Sunday, 22 February 2015

AQA Question 2 - Fake Answer

Here's a silly answer I used with a class when looking at Question 2. Every time I use it, there is at least one student who thinks it is a clear 8 out of 8.

Explain how the headline, subheading and picture are effective and how they link with the text.

The writer has used a picture to make the reader interested and want to read on. It is a picture that shows the reader what the article is about. It makes the reader interested and it links to the text as the text is about things in the picture. They have used a big picture to make it stand out and catch your eye because we like looking at pictures more than we like looking at writing. They also use colour to make it more eye-catching.

The headline is effective because the writer has made it bold so it stands out. The reader will then read it. They use interesting words also to make the writing stand out and so we read it. The headline links to the article as it sums it up so the reader will know what the article. It is written in an interesting ways so the reader wants to read on. The headline is also short and snappy so it isn’t boring and the reader wants to read the rest of the article.

The subheading gives the reader even more information so if they want to read the story they know a bit more about it. It is near the picture to explain what the story is about. It is after the headline to give more detail. It links to the rest of the article because it tells the reader what is happening in the story. If the reader is interested, then the reader will read on.

Creative Writing - The Journey

Here's an example piece of writing for Year 11 students. I used this to prepare students for a piece of creative writing entitled 'The Journey'. I have also used it for travel writing too.

Twisted lines of ice snake across the windscreen, covering all sight. I scrape the silver slivers off. The early darkness smothers everything in sight. On the edges of my vision, I see the vacant houses’ eyes closed with curtains. There’s some life behind the ornate flowery curtains. Probably, cartoons for children. Probably, breakfast news for adults. Any minute now life will burst through the doors. Except at this ungodly hour it is me, a plastic ice scraper and a bag of work.

The car starts quickly without coughing or spluttering. The heater kicks on and steams up the window. It is as if the car doesn’t want us to move. Ice and fire combat to prevent me from going to school. The screen clears in patches like clouds of clarity. There are glimpses of the world outside like sunlight breaking through the rainy clouds. The irony being that there is no sun and I am waiting for the darkness to be seen. When the steamed up window clears, I drive the car off.

Cars, bikes and lorries all join the conveyor belt to work. Each one driving on to their place of work. Office. Shop. School. Hospital. Radios blare out different tunes: the misery of life punctuated by catchy songs sung by people that were born out of misery. The conveyor belt pulls me forward. The lights of the massive machine of life flash red, amber and, only occasionally, green.  The sky starts to lighten as my mood improves. At least, I have a few frees today. At least, I don’t have a parents' evening tonight. At least, I don’t have to teach Tom today. Every cloud has a silver lining. 

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Predicting - the Macbeth way

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a crystal ball?

Wouldn’t it be nice to see whether the education system improves or not?

Wouldn’t it be nice to see if the workload for teachers reduces in the future?  

Wouldn’t it be nice to see the outcome of the next General Election now?

A lovely crystal ball would certainly be handy. Then again, the problem with knowing the future is that it influences some of the choices leading up to it. You become conscious of the choices you make and the implications of each choice. Listen to me, I sound like the ardent time traveller. Only, yesterday, I transported myself back a thousand years and spent a good hour stomping on butterflies. Nothing happened.  

One of the ‘great’ things about some of the recent changes to the English curriculum is the addition of more Shakespeare in the curriculum.  As a result of this, our Year 8s are now studying Macbeth. Interestingly, a play about predictions and choices. Oh, and, a whole load of other things.

Now, in the past I have always used prediction in a number of ‘predictable’ ways.

Based on the title, what do you predict the play is about?

Look at the names of the characters. What do you predict the story will be?

Here are some lines from the play. What is the story?

 Let’s watch this scene. What happens next?

Here are some objects. Predict how they could be used in a story.

In fact, all I have done there is copy and paste from a work sheet I use – only joking. But, generally, that’s what I tend to do. I might spice things up and start with some contextual background or some key words, but the prediction usually centres on the plot.’ Predict the plot’ tends to be the staple tool of an English teacher. I bet you were naturally predicting the content of this blog when you first saw the title ‘Predicting – the Macbeth way’.

I am allergic to working through a text in a logical and chronological way. In the age of spoilers and sneaky boys that read the last page and tell everyone on the bus, I like to be creative in how we, as a class, explore a story. Yes, there’s a time and a place for being genuinely surprised when reading a story, but the hard thing, often for students, is the plot of Shakespeare’s plays. This week I found a great little script on TES. It’s called ‘Macbeth for beginners’.

We read the script as a class. Then, I separated the story into twelve episodes. Students were given the task of scripting a scene in pairs. The only rules I gave them were:

[1] It must be tense and dramatic through the language choices and stage directions. Not by adding gore or violence.

[2]It must be close to Shakespeare’s style of writing, using the kind of imagery and techniques Shakespeare usually employs.

[3] It must be two minutes long.

[4] It must all be written in iambic pentameter. Okay, maybe not that rule.

They were predicting the dramatic choices rather than the plot, which in my book is a lot more stretching than: It has witches in it – what do you think will happen?

For a lesson, the students worked busily on their scripts, making some interesting choices. I had to snigger with a pair of boys writing the scene after the murder of King Duncan. The only description for the scene they had was: Lady Macbeth waits for Macbeth to return from murdering King Duncan. This is a rough approximation of the conversation I overheard:

Student 1: We can’t have her talking to herself for too long. What about a noise?

Student 2: Yeah, and she can react to it. What kind of noise? A bang.

Student 1: Nah, how about a cat?

Student 2: Yeah, a cat.

Student 1: Or, what about an owl?

Student 2:  Yeah, an owl would be better. You would know it was a cat straightaway, but if it was bird, it might make other noises.

The great thing about this for me was the discussion on dramatic choices. The students, from the start, were thinking of the play in terms of dramatic context. What would make things dramatic? What choices are important for creating tension?

I have always had the frustration of students focusing on the plot more than the linguistic / dramatic choices, but this approach seemed to change things for me. Teaching Shakespeare can be endless decoding or translating for students. This allowed students to engage in the dramatic choices pretty soon in the reading process.

The next step for me is to get students to write a commentary on the choices they made as playwrights. Then, as we read through the play, we can compare the student version with the original Shakespeare version and compare and contrast them. From the start, the focus is on the construction of the play, rather than the story.

But what is the implication for other aspects of English? Take this scenario:

Tell students that they are going to read an article criticising Jamie Oliver. In the article, the writer cites the following reasons for not liking him:

[1] He pretends to be like ‘Joe Public’ when he is very rich.

[2] Has endless supply of famous friends.

[3] Uses ingredients that most of us would never use.

[4] Rarely gives precise ingredients.  

The article is humorous. Write one of the paragraphs, thinking how you could make it humorous.

Then, compare with the original article.


As a teacher, I spend a lot of time analysing extracts. Put a sheet in a student’s face and then get them to search for things. However, this predicting the writing hold more weight for me. A lot of activities are based post reading and this approach allows us to focus on the writing pre-reading. Predicting how things are written makes things far more interesting than predicting what is written.  

Thanks for reading. I am off to check the tea leaves at the bottom of my mug. Or, I might go back and squash a few more butterflies.  



Sunday, 1 February 2015

Metaphor Galore

At the moment, I am preparing students for a creative writing task in Year 11 and I am faced with that annual problem: What will lift my students’ writing to a higher band? Of course, there is not one single thing that will suddenly improve a student’s writing. All too often their writing is too literal. Or, it is too clich├ęd. But, over the years, I have come to the conclusion that students rarely use metaphors in their writing. Yes, personification is used with glee and similes are used like antibiotics in the modern world, but the sad old metaphor only comes out once in a poetry lesson. Yes, we, English teachers, do explore the use of metaphors in everything under the sun, but rarely, if I am honest, do we get students to write metaphors.

This week, with a class, I shared this piece of tosh with a class:

Welcome to the dawn of a new beginning, an epoch of enlightenment and a feast of wonders. Sit yourself on the manacles of education and unlock your survival kits and release its secrets. First, open your libraries of wonder. Find a desert of emptiness that is ready for new delights. Open your grenades of ink and spread some shrapnel of damage. Across the fog of blankness, draw a road. On the motorway write the wrinkles of time on it.  

The first thing the students did was to identify the objects being described.

Welcome to the dawn of a new beginning, an epoch of enlightenment and a feast of wonders. Sit yourself on the manacles of education and unlock your survival kits and release its secrets. First, open your libraries of wonder. Find a desert of emptiness that is ready for new delights. Open your grenades of ink and spread some shrapnel of damage. Across the fog of blankness, draw a road. On the motorway write the wrinkles of time on it.  

Then, we explored the effect of each metaphor. What does it really mean?

We discussed along the way the purpose of a metaphor.

Metaphors are used to….

A - Add a new layer of meaning

B - Create a particular atmosphere

C - Provide a point of comparison

D – Make the writing seem poetic / crafted

We came to the conclusion that this constant use of metaphors makes writing impenetrable. You can’t keep a reader engaged when every other word is a metaphor. However, when there are a few in a paragraph, the writing is more engaging. We then took away some of the metaphors and decided which ones are the best to keep for the overall impact.  

Here’s one possible version:

Welcome to the dawn of a new beginning, an epoch of enlightenment and a feast of wonders. Sit yourself on the chairs and open your bags. First, open your books. Find a desert of emptiness that is ready for new delights. Find a pen in your pencil cases and across the fog of blankness, draw a road. On it write the wrinkles of time on it.  


Finally, I got students to write a paragraph about a photograph of a beach. Here are just a few examples the students created:

·         A fisherman’s tears – waves  

·         Neptune’s minions – fish

·         Medusa’s hair – seaweed

·         Ink stains – rocks in the sea


What became noticeable was that allusions to classical mythology lifted the writing even higher in terms of quality. Like a wave in the classroom, students started making metaphors with link to Greek mythology or religious stories. I am forever telling students to bring knowledge from the wider world to inform their writing and this example proves it value. I have seen endless metaphors about mirrors, glass and blankets when students write about the sea but rarely have I seen students make connections to classical mythology; now, I do with this class. Next week, I might even spend a bit of time looking at classical journeys. After all that’s there task. Write a journey. Maybe, they can mirror a classical journey in their writing.  They could have one long extended metaphor in their writing. Students could present their journey through TESCO like Theseus’ battle in the maze.


The next lesson I started with the age-old starter of getting students to fill the blanks when writing metaphors.

A book is  ……

                A window to another world.

                A drug for the imagination.

                Therapy for the educated.


This led me to think about metaphors and non-fiction. Maybe I should be getting students to work on metaphors for the non-fiction writing in the GCSE English exam. Every so often I could have a metaphor starter, focusing on the generation of metaphors. The topics are quite limiting when it comes to the writing tasks, but if I can get them to think about metaphors in the planning, their writing could be better.

Education is

Healthy eating is

Stress is

Road safety is

Pollution is

I am off to eat my food of the gods and rest my Pandora’s box.

Thanks for reading,