Wednesday, 28 May 2014

A reaction to a reaction reacting to someone else’s reaction

Gosh, what a week it has been! There once used to be a time when an English teacher’s life was quite quiet, but now I am forever faced with bombshells of educational delight on a daily basis. The most dramatic things we used to get, in the past, was the changing of the Bic pen design. The furore that caused still gives me nightmares. There were teachers shouting. There were teachers campaigning. There were even some teachers writing nice little letters to the makers used the traditional style pen in the hope of changing the maker’s mind. Nowadays, it is change after change. It has got so bad, I dread the holidays or days when I am not teaching. Didn’t it used to be the other way round? Nowadays, all the big education news stories are timed for when I am supposed to be recharging my batteries or having some down time. But, no! They’re on the front cover of the newspaper is a picture of Mr Gove announcing his new ‘idea’. Ignore it, Chris. Go home. But, no! They’re on the television in a news story about the new proposal. Sadly, there is no escape from things. No longer can we hide from these things. The changes permeate the air like a bad smell and no amount of Fabreeze or Glade plugins will clear the air. You can’t escape it.

So in a nutshell: ‘Of Mice and Men’ is dead and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ has been taken out by a hit man.  Gove did it apparently. However, he categorically denies it. Plus, he is clever enough to spot the abuses of language. These texts haven’t been ‘banned’, as some people have suggested. They have just been taken off the set text list. Teachers will not be locked away if they teach them in schools. There will be no Jack Bauer torturing teachers if they dare mention the book in lessons. In fact, we can, and we probably will, use these books in lessons. I know I will. A good book is a good book irrespective of the country it comes from.

They haven’t been banned; they are just not going to be examined. The banning of controlled assessments means that there will probably more time for books like ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. So what if they are not going to be examined? I will no longer have to spend months and months of teaching the text, when I can simply teach it for enjoyment. No longer will I have to prefix my comments about the texts with: ‘Remember this for the exam’.  In fact, I will probably use it at the start of Year 10. What better way to prepare students in Year 10 for GCSE? An engaging text from the start.

There have been lots of arguments and discussions on Twitter and blogs about the list of set texts for English. People have argued what should and shouldn’t be on the list. When reading this, I am reminded by one Australian English teacher’s comment in a conference: ‘It’s funny that the one book that most students read in England is an American novel.’ My problem is always the list of books is so uninspiring. I am generally not too inspired by the choice of books used. There’s so much furore over ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ because they are inspiring choices. They motivate teachers, as well as students. I have always internally groaned when I have seen previous exam lists for set texts. They have always looked like the 10p bargain box in a charity shop. A collection of random books that would never be seen together on a shelf. They are an obscure list. It always surprises me that with all the fiction created in the English language these are the choices. Now, don’t get me on to the drama. Too late: the drama texts chosen are dire and insipid. England has a history of fine drama and we end up will dross. Or, very superficial plays. I, personally, have always struggled with ‘An Inspector Calls’. A nice play, but not really complex enough for GCSE. Give me Miller any day for complex emotions and subtle nuances.

I had a look at the OCR draft specifications for English Literature. I was hoping for a new lease of life for inspiring texts to teach. In my head, I had planned what I wish would be on there. What do I get?

Six modern texts:

• Anita and Me – Meera Syal

• Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

• Animal Farm – George Orwell

• An Inspector Calls – J. B. Priestley

• My Mother Said I Never Should – Charlotte Keatley

• DNA – Dennis Kelly.

Am I inspired? Am I …? ‘Animal Farm’ will become the new ‘Of Mice and Men’. And, ‘Never Let Me Go’ will become the new ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. You know in your heart that the dream combination, which used to be the popular ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘An Inspector Calls’, will be ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘An Inspector Calls’. Again, I’ll say it: out of everything written in the English language and this is what they came up with. Six modern texts. Six – why only six?

My hope and inspiration will lie in the classic texts and the pre1914 choices of text. This is what is suggested in the draft specifications:

·         Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

• Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

• The War of the Worlds – H G Wells

• The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson

• Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë

Well, each text is good on its own, but as a choice of texts I am underwhelmed. Again, six texts. I would have loved to have seen some Hardy on there, or maybe some obscure writers of fiction. No, these titans are dragged out as being the pinnacle of literature. There, sadly for me, is no breadth of text here. I feel constricted rather than inspired. The choices made are short / long texts. Or, boy-orientated / girl-orientated texts.

This could have been a pinnacle moment in the teaching of English. We could have been inspired by the choices. We could have been delighted with the choices given. Yet, I can’t help feeling that the modern texts are a mishmash of texts and the pre1914 are just safe, somewhat predictable, choices.

If we are to have an education system to be proud of, then we need to have texts that are a reflection of the quality we aspire to. I can’t help feeling underwhelmed with the choices. Are these the choices of text that will mark a child’s soul indelibly for life? Will these choices inspire them to study at A-level? Will they inspire them to read? Will they inspire them to read again and again?

I don’t feel inspired by the choices. I know I can teach the texts, but where will the magic come from, if I am not wholly inspired.   

On a cultural point, the texts of English past never really dealt with disability and race, as it was often shoved into the attic or left in another country of our colonial past. I live in a multi-cultural society. The texts here represent texts with a predominant focus on class and money. In fact, money features heavily in all the texts. The difference between the rich and the poor is the dilemma at the heart of the stories. ‘Great Expectations’, ‘Jane Eyre’, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ are about a character’s journey to becoming rich. ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ is parable of what the rich do when they have a lot of money and a lot of free time – they live a dual existence where they crush the poor and the weak by standing on young children. ‘The War of the World’ has a thin connection to money, but the alien invaders are probably only after people’s money. Go back to your own planet!

What is more worrying is that ‘The War of the World’ is a comment on xenophobia, which is something we need to work on. It is surprising that at a time when the far-right are gaining some power, we are removing texts from a GCSE curriculum that challenge views about racism and promote tolerance. Our view of the past, as seen through literature, is class dominated in England. We don’t need to see things solely in terms of class. In schools, we teach. Through books, we teach students about society. Through these books, we will teach students they are from a class orientated society. Through these books, we will teach (incorrectly) them that world is shaped by white men and women.

‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ may be leftie texts, but they both told stories about a society that is made up of different people with different sets of values. The story is about how different people live together and how tolerance is an important part of modern life.  How men, women, the poor, the rich, the black community, the white community, the able and the disabled have to work together and not against each other.

It is funny how the two books of America’s past are so relevant now. Both books are about an economic depression. Both books show a society with lots of different kinds of people. Both books show people working together to make the world a better place despite the harsh conditions they live in. There’s a real sense of irony about things. UKIP is receiving more votes and we are removing two books that have scope for making some see things from a different perspective.

But, who cares? We have a Conservative government and so we are obsessed with money. It is only right then that social justice is ignored and we concentrate on those that have money and those that don’t have it.

‘It’s funny that the one book that most students read in England is an American novel.’

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Move over Howard Gardner - here come Curtis' perspectives

It is with great sadness that I share the news with you that Jerry, as in Tom and Jerry, has passed away.

That whole sentence has something that is familiar (Jerry) and something that is unfamiliar (cartoon character’s death) in it. This is the idea that I want to explore today in my second blogsync contribution. Find more here for other blog posts on this month's focus: A Teaching and Learning strategy intended to elicit the highest levels of student motivation in my subject. Anyway, like most teachers, I spend endless months, weeks, days, hours, seconds and many moments searching for the ‘relevance’ of what I am teaching. I love poetry, but to a scientific brain, it has very little clout in a lesson. How can I make this poem relevant to the students before me? Write poetry about respiration? Usually, at the eleventh hour a gem of an idea appears out of nowhere and you are able to make a concept relevant to the students before you. You can then help them see the connections to the world around them. You help them see the benefits of this aspect for a future career or even life. All this done by you rapping to song and dancing to 'Gangnam Style', while a PowerPoint of related images flashes behind you. Lots of audible utterances of, “Oh, I get it now.”

Sam prefers Science. He's never liked English, even at primary school he didn’t like it.

I am a teacher of English, but I am also a teacher of Maths, a teacher of Science, a teacher of History, a teacher of RE, a teacher of Geography and a teacher of any other subjects that is not taught in our narrow curriculum. It is hard to be described as just an English teacher, as when I pick a book, I might teach a historical element, a thing about the geography of a place, or the scientific principle underlying the key ideas of the novel. One of the common arguments about the new focus on ‘Literacy Across the Curriculum’ is that other some (not most) subject teachers think this should be the sole responsibility of the English teachers. If that was the case, then every time a student asks me about the setting of a book I’d simply direct them to the relevant teacher. I’d have a mental gagging order.  I would then focus only on my subject.  Sir, where shall I put the title? Sorry, I cannot help you as that question relies heavily on your geography skills. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen. I teach whatever I have to develop and help students understand. I teach full stop.

In English, we often get a student with a clearly logical perspective on things. Give them a poem and they struggle to see what you mean as they have an inbuilt ‘literal’ nodule built in their brain. 

“It is just a poem about war. It just describes war and a man dies in it.”

“Yes, but could it be telling us something about war?” I say encouragingly.

“Yeah, it means a man dies.”

“Don’t you think it symbolises something else about war?” I encourage further.

“That a man dies.”

“Remember the poem we read yesterday. We said it was a metaphor for the consequences of war.”

“But, that was just another man dying.”

“Yes, but we said that the death suggested to us the loss.”

“Still thought it was just a man dying. Are all poems about a man dying in a war?” 

It is rare, but you do get this conversation occasionally in English lessons. In my armoury, are a number of different tactics and approaches, but still after that hard work, I get one student that just struggles to get it. Their scientific or logical mind wants a clear ‘yes or no’ approach to the learning. They don’t want a shifting sea of grey answers. For them, the phrase ‘it could be about… or it could also be about…’ is like anthrax. It slowly kills them, metaphorically of course. Heaven forbid, they should read this.

The overall issue is perspective. We spend a lot of time working on the relevance of lessons, but sometimes our search for relevance is limited to one or two perspectives. Now, I am not advocating that we make English lessons scientific, but I think I need to place a greater level of thought in my perspective on things. Like a prism, depending on the angle the way light enters depends the way light refracts. But what is my perspective? How do I see the world? Having a daughter with a disability, gives me a different perspective on the whole world. I see things you don’t and I notice the things that you accept for granted.

My perspectives:
English / Drama teacher
TV mad
Dry sense of humour
Father of a disabled child
Lover of books

My list could go on and on. Now, the great thing is that some of these perspectives will be shared by some of my students. Hopefully, the perspective of being a father isn’t one of them.  These other perspectives help me put my spin on things. However, it doesn’t mean that I automatically look at a science-fiction connection in everything I do. Look, students, ‘Of Mice and Men’ is like Blake 7 – all the characters are doomed and the system is against them. Blake is like George and Gan is like Lennie.  But, what it does mean is that I haven't got all my bases covered.  A female perspective. A sports person’s perspective. Therefore, I might not have much success with sporty girls. There is only so much a ‘good sense of humour’ can cover in teaching.  

The simple answer to not having a perspective in place is to put a bit of it in a lesson. We have all been told to VAK our lessons. Make sure we have everything covered. If only that was simply the case. Just by having something sporty in a lesson doesn’t necessarily fix things. We have to understand more about this type of person. What motivates them?  What demotivates them? But, how have I applied this to the classroom? I have done this with messing about with perspectives. I rarely come to a new aspect in teaching head on. I look for the many shades of colour. Nice link back to my prism metaphor. I try to find the angle that gets the most from the students. That isn’t usually my preferred angle, as that will mainly appeal to the science-fiction, geek who loves TV and reading.

Taking a new angle on something usual
If you are familiar with my blog, you will know that I like having some different ideas about some regular things. For this blog I am going to share something with you that I think represents this idea of perspective, or challenging it.

In my training for being a teacher, I was told about Vygotsky and his ‘zone of proximal difference’ so in most lessons I start with a point of connection with the learning of the lesson. Something that they can do or already know. That can be simple connection to a popular culture element, such as ‘How does Scooby Doo relate to ‘The Woman in Black?’.  It is all about the relationships.  I build relationships with the students and the learning. I am the bridge.

Anyway, I wanted to prepare students for some speaking and listening assessment. They had to give a talk that lasted two to three minutes on a particular topic. At this point, I stopped and thought about doing something I wouldn’t normally do. There were lots of safe options for me to pick from. There was one idea I really liked. Then, I thought that it all fits into my perspective of things. Finally, I came up with the idea of ‘killing off a few cartoon characters’. Now, I know that is a big leap of the imagination, but it was taking a different perspective. From there, the students created some moving speeches describing the passing of a cartoon character. Some brought music in. Some used song lyrics or poems to convey feelings. Some students wore black out of respect. Some used props. We even ‘stole’ the school’s lectern to make the 'funeral' look real.   

I don’t think the content was really the catalyst for the enjoyment and engagement. I truly believe that it was the perspective that had girls and boys alike enthused about the task. Speaking and listening assessments can be full of tumbled weeds and hesitant students, but this time it wasn’t. This was fun for me and for the students. They loved it and so did I. But, it was the perspective that made it. Taking an idea and doing it from a different angle. I have included an example of the type of thing we did to give you a feel for thimngs. I wish I wrote down some of the puns and witty nods which students included in their funeral speeches. Thomas the Tank Engine steamed through my life and my heart. Cinderella transformed my world.

Jerry the Mouse – February 2013.
It is with much sadness that we are here today. Last week, we lost a person who brought so much life, fun and mischief to the world. Every day I wake to a world that is changed. Something magical and small is missing from the world today.

I talk about Jerry. Someone who was cherished by all. Someone who sneaked into the mouse hole of our hearts. Someone who stole our fun when he died. Jerry was a character who brought so much to life. He wasn’t just a mouse; he was our mouse and he will forever be remembered for his antics.

We all know that Jerry was popular with the ladies when he was younger. He finally found the mouse of his dreams last year. She obviously feels this loss more than us today, as do his children – all ten of them. Every piece of cheese he stole was for his children and they loved him for it. Let’s think of them today in our prayers too, as they have lost a father. He will never be there to help them avoid Tom the Cat. He will never be there to stop the owner of the house putting mouse traps down. I say to you, today, congregation: we will act as your father. We will try to embody him in our actions and our thoughts.

There is one particular moment I remember Jerry for well. It just sums up what he was like. I was visiting him for a while and Tom was up to his old tricks. He was chasing Jerry around the house. Jerry was so fast. He impressed me with his speed. Tom had chased him under a carpet and he was hitting Jerry under the carpet with a pan. He finally got Jerry out and was about to eat him, when Jerry just pulled Tom’s whiskers out.

Jerry just knew how to win a situation. Sadly, he was unable to win his last situation: a mouse trap. Even in his death he thought of others. Another mouse has lived to see another day now that the mouse trap is out of use.

What we will miss out of everything was his sense of fun. He always laughed. I sometimes think he laughed himself to sleep. We will no longer hear that laughter in the room. He was our ray of sunshine in a depressing and tough world.

I’d just like to read a small extract from an REM song:

‘When the day is long and the night, the night is yours alone,
When you're sure you've had enough of this life, well hang on
Don't let yourself go, 'cause everybody cries and everybody hurts sometimes’.

But when we think of Jerry, our pain will be taken away. Jerry the Mouse. Rest in peace.

What about other subjects
One of good things about being a literacy coordinator is that I get to talk to other teachers. One particular fruitful conversation took place with a science teacher. We talked about the types of writing in Science. I noticed that there was an abundance of one particular style: writing to explain. I suggested that to make a good writer of science you need to get students writing lots of different types of writing. The more they write, the better their writing will be. If we rely too much on writing exam style questions all the time, we are narrowing their explanations and ability to articulate ideas. I suggested a more creative approach to explaining scientific concepts. This isn’t new, but it was a different perspective for this teacher. I left the teacher to think about it.

Several weeks later, the aforementioned teacher found me in the corridor and handed me a collection of sheets. I was asked to read them, but I couldn’t distinguish his pleasure or displeasure. He finally beamed and said that they were absolutely amazing.  The students had been asked to write a story about the use of ‘carbon capping’. The results, he said, showed more understanding than any questions in an exercise book had ever produced. He was impressed with how engaged the students were with the task. Sadly, one or two found it a struggle, but most relished the opportunity and really thrived.  

Again, I think it is the challenging the ‘perspective’ that really worked here. It isn’t about a new-fangled concept or something that only a few teachers whisper in secret. It was simply trying something from a different angle. It is not new. It is different. I know that not everything in my subject is going to appeal, but maybe if I challenge the boundaries and explore the 30 different types of perspectives in the classroom I might just get most, rather than some, students engaged. 
We have always heard about Howard Gardner's 'Multiple Intelligences' concept, but how about a 'Many Perspectives' concept. We plan lessons with the idea of experimenting with the perspective we will take in teaching an aspect. Rather than go for the staple that has always works for most student, let's experiment until we find the one that works for all.

I dedicate this blog  and my concept of 'Many Perspective' to Jerry. Thank you for reading,


P.S. I tried a different perspective with teaching Year 8s the history of the English language. Instead of getting students to work out the history through texts through the ages, I got students to make their own ‘Horrible Histories’ video, teaching the class about a specific part in the history of the English language. I had the Vikings having a book group. Also William Caxton  won ‘The Apprentice’ for his  new idea, the press. Both approaches to teaching were very active and focused on students learning. One my usual perspective. The other a new one. It worked for this group. However, it may not for another group. Each class is a different kettle of fish.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Piddle, PEE and Wee!

‘Tis the season of exams, acronyms and practice essays. The exam season is now in full flow. Remember to use ARTWARS. Remember to PEE. Remember to PEEL. I was recently part of a Twitter discussion about the value of PEE (Point Evidence Explanation). Like most things, the discussion got nowhere. Some like it. Some hate it. This, I think, should be the motto for Twitter: Some hate, some like. I, like some, use PEE, but I use it sparingly and I always adapt the structure depending on the context. For the less able students, it is a great set of coat pegs to hang things on. For the more able students, it is a ball and chain that holds them back. Now, I am not going to write a lengthy analysis on ‘to PEE or not to PEE’, instead I want to explore the idea of formulating writing.   

Do we use enough formulae in our writing? As English teachers, we search for patterns and connections in texts, yet do we teach linguistic patterns in our writing? Do we teach patterns enough in lessons? Or do we spend most of our time teaching techniques and features of writing?  

I remember my interview for my PGCE and in the interview I raised the issue of using mathematical approaches to writing. I was aghast at such an idea, but like most things in teaching, after time and a few gins I am starting to see that maybe, on some level, it has some legs.

Last year, I did some Inset on report writing. It wasn’t that the report writing in the school was bad; it was just that there wasn’t any consistency in style. The style of the report varied from person to person and subject to subject. We needed a formula to help people structure their writing. To help them with making the style of their writing consistent.

 The formula was:

 Name  -  he /she – his/her – name

Now, it wasn’t an epiphany moment. It wasn’t really ground breaking. It was, instead, a pattern to adhere to, and people did. Their sentences followed the pattern. The rhythm that we had set.

Chris has made excellent progress this year. He has had his writing published in two books this year. His ego is clearly increasing as a result. Chris must understand that two bits in two books does not make his an established author.

This pattern allowed for clear writing. It allowed for variety and cohesion. But, it was a formula that I taught. Sadly, report writing is never explicit taught to teachers. It is something we are expected to be able to do. But, do we use any linguistic patterns in our teaching of writing. Yes, I teach them great words. Yes, I teach them clever techniques. Yes, I teach them some clever sentences. But, do I teach them patterns in writing. Do I? The answer is plainly: no. The closest I get to patterning is teaching rhetoric, but it is no cigar.

Having young children you realise how patterns and the order of words are explicitly taught through songs or even through saying the words.

All together now: Mon-day, Tues-day, Wednes-day, Thurs-day, Fri-day, Satur-day, Sun-day

Don’t forget: One times two is two. Two times two is four. Three times two is six.

That rhythmic pattern becomes ingrained. It becomes natural to students. It becomes second nature. Yet, we don’t apply a formula to writing. We expect students to make endless choices about their writing. We apply general formulae to genre, yet on grammatical level we don’t consider a formula. We give students a structure for writing like PEE, but we don’t give them a pattern for the real ‘nuts and bolts’ of writing. Would teaching students the following pattern help a class to write an effective analysis?

Name / writer / author /Surname

Susan Hill uses the setting of funeral in daylight to reflect the woman in black’s power. The writer’s use of sunlight and the sighting of a ghost surprises the reader as the two wouldn’t be usually associated together. This links to the author’s use of a nursery and presentation of things we normal expect to be safe and free from supernatural events. Hill clearly wants to invert the traditional conventions of a ghost story.  

We have all marked a piece of work and groaned internally we have read thirteen ‘the writer’s in one paragraph.  But, have we ingrained the pattern of cycling the possible nouns you could use? May be this use of patterns need to be ingrained more in the teaching of English. If we regularly use the patterns, then students will probably internalise the pattern more.

Does this patterning of things or formula work in other places?

1st person narratives  I / my / the / we

I felt the sunlight gaze its eyes over my back. My skin burned. The window was open. We usually keep the window closed. I knew something was wrong. My gut instinct was to get up. The house was silent.

Persuasive writing -  you / we / some / our

 You have probably have never voted before. We have heard so much about politicians and their claiming of expenses. Some even think they have a right to steal from the taxpayer. Our hard-earned money is being wasted to fund a politician’s birdbath.

Clearly, I am focusing on nouns and pronouns in the blog, but maybe there is some scope for using verbs or adjectives. Or, something else.

 Present / Past / Future – The clock ticks. The battery was replaced yesterday. Maybe he will replace it with a new, digital one tomorrow.

 Sight / sound / touch – Sprinkles of light floated in and out of the shafts of sunlight. The slow creaking of wooded floorboards hid the rumble of traffic outside. The smooth boards were smothered with a thin carapace of dust and dirt.

Now, the title of the blog: Piddle, Pee and Wee. It is all about patterns and patterns of words. We like to use easy to remember patterns. Step forward: PEE. Maybe we just need to be more sophisticated with our patterns. Rather than a blanket for all pattern, we pick a pattern that works well for the task or text. We teach patterns rather than things. Good writers use patterns and connect words and idea together in interesting ways. And, the great thing about patterns is that you repeat it. Again. And again.  

Thanks for reading, 


P.S. Although this blog isn't really linked to 'Writing Tools' by Roy Peter Clark, I'd like to acknowledge that Clark's book has made me reflect on writing more than anything I have read in the last ten years.  

Friday, 2 May 2014

Of Mice and Men and symbols

I make no apologies for this, but my blog’s content is often inspired by my teaching that week or what I am planning to teach next week. This week, I am doing a bit of both. Most of us are in that awful stage that is the equivalent of holding someone’s hand over a cliff. You can see you haven’t much time as your grip on their hand is weakening. They could plunge or they might at the last minute find something else to hold on to. I mean: the last few lessons before the Year 11s sail off into the sunset.

Like most of us, we are cramming and hoping that something sticks. The lessons tick by and we panic that there is less and less time. The help sheet left on the desk becomes a symbol of a missed chance, less marks in the question or a defiant student.

Over the years, I have learnt that less is best in the revision process. It is better not to revise everything, but focus on a few key things and subtly cover a few more things along the way. This week we were preparing for the ‘Of Mice and Men’ Literature exam. We were looking at extracts and analysing them in detail. During those lessons, I came across two symbols.


Symbol 1: The red shoes, nails and lipstick of Curley’s wife symbolise danger.


Symbol 2: Curley’s wife is only seen in buildings in the novel which symbolises how women are trapped and locked away in society.


Both comments were made by the same student. But, for me, they highlight an aspect of teaching that might help my Year 11 students. The use of symbolism. Or, importantly, how to make effective comments about symbolism. Both comments warrant merit, but for me the second one is insightful, and shows original thought. The other, dare I say it, is clichéd and predictable. There’s the obvious thing to say and there is the not so obvious to say. And, I’d even go so far to say that the ‘not so obvious’ is what we aim to develop in students, but often or not we teach them the ‘not so obvious stuff’.

Then symbols then started to roll out in the lesson and I came up with one:

Symbol 3: Slim’s smoothing of his crumpled hat symbolises his role in the novel; he fixes the problems on the farm.

Symbol 4: Curley’s hair is curly to symbolise his lack of masculinity.

Symbol 5: Curley’s curly hair symbolises his tightly wound personality. Like a tightly wound spring, he is ready to pounce.


But, aside from being original, what makes some symbols better than others? It is the connection with something far greater in the story. The structure. The plotting. The themes. The writer’s intent.

Take symbol 1 again:

The red shoes, nails and lipstick of Curley’s wife symbolise danger.

Becomes, when linked to other aspects:   

The red shoes, nails and lipstick of Curley’s wife symbolise a desire to be noticed and how she is so different to others in the farm. (theme)

The red shoes, nails and lipstick of Curley’s wife symbolise danger for the reader. This ‘red’ is a warning to the reader that she will cause trouble for the protagonists. (structure)

So, I am going to work on looking at linking symbols to the wider picture. But, what else develops an explanation of a theme? A connection. A student’s understanding of a novel is what usually shows in an explanation. Those that make links to other aspects make better explanations than those who don’t.

Symbol 3: Slim’s smoothing of his crumpled hat symbolises his role in the novel; he fixes the problems on the farm.


Symbol 3: Slim’s smoothing of his crumpled hat symbolises his role in the novel; he fixes the problems on the farm such as when Curley’s hand is crushed. Slim takes charge and resolves the conflict.

Then, there is the alternative interpretation:

Symbol 3: Slim’s smoothing of his crumpled hat symbolises his role in the novel; he fixes the problems on the farm such as when Curley’s hand is crushed. Slim takes charge and resolves the conflict. Or, the smoothing of the hat could symbolise just how perfect he is.

Next week, we are going to look a symbols in another text and look at developing insightful explanations about symbolism.

We’ll focus on events and objects.

We’ll explore the deeper meaning.

We’ll explore the links to the structure, themes and ideas.

We’ll explore the links to other parts of the novel.

We’ll make alternative interpretations.


Oh, but then there are metaphors – and those are a just a little bit more complex.

The grass outside needs cutting. It is a symbol of my tardiness. It stands tall and unkempt. It is a symbol of my role in the household. But it is a metaphor for ….

Thanks for reading,