Teaching in Tesco

On Friday, Jules Daulby (@JulesDaulby) was chatting about the idea that we ought to Make It Ridiculous Occasionally. As someone whose lessons often appear incomprehensible or odd to those who walk in midway through the journey, I thought it was interesting to see it being described as a phase. I am inclined to think it as being the way I teach effectively, though I suppose I could only be saying it because I am in my ‘phase’. Doubt it though.

When I have seen kids working hard, but still just not getting it, it is one of the most painful things to watch; they are doing everything they can, taking our advice, but it just won’t go in. This is how kids’ self-confidence and determination can get eroded. Sometimes, when the kids are already putting their best efforts in and it’s still not happening, as teachers we need to be like their pressure valve – we need to help them, guide them along a different route and also depersonalise their previous struggle and chill them out. We reassure them that whilst they haven’t yet got to where they need to go, they are getting there.


This is why I love tutoring my own pupils. With thirty kids in the class, I can’t always do the intricate unpicking of errors and the highly personal conversations that keep them active, eager and self-confident. I can’t always take one kid into a completely different activity during the lesson, even if that’s what will help her.

Tuition has none of these obstacles and I can personalise completely. Sometimes I spend the hour going over equation after equation – demonstrating, modelling, explaining, questioning, answering, marking – and for some of the kids, this is what they require, sometimes.

The kid I tutor on Saturdays at the moment doesn’t have that requirement. He is behind the majority of the others but he is catching up well – he doesn’t need hand-holding but he needs me to descend into his jottings quite regularly like a purple-penned guardian angel of column addition. I don’t want him going into Year 6 without the ability to fully understand and deploy the column methods. It gets boring for him though.

Therefore… I designed the Alphabetical Supermarket Addition Challenge of July 11th. I explained it to my pupil, who enjoyed trying to explain it to his parents after translating it into Bengali!

His challenge was this… He has an hour to find an item beginning with each letter of the alphabet in Tesco, and he needs the sum total of his 26 chosen items to be between £90 and £110. It is a simple task, but it requires a lot of calculation and logic.

He was constantly asking questions for the first ten minutes, and was seeking reassurance for every decision he made. He wanted to know if he selected Red Grapes, could that be a G or a R. Quickly though, once he had clarified the task for himself, his walk became a jog and the task became more and more amusing and challenging.

He milled around the aisles with his clipboard, me walking shiftily behind with a wry smile as he shouted things like ‘Rice Rice Rice’, surprising other customers, many of whom were understandably and smilingly curious as to why a white man in shorts and Nike Air Force Ones and an Asian boy in a tracksuit were loudly doing a stock take of the Halal meats.

As he finished a set (FGHIJ) he had to total them up, and he gladly squatted down in the dairy aisle, lining up his columns and explaining his place value to me.

As the task went on, the logic of the task started to kick in. He kept on reminding himself that the total needed to be between £90-£110, and so he was constantly trying to round up how much he had left to spend. Estimation.

There was other learning too. Primary teachers are used to seeing every learning opportunity as a chance to develop a wide range of other skills. My tutee could not find the eggs. I was not going to tell him where they were and told him he should ask a member of staff. I had earlier been chatting to an older gentleman who was stacking the shelves, and he was very amused and impressed at my kid working diligently on the floor of the bread aisle at 9:30 am on a Saturday.

I suggested my tutee go and ask the guy. Politely.

My tutee walked up silently behind the gentleman.


I would be lying if I said this spectacle of East London 10 year old slang did not make me laugh out loud. I quickly reminded him of his manners and he rephrased more politely, and the Tesco Man directed him to Aisle 11, patting him friendlily on the head.

We desperately sought out foods beginning with Z (thank you Polish section) and my tutee added up all of his totals to make a final total. He reached £108.97.

He literally shouted with glee. It was 10:14. We walked back to school.

What did I do on Saturday?
I tutored a child in the column method of addition.

It could have been a boring but effective morning of practice. Instead, it was a genuinely fun and effective morning of practice, and I got the time to chat with him about his life on the walk back. Rather than his morning being ruined by some forced tuition in something he finds hard, he was happy to be there and he rocked up at school early because he was so keen for us to go shopping.

Download – The Big Alphabet Tesco Shopathon of July 11th 2015


One thought on “Teaching in Tesco

  1. Brilliant sir. Using your time to help the children in your class. I wonder if Nicky would agree, but seriously who cares. Carry on. 🙂

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