knowledge by telling them that the heart has a mirrored right side and a left side. The image below shows how I label the right and left side of the heart under the visualiser as I explain this. I will also pick the image up and hold it against my chest to show them that the right side on a heart image represents it’s orientation within a person.

I replace my labelled heart diagram with an unlabelled diagram of the heart under the visualiser.

I now Cold Call a couple of students with these questions:

[pointing at unlabelled left atrium]                “What side of the heart is this?”

[pointing at unlabelled right ventricle]          “What side of the heart is this?

We are now at the end of the chunk – Pupils pick up mini whiteboards.

The questions below show an increase the difficulty of the questions as I ask them:

[pointing at unlabelled right atrium]              “Is this the left or right atrium?

[pointing at unlabelled right ventricle]           “Which chamber is this?

[pointing at unlabelled left ventricle]             “Why is this not the right atrium?

*Important point* Just because the pupils are parroting back what you have just told them – doesn’t mean they have learned it. The questioning at this point is part of my dialogic direct instruction – making sure they are following and understanding as I teach them.

Chunk 2: Arteries vs veins

I use my professional judgement and now *think* the pupils have an understanding of the four chambers of the heart, so I move onto the next chunk, which is also the hardest part of the lesson – getting the pupils to remember all the vessels that connect the heart.

It’s very easy to jump straight into naming each vessel and bypassing the foundation of all blood vessels – which is the ability to identify an artery or vein.

  1. I draw arrows leaving the heart from the pulmonary artery and state this is an artery because blood is leaving the heart via this vessel
  2. I state Artery beings with the letter A and transports blood Away from the heart
  3. Draw an arrow towards the heart highlighting the pulmonary vein

I point at the pulmonary artery and Cold Call a pupil, and ask them:

If I tell you this is an artery [pause]… will the arrow point to the heart or away from the heart?

What I like about this type of questioning is that I am telling them a piece of information, that this is an artery, I then pause, and then ask them a question to make them think about this new piece of information.

With 30 other pupils in the room – all of them are currently answering this question in their heads eagerly awaiting the pupil I asked to get it wrong, giving them the opportunity to answer the question instead. I will talk more about this type of questioning later in the post.

I repeat this question for the vena cavas with another pupil, and we end up with the diagram below as I re-clarify that arteries transport blood away from the heart and veins transport blood to the heart.

We are now at the end of chunk 2, and it is time to assess the pupils on what they have understood during chunk 2.

Before I get the pupils on their mini whiteboards, I will Cold Call question the pupils to check for understanding (not learning).

Questions I ask several pupils:

[pointing at aorta with arrow pointing away] – “Is this a vein or an artery?”

[pointing at pulmonary vein with arrow to heart] – “Is this a vein or an artery?”

[pointing at pulmonary vein with arrow pointing to heart] – “Why is this a vein?”

[pointing at pulmonary vein with arrow pointing to heart] – “Why is this not an artery?”

I am now at the point of lesson where I want to check for understanding of the whole class.

So even though this is the Direct Instruction part of the lesson – I want feedback and need to know if they pupils have followed. If by this point, they don’t know the four chambers of the heart, or the difference between a vein and an artery, I will have to go back and start my direct instruction from the beginning – No. Matter. What.

At this point I am going to assess them on *everything* they have learned so far.

I place a piece of paper over each label of the heart chambers like in the diagram below, and I start with easy questions to guide their thinking on this new and difficult topic.

I ask the pupils to get their mini whiteboards and ask the following questions:

  1. [Pointing at aorta]                              “Is this an artery or vein?”
  2. [Pointing at pulmonary vein]           “Is this an artery or vein?”
  3. [Pointing at pulmonary artery]        “What type of blood vessel is this?”
  4. [Pointing at right ventricle]      “Is this a ventricle or atrium?”
  5. [Pointing at left atrium]                      “Is this the right or left side of the heart?”
  6. [Pointing at right atrium]                   “What is the name of this chamber?”
  7. [Pointing at the left ventricle]           “What is the name of this chamber?”

If you see a mistake at any point during this whole-class mini whiteboard questioning, you must stop and correct the pupil and explain why they are wrong and ask them a similar question to re-test to see if they get it correct.

*You must not ignore the wrong answers written by pupils*

I am now sure the pupils understand the difference between arteries and veins, and can identify the four chambers of the heart, so I feel confident to move onto teaching the names of the blood vessels.

Chunk 3: Naming the blood vessels of the heart

I now draw the heart diagram again, and as I do this, I re-describe the structure incredibly briefly.

The first vessel I draw is the pulmonary artery, and as I draw the artery, I tell the class that pulmonary means lungs.

I then go on to state:

“it is called an artery because it transports blood away from the heart, and it’s called the pulmonary artery, because it carries blood away from the heart to the lungs.”

I then draw the pulmonary vein leaving the lungs and connecting to the left atrium.

At this point I ask the pupils to predict the name of the pulmonary vein and state their reasoning on their mini whiteboards.

The answer I hope to see is: “pulmonary vein – takes blood from lungs to the heart”

After the pupil’s prediction I explicitly explain that:

“the pulmonary vein is a vein because it transports blood to the heart, and it’s called the pulmonary vein because it transports blood from the lungs to the heart.”

I now Cold Call pupils with the following questions:

  • [Pointing at pulmonary artery] “Is this a vein or artery?”
  • “Why is it an artery?”
  • [New pupil]: “Why is it not the pulmonary vein?”
  • “Compare the pulmonary artery and vein”
  • [New Pupil] “Which chamber does the pulmonary artery transport blood form?”
  • “Which chamber does the pulmonary vein transport blood to?”

At this point I teach the name of the aorta and the vena cavas.

The aorta and vena cava have no obvious link to their function from their names. A way to teach a pupil this information is by stating a piece of information – pausing – and then ending with a question.

I say: The Aorta transports blood away from the heart to the body [pause] is it a vein or artery?”

What I am doing here is giving them information in red. I then pause to let the pupil process the information, and then ask them the question in green. This gives all the pupils in the class time to think before I Cold Call a pupil. I then label the heart with the word ‘aorta’, and repeat back to the class that “the aorta is an artery that transports blood around the body”

I say:The Vena Cava transports blood to the heart from the body [pause] is it a vein or artery?”

What I am doing here is giving them information in red. I then pause to let the pupil process the information, and then Cold Call a pupil asking them the question in green.

Because this is the first time they have seen this information – I am not testing the pupils for whether they have learned the information, but instead to check their understanding. So I use questions like the ones below when I Cold Call multiple pupils with an unlabelled image or use mini whiteboards to assess the whole class.

  1. [Pointing at Pulmonary Artery] This vessel transports blood to the lungs, what is it called?
  2. [Pointing at Pulmonary vein] This vessel transports blood from the lungs to the heart, what is it called?
  3. [Pointing at Aorta] This vessel transports blood to the body, what is it called?
  4. [Pointing at vena cava] This vessel transports blood from body to the heart, what is it called?
  5. Which vessel transports blood to the right atrium?
  6. Which vessel transports blood to the left atrium?
  7. Which vessel transports blood away from the left ventricle?
  8. Which vessel transports blood away from the right ventricle?

I am constantly checking for understanding, and making the pupils work with the new knowledge in low stakes assessment.

Chunk 4: Oxygenated and deoxygenated blood

I now move onto which chambers and vessels contain oxygenated or deoxygenated blood.

I start with deoxygenated blood entering the lungs and represent deoxygenated blood with blue pen (stating that blood is red – and this is just a model). I draw blood being represented by blue pen entering the lungs, and reiterate blood isn’t blue – this is a common misconception.

I start here because pupils will always be able to say something basic like ‘Blood gets oxygen in the lungs and gives away carbon dioxide out of the lungs’.

I draw the lung connected to the heart via the pulmonary vein and artery.

I now use a red pen to show blood being oxygenated in the lungs, and that oxygenated blood is transported through the pulmonary vein to the right atrium.

I now ask a pupil to go through the route the blood takes through heart.

At this point I state that the oxygenated blood leaves the heart to the body via the aorta to deliver oxygen to respiring cells (really important to remember that many pupils won’t know what respiration is – so you can keep it simple and say that oxygen is delivered to cells to keep them alive). I then say that deoxygenated blood returns to the heart via the vena cavas and use blue pen to show this.

I then describe explicitly the route deoxygenated blood takes through the heart and back to the lungs via the pulmonary artery, always using red and blue pen to differentiate between where oxygenate and deoxygenated blood is found in the heart.

Once I have explained which vessels and chambers contain oxygenated or deoxygenated blood, I interleave chunks 1, 2, and 3 with chunk 4.

I now move on to question them and use the technique shown above for questioning where I make a statement, pause, ask a question and then Cold Call pupils or use mini whiteboards.

Examples of these questions can be:

I say: deoxygenated blood returns to the right side of the heart through which vessel does the deoxygenated blood return to the heart?

I say: oxygenated blood returns to the left side of the heart – through which vessel does the oxygenated blood return to the heart?

I say: oxygenated blood leaves the left side of the heartthrough which vessel does oxygenated blood leave the heart?

How to know if you can move on?

I have questioned the pupils throughout the Direct Instruction of The Heart. I feel like we can move onto the next stage of the lesson, which is modelling the heart, whereby we draw and label the heart as a class and write a modelled piece of writing using a gap fill task. This will be the next blog post, which will describe different scaffolded tasks you can use.

People who have inspired me to teach the way I do are listed below. Thank you!

Doug Lemov: Teach Like a Champion

Adam Boxer: Blogs

Ruth Ashbee: Blogs

Kate Jones: Retrieval Practice

Mary Myatt: The Curriculum: Gallimaufry to Coherence

Mark Enser: Teach Like Nobody is Watching Book

Pritesh Raichura: blog here

Oliver Caviglioli: Dual Coding

David Rodger-Goodwin: Blog

Andy Tharby: Book on Explaining stuff

Tom Sherrington’s blog

Daisy Christodoulou: Formative Assessment book

Dylan William

Rosenshine

4 thoughts on “How I Teach The Heart: Part 1

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