Writing knowledge organisers – a step-by-step guide

There are plenty of blog posts and articles and book chapters extolling the virtues of knowledge organisers, that’s not what this post is. Instead this is a step-by-step guide to how I write my RE knowledge organisers.

1. Decide what knowledge you want to organise

This might feel obvious, you probably have a scheme-of-work for the half term and that feels like what needs to go onto the KO but it might be worth stopping for a second and considering what is the best chunk to try and represent here. A half-term of GCSE classes for us is about 15 lessons whereas a half-term of KS3 classes is only 6 and A Level is 9 (per strand) so if you divide by half-term you are putting wildly different amounts of information onto each KO. In my opinion the topic absolutely must fit comfortably onto one A4 sheet. If that’s not the case either you need to better condense the information or divide up your KOs differently.

2. Find a revision guide

I love using revision guides to plan my lessons and KOs. They condense down all the knowledge that’s required, usually onto a couple of pages and they focus on key words and ideas that you need to focus on in your planning. Of course textbooks, course books and other resources are absolutely required for lessons but a revision guide and the exam spec should keep you focused on the bare bones for planning a KO.


3. Sketch out the key words and ideas

I use a planning sheet I’ve created and I fill it in as I read through my own notes and the revision guide. I try to stick to five or six key ideas (sometimes divided into two sections) and between 16 and 20 key words (fewer for KS3). This stage really helps you clearly see what the central themes are for your SoW.

4. Find a ‘flow’

The key words will need to be alphabetised but the key ideas section should flow for revision purposes. It can follow the lesson structure in your SoW but I prefer it to almost make a logical story. For example with Utilitarianism my KO starts with Act and the Hedonic Calculus then Rule and the Harm Principle then the applications to animal experimentation and nuclear weapons. Chronology can be useful here for history, foundational to applied knowledge in other subjects.

2019-08-19 09_40_12

5. Use a template to create your KO

All of my KOs look very, very similar. I use a slightly larger font for KS3 ones but I think it creates a sense of continuity to be giving students a summary formatted in the same way for every topic they cover in RE at our school. As such I stick very much to my template using tables in Word to simply divide up knowledge. I might split the table in two or four to help with chunking but the format is quite rigid and in this way it sticks to Oliver Caviglioli’s design principles of using a properly aligned grid when designing work.

6. Dual code with a consistent symbol

I use Noun Project to find the symbols for my KOs. I try, as far as possible, to be consistent in the symbols I use. When describing abstract concepts it can be hard to find a picture which is adequate. For example, I use opera glasses to show Mill’s Rule Utilitarianism which is linked to the idea of ‘higher’ pleasures – if I use that consistently in all my handouts and presentations then it is embedded with students, if I were to just use it once it is unlikely to stick and provide the benefits that dual coding does.

2019-08-19 10_51_44

7. Enjoy the process!

Let me tell you a secret: I love making knowledge organisers. There’s nothing as satisfying as sitting back and looking at the whole of a module or SoW summarised on one sheet of A4 in such a neat and attractive way. Furthermore I have found the process of making them for all of our GCSE to be really helpful for my subject knowledge, not only do I feel more aware of the key concepts and words demanded by the exam board but also less overwhelmed when I know I can condense everything into such a short amount of text.

8. Use them

I am terrible for making resources and then either forgetting or neglecting to actually use them with my students. There is no shortage of articles on how to effectively use KOs in the classroom so make sure you read them and alter your teaching to incorporate them if you’re going to take the time and effort to make them!

Links & Resources

Resources: Bible Quote Posters

I wanted to share some posters I’ve designed (with the help of Canva) to go up in my classroom. I’ve always had quotes up on the wall but I thought it would be good to have something a bit more modern and visually pleasing.

Download the posters

Blessed are the peacemakers

Do not be overcome by evil

Faith by itself

For I was in prison

For whenever you eat this bread

Forgive us our sins

Go and make disciples of all nations

God created man in his own image

God saw all that he had made

I will give thanks to you

Love your neighbour

The word became flesh

Resources: Buddhism Revision / Recap PPTs

I wanted to upload these as I know we are in the midst of revision season for GCSE RE and I also know that there aren’t always as many resources out there for the Buddhism components as Judaism and Islam.

The PPTs are really just a distillation of what I have put onto the Buddhism Beliefs and Practices knowledge organisers but presented in PPT format. I have been using them to re-cap the bare bones of the topic before students work on exam questions for revision.

Hopefully you find these useful!

Buddhist Practices re-cap PPT

Buddhist Beliefs re-cap PPT

Resource: Sri Lanka Attacks

As we all head back to school after Easter there’s been a lot in the news which I think RE teachers will want to talk about. Top of that list will be the attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. By chance I am just about teach Year 9 about Christian persecution so I have prepared this short presentation about what’s happened a Christian response to the events and I wanted to share it.

The presentation includes some definitions, a description of Sri Lanka’s demographics, a brief description of events with images and video and a summary of quotes that might influence a Christian response.

Download: Sri Lanka Attacks PPT

Resources: Retrieval Roulette for AQA A Religious Studies Christianity and Buddhism

Adam Boxer’s Retrieval Roulette idea has been doing the rounds on Twitter for a while now and I’ve been meaning to give it a go as I’ve been trying to incorporate more recall into my day-to-day teaching practice.

The idea is that Adam has created a spreadsheet into which you enter simple recall questions on your subject and this then generates a list of either 10, 8 or 6 questions which you can use to test students on. The beauty of Adam’s spreadsheet is that it provides a mix of the current topic and questions from previous topics (i.e. interleaving). I tend to do recall quizzes either on scrap paper or whiteboards so that they are not creating testing anxiety for students.

Here then is my version of retrieval roulette for AQA Religious Studies A Christianity Beliefs and Practices and all six of the themes focusing on Christianity. I have also provided a separate sheet with Buddhism Beliefs and Practices for any teachers taking that route.


Download: AQA RS A Christianity and Themes Retrieval Roulette

Download: AQA RS A Buddhism Retrieval Roulette

huge thank you to Adam for the nuts and bolts and the idea behind this. It is a massive timesaver once you’ve put the questions in. Please do take a look at his blog for more ideas and writing: A Chemical Orthodoxy

Resources: KS3 Non-Religious Worldviews scheme of work

With the publication of the CORE report into religious education and the new Ofsted framework it seems to be a time when many schools are looking to refresh or reorganise their curricula. I joined my current school last September and arrived at the tail end of a multi-year process to do this, introducing a rigorous and broad KS3 curriculum covering topics from the Holocaust to Buddhism to an introduction to philosophical ideas.

We are very fortunate to work collaboratively meaning that each SoW is planned by a member of staff and shared with the entire department. This helps us be consistent across teaching, enforces our collaborative culture and reduces workload. I ‘pitched’ the idea of a scheme-of-work explicitly looking at non-religious worldviews in Year 7 as this was something I had written about on my PGCE. What you can see below is exactly that, designed to be high challenge for Year 7 and incorporating, hopefully, a knowledge-rich approach.

Lesson 1 – Atheism, Agnosticism and Humanism

This lesson introduces students to the key terminology behind NRWVs and gives them a brief explainer of three arguments in favour of, and three arguments against, the existence of God. These reoccur in the AQA GCSE Existence of God and Revelation module so I felt it was good to embed them early on even if the concepts are only touched on briefly. The worksheet introduces three quotes from Stephen Fry, Richard Dawkins and Isaac Newton.


Lesson 2 – Finding Happiness

Students move into a philosophical bent here exploring the idea of the ‘good life’ and finding purpose without God. It begins with a brief explanation of Humanist beliefs followed by an introduction to the concepts of eudaimonia and hedonism. Students then use these concepts to do a piece of extended writing. There is a quote sheet included so students have reference to the quotes in their notes.


Lesson 3 – Death and Humanist Funerals

This lesson asks students how Humanist beliefs about God and the purpose of life link in to their beliefs on death and Humanist funeral services. There is an opportunity for guided discussion on this as well as a reading and summarising task of a Telegraph article about Humanist funeral services.


Lesson 4 – Atheism in Britain

This is quite a numeracy-heavy lesson focusing on the current state of religion and non-religion in the UK. It features the comparison of data, interpreting infographics and making conclusions from news articles. After this students write a short report on the question of whether Britain has demographically become an atheist country.


Lesson 5 – Grayson Perry: Secular Art

This lesson looks at the ongoing place of religious imagery even within the secular art of someone like Grayson Perry. It then goes on to look at how Perry uses symbols, imagery and text to capture different identities focusing on vases he made for the Remain and Leave campaigns. The final task is getting students to design their own identity vase, you could ask older students to do something a bit more in-depth but given that this lesson will fall on the last week of term for us it seemed like a good activity.


Knowledge Organiser, Key Word Quiz and Assessment

I have included a dual-coded knowledge organiser with full details of the key words and key ideas covered in the topic. I have also included an A5 key word test to be used either in the last lesson or in the next term to embed recall. I have not included an assessment as I am sure each school has their own requirements in that department. We will likely assess with a few written questions on the topics covered.


This whole scheme of work is far from perfect and a work-in-progress. I am an early-career teacher and still getting to grips with how to pitch things, how to incorporate knowledge and challenge, and how to assess students. I would love to hear how you get on if you adapt and use this for your own lessons.

Download: KS3 Non-Religious Worldviews SoW

If you do share it I ask you share a link to my blog and not just the zip file.

Resources I used

Cambridgeshire Agreed Syllabus – Cambridgeshire Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education
Understanding Humanism – British Humanist Association
Examining Religion and Belief: Atheists – NATRE

Resources: AQA Religious Studies Knowledge Organisers

Over the past few weeks I’ve been in the process of making knowledge organisers for AQA Religious Studies A GCSE. You can find below the result, KOs for Buddhism, Christianity and Themes A-F from a Christian perspective.

The idea is to fit an entire topic onto an A4 sheet so these are mere overviews with many omissions. They are not designed to be used in lieu of teaching and other resources but to supplement them as a first port-of-call for students self-quizzing or re-capping knowledge. As you can see the first part is focused on key words (not a complete list but the most integral ones) followed by condensed overviews of key ideas. I have tried to dual code the ideas section using icon images from The Noun Project.

For a brief overview of the pedagogy behind knowledge organisers this article from the Chartered College of Teaching is a good place to start.

I hope you find these useful but if you do share, adapt and re-use them please link back to this blog post rather than sharing the files individually. Thank you!






Christianity Beliefs

2019-03-25 19_46_43

Christian Practices

2019-03-26 19_03_37

Buddhism Beliefs


Buddhism Practices

2019-04-08 20_00_00

Theme A: Relationships and Families

2019-03-25 19_46_33

Theme B: Religion and Life

2019-03-25 19_39_57

Theme C: Existence of God and Revelation

2019-04-08 19_14_18.png

Theme D: Religion, Peace and Conflict

2019-04-08 19_16_54

Theme E: Religion, Crime and Punishment

2019-04-08 18_32_42

Theme F: Religion, Human Rights and Social Justice

2019-04-09 11_05_18

Resources: Four direct instruction techniques for RE you can use tomorrow

For a while I’ve wanted to write something about implementing direct or explicit instruction methods in the RE classroom and I’ve found it difficult to find the time to sit down and type out a cerebral post on the reasoning and challenges of DI in RE. Rather than wait for that to escape from my drafts I thought I’d put together something practical on how I have personally adopted the DI pedagogy in my classroom and provide templates so you can use these ideas if you don’t already. I hope that even if you’ve never heard of direct instruction or have no interest in it you can see the value in these four techniques for really bolstering knowledge and working toward mastery in RE.

Re-cap Slides

“The most effective teachers ensured that students effectively acquired, rehearsed and connected knowledge”
Principles of Instruction, Barak Rosenshine

Whereas in my PGCE year I was encouraged to come up with starters with hooks and intrigue that would dazzle my students I now start my lessons in a much more calm and considered way. When students have written the title and date they read through these re-cap questions testing knowledge from last term, last week and last lesson. Whilst I do the register I encourage them to look up the answer in their notes if they do not know it. At first I made the mistake of then asking for hands which meant that most students switched off and it was the same people answering each time. Now I pick students at random which has made all students more likely to check they know before I ask.

One of the most valuable parts of this exercise, beyond the simple recall drill, is the ability to ask elaboration questions, clear up any widely held misconceptions and make links between previous material and today’s learning. Taking the slide below I can ask what links the Catholic opposition to artificial contraception and gay marriage, I could clear up a misconception that only Baptists practice believer’s baptism and I could link in today’s topic of the Eucharist with a discussion of sacraments and baptism.

Re-cap Slide Template – download

2019-03-21 20_08_50

Low Stakes Quizzing

“In-class quizzes do not need to match the format of critical tests in order for pupils to benefit from the testing effect (McDermott et al, 2014). Rather than being filled with multi-mark exam exercises, assessments can contain a selection of multiple-choice or short-answer questions – which are far easier to mark!
TES Maths: Pedagogy Place, Low Stakes Testing

The combination of low stakes and a high success rate makes low stakes quizzing (perhaps surprisingly) one of my students’ favourite ways to start a lesson. I will either put together a 20 question whole-year re-cap (as the quiz below is) or an A5 10 question single-topic quiz and have them complete it in silence whilst I do the register. We speedily go through the correct answers and they mark their own work knowing that the low stakes makes any cheating pointless. I then offer them to either keep it to show off to their parents or bin it really reiterating the fact that this is low stakes to quash their anxiety when they hear “test” at the beginning of a lesson.

Even in the “low-ability” sets I teach students will routinely get 16-20 out of 20. This has the effect of not only re-capping key words and providing the opportunity for interleaving (especially when it is a whole year quiz) but also of boosting their confidence and reminding them that they can do RE and that they can remember things from term-to-term. Furthermore it gives you the chance to assess if you are obtaining a high success rate which, as Rosenshine argues, is essential to high quality instruction: “practice, we are told, makes perfect, but practice can be a disaster if students are practicing errors”. If you find students are getting less than 80% of the questions correct it’s time to slow down and re-cover material.

Low Stakes Quiz Template – download


Read and Reduce

“Extended reading is often regarded as the responsibility of English teachers. We feel, however, that more subjects should make this a priority”
Making Every Lesson Count, Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby

One of the things I have felt strongly since day one of my PGCE is that students do not come into contact with enough real-world texts in RE. Rather than directly accessing liturgy, scripture, news articles, museum labels, books or press releases students tend to have everything parsed through a textbook. When I started to really consider how to make my teaching more knowledge-focused I knew I wanted to get my students reading and interacting with these texts and this simple format has been really successful at doing that across all levels of ability.

Selecting the texts is, of course, hugely important. In this example I have taken an article from the Church of England website about Youth Evangelism but, knowing it is for students in “lower” sets, I have been through, removed needlessly complex language and added a glossary for terms like ‘clergy’ and ‘General Synod’ which need to be left in the text. I then get students to decide on a sub-title and icon for each paragraph (dual coding coming in there) and get them to summarise it in 2-3 bullet points. You can see on the example here I have modelled this expectation which is something I try and do on all my worksheets. Finally I ask students to condense down the text into 3 main points which they formulate at the bottom.

It is important to note that this is not a stand-alone task. It will have been preceded by an explanation of evangelism and the current state of the Church of England, I do not find that sending students in “blind” to these reading tasks is useful. It will also be followed-up by either discussion or questioning or further writing in which the knowledge gained is used and developed. Here I might ask students to then complete a question along the lines of “are churches doing enough to encourage young people to become Christian?”.

Read and Reduce Template – download


Exam Models

“Provide models: providing students with models and worked examples can help them learn and solve problems faster”
Principles of Instruction, Barak Rosenshine

On my training year I went from one school that didn’t see modelling as key to its pedagogy to another which modelled every task which students were required to do. I was shocked to find that students with experience of extensive modelling were actually much more able to work on independent extended writing than those who were encouraged to be ‘independent’ from the outset. I learned quickly that deliberate, guided practice is a much more effective method of instruction than waiting to give (oft-ignored) feedback once a piece of work has been written and marked.

This use of modelling is not so much constructive, where I guide students through a process step-by-step, but deconstructive where I provide students with a finished product which they judge and deconstruct. Students read through the exemplar answer and then use the checklist to identify which criteria the answer meets. They then work in pairs or individually to identify two EBI and two WWW and, finally, they use a highlighter to address SpaG. AQA has recently provided sets of exemplar answers with their marking rationale so I have not even had to write the models myself.

I have found that looking at exemplar answers to exam questions is a much more effective trigger of the “clicking” moment for students than feedback on questions they have written. I often feel as though I can feed-back that answers need to be “developed” or “extended” or “concluded” but students don’t actually realise what a developed, extended and concluded answer looks like until they see someone else’s example. This activity is at its most effective just before students tackle the question (or a different question in the same format) themselves allowing them to develop independence and practice the writing skills they deconstructed on the exemplar.

Exam Model Template – download