Carousels do they really work?

The Carousel of activities….just what is it and how does it work?

Let me say up front that I am not a great fan of the “carousel” of activities – I haven’t used them much and to be honest they don’t suit my style of teaching.

At the end of the day, the carousel is a teaching and learning alternative that may or may not add to the teaching and learning experiences of the pupils in your classroom – it may suit some colleagues and may not suit others….I fall into the 2nd category!

I have cast my mind back over my years in teaching for examples of when I had adopted a carousel approach – there have not been many. Yes, there have been occasions when I may have had 3 or 4 things going on in my classroom and perhaps over the course of a day or 1/2 day the children moved between them…but these tended to be for special events and I never, to my own recollection ever timetabled in carousel activities.

Except that is, until the time the “literacy hour” was introduced.

I will not, at this juncture, wax lyrical about the merits of the literacy hour…because quite frankly there were non – however one of its flagship approaches (and failures) was the carousel of activities.

This is how we were advised to implement and operate the carousel….

  • The class was to be divided in 5 groups
  • Following a whole class start looking in depth at a “big book” the class would split into groups to do follow up work on the text or other literacy activities.
  • The Teacher would work with one group which looked in further depth at the book
  • The carousel activities would last 20-30 minutes
  • Plenary etc…

So following the start the class was now in 5 groups – which of course were intended to switch around the activities every day of the week.

Now here’s some of the logistics of how it operated…I will factually write these and you can then make up your own mind.

  1. The teacher is focusing on 1 group for the whole of the carousel time
  2. Interaction with other groups or individuals is not possible without disturbing what you are doing
  3. Behaviour management for the whole class is much harder to operate
  4. You have no idea how the carousel activities are being completed
  5. You have no input on presentation
  6. You are unable to correct a pupil who has either no idea what to do or has taken the completely wrong approach
  7. It is only when you receive the books to mark that you see just how successful the activities have been completed – or not as the case may be….of course then it is too late and tomorrow we move onto the next activity!
  8. As each carousel activity level should be differentiated to suit the group, it is necessary to adjust or change the activity sometimes on a daily basis across some or all the groups
  9. What about SEN pupils?

For me and for many, the failings were obvious and apparent; to be fair as teachers we did give it a go – but it could never last for long and even the pupils complained about how bad it was!

Aside from its use in the Literacy hour, can we still use a carousel approach today in our teaching?

Its an open question and the answer has to come from you – teaching is about developing your own style and approach and that’s one of the great things about the profession. What works for 1 teacher may not either appeal or work for another. So what I would say is that…bearing in mind the above list of possible flaws – if it suits your teaching style and class organisation and is ultimately successful for your pupils then by all means use it.

At the moment the use of carousels seems to be centred around guided reading in class – but in order to achieve this with small groups there is a necessity to again split the class into groups and set work…probably based around the “weeks text” to be done independently by the pupils. In such a way the above list of problems may become apparent.

There is also a risk to the relevance of the material that is being given to the groups not involved directly with the teacher. In fact I have noticed recently requests being made for “game ideas” for groups in this literacy time – which of course acts solely as holding materials rather than learning opportunities.

We do of course see examples of working carousels in Early Years and Y1 classrooms, where the children easily adapt to the structure and move seamlessly around the activities. However, here, the whole approach to learning is of a different nature, as is of course the curriculum and the assessment of children’s progress and development – so perhaps not a valid comparison for the rest of the school…but a good example nonetheless.

So in answer to the question “do carousels work?” – I would say this. The use of carousels is a teaching option which you may or may not employ. It may suit your own classroom organisation¬†and style but ultimately has to match both the material studied and also the nature of the children that you have in your class.

At the end of the day – it is the children’s learning, progress and achievement that is paramount and whichever method optimises this then justifies its use.



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