The Full English

An A-Z handbook of English teaching activities
Julie Blake

The Full English describes tried and tested classroom activities which engage young people in learning that is fun, purposeful and creative. It is a collation of a wide range of the shared practices of English teachers, often only encountered by chance or occasional collaboration. Its aim is to help all teachers vary their approaches, try new ones and be reminded of old favourites.

Down-to-earth in style and often humorous, The Full English is broad enough to be useful in a whole range of contexts but specific enough to reassure the least confident. Its wisdom is grounded in practical example and frequent direction to particular Teachit resources to show techniques at work. The Full English should be of interest to all teachers but is mainly suitable for KS3, 4 and 5.


The Full English

£12.50* for Teachit subscribers and key contributors

£16.25* for free members and non-members

*Plus £4.95 p&p on UK orders. For overseas orders, please call us on 01225 788850 to pay by credit card.
'This is a little firework of a book'
Phil Norman, University of Plymouth
'An inspiring compendium of practical ideas'
Ann Diego, Newham Sixth Form College
'It puts me in touch with the teacher I want to be!'
Edna Hobbs, Lytchett Minster School

The Full English – place an order

Teachit subscribers and key contributors Non-members and free members
£12.50* £16.25*
*Plus £4.95 p&p on UK orders. For overseas orders, please call us on 01225 788850 to pay by credit card.
'The Full English doesn't patronise or dumb down but has a kind of knowingness that demands and implies a shared intelligence, professionalism and enthusiasm without being didactic or pompous.'
Siobhain Archer, Founder, Teachit



Actioning – Movements and gestures to fit the words
Adaptations – Long live the BBC and/or Merchant Ivory
Additions and omissions – Bits in and out of alternative editions
Anthologies – Creating ones worth reading…
Archaeological dig – Discover culture/society from the fragments shored against our ruins
Art attack – As stimulus for writing


Balloon debate – Get rid of the dross
Betting – Only fake ££, obviously…
Bingo – Eyes down
Blockbusters – “I’d like a P please, Bob”
Brainstorming – Or whatever PC name it’s got now


Card sorts – The simple pleasure of a pair of scissors
Carousel – Discussion that goes round in circles
Circuit Training – A workout to tone up a variety of intellectual muscles
Cloze – Popularity stranger than fiction
Creative retelling – The infernal Lady Macbeth’s diary
Cut Ups – Sequencing activities (and more scissor action…)


Debate – Let rip the tub-thumping passion
Decision trees – Kind of diagram showing options/decisions
Degrees of belief – Different types of scales for weighing opinions
Director’s cuts – Cutting scenes and doubling up actors
DIY study guides – Put the rest out of business…


Eagle eye – Spot the deliberate mistakes
Echoing – Experimenting with multiple voices
Endings – Rewrites and alternatives
Examples…examples – Because you can never get enough
Exchange and Mart – Collective and cooperative exchange of ideas
Eye witness – Visual memory and attention to descriptive detail


Family trees – Genealogy for beginners
Feel the rhythm – Clapping, banging and running around
Film makers – Hands on story-making
Finger puppets – Don’t mock it ’til you’ve tried it…
Flowcharts – Diagrams to represent plot processes at work
Freeze frame – Getting them to stand still for a second


Gained in translation – Old text into modern etc.
Game of Chance – Dice throwing on types of questions/comments
Game design – Board/computer game based on text of issues
Goldfish bowl – Participants and observers
Graphs and charts – Plotting with a purpose
Guided tours – Imagining self into a situation


Half baked ideas – Tinkering around with stuff to make it better
Hangman – My exciting Christmas special
Headlining – Adding the chapter/section/scene titles the publishers obviously forgot
Highlighter heaven – Fun with fluorescent pens
Hole filling – Creative insertions
Hotseating – Putting a character in the hot seat – or the electric chair


Illustrated editions – Exploring through drawing
Imitation – Flattery and parody
Improvisation – Making stuff up and acting out
Intercutting – Cutting and pasting for creative enlightenment
Interviewing – Real and role play
In the manner of – Experimenting with different ways of saying and doing


Jackets – Create them/explore literary interpretations
Jigsaw discussion – Discussion technique for maximum participation
Jigsaw puzzles – Find the pieces, put them together
Journals – Reading log and learning logs, and blogs
Jumbled texts – Mix it up then sort it out
Juxtapositions – Comparisons without the jumbling…


Kangaroo Court – Conducting a mock trial
Killjoys – A focus on exam preparation techniques
Kim’s game – That lovely QUIET parlour game…
King or Queen of the classroom – Spelling intimidation fun
Kiss of life – Or how experienced teachers manage to roll with the punches


Labelling – Variation on the cloze theme
Lectures – Because A Level students sure do need the practice
Letters – Falling in love with stamps and envelopes
Listing – Simple but still useful
Literary critics – Adopting different theoretical perspectives at AS/A2


Maps – Of places and journeys
Masks – What lies beneath
Matching – The rice and pasta of the English teaching profession
Mind maps – How to do them properly
Models – 3D concept building not skinny girls on catwalks
Music – Creative thinking around the text


Networking – Mapping the connections between people and characters
News desk – Sleaze and scandal – read all about it!
News wall – Classroom walls papered for free (just don’t let the caretaker see)
Ninety second versions – Reassuringly difficult
Noughts and crosses – One of the simple pleasures in life


Obstacle race – Finding information with your pants on fire
Odd one out – A cunning little activity to keep ‘em guessing
Opinion cards – Ways of eliciting higher quality critical opinions
Order from chaos – Classification activities to soothe the soul


The play’s the thing – Bring out your inner Hollywood/bollywood, RSC/London Palladium
Postcards home – those Martians trying to make sense of human life
Posters – Ahh, kick back and drink tea lesson (in your dreams, anyway…)
Predictions – All the what-iffy stuff
Presentations – How to get decent ones
Prove it – Find evidence and test it to destruction – not for the faint-hearted 
Pyramids – Building class discussion step by step


Question cards – To find out what students really want to know
Questioning – So much more difficult than it looks…
Quick on the draw – Parlour game fun with tricky texts
Quiz – The obvious plus student DIY
Quote quest – That hoary old chestnut…


Ranking – Simple, diamond, triangles and bulleyes
Reading comprehension – How to make it less boring
Readings – By teachers, students, writers and performers
Right to reply – The underdog speaks
Role play and simulation – Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes
Round robin – Discussion technique to get everyone involved


Slide show – An exploration of the cultural context of the text, mainly for AS/A2
Spot the difference – Oh, for the lost puzzle books of one’s youth…
Stage directions – Exit pursued by a bear
Still life – Photos and screen captures from productions and telly
Storyboard – Seeing narrative sequences
Summarising – Taking the pith...


Thinking hats – De Bono’s thing
Thinking keys – Thinking upside down and inside out
Thought tracking – Dealing with divided selves and two faced weasels
Time lines – At last, a legitimate classroom use for Velcro
Treasure hunt – Collect stuff, answers, or photos
True or false – The enternal question
Trump cards – Card game to assess characters’ virtues/vices


Under pressure – Force field analysis and diagrams
Using corpora – Very cool language gizmo


Venn diagrams – To explore similarities between characters
Verbal collage – The spine-shivering effect of choral speaking
Visits – Few top tips
Voting – Techniques to liven it up


Watching telly – Go on, you know you want to…
Webquest – Adventures in cyberspace and/or the ICT suite…
Website DIY – Or, how not to do them, having learned the hard way…
Word bag – If only you could get the shoes to match…
Wordsearch – Makes a change occasionally…
Writing kick starts – Teacher's emergency survival box


Z to A – Or A-Z if you really insist on it…
Zimmer frames – Love ’em or loathe ’em
Zombie killers – Keeping students alert during videos/lectures
Zooming in and out – Focusing on small details by getting ride of the rest

Introduction by Julie Blake

This book started a long time ago. As a PGCE student desperate for teaching ideas, I hoarded anything I could lay my hands on. I squinted at the sheet my mentor gave me, called ‘20 things to do with a book’, a side of A4 that had been re-photocopied so many times on machines barely out of the Banda era that it was almost illegible. I squandered my grant (‘Banda machines, student grants – how old is this woman?!’) photocopying (legitimate) chunks of a very good series of books about teaching English that I have only ever been able to describe since as ‘yellow’. And when I got my first teaching post, I collected a blue cardboard folder from the stationery cupboard and put all my scraggy old bits of paper in it.

Of course, in your first year of teaching you’re supposed to die of the shock, so I didn’t add much to the blue folder then, but at the end of it I moved elsewhere for a permanent contract and the head of department handed me a comb-bound compilation of teaching ideas. Into the blue folder it went. And back out of the blue folder came all kinds of experiments as I systematically worked my way through every single technique in there. One by one. Throwing out my teaching materials at the end of every academic year in order to make way for more experiments. No-one ever told me that was really weird, freaky behaviour…

Somewhere along the way, I saw a repeat of the movie Working Girl. Sure, I’m always a sucker for a girl-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks-hits-the-big-time story, but what distracted me from my marking pile was the scene where Harrison Ford asks Melanie Griffiths where she gets all her ideas from. She tells him she reads all kinds of stuff all the time, not just the hot shot business journals, and, finding ideas everywhere, she cuts them out and keeps them while she thinks about them. ‘Yes, yes, yes, yes!’ I exploded in a Molly Bloom moment all of my own, ‘That’s what I do!’ Except I hadn’t been doing the cutting and kept getting annoyed that I couldn’t remember the ideas I’d come across.

After that, no newspaper, magazine or random act of information was safe. Anyone visiting who idly picked up the paper would have the novel experience of it dissolving into hamster bedding in their hands. But the blue folder grew. I started adding in little notes on the backs of envelopes of things I’d seen other teachers doing, and handouts from all kinds of odd INSET sessions, and little features from The Guardian that I thought might work as writing activities. Reader, I was a techniques junkie.

But mostly I kept the blue folder going because I’m rubbish at remembering stuff. I would try something out, find out its strengths and limitations, then do something different the next time and forget all about it. I needed the folder in order to keep coming back and refreshing my ideas, trying things out again, or in different combinations.

Eventually I got involved in mentoring new teachers. By this stage the blue folder had been shoved down the back of countless filing cabinets only to be retrieved, dog-eared and coffee-stained, at the start of each new academic year. But to each new ITT or NQT I would hand over the battered blue folder in a preposterously ceremonial fashion, offering all my worldly wisdom like some wizened old hag-mentor in an epic fantasy, and threatening strange curses on their fertility if it didn’t come back to me. Somehow it always did, though that may have had something to do with sensible revulsion at the nastiness of the yellowing papers inside. And every time it did I muttered apologetically, ‘One day I’ll write it all down properly.’

I never did. And then Siân pitched up, a shiny young NQT on our team of old lags. By now the blue folder was really quite foul, and anyway it was never anything more than a random collection of clippings and copies. I wasn’t mentoring Siân, but she observed me teach many times and eventually reached the limits of her frustration, exploding, with entirely good cause, ‘Will you stop telling me it’s easy and explain what you’re doing!’ Well, that’s the polite version – if memory serves me correctly, there may also have been a few eye-melting Welsh expletives in there...

But there was a merger and a restructuring and, well, you know how it goes… So, instead of finding the time to give that kind of detailed explanation, I tried to buy Siân a book. Hours spent trying to track down the one that would do the job were fruitless. Of course there are plenty of more or less useful books, but I didn’t want to give advice about educational strategies and assessment objectives, generalised tips, generic teaching ideas for any subject, or text-specific photocopiable worksheets. I wanted something that would explain a technique, that would show how to apply it to specific texts or tasks but be transferable to others, and that would be clear in the pedagogical principles underpinning it. I also wanted it to show how much fun can be had in teaching English.

So, I wrote it myself. Too late. Siân left the teaching profession. But here it is, for everyone who knows that feeling of frustration, who wants some new ideas, or some new ways of looking at old ideas. The ideas are not mine. Like a Victorian butterfly collector, I have rounded them up, sorted them according to their underlying principles, and explained them. This is the collective body of knowledge that we all share, and it’s a work in progress. There will of course be techniques that I haven’t come across, and the applications described here can only give an indicative flavour of how they might be used. We all teach in different ways and in different contexts. What works here won’t necessarily work there. That’s what makes teaching fun.

The title The Full English should not be taken literally – it’s a playful title that has more to do with my love of bacon and eggs than anything else; it is not the full picture, nor can it be in a profession of wonderfully creative and inventive people. But I hope the techniques described here will inspire teachers to try a few new things out, to play around a little (or a lot) with texts and tasks, to have enough confidence in the pedagogical underpinning to give creative activities a go, and to have as much fun teaching as I’ve had so far.

And Siân, get yourself back into a classroom. It’s never too late.

Copyright © Julie Blake 2006


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