Specifications that use this resource:

Teaching guide: Bringing the schemes of work to life - delivery of positivism and interpretivism (podcast)

These podcast teaching guides cover topics from our AS and A-level Sociology specifications. You can download them below.

Podcast 3: Bringing the schemes of work to life - delivery of positivism and interpretivism

In this podcast we’ll focus on using the schemes of work to deliver outstanding sociology lessons, in particular how you can engage your students with positivism and interpretivism.


Hello and welcome to AQA’s sociology podcast aimed at supporting your teaching of our new AS and A-level specifications. In this podcast we’ll give you some practical guidance on using our schemes of work as a starting point for delivering outstanding sociology lessons. In particular we’ll focus on delivering research methods and some of the activities you could use to engage your students.

We’re aware that one of the greatest concerns for teachers, when changes are made to qualifications, is the prospect of planning and resourcing new lessons, and adapting your previous teaching resources to the requirements of the new specifications. That’s why we took the opportunity provided by regulatory changes to refresh our specifications whilst preserving the content that you and your students enjoy.

As the most popular choice for AS and A-level Sociology, we wanted to make sure that the transition to our new specifications was as simple for you as possible. It’s with this in mind that, with the launch of the new AS and A-level Sociology specifications, we’ve improved our support, developed new inspiring resources and enhanced our assessment to ensure that your students receive the result they deserve.

You can find our range of free resources at aqa.org.uk/sociology-resources. We’ve helpfully split our resources into the sections of planning, teaching and assessment. Prepare for your teaching year with our planning resources such as guidance for co-teaching AS and A-level students together, options evening materials and more. Plan your lessons and support your students’ learning with our teaching resources which include teacher guides and detailed reading lists for different topic areas. There are also schemes of work for the AS and first year of the A-level with a supporting resource bank; a scheme of work for the second year of the A-level; and examples of detailed lesson ideas. Help your students to prepare for assessment with resources that include specimen question papers and mark schemes, and student responses with examiner commentaries. All of our resources have been produced by outstanding teaching practitioners with a great track record of delivering engaging sociology lessons.

Using different topic areas within the specifications this podcast will discuss some of the suggested teaching and learning activities from the scheme of works in more depth, giving you an insight into the rationale behind them and some of the considerations to take into account to successfully deliver them to your students. We’ll also discuss how to tailor lessons where both AS and A-level students are taught together. We hope that this podcast will give you some ideas for teaching tasks and assessment for students sitting different qualifications and make you feel confident on bringing the schemes of work to life.

One particular topic area that some can find difficult to engage their students with is research methods. Research methods is highly conceptual and involves key terms that are subject specific and very rarely used by students in everyday conversation. Using our year one scheme of work as inspiration, which you can find under teaching resources, we’ll now discuss ideas on how to deliver research methods to both AS and A-level students in an engaging way.

On the scheme of work for year 1, positivism and interpretivism are taught in the second week of teaching research methods. A recap of the previous lessons work could be used as a paper based starter for this class. The idea behind the paper based starter is that, as students enter the classroom, potentially at different times, then they have something to do as soon as they sit down. This will ensure that no time is wasted in the lesson and will also give the students a reason to settle down to work immediately. The previous lesson to positivism and interpretivism on the scheme of work is a lesson looking at practical ethical and theoretical factors that affect the sociologist’s choice of research method and topic. A crossword could be created whereby the clues could be definitions of practical, ethical or theoretical issues. There are plenty of free websites where you can create crosswords, such as Discovery education’s puzzlemaker. Another paper based starter could be listing issues, for example reliability, consent, validity, cost etc. and asking students to identify them as either a practical, ethical or theoretical issues by copying them into a table under the correct heading. If students don’t finish the paper based starter they can go back to it if they finish a task early during the lesson.

The scheme of work then suggests a PowerPoint introduction to positivism and interpretivism. There are various activities that you could use to deliver the content of which PowerPoint is just one. It’s important to ensure that you adapt the scheme of work to suit your particular students’ needs. Another way of delivering this content could be to get the students to research positivism or interpretivism in pairs and present to each other. One student could be given a textbook reading or information sheet on positivism and the other person in the pair interpretivism. They could then be given a set amount of time (say 10 minutes) to read the information they’ve been allocated and make summary notes on an A3 sheet of paper. Tell students their A3 sheet of paper should have no more than 30 words on it. However, allow them to use as many pictures, diagrams and symbols as they wish. This will ensure the student doesn’t merely copy text and it will also promote deeper understanding of the material. Students could also create three questions that can be used to test their learner at the end of the presentation. Once this is done, ask the students to take it in turns to present to each other using only their A3 sheet as a prompt, then testing each other with their questions at the end. On this activity you could differentiate between the AS and A-level students. Perhaps pair the A-level students together and give them a more challenging or detailed reading piece than the AS students.

During the research activity, a lot of trust is placed upon the students to help each other learn; therefore it would be useful for the teacher to consolidate learning by going through the key features of positivism and interpretivism. Also an assessment of learning could be used at this point. Features of positivism and interpretivism could be shown on the board, for example, this perspective believes sociology should be a science... Students could then write the answer on the board or stand up and move to one side of the room or the other depending on whether they believe the answer to be positivism or interpretivism.

The scheme of work then suggests an activity to encourage higher order thinking skills. Students can draw upon their previous learning by completing an application task. The suggested activity is that students are given a brief description of a number of methods and then decide whether they would be preferred by positivists or interpretivists. The descriptions could be on card and to ensure deeper learning is taking place; students should justify their answers by linking specific features of the method to features of positivism and interpretivism. This task will benefit students for future lessons where they will learn about each method and its strengths and weaknesses.

One thing you’ll notice is that new style of exam questions are incorporated into the schemes of work in order to assess the students learning. These questions have been taken or modelled on the first set of specimen exam papers which is located on the website under assessment resources. A further set of specimen papers is available on e-AQA, our secure website which can only be accessed by login, so they can be used as mock papers if needed. If you don’t already have access, your school or college’s exams administrator should be able to get you set up. Find out more about e-AQA at aqa.org.uk/e-AQA.

In terms of the example lesson on positivism and interpretivism, it’s possible to create your own questions that utilise some of the command words in the specimen exam papers. You can find a list of the command words that your students will need to be familiar with for exams in the teaching resources section. If you’re teaching the AS and A-level students in the same classroom, it would be an idea to provide them with different sample assessment questions based on the qualification they are studying for. For example, on the topic of positivism and interpretivism you may set a four mark question to the AS student such as:

Outline two characteristics of the interpretivist approach to sociological research.

Whereas, those studying the A-level qualification could attempt a 10 mark question such as:

Outline and explain two characteristics of the interpretivist approach to sociological research.

It’s possible for a students sitting the AS paper to be given a 16 mark question on positivism and interpretivism, however, at this stage in the scheme of work, without having studied research methods in any great depth, it would be difficult for the student to answer this style of question. If you wanted to set a 16 mark question on this topic area, it’s more appropriate to do so towards the end of teaching research methods.

An activity you could use to finish off the lesson could be a discussion based on positivism and interpretivism asking the students which approach they think is most appropriate to use when studying society. Students could be given a time to discuss the question and feedback their answer to the whole class.

Paired discussions are not always effective if they are not carefully structured. Without structure one person in a pair may dominate the discussion or students may not stay focused on the question they are supposed to be discussing. One way to solve this issue is to structure the discussion using a Kagan cooperative learning technique. These techniques are referred to in our example scheme of work. Kagan techniques are the brainchild of Spencer and Miguel Kagan and are used to provide structure to cooperative learning activities so that the learning potential and contribution of each student is maximised. Each technique ensures that in every group learning scenario all students are able to make a valid contribution and support each other’s learning. Students are really encouraged to work as a team in order to reach a shared outcome.

One Kagan strategy you could use in order to structure the students discussion is a basic think, pair, share. This is where the question is posed and students have the option of first thinking of their own answer to the question. Give students time to do this, perhaps a minute or two on a timer. Students then pair up with a partner; this could be carefully considered relating to ability or randomly selected. Each student then takes it in turn to give each other their opinion on the question. The key is that only one person talks at once. Once each student has shared their opinion students should be encouraged to negotiate and develop their best answer to the question. Again give a time limit to ensure the discussion remains focussed. Also ensure that when you choose students to feedback it’s totally random. This ensures that each student will be attentive during the discussion. Perhaps get each student in the pair to number themselves, one or two and then pick a number to feedback to the class, for example, all the number ones. The think, pair, share activity ensures that no student dominates the discussion, that both students are fully engaged as feedback will be randomly selected and that the discussion remains focused, as their discussion is timed.

Thank you very much for listening to this instalment in AQA’s series of sociology podcasts. We hope this podcast has been useful in helping you to understand the rationale behind some of the teaching and learning activities we have included in our schemes of work and that you now feel confident that you can take our scheme of work as a starting point to creating some outstanding sociology lessons. If you have any questions feel free to contact us by phone on 01483 477 822 or email us at sociology@aqa.org.uk. Thank you and goodbye.

Specifications that use this resource: