Lee Garrett

A teaching and learning journey through PE


10 steps to consider for using SOLO

I have recently been asked for some tips when using The SOLO Taxonomy in lessons. I must stress that I have only started using this framework since September 2012 and consider myself still learning and exploring the concept. But nevertheless, since then I feel I have made some half decent progress with it and feel confident using it in all my PE theory classes.

The 10 tips provided have been a result from my own experiences. Rightly or wrongly, the positive experiences have overshadowed the negatives and I have most certainly took risks in trying to be creative which by and large have been successful. Here goes:

Introduce the framework

#1. Introduce the idea to students as a thinking and learning framework. I made conscious efforts to encourage students to think and write down ideas en mass whilst discussing about the use of the multi-structural level. We even related this to exam questions for revision. Once ideas were jotted down we then set about making links/connections and associations (Relational). Again we looked at how we could use our SOLO framework to answer questions which were requiring explanations. And to extend, challenge and differentiate we looked at bringing in other topics to establish a higher order level of learning.

#2. For 2 of my groups, I sacrificed some lesson time to discuss and explain the SOLO concept and the associated terminology. In conjunction with #3 the language used was quite impressive within such a short space of time. Students were able to articulate their level of learning, what they needed to do to improve and how they were going to do it. They were also very aware of the use of the building blocks and the requirement for connections to be made. At no point do I ever assign grades to the various distinguished levels as Im trying to lead the students into thinking about their depth of learning as opposed to the grade they are working at which I’m trying to relate to the work of Dweck and the Growth Mindset. At the same time, I have also tried a different approach with my Year 11s. They are knowledgeable on SOLO but the concept was taught via intertwining it with the syllabus, therefore having no special time set aside to go through the language and framework. My reasoning for doing this was to see how effectively students could apply the taxonomy after being taught 2 different ways. For future planning, I personally would recommend to spend some time going through the different learning levels and the use of the SOLO language.

Classroom environment

#3. The classroom environment is a particularly important one. Firstly, to help embed SOLO, the symbols representing each level have been printed and laminated and stuck down one side of the whiteboard. This for me has been a key factor as the whiteboard now has become one of the main workplaces when discussing, using feedback, demonstrating and thinking. For example, it makes it far easier to write out a success criteria so that students can visually understand what is expected and required to make progress. Using good old post-it notes allows students to come up and show at what level their learning is at by simply writing their name and sticking it next to a SOLO symbol. If you compare where they were at the start of the lesson and where they are at the end, students can start to understand, reflect and feel how their learning is developing. By continuously applying stages of learning to the symbols, it helps students to use the SOLO framework and hopefully positively transfer across different subjects/situations.

Take risks and be creative

#4. Take risks and be creative. When I first set out using SOLO, I really enjoyed seeing the learning being developed and applied by the most simple yet effective tool.The hexagon. My concern though now is death by hexagon!!! For those new to SOLO, students write on one hexagon shape which represents 1 idea (unistructural). Students continue to write down numerous ideas (multi-structural). The power of this tool comes into effect when you then start to join various hexagons together linearly (relational) or like a jigsaw. If you use different colour hexagons which represents different topics and make links this is working towards the deep learning of extended abstract. Since then I have tried a spiders web approach whereby I aim to use the whole classroom and make links and connections with string. To be honest the theory behind it is exactly the same as the use of hexagons but just an alternative way of doing it.

Embed within your lessons

#5. This next point is similar to #3. Encourage the students to apply the SOLO framework in planning, evaluating, designing, answering, explaining etc. This way the common use of the learning language starts to become habitual. In preparing students for the big 6 mark questions in GCSE PE or the 14 mark questions in GCE PE, I have started to combine the IDEAS model (shared by @thebenhorbury) in conjunction with the SOLO to help students think, apply and structure their questions more constructively.


#6. Another way I encourage the students to think and apply the framework and become more accustomed to the language is by structuring homework questions using the associated verbs. For example, list, name, define and describe would be uni/multi structural whilst the more extended questions would be to include explain, compare & contrast, design, predict and construct. I find that students begin to understand the nature of the question and the level of detail required. With students understanding the question and the level of learning/thinking they know that for more developed statements, verbs such as, BECAUSE, SO THAT, THIS ALLOWS and THEREFORE or similar must be used to enhance their answer. Obvious, I know but for some of my students this has made a big difference.

Feedback tool

#7. Getting students to ‘feedforward’ can be quite a straight forward process using the SOLO success criteria and the help of a few SOLO symbols in the classroom.

where am I now?’ with the explicit learning objective and the success criteria, feedback for the students is important and using SOLO has for me made this an easier process. Using Formative Assessment strategies and carefully constructed questions helps this.

Where do I need to get to‘ With the shallow to deep’ continuum its a very visible and dare I say easier progressive pathway to reach a target/objective with the intermittent SOLO levels. However, in 1 lesson, I find that reaching extended abstract is not always possible. The deeper learning may be discussed and touched upon but to actually store and retrieve the learning is not always possible and takes quite a few days/weeks. Is it possible to go from pre-strucual to extended abstract that easily? Im not so sure it is.

‘How will I get there‘ is an important question and if the student can identify this themselves, then surely you are facilitating independent learning bearing in mind that of course direct instruction will have played a big part in helping you reach this stage. Again if the learning objective is explicit and success criteria links in with SOLO, it makes a far easier discussion to understand the feedback report FROM the students in aiding you for your future planning.

Peer and self assessment

#8. When peer/self assessing, get students to identify what level of learning has been demonstrated/achieved. Get them to highlight the work and symbolise it. This has many advantages but the most important element of this activity is allowing students to redraft. After hearing so much and reading Ron Berger’s, The Ethic of Excellence, this is an absolute must and one where improvement can be visible. Let the students redraft and learn from their mistakes.


#9. When planning, I think about the lesson objective first, then the success criteria and then design the activity ensuring it is pitched at the right level.  I am a big fan of the SOLO stations (@totallywired77). Put simply, each table or area of the classroom represents a SOLO learning station. Students can start at any station they feel matches their knowledge and then they complete several tasks which are pitched at the levels appropriate for each station before moving on. This really is differentiation heaven. If students are struggling they can move back down a SOLO level before moving back up until they feel they are ready. I found that the more the students get used to this type of lesson, the more confident they become and the more independent they are at making their own decision to move on.

#10. My final point is one of sharing. Firstly, Twitter is an unbelievable tool for sharing and collaborating. There are some outstanding practitioners who are more than happy to support, share and advise. Follow the #soloarmy. Secondly, from Twitter, there are some very informative blogs which will help inspire you to take a chance and be creative. I first came across SOLO thanks to @davidfawcett27 and from there was directed to @totallywired77 and @lgolton. I would also really recommend watching @learningspy on youtube. He clearly explains the SOLO levels at a TeachMeet and clearly explains the Taxonomy. Finally, I would make sure you fully understand the SOLO concept and get a clear idea of how you are going to use it in your lessons. I came across it in June 2012 but didn’t actually implement it until September 2012 and used the summer holidays to fully understand the concept and now it has become an essential ingredient in my theory lessons.

Hope this helps.





I have been using SOLO Taxonomy since Sept 2012 and I have to say that generally it has been absolute key element to  my classroom teaching. As a PE teacher, I decided to use SOLO in my theory classes, GCSE and A Level and my first inspiration was David Fawcett (@davidfawcett27). It was after discovering his blog that I then started chasing people on twitter and people’s blogs making sure that understood the language. After reading the brilliant Tait Coles (@Totallywired77), I was certain that I was not going to visibly associate a level descriptor or grade against the learning taxonomy. I know some people do and thats fine, but I feel that with my particular students, they get too hung up on what grade or level they are currently working on and ignore the importance of utilising feedback and working towards developing that growth mindset. The students do know however that relational learning is the threshold they should at least be aiming for and to be honest without the public grades, the students use the appropriate language when using SOLO as an exit ticket.

So for those reading this, and wondering what on earth is SOLO all about, I will talk about the presentation I did at a Teachmeet that I participated in and which I ran out of bloody time!

SOLO ( Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes) Biggs & Collins

SOLO is a taxonomy for teaching and learning. It has similarities to Blooms (taxonomy for thinking) which I still use to help frame differentiated questions.

To get people to understand the SOLO taxonomy, I used the example of a sandwich. The AW Sandwich! Here goes:


Prestructural – I have no ideas about the AW sandwich, I need help to describe it.

At this level of learning, students will have no idea what it is that is being learned and therefore will need help to build the language, terminology and basic factual blocks of information in order to progress. Unless you are the chef who designed this culinary delight I am probably guessing that most people reading this will be at this level.


Uni-Structural – I have 1 idea about the AW Sandwich. I know 1 ingredient/characteristic of the AW Sandwich.

For those of you wanting to learn all about this sandwich, you now know that the main ingredient is a slice of wagyu beef tenderloin.


Multi-structural – I have several ideas about the AW Sandwich. You know the main ingredients.

As previously stated, this sandwich contains a slice of wagyu beef tenderloin, a poached quails egg, rocket lettuce, seared foie gras, black truffle mayonnaise, crispy strip of turkey bacon and finally heirloom tomatoes.

When planning the learning objectives and the success criteria, there are key verbs to help (this is where it is similar to Blooms)

For example: define, list, name, state, describe, and identify.
PE exam question: State 2 factors that will cause optimum weight to vary between between individuals in the same event (2 marks)
LG example: Describe how hungry you after after knowing the ingredients of the AW Sandwich.

The next two levels are the most important ones. For my subject, this is where the big marks are allocated and usually found in the differentiated questions. However if a student can identify a relational or extended abstract question and understand how to approach answering them correctly and recall and link the correct knowledge then they are well on their way to achieving and demonstrating their learning.


Relational: I can connect and relate relevant ideas and learning. I can explain why these ingredients are used and how they compliment each other.

In classical French cooking, the beef and foie gras form part of the Tournedos Rossini dish and are used together for texture and balance of flavour. Using wagyu beef takes this to the next level. The rocket lettuce adds a crisp texture and the peppery flavour balances out flavours of other ingredients.

The verbs to help the learning at the Relational stage include, compare and contrast, sequence, classify, explain, analyse.

PE exam: Explain the requirements of a balanced diet (4marks)


Extended Abstract: I can look at the ideas in a new way and make links to other concepts.

The AW Sandwich as described was on the menu in a hotel in the UAE, hence the turkey bacon. BUT what if we were in the Caribbean? How might the sandwich change? Would we swap the wagyu beef for Canadian lobster? The black truffle mayo for Beluga caviar? How would the sandwich fit within a dinner party? What colour wine would you use if eating at 1pm as opposed to 7pm?

As you can see this is a lot more about making generalisations, predicting , evaluating, hypothesise, create.

A2 PE Exam: Outline the possible causes of spectator violence at sporting events and explain how the law aims to protect them (14marks)


One well documented tool for using SOLO is the use of hexagons. Here each hexagon is used as an idea (uni/multi-structural). On each hexagon an idea is written down and to advance the learning connections are made (relational) by placing the hexagons side by side.

To further enhance the learning, students need to make connections to new concepts. Using different coloured hexagons which represents different concepts and making connections, students are on their way to developing learning at an Extended Abstract level.

photo (3)

The Web

I have been devising other ways to engage the students into making connections and facilitating students to become more deeper learners and deeper thinkers. One way myself and colleagues have explored is the spiders web. As a revision lesson the aim was to answer this question which was generated by @revisePE on Twitter:

David is a swimmer who competes around the country. Suggest some of the influences of participation that has helped him get to this level

In groups, students worked on an individual concept. For example one group worked on factors influencing participation, others worked on Sport England, Youth Sport Trust, National Governing Bodies, and the performance pyramid, five groups in total.

Starting with a multi-structural task, groups had to write as many ideas (1 idea per piece of paper) and make Relational connections/links within that topic by drawing the connections on the table. Each group then moved around the classroom (carousel style) and contributed where appropriate to each topic.



Then armed with a load of string, new connections across the room were made to link ideas from different topics. As an extension task, students had to answer the question which was on the whiteboard throughout the lesson.



As time was running out from the lesson, each person had to think of 2 E.A connections and discuss this with a partner and then to the whole group. What came out of the whole group discussion was that even more connections and deeper thinking emerged as fresh ideas came to light.  All ideas were photographed and made into a PDF as a resource on Edmodo.

The progression from multi-structural to E.A is not an easy one and should take time to reach. I admit that I do not always get to E.A in my lessons and sometimes don’t even plan to get to the deepest level of learning (mainly due to time issues). But what I have found is that where appropriate, the E.A level creates new opportunities for learning to occur, engages the students as they are being stretched out of their comfort zone which as research has shown increases rate of learning and allows students to grow in confidence as they can connect information easily and accurately from a wider perspective.

The Power of Feedback

One of the strongest applications SOLO has is its use as a feedback tool. I have particularly found this useful in A2 PE theory lessons where students are explicitly shown via the whiteboard where they are now, where do they need to get to and how will they get there. This can be shown to the students quite easily with a rubic success criteria or simply stated on the board.


Certainly with my A-level group, we have moved up and down the taxonomy several times before reaching our final destination of learning and this is the beauty of the taxonomy. There is a saying which I really find true to its word;

feedback to feedforward

And SOLO helps you to facilitate effective feedback in order for you and the students to move forward towards deeper learning. This notion of feeding back to feedforward had really helped my understanding and use of SOLO.

And finally planning. I have already mentioned that uni and multi-structural is more quantitative and relational and extended abstract more qualitative. David Fawcett (@davidfawcett27) wrote a great piece on his blog about planning to get to extended abstract and it is something which I fully agree with. He notioned the fact that you dont have to keep to the linear path of working systematically from unistructure to E.A. Why not start from the bigger picture first? This makes perfect sense to me.  I used to plan from bottom up; uni – multi – rel, and then admittedly struggled to see how this fitted in with the bigger picture. Now I much prefer to work using the top – down approach. With the adapted 5 min lesson plan by @teachertoolkit, its far easier to plan the bigger picture first (what do you really want the students to understand) and then plan the foundation of ideas. Darren Mead wrote on his Sharing Pedagogical Purposes blog “who would buy the best high revolution precision cutter, and then decide what to make“. And this is the point I am trying to make. What is the main deep learning foci that is your target? What key ideas, learning tasks do you need to learn to understand the goal objective? As Darren calls it backfill the building blocks.

20130414-180654.jpgphoto (4)

I am certainly still a novice playing with this teaching and learning concept and there is much more I could write about but my final thought on this is that the more risk you take in being creative, engaging and ambitious in leading students to the path of deeper learning, the higher the quality of teaching and learning and the more satisfying your job becomes. Anyone for a sandwich??