I once worked in a old crumbling school in Sussex, which was next door to a site where they were building a new school. Yes, it was noisy, but not as noisy as having building work going on in the classroom above.

One thing that kept happening was the power would go off without warning and everything would shut down. Sometimes it was just a quick shut down – long enough to make the lights flicker, and of course for all the computers to shut down and the projectors to start shouting about protecting the bulb. But sometimes it would last most of the day.

It was during this year that I had to plan a number of lessons on the basis that there would be no power. And thus was born the ‘power cut cookbook’ – my ideas for what to do in a power cut.

Much more recently I have been working with school that hold termly ‘totally unplugged’ days where the head teacher shuts off all (most) of the power in the school.
I have recently been rummaging through the power cut cookbook and decided it is another opus magnum, a book that I’ll never write – but here are some of my favourite recipes from it.

Spider web of strings

I do lots of work with strings, like the old washing line activity and such, but this one is simple and good for making connections. This method works best later in the year for obvious reasons but you can do it any subject, so if you are covering geography one day…


Hanging Notes


a set of mini white boards

some pegs

paper (different colours is good) and pens

lots of cheap string (some can be resued).

Preparation time – 5 minutes

 Serves 30+




On each chair or table put a mini whiteboard with the topics covered so far.

For example ‘parallel lines’ on one and ‘angles’ on another ‘area’, ‘triangles’ ‘fractions’ ‘ratio’ ‘proportion’ ‘parallelogram’ ….

Then the pupils (I pair them up with their own colour/shape of paper) take a piece of string and tie it from their allocated starting point to any other topic table or chair. Onto this string they peg on statement that connects the two topics at each end of the string. Then they move on going from that new topic to the next one. If they come to a string that is already in place then they just peg their new and different connecting fact onto that string.

It’s a brilliant mess! And great for making connections and seeing the big picture.

 Quadratic area maze

I read about area mazes in Alex Bellos’ piece in the guardian last summer. I then combined this with the idea that you can see a quadratic expression as a rectangle with sides x+a and x+b.

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straight edges


Preparation time – 25 + minutes depending on the class and route

Serves 30+

You can use this activity to tackle common misunderstandings, like what happens if one side is x-something, and that x2 and x are unlike terms and seeing if they have lost one of the middle terms, you know the one that often gets forgotten!


What is the area of this rectangle?

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or …
If the total area of this rectangle is x2+4x+3, what is the missing value?

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Then you can start to combine them into something resembling an area maze with a bit of expanding and factorising!


Find the missing terms:

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Then I start to build them up. In this example there is a square 1×1 in the middle.

Sometimes I leave the middle square blank and they need to work it out. First by expanding the known rectangles, calculating the total area of the large rectangle and work out the difference to find the area of the small square.


Other times I just give them one quadratic expression. I particularly like this approach as you can use the same maze concept to develop different learning objectives. For homework they make one of their own as ‘fiendish’ as possible, which they can then set and mark with targets for each other.

I’m going to be adding new recipes to my power cut cook book over the term and I hope you find them tasty.

If you have any terrific bakes you would like to share, please send them over.