Teachit favourite resources - an archive of editors' wisdom and resource recommendations
Each half term our library editors and guest editors rummage around their area of the site to unearth really useful and wonderful resources to share with you. We've gathered these together as a collection so you can do your own spot of targeted digging and delving. Hopefully you'll find just what you're looking for - or at least some inspiration and advice!
Choose a theme from the links below.
Speaking and listening
KS3 | Richard Durant on the renaissance of talk
A few years ago I postponed some research into group talk because I couldn't find any. I am delighted to find group talk everywhere these days, its renaissance triggered by a number of factors – among them Ofsted's insistence that in good or outstanding lessons students have to be working harder than their teachers. Student collaboration offers the surest route to that unlikely scenario.
One of the biggest challenges for group talk is getting and keeping all students involved. Custody battle [A Midsummer Night's Dream] provides a way forward: students explore an issue by role-playing a trial. Collaboration is not generally encouraged in courtrooms but juries certainly have to work together, and that's 12 students taken care of straight away. The battle in this resource is between Titania and Oberon, but it could be adapted for many plays and novels.
Another – and complementary – way of involving students en masse is through conscience alley, a technique fully explained in Three ghosts visit Macbeth [Macbeth: Drama approaches]. Conscience (or decision) alley is a way of generating talk that no student can easily duck or dominate.
Group talk is often undermined by group members' perception that the teacher is over-steering their discussion and wants the group to make a particular discovery. Alas, students are often right. Two powerful discussion-stimulators are pictures and mysteries, and Inferring through the woods [Classic poetry] combines the two in getting students to explore Rudyard Kipling's poem, 'The Way through the Woods'. Again, the approach here would work with many poems, and would reassure groups that there are no 'preferred' answers.
Whatever task you give students, the process needs to be well-managed. Timers are increasingly popular amongst teachers and students to bring urgency to discussion. The Teachit Timer [Whizzy things > Teachit Timer] is perfect for this job. It happily woofs, clangs, etc to announce that time is up.
My research into group talk concluded that peer-assessment is crucial to getting students to see talk as work and to take the development of their discussion skills seriously. The new Speaking and listening APP criteria on the National Strategies Standards site will help teachers and students to understand how to get better at discussion. The belief that we are getting better is what makes us make an effort.
Key Stage 4 | Alison Smith kills two birds with one speaking and listening stone
Speaking and listening is one of those things which often gets squashed into the gaps between all of the other work but which, done well, can be of real benefit to both teachers and students alike.
A good (and fairly obvious) place to start is the Speaking and Listening trail which is a route through some of my favourite Teachit resources. Start with the Speaking and listening trail map and guide which, like all of the trails, shows you how each of the resources can be used and suggests potential links between them. A favourite resource within the trail is Giving instructions orally and visually [Thinking and discussion skills] which makes a lovely introduction to assessed Speaking and Listening, or a fun activity to break up the serious work of a GCSE course. If you asked my class which they liked best, I'm sure that the prize would go to Spend some of the school's money! [Speaking and listening tasks] – they really got into their roles, and got some impressive marks out of it.
As well as assessing speaking and listening, I'm trying to encourage more purposeful talk in the classroom in general. The fabulous Group work role cards [Thinking and discussion skills] are designed to prevent the gaps in discussion and the familiar 'one person taking over' scenario which we are all so familiar with. It's not a quick fix, because students take a while to get used to it, but once they do, it really does work! The Chat cards [Thinking and discussion skills] make a great starter activity, especially with classes who don't know each other very well, and I'll be using them as an ice-breaker with my new Y12 form group in September.
I am now consciously planning EN1 activities into all of my schemes of work, not only because it means that the students get more practice but also because it gives me a bit of a break from all of the marking of written work. Two birds with one stone!
Key stage 5 | Julie Blake on things to like about speaking'n'listenin'
The fact that speakin'n'listenin' isn't assessed in the A Level curriculum doesn't make it any less important, as a mode for enjoying the surprises and delights of other people's ideas, as a method for getting underneath the bonnet of texts and transcripts, and as a set of social practices for life well beyond the school or college gates.
There's nothing like a debate to generate talk, and What are your views on education? [William Blake] as a pre-reading activity for Blake's poem 'The Schoolboy' will get them – er, and you – going for sure. I'm also a big fan of reading aloud. Partly that's the Jackanory influence, partly a matter of conviction that you can only truly taste the flavour of a text by rolling it around in your mouth a while. Narrative voices [Small Island by Andrea Levy] explores this aspect of Andrea Levy's method in Small Island, with samples of the narrative voice of four key characters, each with diverse linguistic roots and influences. Some students will wince at having to emulate how they think each of these passages might be spoken, while the collective experience in diverse urban classrooms may make it easier for others, but either way having a go at rehearsed and prepared out-loud reading will improve the quality of the stylistic analysis.
Of course, if teaching one of the A Levels with the word 'Language' in its title, we need to attend to speakin'n'listenin' as a curriculum entity for study in its own right. Lots of fun can be had exploring spoken language variation with Shaped by circumstance [Key concepts - discourse, register, idiolect, sociolect and dialect]. Have students improvise their dialogues before attempting to write them down as that will double the amount of constructive talk and encourage more playful experimentation. And if you want to shift the balance more to listenin' than speakin', try Sales pitch [Accents and dialects], in which students have to listen carefully to adverts to determine the accents used, and then explore the ways in which the social perceptions of those accents are being deployed to shift commercial products.
Yep, you guessed it, I like a noisy classroom – none of that 'sighing and dismay' for me ...
Media Studies | Alison Powell plays media charades
My Media students love a game of charades. We play it at the start of the year as an ice-breaker, opening up discussion about the media they consume. Later we use it as a fun revision strategy for technical terms and theories. It's helpful for thinking about signs and signifiers, language, and most importantly it builds confidence for speaking and listening in front of the class.
The ability to discuss and analyse different texts is an obvious outcome for a Media student, but in addition to this they develop essential skills in negotiation and presentation through production and investigation projects. A study of speech and voice in different media will broaden your students' understanding of the impact of voice and sound, and also encourage them to apply it themselves.
A good place to start is with a study of accent and dialect. Sales pitch [Accents and dialects - pinched from the Language library] explores accent and dialect in TV and radio advertising. This leads neatly on to Sell it to Me [Advertising] which challenges students to prepare their own advert for a car. Encourage them to consider the accents they might use for this task.
Radio is a good focus for speaking and listening, offering easily accessible and vastly different presentations to explore and compare. Analysis of radio news on different stations [Broadcast News] is a useful grid for note-taking when listening.
After analysing sound in this way, ask students to incorporate their learning in a presentation task. With Marketing your group [Popular music] students create a portfolio of promotions for a band/artist. It includes some excellent spanners for teachers to throw into the work and requires students to speak and listen to each other as they prepare a presentation of their ideas.
At the end of all that, I'd suggest a reward, and it could only be: 'One word...' 'Two syllables...' 'Sounds like...' 'It's a game...' 'Charades!'
Drama and Theatre Studies | Nic Harvey on developing speaking and listening skills
Well this is what Drama is all about – the actors speak and the audience listens. But without well developed speaking skills, the actor will lose the audience's attention and the purpose of the performance will be lost. Drama is a useful tool for developing speaking and listening skills – with some English and Drama departments working together in order to complete some of this element of the English Curriculum.
So can you teach pupils speaking and listening skills?
You can practise vocal warm ups and exercises – tongue twisters and facial and vocal exercises can be fun and amusing and will prepare a Y9 mouth and voice for some beautifully clear and precise diction!
Listening skills are not so easy to develop but it can be easier for pupils to focus if they know what they are listening for. A simple table to complete or a list of simple questions to answer about the performance they are watching and listening to, can help them to listen for particular intonation or volume changes, pause or accent and as they are concentrating so hard, the audience volume level should be zero! Drama presentations - feedback sheet and Evaluation prompts, both from Drama essentials, can help with this.
Lessons 9 & 10 in Introduction to Drama focus on persuasive drama and allow pupils to experiment with a variety of vocal and physical techniques in order to get what they want and create interesting drama. These two lessons work well as they are grounded in issues that pupils can relate to – asking to stay out late at night and persuading a sibling to keep their mouth shut!
For KS4 students, Romeo and Juliet: The Trial (from Romeo and Juliet in the KS4 prose library) can be used as a Drama speaking & listening activity. The nurse and the friar are put on trial, using this comprehensive pack of instructions which guides pupils through the trial process, allowing them to focus on what they say and how they say it.
All that is left is for the teacher to sit back and listen (with a cup of coffee to help them concentrate of course!).
KS3 | Richard Durant improves on the Victorians
As I explained in my last public announcement on this site, I do like to download Victorian literature onto my PDA to read and occasionally to improve. There is something fitting about this: for the Victorians, improvement was axiomatic. Our own National Curriculum implies that the literary 'canon' has an improving effect: writers should be chosen for their potential to 'enable pupils to understand the appeal and importance over time of texts from the English literary heritage'. This is followed by a 'hit parade' of the greats: Dickens, Austen, plus a new entry, Kate Chopin, straight in at number 7.
Anyway, back to my little PDA habit. The only way we can bring literary heritage texts back to life is if we treat them with disrespect. One way of doing that is to treat them as unfinished until the reader has had their way with them. For example, I downloaded a plain text version of Frankenstein from Project Gutenberg. The famous monster-awakening sequence includes these words: 'How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form?' Not bad, but it would work better for a modern fourteen-year-old if the vocabulary was updated to: '...how portray the wretch who with such infinite effort and care I had tried to create?'
Here comes the bride... [Frankenstein (Oxford playscripts) adapted by Philip Pullman] approaches Frankenstein via an accessible play version.
Fear of science pervades Victorian literature. Shocking times [Frankenstein by Mary Shelley] guides students in researching Victorian life scientists. Robert Louis Stevenson's 'The Body Snatcher' also reflects the uneasy relationship between science and God.
Setting, atmosphere and colour [The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells] explores H.G. Wells' language skills. Unfortunately, some of his language has not retained its original meaning. If you download a copy you will discover that a 'landlady came to the door, loosely wrapped in dressing gown and shawl; her husband followed ejaculating'. Presumably she dressed a little too suddenly; it's definitely a line to edit before offering it to 14-year-old boys.
Key Stage 4 | Alison Smith picks 'literary heritage' resources
The idea of 'literary heritage' is something rather nebulous, as far as I am concerned. Whose literary heritage are we talking about? Mine starts with Enid Blyton and Noddy and ends with me teaching English in a secondary school. 10Z4's literary heritage has them all claiming that they've never read a whole book – and they're rather proud of that!
We're told that they have to study Shakespeare at GCSE and so that's what we do. Between 11A1 and 10Z4, there's a whole world of difference, but I want both sets of students to learn that it's not all impossible to read or to understand or to like. With that in mind, I have a Shakespeare wall covered with images and quotations. The Shakespeare posters - a quotation for every location [Introduction to Shakespeare: language] make great display materials and I like to Wordle longer extracts to make a genuine talking point in the classroom.
I'm working with Lord of the Flies at the moment, after a few years away from it. I'd forgotten what a great novel it is, and how much students get out of it. There are stacks of fab resources in the Teachit library, but some of my particular favourites are The Beast and Descent into savagery [Lord of the Flies by William Golding], which both give students plenty of food for thought.
Animal Farm is a classroom favourite of mine and I am pleased to see it back at GCSE level for 2010. So far, we have considered it as an allegory, made and analysed political speeches thanks to Squealer's speech [Animal Farm by George Orwell], written in role, investigated news reporting, and generally had lots of fun with it. One student has even been and borrowed Nineteen Eighty-Four from the library, which is an unexpected result!
With that in mind, A novel idea [Prose essentials] contains some great suggestions for reading. They may not all be in the DCSF's 'literary heritage', but they might just become part of someone's ... and that's more important than any curriculum list, in my humble opinion.
Drama and Theatre Studies | Nic Harvey ponders the English Literary Heritage
I wonder what Shakespeare would think of GCSE Drama? If he were alive today, would he be chief examiner for Edexcel, or advocating the Creative and Media Diploma as the way forward? Probably neither, but I think he'd be amused and pleased at the extent to which his plays are studied in schools today. He'd definitely approve of the ways in which his works are explored in the Drama room, using resources such as the Romeo and Juliet scheme for Edexcel GCSE Drama Paper 1, Unit 2 and Scheme of work - Romeo & Juliet [Romeo and Juliet Drama unit] which approach the play's themes in ways which will engage a modern GCSE group whilst not losing sight of the impact and complexities of the original text.
Thomas Middleton may not have studied Drama at high school, but the KS5 resources on his play The Changeling can be applied to a KS4 study of the text – particularly Staging the play [The Changeling by Thomas Middleton], which asks pupils to work as a production team for a new run of the play and to consider staging ideas as well as costumes, set and props.
John Osborne was expelled from school for hitting his headmaster. He didn't attain 5 A*–C GCSEs but this didn't stop him becoming one of the most controversial and influential playwrights of the 20th century. The Workpack on the play [Look Back in Anger by John Osborne] will help A level students to explore Look Back in Anger by asking some thought-provoking questions which can be considered through discussion and practical exploration of the text.
World War 1 poetry is an important part of our literary heritage and Scheme of work - World War 1 [The First World War] will supplement students' studies of war poetry in English lessons through practical activities based on the possible experiences of a WW1 soldier on the front line.
And who knows, maybe you are teaching a budding William Shakespeare or Thomas Middleton – I know I've got a few 'angry young' Osbornes in my class!
Media Studies | Alison Powell time-warps through literary heritage
I was watching the latest episode of Doctor Who last Saturday (for purely social integrative needs, of course) when it occurred to me that modern media texts are in many ways like the Tardis. OK, so they aren't blue whirring police boxes, but they do share the magical property of being small-on-the-outside, yet massive-on-the-inside. By prising open the doors of a text with our sonic screwdrivers of analysis, and examining the influences of our literary heritage on content, structure, language and form, we can really appreciate its journey through time and space.
Take the Doctor Who series itself as a starting point. Start by looking at science-fiction as a genre using Genre revision sheet [Media essentials (KS4/5)] and then explore the sci-fi literary heritage with H.G. Wells and Marty McFly in Compare 'The Time Machine' and 'Back to the Future' [Time travel films ].
Explore the archetype of the 'traveller' in literature and film. Go right back to the Greeks with Odysseus, stop off in the C18th with the Robinson Crusoe letter [Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe] and work your way up to the C21st with the (new) Doctor.
Look at how our literary heritage has influenced narrative structure. Teach Propp and Todorov's narrative theories using the Star Wars study pack [Moving image] and Todorov's narrative structure [Media essentials (KS4/5)], then set students the task of applying them to Asimov stories, Philip K. Dick novels and episodes of Doctor Who throughout the ages.
Finish up with a debate about who is the best Doctor (Tom Baker, obviously!) as a nice lead in to a discussion about Uses and Gratifications.
And for a memorable sensory experience, get your students to build a Tardis out of old shoe-boxes for homework, then fill it with all their lovely new learning ... now, where's that sonic screwdriver?
KS3 | Richard Durant embraces the electronic
People often declare that books will never be replaced by electronic 'books' (DVDs, Sony Readers, etc): you can always curl up with a book in a spare moment, they say. It's books' cosy convenience that their adherents extol. (However, snobbery may be the implicit justification: snobs have always considered books superior to films, for instance, which is why the Daily Telegraph constantly vilifies Media Studies.) However, imagine the attitude in 1476 when Caxton made mass printing possible: "Books are all very well, but there's nothing more convenient and friendly than speech. Books will never really catch on." But they did, of course, and eventually they became the mainstay of school education, and – after hundreds of years – available free in libraries. As film – and e-texts in general – gradually go the same way, future snobs and luddites will inevitably defend them against new forms of 'reading'.
A sure sign that electronic is gaining on paper is that the current National Curriculum requires students to be taught 'how meaning is created through the combination of words, images and sounds in multimodal texts'. This suggests that the time has finally arrived for the BFI guide to Moving Images in the Classroom. The guide's strength is that it is technical about film (as we are about books) but also identifies film-watching as a reading activity.
Introducing Shrek [Shrek] introduces technical film language – diagetic (look it up) – but is very simple and supportive and can be applied to almost any film. Like Shrek, The Truman Show considers the effect of the media on our perceptions. Truman Show scheme of work [The Truman Show] helps students engage with the moral content of satirical cinema. If you want to explore the interface between film and novel, then Studying the Holes film trailer [Holes by Louis Sachar] is for you.
A final thought in this paper/electronic debate: I like to read nineteenth century novels on my hand-held computer. When I read something I don't like I change it. Now I know that will shock some of you. But try it: it's both addictive and liberating. Caxton would have approved.
KS4 | Alison Smith looks forward to settling down with a fine four-fendered friend
Film is rather a controversial topic around here, as some people seem to think that all we English teachers ever do is slam a video in the machine and then have a doze at the front whilst the class all gaze at the goggle-box for an hour. If only it were that simple!
Used well, film can enliven and enlighten and with the new GCSE actually encouraging us to look at different versions of texts, including film, this is a good time to think about how we do it. I was horrified to discover that my year 10 hadn't seen Jaws and this made for a really interesting Media assignment. I hereby confess that we watched the whole film, but we made use of the resources in the Jaws lesson pack [Jaws], adapted to make them work for the current Media criteria. What came out of it was a set of lovely reviews and an appreciation that films can be good even when they don't include CGI.
The same class used Henry V for their Shakespeare coursework, with the excellent Branagh and Olivier versions of the films as the visual support. Since we had little time, the equally excellent Fifteen minute Henry V [Henry V] gave students a useful insight into the play before we focused on Henry as a warrior king. 4learning's Henry V: England's Captain was a wonderful stockroom find: it uses the idea of war as a football match to engage even the most unwilling boy. Job done!
And then there's the actual making of film. This can be as easy or as hard as you like – use Photo Story to import images and make simple movies, or film your own and use Moviemaker instead. Whichever you choose, the Non-fiction and media basics (KS3/4) library contains useful resources to make the task manageable rather than messy. The Useful generic blank storyboard [Non-fiction and media basics (KS3/4)] and the Blank storyboard sheet [Non-fiction and media basics (KS3/4)] are both takes on the same idea but will help to keep the students on track and on task. I've made movies of various poems from the Anthology with my classes, and it's proved to be a fun and useful revision activity. Two birds with one stone.
And when you have planned all your use of film in the classroom, you can put your feet up and relax at home with your favourite film. Where's my copy of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?
KS5 | Edna Hobbs on the joys of using film with KS5
"Can't we just watch the film," they cry, but you know if they do at least half of the dears will be analysing the screenplay rather than the text. We've all felt our hearts thud through the floor when despite all the warnings we read an essay informing us that Darcy went for a swim, or Romeo kissed Juliet in the lift. On the other hand, a bit of visual stimulus does, well, stimulate, the little grey cells.
Of course there's every excuse to watch Shakespeare: it is a production after all, and it really is important to see as many interpretations as you can. Approaches to the final scene [King Lear ] focuses on alternative critical readings and provides an excellent opportunity to watch clips of different productions – or at least compare stills. The point is to get students to reflect on how they would bring dramatic meaning to the text.
Likewise, Elizabeth's prejudice [Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen] – where students imagine what Darcy is thinking – is enhanced by watching dramatisation as the actors mirror what they perceive their character's thoughts to be.
With the BBC dramatisation still a fresh visual feast in students' minds, Chapter 5 essay guide [Small Island by Andrea Levy] is a good way to re-focus them on the text: it's how the story is told in the novel, not the film, that is the matter of their exam and this exercise models a successful approach that can be followed whatever the chosen chapter.
One day Teachit may have the finances to include a 'visual' resource library, but while the cost of even short animations is exorbitant, I'd like to recommend the English and Media Centre's new poetry site, The Poetry Channel, where Greg Wise reads Marvell's 'To His Coy Mistress', a great accompaniment to Pastoral Poems [Andrew Marvell].
On the same site Blake's 'A Poison Tree' is animated with charming illustrations from London primary school pupils. But it is for poets on poetry that we stay on the site: Ian McMillan's 'On Robert Burns' and John Agard's exhuberant 'Poetry Jump Up' breathe new life into a favourite Teachit resource I've recommended before, via a Tweakit: Poetry thought for today [Advanced Poetry essentials].
Media | Alison Powell on learning everything from film
Take a stroll around any secondary school during term time and you are guaranteed to find several teachers using film to enhance their students' learning experience. Whether it's a YouTube clip of a volcano erupting in Science, or an episode of soap opera Belleza y poder in a Spanish lesson, teachers of all subjects regularly use film to bring learning to life.
The difference with Media Studies of course is that when it comes to film, it is the learning. Encouraging students to make the transition from being passive viewers to active analysers can be a challenge.
There are excellent opportunities to introduce key Media Studies concepts through plays and novels in English lessons at Key Stage 3. Explore 'Twilight' [Film] is an up-to-date resource, complete with exemplar analytical writing.
Encourage students to think about the marketing of films with Pitch the play [Free! by David Grant] and then to begin planning out short sections of film with Chapter 23 storyboarding task [My Swordhand is Singing by Marcus Sedgwick].
Many teachers use film to help students get to grips with Shakespeare, and with the many film versions of popular plays available, we have the unusual opportunity to explore differences in presentation. Compare two film versions of Romeo and Juliet [Romeo and Juliet] offers teaching ideas along with an essay plan and a note-taking grid.
This grounding should see your students ready to tackle the more challenging work in Film Noir: a scheme of work [Film Noir].
Jack Nicholson once said we learn everything from film: "...How to kiss, or to drink, talk to our buddies--all the things that you can't really teach in Social Studies or History--we all learn them at the movies." And in Media Studies our students learn even more: they discover why we learn everything from film.
Drama | Nic Harvey on reaching for the stars
Acting is central to what we do in the Drama room and what better examples of good acting than in films? From Hollywood blockbusters to smaller budget British films, extracts can be used in Drama to help pupils to analyse different techniques, or to reinforce understanding of a text.
Unlike English, where the written text has to be studied, in Drama a film can be used as a resource in its own right. Peter Medak's 1994 film Let Him Have It!, which tells the harrowing story of Chris Craig and Derek Bentley, is a great starting point for some thought-provoking drama. Extracts from the film can be used with supplementary resources such as Bentley and Craig and Speaking and listening assignment: radio broadcast, both from Let Him Have It! in the KS4 library, to give pupils a real insight into the boys' situation whilst helping them to explore the theme of capital punishment. This could result in a devised piece based on ideas from the film – a suitable performance piece for a GCSE assessment.
Always a popular option is giving pupils the opportunity to make films themselves. Lower school pupils love creating short silent movies, which can be filmed in black and white and played with backing music. I often use an old Charlie Chaplin or Laurel & Hardy film to give them ideas. A resource which leads nicely into this kind of work is Introduction to drama - a scheme of work [Introduction to Drama]. Lessons 3 and 4 focus on mime techniques and physical theatre, which will help prepare the young Harold Lloyds for their film debut!
Focusing on acting styles in film versions of Shakespeare plays not only helps with pupils' own performance techniques but can also add to their understanding of the text. Polanski's Macbeth is a favourite of mine and I always use it to supplement the teaching of 'the Scottish play' alongside A Drama scheme of work and Three ghosts visit Macbeth [Macbeth: Drama approaches].
And don't forget to remind them, when they have their own star on Hollywood Boulevard, to remember the time and effort you put in to getting them there!
KS3 | Richard Durant on the mysterious beast, the S.A.
A lit crit essay is that strange, artificial construct that has no existence outside the world of school and university. "What is an S.A.?" I was once asked by one of my Year 11s. And it's true: an S.A. remains a mysterious beast. Over time we have developed some theories about its preferred habitat (school), its gestation process (prolonged and painful) and its voracious feeding habits, but we have never had a David Attenborough to capture the S.A. securely in net, tank or camera.
Typically, when teachers take up their first post they are still unclear about what an essay is, how to write one, and – more so – how to teach one. In the eighties – when personal response ruled – the problem was largely side-stepped. At GCSE and A Level many essays gave way to all manner of daft and wonderful 'assessment tasks': mine included bake the cake of Hamlet and devise the board game of A Midsummer Night's Dream. At KS3 in most schools no essays were written at all. Now the pendulum has swung back and the S.A. reigns supreme. The difference is that we now take teaching essays more seriously.
What makes a good essay? [Essay writing] is a reasonable starting point, although this question needs relating to assessment criteria, demystification being the key to teaching essays.
Hinges, bolts and sealers [Essay writing] takes from the familiar 'connectives chart' the connecting words most useful for essay writing. The right connective can both prompt and clarify ideas.
What derails many essays is inept use of quotation. How to use quotations effectively (2) [Essay writing]gives a useful and graphic overview. Explaining character in Holes Holes by Louis Sachar illustrates some of these principles in practice, and the National Strategy's Teaching for progression: Writing is an additional well of relevant advice.
My most important advice about setting essays is: consider whether some other sort of task would yield the required assessment information. Think S.A. – sympathetic assessment. Have a happy new year.
KS4 | Alison Smith picks resources for better essays
It's that time again... the students think that the exams are miles off whilst I am beginning to get my knickers in a knot about the fact that they are actually scarily close. For the first time ever, I marked November GCSE papers and that has only served to remind me of that fact that some students just don't write very well.
With this in mind, Essay writing needs some work. Effective introductions is a really useful and comprehensive four page resource which covers the basics and reminds students of what (and what not!) to do. There's plenty of opportunity to tweak it to make it work for your own class, and there's even a page of teacher answers. As a starter activity, try What makes a good essay? – card sorts are always fun, and you could make a giant version to go on display as well.
Another fabulous resource in this library is Plan, plan, plan! In my experience (800+ GCSE scripts marked in 2009, as well as all the usual marking!), students tend not to plan but those who do make the effort tend to do better. This resource encourages students to think about the style of their work. I tend to use it in conjunction with AFOREST, which lives in the Revising persuasive tactics resource in Writing to argue, persuade, advise. I have a forest display at the front of my room which really helps to back up the message of planning for success.
Speaking of displays, the one in my classroom that everyone seems to like is based on Grade descriptors with example from the Gillian Clarke library. I've taken the headers (which come directly from the mark scheme) and made them into a ladder, then added the examples. Students have copies in their books and we're working through how to develop points to make them better. It's not a quick fix, but it does seem to be working slowly but surely.
With all this in mind, it's time to stop thinking about it all and start teaching. Happy new year!
KS5 | Julie Blake on essay writing and critical thinking
Go into any staffroom and you'll hear someone bewailing the inability of A Level students to write a decent essay. It's hardly surprising: young people who make it to A Level have usually learned very well that an essay is just a tool for passing a largely pointless exam, that it has predictable and downloadable content, and almost nothing to do with self-expression. If we want confident, original, thought-provoking essays at A Level we have to support students through this sudden rule-change. Fortunately, there are some resources here to help.
First, to support originality, we need to create a classroom climate in which it is safe – and enjoyable – to play around with ideas without necessarily knowing where they will end up. The Language thought for the day [Induction activities] or Poetry thought for today [Advanced Poetry essentials] resources provide starting points. Encourage collaborative and creative work to develop a presentation on a quote of their choice; assess the quality of the process, and don't worry about the outcomes.
Next, we might want to explore what an essay is. We all think we know exactly what one is, but in reality it is a very loose genre, culturally and historically very variable, even between teachers in the same English department. Consequently, resources that give a fixed set of essay writing rules are rarely that helpful. Much more interesting are open-ended resources that can prompt discussion, such as What makes a good essay? [Essay writing]. This invites students to diamond rank ideas about essay writing in order of importance. See the Diamond Ranking Template [Resource templates] for more details about how this technique works.
Another tricky area is handling quotations. How to use quotations effectively 1 and How to use quotations effectively 2 [Essay writing] cover this very well, with lively illustration and good examples.
And finally, it is essential in this information age that students learn how to reference their work appropriately. I'd want to add some more information about referencing a wider range of sources, including websites, but as a starting point Writing a bibliography [Essay writing] is useful.
See? Not a writing frame in sight...
Media | Alison Powell on the art of analysis
Day before start of Media Studies teaching career
Expect new GCSE Media students will be excited about text analysis. Have found great resources for them – Cheryl Cole on front covers of both FHM and Company magazines. On one she's wearing white vest and jeans. On the other she's sporting black corset and suspenders...guess which?! Plan to spend twenty minutes discussing representation and audience.
Day 1 of Media Studies teaching career
Had fight with new GCSE Media students. They refused to accept that the reasons for Ms Cole wearing said outfits was in any way constructed. Kept saying, "Yeah, but, Miss, that's like, what she had on that day, innit?" Seriously worried. How will they ever write analytical essays with that attitude?
Day 2 of Media Studies teaching career
Found smashing resources on Teachit to lead teenagers gently into the world of media analysis:
[Non-fiction and media basics (KS3/4)] Language devices speed dating = fun way to equip students with media language before beginning detailed analysis.
[Advertising] Warning - deconstruction in progress! – They must at least acknowledge that adverts are constructed. Resource will encourage better responses than 'It looks good so you'll buy it!'
[Advertising] Action film poster analysis and creation task – Get them to make own posters following conventions. Analysis should then come more easily.
[Alfred Hitchcock] An analysis of 'Rear Window' – Great as scaffold for essay writing at KS4 and KS5. Will allow them to use as model for own essays too.
Two years into Media Studies teaching career
Student came up to me after Media exam. Said, "Miss, I hated Media to start with 'cause it was like, really hard, all that thinking and stuff, but now I can't even watch Skins without commenting on the camera angles and music. I actually enjoyed that exam!"
Job done. Thanks Teachit!
Drama | Nic Harvey on getting the written work done
Analysing isn't a problem in Drama – it's easy to analyse a situation or character, issue or dilemma by exploration using dramatic techniques. That's the easy part. It's the written work that isn't so easy. Drama rooms are not meant to be written in, they are for practical work... yet we can't avoid written analysis forever.
With KS3 groups, written tasks are often analytical and evaluative but rarely take the form of an essay. The best written activities are usually linked to a practical exploration and help pupils to develop characters or explore situations further. The written tasks in What has happened to Lulu? [What has happened to Lulu?] do this well with pupils writing in role and using this work to inform the drama as it develops. I sometimes stop my lot mid rehearsal and, thrusting worksheets and clip-boards at them, shout, "Write down exactly what your character is feeling at this moment!" or "Write down the last thing you said in role and explain it." Such spontaneous responses can be the basis of a longer analytical response, usually completed at home, away from the less than tranquil Drama room.
Theatre reviews are often required at KS4 and 5. The Production comparison grid (KS5) [Evaluating and responding to a performance] and Review of a live performance (KS4) [Drama essentials] resources help pupils to break down the theatrical experience in a manageable way, covering important elements of the performance and helping them to plan their written evaluation effectively.
Pupils are often asked to analyse and evaluate their own performance work, commenting on how their ideas and characters were developed during the rehearsal process. This can be hard for them to remember, once their final piece is devised, but making brief notes each lesson on developmental decisions can lead to quite a comprehensive set of notes which can be used as a starting point for a written response. The Performance evaluation sheet [Drama essentials] will also help them to structure their ideas.
So after all of your hard work, you can be guaranteed some lovely, detailed written responses from your students, submitted on time and with a grateful smile!
KS3 | Richard Durant on lighting the blue touch paper
Early in my career a charismatic colleague advised me that children are naturally creative so I wouldn't need to teach them how to write stories. "Just give them a good stimulus. Light the blue touch paper and retire to a safe distance." This was very exciting: feet up for half a term while students' creative juices simmered. The results were appalling: thirty 18+ page stories that were poor at the beginning and got no better. Worst were the stories which immediately degenerated into continuous dialogue along the lines of: "Are you coming out tonight?" "Yes." "Where shall we go?" And so on.
Even so it took me some time to dig myself out of the charismatic camp and escape to Hemingway country where writing is '1% inspiration and 99% perspiration'. Or to put it another way, a great idea is wonderful but its execution – its craft – is what really matters.
[Assorted short stories] The Loaded Dog: structure and language features a comic 19th century Australian tale, building around it a three-week teaching sequence that emphasises structure. The resource reveals how it is not the story's events but how they are told that entertains the audience. [Assorted short stories] How is 'The Necklace' structured? also focuses on story structures.
One way to help students to write succinctly and coherently is to get them to write the first draft their story as a 50-word mini-saga. You can find ideas for mini-sagas on the Young Writers website. Kindness to your reader can just be a question of using fewer, more effective words. [Creative writing 1 (KS3)] Put muscle into your writing helps students not just to choose powerful verbs but also to avoid unnecessary adverbs. For example, 'strolled' could usefully stand in for 'walked casually'.
The National Strategy has revamped its 18-lesson sequence, Targeting level 4: Teaching Writing. The lesson topics – Building a Story: Structure; Planning a Story; Hooking the Reader, etc – helpfully complement Teachit resources.
What is forgotten in the self-indulgent school of writing is that effective writing is not about the writer; it's about the reader. It's about lighting their blue touch paper. At arm's length of course.
KS4 | Alison Smith puts a stop to endless drafts
Something which never ceases to amaze me is just how much those tough year 10 and 11 student enjoy being read to ... year 11 and I are working our way slowly through To Kill a Mockingbird, but years 9 and 10 are still on coursework. Rather than allow them to churn out endless drafts (and the marking that is associated with it), I am trying to make them (and me) work smarter, not harder. For me, that starts with reading aloud.
When it comes to original writing, starting with short stories seems to really help them to write things that are less mad (although I have had to add goblins who are terrified of eggs and yoga to my 'things that are banned from your coursework' list after this year's early drafts.) If you teach AQA, the stories in the AQA A Anthology are a good place to start, and you won't even need to do any photocopying. Both Your Shoes: activities and Flight: activities help the students to get to grips with the stories, and will help to give them ideas for their own work.
Rummaging around in the KS4 libraries often turns up treasures, so I was pleased to discover [Nightmare in Yellow by Fredric Brown] A guest's police statement. This could be a really interesting piece of original writing, and I'm looking forward to using it next half term.
If your concern is more with reading than writing, why not give Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle a try? There are lots of useful and interesting activities to be tried, including my favourite: How to be a literary detective. Try Bibliomania for copies of most of the stories.
Sadly, with 34 in a class, there isn't any room for a carpet for reading time, but there is something precious about the silence that falls when you start reading. And that's why I'm an English teacher.
KS5 | Jane Blackburn takes a roller-coaster ride through the KS5 library
In the heart of the English countryside, the sense of expectation rose as people prepared to be catapulted from 0 to 100km/ph in 2.5 seconds. The eyeball-tingling speed, followed by an incredible sense of pressure – sometimes in defiance of gravity – led inexorably to excitement, relief and an overwhelming sense of achievement.
A death-defying amusement park ride? The thrills and spills of teaching English? Were they so very different I wondered as I rummaged through the Teachit libraries, searching a veritable treasure trove of resources. The sense of expectation engendered by a new course is well satisfied by [The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter] The Lady of the House of Love with word definitions designed to increase student vocabulary, enhancing enjoyment and catapulting them into their new AS combined course.
As learning reaches eyeball-tingling speed, [AQA B Lit/Lang Anthology - Travel, Transport and Locomotion] Comparing contexts of texts 20 and 22 addresses production and reception skills explored through genres including: poetry, notes, diaries and biography, each shedding light on skills needed for exam success.
An incredible sense of pressure builds towards Christmas and exams in January. Further rummaging revealed [Talking Heads by Alan Bennett] Miss Ruddell, a lady of letters and Waiting for the Telegram study pack a perfect complement to students awaiting exam results. Genres of monologue and letters effectively dealing with issues of loss and death, old age and the importance of language make this resource a white knuckle ride indeed!
In defiance of gravity, teachers and students pass one set of exams, only to be faced by the next series ... in summer. As pressure builds inexorably, it's time to rummage through the Teachit treasure chest again. This time, [Newspapers] Daily newspapers: opinion, bias and readership, dealing with opinion, bias and readership helps students examine the manipulation of information while gaining essential coursework and exam skills.
A palpable sense of relief is felt as the end of the course approaches. [AQA B Lit/Lang exam preparation] Talk in Life and Literature – analysing talk in a prose text (Sons and Lovers), complete with writing frame, crafted talk, character and plot development, authorial voice, examination of attitudes and values clearly shows how talk in life is emulated in literature. A comprehensive and challenging resource to bring the thrills and spills of an English course to a fitting end, using Teachit resources to guide students and assist teachers in reaching a well-earned sense of achievement on results' day.
Media | Alison Powell takes the short-cut to teaching film
There are lots of people who seem to think that Media Studies is all about watching films and running around with video cameras. Now for that to be the case we would presumably require access to a well-stocked DVD library and enough working cameras for the entire Media cohort to use.
Which might be true for some Media departments, but for most of us, it's a case of teaching a course with next to no budget or resources at all. The sad reality is that our media cupboards often comprise a handful of VHS tapes and two 35mm cameras.
For us, the short film genre, and its increasing popularity since the advent of t'interweb, is a saviour. Free to stream from sites such as the BBC's Film Network and Channel 4's Shorts & Clips, the short film is an accessible, practical short-cut to film analysis.
Short films are often no more than 10 minutes in length, so it is possible to check and consolidate understanding of key media terms in one lesson. Use [Media Essentials (KS4/5)] Key media terms matching exercise from Teachit as both a starter and a plenary.
With the short film you can set groups of students the task of analysing and then comparing different films using [Media Essentials (KS4/5)] Looking at Film Language.
[Moving Image] Music to my ears encourages even closer analysis, and would work well with animated short films – one DVD collection of short films offers more than 10 films for less than the price of a feature length movie.
You can also use short films to introduce students to a director's style. For example, you could look at a selection of Tim Burton's short films (Vincent, The World of Stainboy) and play [Film] Tim Burton Bingo.
And then with a good understanding of the genre, students can create their own short films using [Media Essentials (KS4/5)] Dialogue to storyboard.
Now all you have to do is figure out a way of making the film without a functioning video camera.
And that creativity is of course what Media Studies is really all about.
Drama | Nic Harvey on the sweetness of short texts
'Short and sweet' is often the way forward in Drama – keeping performances and explorations focused and snappy makes them engaging and effective whilst encouraging pupils to edit their work of unnecessary detail. So it makes sense that short texts are perfectly suited to the Drama Studio, where the emphasis should be on practical work rather than reading.
[Kidnap!] Scheme of work – Kidnap! for KS4 students begins with an extract from A Child in Time by Ian McEwan, chosen for its detailed description of a supermarket, its staff and customers. The resource has linked activities exploring character and status and leading into a role play in a supermarket during which a child is abducted. These activities can be dipped into and condensed into a stand-alone lesson, or the description of the supermarket could be used as a setting for a new piece of drama unrelated to the theme of abduction.
[Drama essentials] The Litter Gang and Rats' Delight are two very short play scripts that KS3 pupils love working with. 'The Litter Gang' focuses on vocal skills and 'Rats' Delight' focuses on mannerisms. Both plays give the opportunity for extension work and can be used in performance to help get across a message about dropping litter.
Poems are a great starting point for drama and two schemes of work based on poems which always work well are [What has happened to Lulu?] What has happened to Lulu? and [Saw it in the Papers] A scheme of work. The 'Lulu' scheme, based on the poem by Charles Causley, is aimed at KS3 students and explores the reasons behind a young girl leaving home. The darker Adrian Mitchell poem 'Saw it in the Papers' is the stimulus for a KS4 exploration on the theme of child abuse.
Using a current, topical newspaper as a stimulus for drama can motivate pupils and give them a sense of ownership for the work – especially if they choose the article themselves. The resource [Drama essentials] Using a newspaper article as a stimulus gives suggestions for working with such a stimulus in the drama room, culminating with a performance of the most effective elements, selected by the pupils. When I first used this resource, I had a room full of Beckhams but I've got a feeling that now it would be Cheryl Coles and Simon Cowells – maybe with a couple of Kerry Katonas thrown in for good measure!
KS3 | Richard Durant on resources to stand the test of time
Whenever I watch Channel 4's 100 greatest screen snogs / songs / ridiculous handbags I'm enraged by entries that are less than ten years old. How can anything be great if it hasn't stood the test of time? So when I was asked to choose my five favourite Teachit resources I decided to include some from the very early days of Teachit. I couldn't narrow my choice down to five, so I imposed some conditions: each had to be adaptable in easy and interesting ways, and encourage collaboration.
Snakes and ladders fits my criteria. On the provided board students write 'springboard' events at the bottoms of ladders, and setbacks at the heads of snakes. If you give students the resource electronically then they can clone the snakes and ladders, move them and elongate them to cater for bigger setbacks, more dramatic 'springboards'.
Tension tracker captures a tried-and-tested idea: a graph to plot tension in a story. Its simplicity makes it easily adaptable for different purposes: to plot our sympathy with a character, for example, or the emotional/intellectual balance in an argument.
Poems from pictures reveals a third criterion underlying my selections: most of them have a strong visual element. The resource introduces a Moniza Alvi poem exploring a Miro painting and invites students to imaginatively enter a painting of their own choice. I've often found Joseph Wright's painting, An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (www.nationalgallery.org.uk) an effective stimulus.
Fresh, creative, collaborative thinking is certainly encouraged by Kick-start discussion slides. This is actually just one slide with a thought-provoking statement for students to talk through as soon as they arrive. But you can fill it with any intriguing statement. One of my favourites is 'It's better to find things than look for them'. Or you could use a question or statement about a novel. Holes in Holes! has plenty of these.
The wonderful thing about Teachit's resources is they don't have to be great in themselves – just great starting points for great teaching. Unlike colleagues' printed worksheets you find in ransacked classrooms, you can tweak these and make them your own. Then they really are favourites.
KS4 | Alison Smith on new acquisitions and old favourites
This summer, I did some of my favourite things. I slept in, read, went to the zoo, baked, and bought lots of shoes. I also have a brand spanking new pencil case and some folders ready for the new term. Some of them even have 'stuff' in them, ready to go! Whilst I am sure that I'll be creating and using lots of new things this year, I also know that I'll be going back to some resources that are tried and tested.
I'm inheriting a new class who should have got Cs in June, but didn't. They have until November to get to where they need to be so I shall be making good use of the resources in Revision skills & exam preparation with them. An all-time favourite is Toilet postcard revision activity. I've been using it for years, and it always works, so I shall continue to advocate it as a revision method. Lovely.
I'm a firm believer in the idea that, if they know what they're being assessed for, they stand a better chance of doing it. Tucked away in AQA A exam preparation is the rather plaintive sounding What do they want from me?! which clearly explains what students need to do in the Paper 2 poetry section.
Exploding a poem (a brief version!) and Exploding a poem (a detailed guide) and from Poetry basics both make an appearance in my classroom every year in some form or another. They've been on the site a long time and, like a comfy pair of slippers, can be relied upon to do the job they're designed for.
Sometimes, I just like to play. Thanks to my IWB, my favourite games can be found in Whizzy things – I particularly like Scramble to get students thinking about words, and I have just discovered A Level Language Anagram for my year 12 and 13 students. The best thing about these games is that students don't know they're learning ...
Speaking of playing, I think I need to go and enjoy my shoe collection. Frivolous silver sandals, here I come.
Media | Alison Powell picks her desert island resources
So you've bought your new school bag, written out your class lists and planned your introductory lessons. Theoretically, you're all set to climb onto the rollercoaster of teaching for another year. Except, if you're anything like the rest of us, you're probably feeling a bit 'all-the-gear-but-no idea' and would rather run far away, preferably to a desert island somewhere out in the tropics.
Let's imagine that we're there now – the sun is glittering on the waves which are gently lapping at the sand and the birds are twittering happily in the trees and ... hang on a minute – twittering? There's an idea – have you planned anything for your Media students on the recent Twitter.com phenomenon? Could you get the whole class using it?
And what about Desert Island Discs? Why not start the year with an investigation into the popularity of the Radio 4 show? The students could create their own desert island CDs containing mock interviews and personal selections of 8 essential tunes. Using the Analysing CD Covers resource as inspiration, they could also produce convincing covers.
And then they could design their own desert island – maybe even make a model of it for homework – and promote it as a holiday destination. 15 adverts 'crunched' in Teachit's Cruncher has a few holiday advertisements to get them looking at language and then Analysing TV adverts: a note-making sheet would get them started on a TV campaign.
They could go on to use the island as the setting for a new sitcom, taking ideas from Creating a sitcom . The Useful generic blank storyboard can be put to excellent use with both the advert and sitcom projects. Finally, students should decide when to schedule their new shows, and the fabulously detailed TV scheduling coursework will see them through that.
OK, panic over, let's get to class! Who needs desert islands when we've got Teachit?!
Drama | Nic Harvey picks five foolproof favourites
Simplicity is my buzzword this term. I'm determined to keep things simple – using only one diary and being organised and logical – especially in my lesson planning. (For at least two weeks!)
Some of my favourite Teachit schemes of work are very straightforward and that's why I think they work so well. The ideas and tasks are uncomplicated and achievable, yet the resulting drama is often complex, deep, entertaining and imaginative. Take Ricky Brown for example – a scheme which covers nine dramatic devices in ten easy, thought-provoking activities. It also explores the underlying reasons why a child might be aggressive in the classroom, which always leads to interesting work.
Drama warm-up and 'getting to know you' games are always important – especially at the beginning of the school year. Prove it! is a simple game with minimal preparation that the pupils find accessible and fun. Different, more challenging tasks can be added as appropriate and pupils enjoy adding their own tasks, working in teams to challenge (and embarrass) their friends.
Introduction to drama – a scheme of work is extremely simple in its approach and aims to give pupils confidence in the Drama studio whilst introducing them to different dramatic styles and devices. It's a great resource for this time of year.
A resource which I keep in my planner for quick reference is 33 things to do with a playscript as it's great for one-offs and cover lessons as well as quick warm-ups and introductory lessons. It can almost be used as a check list with groups exploring a text at key stages 3 or 4.
The straightforward resource Improvise your own Greek myth or legend works especially well with KS3 groups and can be used to introduce the topic or reinforce understanding. I've also used it when studying traditional or folk tales and it always works well. It also includes a list of dramatic techniques that can be used to add interest to the piece.
So keep it simple in the Drama room this term – save your energy for catching the smokers at break time!
KS3 | Richard Durant picks some life-enabling resources
I have a number of vivid memories from my childhood. Underpants Man is one of them. An occasional escapee from the local asylum, he used to beckon to us wearing nothing but his underpants, and even those were worn on the wrong part of his anatomy. Another quite different memory is of a charity poster I used to pass on the way to school. Its message has always stuck with me: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day: teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.
This idea that teaching is life-enabling has sustained me throughout my career. I apply the principle to everything – including the 'class reader'. We can never 'do' enough class readers to make our students literate, but if we use class readers to equip students with reading skills then perhaps they will go on to read and enjoy enough books to become literate on their own.
Explaining character in Holes is a lesson that starts with two skills – organising sentences into paragraphs and using evidence – and uses Holes as the context for developing those skills. Hopefully students will learn to apply those skills to other novels.
Critical writing on Two weeks with the Queen is also about characterization. It tutors students through the PEE sequence so that they can pay close and appreciative attention to the subtleties of Morris Gleitzman's writing. Incidentally, Morris Gleitzman's own website is well worth a visit. Not only can you find the first chapter of all Gelitzman's novels there but he will even read them to you himself. That's an invaluable resource if you want to encourage students to immerse themselves in an author's style.
Of course all this earnest engagement with texts may not interest some students. They might prefer instead to lose themselves in the world of the novel. For example, they might be hooked by the opportunity to invent some new gadgets for Stormbreaker's Alex Rider. Be inventive encourages them to do just that.
Of course the trouble with the class reader approach is it assumes one book will suit all. NATE's very rich Group Reading materials support collaborative reading of different novels: horses for courses; different ways of wearing underpants.
KS4 | All in the line of duty – Alison Smith on novels
One of the best things about being an English teacher is that, when someone comments on the fact that I spend a lot of time reading, I can say "It's for work". Nine times out of ten, that's not actually true – but I do try to set a good reading example for my students.
With year 10 waving goodbye to GCSE English and beginning their Literature course in a few weeks, we'll be making a start on one of my favourite novels. To Kill a Mockingbird is always guaranteed to bring a tear to my eye and, if the discussion in our department office is anything to go by, I'm not alone in that. There is a wealth of great resources in but my two favourites are Setting and atmosphere, which I like to use when I have studied the whole novel and To Kill a Mockingbird Workpack, which keeps students on top of what is a very long novel!
I need to do some work on Original Writing with my year 9 before the end of term, so I'm planning to use extracts from novels to show them how to do it. contains some fantastic resources which I think they'll really enjoy (and I know I will!): The Throwing nets – exploring chapter 6 and How does he do it? Pullman's use of description are the two that I'll start with.
Reading is about far more than studying novels in class though, which is why I want to encourage all of my students to enjoy books; any books. Currently, I have both Twilight and My Uncle Oscar on my bedside table, one loaned to me by a superbly bright year 10 and the other by a girl who I had never seen willingly pick up a book until the day I caught her reading it under the desk. A novel idea gives older students a good list of novels that they might like to try, whilst it's an interesting task to give younger students the job of making a list for their own age group. It often turns up some real gems.
And with novels in mind, there's a pile of them to read, and tea and chocolate biscuits with my name on!
KS5 | Rhiannon Glover on summer reading
Maybe they haven't learned much else but my AS English Language and Literature students all know that Iago in Othello is Janus-faced; he presents a different face for each new character and situation he confronts. I don't know why, but more than anything else I've taught them, my students are fascinated by this expression and try to find a way of putting into all of their essays regardless of how relevant it is.
Janus is the Roman god of gates, doorways, beginnings and endings who gave his name to the month of January – but for teachers and students it is the end of the summer term that seems like a gateway. We look back over the year's work and forward to exams, the summer and beyond. This is a time of the three Rs – revision, reading and finally, some rest! Which brings me rather clumsily, back to the topic of novels.
Revising a text: looking at themes, characters, setting, style and structure provides a framework which will help students revise the most significant aspects of any text, whether prose or poetry.
Introducing introductions to novels could be used before or after reading to encourage pupils to consider the distinctive features of a novel's opening pages.
There are many imaginative and creative resources to accompany novels new to A Level specifications such as this set of Learning activities on The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, a Lesson series on Small Island by Andrea Levy and various resources on Valerie Martin's disturbing novel Property, including this resource for Exploring the opening .
Resources created to encourage students to read more generally and which might help the transition from GCSE to AS Level or from AS Level to A2 include A novel idea, An A/AS level reading list and An introduction to writers and their times – teaching notes.
Drama | Nic Harvey on novels as a starting-point for Drama
Do novels belong solely in English classrooms and on library shelves? Well most of my pupils would say leave them there but I say take down that novel from the bookshelf, blow off the dust and cobwebs and use it as a starting point for some Drama!
Ian McEwan's A Child in Time inspired the scheme of work on Kidnap! and the first activity, Child abduction, is set in the supermarket, as described in Chapter 10 of the text. Only this chapter is used in the scheme, so if students want to know whether the kidnapped child is ever found, they have to do a bit of independent reading!
Woman in Black is a great example of a novel that has been adapted for the stage and which is good to review as part of GCSE or A Level coursework because of the simple yet brilliantly effective traditional drama techniques which are used. The novel was written in the 1980s by Susan Hill but is set in Victorian England and has a very gothic, chilling feel, particularly when seen live. The resource Coursework essay title and help sheet gives useful prompts and quotes which will help pupils write a detailed and thoughtful theatre review, focusing on the whole experience of seeing live theatre.
Another classic which has been adapted for use in Drama is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein – again, exploring the ever-popular theme of horror. Having watched their various physical interpretations of the monster, you might find Frankenstein court case a useful activity to help pupils explore the theme of responsibility, by putting Victor Frankenstein and his monster on trial.
And why not get them to explore their animal instincts with a political campaign linked to the study of Animal Farm? The election race is a comprehensive guide to setting up a political party and election campaign, linked to the novel. With young people taking a renewed interest in politics with the current expenses scandal, this could prove to be very productive – maybe Gordon Brown could use it too!
Media | Alison Powell finds some novel ideas in the Media library
Recently I put on Branagh's Frankenstein for my Year 10s as a prelude to reading the novel. To my surprise, as I pressed 'Play' there came a collective groan.
"Miss, can't we just read the novel?" shouted one student.
"Movies suck...let's read the book," agreed a boy at the back.
I was surprised, but handed out copies of the novel, and then the monster walked through the door and began talking about how he preferred Whale's 1931 version and why didn't we all go out into the snow as it was too hot to be indoors...
...and then of course, I woke up.
We've all met children at each end of the novel appreciation spectrum. There are those who would rather read than engage in any form of social interaction. And at the other end, there are those for whom the idea of opening a book about made-up stuff is as enticing as a day without Bebo.
Sadly most of my classes seem to consist of the latter.
Fortunately, I'm not the first teacher ever to find herself in this position, and there are enough resources in Teachit's Media library to bring any novel to life.
For example, you could tell your class they're going to make film trailers. Watch the Narnia trailers and analyse them with Back to Narnia . This could form the basis of a project on Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. Students choose one of the series to read and devise their own trailer for that title.
Or make them into journalists. Ask pupils to read a novel and to write a newspaper report about an event in the book. Give them the guidelines in How to construct a tabloid along with Teachit's Publisher and they can't go wrong.
Alternatively, why not challenge your students to become novelists? Show the opening to a film, analyse it and then ask students to write their own 'novel' version. English media assignment: Analyse the opening battle sequence would make an excellent start.
You could try the same with the Branagh and Whale Frankenstein films. Use Compare two film versions of Frankenstein to explore the openings, ask pupils to write their own 'novel' versions and then compare them all with Shelley's original text.
It should work like a dream ...
Language | Julie Blake unearths some novel data
Back in the day (as my niece puts it in a curious example of contemporary language change), AQA B papers quite often set data drawn from research studies. I can still hear the howls of teacher-pain on the Language List, still remember my own horror at sneaking a peek at the paper before the exam started and then grimacing like a burned dog at my students as they filed in and I legged it back to the staffroom for a stiff coffee and three sugars. But that was then and this is now, studies are out of favour and students are far more likely to get an excerpt from a novel, or some other 'represented' kind of data. Just don't go expecting Jane Austen – this is English Language A Level after all and anything goes.
So, for some Teachit resources that might give your students some enjoyable novel-data to sink their gnashers into, try these.
The web of words was in our faves list last time around but no matter, here it is again. Check out the extract from Bridget Jones' Diary as a novelistic representation of an email interaction, and of course some gender stuff going on there too.
Jane Austen and 19th century English . Another old fave, this one a neat little trick for turning some hard-core grammar practice out of a soft-core novel.
Language and gender, language and power – maybe it's time to fish out some copies of The Handmaid's Tale for a lesson or two. Task 4 in Research and revision activities might be a starting point for thinking about language-mangling in this dystopian future-world, and how this might connect to our own.
And finally, for a bit of work on language, voice and identity in 'represented' texts, have a look at Narrative voices . Short juicy excerpts are provided from the four narrators of Andrea Levy's Small Island, each with distinct features of idiolect, sociolect and dialect. You never know – you might get a Language student reading a book...
KS3 | Looking for some creative engagement with texts? Richard Durant points the way.
QCA's periodic messing with the English curriculum always stirs us into a state of anxiety: will they insist on the weekly teaching of the subjunctive or the later works of Alexander Pope? Will it be precis every Monday, business letters every Thursday? The context of 'functional English' gave us even more cause for anxiety about the latest revisions. However, most of the fears have proved groundless and unless our powers of subversion have completely deserted us the new curriculum may well herald an interesting and even a liberated new world.
QCA's new concept of 'critical understanding' had plenty of potential for ushering in a return to the sort of textual dissection that my own Leavisite teachers would have applauded. (Although God knows what they would have made of disemvowelling a text!) This version of 'critical understanding' emphasises a creative, active, critical engagement with texts. Critical engagement with a text doesn't have to involve dry analysis.
Missing scenes gets students to explore the novel's narrative methods through textual re-creation: students are guided towards writing some missing parts of the narrative. In doing so, they have to critically engage with Sedgwick's narrative voice and the novel's structure. As Chris Warren has pointed out in the Word Kitchen, 'In the act of transforming a text you get to know its hidden secrets; you begin to understand its structure, its blueprint; you look closely at the brushstrokes that create the illusion!' Just so.
On the other hand if you feel brave enough to launch into some full-frontal analysis then why not apply it to a less-than-conventional context? North by North West - Cornfield scene analysis provides students with the background information and the framework they need to get to grips with the most famous crop-dusting sequence in cinema history.
According to the QCA, 'critical understanding' encompasses students 'developing their own' relevant ideas. Quite right. What's the point of an understanding that doesn't lead to doing? Purpose, audience, format offers a random collection of writing tasks whose purpose, audience and format is clearly prescribed, thus allowing students to apply their learning in a secure way – while also challenging their critical faculties.
KS4 | Alison Smith on teenagers and critical responses
Why is it that, when you mention the words 'critical response' to students, they always assume that you require them to say that something is rubbish? It seems almost impossible to get them to understand that to be critical does not mean that they have to find fault – but then we are talking about teenagers here ...
Ask my students what my most common phrases are, and they will probably tell you that I say 'go on' and 'and what do you think?' all the time. I want them to be able to engage with texts, not because someone in Whitehall says they should, but because life is so much more interesting if you participate. Thinking points will help them to do that, and there are plenty of different ways that it can be used.
When I tell my students something, they believe me because I am a teacher. How can I get them to understand that not everything they are told is necessarily the truth? An obvious way is to tell them an outrageous lie with a completely straight face, but that won't actually be much help in the exam. Fact and opinion – what is the difference? and the whizzy Fact or opinion – which is it? are a straightforward way of helping them to see the difference. Combine these with Bias – what is it? (the sporty version)? and, for your most able students, Daily newspapers: opinion, bias and readership and you've covered most of the bases.
Language, form and structure are something I seem to spend a lot of time talking about; the fact that writers don't just vomit completed works onto the page seems to escape lots of students. It's vital, though, that they are able to write confidently about them, so Analysing short prose extracts is a good place to start.
And as for me, I have some critical responses to make – that pile of essays won't mark themselves!
KS5 | Rose Haire on extending critical understanding at A Level
Sixth formers are old and wise enough to form their own 'critical understanding' of texts – or so we might hope! For your A Level classes in the throes of exam fever, a bit of perspective on the literary heritage of the texts they are studying might give them the edge in the final exam, or, even better, spark their interest and love for literature. If you're studying McEwan's Enduring Love or Hardy's elegies for Emma Gifford for AQA B, or preparing to teach the AQA A synoptic unit on 'Love Through the Ages' next year, have a look at some of Teachit's resources on love poetry. Donne's Song 'Sweetest love I do not go' is a really comprehensive run-through: reading this beautiful and heartfelt poem in depth should give your students a sense of the tradition of love poetry in English.
Students could broaden their horizons even further and look at love poems across the centuries. Look at the Study notes on Queen Herod for some fantastic ideas about how traditions influence texts, and then do some research into Keats and his love life, using Keats and sexuality . Once they've read these, they could make their own way through some of Keats' letters – particularly relevant if they're reading Enduring Love – or even try reading some of the poetry independently.
And of course once their exams are finished, your sixth formers will be back and perhaps in need of a project to keep them going. There's nothing better than a guided reading scheme to broaden their critical understanding and – hopefully – spark their interest again. Teachit has got lots to support you here. Have a look at A novel idea or An A/AS level reading list for some ways into this kind of work .You could even encourage your students to work in groups exploring ideas in texts on these lists. To take one example, they could look at the presentation of 'transgressive' women in Jane Eyre, The Scarlet Letter and Wide Sargasso Sea. How's that for some critical understanding?
Drama | Nic Harvey on engaging critical understanding through Drama
What better way than using drama to 'engage with issues and ideas in a text'? None! My thoughts exactly. Exploring ideas, issues and concepts by improvising situations can help a child to understand quite complex issues that they may not fully grasp simply by reading about them.
By taking on a role, a student puts themselves into someone else's shoes and tries to empathise with them. Using poetry as a stimulus for drama is a great way of creating emotive and engaging work, but conversely using drama to help to understand and respond to ideas in a text is just as valid.
In Saw it in the Papers , students use drama techniques to try to understand the topical and disturbing issues of child abuse and neglect – considering the situation from different viewpoints and trying to respond to the situation appropriately when taking on different roles. Taking on the role of a character with the opposite viewpoint to themselves can be a challenge for students, but one which often leads to better critical understanding of an issue or situation.
Discussion in group work when devising a piece of drama is a great learning tool and the process of 'exploring others' ideas' is something that happens naturally in the devising process. In a recent What has happened to Lulu? lesson on homelessness, group discussion and improvisation led to the creation of a fantastic piece of drama, based on the analysis of Phil Collins' 'Another Day in Paradise'. (Although I am reliably informed that Brandy 'does it better'.)
Creating devised theatre from photographs leads to amazing work through discussion and development of ideas. The pictures are a resource that all pupils find accessible and stimulate some interesting discussions which in turn lead to great improvised pieces.
A fun resource, particularly for KS3, is Nursery rhyme news , which uses familiar nursery rhymes as a stimulus whilst challenging students to adapt their language style in order to report the story in a modern media-friendly way.
So when it comes to 'critical understanding', look no further than the Drama studio!
Media | Alison Powell brings some telesales skills to the Media library
Long before I started teaching I worked for a stint (for my sins?) in telesales. Looking now at the new curriculum key concept of critical understanding, I've noticed parallels with the sales process I was taught: engaging with ideas – getting people to listen and not hang up the phone; assessing the validity of information – showing people the need for your product in their lives; exploring others' ideas – finding out what objections to a purchase there might be; evaluating language – coming back with good reasons why they should buy your product and making a sale.
It also strikes me that a critical understanding of the media is crucial if we want pupils to avoid being fleeced by every salesperson they meet!
Warning – deconstruction in progress! provides a useful series of focus questions which can be applied to any advert. Follow that up with Hoovers – an exercise in persuasive language , which should also prove popular at home as it asks kids to vacuum clean a room in their house! That should get them questioning the ways in which we are being sold to.
Then for developing a critical understanding of film, I'd recommend using The Others. It's an excellent psychological thriller with a 12 rating (though be warned ... it is so scary that my entire Y10 class screamed at several points during a recent screening). Use Media Assignment for the film The Others to support a focused analysis of the film. You could compare it to The Orphanage, or Sixth Sense. And then encourage pupils to make their own scary films. Making short films offers some useful starting points.
That should get pupils off to a good start, and, with a bit more persuasion perhaps, you can send them off to apply their 'critical understanding' to all other aspects of the media world that infiltrate their daily lives.
Language | Julie Blake on social networks, archaeology and engaged critical response
Although A Level English Language is fundamentally about critical understanding, that idea can sometimes get a bit lost amid the general panic about linguistic terminology. But critical understanding it is, and the resources chosen here explore ideas and texts more openly, in a manner more likely to lead to engaged critical response.
Exploring social networks is not about Facebook but the sociolinguistic ideas developed by Jenny Cheshire and the Milroys (that sounds like a 1960s band name ...). After an initial introduction to the idea of social networks, diagrams model different types before students have a go at constructing their own. For an Xtreme Sport version, get them doing it for all 973 of their Facebook friends!
For something completely different, try A linguistic archaeological dig. Here, two sets of words are offered as different 'strata' in the development of Old English. Students put their best archaeologists' hats on, to deduce what they can from the words about the cultures which produced these linguistic artefacts. The top dataset is from the Latin of the early Christian church, the bottom from the Old Norse of the Vikings. Language change in the exam may now mean 1700 onwards, but if you want to understand language and power, you can't do without a drop of the older stuff...
And back to the techno again with The web of words. This invites students to think widely and critically about technologically mediated language use, engaging students in finding contrasting examples of texts, and exploring both technical accounts and texts from popular culture. It ends with a question inviting critical evaluation of the validity of some of Crystal's earlier ideas about language and the internet – juicy stuff ...
KS3 | Richard Durant on the crucial role of the director
In my first ten years of teaching I ran 117 theatre trips. The most memorable? Not seeing the RSC's Carrie because I filled the petrol mini-bus with diesel; the wonderful Steven Berkoff play whose torrent of vigorous filth prompted my sixth form party to boycott the second half, and a truly dreadful version of Macbeth. This was one of those versions in which the witches shuffle and mumble, shoving supermarket trolleys across post-nuke landscapes. Their audience was almost entirely school parties and what my dad self-deprecatingly calls 'crinklies'. An explosive mixture. "Rubbish!" yelled Lee (or something like that). A crinkly behind me tapped me on the shoulder. In the dark his eyes shone with outraged excitement. "Which school are you with?" I paused, and then gave the name of the local private grammar school. He looked more shocked than Duncan.
I don't condone ruining anyone's theatre experience but I do think the cast must take responsibility for engaging its audience. Personally I believe the overall production values are what really count, and I always stress to students something they usually fail to appreciate: the crucial role of the director. The National Theatre website has a clip of Nicholas Hytner explaining the process of directing, accompanied by some useful 'before and after production clips' that illustrate the value added by strong direction. Teachit and Devon Education Services' DVD pack, Romeo and Juliet: Active teaching approaches shows the benefits of teacher direction in the classroom. Key drama terms: Years 7, 8 and 9 provides the teacher-director with a handy checklist of techniques for exploring plays.
The director's main role is to develop tension, conflict and difference: Macbeth vs Lady M; Sheila vs Gerald; Mrs Kay vs Mr Briggs. Teacher comparison focuses on this last conflict but it is a useful template for exploring many others.
I wish the director of almost every version of Macbeth I have ever seen had made 33 things to do with a playscript their starting point. I swear they were struggling to think of one good thing to do with a playscript.
KS4 | Alison Smith stocks up on plays
I'm tired. I've been doing Of Mice and Men with Year 11, and they have insisted that I read it all to them – apparently, I have the best Lennie voice and no one else will do. (I'm not sure that's a compliment, incidentally.)
At least when teaching drama, I can't be expected to read all of the parts. I'm going to be looking for a play to use with Year 10 after the GCSE in June and as I refuse to teach An Inspector Calls (I had a bad experience with it in my NQT year and am now allergic to it), it looks like we might need to buy some new plays.
I might not run the risk of Bennett monologues for fear they'll make me read the whole thing myself, but I am a big fan of them nonetheless. With my top set, I might be tempted to show both A Cream Cracker under the Settee, using All about Doris, and Waiting for the Telegram, using the Waiting for the Telegram study pack, and let them decide which they want to write about. That way, we get to check the personalised learning box, and I don't have to mark 33 essays on the same topic. How good is that?
If only The Woman in Black was on tour this year! If you're within easy distance of London, this is a great play to do for coursework. Students never believe you when you tell them they'll be scared but, as the Coursework essay title and help sheet hints, it is 'a truly nerve shredding experience'. One of my ex-students only has to whistle behind me for the hairs to stand up on the back of my neck.
My all-time favourite, though, is The Crucible. Not only do I get to drool over Daniel Day-Lewis, but I have yet to find a class who weren't drawn in by the power of the play. There is a good range of possible titles, as A selection of essay questions shows – and as long as we remember to push the stage-craft element, then students will do well.
Aside from the break from reading aloud that teaching the drama element of the course gives me, there are fringe benefits. Last year, in lesson one, Tara took the role of Abigail in The Crucible. She was the least Abigailish student in the class, and yet she read her with such skill that everyone insisted she keep the role. We all saw a different side to her in those few weeks. The play is indeed the thing.
KS5 | Linda Newton picks resources for A Level plays
It's spring again, well almost, and the mind involuntarily turns to exams, but sometimes we need to remind ourselves that's not all teaching drama texts is about. A play might be set in any century, country or culture but can be brought to life in the classroom through readings, acting sessions, tableaux, discussions, research etc.
Exploring emotions through drama appeals to my students, and doing this through Shakespeare's plays reinforces their timeless, universal quality. The Tragedy! worksheet helps students understand the features of this genre and the terminology needed to gain AO1 marks in their A/AS level discussions. A different approach is offered by Critical readings of Othello where students assess four explanations of Othello's character and motivations. A Tweakit resource guide contains ideas on using the readings.
If that all sounds too serious, and you're studying Wilde's society comedy A Woman of No Importance, then Social and historical context, an impressive and colourful PowerPoint, will brighten up any not-quite-spring afternoon whilst giving students a visual and textual rundown on life for aristocrats, their servants and the poor, in late nineteenth century England. This play's title always generates discussion of what life was like for women in the past, and this topic can also be explored in Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire using Three women to chart the transition from the fading, aristocratic life of a southern belle to that of the modern, independent woman just emerging in post-war America.
A play that, on the surface, delves far back in time in yet another country is Making History by Brian Friel, set in Ireland around 1600 but written in 1989. Timelines guides students through three different ways of getting to grips with the play's time setting. Although the play examines events around the battle of Kinsale in 1601, its distant time setting, paradoxically, highlights its still current subject matter of relations between Ireland and England. So, as well as giving students the skills and knowledge necessary to imagine worlds different from their own, studying plays can, at the same time, deepen understanding of our modern world.
Drama | Nic Harvey on murder, incest and musicals
In one of my favourite lessons, pupils try different methods to try to persuade their partner to kill someone – with a knife. This year, I'm worried I might end up in the national press under the headline 'Teacher uses Drama lessons to incite knife crime' or 'Teenagers given lessons on how to kill!' Yet this is a lesson from A Drama scheme of work – one which explores persuasive techniques and use of language as well as the concepts of love, loyalty and betrayal. I doubt that any of the knife-wielding youths in the press have asked the question 'Is this a dagger I see before me?' or struggled with their conscience and ambitious desires the way Macbeth did – although they possibly had Lady Macbeth equivalents egging them on.
Themes in plays are often relevant and engaging – ideas that have interested audiences since Greek times and themes that are timelessly relevant. Another favourite of mine is Miller's A View from the Bridge which explores the themes of incest and loyalty and incest and betrayal and incest and love, but mainly incest. It is a powerful and excellently written play which often forms cross-curricular links with English and which would allow you to organise a trip to the West End (don't forget your risk assessment!) to see the fantastic Ken Stott as Eddie. (I cried when he died – even though I knew it was coming ...) The resource Looking at language and action is useful for working with both A View from the Bridge and Ibsen's A Doll's House and encourages a closer reading of the texts. Similarly, a GCSE or A Level study of John Osborne's Look Back in Anger (which is also on in the West End) can be supported by the useful Workpack on the play which encourages the little darlings to analyse the text.
Taking extracts from plays and working with them in the Drama room works well – especially if the pupils are then given the chance to further explore the text through improvisation, hot-seating and forum-theatre. Blood Brothers (see A scheme of work for Edexcel Drama Unit 2) works well even though it is really a musical – my lot love working with the songs even if they don't sing them. The soundtrack is readily available too and provides some great background music for those dramatic scenes!
Here ends my indulgent blurb on plays – hope you find them as stimulating as my little angels (well, my lot are always motivated when there's a sniff of murder or incest, bless 'em!).
Language | Julie Blake on the potential of plays for A Level Language
Plays? A Level English Language? Ah, well, with much emphasis on talk, there is plenty of scope for recycling some plays. Students know lots about drama-talk from GCSE, and this can provide a bridge across to the altogether stranger world of transcript-talk.
First, try a neat activity to get students thinking about the way talk can be represented in writing, including in transcript, drama, dialogue in novels, and in phonemic symbols. Use the same or different audio bytes data to experiment more – photo-story anyone? Representations or Talking representations (includes the source audio).
Next, have a look at Pinter's Request Stop – just 15 lines of dialogue, and a lot of pauses, of course! Pinter's style tends towards realism in its representation of talk, and students could explore how this relates to really-real talk. For comparison and development, explore some of the equally pithy bytes of authentic spoken language in the Teachit Language 'Talk talk' unit – try giving Cold call or Train announcement or Tax workshop the Pinteresque treatment – similarities and differences in real and represented spoken language and a start on an Original Writing piece. Transcripts provides the written texts.
And finally, for exploring Grice's maxims, Script for identifying Grice's maxims is a lovely one-pager of a resource which provides a mini playscript in which one of the characters flouts the maxims all the way through. Act it out. Write another one. Move on to look at The Office. All good stuff for understanding how well most conversation does work!
Media | Alison Powell on playing the media stage
As someone somewhere once said, 'All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players.' Never was that more true than in today's world. If you play the media game well then literally anyone, as Jade Goody has repeatedly shown us, can be a big name on the stage of the rich and famous.
Being brought up in the age of reality TV, it may come as a surprise to some students that once upon a time people had to train to be actors to make it big. They needed scripts to learn, skills to use and structures for their drama! Ease students into some analysis of such performers on television by looking at their favourite soap. Use the whizzy The conventions of a soap opera as a focus.
If they've coped with that, then try some film analysis. Watch a film together and explore narrative structure using The hero's journey.
Use the same worksheet for The Truman Show and lead into a discussion of the moral issues of the world of reality TV. You'll find an excellent plan for a follow-up essay in An essay plan - the influence of the media.
Finish up with a look at the influence of magazines. Look at the power of the front page and play spot the celebrity using a range of recent mags. How often do 'real' actors appear as compared to reality 'clebs'? Students can then produce their own front covers and hold an Oscars style award ceremony for the best one using And the winner is...
This should lead students to another discussion – does the media reflect the way we live or are we dictated by it? And when they've tied themselves up in knots of moral discussion, point out to them that someone somewhere once proclaimed, 'There is nothing either good or bad, / But thinking makes it so.'
KS3 | Richard Durant on fostering competence
I was once asked during an interview, "What is your pet hate?" I replied, "Incompetence." It was the same interview that included the questions, "What makes you laugh?" and "What makes you cry?" I gave "This interview" as my answer to both. I didn't get the job. Anyway, back to incompetence. Actually I don't know why I cited that as my pet hate. There are plenty of things that earn my fierce antipathy: invasions of Gaza, Confused.com ads, queues and chocolate advent calendars are right up there. But genuine incompetence is likely to evoke only a wry smile.
According to the National Curriculum we should spend 25% of our time fostering competence, and that's no bad thing: I've always thought that language is at least as much about functionality as creativity, and an underrated aspect of functionality is speed: many students are so slow at reading and writing that they simply give up. Kick off the new year with a Dictionary and scanning race. The beauty of this exercise is that it is easy to differentiate. You can simply use different levels of dictionary for different students. Another way forward is to use an online dictionary such as Chambers dictionary and thesaurus.
Many an essay would be much improved if it made better use of connectives. Not only do these boost fluency and coherence, but they also give access to useful thoughts. Hinges, bolts and sealers provides useful lists of connectives, its category titles emphasising functionality. If you take the advice of the accompanying Tweakit you will find Magnet a useful sorting tool: you just need to put each connective on a separate tile and leave students to shuffle them around the screen.
Students excel in incompetence whenever they are given a 'finding out task'. Using the internet to do research (NLS Y8) gives them a framework for useful research practices and a mnemonic poem to encourage good research habits.
Have a happy and competent 2009.
KS4 | Alison Smith on reaching for the stars
I have a problem with 'competence'. Of course, what it actually means is the ability to do something well but, rather like the word 'satisfactory', it has come to mean something that isn't quite all that it could and should be.
I don't want my students to be competent; I want them to be excellent ... which may be why a frequent refrain in my room is "But Miss, we're not in the top set" and "Miss, you do know this is the bottom set, don't you?", generally as a means of trying to get out of doing some fiendishly difficult task that I have dreamed up to push them ever onwards.
The Magazine match up is great as a starter or as a revision tool for both AQA A English Paper 1 and our Media Studies practical production coursework. When they can competently identify the different features, they will be able to turn that into excellence in just a few easy steps.
I also really like the idea behind Engage your sleeping author! With both Year 10 and Year 9 about to start their Original Writing coursework, I'm keen not to end up with 40+ stories all on the same topic and in the same style, so I might well combine this with elements of Joe's Story to make my life a little more complicated, but hopefully more interesting too. I'm also planning to read some of the anthology short stories as a way into writing, and there's a whole collection of resources to help with that. Stepping into Your Shoes is a particularly good one which should help to steer some of the students away from a simple chronological narrative, and into the higher grades. Year 10 will also be using The way of the A*, which is a brilliant way of getting them to really think about what they need to do to be excellent.
My objective for the term? 'This lesson, we are striving for excellence.' Maybe some of us won't quite reach the heady heights of the A*, but in striving to be the best, competence will almost certainly be the result.
KS5 | Kate Lee in praise of a much maligned word
And we're off - spring term's headlong canter through the syllabus before the pre-exam cramming begins, often at the expense of student competence (and confidence). Competence is a much maligned word in teaching - a little anodyne perhaps when applied to student work - but actually rather important at A Level.
Sometimes the idea of a back-to-basics focus feels foolhardy, even self indulgent when there's so much to be done. But do the right thing, and you might find your workload lightened, and your students genuinely and tangibly improving.
Lesson starters are often a good place to host a back-to-basics approach - and rarely has a Teachit resource been more invitingly named than Non teach self mark starters. With five different punctuation, grammar and syntax exercises, all on handy cut-out-and-keep cards for students to identify their own targets, why not crank up the pace by using the Teachit Timer for added challenge or encourage peer marking by giving them the teacher copy of the resource?
The grandly titled Excellent essay writing resource offers an interesting take on essay structuring. Use a murder scenario to explore conceptualised arguments as a starter activity, and then move on to applying the skeleton essay framework to an unseen Shelley poem.
A decent introduction can be soothing to a mind wearied by marking, and Writing an effective essay introduction is a restorative tonic. Offering three different introductions to an essay on The Tempest for students to discuss and rank, and an opportunity to write their own introduction, this resource encourages students to assess their own competency.
Novel concepts will appeal to everyone's inner geek - a matching, numbering and sorting activity, which takes a good hard look at the basics (language, structure and form), and puts them in their place.
I love resources that encourage creativity, and A comic strip will help you both to gauge how well your students know the text and retain a sense of fun. Great for independent, paired, group or carousel activities, and easily tweaked to any text with a bit of love and attention.
Competence, huh? I think we may have something here...
Language | Julie Blake on how to get students behaving like linguists
Teachit's theme for this half term – 'competence' – is interpreted here in relation to resources which help students move towards operating like a linguist. This is what competence should mean in the National Curriculum: spelling and punctuation regarded as sets of practices which enable individuals to operate with credibility in particular discourses, not seen as divinely ordained matters of right and wrong, washed and unwashed. But enough of that and back to walking like an Egyptian.
Language study can be about textual analysis and paper-based activities, but when working with very large data sets (or corpora) or spoken language, it is more usual to make use of digital technologies. Give your students the chance to develop some of these practices by recording and editing spoken language.
How to make a digital audio clip and/or How to make a digital video clip guide you through the kit and caboodle, and the practices needed, to capture spoken language and process it into a form that can be saved on computer. Use this as a starting point, as technology changes and the hardware and software students have access to will probably be different to that outlined here. Don't worry: as 'digital natives' your students will work it out, and will then be in a position to rewrite the 'How to' for other students (and for Original Writing coursework? ... ).
Once they've got their data, they will need to transcribe it. To get them thinking about this critically, have a look at Tom's Busy Day representations (paper resource) or Tom's Busy Day talking representations (with embedded audio files). This invites exploration of how spoken language data can be represented differently according to audience, purpose and genre. It invites students to see that transcripts are only ever a partial approximation of reality.
And finally, for a different spin once they've got to grips with naturally occurring spoken language, try a mini-investigation into represented spoken language, to help develop competence with investigative methods. Talk talk mini-investigation is an oven-ready guide.
Competence is about practices, not pieces of paper.
Media | Alison Powell finds quantums of solace in the Media library
I've spent a frustrating amount of time this Christmas holiday feeling thoroughly incompetent. It started with a Carols by Candlelight concert where I found everything was pitched too high. Resorted to miming the words. Then I went to Morocco. Discovered that I am disastrous at haggling and ended up with a ridiculously overpriced rug. For Christmas we acquired an Xbox which, to my family's hilarity, revealed that my thumbs are incapable of working together to direct James Bond beyond the first platform of the Quantum of Solace.
Conclusion: incompetence sucks!
So to save your pupils from similar frustration in the New Year, I've found a few resources on Teachit which should see them on the path to Media competence.
We all know that putting learning into context makes it more accessible. Star Wars study pack does just that with Propp's narrative. You could go on to explore the theory with other films ... or computer games ...
If we are to help pupils 'play the game' of English, then studying models of effective language is essential. Daily newspapers: opinion, bias and readership is high level, but could easily be tweaked for other key stages. Try a role-play game where some pupils are editors and others are journalists. This will provide an opportunity for peer assessment.
Which is one of the reasons that my Xbox progress is so slow. Being laughed at hardly counts as authentic feedback. I need some clear guidelines on how to improve, like you'll find in TV scheduling coursework.
And of course it always helps to see the bigger picture. Starter for 10 is an excellent overview, especially if you're teaching AQA GCSE Media. Provides a great starting point, a basis for a scheme of work, or a revision map for independent research.
On the subject of which, I've just spotted the instruction manual for Quantum of Solace. I reckon if I read this carefully then sneak in some late night secret training, I may secure Level 2 by the start of term. Competence, here I come!
Drama | Nic Harvey on how to be 100% competent
How do we teach competence? How do we make pupils 'competent' in Drama? My instinctive answer includes the words blood, sweat and tears but these don't seem to appear in the National Curriculum ...
The idea of competence is nothing new – we have always striven to make our pupils competent in our subject through exploration and understanding and by the development of new skills. The key in the new curriculum seems to be the ability to use this understanding in different ways.
The confidence to work as part of a group, performing and exploring issues and ideas through drama all have an impact on pupils' competence in this subject, which in turn has an impact on their work in other subjects across the curriculum.
Resources such as Interpreting a script gradually build skills in one specific area, enabling pupils to develop their understanding of how a script works in a fun and accessible way. Through teacher-led activities and independent learning, pupils become competent in this area, focusing on factors such as clarity, intonation, use of accent and interpretation of character – all knowledge which they can adapt and apply in GCSE work in both English and Drama. The resource 33 things to do with a playscript can be used to reinforce this understanding and allow the pupils to apply their learning in different and individual ways.
This can lead to more competent and confident performance work with more convincing depiction of characters and more interesting delivery of lines – all of which are important for assessment and audience enjoyment!
Level descriptions can help you and your pupils to track progress and set targets in order to improve their level of competence in Drama; and Key drama terms can be used to reinforce their learning and help with any written work.
KS3 | Richard Durant sees off running on the spot
The SATs had a negative effect on teacher assessment: what was the point of putting effort into assessing if it didn't really count? Conversely, the demise of the SATs lets us reinstate assessment to its rightful place as an integral part of teaching and learning. Certainly APP can now flourish, and the APP guidelines are being revised and expanded as I write, but APP is not the whole – or even the end – of the assessment story. Now that assessment is back in our hands it is our responsibility to recognise achievement in whatever form it presents itself.
Whodunit?! should stimulate a useful assessment opportunity: the whole class role plays a murder trial. Not only would this activity provide plenty of evidence of drama-based speaking and listening, but it's also a useful template for mass exploration of characters in a variety of texts. It could be used, for example, to investigate the 'culpability' of the warden in Holes, or the boys in Millions.
The Loaded Dog: structure and language provides a whole range of assessment opportunities and methods. It is particularly useful for helping students to think and talk about AF4 – text structure. You could also adapt Analysing an opening chapter to help students analyse the opening of The Loaded Dog and then replicate its features in their own writing.
One of the dangers with APP is that its criteria are pre-established and students have little input, so why not occasionally make up your own progression criteria that are related to the specific task? Better still, get students to generate their own criteria and then assess each other's work against them. An American Education Department-supported site, Rubistar, will help you to generate and organise criteria into a useful assessment rubric.
Well, I must stop. My nurse is due to arrive for my monthly health assessment. She used to make me run on the spot for five minutes, do five press-ups and a couple of brisk rounds of crazy golf. Same test for everyone. Now she just sits down and we talk about how I've been. It's so much nicer. And I'm getting better.
KS4 | Alison Smith on bidding for flak jackets
It always takes a while to get the measure of a class, and this year has been no different. After 8 weeks (has it really only been that long??), 11E2 and I are beginning to understand one another and to get our 34 heads around what needs to be done.
So far, we've rattled our way through the first lot of Anthology poetry – they're heartily sick of poems now, so I am bidding for a flak jacket on eBay for when they realise there are more in the Literature course. I've been 'banging on' (their words!) about the importance of language, so Connections between poems and titles will come in handy. I'm going to use the whizzy version as a starter, but give them a copy for their revision as well. The handy revision grid is an incredible resource too – although I think I might save that one for later... they might riot if they see that level of detail at this stage!
In terms of the mocks, I've already given them copies of AQA spec A paper 1, section A - a guide. It doesn't seem to matter how many times I tell them what to do, seeing it in print seems to have more impact. We're going to use an oldie but a goodie in the form of a Magazine article about the dangers of sunbeds as a whole class pre-mock, but we're going to work up to that via the Smart Notebook resource: 'All Together now'. It's got a football theme, which might keep my 20 boys happy; is interactive and whizzy, which will keep my active learners happy (and make up for the fact that I STILL don't have a normal whiteboard); and will prove to all of the class that the things that I've been telling them can be applied to all texts really can.
That'll keep us going for a week – I've spotted lots of other things I like whilst I've been rummaging, so I think we're going to have another profitable half term.
KS5 | Julie Cumbo on what to do when the dog bites and the bee stings
After half a term of coping, no doubt we're all whizzing in and out of the different AS and A2 specs, impressing everyone, especially ourselves, with our composure, serenity and efficiency. No? Oh well, to make life a little easier, especially the teaching of A Level English language, these are a few of my favourite things, as another Julie once said or sang.
Pre-Christmas is the ideal time to try the Gift Inspiration work. There's so much here and so many different ways of using or adjusting it, but students find this great fun and it's guaranteed to produce both learning and laughter!
Given the U.S. presidential election, it's also a good time for The language of power and the power of language which examines the techniques of a formal speech, in this case from the realm of politics. It's particularly valuable for AQA B Lang/Lit NTB6 where there are two unseen pieces on the exam paper: one of them must be an example of spoken language in order to meet the AOs. A prepared speech is commonly given so that it can assess skills different from those needed for the 'Talk' unit NTB5. As well as several extracts from political speeches, there's also the means to examine Kennedy's inaugural address from 1961. After acquiring the know-how, your students could explore further by finding Clinton's inaugural address in 1993 (easily done – the same website is given on the resource) and comparing the two. This leads to a consideration of a related topic: how language has changed over 32 years.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that language has changed substantially since Jane Austen's day. (See what I did there?) Although Jane Austen and 19th century English is surely useful to literature students, it's an effective resource for language studies, encouraging students to examine diachronic variation in specific detail. This is a productive task, possibly to be given for homework.
Two more! Phonological features test covers in an accessible way an area that students often find difficult while Connotations and Colours is an enjoyable starter activity that leads to an interesting discussion.
Drama | Nic Harvey celebrates the return of independent learning
Well, apparently it's all about motivating pupils nowadays, you know, giving them interesting and challenging material or situations to explore – get this – independently!
When I was at school, back in the old days of Thatcher's Britain, education was all about making school as boring as possible, or so it seemed. The teacher was the expert, and lessons almost always 'chalk and talk'. I used to dream of being given a project to work on over a series of lessons – even better to work on it with my friends and possibly even work outside of the classroom. This would have been seen as controversial and downright unnecessary. As long as I could spell 'accommodation' and use a slide rule then my education was seen as adequate. Drama was an extra-curricular activity which involved people performing plays – it was definitely not seen as a tool useful for exploring issues or situations and certainly never something that could be used across the curriculum to aid understanding!
Using pupils' previous knowledge is one way of facilitating independent learning – for example in 'The First World War' scheme of work, pupil knowledge can be the stimulus for the work as well as enhancing their various performances. I teach this in Year 9, when pupils are learning about World War One in History and they love being able to tell me facts about the war (I feign ignorance – not difficult!).
Giving pupils a research task can lead into independent learning in the classroom as they feed back to each other and use their findings to inform their drama work. Even giving them the challenge of finding an interesting stimulus for a piece of devised work encourages independent thought and allows the pupils to feel more ownership of the development process.
In an attempt to work on vocal skills with one of my groups recently, but not being a vocalist myself, I set them the task of researching different vocal warm-ups and exercises which they then led the group in. They became experts overnight and the activity worked much better than if I had led it (she writes modestly).
Schemes like 'What has Happened to Lulu?', 'Kidnap' and 'Saw it in the Papers' lend themselves to independent research and development and pupils' findings on related issues are always interesting and varied. After all, who better to decide what is interesting and stimulating for the teenage learner than the learner themselves?
Media | Alison Powell reaches for the champagne
If you pop into Teachit's Staffroom Discussions area you'll find the 'Hot' topic 'No more SATS'. People are swinging their satchels with joy, more than satisfied that at last they can teach Shakespeare for fun. The usual saturnine comments at this time of year are replaced with 'hoorahs' and 'yippees' of glee at the thought of not teaching to tests.
So before we find out what APPs really mean, let's get on and have some fun.
Start a mini-media project and you'll not only prepare your Year 9s for their Media coursework in English, but you might also encourage a few more of them to take up Media Studies as a sensible GCSE option. Advertising is a great place to begin. It's highly accessible and the kids are generally quite savvy. Test their knowledge with Advertising Slogans, in which match slogans to products. You could use these to play bingo and then get students to write their own.
Build up to the Tagger Trainers advert where the kids re-write an advert to make it a little more enticing. You could treat this in a 'Dragon's Den' style where pupils have to present their advert to a panel of judges, explaining their choices of slogan, image and layout.
A step away from the trainers brings you neatly (though not alphabetically...) to trailers. Explore how similar techniques are used in both advertising and film by exploring a few film trailers. As an introduction to film language, trailers are ideal. You can watch them several times if necessary and if you have a selection of them, you can do some nice comparison work. Use Introducing Film Trailers to get students focused and then follow up with Mission Impossible 2 – a really useful teacher sheet with questions. You could set a homework where pupils create their own fact sheets on more recent films.
Then as a final farewell to SATs the kids could design adverts for their new, improved SATs-free teachers, and a film trailer for a school without tests. Send them to the government with a 'thank you' note attached, sit back and enjoy that champagne.
Language | Julie Blake finds some crossover treasures for Language teachers
In the global village that is most of our everyday classrooms, none of us are strangers to teaching at least some aspects of English as an Additional Language, and A Level English Language teachers who have got past the initial subject-knowledge night-sweats are already dipping into some of the TEFL-derived approaches and resources for language study. There's plenty out there that we might use, but why go out when you could stay in on a cold dark night with Teachit and its new sister site with all the extra language resources, Teachitworld? Here are some crossover treasures I would happily magpie into an A Level classroom.
The links below will take you straight to Teachitworld's resource libraries.
Storytelling provides an excellent range of short stimulus activities to get the creative writing blood up. I love the 'Origins' activity, in which students are given an item such as a leather handbag or a pair of woollen socks, and students have to tell its story right back to its raw materials. This could make for some lovely magazine features. 'Stories from proverbs' is equally juicy, handily also teaching students something about a curious form of language, with the stimulus provided by proverbs from many different cultures, such as 'Handsome words do not butter cabbage' and 'A crooked branch has a crooked shadow'.
I'm feeling like chicken is an audio file and transcript that I've already used to revise spoken language. This is not naturally occurring spoken language. It is two adults role-playing ordering a meal in a café. My native speaker students listened and immediately yelped 'that's SOOOOOOO fake'. 'Really?' I enquired innocently, 'Can you prove it?' ... An hour or so of me playing the devil's advocate and their intense scrutiny and debate, and the groups presented their hotly argued cases with supporting evidence of phoney discourse management and the surreal absence of non-fluency features. Of course, they were right and I could have just said that at the start, but it wouldn't have been nearly so much fun ...
Objects of desire explores a little corner of English grammar – the order of adjectives – that isn't exactly a central concern of A Level English Language study, but always snags at someone's curiosity, and if you're cantering through word classes, certainly livens things up a bit. This resource gets students working out what the 'rule' is for the order of multiple adjectives in a noun phrase, which throws in a nice bit of critical thinking, and a no-marking homework to find examples out in the world of language users 'breaking' this 'rule'.
KS3 | Richard Durant takes a blunt look at cultural understanding, as defined by the new curriculum
One person's culture is another person's James Blunt: it's all a matter of taste (or lack of it). The new National Curriculum's key concept, cultural understanding, is fine except that its explanatory notes refer to 'cultural excellence'. Now you can have literary excellence, medical excellence and excellence in juggling, but you can't have excellence in culture. Culture is simply a shorthand for all the artefacts and practices by which a people define themselves. This misguided sense of cultural excellence lurks in the first aim of cultural understanding, as defined in the new curriculum: 'gaining a sense of the English literary heritage and engaging with important texts in it'.
For many students the most important text is the last one they received on their Nokia. Language variety – Magna Carta & SMS messaging (NLS Y8) features a useful template for composing text messages (see p17) and a list of text message abbreviations. This resource is six years old and abbreviations have moved on. It should inspire some very engaged explorations from students. The whole resource will support study of cultural understanding's third focus – language variety and how this relates to 'identity and cultural diversity'.
The other cultural understanding aim requires students to explore 'how ideas, experiences and values are portrayed differently in texts from a range of cultures and traditions'. For this you could look up one of Teachit's oldest resources, Comparing poems pack – a simple, helpful scaffold for comparing Hughes' 'View of a Pig' with Blake's 'The Tyger'. If you need some visuals to evoke poems' cultural contexts you may well find them on YouTube. Unfortunately this site is generally blocked in schools. Downloading video from YouTube tells you how to download video material and save it on your laptop ready to be shown in lessons. This method is good but takes time; if you are impatient or short of time then try the YouTube Video Download Tool from the site TechCrunch.com. You can get so much on YouTube: everything from a powerful reading of Blake's The Chimney Sweeper to James Blunt. You're Beautiful. Have a good year.
KS4 | Alison Smith on Shakespeare, Cape Town and Media nerves
Thinking about cultural understanding, the first question is where to begin? There are so many possibilities – Shakespeare; Poetry from Different Cultures; popular culture...
The new Shakespeare for all ages and stages document from the National Strategies (available at www.Teachernet.gov.uk) includes a range of ideas for all ages, and even links them to the new framework. However, at 45 pages, it's a little on the bulky side... which is where Approaching Shakespeare comes in. At just 2 pages, it's a very brief run down of ways into plays. The Scheme of work – Romeo & Juliet is a great way to get students into the play, even the shy ones in the class (and I'm including myself in that!). The work on language and marriage will certainly feed into the cultural context aspect of the final written assessment.
I was in Cape Town over the summer and found myself seeking out the tiny but fascinating District Six museum. District Six itself is nothing like the place described in the poem: there is no 'brash ... whites only inn' (not yet – although the building for the World Cup is rapidly changing the face of the city), but there is nonetheless a very real sense of there being haves and have-nots. The Pre-teaching collage activity is a simple way of getting students to think about their preconceptions about culture, and could usefully be repeated at the end of the unit to help them to think about what they've learned about other cultures. They could then make use of the Poetry Guide to develop their ideas on one of the poems more fully. Peer to peer teaching at its best!
A new job for me this year means that I'll be tackling GCSE Media for the first time. What I'm most looking forward to about it is that I know the students will be interested – this is their culture, after all. But I am nervous nonetheless! Television and print advertising: a scheme of work has taken some of the fear out of it for me – it's simple to understand, comprehensive enough to support me, and leaves plenty of scope for me to develop it further. Splendid.
Cultural understanding? Bring it on!
KS5 | Beth Kemp juggles with culture (high and low) and AOs (old and new)
So here we go again! This year's that weird transitional year when we're doing the old and familiar at A2 whilst trying to get a handle on the new at AS. That and juggling 2 different sets of AOs makes for a year when Teachit resources are needed more than ever! In line with this half term's topic of culture, here are some resources to interrogate the concept.
A Midsummer Night's Dream in Wise Children explicitly examines the relationship between these two texts, thus exploring the idea of writers working within a tradition, deliberately using allusions or intertextual references. The resource is useful as a homework task asking students to consider how Carter has used the play in specific sections of the text, effectively preparing them for focused questions on textual extracts. This is a great novel for exploring the idea of what culture is, and the relationship (or clash!) between high culture and low culture, represented by music hall and Shakespearian theatre.
There is also the issue of literature as a means of understanding 'other cultures', continued from GCSE. The study pack White Teeth and Postcolonial Literature is an effective overview of postcolonialism as a concept. Its title is somewhat misleading as it is useful for any postcolonial or colonial text, not at all just White Teeth. The pack is most suitable for teachers, especially those who haven't studied postcolonialism themselves or need a refresher. The word version could also be edited for the more able, perhaps leading to interesting debates on the canon and its reproduction of culture (if you're very lucky!).
And finally, culture as a concept also belongs in Language study, perhaps through exploring gendered ideas as in Gender and representation, which allows students to explore norms and expectations hidden in language (and to play with mini whiteboards – always a plus!).
Drama | Nic Harvey on customs, Corrie and the Caribbean
As a Cumbrian lass, I always felt that culture was something that belonged to other folk ... colourful festivals that I would never be part of and beautiful artefacts that I would never fully understand. I thought that my 'Coronation Street' style upbringing was just ordinary, nothing to do with 'culture' or anything as special or important as the word implied.
It's only after moving south that I've truly appreciated the northern culture in which I grew up – from helping my uncle to race his pigeons, to the dialect and phrases that I thought everyone used – I still confuse my kids by calling lunch 'dinner' and dinner 'tea'.
Everyone's experience of 'culture' is different – your environment and the way in which you live your life is part of your culture, as are your values and customs, however ordinary they might seem to you.
I suppose what I'm saying is that culture is inclusive – everyone can contribute to a lesson on that theme, whether they are from Barnsley or Bangladesh!
Schemes of work in the Drama library which explore 'culture' include Scheme of work – Romeo & Juliet, which explores a teenager's relationship with their parents and the issue of arranged marriages. An exploration of Shakespearean language can supplement this, using a resource such as Shakespearean insults from the English KS3 Drama library.
Also from the English library are two KS4 Poetry resources that can be used as great starters for Drama lessons – either in their own right or to support the study of GCSE poetry. One of my favourite poems from the AQA anthology is 'Night of the Scorpion' by Nissim Ezekiel. In the Drama room, use the Night of the Scorpion – true and false activity after reading the poem as a group – students should show agreement by standing at one side of the room and disagreement by standing at the other. Then use mime and narration to present the poem – use percussion instruments or soundscapes to help create atmosphere.
Similarly, the 'Island Man' by Grace Nichols resource can be used to lead into drama comparing the way of life in London to the way of life on a tropical island. Pupils could role play how going shopping or the journey to school might be different in each environment.
If only we could use school funds to fully experience a different culture such as that on a tropical island...:-)
Language | Louise Astbury explores cultural variation, via Catherine Tate, Bratz and a batch of signs
Culture is embedded in our language and for both AS and A2 level the term can be used widely to cover many aspects of study. That's what I love about teaching this course – the possibilities are endless and the work can take you anywhere.
There are many different 'layers' of culture, all of them relevant to the study of English Language and all of them covered by Teachit resources. Take 'Am I bovvered?' – Investigating idiolect and youth sociolect which encourages students to examine Catherine Tate sketches and the influence of Youth Culture and Popular Culture on language use. Get the students to produce their own 'linguistic fingerprint' so that they can see what has influenced their own language development. This is a good way of getting to know your students' backgrounds if they are new to you.
Frogs and snails and puppy dogs' tails is the perfect resource for considering how gender socialisation is embedded in our culture. Students initially look at the representation of gender through language in boy and girl birthday cards, followed by transcripts of television adverts (all available on YouTube). This takes me back to my childhood days and the innocence of My Little Pony compared to the more worldly-wise Bratz my seven year old is obsessed with! Take this a step further and get students to find their own gendered toy adverts, compare male and female beauty products, or give them some 'ready made' resources from Gift Inspiration unit.
To explore the next 'layer' of culture look at She sells sea shells 'signs' resources. Read the Language Trail which suggests that students explore signs in their neighbourhood – including such things as graffiti and bilingual signs – and gives ideas about digitally enhanced presentations. For A2 use the Texts in Context materials. The cards are fantastic for exploring culture and the effect on language variation. In addition to wider cultural influences students can add information on their own language backgrounds and the effect of culture on this (an extension of 'Am I bovvered?'). The best way to understand culture is to explore your own!
Media | Alison Powell digs up some fresh fertilizer to cultivate young minds
This summer I have mostly been a) dodging the rain and b) watching my vegetable patch go mental. The pumpkins have become triffids, the beetroots are the size of footballs and the spinach bolted long before I could boil it all up. The rain might have ruined all my plans of camping in Cornwall, but the resulting veg is prize-winning.
In fact, so pleased am I with my crop that I've texted photos to family, put pictures on my Facebook page and chatted to my mates on MSN about the lushness of the greenery.
It's part of our changing culture that we share our news via technology. We socialise on networking websites and chatrooms, reveal all on blogs and make new friends in virtual worlds, who then become r m8s we cn txt.
And it is this culture of communication which we need to cultivate excitement for amongst our students. I've dug up some gems in the Media library to help your students bloom in the new school year.
With Batman: The Dark Knight and Hellboy II as the summer's cinema blockbusters, the climate is perfect for a look at comic book heroes. The scheme Comic Book Heroes provides an excellent outline for GCSE Media Studies coursework. Go on to explore the development of Batman or Hellboy from their comic book roots to their modern day incarnations and sprinkle further seeds of Media analysis with examinations of the movie trailers, posters websites and marketing.
Types of Newspaper Stories provides students with the language to explore current cultural issues through newspapers. Use as a handout to establish vocabulary, then blossom into a lively plenary game of Snap.
A challenge for Media teachers is getting kids to see the bigger picture. They'll insist that advertising plays no part in their culture and has no influence over them. Worksheet 3: How does advertising affect us? is a top resource for encouraging thinking about this issue. How about making a link with the recent Olympic Games? Look at how medal winners are described in terms of their value for advertisers.
Continue with the Olympics theme and explore how Media coverage of the Games has changed over time, using the Moving Media Timeline. Examine the effects of digital television's 'red button', i-player and catch-up TV.
Primary | Jo Heffer unearths some projects to keep Year 6 motivated in their last few weeks
Now that the dreaded test series is pretty much behind us, I guess we can turn our thoughts to slightly more interesting and diverse projects! There are plenty of ideas to choose from in the Primary Library.
One of my favourites is Animal Magic, which, with a small amount of tweaking, could be suitable for most year groups. Pupils are set a series of missions that are designed to be fun but will also help them develop research and creative skills. The missions range beyond literacy with lots of work in art and IT as well. All the missions are leading towards a completed poem, which the pupils will be able to perform. The activities are supported through the use of well designed writing frames, which should enable all pupils to achieve success within this project.
Charity leaflet is a small project that invites pupils to think up a campaign for the charity 'Change for Change'. The idea is for pupils to design their own leaflets, using many of the persuasive devices they will be familiar with. Why stop at a leaflet? – maybe pupils could be working on spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations as well. There is the opportunity for a bit of blue sky thinking, too, when pupils are asked to think about how they would spend a million pounds. Maybe teachers could try this one too – we all love to dream!
As Harry Potter is still such a popular character, it's worth taking a look at some of the ideas based on : for example, writing focused character descriptions in The Mirror of Erised, or mapping out Diagon Alley and completing Harry's school timetable in Diagon Alley activities. All of these require pupils to make close reference to the text, so whilst having fun they will also be developing their reading skills.
Finally take a look at that timeless classic : the resource Activities and teacher notes includes the chance to examine all the wonderful adjectives used in the poem, prepare play scripts (which of course could be acted out) and to write headlines for the local newspaper. I particularly like the way this activity is structured by asking the pupils to experiment each time by using a different number of words.
KS3 | Unravelling? Edna Hobbs has some 'chill pill' resources for cool summer projects
Gained time? What gained time?! If your school is anything like mine, 'gained time' really means time to do a load of extra jobs that take far longer than predicted. Everyone feels they should be on holiday already and several students go off on early holidays, so it all starts unravelling. Teachit has just the 'chill pill' you need: projects. What a wonderful way to relax and let the kiddy-winks do all the work – and have fun too.
An all time favourite is the Danger Mouse project because I get to introduce my favourite mouse to those who've not had the pleasure. Ever noticed how the particularly jittery SEN boys love to draw? Creating a cartoon hero keeps them happy, while the intellectually more able love coming up with the painful puns.
Pirates are perennial favourites with younger students, so A pirate's life homework project is bound to be popular and again lends itself to differentiation by outcome. If you're a member (and why not?), a few teaks on the Word document and this can be a class-work project too. Animal Magic is a lovely step-by-step project for students who need more guidance, but be daring – instead of just designing face painting masks, let them make animal masks (paper plates are easy) and wear them when they present their poems. Then make a fab display with them afterwards.
For something more demanding, try the Fantasy worlds project which actually explores genre. Students are always asking me when they can write stories and this gives them the chance. Why not bind their stories into a class anthology to put in the school library next year?
The wackiest project of all is perfect for this National Year of Reading: the Culture crunch project! To celebrate their reading and writing efforts, turn the classroom into a market place and add speaking and listening to the mix; let them put out their cereal boxes and sell their wares. That would make a grand finale to the year.
KS4 | What disappears more quickly than biscuits in a staffroom? Helen Magner has some answers.
With Year 11 a distant/ nightmarish memory, Year 10 becomes the main focus. As summer approaches there is a fond imagining that there will be plenty of time. However, between exams, work experience, sports days, trips, induction and all the other events this term, time actually disappears quicker than biscuits in the staffroom. So why not turn to project work?
Those words may evoke primary school, Year 7 and those wonderful lessons where students busy themselves, looking up only in dismay at the bell with the words 'that was a quick lesson' on their lips. But project based, independent learning can be a productive and successful way to finish the term with a sense of achievement and purpose, laying successful foundations for Year 11.
A project-based focus on the poetry anthology could reap rich rewards for GCSE teachers and students: giving groups of students the poems to explore and interpret, making presentations, using ICT to explore images and ideas, or playing with the easy-to-use Windows Photo Story or Moviemaker to produce mini-films of the poems. Try the excellent range of detailed resources for the AQA A Poetry Part 2: Seasons as a starting point for lesson ideas.
War poetry provides an alternative to the AQA anthology. Giving students a context-led approach would make a compelling project, starting from Contexts: Killing the enemy and Contexts: Writing about the war. Move on to 'Exposure': fill in the missing words and the powerful creative task, A letter home, which could lead to a compelling piece of coursework, based on students' research and their exploration of poetry. To conclude, blend with a study of the opening of Saving Private Ryan using English media assignment: Analyse the opening battle sequence and there is your complete, multifaceted end of term project, uniting media, poetry, creative writing, reading and interpretative skills – everything you want students to be proficient in.
Whoever said the summer term was for relaxing?
KS5 | Rhiannon Glover returns to some guilty pleasures at the end of Y12
The last weeks of the summer term can be a strange, anti-climactic, transitional time for students. For the last year or more they (and you) have probably not been more than a month or so away from their next piece of externally examined or moderated work. Reading for its own sake and doing things that are (whisper it) just for fun have come to seem like guilty pleasures at KS5.
Now is the time to consolidate the skills and knowledge that students have gained this year and begin the ground work for A2. You may also be setting your students preparation for coursework and research and encouraging wider reading over the holiday period. Y12 post-exam preparation for Y13 should help Year 12 students prepare for the legacy A2, although you may need to adapt it for your specification and texts. If you are teaching Literature from and about World War One as part of AQA's legacy specification, for example, you could provide guides to support independent reading of texts like Opening questions over the summer. The Instructions and questions for online lesson activities on war poetry would also make a good independent research project .
Now is also the time to remind ourselves why we're doing what we do - we like reading, we like language - and we are allowed just a little bit of frivolity. So the weeks ahead are also time for the quiz, the group presentation, the video and the trip. Students' literary knowledge can be tested with the Literature quiz, while the Technical terms starter can be played in teams, with the terms adapted to meet the demands of the particular text and specs that you are following next year. If you have set students topics to present to the rest of the class then don't assume they will know how to deliver a presentation effectively. How to tackle a class presentation should help.
Finally, make sure you are getting English Teaching News if you want to keep up-to-date with relevant television programmes to record and show in your classroom and listings for theatre, cinema and other events which would make enjoyable trips.
Drama | Christie Cutter finishes Year 10 on a high with some devised project work
It's that time in the year when you're tired, the kids are coasting through, and you all need something energetic and fun to get your teeth into. That doesn't mean it won't count.
The Year 10s need something to finish the year on a high with. Something that they can take complete ownership of, whilst learning important technical vocabulary and practising key techniques and teamwork skills. After all, with Year 11 just on the horizon, they have to keep focused.
Originally created for Edexcel Unit 2, and versatile enough to be used for the AQA devised option, A scheme of work is an inventive scheme of work. If time is on your side then the nine lessons provided can lead you to a worthwhile outcome suitable for assessment, and if there's no time for the assessment, all kinds of (KS4 appropriate) Drama skills are used productively throughout.
Within the same vein of project work, why not try Creating devised theatre from photographs to whet their appetite? Included in this neat resource are some thought- provoking good quality photographs, which should provide you and your students with several excellent concepts. Begin with the starter activity and then, using your own way of leading devised projects, encourage them to be as inventive as possible with the fascinating images provided for the main task.
Another idea that uses the visual medium is Developing a character. The pupils have the freedom to select a picture (from a magazine) of the character type they want to portray and this resource guides them through building that character for theatre. The scope is all yours!
Equally, these three resources can be used alongside Explorative strategies and the GCSE Drama planning and evaluation sheet, to formalise and make the project development and evaluation more useful, depending on your predicted outcome.
With renewed energy and inspiration this can be a useful time of transition as Year 10 prepare to take on the mantle of their Year 11 predecessors.
Media | Karen Lamb ponders how to enthuse the GCSE Media prevaricators
For some time, my idea of media planning largely involved one thought: 'Ah, quick! What DVD can I stick on and get them to review?' Or, for less adventurous days, when moving image was just too much: 'What advert can I print off and get them to label?' Frankly, it's easy to let what should be an engaging subject become tired and dry, but Teachit has a wealth of dynamic resources to help keep Media lessons alive and I no longer have an excuse.
For coursework purposes, TV adverts can offer a more structured approach to developing analytical skills than full-length films. Analysing TV adverts; a note making sheet is a great graphic organiser. Students' writing can also be supported by Compare two adverts: an essay guide.
I've found that car advertising not only grabs the attention of most teenage boys, but provides a fast-paced way of introducing moving image analysis. Worksheet 10: Resource booklet offers students a step by step guide for creating their own car advertising campaign and affords great opportunities for extending G&T students by getting them to 'pitch' their campaigns to car manufacturers (the rest of the class). This ties in nicely with 15 random adverts 'crunched' in Teachit's cruncher: another challenging way of getting students to look at language and meaning in adverts.
A year 9 student, prevaricating over her list of GCSE option subjects, recently asked me, "Miss, Media Studies is just watchin' films and stuff isn't it?" I politely began to explain about the exciting and challenging world of analysing texts, examining stereotypes, audience theories, etc. At this, she promptly rolled her eyes... and crossed Media off her list.
This incident moved me to think about new ways in which I could enthuse students about this subject. I began with the help of Media terms pick-a-pair, a simple and interactive SMART Notebook activity that asks pupils to find matching terms hidden beneath numbered cards and then define the words in return for rewards – a sweet, a merit, a raffle ticket, whichever. Great! Eyes were glued to the interactive whiteboard in competitive determination. The bonus? My year 10 students enjoyed it and requested to play it again at the end of the following lesson. The only problem? One boy raised his hand with a puzzled expression. "Miss," he paused thoughtfully. "My mam's a nurse and she says that a sound can't be diabetic..."!
Language | Alison Smith on keeping things meaningful for Year 12
It's a funny time of year, this. For some students, exams are still on the horizon; for others, everything is finished. Making the rest of term meaningful for the Year 12 students is vital ... even if some of them won't be carrying on next year. And that's where project work comes in ...
The Tart unit is a comprehensive set of resources which combine language investigation skills with work on language change, making it an ideal introduction to A2 study. There's even a sample exam question if you feel like creating some extra marking for yourself!
A particular favourite is the Dear Zoo unit, not least because I like starting out by reading on the carpet! It's a great introduction to early reading, and one that students enjoy. Part of what makes this so appealing is the inclusion of the video and audio, which really brings the material to life. Of course, there are plenty of other resources for language acquisition in the library too – if you've got a keen group, you could allocate different resources to different sub-groups and ask them to share their findings with each other at the end of the project. Peer to peer teaching – excellent!
And don't forget to point students in the direction of the Technonanny CLA blog. They can even contribute to the discussion...
Another useful project-type task would be to look at Editorial Writing (or Desk Study) practice. This resource introduces the idea of matching purpose, audience and genre and gives students a practical experience of being in the examiner's shoes (and in my experience, that tends to focus the mind more than simply telling them what's needed!) The third task makes a lovely exam practice task and, with a little bit of preparation, means that different students can tackle different sets of materials. Have a rummage through old exam papers to find the materials, or ask students to collect sets and have a swap.
Primary | Jo Heffer picks her favourite Drama resources
With Drama now firmly positioned as one of the strands within the renewed Primary Framework, it seems a good time to be seeking out resources which will support us in this area.
Firstly, take a look at Preparing to perform poetry. This is a very useful resource which encourages pupils to think about how they would use their voices in order to convey different messages. They are given opportunities to think about why they would whisper or shout, speak slowly or quickly, or even move in closer to their audience. 'Jabberwocky' is provided as an annotated example of how a poem could be performed, before moving on to instructions for pupils to follow when designing their own performance.
I really like Nursery rhyme news , which challenges groups of pupils to present their own news bulletin, based on well known nursery rhymes. In order to do so there is a lot of work around thinking about roles, techniques that could be used, aspects to include and the appropriate language and register. When looking at techniques, suggested approaches include freeze frames, flashbacks and interviews, whereas the different aspects might involve summaries, links to outside broadcasts or an expert's opinion. There is much for pupils to think about and draw upon from real programmes, whilst also developing their art of storytelling.
In the drama task The missing chapter, pupils are encouraged to work together to consider what might have happened in a hypothetical chapter which Roald Dahl could have written but did not. The groups need to think about possible events, make notes, practise and then perform their scenes, which would also give good opportunities for constructive feedback from their peers.
Finally, you can't really think about drama without mentioning Shakespeare. Twelfth Night – the fight scene has an activity that invites pupils to develop their understanding of this scene by rewriting it in their own modern day language as well as ensuring they set it out properly as a script. The suggestion is that they might think about it as a scene in a modern day soap opera, for example EastEnders style. Now, who might play Sir Andrew and Viola? Well, Ricky and Bianca of course – now there's a thought!
KS3 | Don't shoot the messenger – Richard Durant changes hats
Last year I took part in a community performance of Measure for Measure. Drama scares me silly and – in my own humble opinion – I am no good at it. I took part in order to explore beyond my comfort zone. Since I often try to ensnare others in drama-based teaching approaches, I thought I should see what it was like to be on the receiving end of assertive pedagogy. I was cheeky Master Froth in the first half of the play, but in the interval I changed my hat and appeared from then on as a messenger. I was supposed to turn up, deliver a note to the jailer and leave, but as we rehearsed I began to resent the banality of this character and sought ways to develop him. By the seventh rehearsal my messenger was a sinister figure, toying with the feelings and even the life of the jailer: I teased him with the note, offering it and then snatching it back while fixing him with a menacing gaze. Finally the director's patience snapped. 'Just give him the note and get off!' Less is more, it seems.
If more drama is your thing then there is plenty on offer. The Secondary Strategy's Drama Objectives Bank and QCA's overlooked suite of Drama/English lesson plans, Giving a Voice both offer masses of very rich drama ideas. Here at Teachit you will find Teaching Act 3 Scene 2 – not just a detailed set of drama approaches for enlivening the capers of Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano, but also a useful general framework for drama-based activities around Shakespeare in Y9. If you want to introduce role play to your teaching then Speaking and listening task – the committee meeting is a good starting point. The resource suggests roles representing a variety of views about evacuation arrangements in World War 2.
My own dramatic career might benefit from Developing a character, a useful guide to the technique called hot-seating. This resource suggests magazine photos as a starting point for character development. Right now I am looking through the Sunday MirrorCelebs supplement in search of people in hats who might inspire my own next thespian adventure.
KS4 | Alison Smith limbers up for some active approaches to learning
In the hectic world of preparing students for exams, we can sometimes lose sight of the fact that they are, in fact, still children. Practice papers and timed essays are vital, but we shouldn't forget that active approaches to learning are often just as valuable.
Take Lord of the Flies and The Hearing for example. It's a great little Speaking and Listening task but it also works as a lovely revision activity at the end of the novel which will really get the students thinking closely about the characters and their motivations.
Another way to get their brains active is to give them a puzzle to solve. There are a myriad of resources which will help with this in the Interactive tasks for AQA and OCR Anthology poetry. Two particular favourites of mine are the word thief activity for I love to see the summer and The Eagle sequencing task.
Essays are the bane of my life. With five out of my six classes having external exams this summer, I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time marking them. And a lot of that time is spent writing the same things... 'Don't tell me what you're going to do – just do it!' being a particular favourite. What makes a good essay? might help to alleviate some of the problems, and save me having to get a set of stamps made to prevent RSI.
Speaking of marking, we've just moderated our GCSE coursework folders – and my goodness, what a range! When they're good, they're very, very good, but when they're bad ... :-( We're going to be taking a closer look at how we teach the writing, using the brilliant Original writing trail as a starting point. I'm particularly looking forward to using Put muscle into your writing, although I rather suspect that the students will think I've gone (more) doolally (than usual)! And then, when it's time to write, 'Art attack' from the wonderful The Full English will give them some more ideas so that I don't end up with 32 stories about the same thing to plough through.
All that activity's fair worn me out... I'm off to sit quietly and read a book!
KS5 | Sue Shearman finds some tragic (in a good way) resources for the new AS
We are in a state of flux at A Level – in 2008–9, we'll be teaching the old GCE syllabus at A2 and the new at AS. I've assembled some resources from Teachit to try to make everyone's life easier as they prepare for the new AS.
Well, a bit!
For AQA B, the new Unit 2: Dramatic Genres asks for two pieces of coursework on at least two plays within the dramatic genre of tragedy, at least one of which must be by Shakespeare. Now, 'tragic' can be interpreted fairly loosely – which means you don't have to do one of The Big Four for Shakespeare; so I've included one 'rogue':
Shakespearean tragedy is a great resource for getting to grips with the concept of tragedy and can be used with the second play to identify how far say, Death of a Salesman conforms to the ideas of tragedy and the tragic hero.
Rank these statements could equally be used for Romeo and Juliet, King Lear or Hedda Gabler by tweaking the Word version.
The Judging Othello whizzy activity really encourages students to think for themselves about the character and his actions and, again, to judge how far he conforms to the notion of a tragic hero.
The resource From Plutarch to Coriolanus is Coriolanus for the very able! Compare Plutarch's original version with Shakespeare's. It encourages very close study and analysis, with prompts and close textual reference. I've included this because it broadens the 'take' on the concept of tragedy and discussion of Coriolanus as a tragic hero. (If I get a good Yr 12, I might do this one myself!)
And finally, Whose theme is it anyway? is a thematic activity which encourages independent exploration of any text and group discussion, with added Tweakit.
We all know that one of the biggest problems, post GCSE, is to persuade students that there is no 'right' answer and give them the courage to disagree. All these resources encourage independent thinking and personal interpretation – so it's a double whammy. Great course-specific resources and an aid to getting the fledglings off their comfortable perches learning to fly.
Drama | Nic Harvey makes lessons more interesting
I wonder how many times a day a pupil hears the following words:
'Today you are going to think about how...'
'Today you are going to learn about how...'
'Today you are going to talk about how...'
'Today you are going to work out how...'
How can this be made more interesting? By using DRAMA of course!
So instead of thinking / learning / talking about a young person who is coerced into crime by peer pressure or a man on the African plain who has to decide whether to sell one of his organs in order to feed his family, they can actually BE these people for an hour and begin to understand the situation in a more emotional and physical way.
Drama is about exploring a situation in order to experience a situation and thereby realising the difficulties that different people might face in different situations. OK, so it isn't always effective when struggling with quadratic equations but I have found it incredibly useful when using it to explore a GCSE text or a theme within a text or poem.
A topical issue that is explored in an interesting way is child abduction. The Scheme of work – Kidnap! begins with a child being abducted in a supermarket... when the group realise that the kidnapper is among them they start to realise how it feels not to be able to trust anyone. The scheme begins with a fictional scenario but leads into the exploration of real cases using the Child abduction resource. Pupils imagine what might have led to the abduction and go on to explore what might have become of the different children.
The World War I scheme links to Year 9 History studies and allows pupils to become soldiers whose feelings of patriotism crumble as they are sent to the front line and go over the top.
A scheme of work and What has happened to Lulu? are physical explorations of poems which also help pupils to understand the social issues of leaving home and child abuse.
So, to sum up... child abduction, war, homelessness and child abuse – well, although I said I could make lessons interesting, I never promised a happy ending!
Media | Kat Slocombe on Soaps and sour grapes
Media studies teachers are a much-maligned lot. At some point, one of your colleagues is bound to mutter something to the effect of: 'Media studies! Isn't that just wandering around filming stuff?' Experience has taught me that smiling sweetly and replying, 'Sometimes. But today we're watching EastEnders' – then, with a slight pause and weary shake of the head, '... I just don't think we'll be able to manage Hollyoaks as well,' is far more effective than an out and out defence of the subject. As you leave the room, be assured that no one will know whether you were serious or not; the final coup de grâce is your knowledge that you were.
To get your lessons off to a flying start, have a go at The conventions of a soap opera. This should prompt some interesting discussions around the genre. Ask pupils to consider what makes a successful soap opera and whether this has changed over time; see if they have heard of Dallas or Eldorado to start the ball rolling.
Bring in an episode of your favourite soap and let pupils complete the Soap opera observation grid while watching. This will get them thinking about the conventions of the genre. And if any of your colleagues happen to wander past your classroom and hear that familiar theme tune wafting out, so much the better.
When it comes to coursework there is a tendency for students to jump straight into the production. The Drama resource – Soap saga contains ideas to encourage careful planning of location, settings, characterisation and possible storylines before they get down to the production.
Creating a title sequence includes lots of guidance on the planning and evaluating stages. The ideas in this thorough resource would work well as a starting point for the pre-production and production aspects of WJEC coursework.
One of the many pleasures of teaching Media is its accessibility for pupils. Looking at texts that pupils are familiar with, then sneakily introducing a few unfamiliar ones is a great way to understand the theory and conventions which lie behind them. But don't tell your colleagues that – it would spoil the illusion and they've already begged the head to be timetabled for Media next year.
Language | Julie Blake on exploring language through role-play
The site theme this time around is drama, and it would be easy to think that's not relevant to A Level English Language. Wrong!! There are at least two reasons why we should think about it. Instrumentally, because in the AQA B specification at least, texts can be set which make use of represented language (fictional, made-up, scripted) and students need to have practised handling the stuff. Pedagogically, because drama is an activity many students enjoy and it can give them a way of working with language from the inside out, exploring-by-doing the differences between naturally occurring language and the language of literature, or comedy, or any other popular cultural products. So, here are some language resources which pave the way.
Operating theatre project – real and represented medical situations is part of the 'Open Wide' unit all about language and occupation. This particular activity involves students looking at a short 'real' video of surgeons at work at Bristol Royal Infirmary (video clip available to members, transcript to everyone), and then doing their own investigation to see how this compares with a related clip from a medical drama such as E.R., or Mash, or Green Wing, or whatever they like.
It's the way you sell'em is a resource which uses the ann ual Aziz Corporation report on language attitudes to explore ideas about language and communication, including accents, at work. It invites students to role-play (drama-lite) being either members of a company's senior management team, or communication consultants come to advise them.
The Dear Zoo unit is all about early reading and writing, featuring video footage of two children engaging with this popular book. One additional activity that has been suggested several times by teachers who have worked with these materials is to have copies of the book for students to use in class, role-playing being a child and an adult caregiver reading the book. Or if you're the classroom thesp, you role-play being the caregiver, and they get to sit cross-legged on the floor, behaving like three year olds at nursery!
It's not full-fat drama with hats and wigs, but I'm working on that...
Technical nuts and bolts
Primary | Jo Heffer gets to grips with some good grammar resources
A good understanding of grammar is hugely important for success in writing, which is why teachers need to teach it explicitly and regularly, ensuring that pupils apply their knowledge to all of their writing. I have been having a look through the Primary Library for resources that will help teachers do this in ways that will be fun and motivational for their pupils.
Pupils really need to understand how to use subordination effectively in order to help their writing flow. The Main and subordinate clauses PowerPoint demonstrates how clauses work in a colourful and interactive way and helps pupils to understand the impact when they are used. The examples are good for quick, snappy starters and could easily be adapted or changed depending on age and context. Pupils could use the models given as a basis for constructing their own complex sentences.
The Smart Notebook resource Parts of speech matching activity will help pupils' understanding of the different word classes through a 'hands on' matching activity. They have to match word classes with definitions and examples. It's only a quick activity but one that can be revisited, with pupils invited to come up with their own examples.
Commas are hugely important in the way in which they affect meaning and Changing meaning with commas is a really nice way of demonstrating how, by putting a comma in the wrong place, you drastically change the meaning. You can have a lot of fun playing about with the position of the commas, and I can see some very clear links with Art and Drama.I could not finish writing this without a small mention of the dreaded apostrophe! The amusingly titled Apostrophe wars! provides a number of contexts where apostrophes should have been used but have not. The pupils are challenged to place them correctly but there are a few 'red herrings'. There are also lots of suggestions about how to adapt these ideas and use them interactively.
KS3 | Angela Topping picks resources to refresh the parts that other resources don't reach
Teaching the nuts and bolts of the English language can seem dull and it is difficult to eradicate bad habits that have become entrenched over the years. Doing exercises out of context does not always have a long term effect - the minute pupils do some writing, the errors return, even if they gained full marks in the test. As Head of Literacy and Oracy, I am passionate about enabling pupils to use the language correctly, but also to have fun and feel empowered. Luckily this is where Teachit comes in!
Sentence level work - run on sentences is a short but amusing presentation. Having once had a pupil who said (bless him) that he had written one and half sides 'without feeling the need for a full stop', I know how dire this problem can be. I'd show the presentation, then ask pupils to act as the 'run-on sentence police' and check their own or a partner's work.
I always find that drama reaches the parts that other methods don't always touch. The past tense is a super resource that makes use of ghost stories and incorporates drama. There's also a differentiated version.
Another good tip is to use a literary extract, so pupils have an enjoyable context to see English used well. The excellent resource Direct speech, mood and characterisation (NLS Y7) uses a section of Oliver Twist and is very teacher-friendly to use.
I often use starters to teach skills, and this is a lovely paired activity to get those brains engaged. Scientific prefixes and suffixes is part of a collection of resources for Northern Lights, but it can stand alone beautifully if you adapt the heading. One of the joys of Teachit is that it is so easy to adapt resources for your own classes.
Repetition of skills is the surest way to improve them, but thanks to the many excellent resources on the site, the pupils need never be bored. Enjoy.
KS4 | Liz Hanton staves off revision rage
I don't know about you but if I have to mark another thirty their/there or your/you're mistakes in the Year 11 mock papers I may have to scream with boredom. The pressure on English teachers at this time of year can sometimes seem overwhelming. I'm sure, like me, you have far too much marking to do. Year 9 mock SATs, Year 11 mocks, GCSE coursework... Added to all of this, we face a revised English curriculum and a need to reach the 'gold standard' of C grades in both English and Maths. Literacy is a huge issue. Most of us will have experienced how frustrating it is to recap capitals with a Year 11 student. We need to reach out to the resources that are made by others to get us through to Easter!
For those flying apostrophes try Apostrophe wars! Try Apostrophe starters too. Although they are written for Year 7, there is no reason why they shouldn't help a Year 11 class.
I have always been a fan of the old 'spot the mistake' type exercise. Putting a sentence on the board with lots of mistakes can be a great starter. The correction exercises in Non teach self mark starters are similar and will help you to emphasise the importance of punctuation and plurals. See Non teach self mark starters (teacher copy) for the answers.
Try Grammar dice to liven up a lesson and students' descriptive writing.The quiz at the beginning of Exam preparation (GCSE): Writing to analyse, review and comment is a good example of how to revise what is needed in different types of writing. Checklists are always useful for revising key devices needed in different types of writing so try the persuasive writing checklist at the end of this resource.
KS5 | Dinah Hooper on fostering independent thought
Having recently scoured the intricacies of the AOs in preparation for teaching my year 12 Literature group, I have been forced to re-focus on teaching individuality of approach. I was struck by that perennial dilemma – is forming an independent opinion really 'teachable'? And if so, how is that taught? Even for a grade C or D at A level, students need to have demonstrated some kind of individual response, which can be a tad scary when you are met with a sea of blank-faced AS students, pens poised diligently to take copious notes but few of their own thoughts filtering out.
When searching for those basics that all students need, it's a good idea to get them familiar with all aspects for their study – poetry, prose and drama. I have found that some of these 'basics' have been essential in allowing students to be independent later on. We use the prose element as the start of the course and Analysing short prose extracts takes away a few of the initial blank faces and teaches students to root their opinions firmly in the text. Similarly, with the drama tasks, students develop clear affiliations for the characters and can be encouraged to think independently about them. Try Character notes and questions on the Duchess for The Duchess of Malfi, which focuses students on the Duchess' vulnerability and power, again helpfully focused on the text. I am currently teaching The World's Wife, and have found that this Introductory activity is useful in providing puzzled students with the questions they need to ask themselves in order to make sense of the poems in front of them.
But of course, the ultimate focus has to be on written independent opinions. Excellent essay writing (in this case on Brian Friel's Making History but can be adjusted if teaching a different text) looks at developing an argument and acknowledging the opinions of others, modelling how to write the beginning of an essay. Twin this with Hints for English Literature 'A' Level essays and hey presto, the blank faces begin to take on a distinctly individual hue.
Language | Just like flat-pack furniture - Louise Astbury grapples with the nuts and bolts of grammar
I pondered over the technical nuts and bolts of grammar whilst doing the usual half-term type activities – oh, the joys of flat-pack furniture! The same kind of feeling I have when faced with teaching the students about grammar and probably the same fear the students face – where does it all go? What does this bit do? They can often identify the nuts and bolts Key Stage 5 but, without guided instructions, struggle to see how it all fits together in context. The bits on their own are almost useless – the ability to 'label' units of grammar in the exam, pointless. Exploring particular word classes in context, considering the effects of different sentence types is much more important than being able to label complex grammatical features.
It's important at AS level for students to synthesise their knowledge of grammar and progress to considering contextual variation. Get the students to annotate the five texts provided in The language of holiday brochures then give them the cloze version of an analysis – it allows them to dip their toes in the water and find that it's actually quite warm. There's a whizzy Clozer version for whole class contribution and feedback. Hyped up horoscopes is an investigation activity based on a class collection of data. It encourages students to explore different types of adjectives and to consider their effect in horoscopes. No joy in a dry sausage moves from basic word class identification questions into stylistic analysis of texts. It gives ideas for ENB1 groupings using other sausage based products (apologies to vegetarians!) and includes a mark scheme and suggested answers – always a bonus in my opinion!
For A2, application and consideration of contextual variation is the key. Look at Jane Austen and 19th C English and The Arte of Rhetorique; a guided analysis using a framework approach with a firm focus on grammar. It includes suggested answers so requires little preparation on your part.
And finally, keep chipping away at the grammatical knowledge using some of the quick tests available on Teachit. Check out Weird whiz, a colour coded sentence builder. Drag word class tiles onto the pad and click 'whiz' to create random (and mostly bizarre) sentences. Students can explore word classes and word order through this. 'The perpendicular, dirty politicians blast angrily across the kitchen and vibrate idiotically' is one of my favourites!
Media | How does technical know-how grow? Sarah Moody digs up some beauties for the spring classroom
It is spring and a young(ish) woman's fancy turns to...gardening! Surveying the flood ravaged garden and trying to salvage a few forlorn flowers, I found a flourishing abundance of screws, bolts and other metallic hardware. The sounds of spring were also bursting forth. Yes, it is the other half moaning because despite buying packs and packs of screws and bolts he could never find them! I wisely decided to keep quiet about the correlation between the two (perhaps because he was holding a power drill and had a manic look in his eyes...).
But it made me think about how the technical nuts and bolts of teaching Media are similar to those needed to hold up the new plant pots on the walls! As such, I decided to dig deep (sorry!) into the treasure trove of resources in the media library and found many a beautiful bulb just waiting to burst and blossom in the spring classroom.
As I am thinking about film for my Textual Analysis coursework with Year 10, I found the Film studies - looking at genre resource a really good starting point. This useful gem gets students to consider their previous knowledge of film as well as providing a sound foundation to build on with further study. Develop it further with a range of colourful sugar paper and pens to provide displays which can be referred to as the students extend what they already know.
Leading on from this, pupils can begin to 'read' and analyse actual moving image. Before the students get excited and think that they will be watching random films without any thought or deconstruction, use An introduction to media language and textual analysis - moving image. These lessons will provide the basic nuts and bolts for students to become independent Media students and can be easily adapted for films of your choice (hello Mr Depp...).
A really useful nuts and bolts resource is Analysing the effects of m-e-s on audience. The very basics of film analysis are here and this is an essential resource for Film or Media Studies, or even when writing a Media piece for the English folder. As any avid DIY-er will tell you: adaptability is key!
Once the basics are covered, students can consolidate their knowledge and become more sophisticated with their analysis. This is where the Key concepts sheet and Key media terms matching exercise will become very useful indeed. As always, Teachit means never being without the essential tools of the trade! Enjoy!
Drama | Gry Nielsen Jacobs on the joys of some spring resources
It's exam season, and students are required to apply all of the skills they have learned so far to creating an exciting and original piece of Drama for performance – and/or they need to write detailed exam notes. So how do you make that happen?
For the older student, I've been trying out the Production Comparison Grid (Edexcel A Level). My students like (need?) a good writing frame, and this resource certainly hits the spot: well-structured with good focus questions, with plenty of room for individual analytical and creative comment, and it's suitable for both AS and A2. Also check out the Edexcel A2: comparison grid which helps students to compare across productions for Unit 6. Both are especially effective if you can use the Word document and get students to type in responses to personalise them.
At Key Stage 4, I like the thematic schemes of work on Betrayal, Temptation and Fame, all firmly grounded in explorative strategies and easily linked together into a solid piece of mock coursework for Year 10, especially if you use The Drama medium and elements of drama as a framing device. My Year 11 students are preparing either devised or scripted pieces. The GCSE Drama planning and evaluation sheet, Developing a character, Creating devised theatre from photographs and the Backstage sheet are all great ways to help them to get started.
On a funkier note at Key Stage 3, I'm loving the whizzy Shakespeare insult builder, Insult whiz, which can be used with whichever text the poor darlings are studying for SATs to liven things up.
Finally – get spring-cleaning – I'll be revamping schemes of work, adding colourful new touches and having a general clear-out. Maybe this spring, I'll even find the energy to upload some ideas onto the site – how about you?
SEN / G&T
Primary | Jo Heffer finds some spurs and support mechanisms
It is always going to be a challenge for all teachers, when catering for mixed ability classes, to ensure that every pupil is inspired and motivated. With this in mind, I have been looking out for some resources in the Primary library which will spur on your most gifted pupils and others which will provide useful support mechanisms for those pupils with SEN.
The Independent reading project would be most suitable for gifted pupils working independently. The pupils would have the freedom to choose their own book, but then would work through a series of sections which would require them to really think about the craft of the author. There are sections on 'hooking in', characters and themes – all of these with a number of deeply thought provoking questions which require readers to go way beyond the literal story! All of these would support pupils in accessing the more complex assessment focuses.
For those pupils with more specific learning needs, Write your own murder mystery is a very exciting project which would give all pupils the opportunity to explore their ideas and use their imaginations. Catering for pupils with SEN is not about making the work easier but about making it more accessible. I think this resource does that very well through the use of focused questioning as well as structured writing frames. I feel confident that by working through this process all pupils could achieve a piece of writing they will be proud of!
Finally, whatever ability they are working at, all pupils need to know what success will look like. I find many pupils reluctant to redraft, and often it is because they do not know where to begin. The resource How to improve your first draft provides a very useful checklist and could easily be differentiated for different abilities. There are questions about specific elements of punctuation and sentence structure as well as more probing ones about vocabulary and themes. These could be linked to individual or group targets and are suitable for all levels of ability.
KS3 | Richard Durant on disorientation and disgruntlement
I recently found myself in hospital. I hated it. I felt disorientated, vulnerable, dependent. Perhaps this is what schools are like for struggling learners. When I teach nowadays I have in my mind the face of Kayleigh Bugner (not her real name). Kayleigh had two main modes of operation. The first was a semi-smirking look of twisted disgruntlement, which many teachers interpreted as insolence. The other was a stream of abuse and a slam of the door as – needled by my insistence upon polite conventions and some work - she left the room early. In retrospect, my lessons were probably for Kayleigh what hospital is for me. This editorial is for Kayleigh, and also for those very able classmates who were even less tolerant of her than I was.
What discourages struggling learners is English's conceptual slipperiness and its emphasis on interpretation and feeling. One of the rare times that Kayleigh's face lit up was when she learnt the spelling and magical meaning of onomatopoeia: here was some real knowledge that she could show off. Direct speech, mood and characterisation (NLS Y7) is aimed at struggling students and in the context of Oliver Twist introduces the idea of 'speech tags' (e.g. 'the girl replied sadly'). Here is some real and transparent knowledge to build learners' confidence. Reinforce it by asking less able students to 'novelise' part of a film of Oliver Twist. The website for Polanski's Oliver Twist (2005) offers clips: http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/olivertwist/site/. Less able students will struggle to produce meaningful outcomes from First person narrative but this resource will help more able students to explore subtleties of narrative viewpoint in an active, creative way. Use Teachit's Magnet to help less able students to time-line or 'rank order' Oliver's changing feelings: frightened, bewildered, shocked, etc.
A similar exploration of Caliban can be undertaken using Introducing Caliban. Able students will thrive on the high levels of inference that the resource requires. Struggling students should feel supported by the succinct questions on page two.
Happy New Year, Kayleigh!
KS4 | Alison Smith gets her fingers out
I am not a fan of labelling students which is perhaps why I once suggested, not entirely jokingly, that we stamp the head of every student as they come into Year 7 so that we know what to do with them. By the time we've divided them into boys and girls, G&T, SEN, and finger length (apparently, the relative length of your fourth finger to your index finger correlates with ability in literacy or numeracy!) amongst other things, there seems little room to get to know them as individuals. The fact is, though, that regardless of which list the students are on, they all deserve the best that we can give them.
The Cuboid Story Prompt is suitable for any and all students. For your gifted and talented ones, it gives them a limit and prevents them writing their way out of the A*; for the SEN students, it provides a neat and simple structure but with plenty of scope for originality. Splendid.
With my examiner hat on, I tell students every year that they need to get their connectives right – and Hinges, bolts and sealers might help me to save my voice a little! It doesn't matter whether it's English or Literature, coursework or exam, short answer or long essay, A* or G ... you have to impress the person marking your work, and a good grasp of these will certainly help.
If you have unseen material to deal with in an exam, it's inevitable that students will say they 'can't revise for it'. Whilst that is partly true, there's plenty that can be done in class. I discovered The Da Vinci Code – the opening by chance and I think it's ideal for dealing with this element of the course. Again, it's suitable for the G&T who will probably manage the task without the support , and for the students who need to be guided through a task, step by step, before they have the confidence to do it on their own.
The beauty of this final resource is its simplicity. The Comparison Grid can be used for English or Literature poetry and can be adapted for students of any ability. The high flyers will have little trouble in filling all the gaps unaided; for those who might struggle a bit more, how about filling in some of the boxes for them before copying it?
Happy New Year... I'm off to measure my fingers to see if I should have been a Maths teacher!
KS5 | Pete Bunten picks some resources for a brave new literary world
For many teachers, the requirement to 'stretch and challenge' A Level students conjures up grisly images of a Procrustean bed. Most GCE specifications, though, have within them sufficient flexibility to allow for the needs of the most gifted and talented students. This should prove to be even more the case when the new specifications kick off in September. Many of the units have been designed specifically to point the way to study at Higher Education level.
Until then, here are some resources from the KS5 archives that offer lots of opportunities for students to voyage beyond the shores of the marking criteria into a brave new literary world.
The use of terminology is not merely showing off or a form of linguistic train-spotting, but can accelerate the process of definition and analysis. The Poetry Terminology Test gives (as well as possible essay questions) some valuable definitions via a matching exercise. It's worth adding to this, developing it into a glossary as lengthy as the students' abilities allow.
In a wider context, the Poet Laureate Quiz provides a lively activity as a starting point for a wider discussion about the purpose and value of poetry itself. Poetry thought for today does something similar through quotations from well-known poets about the very nature of poetry.
Genre study, important now at A Level, will be central to the new specifications. It is also an area of study that often activates the minds of independent and enquiring students. Try the Research and Presentation Task as an example of how the study of a novel can develop through individual research into genre features. Also lots of ideas about cross-referencing texts here.
Finally, what often distinguishes the coursework of the most able students is their use of good academic practices. A concise survey of the use of quotation and other references is found in Writing a Bibliography.
Good luck with all the stretching.
Drama | Nic Harvey responds to the idea that special needs aint there in Drama innit
Once, when I was discussing the support a girl was entitled to in her Drama exam, she said, "Oh, but I'm not special needs in Drama, Miss." (OK, what she actually said was, "Yeah but my special needs aint there in Drama innit?" but I've translated for those of you who might have the good fortune to teach pupils who don't speak like a caricature from a comedy programme).
So was she right? Well, in one way she was. She is a talented performer who can improvise, role-play and involve an audience effortlessly. Unable to remember her four times table, she can memorise a script with very little difficulty – especially if she loves the plot or is playing an interesting character. But her written work is still a weak area and I have convinced her not to ditch her support in this area, although she loves the fact that written analysis can be supplemented (and in some cases replaced) by collages, diagrams, storyboards and photographs.
So how can you differentiate for children with educational needs in Drama? Well obviously there is the old chestnut 'by outcome' which is true – give the whole class the same stimulus and some will achieve highly and others less so. Mixed ability groups work well in most cases as the less confident pupils will take the smaller parts. However, the more confident pupils may well be pupils who have special needs in other subject areas but find they love directing or taking a lead role in practical activities. Giving same ability groups different stimuli or situations can work well too. For example, a weak group might find a supermarket a suitable setting for their drama, whilst a more able group could be given a more abstract setting or theme.
One scheme of work which works well in the drama room with pupils of all abilities is Ricky Brown. Accessible to all pupils, this sequence of lessons is set in a school and based around a teenager with 'issues' to be explored in role-play. The scheme begins with a tableau activity which all pupils usually find relatively easy. Various role plays follow – showing different insights into Ricky's past and future life and there is a hot-seating activity to help build a fuller picture of his character. Inevitably, poor Ricky realises the error of his ways and repents being a disruptive teenager (usually from the confines of his prison cell). If only life were always so just!
Media | Lucy Thomas unwraps some Media resources
After clicking the link to the Media library on Boxing Day I felt the same surge of excitement and wonder as I'd had the day before when gazing at my pile of presents under the Christmas tree. Such an array of lesson ideas, essay plans and film-based activities left me quite over-awed and unsure what to 'unwrap' first!
Thinking primarily about resources that would most inspire SEN and lower ability pupils, I have unearthed a few gems that I consider more of a lucky find than the sixpence in your Christmas pudding...
Analysing Adverts: a note making sheet would be something worth enlarging to A3 size and working through as a class. It has a clear layout with boxes to fill in on each element of film language when looking at one or more adverts. There is some technical terminology on the sheet (eg: signifier, signified, diegetic, non-diegetic) so this would need to be introduced beforehand. Alternatively, you could allocate the boxes to individuals or pairs according to ability and then feed back.
A direct development of this activity is then available in the Compare two adverts: an essay guide. It is clearly structured and offers pupils with SEN a framework in which to write up their advert analysis in an essay format.
The Chicken Run scheme of work is a page of teaching ideas based around the film such as starter brainstorms, a genre research project, display work and storyboarding activities. Alongside this, the Chicken Run Essay Plan builds on pupils' prior understanding of good and evil and provides a detailed structure sheet that could lead to a substantial essay.
The Shrek Essay guide and Notes to accompany the essay guide provides a very detailed and easily accessible essay framework along with additional Tweakit ideas. There is the potential for fun activities such as creating huge displays of heroes and villains and mind mapping pupils' expectations of each of them, and you could even start the topic by re-capping well known fairytales like Jack and the Beanstalk and Snow White to ascertain the conventions of the genre.
To end on a bang, the party popper that is the Essay Plan: Compare two examples of any media genre is a brilliant resource that could facilitate weaker A Level Media Studies candidates or could stretch very able pupils at KS4. It talks the pupils through the essay systematically with tips on how to approach the question and pick out key words. It would be an excellent follow on from a research project on genre. Lower ability pupils could use the example provided of comparing Halloween and Scream, whilst more able pupils could be given the independence to research and select their own films to analyse.
With resources such as these packed in your stocking, hopefully it will be a very happy new year for you and your pupils!
Language | Julie Blake on pudding-time provocation
At NATE conference last year I sat at dinner next to an academic linguist we all know and love. During pudding, I found myself defending A Level English Language courses against the charge that only weak candidates take them. Maybe it was a deliberately provocative comment, but I now travel with three top student projects under my arm at all times in order to show doubting Thomases the challenging opportunity for truly original research such a course provides. And as mini-investigations can be built in anywhere, there is always a space for exceptional students to stretch.
For those with a gift for precision, an eye for emerging trends, and persistent research skills, get them writing new definitions to submit to the Oxford English Dictionary. There is a template and an example in the TART unit in Tart dictionary definitions draft addition template/exemplar. Also sign them up to the OED Word of the Day (free), and engaging with the Wordhunt appeals – click on the OED News tab at www.oed.com and follow the links to see the latest requests.
G&T students might also enjoy tinkering around with corpus linguistics, a computer-based approach common in HE linguistics but rarer at secondary level. There is the whole Gift inspiration resource which is built around corpus data, but for independent work, give them the British National Corpus investigation task on page 4 of Honey Pies and Sugar Plums. This gives free access to 50 random hits from the BNC; for a full-fat experience with all the data, send them to the VIEW interface at http://corpus.byu.edu/bnc/.
And finally, if your students' talents lie more in the direction of original writing, check out the medical drama investigation in Open wide operating theatre – real and represented medical situations. After the class investigation, give your avid writers extra stretch by putting the knowledge they've gained to work in a medical drama or comedy of their own creating. Perhaps one set entirely in an ambulance, or in the ship's surgeon's cabin on a 19th century voyage of discovery – or whatever!
Primary | Jo Heffer picks out resources to aid the assessment process
I expect assessment is a hot topic in most schools – when to assess and how often; how to assess and what to teach as a consequence – so it is good to know that there are many resources in the Primary library to aid the process.
I am always keen to find resources that help pupils to assess their own progress so I was very pleased to discover the Pyramid plenary. This is a versatile resource which can be used with absolutely any topic as it asks pupils to assess what they have learned in the course of any lesson or series of lessons. They need to identify three things they have learned, two questions they would still liked answered and one thing they already knew. The great thing is that it is easy for the pupils to administer themselves and provides you both with so much information.
Following on from this it is worth looking at the Target-setting postcards. These are suitable for both key stages 2 and 3 and have a series of 'I can' statements for levels ranging from two to seven. These are very pupil friendly and enable pupils to see clearly the areas they need to work on in order to achieve the next level.
I've found some Personal reading records for fiction and non-fiction in the Reading skills collection. There are a number of sections to fill in on the subject, language and organisation of any text which certainly would help to assess progress under the different assessment focuses. With a bit of cutting and pasting these can be used with specific books and ask very focused questions.
Finally, within the Writing skills section you can find some Writing checklists. These could be used with the teacher to assess when individual pupils have achieved certain objectives, or be used to evaluate whole class teaching. They start with 'the necessary nine of writing', which are the sorts of skills pupils should be demonstrating in all their writing. The resource then moves on to cover specific types of writing such as newspaper articles and descriptive writing. I can certainly see a use for these when working with a guided writing group.
KS3 | Doing things differently is saving Keziah Featherstone a bucket of time
It seems a long time ago that Assessment for Learning emerged from the tangled web that is the National Strategy. Oh no, not another initiative... Why can't we just continue to call it formative assessment? But someone told me: forget everything else, if you get AfL right the rest will fall into place. And I've been forced to agree with him. English teachers are famous for dying somewhere under their mountain of marking. Surely we have to make things easier for ourselves? I've been doing this job for (an unlucky) thirteen years now and I still seem to have the same piles of books to mark at the end of the day. At a Paul Ginnis training session recently he defined insanity as doing the same thing the same way and expecting a different outcome... And this is often English teachers and marking – especially when the little darlings want only to see their level/grade/effort mark and can't be bothered to read my beautifully constructed AfL comments. Hey ho.
So I've started to do things differently and it is saving a bucket of time. When setting the learning objective at the start of the lesson, I now only mark for that objective – if the objective was sentence construction then I force myself to ignore those capital letters and spelling mistakes – and whatever they got wrong becomes the next lesson's objective. I'm not adding a level/grade/effort mark to anything in their books, just a comment, and I also give them a timescale in which to address my comments (you have the first five minutes of next lesson to correct...).
Resources I'm very much liking at the moment (and I don't apologise for the writing emphasis):
The Original writing trail map and guide includes some great ideas for creative writing and importantly an AfL element, particularly useful for guiding students' self or peer assessment. It is also well worth checking out Original writing tips and suggestions to have a look at other fantastic Teachit suggestions on creative writing.
For a focused, one-off KS3 lesson I like Avoiding 'nice'. It allows students to stay very focused on their learning outcome whilst the teacher can keep this objective as an overriding theme for just about as long as they like!
Another focused task is Varying your sentences that develops students' ability to identify and use different sentence types. Easily used with Year 7 to Year 13 (or is that just my Sixth-Formers?), I particularly like using the extract from The Haunted House for a guided writing session. For those that normally shy away from such activities as guided writing, this resource is engrossing enough to keep the students you're not working with happy.
Descriptive writing task can very easily be adapted for use with any KS3 text, including poetry and non-fiction or media texts. The bullet points at the top can be used to focus peer or self assessment as well as your own marking.
I hope you enjoy these and remember – don't be the very definition of insanity as you drown under a sea of marking...
KS4 | Nicola Ashton grabs a pint of caffeine
I don't know how it is in your school but the word 'assessment' has become something of a swear word in our faculty meetings ... my old role as 'Assessment for Learning Co-ordinator' was obviously inspirational...!
In reality, of course, we can only find out whether our students have achieved (the very essence of our raison d'etre) by using assessment.
Although poring over seemingly endless scripts (red pen in one hand, a pint of caffeine in the other), is at times a necessary evil, assessment doesn't have to be a chore – there are a variety of ways to help students see where they are and where they need to be.
Here is just a small selection of excellent KS4 Teachit resources which suggest ways of assessing – by both teacher and student.
Be a witness at Eva Smith's inquest
This speaking and listening task asks students to assume the character of a witness to Eva Smith's death. You could use this idea with other plays/novels, giving out a variety of characters according to ability. When students do speaking and listening tasks, it's an idea to have them assess each other using a sheet with simplistic level criteria – it helps kids understand what they need to do by recognising it in others – it also keeps them on task when others are 'performing'! I've always found that students are quite objective doing this; it empowers them and, believe it or not, they don't use it to 'bash' other students!
Coursework essay title and help sheet
This popular resource includes clear bullet points of areas for students to think about when pl anning an essay; they relate to formal assessment objectives and are directly relevant to the essay in question.
Macbeth - Act 1 Macbeth coursework for oral assessment
Another S&L activity but assessment this time is guided by questions on their choices. The required evaluation will reveal a student's understanding of the work carried out.
Original writing - things to remember!
Handy PowerPoint picking out assessment descriptions from different 'Bands' – then showing how to get there. This could be adapted to relate to a specific novel, and would also be a useful activity ahead of GCSE Personal and Imaginative coursework. The connections between objectives and how they translate into requirements in writing is made very clear.
Assessment and Targets] Reading and writing progression grids
As it stands, this resource is for teachers only. It thoroughly tracks assessment objectives, from level 2 up to A* - very handy to have alongside your marking. Print it off and stick it in the back of your planner! You could, however, use it with students with some adaptation. It would make a pleasant cutting and sticking lesson – students selecting criteria for their target grade and making a display? At my school, we made ' Level Mountains' – with simplified criteria for levels, laminated and mounted on the classroom wall. This can be done for all subjects – they're easy to refer to and there for students to look at.
KS5 | Lorna Smith sweetens the pill of A Level assessment
A is for Autumn, when ripe apples fall
A is for Anagram*, which holds us enthralled
And A is for Assessment, beloved of us all...
Firstly, I'm not asking for my little ditty to be assessed (well - go on then – but only if you've got something nice to say), and, secondly, I appreciate that assessment might not be top of your list of favourite 'A's... but it is one that we have to deal with all the time. With that in mind, I've dug through Teachit's KS5 archives to come up with some suggestions on how to sweeten the pill.
Perhaps the most important rules of assessment is that students need to know what they are going to be assessed on and how they are going to be assessed. They can then plan their campaign accordingly. Module content for AQA English Literature B and Module content for AQA English Language B both provide a student-friendly digest of the assessment criteria for the respective examination specs, so if you are following these courses, print out a copy for everyone in your class and get them to stick it firmly in the front of their file.
A fun way both to assess students' existing knowledge before you teach a new topic as well as helping them revise for an exam is AS/A2 Key terms quiz - part 1, an interactive quiz on terminology. There are similar resources in Exam preparation (Language acquisition), Exam preparation (Language and social contexts) and Exam preparation (Language change) – check them out if you're doing A Level Language.
Click on almost any folder on a novel, poetry or play for suggestions on exam-type questions, essay frameworks and model answers: I'm not going to pick any favourites here. But Preparing for the Linking Language and Literature exam includes a PowerPoint that should stimulate discussion on what makes a good exam answer, Analysing short prose extracts is a handy aide-memoire for individual and group work and self-assessment, and Y12 post-exam preparation for Y13 is a great way to help students make the leap between the two parts of the course: download it now for use come July.
Assess away. Enjoy.
* Did you spot my sneaky plug for Teachit's fab new Whizzy thing, Anagram, there? Go and have a play! It's a great way to warm up an A Level group – and assess your students' spelling skills and response times while you're at it!
Drama | What makes you feel sick? Nic Harvey explores the effects of assessment
Whether it's formative, summative, teacher, peer or self it's that element of teaching that makes you tremble and feel sick... ok, ok, one of the elements of teaching that has that effect. As a Drama teacher, it can be especially difficult to judge objectively and come to the same numeric conclusion as a fellow examiner. Everyone has their own opinion as to what makes good theatre; and what impresses one person might not appeal to the next.
Thus the moment when assessment grades are revealed to pupils can be a moment of complete anti-climax, as eager faces of budding film stars crumple before your eyes as you crush their dreams with the revelation of one letter.
So, we just have to refer constantly to the assessment criteria and hope for the best, trying to be as consistent as possible. Familiarising pupils with this criteria is becoming the norm and peer and self assessment can be based on this in order to make them more confident when evaluating their performance work and in helping them to realise where they might have 'areas for development'.
In Drama, peer assessment can be valuable and constructive. I often give groups a copy of the assessment criteria (or project it on a whiteboard if I'm lucky enough to have access to one) and ask them to comment on one aspect of a group's performance. In this way, pupils become familiar with the assessment criteria and how it might be used by an assessor. They might also become confident enough to offer advice to groups on their 'specialist area'.
I always find pupils' self assessment interesting – sometimes confusing and often amusing – and although most assessment in the Drama room is oral, I do get my little thespians to complete written self assessments ("Awwww Miss, not WRITTEN WORK!") for which I use the Self assessment sheets (KS3) and Self assessment sheets or Drama evaluation sheet. These can often be useful when compiling coursework as evidence of reflection or development of a particular skill.
Assessment is an essential and important part of teaching – after all, a student's entire education is summed up in the list of grades they leave school with. In Drama, however, the assessment of a performance is clear in the level of applause given by the audience – and that can be worth more to some than any computer-generated print-out!
Media | Alison Powell on Assessment for Learning (or getting the kids to do the work)
There's a really inspiring leaflet on the QCA website which explains what Assessment for Learning is all about. It breaks down in a colourful layout the benefits AfL has for effective lesson planning and classroom practice. I recommend downloading and reading it, if you happen to have a spare five minutes in your day: http://www.qca.org.uk/libraryAssets/media/4031_afl_principles.pdf
Sorry...what's that? You don't have a spare five minutes? Not even at breaktime? Ah, how silly of me. Of course you don't. No doubt you spend half of your breaktimes sitting out detentions with pupils who didn't complete the homework which you set to assess how well they'd been learning...
But fear not (sound of fanfare!) - as always, here comes Teachit to the rescue! Below is a selection of marvellous resources from the Media library which will make the whole business of assessment as pleasant as a chocolate Hobnob dipped in coffee. Give these a go and reclaim your breaktime.
Glossary of media terms is an activity which helps pupils to learn new language to enable them to discuss publishing and printing. Assessment here is by outcome, using the poster activity or any of the alternatives suggested in the Tweakit.
According to the QCA, AfL should promote understanding of goals and criteria. Analysing CD Covers is a detailed resource on making CD covers provides excellent examples for pupils to follow when producing their own work. Why not get pupils to assess each others' CD covers? They could offer their partner advice about what has been done well, and what they need to do to improve.
Peer assessment also works very well with the Essay guide and Notes to accompany the essay guide. Students can use the original guide to check their own and each others' work. This is even more successful if you make copies of your marking criteria available.
Lastly TV scheduling coursework is a fab scheme of work which includes student friendly level descriptors. Take AFL to extremes with this one...copy the scheme, give it to the kids; if they have any questions, they can ask each other; if they want their work marked, they can do it themselves...and as for you? You can sit back and enjoy that coffee!
Language | Joanne Irving banishes evenings of endless marking
As English teachers we know all about assessment; piles of essays, countless pieces of coursework and exam practices galore. There's been many a time I've sat in the staffroom, watching in envy, as my Maths teaching colleagues tick and cross their way with ease through a pile of papers whilst discussing their weekend plans and eating their lunch. So how do we avoid the marking blues and make our assessment effective, productive and (to ensure our sanity) efficient?
Well, fortunately for us, long gone are the days when Ofsted were looking for perfectly marked exercise books. Now we have heaps of jargon which allows us to fully articulate that 'just knowing your students' and the 'it's a B' gut instinct that we all rely on. So assessment for learning, peer assessment, self assessment and every other type of assessment that is thrown at us can, with a little creative thinking and a bit of spin, banish evenings of endless marking, ensure our students get the most out of our subject and prepare them for a world beyond the classroom.
So, for a great group project, that really encourages self-evaluation, the Open wide operating theatre project - real and represented medical situations is a great way to encourage students to become more reflective.
Used in small groups the classic content test is a great way for individuals to identify areas to focus on during revision; swapping knowledge and tutoring each other is always going to boost confidence as well! Try the comprehensive Child Language Acquisition Test.
A difficult area for students and teachers alike, Editorial Writing (or Desk Study) practice is a mine field. This no-nonsense approach which includes a selection of sample responses really encourages students to focus on the assessment criteria and gives simple steps towards real improvement.
The Hot on the trail knowledge about language card sort directs students to examine the processes behind their learning. It's a great way to encourage thought, independence and motivation in preparation for Language Investigations.
We all know just how mixed ability A Level can be. The simple, at a glance Original writing progress check is a lovely way to keep students (and you) on track. It breaks down the original writing coursework into manageable chunks, with minimum fuss - makes target setting a breeze!
KS3 | Richard Durant on creativity and woodlice
I once got my Year 10 class to do Blue Peter-style 'make it' presentations. Many of these featured tedious reincarnations of washing-up bottles and egg cartons, but worth waiting for a po-faced demonstration of how to make an artificial ski slope for your pet woodlouse. The concept was absurd enough but the comic climax came when a woodlouse in a match-box was produced from a pocket and cheered inanely as the little fella (or lass – I've always found sexing woodlice to be an unreliable business) duly tobogganed down the white slope. This happened long ago and entomological enlightenment now makes me recall the incident with some discomfort of the conscience. However, I am still grateful to those students for the creativity they brought to a dull (and ill-taught) task, and the memory reinforces my belief that creativity doesn't have to relate to 'literature'.
Students who need ideas for 'make-it' presentations could visit eHow, which includes interesting instructions, such as 'how to be safe around Australian animals'. PEE Mobile lets students apply their construction skills while improving their reading responses.
Achieve your dream is a Jim'll Fix It-style task in which students write a letter to an imaginary committee persuading them to make their dream come true. It's a writing task, but why not get students to 'pitch' their dream to fellow students who respond as though they are panels on Dragon's Den or X-Factor?
Many students' creative skills lie dormant until they are given something active and physical to do – and I don't necessarily mean throwing chairs through windows. Teaching story openings asks students to sort cards to match the opening lines of a number of novels to 'hook' techniques employed by the author. You could also take some of these openings and feed them into Teachit's whizzy thing, Syntex. Which novel starts with all these words? a Bill found girl he he monday morning on Simpson up was when woke.
That's all for now. I can hear my pet earwig whining for his walk.
One-offs and cover lessons
KS3 | Richard Durant picks some cover lessons for damage limitation
Who wants to go out on a course? You have to think up a fab, remote-control lesson plan, leave it where it can be found, and then have to spend most of the next day repairing the classroom blinds and scrubbing permanent marker off the whiteboard. If you are really unlucky, everyone did the work set and you now have a huge marking load.
The best cover work is idiot-proof, engaging and generates no marking. A tall order. Exploring language provides everything on one side of A4. Students read some magazine snippets and use a table to jot down meanings of words and make deductions about the type of magazine and reader. Leave them a pile of miscellaneous magazines to trawl through for their own examples. (But bring flowers for the cleaner the next day.)
Bishop Hatto's shocking tale of medieval greed and mass murder should engage students with the ensuing questions. 'The Ruined City' (NLS Y8) offers a simple cloze procedure that should delay students in dismantling the blinds or unscrewing the table tops.
A spirit of dare-devilry might prompt you to set up a cover lesson with computers. If you are really adventurous, cut and paste a verse of a poem into New Magnet and leave an instruction for students to play with the tiles to their hearts' content.
KS3 | Defying dullness - Richard Durant has a point to prove
A primary head recently harangued me with "you English teachers make a right hash of our youngsters. We bust a gut bringing their literacy skills up to scratch, and then you ignore everything we've done and go your own misguided way. You no longer teach reading skills; you just avalanche them with so-called literature and expect them to build their reading skills by magic! And you make it so dull!" A harsh caricature, I thought. But then I decided to prove to myself that she was wrong.
The Strategy and QCA's assessment focuses have renewed our consideration of what constitutes reading skills. Improving reading: a department handbook usefully lists a number of skills – e.g. visualising, predicting – and provides some simple, basic strategies for teaching them (see pages 64–65). The Strategy's new Progression Maps include some very imaginative approaches to teaching reading skills. See, for example, the suggested approaches for teaching inference and deduction to less able readers.
Secondary students probably are expected to read too many texts 'cold': poems, leaflets, geography articles are presented to students in their forbidding, complete form with little in the way of pre-reading activity to 'warm them through' for unmotivated, underconfident readers. The trick is to scaffold students' explorations of texts. Showing and telling gets students to consider the style of Holes and how it could have been written quite differently. It includes a guided writing session plan that puts students in the role of writers so they can see the novel through a writer's eyes – an approach that gives the reading a perspective.
Other perspectives can be provided through Teachit's whizzy things. 15 random adverts 'crunched' in Teachit's Cruncher is just what it says, mainly comprising holiday ads whose words have been re-arranged into alphabetical order. Students can enter the texts through their vocabulary and deduce what sort of text has been 'crunched'. Why not run your own choices of advertising copy through Cruncher and then get students to explore the results on-screen through the new version of Magnet?
Dull, it's not.
KS3 | Richard Durant on scuba-diving and Sophocles
My old school required teachers with a bit of time-table slack to persuade sixth formers to sign up for 'options'. One poor individual only had Greek Literature in Translation to offer. You could sense the teachers who were pushing scuba diving, skateboarding and advanced origami sniggering in the shadows. But the Greek lit chappy looked us all in the eye and meekly explained that lessons in his subject would mainly be about preparing for homework, and that homework would mainly be about preparing for lessons. His absurdist approach worked: forty of us signed up and I spent many happy hours with Sophocles and Aristophanes while some of my best friends grimly held their breath in dreadful sub-aqua caves.
And that teacher was right: there should be a close relationship between homework and classwork. Creating a monster and Frankenstein's monster are straightforward, linked resources that scaffold students' reading of a critical passage from Frankenstein. The comprehension questions step up in difficulty, thus offering the possibility of differentiating the homework.
Analysing a leaflet could help extend class studies of leaflets into independent study at home where students could use the resource as a framework for analysing leaflets of their own choosing. Tell them to google 'leaflet' and explore any of the offered PDF files.
And why not exploit the internet as a homework tool, rather than just an information base? BT's free photo-movie facility enables students to prepare a series of stills with commentary. Students can then share their movies with you or each other by email – or even by mobile.
I wonder what Oedipus would have made of it. I suppose it would have been all Greek to him.
Speaking and listening
KS3 | Richard Durant raises a glass to speaking and listening activities – especially the risky kind
Writing in the latest edition of The Secondary English Magazine, Ofsted's Philip Jarrett wishes teachers would take risks in promoting extended, collaborative talk. (Ofsted are surprisingly astute when they are not in your own classroom.) Personally, I would be happy to see a lot less English, maths and science, and a lot more games, drama, dance and choral singing – activities that stress control, physical expression and mutual trust, and which release energy and stress. More of that might well improve student behaviour and learning orientation.
We can make a start on this agenda in our own classrooms. Performing Act 1 Scene 1 suggests how to make Y9 Tempest lessons physical and active, with students combining en masse to create the opening storm scene. The activities could easily be adapted for use in classrooms, where furniture could become items on the deck of the ship.
Storyteller techniques also help make literature 'stand up and get physical'. David James is a very engaging storyteller whose website provides a wealth of ideas for bringing storytelling into lessons. His approaches could animate Prospero's back-story in Act 1 Scene 2.
More conventional group work can also inspire learning when it is well-managed and the members have distinct roles. Group work role cards briefs students on how to fulfil one of four roles: speaker, scribe, judge and pioneer. I'd also recommend chair and envoy. The latter takes the group's agreed ideas to the next group, and the next, and so on, so that you can avoid mind-numbing feedback from the groups.
Figurative language and sentence structure in ghost story writing (NLS Y8) is a useful context for developing group talk. It has a problem-solving focus that gives a tight discussion focus. Introducing the Grammar of Talk, QCA, 2004 has a discouraging title, but actually provides a very radical and engaging framework for examining the structures of talk. It's fascinating stuff.
So, finally, let's make a New Year resolution to take more risks with speaking and listening. Let's lift our voices with our glasses: Happy New Year!
KS3 | Richard Durant on some mouth-watering starters
A fair few teachers I know swear by starters, and they happily make no attempt to link them to the rest of the lesson. In fact, one friend insists that the more disconnected their starters the better: that way they don't 'pollute' the main lesson. (Mind you, he never seems to get to the main lesson!) I respect this view but can't agree: starters should be very quick, need no teaching, and key students into the lesson objective. Starters should anticipate the main course which should give way to a mouth-watering dessert-plenary, preferably a creamy one with some impressive twiddly bits. Purpose, audience, format (NLS Y9) would be the perfect set meal: it gets students to match text fragments to particular text types and to discuss the clues that led them to make that match. This starter leads neatly into a lesson aimed at Writing Assessment Focus 2 – produce texts which are appropriate to task, reader and purpose .
Sometimes a starter is a good way of testing and consolidating previous learning. Persuasive techniques bingo gives you the chance to check out students' knowledge and understanding of rhetorical devices. If you chop the bingo grid into cards and give them randomly to students to deliberately use in their writing you have the makings of a whole lesson.
Making grids into cards is a good alternative way of using Comparing headlines. Cut the middle column into cards and get pairs to rank order headlines by emotion, drama, etc. See Julie Blake's The Full English for more ranking ideas. Many more starters can be gleaned from the standards site: see http://www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/keystage3/casestudies/cs_en_starter. The sentence fragments offered there make good fodder for Teachit's whizzy things. Copy and paste interesting, complicated sentences into Cruncher and then cut and paste the results into Syntex. Now get student pairs to order the words into their own sentences. The other important thing about starters is that they should have a strong element of student investigation and discovery.
There you are. That's your lot. That'll do for starters.
KS3 | Richard Durant on diving for inspiration
When I was at school many teachers tried to stimulate imaginative writing with catchy titles or – cutting edge stuff – engaging pictures. I decided to go a step further in one of my own lessons: I would enter the classroom in an agitated way, throwing hunted glances over my shoulder, then run across the room and leap through the open (ground floor) window. I would then scamper to the corner of the building, deliver a couple more Oscar-nomination backward glances, before disappearing and then coming back into the room nonchalantly. Unfortunately the classroom was used as a dining area at lunch-times and when I performed my 'living story-title', I slipped on half a liver sausage sandwich, skidded into the window frame and landed in a dazed heap. Writing was not what was stimulated.
I could have saved myself a lot of pain and embarrassment if I had realised then what I now know: good stories (as opposed to thirteen sides of banal direct speech) depend much less on stimulus than on structure and technique. Preparing for narrative writing also helps students create characters and settings that transcend the cursorily factual. This resource introduces the idea of structure, and a planning template. Most students' stories cry out for structure - a selection and sequencing of events, and a sense of development.
Another essential precursor to story-writing is story-reading. Using clues to predict a story shows students how to sow clues whose significance will gather and sustain the reader's curiosity. The resource is based on Graham Greene's 'The Case for the Defence'. Other great ideas for stories with mysteries and twists can be found at Mysterynet (www.mysterynet.com/.)
Of course, even if students develop brilliant technique, their stories will only be worth reading if they are imaginative. However, if you want to stimulate the creative process, don't jump out of windows, look up Wild week creative story writing - a booklet instead. It has some wild ideas, but they are unlikely to be life-threatening!
KS3 | Keziah Featherstone on simple obsessions
The summer term is great! Year 11 have gone and the SATs are out of the way. Teacher and class have joined in symbiotic celebration of the sun and looser ties. Finally, you've learnt everyone's names (and they've learnt yours). Some of the best, most fun and engaging work can now take place ... in between Activities Days/Weeks, Sports Days, rescheduled Sports Days because of the rain and trips to Alton Towers to do Science experiments, that is.
It's easy to have run out of steam and ideas by now, but Teachit has plenty!
There's a plethora of writing competitions run by external agencies around about now – so how about motivating the students to win some prizes? The deserted house descriptive writing task is a great planning frame for a spooky story, and comes IWB ready too.
Poetry can be an excellent basis for lessons when continuity might prove to be a problem. I really like Headlines is a marvellous starter that can be used as a stand alone activity, leading into creative writing.
Of course, most of us shall simply be obsessed with the World Cup, and football can be a topic that captivates and engages otherwise disinterested students. The Football match programmes, which comes with detailed plans and resources for four lessons – it's GCSE level but might suit a Year 9 summer term class. Writing Spit Nolan's obituary is both concise and in-depth, and works well as a stand alone activity so students don't need to know the whole story.
Of course, I expect it won't be that far into the World Cup campaign that we'll be writing obituaries for the England team ...
Perhaps in Shakespearean sonnet form ...?
Wayne Rooney's legs are nothing like Pele's ...
Skills and exam preparation
KS3 | Richard Durant on stepping out (step-by-step)
When a quiet Y10 girl once apologised for not doing her GCSE coursework because she was in so many tap dancing competitions at weekends, her deficiencies in English slipped into insignificance: I was in the presence of an expert.
One of my own 'can't-do' crises hit me recently when some savant-fool sent me on an intermediate Excel course. I strutted in to find that there was a lot to learn, not much time to learn it and that I was at the bottom of a mixed-ability class. It was the most stressful day I have endured in the last ten years (perhaps excluding the day I had our second cat exterminated, a callous act that attracted many an accusing stare from those traitors who had previously handed me the cat basket and the car keys).
My experience was instructive: I find it hard to imagine what it must be like to find English really difficult. English skills - like any others - are probably best learnt step-by-step and that is why some of the best Teachit resources are so useful. The full scheme of work also concentrates on appropriate language choices, and its Dear Mrs Cary is priceless.
Often, the trickiest part of a tricky subject is how to write coherent sentences. Although it sounds dry, A comprehensive lesson pack is a sequence of user-friendly worksheets explaining sentence structure through examples. Students develop their syntactic skills step-by-step.
And talking of steps: where did I leave my tap shoes?
KS3 | Richard Durant on the dog that used to be Lucky
I have never met Anthony Horowitz, but I once met his dog, who – apparently - was called Lucky, until Anthony ran him over. He is now called Unlucky. I met him at a school: while Anthony ran a workshop Unlucky snoozed peacefully and politely at my feet in a meeting. I hadn't read any of Anthony's Alex Rider books then. If I had I might have suspected that Unlucky was actually a cyber dog, packed full of deadly MI6 gadgetry. What next? gives teachers questions to pose during the early parts of the first Alex Rider novel, including questions to stimulate students' powers of prediction, thus helping them notice how Stormbreaker's action is structured.
Another engaging novel is Two Weeks with the Queen by Morris Gleitzman, in which a boy tries to get the queen to save his brother but finds himself being helped by an altogether different sort of queen. This is both a funny and moving book. Hope versus time is another resource focused on structure: it comprises a graph on which students can plot the novel's fluctuations between hope and despair. Students could add brief quotations to justify their positioning of each point. Gleitzman, by the way, has a wonderful, colourful web-site where you can select any of his novels and have Morris himself read you the first chapter . It's a joy. Do visit.
Bitter memories of my own Year 9 teacher (who thought that reading Silas Marner round the class was a good use of half a term) have led me to view the class reader as a way of fostering students' reading skills, rather than giving them an essential literary experience. Figurative Language and sentence structure in ghost story writing (NLS Y8) helps students explore how a ghost story writer structures his sentences to create tension, while an excellent new resource, Teaching the whole-class novel, has appeared on the DfES Standards site. This suggests ideas for teaching key reading skills, such as empathising, in relation to over twenty recent novels, including Stormbreaker and – Unlucky take careful note – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.
Media and non-fiction
KS3 | Richard Durant on the joys of the Ofsted report
Certain things in life we know to be impossible: a footballer's wife driving past a shopping mall; a reasonable vet's bill; a sensible Macbeth SATs question, and - I thought till now - a readable Ofsted report. However, I have just been re-reading Producing an information leaflet counteracts that danger: it is a very modest, but useful single page resource that helps students to target impact and content as well as style. In effect, it is an instruction sheet for an assessment task in which students write for primary school children as an endangered animal. (Which one would you choose?) The resource makes the required text ingredients very clear so that students can self- and peer-assess as they develop their writing.
The language of newspapers (NLS Y7) concentrates on a non-fiction text type that is very popular in English lessons: newspaper reports. The resource uses the coverage of pensioner Elizabeth Winkfield's refusal to pay her council tax to look at how newspapers 'groom' and connect with their readers' views. The focus is very much on syntax and vocabulary but both of these are studied for their effects on the reader. The resource also provides a useful bank of rival reports published on the same day. A rich and very flexible resource.
According to the recent QCA report, Scheme of work (NLS Y8). Those were the days! Good old Hear'Say. They knew a thing or two about apostrophe abuse. You might think the resource must be out-of-date, but it is easily adaptable to X-Factor - a rich focus for pop culture media study. The unit's approach is both intelligent and playful.
Finally, here is a sentence from the Ofsted English report that I have passed through The WordKitchen's Cruncher facility: and best both english in is of one primary schools secondary subjects taught the. So it's not all bad. Have a very merry new year.
KS3 | Richard Durant uses bribery, trickery and wizardry to turn pupils into poets
It's the "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness". What better time to get poetic?
How often have you taught your classes poetic terms such as alliteration and onomatopoeia only to find everyone has forgotten them or mixed them up the next time you refer to them? Literary Terms Bingo turns memorising these concepts into a competitive game. With some classes you might want to add to the terms offered: hyperbole and personification, for example. Downloading the resource in Word format will allow you to do that easily.
Of course poetic terms are best learnt through examples and through practice. One of this site's oldest resources, Read two metaphor poems. Create group poetry! offers two poems that consist of gorgeous, imaginative strings of metaphors: in one of them the sea is presented as - among other things -
Syntex, has interesting potential for helping students to explore language and become poets with just a few mouse clicks. As a seasonal example, try pasting the following lines into Syntex, jumbling them up and then getting students to re-assemble them.
Rockets and Roman candles make
I got some very intriguing results!
Many students continue to insist on the security of rhyme, and, as a result, often write some lame, even risible, poems. But instead of discouraging rhyme, get students to use the RhymeZone rhyming dictionary - a delightful web resource. 'School' produced at least a dozen serviceable rhymes, including, alas, fool and rule, but even Rhyme Zone could do little for poor old Guy Fawkes.
Finally, I'd like to put in a plug for Kick Start Poets' latest poetry writing competition for teenagers. It's called Fledgling Voices and the closing date is November 26th. You can pick up an application form from their web-site . A competition - and the theoretical chance of glory is the spur that some students need to get writing. Perhaps you could hold a poetry-writing competition in your own class, the prize being that you pay the £2 entry fee for any poems the class considers to be good enough to submit to the Fledgling Voices judges.
So, in short, turn your students into poets, and use bribery, trickery and wizardry to achieve it!
KS3 | Full of sound and fury about SATs
Now is the late August of our discontent. When you read this you have probably been blessed with your school's SATs results - at last. Maths and science will have had a couple of months to glow with an air of pious efficiency: English last again. Always last to hand back the mock GCSE scripts, and now woefully late with the SATs.
Probably the biggest source of anxiety for most of us is how well our students (or their markers) have performed on the Shakespeare paper. Now I love Shakespeare: words and ideas ooze from his plays like juice from a ripe pineapple. Give me almost any Shakespeare play and I could roll in it, ingesting it in bliss. BUT, I was not always like this: at the age of fourteen at best I resented Shakespeare for his deliberate obscurity and for the smug familiarity with his works that my teachers conveyed. In fact, I still don't know why 14 year-olds have to study Shakespeare, and study no one else. Perhaps they should study him because he is the best writer ever. But if that is so, and it is possible to determine the best-ever writer, then it should be possible to determine numbers two and three at least, and make their study obligatory. I wonder who they are.
Not logic, but a sort of superstitious morality requires the study of my favourite author at the age of 14. And to what effect? Many teenagers who are still struggling with literacy, but struggling gallantly, are deflated by having to respond to an A Level-type question like "How does Macbeth's language show that he now sees trust as a complex and traumatic concept?" This is the equivalent of teaching someone to drive and then launching them down the inside track of Brands Hatch.
So who do you turn to for help? Teachit, of course. This year regular contributors have been badgered into voluntarily producing materials specially for the 2006 SATs scenes. Language questions continue to prove the most challenging to students and teachers and so if you are doing Richard III do look up Act 3 Scene 7 Buckingham's speech and reveal its richness of imagery, rhythm and rhetoric. In fact many Shakespeare soliloquies have strong potential for developing students' understanding of my favourite Year 9 objective - R12 (analyse and discuss the use made of rhetorical devices in a text).
Much Ado About Nothing: a drama-based summary activity addresses the problem of how to set the SATs scenes in the context of the whole play without actually doing the whole play. This resource provides key quote cards drawn from the whole play and a plot summary. Students have to place 'their' quotes appropriately in the summary, but of course they could then use the quotes and the summary to improvise the whole play, building the quotes into their performance.
In fact, I'm a great believer in 'doing' only the prescribed scenes. This allows time for a lot of drama-based explorations and imaginative building out from the text.
Finally, if you find it stressful to plan 2006 Shakespeare teaching before you even know how badly last year's students did, then just comfort yourself with this thought:
"...a SAT is a test
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