Going SOLO for the First Time ……

After following the correspondence on Twitter between the likes of @JohnSayers, @EmmaAbuDabi, @aknill and others, I became interested in the idea of using  SOLO taxonomy in my Geography lessons. So, as I began the process of planning my lessons for the second half of the Autumn Term, I decided to take the plunge and give it a try with a year nine group who were about to embark on a unit of work on earthquakes.

I was particularly attracted to SOLO as a means of supporting differentiation in my lessons, and I also wanted to encourage conversations about learning in the classroom. SOLO also seemed to provide an easily understandable structure to measure progression through individual lessons and the unit of work as a whole.

If you want to find out more about the SOLO taxonomy before reading this blog, I have attached some summary notes below. There is also a link here to a collection of resources on ‘Scoop It’:

SOLO Taxonomy Introduction


The year nine group I had selected for my experiment were quite able, and certainly receptive to new ideas – so I decided to launch them headfirst into SOLO. In the first lesson after the half term break, I rearranged my classroom so that students could sit in pods of three, pre-selected by me to mix abilities. I also created one group of particularly able students, who had a proven record of working well together and pushing any boundaries set during lessons. To seat the students in the correct places, each table area was named after an African country, and students were given a card identifying that country as they entered the room (downloadable below):

SOLO Africa Group Cards

SOLO Taxonomy Africa Student Groups Table

Using a Google Earth map of Africa projected on the board, we quickly identified the different African countries in use, and emphasised the fact that Africa is a continent made up of many individual nations.

To introduce the new topic, we first studied a key question: “How Does A Country’s Level of Development Affect Earthquake Activity?”, and then I asked each student to use a mini whiteboard to write down at least one piece of information they already knew about earthquakes. I then moved on quickly to allow them to share their information in the group, and then individually record the best 3 pieces of information on their boards. We shared a few results as a whole class before I introduced the structure of SOLO to them on a PowerPoint slide and on a printed sheet (downloadable below):

SOLO Taxonomy Student Sheet Earthquakes

SOLO Earthquakes

We talked about some of the reasons for using the SOLO approach, and then we tried to relate what we had already done in the lesson to the different stages. Everyone managed to record at least one piece of information about earthquakes, so it was clear that no-one was starting their learning today from the pre-structural stage. Some who only managed 1 piece of information were able to recognise that they had reached the uni-structural stage, but were happy to see that once they had collected more information from other group members, they had progressed to the multi-structural stage. I asked each student to record some of their achievements so far on their SOLO sheets, and then we discussed how the class could move on to the relational stage. Once they had an understanding of what this involved, I asked each group to explore the envelope of hexagon cards on their desks. I had pre-prepared these, each hexagon containing key words associated with the new topic (downloadable below):

SOLO Hexagons Earthquakes I

SOLO Hexagons Earthquakes More Able

Students soon got the idea of co-operating together to search for links between different hexagons, and they began to connect them in different shapes and stick them onto a sheet of A1 paper. After forming a number of simple connections, most groups quickly moved on to consider more sophisticated links for three different hexagons. The specially selected more-able group were given a second envelope with some hexagons containing rather tougher vocabulary and more abstract information about the study topic.

I gave the groups time to build their hexagon patterns before explaining the next requirement, which got them to explain some of their connections on small Post-It stickers, which they could add in the appropriate places on their charts.

Once the sheets began to show a range of added explanations, I started to move the students around. I instructed each group to elect a ‘Yoda’ (expert) – who would stay with their work, and explain the connections that had been added to the visitors who arrived from the other groups. By moving all the groups in a clockwise direction in the class, it proved quite easy to manage, and it was possible to give students the opportunity to visit there or four of the other groups to see results that were often quite different to their own efforts. When time ran out, I reformed the original groups, and gave them time to add new-found information to their own chart, or perhaps correct some of their errors.

We finished the lesson by reviewing what stage we had reached on the SOLO structure, and what we needed to achieve in coming lessons to make further progress. As the students left the room, I used the Triptico voting tool to get some feedback about the lesson and the new system they had encountered.

I intend to use the completed charts as wall displays while we study this topic, and this will make it easy to refer back to them as we cover new ground. I will also find time to revisit them in some detail at the very end of the unit – to add to our connections, or correct any misconceptions that might have arisen.

Feedback from students proved to be extremely encouraging, and they were most capable of expressing their understanding of the taxonomy, and identifying how it could help them in their learning. I look forward to using the SOLO structure to help progress individual student’s learning in future lessons.

The students eagerly await their next challenge, where they will use resources (lap tops, laminated information sheets and Play Do) to make a short film or animation to explain why some countries experience earthquakes while others do not. This should give them an opportunity to gather more information (multistructural stage), connect information (relational stage), and most importantly come up with creative original ideas of their own to use the information – progressing to the extended abstract stage of SOLO, or ‘deep learning’.

I was really pleased with my first attempt at using SOLO – there are a few things that I can tweak to improve next time, but I would be happy now to expand the idea into other units of work. Younger students may need a gentler introduction to the concept, with a little more modelling of the structure before applying it to their learning – but I already have a few ideas as to how this can be achieved. My main personal challenge over the coming half term will be devising ways of weaving the SOLO structure into other lessons, and using the language with individuals to discuss levels of learning and progression.

I asked 2 other members of SLT to formally observe this lesson, and they liked what they saw. When I have completed my half term experiment, we will discuss together the possibility of adopting SOLO as a whole-school approach to structuring learning.


About devongeography

Head of Geography and Assistant Vice Principal at South Molton Community College, North Devon. Exeter Chiefs supporter!
This entry was posted in General Geo, Physical World, School, Teachers, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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