Tutor blog

Tutor Resources: How to teach Biology GCSE

Understanding GCSE Biology requires good memory skills and a grasp of specific terminology. Always try to explain the same concepts from different points of view, linking them to the other sciences when possible. Students can also often get confused about a lot of the terms involved — it’s handy to have a few mnemonics ready! Most of all, remember to stay positive and enthusiastic about Biology, and your students will soon see what a fascinating subject it is.

Preparing for your first tutorial

Preparing for tutorials is one the most critical parts of a tutor’s job. More often than not, the quality of your tutorial will depend on the amount of time you have spent preparing for it. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should spend hours preparing for a single tutorial. Remember that the amount of information (or past paper exercises) you want to work with is limited by the length of the tutorial. Try to fit in as much useful information as you can, but be realistic, as including too many topics in one tutorial will exhaust your student.

Remember that the amount of information (or past paper exercises) you want to work with is limited by the length of the tutorial. Try to fit in as much useful information as you can, but be realistic, as including too many topics in one tutorial will exhaust your student.

Staying organised is key to delivering good tutorials. I like to have a folder on my computer where I can find subject specifications, teaching resources, past papers and mark schemes for each exam board.

When I first meet a new student, I establish how strong their fundamental knowledge of the subject is by spending the first 2-4 minutes asking them how their course is going. It’s worth asking your student if they like Biology, why they like/dislike Biology, what other subjects they like, what they find hard in Biology, and what they’d like to cover in their tutorials. This helps me to understand what level the student is working at before delving into the actual tutorial session. When teaching Biology, it is best to start with the most fundamental topics, and then proceed one step at a time. I usually dedicate my first tutorial with a student to revising a fundamental topic in Biology (e.g. Classification of Living Organisms, Cells or Biomolecules). If the tutee is advanced and keen to move straight onto harder concepts, I go straight in with some past paper exercises.

After your tutorial, remember to leave feedback for the student on MyTutor, as this will help you to keep track of their progress. I usually try to complete my feedback straight after the session, because after a few days it can get harder to remember exactly what you’ve done. Remember to be descriptive and include a detailed record of what you covered and what you’re planning to do next.

Resources

There are a huge range of GCSE Biology resources out there. The type of resources I use tends to depends on the exam board the student is on and the level they’re studying at (Foundation/Higher). The first thing I like to do is to download the subject specification from the relevant exam board website. Understanding the syllabus will help you to be fully aware of the student’s learning objectives. I always check these before a tutorial to make sure I don’t omit important details (such as specific terminology, case studies, and experiments). Here are some useful up-to-date GCSE Biology links:

    • AQA GCSE Biology (2016)
    • WJEC GCSE Biology (2016)

Understanding the syllabus will help you to be fully aware of the student’s learning objectives.

When I’m tutoring or preparing for a tutorial, I always try to have the following on hand:

A list of websites with high-quality images

Sometimes I prefer to use videos or GIFs instead. If I can’t find the diagram, graph or image I’m looking for, I will usually draw them myself, either in advance or on the spot in the Online Lesson Space (depending on the complexity of the picture). The best resources for images are Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons. You can find images which have been produced specifically for GCSE Biology on BBC Bitesize, S-Cool and Revision World. As a last resort, you can always perform an Advanced Image Search on Google.

A Wolfram Alpha or Google tab open 

Google and Wolfram Alpha are the best (and quickest) fact checking websites. Wolfram Alpha isn’t your average search engine, but a “computational knowledge engine,” so it does work a little differently, but it’s definitely worth checking out. Google has an in-built “automatic-answer” algorithm, so you can search simple questions like “boiling point of X,” or “define Y.”

FAQs

“I don’t know what I need to revise… maybe a bit of everything?”

I get this question a lot during the first few tutorials, and it is often asked because students aren’t sure what their weaknesses are. It may be equally confusing for a tutor, when it’s not clear what they need help with even after probing their knowledge with a few past papers or fact-recall questions. When in doubt, start with a review of Ecology, Cells or Molecular Biology and take it from there.

Is the spelling of this scientific term important?” 

You shouldn’t be English grammar teachers. However, a correct spelling of the biological terms they’re required to know is key to getting higher marks in Biology. So yes— it is important!

“Do I have to know all of this?” 

I usually get this question when covering case studies, which are often “additional” to their curriculum specifications (e.g. theories on the origins of mitochondria; or the difference between Archaebacteria and Eubacteria). Since students won’t be tested on these topics, they won’t need to learn them off by heart. However, it’s useful for students to be able to recall the underlying concept of the case study, even if they don’t remember every detail. 

Why I love tutoring Biology

I love teaching Biology is because I find it intellectually rewarding and stimulating. Not only does tutoring keep your brain engaged, but you can also experience the joy of teaching and the gratification of seeing your students’ progress over the weeks.


Francesco G. is a second year Biomedical Sciences student at King’s College London, and he has completed over 130 hours of tutoring through MyTutor.

Interested in tutoring Biology GCSE? Follow this link to become a tutor with MyTutor and start tutoring today. 

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