Lifeboat tasks

When I was on teaching practice a senior leader introduced me to the concept of a lifeboat task – something to have in reserve for the times when the class in front of you finishes all the work you had planned in record time.

The concept was not introduced in time to save me from a very long and desperate game of hangman with some very able Y7s who must have finished their secondary education by now.

The best of these are ideas that need very little prep, and there is a super document on the TES of “minimum preparation, maximum effectiveness” tasks that did the rounds in my PGCE year and which I definitely recommend.

The simplest of my lifeboat tasks is a game of noughts and crosses or connect four where each square in the grid has the initial letters of a sentence that has been worked on in the lesson, eg “HSJRGD” as a cipher for hier soir, j’ai regardé Grand Designs. Students have to guess the sentences before drawing a naught or cross for their team.

But I also have a small selection of simple printed resources that have helped me out no end from time to time when the class is quicker than anticipated.

my lifeboat task file

Clare Seccombe’s hexagon booklets

I have a wodge of blank hexagon booklets that students can use in many different ways. This works as an extension task for fast finishers as well as a whole class lifeboat task.

Follow the link above for Clare’s template PDF and some examples of how to use it. (telling the time, verb conjugations)

It’s a great example of HOTS not MOTS (higher order thinking skills not more of the same) because you can get the students to consider it as a teaching tool.

Lifeboat tasks - strip bingo

I have some blank sheets for playing strip bingo on, made by simply drawing horizontal lines on a landscape sheet of A4 and guillotining into strips. Students put one vocab item from the a constrained list into each square. You call out the vocab items. Students are only allowed to score the two outside squares of their sheet, so you have to have a way of calling the same vocab item more than once (return the paper to the hat, for example.) If you call the item from the outside of their strip, they tear it off. You have to be strict about keeping the discarded paper safe ready for throwing away and not making a mess with.

Students get excited at the name of the game – strip bingo – so I make a point of clearing up that it’s called that because it’s played on a strip, not because anyone will have to remove clothing.

It ought to be possible to play this game without providing a preprinted strip for the students, but I find they do not listen to instructions and many do not draw the boxes so they can tear the strip off properly. At least the first few times through, it’s quicker to provide them with a sheet.

The same is also true for my final suggestion, aural dominoes. For this, students pick a sentence from their work, which they write in the target language and in English on a small sheet. They then tear the English off, you collect all the English strips, and you get them to pick a new one at random. Then it should be possible for a student to read their TL sentence, another student to hear and understand it, and read the English translation, and then start a chain. Each new student reads aloud the English of the TL sentence they have heard before then giving a new sentence which someone else in the room should have the English for. This can be quite a long activity – up to 20 minutes – until the students are used to how it works and get a bit quicker.

Aural dominoes template.

What are your go-to lifeboat tasks?

Further ravages of time

Slightly under ten years ago, I renewed my passport.

Now I’m preparing to do it again so it will be definitely back with me in time in case I get to go on the school trip to Paris in December.

I didn’t quite dare tick the box that says my appearance has not substantially changed since last time.

passport photo



Disaster cakes

Preheat an oven to… what was it last time? I think I did it at 180 but I can’t remember if that was too high or too low? Try 160 just to be on the safe side

Weigh three eggs, and add the same weight of fat, self raising flour and sugar to a bowl. I use vegetable oil to save having to faff with getting butter to room temperature without melting it, at a fraction of the cost and without too much taste compromise. I was supposed to be using caster sugar but somehow someone put granulated in the caster pot last time it was refilled so I suppose that will have to do.

Zest a lemon – cripes, that one’s in a bit of a state, oh well, it’s what we have. Joe Public won’t be able to taste it by the time it’s cooked – into the mix and stir until well incorporated.

Spoon the batter into 12 cake cases, realising towards the end that whilst this mix usually does 12 easily, this time it looks a bit hit and miss and there’s only really enough for 9. Oh well, the first six were a bit over full and will probably spill in the oven so I can spoon two tea spoons out of those into the remaining cases. Oh drats, the case came away with the batter and now there’s bits of cake mix all over the tin. That will be a bugger to get off later.

Cook for I dunno 15 minutes? 20?  Check they’re not burning after 20 but they’re nowhere near done so turn the oven down, or maybe up? after that and put them back in. They’re done when a skewer – where the heck have all my skewers gone? Oh there they are – comes out clean.

Leave to cool while you watch Only Connect.

Put a pointy nozzle in a disposable piping bag and place inside cocktail shaker. Spoon in a few dollops of home made lemon curd. Pff, yes of course shop bought will do. Pipe the curd directly into the centre of the cupcakes with a firm pressure and oh god there’s lemon curd everywhere, all over my hands, oozing over the top of the bag, and out around the nozzle instead of through the hole at the end.

Neatly use a teaspoon to cut holes in the remaining unruined cakes and spoon the curd in before placing the top of the cake back on and hoping the crumbs don’t make too much of a mess.

Juice the lemon you zested earlier and add icing sugar to make a fruit icing. Not that much icing sugar you dolt! Eek, this is very firm, it won’t spread at all. Oh, well, it will be fine. Normally it’s too runny anyway. Spoon the icing over the cakes taking care not to… oh… the bit you cut out might come away a bit. Yes, there will be a horrid mix of icing and crumbs and it will look awful.

Garnish with jelly lemon slices, which for no good reason are not on sale in Sainsburys any more and don’t seem to be found for love nor money anywhere other than Evil Amazon. These jelly lemon slices were actually ordered before the summer holidays and have been sitting in my pigeonhole for six weeks, but they don’t seem particularly harmed and are still well within their date so meh.

Select six of the least worst looking cakey horrors and pack them in a box for work tomorrow.

Disaster cakes

What I read over the summer (tl;dr 7 crime novels)

Nothing that isn’t crime fiction or magazines!

I am currently working my way through several series of novels on my Kindle as a way of absolving myself of what to read next. No agonising decisions, just the next one in one of the series. Most of what I read fit that criteria.

I am particularly liking Evil Amazon’s new (?) thing where they have a page with all of the books in a series, in order, so you can check what you have and whether you’ve missed any. I am even still at the start of some of these series so have many hours of reading pleasure ahead of me.

In a tent in the Peak District, instead of going on a rainy walk, I finished P D James: A mind to murder. I loved the period detail – the bureaucracy of how a clinic used to be organised, and little details like the building the crime takes place in still needing its own switchboard and operator with potential for eavesdropping.

I began C J Box: Three Weeks to say Goodbye and finished it on my sofa when I got back. This is not part of Box’s – Joe Pickett novels, but a standalone thriller in which bad people try and get back an adopted child. It’s a thiller with the page-turner impulse brought in through one average guy’s attempts to protect his family and the lengths he will go to do so.

Whilst camping dahn sarf my old Kindle failed – the buttons became unresponsive. This has happened to me before but has been fixed by charging. In the field, this wasn’t possible as I was camping without power.

I did take a paperback with me for just this eventuality (in fact I have been carrying it around for ages, and it has somehow in my bag got food mushed into the pages and the front cover. A raisin, I think. I hope.) so the next book was a classic. Raymond Chandler: Farewell my lovely. Part of the Phillip Marlowe series, but I am not sure if I have read any of the others. I suspect I have them on a shelf somewhere. It took a number of pages to get used to the old slang used, but as is often the case, after a while I read so fast I am not puzzling too much over new words. I guessed an important part of the plot a page before it happened – perhaps just because of a slightly clunky plan. The stated reason is not quite enough to invite character X to character Y’s flat – there must be another dénouement afoot.

I couldn’t quite resist pre-ordering and reading Sue Grafton: X pretty much as soon as possible. I think for each of the previous 24 books I have waited till the paperback edition, but in the early days I was many years behind the publication dates. Now I’ve caught up I want to read them as soon as I can! This was in my view a return to form for Kinsey Millhone, without extended passages in the third person, but a narrative almost entirely from Kinsey’s perspective, in which she solves a number of cases, not just the main one.

Sara Paretsky: Blood Shot was next up, slightly out of sequence as for a minute I couldn’t find Bitter Medicine on my new Kindle. It was there so I went on to read that one too. The V I Warschawski series also has some patterns emerging. Almost any documents that get removed from somewhere and left in her flat or office will lead to a burglary. She also takes an awful lot of beatings. In book 5 of 17 she has been routinely injured in the course of her work, including this time a facial scar, that by the end she must be in a seriously bad way.

The new Kindle is lovely. I realise it’s just a machine to make me funnel more money in the direction of Evil Amazon, and there are alternatives available. Some even waterproof! But I have a lot of unread books on the Amazon system already and it just works quite well, so in the end I stayed with them. Now… what to do with the old, probably broken 2010 Kindle Keyboard device?

My final title here – although it is warm and sunny so I am about to head into the garden with the hammock and start another – is a Ken McClure / Dr Steven Dunbar novel. I found the first of these by accident a few years ago- in fact I can remember reading them on Kindle on my own on Shell Island, so that must have been the holiday I took immediately after losing my council seat in 2011. I don’t recall ever talking about them with anyone or hearing about them from anyone else, but they’re brilliant. They follow a former SAS doctor and his exploits with the Sci-Med directorate, a secret home office body that lends technical support to local police forces out of their depth with scientific or medical issues. Eye of the Raven starts with a detailed deathbed confession from a convicted psychopath of a rape and murder for which someone else is already imprisoned on dead certain DNA evidence, and explores how it might be possible that the DNA evidence is not all it could or should be.

Found poetry

This is a piece of writing from the website “Streetlife”

It reads to me like a poem. I wonder if that was the intention.

It was formatted exactly like this in the original.

Credit: Ali R

I do running in sherwood ,
but With the Dogs who’s
Owners, have let them off there leads,!!
it’s difficult
Surprisingly Friendly! but intimidating when they jump up snarling and barking
At Me
When 1 go’s another one comes!
its like a b***dy incestation!

I am particularly fond of the cracking malapropism “incestation”.

Pudding club: speculoos trifle

When on holiday in Brussels over Easter we found many speculoos desserts on the menu in cafés and bars. It was a common flavour in icecream parlours. Heading out for a late night beer in the Grande Place and a speculoos trifle slash tiramisu was on the menu.

The spread is now available in larger Sainsbury’s and has been for a couple of years, and so is no longer something I have to stock up on in French supermarkets. It wasn’t so readily available when I made an online supermarket order and they brought the biscuits instead.

This recipe was half made up, half inspired by browsing these French recipes and a website somewhere that included savoury ones (eg lamb tagine where you add crumbs of speculoos biscuits with mint leaves and olives at the last moment.)

Speculoos is gaining in popularity – Olive magazine recently had an interesting looking cheesecake with a speculoos crust.

This speculoos trifle slash cheesecake tastes absolutely delicious but looks... #puddingclub

Speculoos trifle

Yield 6

1x 250gr Biscoff / Lotus biscuits
75gr salted butter
half a jar lemon curd
half a jar – 200gr smooth Speculoos spread
250gr mascarpone

Reserve three biscuits and blitz the remainder in a food processor

Melt the butter over a low heat and add the biscuit crumbs. Stir well

Divide the biscuit base between six ramekins and press in.

Chill a few hours until the base is firm. (Not essential, but it will help avoid the crumb coming away in the next step)

Spoon a dessertspoonful of lemon curd onto the top of each biscuit base.

Combine the speculoos with the mascarpone and stir until well combined. (You may prefer to leave it lightly mixed but well marbled?)

Pipe the speculoos cream onto the base. Chill again.

Break the reserved three biscuits in half and use to garnish.

Garden and chicken problems

Some issues in my garden – advice please!

For starters, something else is living in the chicken run apart from the chickens.

There’s this huge great tunnel:

Tunnel in chicken run

Easily big enough to get two fists in. Some other critter is coming in and presumably stealing the chicken food.

Whatever it is it has not harmed the chickens and doesn’t take the eggs.

Both P and I think we have seen it, but only ever fleetingly before it backs away. I’ve been out on evenings when someone else’s cat is sitting on the outside of the chicken pen staring intently down the hole. But I just missed whatever it was. My impression of what I saw the one time I caught sight of it, was that it was cute, and red faced and looked almost like a teddy bear. All I saw was its head poking out of the hole before it vanished. P’s abiding impression was more grey in colour, but again he thought cute.

Obviously the most likely culprit is a rat. But neither of us thought we saw that. And it is a huge great hole for a rat!

Our thoughts after that turned to stoaty, weaselly, minky things. But how likely are they in an urban garden? And wouldn’t they have gone for the chickens.

Could the squirrels – which are very interested in chicken feed – be able to tunnel underground like that?

Obviously I should dig the hole over and probably I should put some chicken wire down on the ground too. But thus far I have just not got around to it.

The other problem is a strange discolouration on the leaves of a big variety of different plants.

Plant discolouration

Plant discolouration

Plant discolouration

Plant discolouration

It’s on a shrub in a pot on the decking.

It’s on the elder.

It’s on a sweet smelling yellow leaved shrub I feared that careless gardeners had killed by hacking to the ground despite being told not to, but which has behaved as if we had pollarded it and sprung back.

I am concerned that the same thing is happening to so many plants. Is it a bug? Is it a disease? If I leave it will it go away!?