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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.

active approaches

assessment

competence

creative approaches

critical understanding

cultural understanding

essay writing

favourites

film

genre

homework

literary heritage

media and non fiction

novels

one-offs and cover lessons

original writing

plays

poetry

projects

prose

sen / g&t

shakespeare

short texts

skills and exam prep

speaking & listening 1

speaking & listening 2

starters

technical nuts and bolts

topicality

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!).

Literary heritage

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?

Film

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!

Essay writing

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! 

Short texts

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!

Favourites

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!

Novels

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 FarmThe 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... 

Critical understanding

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 ...

Plays

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.'

Competence

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.

After all that, the little angels should be 100% competent in Drama and ready for their exams – if not for the West End Stage!

Topicality

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, Teachit ELT?  Here are some crossover treasures I would happily magpie into an A Level classroom.

The links below will take you straight to Teachit ELT'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'.

Cultural understanding

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.

And if that doesn't provide rich enough soil for your students, may I recommend a serious soaking of self-deconstruction from Deconstructing yourself.

Projects

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.

Now that I've got Year 12 sorted, I can get back to worrying about whether Year 13 have done enough revision ... roll on July!

Active approaches

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 boooring.

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!

Assessment

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!

Creative approaches

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.


KS4 | Alison Smith on taking the graft out of creativity

This is the time of year that I find it most easy to be creative: I've just (tongue firmly in cheek) had 6 weeks off; the students are bubbling with enthusiasm (erm...) and exams are a long way off (well, the November ones aren't, but I can ignore that for at least a fortnight). I want to get the year off to a flying start and get the students really focussed on making it a good one.

Achieve your dream is a multi-purpose resource that might just give me an insight into some of the students that I have only just met. It'll give me a quick and easy EN1 mark to get the GCS E course started with a bang, and it won't feel like too much hard work for the students.

When I first saw it, I was very taken with the English Paper 1 Learning mat. Someone's obviously spent a long time preparing it (and the others that go with it) and there are a variety of ways of using it with a class. It's something that I'm sure we'll get a lot of use out of, and the students will like it because it's bright and colourful – they won't even know they're learning!

This year, I have resolved to make more use of the interactive whiteboard, and as we are Teachit.Works members, I have access to lots of whizzy things. I'm taking over a year 11 class, and have just one half-term until their GCSE English exam, so I'm going to use Connections between poems and titles with them to see what they already know. There's a longer Word version of the resource as well, which makes it doubly handy.

While it's easier to be creative when I'm relaxed, I know that it won't stay that way for long and so, in an attempt to ensure that I don't end up frazzled by Christmas, I'm going to read, absorb and inwardly digest every edition of English Teaching Online). That way it isn't just down to me to be creative – I can rely on other people to do some of the thinking for me.

Happy New Year!


KS5 | Carmel Waldron recommends some creative resources for Literature

Well, here it is again – the start of another academic year, and where did the holidays go? Have a break from marking in next year's hols on the year planner and think about some creative approaches for Y12 and your more mature Y13. Starting with Y12, if you have settled for Wise Children as your novel you will find some good ideas for getting into Chapter 1 in Group tasks for Chapter 1. Put this together with grown–up discussion points and ideas in Wise Children and the two sides of the carnivalesque – ideal for group work and maybe presentations. There's also a very interesting comparison activity in Wise Children and Hamlet which will get them thinking about the Shakespeare references (and might be quite handy, if they're going to study Hamlet next year!)

Talking about Hamlet, if you are going to make this your set play – and teenagers really do relate to it – there are some good creative approaches you can use on here. One of my favourites rejoices in the title of Quotation, location, significance, a sickness/decay imagery grid, which is irresistible. It's also a useful tool to get them looking at how Shakespeare uses this theme through the play. I also liked the Soliloquy presentations which made my students really analyse the soliloquies and then discuss how they fit into the play and show character development.

If you are doing a modern drama text for AS unit 3 then Friel's Making History is definitely a good choice. There are some stimulating activities to be found in The pivotal point which will get your students really thinking and doing some independent study.

The vexed question of paired texts for the A2 coursework might be helped by a look at Comparing Jane Austen's novels with The Jane Austen Book Club. A number of good ideas and helpful worksheets will guide you and your students through the possibilities.

Finally, for the synoptic unit, there are some very creative ideas about war poetry, starting with 'High' and 'low' diction matching activity which is a fun way to look at the euphemisms of war. Analysing and comparing 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' and 'Disabled' was an activity that kept my students fully occupied for the hour-long lesson and created some useful discussion on literary techniques.


Language | Julie Blake on creative approaches to language study

Creativity. There's a word. One long one, included in our collective lexicon for describing what we do all day, a word we warm to, a word we know and love and do... Don't we? Its position as current flava du jour in the QCA curriculum revisions makes it look as if we've all been forgetting about it for years, but anyone who spends more than twelve seconds flicking through Teachit will see that simply isn't the case. The best resources here are busy getting on with the creative business of encouraging playfulness, throwing surprises, making interesting connections, sparking curiosity, and engaging in original design. Those fundamental principles of creativity are as relevant to English Language as they are to any other areas of the English curriculum and the resources below show that. It's not just writing poems about leaves...

For a creative introduction to spoken language have a look at the Talk talk transcripts (with or without embedded audio) and the Talk talk data grid. Play around with the eight short audio clips and transcripts, have a look at the grid, and then send them off to create their own Talk talk 'anthology' of audio and transcripts.

For something unexpected, have a look at the Little Evie worm Wingdings transcripts. These represent a dialogue between Evie (aged 2 years) and her grandmother about a worm. The twist is that one or other of the participants' words have been changed into a Wingdings font. It's a creative representation designed to help students 'see' language use in different ways that might liberate fresh thinking.

And finally, for language change take a large measure of playfulness and individual creation of meaning with the Texts in Context landmark cards. Fifty-one cards, each one a prompt to some social, historical, cultural, educational or technological factor that has contributed to language change. Give them to students and let them play with them. Timelines, groupings, individual language biographies – see what happens...


Drama | Nic Harvey on creative (and dramatic) approaches to poetry

We all know how easy it is to introduce our pupils to poetry; how receptive they are to poems from different periods and cultures and how they embrace the various styles and themes with enthusiasm and positivity...Ok, Ok, so I'm being ironic... again.

Even just the word 'poem' can have a profound effect on my lot, leaving them unable to communicate beyond the usual monosyllabic slang / grunts of disapproval. So how can we approach poetry in a creative and (dare I say it) fun way, in order to reinforce their understanding and/or explore the relevant themes or issues in the poem?

One way is to focus on pace and rhythm by asking small groups of students to perform a short / familiar poem using only noises and percussion instruments. The way in which it is performed should reflect the tone of the poem and the audience should be able to comment on links between rhythm and content without even hearing the words.

At KS3, a poem can be broken down into verses with small groups being given one verse each to perform in a different style or genre, or using specific Drama techniques. One technique which works particularly well at this level is mime and narration, whereby one or more students narrate and the others act out what is happening in the verse. To make them think, the mimes could initially be performed without the narration and out of sequence, with the group having to sequence them correctly for a second performance with narration.

Taking characters out of poems and bringing them to life by interviewing them or performing flash-backs, can add to a student's understanding of a particular theme or situation. In A scheme of work, these and other strategies are employed to explore the sensitive issue of child abuse and young motherhood. The techniques used in this scheme of work can be employed to help explore many GCSE set poems on the English syllabuses – cross-curricular-tastic! One lesson that works well is to bring characters from different poems they have studied in English together in a chat show style setting (or Big Brother if you can bear it)!

Performing their own poems or the lyrics to a popular song can also encourage students to embrace poetry in a more positive way so give them a topic they love and let them go mad! (in a creative and intellectual way of course).


Media | Lucy Hewitt on being creative with media

I had high hopes for this editorial. It was going to be Creative (please note the capitalisation). I had some big ideas – a little blue tooth thingamyjigging here and a touch of digital video clipping there. And then I made a discovery. Trying to be creative is like trying to be funny – the problem lies in the trying. Fortunately, however, the Teachit contributors have already done the inventive bit. So all that's left for me to do is string together my pick of creative media resources and melt quietly (and uncreatively) into the background.

Media terms pick-a-pair is both whizzy and wonderful. A stunning Notebook resource this, and a creative way to tackle key terminology. Based on the game of pairs, this takes things one step further.

Video shop activity offers a fun, imaginative way to approach film genre. Students imagine they are about to open a new video shop and work out how best to categorise and arrange the film titles.

A boy-friendly mini scheme of work that also happens to tick the 'creative approaches' box is Football match programmes. Based on Brighton and Hove Albion FC news snippets, this aims to focus students on audience, purpose, structure and presentational devices. There's also a chance for students to take on the role of club manager and write an account of how their own teams' football seasons are progressing.

Complete with a Tweakit, Comparing headlines is a great Key Stage 3 resource that gets students to compare and contrast headlines on the same topic and rate their effectiveness. For some added whizziness and an inspirational starter or plenary, go to Syntex and click on 'Classroom ready activities'. Within this, you'll find a variety of taxing and not so taxing headlines ready and waiting to be unscrambled. >

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.


KS4 | Alison Smith sets some frazzle-free cover

I'm really lucky in my school that, if I'm not there, I know who'll be teaching my classes so I can rely on her not to have used them to clear out a cupboard or stuck a video on for them to watch (unless that's the work I've left for them!) But those one-off and cover lessons are still always a bit of a nightmare. And at this time of year, there are the meetings and exam marking and 101 other things that mean that, in the term that people think is the 'easiest', we end up more frazzled than ever. So, these are my top resources for those days when you just can't teach your own class.

Year 9 have just officially become year 10. With my top set, I'll be looking at gender stereotypes with a view to writing an article for a magazine. Their first lesson will be based on two resources which I've pulled together to give them a focus on gendered language – Honey-pies and Sugar-plums and Etiquette for Women. I know they live in Key Stage 5, but they'll give the students plenty to think about, and maybe even encourage them into A Level!

At the moment, I'm dithering about whether to use the Anthology Prose instead of a novel with a class next year, so trying some of them out now seems like a splendid plan. AQA A Anthology short stories 'Flight': activities and 'Your Shoes': activities both lend themselves to those lessons when you simply can't be there but could be equally well used as a teacher resource when you are.

Thinking ahead a little more, my number one revision resource for Year 11 classes is 2007 GCSE revision tasks and timetable (AQA A) (updated ann ually). I've done a lot of tweaking so I know that, with some paper and coloured pens and the Teachit Timer to hand, they'll get a meaningful and useful lesson that will (hopefully) be stress free for whoever has them.


KS5 | Lucy Hewitt gears up for the return of (some of) Year 12

It's a funny old time of year. The AS students have left, you've sat down to draw breath and, hey presto, they've reappeared. Everyone that is, except for those on Geography, Art or Music trips. Which leaves you with a dilemma – do you push on with the A2 syllabus, or do you try to find something useful, but not vital, for your students to do? I've put together some handy one-offs and project tasks to tide you over this unsettled period.

The first of my selection Analysing short prose extracts is ideal for helping students to focus on a new text, or part of a text. It's a nifty, versatile resource that lends itself to group or individual work and would work equally well with longer extracts or whole novels.

An introduction to writers and their times - teaching notes, offers a way through a scheme aimed at helping students understand where the poems, plays or novels they are studying fit into the canon. The resources in this scheme are ideal for giving students a bird's eye view of the syllabus and what better way to kick things off than with An introduction to writers and their times - who's who? It was created as the first lesson in the scheme, but is also a brilliant stand alone lesson in its own right.

Another good way to see out this half term is by asking students to conduct their own independent research project. Y12 post-exam preparation for Y13 offers students a variety of tasks and ways to present their research findings. Minimum teacher input is required – just block book the ICT suite and rest your eyelids for a few seconds.

Finally, for those in need of a quick, easy, all-inclusive cover lesson, what better than the timeless classic Literature Quiz? This could be done as a 'find out if you don't know' task, or as a team competition. For a truly brain-busting time, book out the library and ban students from enlisting the help of Mr Google.


Language | Julie Blake on the subject of one-offs and specials

What shall we do with the Y12s? What shall we ever do? You can have all the injunctions you like about having to turn up in class after the AS exams, but like a mildly surreal game of Trump cards, you find yourself competing with the demands of the seasonal labour market, cheap holidays in Magalluf, and a deeply enculturated sense of natural justice that when exams end summer starts. You can't blame 'em really, but as you've got to be there, you might as well have some fun – as well as laying the foundations for a whole year of gleeful evil-teacher comments like "Well, you chose to be in Magalluf when we laid that vital intellectual cornerstone ..."

So, first up, for an introduction to Language Change, with a side order of Editorial Writing and/or Key Skills, check out the complete mini-projectette in English out in the world. It covers English as a global language and makes the connection between this and the global roots of the English lexicon. It gets students handling atlases and numerical data, timelines as a way of representing language data, and hands-on exploration of the OED (contact them now for a month's free trial!). It is designed with some shared activity and some individual choice – waft the task sheet at your senior management and watch them faint in a frenzy of 'personalised learning'. It winds up with feature articles or presentations on their individual research.

For an introduction to Language Acquisition and Language Investigation, see the new video based units, Dear Zoo and (watch this space) Little Evie – just look for the new icons. Dear Zoo gets you started with early reading. Spike (18 months) and Evie (two years and three months) explore the hugely popular pop-up book Dear Zoo. Videos, transcripts, related activities from the LINC materials, and a Language Trail that describes how you could put them together in a neat little package. Both this and (soon ... very soon) Little Evie could be used to launch mini-investigations, and model some ways of working with video data. Little Evie is a collection of ten short videos and transcripts of a two-year-old in action with her grandma. The data is richly rewarding and could form the focus of a lovely shared investigation, without leaving the comfort of your own classroom.

Of course, you could always just take them on a linguistic tour of the British Isles instead ...


Drama | Nic Harvey ponders the practical elements of cover

Oh the joy of having a day off school and going on an INSET course and chatting with other intelligent, like-minded people about things you are interested in rather than trying to stamp out martial arts style combat in the drama room when the task you set was a mime scene reflecting the word 'tranquillity'.

The only cloud on the horizon is the dreaded setting of cover work which is a) appropriate b) fun c) relevant to the curriculum and d) won't give a non-specialist a nervous breakdown!

I sometimes set a written cover lesson but prefer to set practical work that the pupils will respond well to, so that they don't miss their chance to act just because I'm off enjoying myself somewhere. Sometimes you have to set a lesson which continues from the previous one but this can cause all kinds of problems so I often set a one-off lesson, particularly with lower school classes.

I might give them a choice of scenarios to rehearse and perform, such as:

  • the secret door
  • the broken mirror
  • the unexpected guest

which will hopefully lead to some mysterious and creepy drama. They can integrate different drama skills into this activity, depending on what you have been working on with them. These scenes can work well using narration and mime, particularly if the students miming are instructed to follow exactly what the narrator says, adding in improvised comments to keep them on their toes!

Three very different scenarios which always lead to interesting drama are:

  • the world's worst dentist
  • the world's worst teacher
  • the world's worst children's entertainer.

These scenes are designed to be humorous and can make use of melodrama, sound effects and music to build up to a comic scene. Just make it clear that the world's worst teacher must be a fictional character – and is certainly not a Drama teacher!

So if you need to set cover, want an idea for an interesting one-off or just feel like setting them something a bit different at the end of term, Drama cover lessons / one-offs offers seven ready-to-go, grabbable ideas with a range of scenarios for both practical and written lessons, allowing you to sit back and be entertained...with a nice cup of coffee of course!


Media | Emily Fallon finds some ideal one-offs

What was life like before the invention of the printing press, the creation of the radio, the construction of the television, the conception of the computer? 'Boring!' I hear my classes shout at me. 'Simpler!' is my response.

Future generations do need to be educated in how media manipulates and informs them. Our students must be equipped with the tools that enable them to cope with an exciting but intense media world.

There's no better way to prepare students than through one-off, consumer-friendly taster lessons that are always relevant to the scheme of the world. For my introductory lesson I like to go back to basics. I start with one of the simplest but most effective forms of persuasive media, Advertising slogans. What do you do when you need a break? 'Have a KitKat!' The worksheet takes just minutes to complete, but it promotes an interesting discussion about the subtle techniques used by the writers. In the same lesson, students can develop their writing skills by working their way through Persuasive writing skills - a set of worksheets covering (nearly) everything!

Another effective one off lesson can be found by using Tagger Trainers advert. The first worksheet enables the students to revise some of the techniques used to advertise products, whilst the second encourages them to get creative.

Later on in the year, I engage my students by sitting them in front of the television and getting them to watch a selection of advertisements. With pen and paper, students scribble down their answers to the worksheet Analysing TV adverts. Who would have thought that so much effort went into a piece of film that lasts just minutes ... but can be remembered for years?

From the moving image, back to the written word and How to construct a tabloid. If possible, take students to a computer room where they can really enjoy playing around with the tabloid front page. Their scandalous news stories would surely secure them a job with any high quality tabloid paper! This is also a superb cover lesson, since all of the information that the students need to know is on the worksheet.

With a little knowledge comes greater understanding. Suddenly my students start questioning and creating media. 'The future's bright ...!'

Reading

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.


KS4 | Alison Smith explores the tricks of the trade

It's a funny old job, this. By the time they get to us they can, in theory at least, read. But we still have to teach them the tricks of the trade ... not the 'reading for the sheer joy of it' tricks, but the 'reading so we can write about it in the coursework/exam' tricks. Because they can already read, this should be easy. But it isn't. It requires a complex set of skills and a lot of teacher input and enthusiasm. Here are some heat-and-serve ideas that you can use, adapt, reuse to your heart's content, safe in the knowledge that they are tried and tested.

I stumbled across Approaching an unseen prose extract – essay writing almost by accident, but I really like it. There are many ways in which it can be used, from year 9 to synoptic unit preparation in year 13 and, to my mind at least, that makes it even better. If you want to be really clever, pop the text through Cruncher at word level and see what patterns of words there are. Always fascinating, always useful.

Close reading techniques: descriptive writing extracts is another resource based on unseen material. There are seven different texts covered and a good focus the construction of the texts which will really help the students in their own writing as well. And if you tweak it, it becomes a workout for mind and body. A bit of a BOGOF resource, this one!

As far as the familiar goes, the key to success is comparison and an awareness of a writer at work. Making effective comparisons and connections between poems is designed for the Other Cultures element of AQA A but could easily be adapted for use with the Literature poetry, or for other specifications or for the Anthology short stories. Which, incidentally ...

I don't teach, although some people might disagree if they'd looked at 11Y's mock exam papers ... for some reason, some of them answered on stories they hadn't read! That got me delving into a section of the site I've never used, and it was here that I found the short stories Pictionary cards and quote quest I won't be using them myself, but I will be using and adapting the idea when it comes to revising the poetry. But better still, I'll get the students to choose the topics ... that way, it's two games in one and they might not notice that they're learning!


KS5 | Lucy Hewitt picks some top resources for turning your Literature students into readers

My first three Key Stage 5 reading resource recommendations consist of general tasks aimed at encouraging students to become enthusiastic, sensitive, independent readers. Suggestions four and five are text specific, but are useful for getting students to find their 'inner critic' and develop personal responses to texts.

E M Forster: characterisation offers a refreshing and interesting way to approach character analysis. Based on the premise of 'flat' or 'round' characters, students are asked to find and categorise their own examples. More usefully perhaps, it demands that pupils stake out their own standpoints and begin to think about how types of character might fit different genres and purposes.

A sturdy reading staple is A novel idea. Not only is there a Tweakit attached, but the resource itself – a suggestion of 'must read' books for AS and A level – is packed with handy plot synopses and critics' quotations. This resource contains something for everyone, even the most reluctant readers among your Literature students.

A great 'beyond the bounds of the classroom' resource is Whose theme is it anyway? This whopping list of themes encourages students to go away and think about a text with a view to comparing and discussing their ideas the following lesson. Although flagged for GCSE, it could easily be adapted for A Level by asking students to give a presentation of connections between themes or on an approach of their choice.

Comparing Jane Austen's novels with The Jane Austen Book Club offers a fresh and inventive approach to coursework. Pupils are asked to consider gender roles, values, etiquette, relationships and lifestyle. Moving away from the painstaking world of page by page close-textual analysis, this assignment gives students the opportunity to read whole texts relatively swiftly and concentrate on the bigger picture.

Key extracts could be used (and adapted) in a variety of ways. The cut out cards list a number of theme, character and style related focuses and carve the text up accordingly. Brilliant.


Language | Julie Blake gets students reading the unfamiliar (including a C17th rhino ad)

The question is 'reading?' The answer is 'sticky'. Or how to make the reading of unfamiliar data types manageable through approaches that sneak up on students and stick to them before they've had time to wail "it's too difficult".

My favourite is to get students transcribing data. The process of taking an audio file, recorded for themselves on a mobile phone, a dictaphone, a VCR, on MSN or Skype, and turning it into a written representation engages students in a way that 'flat' reading from a page rarely can. Check out page 4 of It's Good To Talk, and also watch the 'How to's section for a fuller version including how to insert phonemic symbols – coming soon!

Once students can read a transcript with some auditory animation, try comparing different ways of representing spoken language. The Tom's Busy Day talking representations offers the audio file, a standard A Level type transcript, a lay person's version that looks more like a drama script, a like-a-novel version, and a phonemic transcript. This helps to identify what is included and excluded, and what kinds of reading are made possible by each. Language members have access to the audio files; non-members can access Tom's Busy Day representations, which has the written versions only.

And finally, if reading historical texts seems a challenge too far, try zooming in on a very small segment of text and slowly build back to the whole using the Texts In Context cards. These can help students focus on very precise description of language change without getting overwhelmed; then they can find the full text on the British Library site and read on. Check out the rhino advert from 1684 – at least nine features of language change in a 45 word mini-text ...


Drama | Bringing texts to life – Nic Harvey plunders some novels and poems for inspiration

One of my favourite schemes of work was inspired by a book I was reading, The Child in Time by Ian McEwan. Although the story itself was extremely sad, I was intrigued by the idea of how simply and quickly someone's life can be turned upside down. An ordinary man takes his daughter to a supermarket early one Saturday morning and returns home without her. The moment where he finds himself standing at the crossing holding two bags of free shopping is literary genius. The description throughout the chapter (10) is engaging and realistic. Pupils and adults can identify with the different characters, what they are buying; and their different reactions to the apparent abduction of the three-year-old child.

This is the starting point of Scheme of work – Kidnap! We read, discuss and explore the ideas in the text leading up to the abduction, then devise a character who might be shopping in the supermarket. The teacher then organises a whole group improvisation in which everyone is either shopping or working in the supermarket. When the teacher's (imaginary) child is abducted by one of the actors, an investigation takes place in which only the kidnapper can lie. This allows the pupils to experience some of the ideas in the text and respond in character to the improvised situation.

Another way of bringing a text to life is to use a narrator to read the passage, poem or story while other students mime the events – this can either be rehearsed or improvised. This works well with poems like 'Saw it in the Papers,' by Adrian Mitchell, where different groups of students can present different verses – A scheme of work.

Scheme of work – World War 1 allows students to read and interpret the poem 'Dulce et Decorum Est' by using mime and narration, having already explored the situation of a young soldier who goes off to war, not aware what lies ahead of him. This activity leads to a better understanding of the poem and can be presented using appropriate lighting and music to create a moving piece of drama.

And if all else fails, get them to lie on the floor and read the little darlings a story until they fall asleep, then put the kettle on ... Only joking but it would be nice!


Media | Sarah Moody picks resources to recharge her students' batteries

It's that time of the year again ... The clocks have gone forward; days are getting longer; Year 11 coursework is (nearly) a distant memory ... But what about the revision?

"Do I really have to read all of this?!" exclaimed Susie in 11c as I proudly presented her with a revision booklet jam packed full of notes, hints and sample answers. My first thought was, 'Did I really have to write all of that?' But then it got me thinking about students' attitudes towards reading. My Year 11 in particular seem to think that their eyes are battery operated and do not want to run them down by actually using them to read independently!

These same reluctant readers are sitting GCSE Media Studies alongside their GCSE English. While I have enjoyed introducing them to a variety of literary texts over the years, I have also enjoyed their avid reading of the moving image texts we have analysed. Recently we analysed character functions, narrative structure, representation and genre in Independence Day (while I admired Will Smith's vest wearing talents!) and the pupils' visual literacy skills were apparent and honed. They were using inference and deduction and they were using appropriate terminology to comment on the effects created. They have also now started to transfer these skills to their English reading, which can only be a good thing.

There is a great wealth of resources in the Media Library that would really help develop those all-important reading skills. I love Persuasive writing skills – a set of worksheets covering (nearly) everything! as it does exactly what it says on the tin. This resource used as a set of starters is really useful for Year 11 as we prepare for Paper 1 English.

Compare 2 newspaper articles is a wonderful resource as it gives pupils a generic checklist of things to look for when comparing non-fiction texts; again invaluable at this time of the year as those exams loom. A huge advantage of this resource is that teachers can choose their own articles so it is always fresh and current.

Thinking now of Year 10, Jaws lesson pack, Compare 1931 version of Frankenstein to the 1997 Branagh version and The Sixth Sense coursework essay are all useful for developing those much needed deduction and inference skills. Looking at the way tension is created in Jaws, for example, or the clues dropped in the restaurant scene in The Sixth Sense can be transferred to the reading of prose texts. And having analysed atmosphere in the Frankenstein films, students could bring these same skills to the text, comparing the way Shelley's words have been interpreted by the directors.

You never know ... perhaps even Susie will uncomplainingly read these texts and try out those battery operated eyes!

Homework

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.


KS4 | Keziah Featherstone on quality over quantity

Hopefully, for the students but not for us teachers, a sense of panic and urgency will begin to kick-in around now for our Year 11 students. Hmmmmmm ... as if! I'm still left wondering if their GCSE results mean as much to them as they do to me, and I'm not talking league tables and A*-C percentages.

Finding ways of establishing a regular pattern of revision and independent study can be difficult if left until Easter (let alone the night before their first exam), but providing regular, involving and meaningful homework can be a good start. Being realistic and practical, setting a couple of hours' worth of study every week means, for a lot of us, a couple of hours every week moaning at kids that haven't bothered attempting it and then chasing them up with threats of a life on the streets and a couple of canisters of tear-gas. I have found the hard way that shorter homework tasks using the synthesise, evaluate and analyse higher order thinking skills can have a more powerful impact on students' learning, understanding, motivation and ultimately their exam success. Quality, not quantity, is the answer. And Teachit is just the site to plunder!

I am currently liking the page by page revision guide Persuasive writing skills - a set of worksheets covering (nearly) everything. How many times have we covered superlatives? And this can be drip-fed to students over a few weeks, each page taking ten minutes maximum and good for the less able too.

To get the independent juices flowing, Characters - who is the odd one out? is a fabulous activity; it comes with a handy answer sheet too, so that with a spot of peer assessment you can save yourself a lot of time! In a similar vein, Rank these statements asks students to think independently and come up with some answers and ideas of their own.

Finally, I really appreciate homework tasks that can feed directly into lessons. The initial tasks in Curley's wife: Miss Dynamite or lonely victim? allow students to think about and plan a written response to Curley's wife, sometimes a tricky character to get to grips with. And lastly, How to write a good speech provides an opportunity for students to plan a speaking and listening activity before bringing it to class.


KS5 | Julia Glozier reminisces about purple worksheets

Homework is an area about which I am ambivalent. On the surface it seems like the ideal way to consolidate learning, work independently and to practise good habits of study. In practice, my own experience of homework as a student, teacher and parent is that it is a bind. Often a pointless, time consuming and boring bind.

How many homework tasks can you remember from being at school? Do you look back on purple, wonky worksheets and reminisce, 'Those were the days'?

Surprisingly, though, my little unscientific straw poll of students showed that they actually like homework. The students who expressed an opinion disliked the physical act of homework but many felt that, in the sixth form, the work in the classroom was about discussion, ideas and developing new skills, while homework was a chance to quietly put into practice what they'd been learning.

So there we have it; students, on the whole, value homework, especially the marking of it. Resources need to tap into the roles of consolidation and independence. They need to be self contained and allow for differentiation. They need to be meaningful.

If you're doing Twelfth Night at the moment, why not try A comic strip? This is the sort of creative activity that we have little time in the classroom to do. Evidence of disorder in Act 1, where students are asked to design a poster or collage to represent disorder, is another creative activity. 'Hawk Roosting' , where students storyboard ideas for a TV programme about hawks, is also a nice alternative to formulaic questions about the poem.

On the language front, I always love seeing students' faces when I present them with the brilliant (and hard!) grammar focused test, No joy in a dry sausage. With its clever text and marking scheme it makes the perfect grammar wake-up call. Finally, I've found that Jane Austen and 19th C English is a challenging homework task which prepares students for looking at varieties of language without being as difficult as a full on exam question.

Obviously, the best thing about using Teachit resources for homework is that they aren't purple, wonky and indecipherable and so are less likely to end up scrunched up at the bottom of someone's bag.


Drama | Nic Harvey hunts for the Holy Grail

Here's a little riddle for you:

What's done but not done;
At home but not at home;
Six pages but not six pages;
Real but not real?

It's that thing that makes students roll their eyes to the ceiling when it's mentioned. Parents think it can work miracles, while teachers find it as elusive as the Holy Grail. It is, of course, HOMEWORK.

I always set homework carefully, ensuring that the task is relevant to the current lesson, while linking to the next, so that not one minute of adolescent free time is wasted on my subject; and what percentage can I expect to be handed in? Not 100%, that's for sure!

So I set them lines to learn. It's amazing how lines, learnt perfectly by heart just yesterday and recited to Uncle Pete last night ("Phone him if you don't believe me!") can evaporate from a teenage brain more quickly than a cider-induced hangover.

For GCSE, a collage can be an interesting way for students to present their interpretation of a particular character; or a storyboard can be the basis for analysis of a performed scene. Both of these are best set as homework and can be a colourful addition to coursework. Both Blood Brothers' schemes of work, A scheme of work based on the themes and issues in Blood Brothers and A scheme of work for Edexcel Drama Unit 2, indicate how these and similar tasks can be set in order to complement the teaching of the text.

Explorative strategies and Key drama terms: Key stages 3 and 4 can both be set as homework at Key Stages 3 and 4 as they are relatively straightforward and can form the basis of the next lesson.

And as for the secret of getting 100% homework to be submitted each time it is set?

Well, if anyone knows the answer (and it doesn't involve large sums of money) please let me know!


Media | Sarah Ashton on a barbaric and cruel business

Picture the scene. You've had what can only be described as the lesson of your career. The pupils were engaged, excited, and enthusiastic; they shared thoughtful ideas, they didn't get bored and start hitting each other ... and then you tell them they have homework. Groans, moans, a chorus of 'Do we have to?' and Billy on the back row starts pulling Jenny's hair in protest at your barbaric and cruel suggestion that he should consider learning outside of the classroom.

Sound familiar? Well, luckily, there are some excellent and straightforward resources in the Media library that pupils won't find too daunting (and might even enjoy)!

Conduct your own interviews is a straightforward resource which could easily be tweaked as a homework task. Pupils prepare open questions on a controversial quotation to ask friends and family, then jot down or record responses – a homework which means little writing for the pupils and (even better) little marking for you. Good for speaking and listening too.

An old favourite resource which can be differentiated is Tagger Trainers advert. Higher ability pupils could re-write and market the original brief, and lower ability pupils could use the information to create different slogans. Perfect for reinforcing language techniques in adverts with Key Stage 3 classes.

A lovely task which encourages independent work skills is Glossary of media terms. Pupils produce a poster to give definitions of key media terms, and are encouraged to use different sources to find the definitions. Another homework with little writing/marking!

Finally, Analysing a media text is brilliant for Key Stage 4 – especially if you have a pupil who hasn't completed their English Media coursework. A generic set of questions about a media text of the pupil's choice gives them the chance to write analytically. It could also be adapted if you are teaching a specific Media Studies unit.

Hopefully, with one of these tasks, even Billy will manage to hand his homework in on time!

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!


KS4 | Alison Smith on burgers and eloquence

I am normally perfectly sane and well balanced, but I may recently have been captured on CCTV in a service station not only buying junk food, but also dancing in an excited (and frankly embarrassing) manner.

My excuses are as follows: it was late; I'd been driving for almost six hours; I'd spent most of those hours having increasingly odd conversations with my passengers; I'd been mistaken for a teenager (!) and our team had won a public speaking competition. Okay, so the last one is the best one, but I'm not sure even that excuses burgers and dancing.

Speaking and Listening tends to get neglected somewhat in the hurlyburly of the GCSE course – suddenly I realise that I've not done an assessment in ages and what I want is something quick, simple and accessible. Thankfully, there's plenty to choose from on Teachit. Doctors' dilemma is a full mini scheme with lots and lots of info for students to use and it's one that really get students engaged with the issues. There's plenty there to expand into written outcomes too. Equally serious but a little more accessible for weaker students is Save my Dog! where the decisions are about canines rather than people. This one links well to Of Mice and Men – unless, like me, you live in an agricultural area where the debate tends not to be whether to kill the dog, but what's the best method. Nice.

I'd like to pretend that our success on the public speaking circuit is down to my brilliance and How to write a good speech – but that's a million miles from the truth. Anna's a genius and needs not a jot of help. For the students that do, however, this simple and effective resource really gives students the know-how to produce something good.

I'm quite good at conning students into thinking they're having fun when actually they're working. As a treat, I might let them watch Supersize Me and then use some of the Junk food > Discussion resources to get them to argue about whether junk food should be banned. It always promotes interesting (and heated) debate.

And so we end where we began, with junk food in a motorway service station. According to the team, a good competition is where we win, but a great one is where there are two burger stops. Who am I to argue with such eloquent speakers? I'd probably lose anyway.


KS5 | Rhiannon Glover on A Level presentations and discussions

As it's not formally assessed at Key Stage 5, speaking and listening is an area that is not as planned or valued as it might be, especially when you consider how much we rely on it at A Level. From group discussion and presentations to our own inspirational lecturing and students' responses to our carefully targeted questioning, probably most of what we do during Key Stage 5 lessons is based on speaking and listening. We expect students at KS5 to be able to articulate their ideas independently and to argue their case coherently while remaining sensitive to others' points of view (or at least hope they might be able to do this one day) so it's important to be explicit about how students should behave in discussion, to teach presentation skills during initial lessons with AS classes and to revisit these ideas often.

The handout How to tackle a class presentation gives clear general advice. A Novel Idea provides enough information about a range of contemporary novels to enable students to choose one on which to produce an oral presentation. As well as encouraging students to develop an individual critical response orally this will encourage independent reading and would make a good activity for AS students before the summer holidays or perhaps for a sixth form reading group.

Presentations on Hamlet's soliloquies would make a useful revision lesson or help prepare students for coursework. Guidelines can be found in Soliloquy presentations.

The Literary criticism viewpoint cards, which assign each student a particular way of reading, will help ensure a lively debate on any text.

If you're teaching Carter's Wise Children at KS5, the Discussion questions can be used for group or whole class discussion. For Wilde's A Woman of No Importance, the Comprehensive set of class activities has been thoughtfully conceived to provide many opportunities for structured group and whole class discussion, as well as for drama activities. For The Tempest, the same is true of the Study pack for the complete play.

As with any other class, you will get the best discussion out of your A Level students if you include a range of speaking, listening and writing activities in your lesson and rearrange groupings regularly. This advice in Flexible lesson phases may help with this.


Drama | Nic Harvey on listening and concentration

Well this is what Drama is all about – the actors speak and the audience listens. Simple ... unless of course you are doing mime or mask work ...

So can you teach pupils speaking and listening skills?

You can practise vocal warm ups and exercises – tongue twisters and breathing patterns; facial and vocal exercises can be fun and amusing and will prepare a year 9 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 change, pause or accent – and as they are concentrating hard, the audience volume level should be zero!

Lessons 9 & 10 in Introduction to drama a scheme of work 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 the more sophisticated and intellectual KS4 students, Romeo and Juliet: The Trial can be used as a Drama or English 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!)


Media | Lucy Hewitt on speaking and listening survival

Even at the best of times, speaking and listening can be a rushed, flustery experience that gives even the most enthusiastic and well-practised teachers the sense that they're sitting on a sleigh in the Arctic, hanging on to the reigns of some young huskies who have just scented a fresh, dead seal. Add the word 'Media' to that and you've got the ingredients for a polar disaster.

So, to ensure that the experience is as un-husky like as possible, I'd recommend some good, sturdy, no-fuss resources. Analysing a media text is just such a resource. This works well either as a one off, or as part of another media-based unit of work. It's also easy to prepare for, simple, clear and straightforward. Perfect.

Another reliable Key Stage 4 resource is The Death Penalty – writing to persuade which prompts pupils to write a persuasive speech for or against the death penalty. The resource is based on Peter Medak's film, but the speech task works out of context or in conjunction with a news clip focusing on Angel Diaz's bungled Florida execution. There's plenty here for a sobering, judicious, thought-provoking lesson.

Now, some people adore huskies. So for those of you with an intrepid spirit – seat-of-the-pant adventurers who aspire to be Sir Ranulph Fiennes, here are two lively numbers guaranteed to get things going. Breaking Victorian news is a great resource that ties in seamlessly with a range of 19th century units of work. It also adheres to that time-honoured tradition of encouraging pupils to be newsreaders and reporters whilst providing the perfect opportunity for a trip to the Drama studio. It's not often that the props cupboard's fur coats, artful dodger flat caps, comedy specs/nose/moustache combinations, baskets and candelabra can actually be used, so take full advantage.

And finally, in keeping with this chilly exploration theme, there's Avalanche survival, the perfect accompaniment to a Touching the Void unit of work which guarantees a lesson of debate, anxious decision making, quibbling, shouting, temper losing, and of course, a dazzling display of problem solving skills and eloquent discourse. Phew.

Starters

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.


KS4 | Alison Smith on starters to suit all tastes

I went out for dinner with a friend the other week at a lovely pub in the Lakes. The food was delicious, the setting stunning and the company great. Thinking back now, when I should be marking or planning, I can remember all of the courses in detail and it occurs to me that it all fitted together nicely: the simple salad, then the duck, all topped off with pear and almond tart. Of course, being a girl, it was all building up to that crescendo ... I love pudding!

And so it is with lessons. Someone once said (I think it might have been Alan Gibbons actually) that a lesson should be like a striptease; that you shouldn't reveal it all at once. Sadly though, at GCSE, I find myself more and more having to rush starters and desserts (sorry, plenaries) because the main course needs too much of my (and their) time. Maybe when we lose coursework as it stands now, we'll have more time to stand and stare; to work on the basics; to play with our food.

When I do use them, I have a collection of favourites – the tried and trusted, reliable ones. The green salads of starters, if you will.

When I'm teaching poetry, I like to use Exploding a poem (a brief version!) at the start of a new poem to get them thinking about it for themselves. Another good resource is Literary terms bingo which hides away in KS3 skills but which is just as useful with GCSE and A Level students.

But I also have a playful side, a pigeon marinated with liquorice side – I love games and there are heaps of great Flash activities on the site which can be used as starters. There are the Interactive tasks for AQA and OCR Anthology poetry which include sequencing and word thief activities. Or try out Blockbusters revisited – it's a template rather than a resource, but once you've got the hang of it, you'll be playing all the time.

When I need a little comfort, having marked the coursework and realised that the basics still aren't there, what I need is chicken soup for my soul ... or just for the students to get it right. So I might turn to Teachit's Flash resources in the hopes that a few games (ha ... learning disguised as fun!) will help them.

Of course, once I've worked my way through that lot, I won't be able to get up from the table, let alone manage the main course and the dessert ... maybe that's why I don't use starters all the time.

Having said that, there's ice-cream in the freezer – strawberry sauce, anyone?


KS5 | Carmel Waldron on some nutritious starters

Where do you start with starters? As a gourmet food addict, my instinctive reaction is to salivate at the thought of homemade pâté or prosciutto e melone. Sadly, the more prosaic answer is that you need to get the students focused at the beginning of a lesson or topic. So, with that in mind, I found some interesting and varied ideas in Teachit's KS5 library.

If you are looking for a suitable starter activity to introduce World War 1 poetry, then look at 'Mental Cases': pre-teaching activity. It gives a word list from the poem which has excellent possibilities, not least for some painless teaching on word classes, and you could use Cruncher to do the same thing with Henry V's Harfleur speech for comparison.

Talking of Henry V, if you are using this play for AS Coursework, there's a great 15 minute version of it à la Tom Stoppard in the KS5 Drama area, which would make a splendid introduction: 15 minute Henry V.

If you are fortunate enough to have one of those bright and enquiring sixth form classes that gobble up literature, a good way to introduce them to something meatier is the Overview of literary critical theory which has an excellently summarised introduction to most of the current approaches. You could have fun taking one piece of text and giving small groups a different way of evaluating it. Or, if you need a way in to looking at the structure of a novel, then look at the very clear and concise resource on narrative structure, which carefully differentiates between plot and structure and could be adapted for group work on a set novel.

Finally, for those looking for a way in to Wise Children, there is an excellent resource in the KS5 Prose area entitled Group tasks for Chapter 1 which gives a helpful and pragmatic entrée to this complex book by getting students to work together on a time line and an interactive quiz, among other things. It should give some ideas about how to tackle the rest of the book as well.


Drama | Nic Harvey on the warming, loosening, and livening up

Starter activities are vital in Drama – so much that in some courses, they are part of the syllabus criteria. Students need to loosen up, lose their inhibitions and work confidently in different groups or teams. They need to shrug off the day's previous experiences and get ready to play different roles emphatically. Even more importantly, starter activities in Drama should be FUN.

I love inventing starter activities – or as we call them in Drama, warm-ups. I try to keep my warm up relevant to the main part of the lesson but let's face it, even if it isn't, the kids are ready for anything by the time the first part of the lesson's over!

Sometimes I make a physical activity into a game – I think healthy competition has its place in the Drama room – sometimes being out is just as much fun as still being in if pupils are given a specific task to do once they have been eliminated. The resource Warm up and cool down games lists tried and tested inclusive activities which can be used with any year group. For lower school groups, the warm-up activities in Introduction to Drama – a scheme of work work well and introduce new skills as well as boosting confidence.

I often use the taking of the register as a warm-up in itself, asking students to respond as animals, children's TV presenters or secret agents; or with the name of an object or their favourite desert. This often opens up discussions and is a quick and easy form of warm-up. I sometimes follow up this activity by deciding on three finalists who have to convince the group that their choice of animal or dessert is the best. The group then have to decide which they want to win and move to stand with their favourite. This is a silly competition, but works well to liven up a group who have just had Maths or History!

At GCSE level, pupils can be encouraged to prepare and lead the warm-up at the beginning of a lesson as part of their development; just remember if you join in that it's sometimes nice to let a pupil win!


Media | Helen Magner on starting with the screen

One pleasure of English teaching is watching a film; even the most snail-like student is punctual with a beaming face, enquiring 'Are we watching TV today?' Replying 'You mean, are we studying the fine nuances of media and applying technical terms to analyse what we view?' is invariably responded to with the line 'Yer – but are we watching TV?'

Fitting in watching an entire film in class can be a greater challenge than agreeing coursework grades on moderation day. Which is why trailers and adverts are great. Both allow you to have the viewing experience without the half term vanishing and can be used as a speedy starter to draw students in. Analysing TV adverts and Analysis of a TV advert are focused resources for GCSE and for challenging KS3. Car adverts are minutely detailed and their 'girlie'/'big man' car bias makes them perfect for analysis. Explore the resources in Car advertising: many of the worksheets are generic and challenge student's attitudes to and of manipulation by the media. Worksheet 3: How does advertising affect us? – questionnaire would make a great pacey starter for any advertising work.

Using an excerpt as a starter and encouraging discussion is also good value teaching time. The idea suggested in Jaws lesson pack of using sound only and predicting screen images would make an alternative and effective way in to any text.

Showing only the credits or opening sequence as a starter to lessons can give students the stimulus for deduction, speculation, prediction, questioning, interpreting, empathising and all those other high-level reading skills we want to teach. Why not use any of the Bond films, the visually stunning Edward Scissorhands, North by North West or Saving Private Ryan? The list of helpful prompt questions in Watching film or broadcast fiction should focus students on analysis and effect – key for the higher grades. Indeed, why would you ever watch 90 minutes of a film in class when you can focus so effectively on ten?

Original writing

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!


KS4 | Alison Smith on thieving for the cause

'Hi, my name's Alison, and I'm a kleptomaniac.'

No, wait, hang on, don't call the GTC ... it's all in the line of work, honest! Beer mats, crisp packets, sugar packets in service stations, those leaflets that most people just recycle ... I've used them all in my lessons. I thought it was just English teachers, but it's not. It wasn't my idea to fill my handbag with tourist information leaflets when I went out for the day the other week – apparently ICT teachers do it too!

However, it's not just 'stuff' that I collect. If you could see inside 'MY Teachit' or even my study, you'd see that I'm compulsive about resources and ideas too. How many times have you read a novel or seen a film and thought how useful it would be for a lesson?

At some stage, someone has enjoyed Mitch Albom's novel The Five People You Meet in Heaven, but rather than reading it, loving it and shelving it, they've been inspired to do something with it: Pre-teaching / creative writing exercise is no exception. The advantage to this resource, of course, is that it can easily be adapted if you're teaching Of Mice and Men as a class reader.

When we're not thinking about coursework, we'll be focusing on exam skills. I examine at GCSE level and know just how easy it is for students to drop marks on the writing section because they just don't manipulate the language in the right way. Doing brilliantly and is aimed at getting students to the magic C grade. It certainly should help them to do that – it's very comprehensive and should give you at least a few lessons. If you can teach them not to comma splice, that'd be a great thing too – it's my biggest bug-bear as an examiner and really pulls the marks down.

I think Polonius got it wrong when he said 'Neither a borrower nor a lender be'. Teachit's all about lending and borrowing, tweaking and adapting, and it works for me; not least because I've got a leaflet for the zoo and the time to go and see the giraffes ...


KS5 | Mary Williamson on P D James and reversing motorbikes

You might not ask your students to write a story about their summer holidays but I've just started at a new school and I wish someone would ask me. Could you feign interest for a few minutes? Aw, I'll tell y'all y'all anyway: I cruised across the Atlantic to start a new job in Houston, USA . I'm teaching International Baccalaureate (IB) for the first time and so I'm looking for resources which cross over from AS/A2 to IB.

On the way across to USA I bumped into P D James ... okay, not exactly but she was giving lectures on the ship I was on. She spoke about the writing process and how she always starts with setting and works from there. She builds her stories through a structured process and it reminded me of the first and second task in Excellent essay writing, in which students have to piece together the order of events in a fictional murder and then consider how the same principles apply to structuring a KS5 essay so that they build a cohesive and strong piece of writing.

James also spoke about some mistakes in her novels ... if you're interested look out for a character reversing a motorbike in one of them. Apparently each mistake has led a number of readers to write to her in great detail, often including diagrams. Although it was funny to hear about such mistakes you probably don't want to be writing similar remarks on your students' essays (or drawing diagrams) so it's worth doing the Technical terms starter with them, in which each group researches some technical terms and then the class try to match the words to the explanation.

Murder may not be subtle – James told the audience we would probably notice if a body slumped forward in the auditorium with a stiletto in his or her back – but students often find the language of KS5 texts difficult to penetrate and therefore miss the connotations, imagery or symbolism within them. You could always try using the Connotations and colours game, in which each student is given a different colour and is then asked such questions as, 'If your colour was a place, where would it be?' to get them started on text interrogation.

Just in case you're wondering, the double 'y'all' at the beginning of the piece isn't a typo; you use the repetition to signify that you are talking to more than one person - but I'll leave the British English versus American English piece for another day. Have a nice day now!


Language | Julie Blake on a particularly witty and urbane Jack Russell

Having been teaching original writing for a hundred and fifty years (remember, teaching years are like dog years and therefore worth at least seven ordinary ones), I've seen more feature articles for Bliss magazine than you could shake a stick at, more short stories than I care to think of that were a confessional mainline to a counselling appointment, and at least one Neighbourhood Watch leaflet that had me seriously considering a life of crime as an antidote.

But there have also been some real gems, of publishable standard could the student legitimately have had an editor like Jeffrey Archer's instead of me, my red pen and an exam board mark scheme. There was the opening chapter of a semi-autobiographical coming of age novel that was striking in its capture of the intensity of childhood friendships, and so hilarious in its portrayal of the local school that liaison evenings were never the same again. There was the harrowing and beautifully written narrative of one girl's flight with her family from Bosnia . And there was the barking mad but brilliant guide to local dog-friendly walks, written from the perspective of a particularly witty and urbane Jack Russell. I never again poured the 'you want to do what?!' bucket of cold water on a student's idea after that. You never know, it just might work...

And so to Teachit resources for some ideas and inspiration. First of all, for anyone doing AQA B, there is the Original Writing unit guide for students. Why reinvent the wheel when this is more or less oven-ready? Just add a few of your own class in-jokes and your own invective about missing the deadline and away you go.

One of the challenges of teaching this unit is managing the process. Time and time again, despite my warnings, students spend far too long on their first piece of writing and then produce a far thinner second piece. An unbalanced folder doesn't do well against the mark scheme, and it doesn't do justice to the student's ability. You could try giving students the Original writing progress check, to try and engage them in monitoring their progess. As they complete the tasks they colour in a blob. It works well as the basis for discussion with individuals about their progress: if they fill it in ahead of the lesson, you get an instant visual check and an easy prompt for a quick chat about targets for that week. It's easy to edit the blobs in Word if you would break the task down differently.

For loads of great advice, information and downloads for you and your students, one of the best starting points is the BBC's Writers' Room. The script archive is very useful for style models for both TV and radio, and includes children's drama which some students might like to have a crack at. The site also includes details of the BBC's writing competitions for the seriously talented or psychotically enthusiastic.


Drama | Nic Harvey puts pen to paper for Drama

Right. So. The theme for this term is creative writing. Hmm. Do we have to be writers to be good at Drama? Do we have to appreciate good writing to be good at Drama? Well, yes, we have to be able to write detailed, analytical reviews and accounts of our work and we have to show an understanding and appreciation of a range of diverse stimuli ... BUT the great thing about Drama is that our creativity can be shown in many different ways. Digital images, collages and diagrams can form an important part of Drama analysis at all Key Stages and can reflect a pupil's understanding of the drama and their role within it effectively. However, there comes a point when good old-fashioned writing, with a pen on paper cannot be avoided!

Ok, so Drama is a practical subject and most of the work will not be written on paper, but recording evidence and evaluating performance can be an important element of the course. Try using the GCSE Drama planning and evaluation sheet, which is easy to complete and helps pupils to plan their work, then improve it using the prompts on the sheet. The boxes on the sheet give a guide as to how much written work is expected – let's face it, there aren't many pupils who are prepared to write pages of analysis when they could be acting / fighting / talking about last night's TV.

Writing a critical review is another area which can cause teachers and pupils undue stress! Review of a live performance has saved my sanity more than once and is a generic resource which can be used for most live performances.

And if your pupils are as lazy as some of mine, GCSE Drama terminology provides a definition of some basic drama terms, leaving blanks for the little darlings to fill in. There is even a box of options at the bottom of the sheet and a teacher's copy with all the answers (in case you are feeling brain dead by the end of the lesson!) and it can be useful for a cover lesson activity. Another way of using this resource could be as a starting point for a longer piece of analytical writing where pupils explain how they have used the different devices in class. Add pictures, sketches or diagrams to jazz things up a bit and hey presto! - a successful piece of written work produced in a Drama lesson. Well, stranger things have happened!


Media | Philip White on creativity, codes and conventions

My local radio station used to do a competition in which the presenter would read out the bare bones of a local-interest story, and listeners would phone in with a newspaper-style headline. Inventiveness, puns and poetry came thick and fast. Original writing and the media are inextricably linked, but it is a paradox that some of the most original and creative achievements arise from following strict codes and conventions - and even stricter deadlines. Students can tend to think of the media as an exciting world of hot-desking and impromptu meetings, whilst the closest we come at the start of a new school year is covering for Mr Messy (desk strewn with the contents of the staff handbook) and forgetting officious deputy head's annual diatribe about Duties and Why They Matter. In reality, though, what teachers, students and 'media types' share is a capacity for creativity against a context of codes, conventions and, sometimes, constraints (OK, so I've overcooked the alliteration, maybe).

That we can't make a Hollywood Blockbuster is self-evident. But we can, for example, turn the sound down, watch the trailer and write our own voiceover. Which leads me to my first recommendation, A scheme of work. This is just one of a number of activities, many of them prompting original and creative written pieces.

It's been one of our favourites for some time, but one aspect of Publisher? With the probability of that annual showcase, your school's open evening, just around the corner, here's a personal endorsement: newspaper/magazine articles or leaflets have never looked so good!

Genre

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 ...


KS4 | Edna Hobbs on summertime ...

Summertime ... and the teaching is easy
SATS long over, and yr 11 all done

So now's the time to lavish some attention on year 10. There's nothing like a bit of speaking and listening work to help you get behind the teenage façade to the 'butterfly' beneath, so why not take a look at the variety of tasks on offer? Speaking and Listening Assessments: Explain, describe, narrate. Extended individual contribution includes marking criteria to focus the mind. Scott held us spellbound with a description of swimming with dolphins in Florida: amazing stuff from a boy whose default vocabulary is 'Hur' and 'Yeahr'.

At this time of year the most frequently asked question is 'Can we work outside?' and as that's exactly what I'd love to do - but, alas, may not - I have to find other ways of celebrating the summer. Sun Vampires is good exam preparation in disguise: a relevant and discussion-provoking article with questions and answers.

Working on line is a great motivator, so if you have the facilities, use the section is also excellent. Again, don't miss the links for researching WWI – make sure students take a look at the fascinating photo archive.

But my best find is in the Staffroom. Keziah's thread on World Cup Ideas has some marvellous contributions, especially useful for aliens like me to whom football is a mystery. Have a great summer!


KS5 | Lorna Smith on a Genre Journey

I'm currently teaching PGCE trainees who don't have an English degree but want to become English teachers – a brave yet inspired bunch! I'm taking them on a Genre Journey. (The alliteration appeals!) At this stage, I'm concentrating on novels, plays and poetry and the links between these three broad genres. (We'll have to travel to other genre-themed destinations some other time ... )

To entice explorers onto this exhilarating quest, you can't beat the series . This takes us on an introductory jaunt through the canon of English literature, identifying key writers and their chosen genres, with short extracts from each writer's work to tempt travellers to return there one day. The lessons are highly interactive, consisting of sorting and matching activities (including some available in Flash for the interactive whiteboard) and I can guarantee that your AS students will find them a challenge!

Another place to visit for poetry, plays and novels is, of course, the AQA Anthology. 'Town and Country' combines texts from all three genres and so Town and Country - AQA B Lit/Lang AS/A, containing background information and questions on each extract, is a great jumping-off point.

The Instructions and questions for online lesson activities on war poetry looks at World War I poetry through a variety of genres. Poems by Sassoon, Owen and Jesse Pope are explored through analysing contemporary posters and photographs together with information about the war and probing questions on the poems themselves. It's a rich, thought-provoking resource and my personal favourite – an important stopping-off point on our journey.

A good test of how far voyagers have come would be to use the fab new Choptalk resource: try the ready-made jigsaws (Free sample puzzles 1-5) to see how quickly students can recognise the genre of the hidden text. Ask them to think about the clues they use to identify the genres - then follow up by making your own Choptalk puzzles!

Finally, Titles for A Level Literature Comparative Coursework contains a cornucopia of novels, plays and poetry suggestions for study within and across genres. Use it to help students find inspiration for that all-important coursework essay – or, to conclude this extended metaphor with a flourish, as a travel brochure to tempt them on further Genre Journeys.


Language | Tim Shortis on synchronic and diachronic, yer wot ...

Traditional language study topic labels such as Child Language Acquisition and Language Change may suggest an exclusive focus on linguistic features changing over time. When looking at actual texts they need to be thought of as responses to particular situations as well as texts written in a particular time or generated by children of a certain age. Recent AQA B exam questions have foregrounded features of genre in texts with questions focused on young children's attempts to write in tabloid newspaper style or examples of comparable genre over time such as recipe texts or foreign language phrasebooks.

Collections such as Texts in Context present collections of advertising, cookery texts, dictionary entries and other specialised varieties allowing students to consider the variety of genre available at any particular time, and also to trace patterns in the development of genre over time.

Saussure's distinction between synchronic variation (change at a particular time) and diachronic variation (change over time), can be a useful handle for integrating the study of genre with the study of language development, and genre is a useful way of identifying AO5 contextual factors.

Here are some Teachit resources to get started.

Why do genres change over time?

Although about film this gives a useful link to teachers wanting to think about how genres change inevitably over time. The ideas about film are easily adapted to the Texts in Context and similar collections.

Analysing non-fiction

The table could be a useful structure for analysing features of a genre though it may work better with a little adaptation. Students could choose two texts of the same genre but from different times or two texts in different genre from the same time, or even, to make the point that genre are not necessarily formulaic, two texts from similar genres close in time.

Joking aside

Genre is sometimes presented as a formula. So for example the idea that all recipes are written in bullet points, in imperative sentences with lists of ingredients. Looking at actual texts from real contexts the matter is less clear cut. Joking aside uses language investigation methods to open up the way in which all genres contain subgenres and these variations relate to variations in the context. The focus here is on jokes and discourse structure but again it could be adapted with students discussing spoken and written examples of genre.


Drama | Annabel Kenzie on removing the dullness factor

Drama is life with the dull bits cut out (Alfred Hitchcock)

Year 10 may take some convincing of this. Fortunately, Teachit is packed full of great ideas to remove both the dullness factor and the fear factor. I love Speaking & Listening: Chat show - who is to blame? This Ricki Lake style interview is a great way of getting the pupils to use the lines from the play.

My year 10 class are currently studying Journey's End. After some initial scepticism they have got quite into the story and were clearly a bit put out when Osborne died - although Tanita did spoil it a bit by reading the introduction and shouting out 'Raleigh dies!' before we'd even finished Act 2. When they get bored it's always handy to throw in a few gruesome details about conditions in the trenches (Rats as big as cats!) and Teachit's resources have been very useful. Interviewing Stanhope makes a good speaking and listening task.

Scheme of work - Romeo and Juliet suggests some really fresh approaches that could be used in an English lesson as well as a drama studio.

When it comes to Shakespeare, nothing can beat a theatre trip. A handy site for your favourites list is the University of Birmingham 's Touchstone: Shakespeare in Performance. It tells you where all the major Shakespeare productions are being performed each year - which will save you trawling the internet for that elusive performance of Hamlet! As I'm sure you are aware, the Royal Shakespeare Company are currently in swing with the complete works – a great opportunity to see that obscure play you've always been meaning to read.


Media | Philip White takes a reality check

Another summer looms, and with it a plethora of so-called 'reality' audience-grabbers. Your students will no doubt form part of that audience. Genre can be an excellent starting point for developing your students' confidence using other media language, and provides a useful focus. For example, get your students to consider the conventions of the 'eviction', using a number of examples from the genre. At the very heart of this genre, especially in evidence in the 'eviction' programme, is a key media debate concerning the relationship between editing choices and representation. Whether it's for Media Studies or as a useful prompt for some argument writing in English, it is bound to raise your students' awareness of the commercial and moral impact of a ubiquitous media product.

There are some cracking resources focusing on genre lurking within the Media Library. Goldmember versus Goldfinger gives students useful prompts, and analysis of the spoof, in this case, Goldmember, alongside the original, Goldfinger, helps to reveal aspects of a particular genre powerfully and enjoyably. Slightly darker, but just as comprehensive is the very well structured Film noir: a scheme of work. This resource, aimed at AS/A2 Media students, provides a framework for close textual analysis and deconstruction, but, again, the emphasis on genre allows a more holistic understanding, too. The film trailer is a genre in its own right, and the well-judged resources in the Film trailers collection build students' skills for the Media coursework element of the AQA A GCSE English specification. This piece is assessed for writing, and the brevity of trailers and their free availability online, means these skills can be taught efficiently.

Like the spy films resource, the dedicated Genre section of the Media Library encourages a comparative approach to texts from different decades. Together, these resources provide an excellent balance of approaches. The Horror Genre, focusing on Dracula, has clarity and structure; and as a crisply written overview, the three-page guide Why do genres change over time also hits the mark.

What will happen to the reality genre over time, I wonder? Now that's a question to ponder over the summer!

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?


KS4 | Alison Smith on revision blues (and blu-tack)

Phew ... that's done for another year! With the horrors of standardisation day behind us, we're looking forward ... the end is in sight. But that means that we are now focusing on exam skills.

Revision's never been an enjoyable experience for me – as a student I always seemed to spend a fortune on multicoloured pens and paper, and ages planning to revise, before noticing that the exam was just around the corner. As a teacher, I'm keen that students do as I say and not as I did, but I'm not daft. The minute they're out of the door, I'm not in control – so whilst I am, they'll revise ...

I was reading the Secondary English Magazine the other day and was inspired by the idea of using pictures to stimulate writing. It's something I'm used to from teaching Entry Level, but not something that I really do with GCSE classes. Then I happened upon Writing a short story. It's packed with useful ideas which can be tweaked and developed into a mini scheme for tightening up their descriptive and imaginative writing. And it's a great excuse for taking postcards and photos into the classroom too.

If you've been following my editorials, you'll know that my class have been reading To Kill a Mockingbird. We're so involved in it that we've not finished reading yet, although we did play the character game (Ryan won!) As we all know, it's independent thought that gets them the higher grades so when we get there, I'm going to get the students to explore themes with the help of Whose theme is it anyway?

Literary terminology can be used for prose and poetry, although I'm going to be using the IWB version rather than the paper one ... saves on photocopying and I get to play. Two birds with one stone. :-)

Once students know what they're being assessed on, they stand a much better chance of actually doing it so I really like Toilet postcard revision activity which is definitely an end-of-course, fun and useful idea. I'll provide some postcards – blu-tack they can provide themselves.

Happy revising. :-)


KS5 | Gabrielle Acosta gives a student's perspective

As an A level student of both English Language and English Literature, doing some work experience at Teachit has been immensely valuable to my studies. I have printed several resources from the new language library to replace some of my own rather dog-eared notes, as well as encountering new vocabulary which I will try and put to good use in future essays!

Whilst sifting through the vast quantities of resources on the website, it has been interesting to see how many different approaches there are to teaching. Despite never having studied it, one of my favourite resources was the amusing Hamlet: resources. I thought this was a great approach to a play renowned for its gloomy plot, demonstrating to the less enthusiastic students that Shakespeare can actually be enjoyable!

Interaction with the text and fellow students is always a good way to initially get to grips with a piece of literature, but of course on the other end of the spectrum there are the intimidating vocab lists which every student inevitably ends up trying to cram the night before an exam. Particularly in English Language, I have found that applying my studies to articles, books, adverts and other pieces of text has been invaluable in learning what I need to know for exams. To be given a long list of words to learn is like a toddler being propped in front of a TV to help them learn to talk - if there's no interaction not only is the exercise dull to perform, but unmemorable too. I noticed that on Teachit there are many attempts to pull away from this method of teaching. Few students are going to find learning words fun but the Essential study pack - a useful form of revision and a good way to learn vocabulary. All the information the student needs to know has been laid out clearly and concisely yet there are activities which encourage them to memorise and apply their teachings. The student also has to associate the terms with the characters, applying their knowledge further.

Reading through the different resources and having a chance to examine teaching methods has been strangely enjoyable and interesting – there are so many creative approaches! I was also surprised to notice that despite the site being aimed at teachers, there are many resources which I know students would find incredibly useful to revise from. I'm sure I'll be using the website myself!


Language | Julie Blake on avoiding the hamster-wheel

So I've done my counting, and the answer is Tuesday 3rd May. In the true spirit of encouraging critical thinking, you guys now have to figure out the question.

Got it? I thought you would ... It's obviously the date on which I would be starting my class preparation for the AS English Language exams. 5th June for A2. Precisely three weeks beforehand and not a day sooner. I would rather boil my own head in sulphuric acid than waste weeks of enriching teaching and learning time in favour of hyped-up hamster-wheel activity that sees teachers and young people reduced to tears. Distress or boredom, one or the other ...

A student will get a good grade in English Language A Level if they are ready for it. That is about a general intellectual readiness, and a sufficiently rich experience of the subject to be able to see interesting patterns and connections, and a secure independent ability to think under pressure. It is about having developed a robust set of analytical skills and being able to respond flexibly and honestly to a text they have never encountered before.

So, at this time of year, I favour resources that build knowledge rather than test it.

Analysing texts is useful for getting AS students up to speed for ENB1 question 2. Instead of death-by-paper photocopying send groups off with a shoe box to be filled with mini texts. Then do lucky-dip analysis, picking a text at random and completing the grid in fifteen minutes maximum. Do it verbally in groups to start with. Build towards individual written work.

For A2 I'd be into Language thought for the day to get them thinking synoptically. Give pairs of students a slide to prepare a presentation on, finding connections between the quotation and the material they have been studying for two years and teasing out their understanding of ideas about language.

I know I highlighted it in last half term's editorial, but for A2 Language Change I'd be giving my students the Etiquette for women resource for 'your turn now' treatment, using any text they liked from the sublime Texts in Context website at http://www.bllearning.co.uk/live/text/. Do it in groups then swaps and presentations and critiques of each other's work.

Other than that, my top tip for teenage exam performance is to tell them to keep their clothes on. The minute they start wearing shorts, all hope is gone! ...


Drama | Nic Harvey on avoiding public humiliation

Revision? In the Drama Department? You must be joking! Well, I suppose we do have exams –

not

'sitting-at-a-desk-and-writing-exams-in-which-you-can-mess-them-up-and-nobody-really-knows'

but

'full-on-performance-exams-in-which-if-you-mess-up-you-are-publically-humiliated'.

So I'd better make sure my lot are ready for the mysterious examiner to walk through the door and judge them on a 20 minute performance which they have been working on for six weeks – well, when they weren't discussing prom dresses or signing year books ...

Resources I've used for revision purposes include Drama terminology. These are simple to use and can be used as a check-list to ensure our budding Keira Knightleys and Brad Pitts reach their true potential in their practical performance. For different ways to use these resources, refer to the new 'tweakit!' at the beginning of each resource.

Happy revision!


Media | Mary Williamson on stilletoes and creaky lace-ups

At this time of year, when browsing through the Media library to offer suggestions for teaching ideas, it is very tempting to offer up the succinct advice, 'Oh stick a film on. Your students are knacked, you're knackered - it won't do any harm.' I'm not convinced though that this will go down particularly well with either you or your students who, if anything like some of those I've taught in the past, have only just realised that they have exams ... yes exams ... those really annoying time slots where you're shut in the sports hall, not allowed to talk, female teachers don 'tap tap' stilettoes and male teachers wear specially designed creaky lace-ups.

Students are often in a last-minute panic round about now so help them revise without realising it by doing the Tagger Trainers advert activities. It will focus them on purpose, audience and form, think about persuasive techniques and it won't make mounds of marking.

For print media revision use the interactive quick and fun starter activity Film Studies - exploring symbols, language and presentational devices to remind the students about both the technical language of film and TV and the use of symbols.

If your school follows AQA B specification for English you might find it useful to have a look at the media and non-fiction revision materials available within the AQA B (SEG) Pre-released materials 2006 area.

And finally (as Trevor McDonald always used to say and therefore this is a truly relevant link with Media :-) ) if you and your students really are knackered stick on Chicken Run and adapt some of the ideas from the one page Scheme of Work for revision purposes.

Now on the clothing theme (just look at the other Teachit editorials for confirmation of this weirdly annual exam-time focus) I'll just go and polish my special exam hall stilletoes ...

Prose

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.


KS4 | Alison Smith on the fortune of marrying a good book with a good resource

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an English teacher in possession of a GCSE class must be in want of good prose texts ...

Obviously, thanks to Andrew Motion's recent list (see our Staffroom thread for details) we've all ordered class sets of Ulysses and Don Quixote – but there seems to be somewhat of a lack of resources for those texts on here (come on folks ... get submitting :-) ). But there is a wide variety of material for a huge range of other texts.

Where to begin then? At the beginning, with creation ... the Frankenstein resources are well used in my department, and what I really like about the The duality of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde which really helps the students to get to grips with the requirements of the prose study task.

Heroes has become a popular text in my department of late. The Student study pack must have taken someone hours to produce – it's a fabulous resource which takes the students stage by stage through the text with a wide variety of activities to complete along the way.

I know that I'm going to embarrass myself in front of my own year 11 class very soon. No, not because I say something daft (that happens frequently) but because To Kill a Mockingbird makes me cry. Frequently. And not subtly. Despite that, I love teaching it and students' reactions have always been positive. We're not quite there yet, but the Character quotation quiz will be making an appearance when we're nearer to finishing the novel. I might even show off and use the Flash version to make a competition of it – but only if I get to win!

Should a young man in possession of a fortune come my way, I shall be able to give it all up and live a life of luxury ... it seems unlikely though, so I'd better go and do some photocopying. :-)


KS5 | Keziah Featherstone on taking the angst out of A Level

A Level teaching remains one of most sought after and most frightening of responsibilities. The reaction of most staff when asked if they want A Level Literature on their timetable tends to be an immediate "Oh, yes," followed by two years of angst and panic.

I was the same when I started out. A level was the holy grail – mature, dedicated students that had chosen to stay on and study the subject. Unfortunately it was also students who couldn't think of anything else to do and had never read a book they hadn't been forced to, with weekend jobs, traumatic personal lives and unreliable alarm clocks. And then there was the truly daunting task of teaching novels I'd never read before in an exciting way that also fully prepared students for an exam that I myself had made a complete pig's ear of at school.

While a student I spent too much time sat around a table with my teacher talking about the book, not making notes because I didn't know how to and being unsure what I actually needed to do or know for the exam. Teachit resources are fab precisely because they offer teachers a start on texts that completely vex them, alongside some great examples of good practice.

The Essential study pack for Captain Corelli's Mandolin is excellent. I particularly like the quote quest and section on style – quite often a difficult concept to teach.

A lovely oral group task for The Child in Time is The psychiatrist's report for Enduring Love. Again, if this isn't the text you've chosen, it is a brilliant template that could be adapted.

One of my favourite books, and therefore a text I'd avoid teaching like the plague, is Beloved. The Timeline of events in the novel activity is super, as is the Presentation: How far is Beloved a political novel? – the sort of resource to save other teachers hours and hours.

Hierarchy in Gilead gets students using evaluation and analysis to place the characters of The Handmaid's Tale into a social hierarchy. I can vouch for it working extremely well in the classroom and provoking lots of discussion. Indeed the whole scheme of resources on The Handmaid's Tale saved my life – well, my social life – when I used it ... Thank you Teachit!


Language | Julie Blake on sticky fingerprints

Never judge a book by its cover, my mum always told me. Which seemed an illogical proposition, given that I already knew that her pastel-wrapped historical romances and the blocky futuristic covers of my dad's Arthur C Clarke paperbacks were not my idea of reading fun. It was a childhood filled with unfathomable idiomatic expressions but I guess I took this one to heart more than I thought as now I never judge romantic prospects by their physical beauty, wealth or success, but only ever by the elegance of their prose style. William Dalrymple and Hari Kunzru – be very afraid ... And this is what is intriguing about prose. No matter how quickly or carefully we write, how we attempt to conceal or deceive or fictionalise, something of who we are is all there in the language, like a fingerprint.

So, first up, following this theme, is a resource that explores the concepts of idiolect, sociolect and dialect, and how these combine to create our own unique linguistic fingerprint. Language Fingerprints uses examples from Don Foster's work in linguistic forensics as the basis for this. This is the man who 'exposed' the author of Primary Colors, assisted in the Unabomber trial, and 'found' Belle du Jour in about fifteen minutes flat. Have fun playing detectives in real world scenarios.

Politicians leave their sticky fingerprints all over the place; just as well, or Rory Bremner would be out of a job. But given the pressure on high profile politicians to deliver speeches day in day out, and therefore to employ speech writers, their linguistic individuality is often masked with standard tricks of the rhetorical trade. The language of power and the power of language makes a good starting point for investigation of these, with www.americanrhetoric.com an invaluable resource for further development.

And finally, Etiquette for Women invites us to explore a prose fingerprint from the past, one that encodes in its language and style a very different view of gender than we have come to expect today.


Drama | Nic Harvey on why prose is sick (man)

Is prose relevant to today's society? Surely writing in paragraphs and reading books is sooo last century ...? Well even though I am a trendy not quite middle-aged (dream on) teacher who knows that 'sick' and 'bad' are positive adjectives when followed by 'man' I still value a bit of prose now and again. I read books with the best of them. Ok, I don't read as much as I used to and couldn't tell you what is in the top ten current bestsellers list, but I have read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time AND all of the Harry Potter books so there!

So how is prose relevant to Drama? In many ways. A passage of prose is extremely useful as a stimulus for a drama exploration. For example, in Scheme of work – Kidnap!, Chapter 10 of Ian McEwan's The Child in Time is used to set the scene of a busy supermarket, bustling with characters from different social classes and developing pupils' characterisation and improvisation skills. They are so focused during this whole group activity, that they don't notice the previously primed kidnapper abducting my child. They then use hot-seating to track the culprit down ... and my child is returned, unlike poor Kate in the novel ...

A short story such as 'Nightmare in Yellow' by Fredric Brown can lead to thoughtful and interesting drama, as pupils take on the role of one of the people at the party and are interviewed by police. They can also act out flashbacks from the perpetrator's life to try to explain how he ended up being the way he is. A guest's police statement in the KS3 library is a useful resource to support work on this text.

A cross-curricular exploration of a novel studied in English can be useful to help pupils understand character and plot. They could interview different characters to learn more about motive or adapt a section of the text into a play script with stage directions.

A warm-up activity using prose can be as simple as reading through the text and asking pupils to choose a phrase which appeals to them and learn it. This can be a few words or a whole sentence. They then walk round the room using this phrase in different ways, shouting it out in anger or happiness or as if calling for a lost dog, asking someone for directions or giving instructions. This can be built into a conversation between four or more pupils in a given setting where they can only say their chosen phrase but can change the tone to convey different meanings. This can be loads of fun and often has hilarious results. Honestly, being a Drama teacher is sooo taxing ...


Media | Rhiannon Glover on the film of the book

You might think it a tall order to find some resources appropriate for this half-term's theme of Prose in Teachit's Media Library – but not so. The 'film of the book' has always given English teachers an excuse for switching on the telly in their classrooms on a Friday afternoon and, with it, the opportunity not exactly to relax (when else are you going to mark your mock exam papers?), but at least the possibility of sitting down. But now that Media Studies has become a GCSE option in most schools as well as being enshrined in the English curriculum itself, the video can no longer just be used as a quick and easy way to explain the plot.

There are many different film versions of Dracula and Frankenstein still to be found in English store cupboards. The Horror Genre.

Clueless is another film loosely based on a classroom favourite – Jane Austen's Emma. Essay guide is a useful resource on a spoof of one of our favourite GCSE prose characters, Sherlock Holmes.

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.


KS4 | Alison Smith on Bruce the shark and Johnny Depp amongst other things ...

At this time of year, all the TV channels start talking up their new schedules, but does what's in them get better? That's a matter for some debate ... maybe that's why, every year, people actually log on to the Teachit website on Christmas Day. In 2005, there were 2364 of us here. Given a choice between Teachit and yet another repeat of Only Fools and Horses, I know where I'd rather be!

And where does that lead me? Thinking about the television brings me nicely into the Media and Non-fiction area of the site where, incidentally, some of my all-time favourites live. As a coursework assignment for GCSE English, Shrek works brilliantly. The fact that the students have all seen and, better still, enjoyed the film makes this a popular resource for teachers and students alike. And, if you're feeling generous, you can even let them watch the whole thing!

Jaws is another amazing film that lends itself well to a coursework piece for Media. The only time I've ever regretted using it was when a student had to run out of the room to be sick - and we hadn't even seen Bruce the shark at that point :-)

The first time that I came across the Without a Clue resources, I put them in my "My Teachit" folder and left them there. Recently, though, I've been looking for a new Media assignment and this is one that I really fancy. I think it's because it's a bit different, and the film is really funny. Add to that the fact that resources are well put together and you've got a magic combination.

But it's not all about that 20%. There's far more to it than that ...

Thinking about brightening up the classroom for the new year? For anyone who didn't ask Santa to bring them a range of book and film posters, or a set of DVDs for use in school (why do we do that?), the Non fiction text types posters could well prove a useful substitute. Maybe they're not as good looking as the hero of the latest blockbuster movie but they might be a little more educational. (And you can always put Johnny Depp in your English office instead :-) )

Exam prep does my head in. There really are only so many times that I want to set them a paper, mark it and go through it in class but it really is a vital part of the course. That's why I was pleased to find ICT in English - particularly GCSE Paper 1 Skills: Presentational devices. Not only does it help to revise the skills that are needed for the exam, but it puts them in the position of creating something. What better way to make them think about the EFFECT of something which, after all, is worth rather a lot of marks.

And so, reader, I leave you with this thought: This house believes Teachit is a bit like Christmas ...' it's full of gifts that people have packaged up and sent and shared with others, simply because they can. Thank you for your gifts, and enjoy using the ones you've received!


KS5 | Rhiannon Glover selects resources to inspire and support budding writers

As the Teachit theme for this term is Media and Non-fiction, in writing the KS5 editorial, I've got a difficult task. Difficult, not because of a lack of Teachit resources that encourage students to approach these texts analytically and confidently, but because Media, Literature and Language are studied as separate subjects at AS and A2 Level so, if you're teaching media texts at KS5 you're more likely to be browsing our growing Media Library, and if you're teaching non-fiction texts at KS5, you may want to check out our new Language Library. That said, students studying any English course at KS5 would benefit from a basic understanding of different purposes and features of non-fiction texts and will find these posters are clear and informative: Language Basics will introduce students to terms and concepts which will lead to more developed linguistic analysis of literary texts.

Curriculum 2000 has led to lesson time being squeezed at KS5 so that you may feel you no longer have the opportunity to encourage wider reading and develop critical analysis skills using texts that aren't part of the English Specification you follow. However, competition for university places and increased competition between school sixth forms, sixth form colleges and FE colleges together with DFES enthusiasm for supporting Gifted and Talented students means that 'Enrichment' and HE transition programmes at schools and colleges are becoming more varied and formalised and may provide an ideal opportunity to enhance students' English skills and broaden their academic experience. At the Sixth Form College where I work a Film Club, Book Group, Creative Writing Workshop and Debating Group are run by assorted English and Media teachers on a Wednesday afternoon who have to prevent their students being poached by the Forensic Science or Mehendi workshops! If you run a Film or Media Enrichment Group too you will find the following resources exceptionally detailed and easy to adapt for your students:
An analysis of 'Rear Window' .

A resource outlining the pros and cons of Creative Writing 2 from KS4 Library]. And don't forget to send in your students' best creative work so we can publish it!


Language | Julie Blake has been getting resources out of her bin and elsewhere ...

Only the crumbliest flakiest chocolate...

Whenever people ask where I get the best English Language lesson ideas from, the answer is generally "from the bin". It's true ... When my last bunch of students were asked to identify the highlight of the course, what got the top vote? Was it the trip to the British Library? The lesson with the all-singing all-dancing digital multimedia gizmos? Nah. It was the Jammy Dodgers lesson. Resorting to glucose-max survival strategies at the end of a very long term, I munched my way through a box of mini-dodgers, tossed the box in the bin, and inspiration struck. The box! The packaging! Lovely ephemeral text that produced lively debate about the language used, and about wider issues of how packaging and advertising work.

It was a Bandaid lesson that bought me some time, and what I like about the resources I've flagged up here is that they've developed really useful materials for taking this kind of work further. Mostly written for Media Studies courses, they contain some elements that an AS/A2 English Language teacher would want to edit, but hey, that's one of the great things about Teachit resources - you can! All of these have good ideas with multiple applications - for basic language analysis, exploring representation, and as starting points for mini-investigations and original writing.

Chocolate: an advertising project
This starts with students analysing the marketing of their favourite chocolate product, and then they get to design the wrapper and advertising poster for a new chocolate product. With some questions to focus more securely on the language frameworks, this could be a very productive fun few lessons. A web resource that might be useful in developing this would be the ads section of the Cadbury's site at http://www.cadbury.co.uk/EN/CTB2003/marketing/tv_ads/1960s_TV_Ads.htm.

Advertising - discussion notes and tasks
This has a very nice list of initial discussion points which could be used for all sorts of activities involving debate and persuasive language. It then moves into a choice of activities that are more complex versions of the chocolate product advertising: one invites students to design a healthy food product ad for children, the other a health promotion ad for teenagers on binge drinking. Some useful data here - http://www.sheu.org.uk/youngpeoplespages/youngpeoplepages.htm - and lots of examples of health promotion posters here - http://www.nutrition.org.uk/home.asp?siteId=43§ionId=376&subSectionId=313&parentSection=300&which=2.

Catchy phrases
This resource is designed specifically for AS/A2 English Language, its primary purpose to explore aspects of phonology. It does this within the context of advertising slogans, another interesting area for language investigation. The slogans used are a bit on the pensionable side in places, but this is useful in that it leaves open the option to get students investigating more contemporary ones. A web resource that might be useful to go with this is the list of 100 favourite TV ads broadcast by Channel 4 in 2000, found at http://www.thecustard.tv/linksandlists/100ads.html.

Of course, for teaching the superlative adjective, only a Flake advert will do...


Drama | Nic Harvey on resisting temptation and more ...

It is clear to see how the media and Drama are related. Films and TV dramas, commercials and soap operas rely on effective acting and audience appeal to make them successful while newspapers and magazines rely on real life dramas to survive. All of the above media can be used as a stimulus in the Drama Studio. The concept of your life taking different paths depending on a single decision or occurrence as seen in the film 'Sliding Doors' can be used as a starting point at Key Stage 3 or 4, with interesting results. This idea is used in Drama Essentials Temptation where a character is tempted to do something wrong and suffers the consequences then gets the opportunity to 'rewind' their actions and play out the more positive ending by resisting temptation. If only life were as simple!

I have used the idea of creating a TV appeal at KS4 as an evaluative tool to explore the pupils' understanding of appealing to an audience by using dramatic techniques. This tests their skills by challenging them to stage an appeal which would usually be filmed for TV. They therefore have to make staging decisions and qualify these, demonstrating their understanding to the examiner in their coursework. This works well as a final activity linked to our Scheme of work - Kidnap! which explores the motives for and effects of child abduction. Cross-curricular links with GCSE Media are also possible here.

Then of course there is the good old-fashioned newspaper. Using a newspaper article as a stimulus, from our GCSE Drama - exploring fame scheme of work. The main challenge here is to keep abreast of who's hot and who's not in the modern world. It's also a reminder of your age when you list celebrities who the kids have either never heard of or condemn as being ancient and you as being 'well old innit!'

A current newspaper article is the only resource you will need to add to the Drama ~ Media Exploration in Drama Essentials which can also be used as a Citizenship resource. How flexible and cross curricular we are in Drama!


Media | Keziah Featherstone helps us start the New Year with ... chocolate

I'm sure I'm not the only teacher currently stuffed full of chocolate and slumped in front of the sofa ... and this of course flavours the sorts of resources I've been investigating from the Media Library. Not that I'd ever dare to suggest another couple of hours of "SingStar 80s" on the PS2 or drifting off to the surf in "Pirates of the Caribbean" is any kind of substitute for good old fashioned lesson planning over the New Year period, I've pulled out a few goodies that make media teaching nice'n'easy with a hangover and another diet to start ...

A pleasantly chocolately scheme of work for KS3 is the Chocolate: an advertising project unit, a personal favourite that never fails to motivate students. I've even tried a revised version with sixth-formers who promised me that chocolate cod definitely had a market audience as it was bound to be yummy. So I made some and they ate it: "chocolate with a fishy after taste" was the verdict but they decided to drop it from mass production, thankfully.

Another practical KS3 project is the five lesson Advertising campaign which stimulates group work oracy. The preparation of watching adverts can be set as homework, which is an agreeable one for all concerned at this time of year.

For more able KS3 students and GCSE C/D borderline and below students, is the Magazine advertising project which has the added bonus of structuring a comparison essay - a vital skill.

More moving image fiction, and again the practice of important comparison essay writing skills, the Essay guide resources when teaching detective fiction. In fact, connecting spoofs to their genre is a fantastic way of looking at media.

For those with a more serious mind, the News values promptsheet has proved invaluable for GCSE English, GCSE Media and A Level Media students. It makes a fantastic introduction and focuses students onto an issue that is often difficult and distant.

Another brilliant resource is the The language of newspapers (NLS 7) scheme of work, complete with NLS short-term lesson plans and resources. It's thorough and imaginative, and highly recommended. The NLS may be for Y7 but I'm planning on adapting it for my GCSE students - preparing for the non-fiction exam.

And lastly, a quick one off activity that I really like is the News headlines activity which is fab on the IWB or OHP.

I hope this gives food for thought and that there's something here for everyone ... Happy New Year!

Poetry

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 -
a lion's roar
a shark's restaurant
a quilt of blue
a surfer's paradise

'The dark' gets similar imaginative treatment. The images are so stimulating that they should inspire some engaging poems from your students. However, you might like to use the resource like this: give your students a subject like 'the moon is...', split them into pairs, and get each pair to come up with one image. Then get each pair in turn to say their line and - hey presto - you've got a surprising, whole-class poem, with not a bit of 'writing' in sight!

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
An orchard of the sky,
Where magic trees their petals shake
Upon each gazing eye.

(From 'Fireworks' - James Reeves)

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!


KS4 | Alison dips into the poetry library for hidden gems

Don't tell anyone, but I've never been that keen on poetry... I had a bad experience at school and it put me right off. Recently, though, I've faced my fears (no, not by dousing the dreaded Anthology in petrol and lighting the touchpaper) by thinking "out of the box" and doing things that are just that bit different.

I think my problem with poetry came from being outfaced by it. I remember having to read a poem and say what it meant. How should I know what the poet was thinking? What I needed was How to write about a poem might also have helped.

If you're an AQA A person, I can highly recommend the Exploring the AQA A (NEAB) Poetry Collection (Heaney & Clarke). There are plenty of other resources for all sections of the Anthology, which goes to show that we're all still busily creating new things to enliven "that poem book" as a year 11 called it the other day.

One year 11 class sat their GCSE English exam in year 10, so we're now following a Literature only course. Although they've still got Anthology poetry to work on, I wanted to give them a wider experience, so we started off the year by looking at the Woman Ironing and the students have produced some excellent responses. The very fact of it NOT being a set text makes it all the more appealing.

My school likes to advertise itself as being "on the fringes of the Lake District". What that means is that when they drew the line that divides the bit that the tourists have heard of from the other bit, they missed us off. So we're outside the line. Not in the Lake District. At all. That's no bad thing, though. We don't need William Wordsworth (although we do think he's pretty great) because we've got our own poet. He wasn't particularly Romantic or lyrical. He doesn't extol the beauties of the landscape in the same way that the Lakeland poets did. He's what my class call a realistic poet. And if you're an "off comer", you've probably never heard of Norman Nicholson.

I feel very lucky to work where I do (I can see the sea from my window and the fells are within my reach too) and I think it's important to share that with the students. They just don't believe that where they live is important. I've been trying to show them how lucky they are, and Hopkins' message in Inversnaid was a great way in. Sadly though, the wilderness has suffered somewhat of late, so asking students to compare a poet who "wander'd lonely as a cloud" with one who writes about the nuclear reprocessing plant makes sense. Take them out on the fells and to Dove Cottage and ask them to write a poem about their experiences, and marvellous things happen. It is indeed a "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings". So for that, poets, I thank you.


KS5 | Christine Sweeney enjoys her rummage around the KS5 Poetry library

I felt genuine pleasure when asked to review the Teachit KS5 Poetry resources - a small, but select library of resources. I personally adore poetry, although a deep love of poetry can make it both a pain and a delight to teach. Heaven help us when students fail to be enthused and we experience that deep sinking feeling and sudden desire to be elsewhere; somehow it seems harder to press on with than it does with prose. But, oh, isn't it just grand when a student engages with a poem? And how cool is it when a familiar poem is made new again by an idea or a different perspective from one of our more enthused students?

One of the key things about teaching any literature is allowing the students to discover it for themselves and engage with the text personally. Here you can find tools as well as ready-made resources. For those schools who are subscribed as Teachit.works members the Try looking at the results of a free sample 'crunched' poetry text: Owen's 'Futility. Students could be presented with ready made sorted texts on paper - or better still asked do this 'crunching' and sorting themselves. For instance, all function words could be deleted, or specific word classes selected. Students could work with those in a variety of ways: discovering the type of lexical choices the poets make; the number of occurrences of certain ideas; rewriting as 'found' poems or prose; or ordering by rank order as a simple pyramid or diamond. Sentences can also be crunched and sorted as well as lexis - not so useful for e e cummings perhaps, but a nice idea for other poets.

Keats is a particular favourite of mine and the resources here have stood the test of time. There are many study aids to support the direct reading of the poems and discussions of the themes, but for success, students also need context and practice questions targeted at the attainment targets, and the resources here offer help. For instance there is a very well thought out Study Pack (Study Pack 1) for the poems and these make a good springboard for preparing for studying the poems in context.

Often when poets are added to the syllabus, Teachit is the first place that materials appear as we work our way through these texts ourselves and then offer them up to colleagues. Recently I was privileged to meet some of the major contributors to the site and I can only say I was incredibly impressed. It added to my sense of what a team all the contributors are. We can all be sure that the resources on here are tried and tested in the classroom by real teachers who genuinely care. It is hard to pick out particular ones sometimes, but I am impressed by the materials for Teachit Staffroom (an entire resource in itself) for a recent discussion on Duffy resources and help. Just use the search facility to find the thread concerned.

The synoptic unit for AQA Specification A is an interesting one to teach and covers a period that led to such a literary expression of collective pain that a great deal of it survives to move our society even today. The War Poetry collection is wonderful and I love the interactive activity for Anthem for ...? Youth by Wilfred Owen. It is a refreshingly different way to approach this powerful and moving poem and will help students really consider the poet's choices - how he created such an impact in such a concise form. Not only does it explore the poem itself, but the very nature of poetry writing.

I have not mentioned the wider resources that would help with all poetry study at KS5, but only because they have been reviewed elsewhere and not because I have not found them worthwhile. Perhaps the hardest part of writing these reviews is not finding what to recommend - it's the leaving things out!


Language | Julie Blake plays matchmaker with poetry and language

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an English teacher in possession of a literature degree, must be in want of an AS/A2 English Language baptism by fire. However little known the feelings or views of such a teacher may be on first entering the school/college, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of The Management, that s/he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their English classes.

Ah, the timeless classic we all know and love so well. But hey, look on the bright side - for all the heartache and misunderstandings along the way, we know right from the start that there'll be a happy ending! In Jane Austen it's the letter that brings peace, love and harmony back into the world; in this situation it's a handy little Teachit poetry resource you can recycle into your language teaching. It's all just a question of lateral thinking and a quick beating of your students over the head with a spiked club to make sure they understand that this is literary language and not authentic everyday chit-chat. But that said...

First up, check out Chaucer - The Wife of Bath translation activity. Hours of family entertainment to be had from the interactive whiteboard, and good for some basic language change. With a stronger class, or as an extension activity for individual gifted and talented students, get them to provide a critique of the modern English translation used here. Why have the perfectly comprehensible words "straunge" (strange) and "strem" (stream) been replaced with "foreign" and "river"? Lots of scope here for work with the online OED exploring contemporaneous meanings of words.

Next, have a look at The Dating Game. Cut the extracts up, stick them on coloured card, practise sticking them on a Velcro time line and you've got the ideal marking displacement activity! Er, and your kinaesthetic learners might like it too. I'd customise this by replacing prose extracts with more poetry to make the language more comparable, and add a bit of literary context to make the point that every text has a context, and any sensible discussion of language change needs to show an appreciation of this.

And finally, in a similar vein, check out The Lord's Prayer. Does this count as a poem? I dunno, but in the church of my childhood it's always set out like a poem... Directly comparable language change with useful linkage to the King James Bible and its role in the standardisation of English. Language variation? Look at the language of common prayers from one religious tradition. Compare the prayers of different religious traditions. Language debates? Explore the current debate between Christian advocates of the Book of Common Prayer as the only appropriate language for the word of God, and the modern evangelists who are all for connecting to the common man through the word on the street. For more source material, check out http://www.biblesociety.com.au/smsbible/ and http://www.biblegateway.com/.


Drama | Nic Harvey gets to grips with poetry in (e)motion

It's an automatic teenage response: "I HATE doing this...it's boring!' or other versions of the same...'You can't understand it'; 'It's pointless' and more recently: 'It's pants!' So how do we convince our future doctors, lawyers and theatre critics of the value of poetry? Using a poem as a stimulus for drama works well because the analysis of the content comes naturally through the dramatic exploration. There is no need to sit with a pencil and underline similes and personification, or to comment on the metre or syntax. In the Drama Room, the poem can literally be brought to life.

As an English teacher, I used drama to aid comprehension of set GCSE poems - hot-seating Miss Havisham ('Havisham', Carol Ann Duffy) and using flash-backs to show her story while she narrates it can help to show her anger and passion as well as the reasons behind these emotions. Similarly, exploring Simon Armitage's poems by enacting the content or interviewing the characters can enlighten some pupils and reinforce prior learning for others. An interesting activity is to bring some of the characters together - perhaps in a chat-show setting and waiting to see what ensues...

At KS4, 'Saw it in the papers' is an emotive exploration of child abuse which pupils find engaging and stimulating. The scheme of work is relevant to GCSE syllabuses and always produces interesting and poignant drama work.

Pupils can even write their own poems and use these as stimulus for their drama work - or song lyrics. (How cool, hip and trendy can you get?) I might be getting carried away here but I feel a cross-curricular link with English coming on... quick get me a glass of water!

Shakespeare

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
Set by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."

Ahhhhh, Shakespeare!


KS4 | Alison Smith remembers the salad days of summer

It only seems like yesterday that I was sitting in the garden, thinking about the summer holidays stretching before me... and now I'm sitting in my study, thinking about the Autumn term stretching before me. When I wasn't a teacher, those terms lasted forever and a day and the holidays never got any closer. Now that I am a teacher, there's so much to do in a term that they seem to fly by (but maybe someone with a better grasp of the space-time continuum can explain why the holidays still never arrive).

Our first major event is taking the Sixth Form students to London for three days. For some of them, it'll be their first time in the big smoke; for most of them, it'll be their first trip to the Globe. In June, I took my year 10 students down to see The Winter's Tale and, although we got soaked through and they claim not to have understood a word of it, the looks on their faces when they walked into the theatre were amazing - and they're still talking about it now!

Shakespeare at GCSE is a vast subject - how do you choose from all those plays? My students began with Othello, looking at the character of Iago and how he causes "chaos to come again". However, the opportunity to see a play and then write about it was far too good to miss: hence the trip to London. The question - To what extent is it "...requir'd / You do awake your faith" in The Winter's Tale? Their answers are due in over the next week or so. Watch this space...

Another popular choice is Romeo and Juliet made an appearance on the television over the summer (who else groaned at the oh-so-obvious tomb scene in Eastenders?) so perhaps teachers will be inspired (by Eastenders???) to write some new assignment titles for that particular play.

With both The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Merchant of Venice.

If your stock room is anything like mine, it's full of boxes of rarely touched Shakespeare. With the RSC putting on every single play in one year, isn't this a great opportunity to roll up our sleeves, rummage in the back of the cupboard and dust off something that was last opened in the year dot? Troilus and Cressida, anyone?


KS5 | Christine Sweeney tells us how to create an electric atmosphere in the classroom

Hmm... hopefully tanned and rested, we have all landed back in our classrooms enthusiastic and raring to go, feeling that frisson of excitement and with everything planned meticulously...

Yes, I know the enthusiasm is there, but the planning is never finished, is it? Not least because we are constantly evaluating and adapting what we deliver. Which is why it is always great to share resources; not just to save re-inventing the wheel, but also to experience different ideas and approaches. That is why, even after several decades of A Level Literature teaching, I always check out the resources on here before I start a text, even when I have taught it before.

The best resourced KS5 Shakespeare texts are currently The Tempest: a testament to both their greatness and popularity with us teachers. It is easy to understand. To sit in a classroom with students gripped in suspense and horror as they read aloud the sonorous and pitifully pitiless poetry of Othello as he looks down on the sleeping Desdemona, has to be second only to watching a performance in the flesh. Stage the lesson right and the atmosphere is electric. I experience the deep magic of the play anew with each new set of students. For that reason I am particularly drawn to the Othello resources. One of my favourite topics is that of the men and women in the play. As an unapologetic feminist of the 'old school', I can get just a teeny bit carried away (I have a cracking good time with this topic), so it is good to have a balanced argument to present when discussing it!

I am always grateful that colleagues will share their expertise and knowledge, especially as I know how much time it takes to pull together information, so the Literary Context sheet for Othello is an impressive and extremely useful resource, grounded in the text with excellent supporting references and quotations.

I can still feel daunted by the prospect of ensuring I cover a good range of topics when I start a text new to me in spite of access to past papers and the Specifications. For that reason a good list of essay questions like Essential essay questions in the Measure for Measure resources is invaluable. There are such useful lists throughout the Shakespeare resources along with some pretty helpful background and critical notes to the plays.

It isn't all essay questions and literary theories. Like many of us, I am a great believer in making sure there is a variety of experience - and some fun - in the A Level classroom, so who could resist The Tempest activity in the Design an Island modelling resource? We are not often called to bring plasticine to the classroom. Not so much child's play as activating kinaesthetic thinkers!

In line with that thinking, the recently added Study pack for The Tempest is an excellent resource. Drama based and aimed for a reading of the whole play, it is wonderful mix of drama activities, all of which can be done in the classroom, with reflection and note-taking activities, ending on a set of suggested coursework titles. If you are as drama-shy as I (to my shame) can be, I promise there is nothing to fear here! It looks a great way to read the text through, but even if you don't follow the whole scheme, there will be no problem in selecting individual activities to add to your own scheme. It is no mean thing to have such good resources to hand to boost involvement and help us target different thinking styles by supplementing our own preferred teaching styles, and these will help remind the students that a play is, in fact, an activity. In fact, Come to think of it, I can visualise myself in my classroom standing on a table in a shipwreck... Well perhaps not, but this activity is an excellent ice-breaker for the more daring teacher (and you and your group can stay feet firmly on the ground if you wish!).

Many thanks to all the contributors. Like so many of us, I adore Shakespeare's works and teaching it at A Level always feel like a privilege. It has been a pleasure to look at these resources again. I wish us all a good first half term back.

Christine Sweeney


Language | Julie Blake gets boxing clever with our Shakespeare resources

Given that I generally split my time between travelling in cyberspace and growing prize cucumbers, I never actually got round to seeing Celebrity Boxing on the TV, but I love the concept. Not the real-fake violence or the ridiculous shorts, obviously, but the whole blokey closing time argument about who could take who any day of the week. In my own version of the reality TV show, no two-bit soap stars and BB contestants take to the ring, and I certainly don't let the cold hand of death interfere with the proceedings. Oh no, top of the bill in my current Fantasy Celebrity Boxing bout is David Crystal versus William Shakespeare. It's a tantalising fight for who gets the title of World Heavyweight Champion of the English Language. Encyclopaedic knowledge or The Complete Works? It's a tough call.

But as this term's theme is Shakespeare's language and not David Crystal's, I guess I'd better focus on the goateed one. Of course, many students take AS/A2 English Language precisely in order to escape the Bard's clutches, but his linguistic genius and importance make that nigh on impossible. Even a cheap classroom populist like me will sneak him in during A2 language change. If you want to see the elaboration of the English language at work, an important stage of the standardisation process, where better to start than with the writer credited with such richness of lexical and grammatical invention (and for examples, page 63 of Crystal's Encyclopaedia of the English Language)?

But he's good for other stuff too. Language and power - top pick would have to be any interaction between Iago and Othello, but also the 'nothing' scene in King Lear... Language and gender - Beatrice and Benedick, Hamlet and Gertrude (especially in conjunction with Margaret Atwood's wonderful rewriting of it in Good Bones). Vernacular language and regional dialect, public speeches, private conversations and monologues - it's all there, and though you may have to batter your students over the head to ensure they recognise its artifice as literature, if you compare and contrast (as in the AQA B 'Talk in Life and Literature' module), it's an excellent recycling opportunity, especially for teachers fresh to the subject from a literature background.

Here at Teachit, there is some top stuff ready and waiting for you:

Shakespeare's Grammar - comprehensive and very useful for developing both grammatical and pragmatic understanding of some key features of early modern English

Shakespearean insults and Shakespeare's insults both give a variety of insults gleaned from assorted plays. Lots of possibilities here - lexical formation, comparison with modern insults, a fun induction activity.

Also check out the bardweb at http://www.bardweb.net/words.html for loads more links to really useful stuff - especially the Shakespeare Concordance. Now howzabout someone writing a cool activity for that and winning the online OED for themselves?!...

One word of warning, though. Shakespeare's rubbish for Child Language Acquisition, so you can put your money where you like, but mine's on the big DC!

 





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