Sunday, 21 January 2018

Teaching analysis is about hundreds and thousands - not six.

Teaching a whole text can offer challenges to teachers. Some students struggle with the immensity of the whole text. Often, a default method for them is to revert to storytelling. Rather than search for choices made by the writer in discussing an idea, they tell you the story and refer to examples of the idea in the book. The best students writing about text are able to move swiftly and effortlessly across several choices used across the text. They can go from word analysis to characterisation to structure in one paragraph, while others go through a clunky regurgitating of terms the teacher mentioned in lessons.

This term, with ‘A Christmas Carol’ and ‘An Inspector Calls’ I have been looking at how students can make connections across the texts, and more importantly fuse the analysis of words, literary devices, structure and characterisation together naturally. Of course, I could get students to look at each one individually, but they need to do it naturally and automatically in their exam and writing.

One question, we need to ask ourselves is: do the students have enough knowledge of the choices the writer has relating to the words, structure and characterisation?

How many choices do they know?  

If they only know a limited number of choices made by the writer, then they will either force their knowledge to fit the idea, or they will revert to plot detail.

Also, a lot of teaching of texts involves teaching knowledge relating to specific themes. We pick the key themes and teach the key choices relating to those themes. Therefore, what is concrete in the brain are these dominant themes and dominant choices, which are often shaped to fit another theme, if the students hasn’t been explicitly been taught, in the exam.  

Approach 1: Triangles

To deal with this aspect, I have created triangles.  

Simply, I placed three things in the text together and students had to relate them to the idea. At first, I focused with the emphasis on characters. I placed two characters on the triangle and one point about structure or a language device. Then, occasionally, I mixed this up.

The great thing I found about this was the creation of interesting links and connections. I once placed the idea of ‘awe’ in the middle and this produced some really interesting explorations of the texts such as Tiny Tim is the epitome of awe, yet Scrooge is the antithesis, because nothing creates that sense of awe in him.

For the literature exam, students don’t need an endless list of techniques, but they do need to select and pick the appropriate pieces of evidence to use and explore the connection between these bits of evidence.

Then, I’d get students to turn the triangle into a square, because I love a cross-curricular link. Then, they see what they’ add as the next point. Or, I get them to rearrange the points and decide on which goes at the top as the most important or effective choice. If I wanted to be obtuse, I’d throw in a random or obscure choice to get the little grey cells working.

Finally, I’d introduce an extract and get the students to find evidence to support these ideas.

Approach 2: Lists

Another thing I did was list a large number of choices made by the writer.  

This was a simple thing to do. I gave students the question and a list of choices. Some relevant and some not.

If we are going to get students better at analysing texts, we need to give them endless knowledge of what sort of things they should be talking about for. We need them to be knowledgeable about choices.  As I do this, I will be removing the lists later. But, they need an internalised list to help them plan an idea. That’s what this method does. I am working on building their internalised list of choices.

Rather than spend endless lessons on the six big themes of the text, I am exploring forty or so themes / idea in the text with students. Rather than have the same six techniques used for every essay, I am having fifty or so different choices in responses.

We can’t rely on set essay plans to help students. This isn’t ‘Of Mice and Men’ any more. You no longer have six characters, six themes and six key moments in the book. In fairness, ‘Of Mice and Men’ was so easy to teach because of that aspect. It was even easier, when you looked at the previous exam, because that reduced the teaching to five characters, five themes and five key moments. Even less to plan and teach.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, 4 January 2018

Revision Cards

Yesterday, I blogged about marketing revision is school. You can find the blog here. In it, I described the revision cards I give to students. They are pretty simple really; I just print all the points on A4 card papers and students cut them up. 

Thanks for reading, 


An Inspector Calls

Mr Birling 

             Represents power and money – he can get what he wants because he has money

             Shows how the rich feared the poor and was suspicious of their actions

             The rich are protective of their own and their money and fear losing it

             Earned his money through hard work so expects people to work hard in life – represents new money

             Represents the old class system – money made you powerful and important

             Shows how old people will refuse to change their mind

             Represents a capitalist’s view of the world – only interested in money.

Mrs Birling

             Highlights how women didn’t always sympathise with other women

             Shows how people only care for their family and their reputation

             Shows how people are only kind and charitable when it suits them

             Shows how women abused their power too

             Gives the audience an ideas of what Sheila could become

             Shows how that the inequalities was caused by both genders – not just men treating women badly

Eva Smith

             A symbol of the poor and how the rich mistreated them

             Shows how resourceful the poor had to be to survive

             She was a victim of all parts of society – together they indirectly killed her

             She represented an ‘everyman’ figure – she could be replaced by any type of person as she has very little individual personality

             The only control she had was in her death

             She is a foil – she is used to make the other characters look bad in comparison

Gerald Croft

             Highlights how the men treated relationships with women – quick to start or end a relationship

             Shows how men are only concerned with their desires – no sense of concern or care for a woman’s well-being

             Shows the rich peoples’ carefree attitude towards the poor – not his concern – they served a function

             Represents ‘old money’ – money that has been passed down through a family. He will inherit his parents’ money.

             He shows how the rich had nothing to fear. He is the complete opposite of Eva Smith. She does things to survive. He will survive no matter what he does.

Sheila Birling

             Represents the childish behaviour of the young and their arrogance – think they know best.

             A symbol of a possible future – both Sheila and Eric are the characters that want to learn from the events in the play and improve.

             Shows how women are changing – Mrs Birling is rigid in her thoughts but Sheila is willing to listen and change

             Becomes an adult during the play – learns that actions have consequences

             Sheila is the character that changes the most in the play – Why?

Eric Birling 

             Contrasts with Sheila. Can’t cope with his actions. Sheila accepts her actions.

             Copes with things by hiding things and stealing money.

             Shows some guilt towards what has happened and, in some ways, he hates what he has become.

             Eric’s behaviour before the play reflects that of the other men, but through the course of the story, has regrets and wants to be somebody different.

             Shows a new way of dealing with relations with the poor – a relationship between rich and poor

Inspector Goole

             Represents the rules and order of society – the police

             Multiple roles – judge / conscience / god-like figure who sees all

             He is the one figure that connects the poor and the rich together – he forces the links and connections – reveals what they want to keep hidden

             Neither a rich nor a poor person – almost classless. It takes a classless character to make an unbiased opinion

             Not a real person – suggesting that there is something else trying to fix things

Social Injustice

             We see both rich and poor people living unhappy lives – suggesting that things are not working well now.

             A change is needed to fix what happened and will happen to other Eva Smiths

             The choices and decisions made by the rich affected Eva’s life. One small change and her life would be better.

             The unfairness seems to be inherited from parents

             Several types of injustice – rich/ poor, male/female, young/old, strong/weak

             The young, poor females don’t have a voice in society.


             The destruction of a young woman is at the heart of the play.

             To survive, Eva Smith plays different female roles. As a woman she has to adapt to survive. The men don’t.

             Very few female figures in the play – more men than women.

             Eva Smith and Edna are the only two females with a job. What connects them?

             Three main roles of women in the play – mother, wife and daughter. Men are more respectful to those roles.

             A young female is dead at the end of the play and a young female has started to change – Sheila and Eva linked 


             Priestly wanted the rich to be more responsible for the poor

             Each is partly responsible for Eva Smith’s death – not one character is fully responsible – it is a shared responsibility

             Eva Smith would be alive if everybody took some responsibility

             Priestly didn’t just want one or two people to be responsible for others – that’s why he made all the characters almost equally responsible

             The whole play is about questioning. Questioning who is responsible – the Inspector isn’t just questioning the death but questioning the responsibility of the weak in society 


             Dramatic irony – the audience knows something the characters on stage don’t

             Photograph – used to slowly unpick the puzzle

             Structure – each character’s connection is revealed at a time – shaped around the characters – each one more shocking than the others

             Adverbs – how the characters speak is often more important than what they say

             Exits and entrances – when the characters are off stage this creates tension as they don’t know the full story when they return

             Secrets – each character has a secret and this is a cause of tension in the play

             Politeness – the characters are usually polite, but it is telling when they aren’t polite

Different sides in the play

             Young / Old

             Male / Female

             Family / Strangers

             Capitalist / Communists

             Upper class / Lower class

             New money / Old money

             Strong / Weak 

             Boss / Workers

             Rich / Poor

             Optimistic / Pessimistic

A Christmas Carol

Ebenezer Scrooge  

             Represents the greed and selfishness of people in society

             Represents the people with the most power / money in society (old, white men) and the people with the power to make change

             Represents a conservative view – doesn’t want to change and so wants to keep things as they are

             Show how everybody has got the potential to change

             Shows how people will live unhappy lives if they don’t make sacrifices for others

             Opposite view to a Christian view of charity and kindness  

             Represents a pessimistic and negative view of the world

Tiny Tim 

             Represents the poor and poor children

             Embodies how poverty affects the most vulnerable in society

             Highlights how his fate is dependent on others in society

             Represents an extreme contrast to Scrooge – both opposite ends of the scale. One can’t survive without the other

             Symbolises a sympathetic view of the poor – a romantic view – innocent, undeserving person affected by poverty

             Symbolises the high infant mortality of London and urban regions

             Symbolises the future – if Tiny Tim and others like him die, then Scrooge and his kind will not have people to do his work for him

Bob Cratchit

             Represents the idea of the poor being respectable – people often saw that the poor were vermin or a drain on society

             Shows how the poor have dignity, respect and pride

             Highlights the importance of family and caring for our families

             A contrast with Scrooge – show us how to Scrooge should treat his family

             A symbol of Christmas – caring for each other

             Represents a positive and optimistic view of the world


             Highlights how Scrooge’s past wasn’t negative

             A foil to compare Scrooge against – a business man who treats his employee respectfully

             A person who puts friends and family above his work

             Shows how someone should enjoy Christmas

             A symbol of the death of Scrooge’s happiness – Fezziwig died as did Scrooge’s happiness

             Represents a positive and optimistic view of the world

             A utopian view of the world – how inclusive society can be – all different types of people celebrating Christmas

             Exaggerated inversion of Scrooge

Cratchit Family

             Highlights the difficulty poor families faced in life

             Shows how the poor accepted their situation and tried their best to survive

             Symbolised how family was more important than money – a tough situation was bearable with loved ones around you

             Shows the potential in life – Scrooge has money, but no family – if he wasn’t the way he was, he’d have a family

             Shows the significance of family at Christmas

             Shows the significance of meals and eating as a family – coming together of people for one social event

             Symbolise the social aspects of the family and importance of connecting with people – sit in a ring

Ghost of Christmas Past  

             Shows things haven’t always been so bad

             Show us what causes the changes in Scrooge

             Demonstrates to us that Scrooge has the potential to be good

             Shows us the importance of treating each Christmas as the last one – the loss of people cannot be recreated

             Symbol of aging and growing up – and the shortness of life (candle)

             Symbolises the impact our history has on our present

             Shows the importance of childhood and family relationships

             Shows us how we have a choice – follow love or follow money

Ghost of Christmas Present 

             Symbolises how rich the present is – important and valuable

             Contrasts with the past and future – both cold and sad

             Shows how warm and friendly the present is – convincing us of the necessity to celebrate Christmas

             Shows us a variety of Christmas experiences – highlighting how Christmas is an experience that all share – rich or poor; young or old

             Links to the heat and cold – he brings warmth

             Reveals what people are really experiencing at Christmas – uncovers the truth

Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

             Shows us the danger of Scrooge not changing his ways

             Symbolises the unknown aspect of the future (faceless and voiceless) – we don’t know what will happen in the future

             Traditional view of a ghost

             Shows us a negative view of the world

             Symbolises our fear of being forgotten and not leaving a legacy

             Plays on our fear of dying – it is inevitable, but we don’t like to be reminded of it 

Poor / Rich

             We see negative and positive rich/poor characters, showing us the different types of people in society

             Dickens shows us how poor people survive – steal or work hard – very little choices

             The gentlemen from the charity highlight the hypocrisy of Victorian society – people thought that charity was enough to solve the problems

             Dickens show us through Tiny Tim’s fate how the rich and poor need each other – without they will fail / die

             Industrialisation made the rich richer and the poor poorer – made the gap wider 

Ignorance and Want

             Both are presented as children – showing us how the young are the most important aspect of society – they are neglected here

             Ironic names – the rich focus on their ‘wants’ and our ‘ignorant’ to their influence, while the poor lack education and want things

             Dickens believed in the power of education – he felt that education was the key to improving society. If children were educated properly, then they could succeed

             Both characters are hidden from sight – the characters are hidden in under the clothes of Christmas Present symbolising how our focus on the present makes us forget those in need

Bella – fiancĂ©e 

             Belle represents a time when Scrooge was happy

             She symbolises a choice between money and happiness – she offered him a choice and he chose money

             She represents rejection – and as she rejected him, he rejects all affection

             Symbolises the start of Scrooge’s journey into loneliness

             Two different versions of Bella – happy with Scrooge and happy not being with Scrooge

             Highlights how happy she is without him


             Shows how Scrooge’s cruelty is not a natural thing – it doesn’t run in the blood

             Contrast with Scrooge – shows us how someone should behave at Christmas

             Symbol of determination and positivity in the face of adversity

             Represents Scrooge’s link to humanity – through him he can be a normal person again

             Show us how family love in unconditional

             Symbolises the importance of family


             Emotional – Scrooge

             Physical – The Poor are separated from the poor – descriptions of the slums in Stave 4

             Enforced – Workhouses and Prisons mentioned in Stave 1

             Hot and cold used to highlight the different types of isolation – cold is usually associated with isolation

             Scrooge’s home represent isolation – different types – bed, bedroom, large house, empty street

             Family is often used in the story as the opposite of isolation

             The ghosts make sure Scrooge is not that alone in the story – they break the pattern


             Scrooge is responsible for the choices in the novella – he is in control of his world

             Scrooge is responsible for his current unhappiness – if he made the right choices, he would be happy now

             Scrooge has more choice than other characters because he has money – money gives you choice

             The key choice in the book is the choice between material goods or people

             Christian view of sacrifice and charity at the heart of the choices in the play


             Two clear contrasting families – Scrooge / Cratchit (rich / poor)

             Happy events or positive moods occur when people are together as a family

             Family is linked to heat

             Family life is seen as healthy and good for you

             When Scrooge becomes part of a family, he becomes happy

             Scrooge cares more when he treats Bob and Tiny Tim as a family – an inclusive view of society – a responsibility to support one another

             Family accepts mistakes and past errors – Fred welcomes Scrooge back 

Forgiveness / Compassion

             Starts with a lack of compassion – refusal to help charities; ends with compassion and charity – reversal

             Repeats the meeting with the men from the charities

             Challenges the hypocrisy of Victorian society – supposed to be Christian society, but the poor suffered terrible conditions which they were supposed to be grateful

             Story structured to understand and show compassion towards the poor – we are to understand that they don’t have themselves to blame for their circumstances

             The poor’s treatment at the hands of the rich is fixed in the story – shown how they can help


             Marley and Scrooge’s work place – cold place obsessed with making money and work

             Scrooge’s home – large, cold, rich empty

             Scrooge’s school – empty, neglected

             Fezziwig’s place – busy, warm, fun

             Cratchit’s home – busy, warm, barren

             Fred’s home – busy, warm, fun

             Belle’s home – busy, warm, friendly

             Pawnbrokers / Slum – dirty, cramped, cluttered

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Marketing English Revision

Oh dear, we are on the path to the exams for Year 11 now. This week, I have been mainly thinking about revision and how I could get students revising more. If I am honest, I think I have got some bits of revision wrong. For the past few years, I gave each student a brown paper bag full of resources, including past papers, sample answers, revision cards, at Easter. Because I am nice, I even put some Haribo sweets in the bag as a sweetener. I did all this for the whole year group. My thinking was that each and every student in Easter would use the resources to revise. As with all things, the hardworking students used the resources and the non-hardworking students ate the sweets and then binned the bag. 

I think we should look at how producers market films. They tempt. They tease. They spoil the audience with a film. They don’t just dump the film in one week, expecting everyone to watch the film without any publicity. They pick the right time in the year to capture their audience. The precision to detail is immense. They make sure that the audience can’t forget the film and they build up that sense of hype and maintain it for a long period of time. Producers spend a year or months teasing the film before it is in the cinemas.

I think schools should look to film producers in how we promote revision. It should all be about the long game and not just quick solutions. Now, I am not expecting people to have teaser trailers at the end of an assembly or have themed merchandise in the school canteen. Don’t forget to pick up you Tiny Tim toy with each sandwich purchased this week. I just think we need to copy and mirror what marketing campaigns do. 
So, what are we doing this year?  Here’s some things we are doing to make revision topical and relevant. 

1:   Homework – loyalty points
We have made a booklet for Year 11 for each term. The booklet contains five practice questions for Language Paper 1, Language Paper 2, Romeo and Juliet, A Christmas Carol, Conflict Poetry, An Inspector Calls and Unseen Poetry. It also contains five activities for learning quotes, learning vocabulary, learning sentence structures, etc. The majority of these are taken from the AQA KS3 papers.

Students have to spend approximately 15 minutes completing the task. Mainly the emphasis is planning a response to a question. However, students can, if they want, write a response.

On the front of the booklet, is a grid. Students have to sign in a box every time they complete the revision.

Parents and teachers alike can observe how much revision has been done in that term. For each remaining term, there’s a booklet. We are no longer assuming they are revise. They can do it all at once or a bit each day.  

2: Revision cards – teaser campaign
We have a number of revision cards for the set texts. This year we are providing them a month before a mock exam. We are ‘dropping them’ as the media refer to a month before the mocks so that students are getting the clear message that they need to revise.

We are doing this for Year 10 and 11.

A later blog will have the revision cards in it. Oh, I am such a tease

3: Emails to parents – mass marketing 
This year we have sent an email to parents each term. Parents don’t need to know a lot. They need to know some important things. So this year, we have emailed parents the following things:

1: What is revision? An explanation of different revision strategies for revision using ‘The Learning Scientists’ Blog  

2: An electronic booklet – overview of each question on the exam paper

3: Guidance on how parents can support revision

4: An examiner’s style feedback on the mocks

4: Reminders – Film Posters
We are lucky to have the Show My Homework system. The great thing is that I am able to message students. And, what do I message? I message them the dates of the mocks and exams. The system them constantly reminds them of this. 

5: Lectures – Select Screenings
We invite a select number of students to lectures aimed at pushing for a Grade 9. The parents get the invite and then have to sign students up as there is a limited number of places. We do this across Years 10 and 11. Places are scarce, so be quick otherwise you will miss out.

6: Surgery -  Targeting specific audiences
We don’t really do extra lessons. Instead we have a surgery for a particular aspect students struggle with. However, we email certain students (well, their parents really) we feel need to work on that area based on teacher suggestion and mock results.

I am telling students and parents that students shouldn’t come to a revision session if they don’t know the key texts. They have had a year and a half learning the main texts and all too often ‘laziness’ is the problem. A student rocks up to a revision session hoping to get a bitesized version of the play / novel so they don’t have to work. We are spelling out to parents that students should be reading and reading the texts. If they don’t know it, read it and use notes and resources given.

I think we need a clear message. Students should be responsible for knowing and retaining the basics. 

7:  Redoing papers -  Personalised marketing  

We have posted to parents clean copies of exam papers, if we feel students have not put enough effort into a mock papers. The parent gets a nice little letter explaining that we think their child isn’t working hard enough and they need to work harder or they’ll not get the results they want in summer.

This works really well for us as it signals to parents that there child isn’t working hard enough.

8: Displays – Publicity
One thing we are going to do this term is put up lines and quotes from a certain poem in the English classrooms. No labels. No titles. Students are going to have to work out the poem of the week. Each week a different poem. Not everything needs to be big and labour intensive.

We all know how important revision is, but conveying that to students is important. Parents assume students are revising and know how to revise. Students assume that they know how to revise properly. I think schools should be working hard to stop assumptions. Facts. Not assumptions. What revision have they done? How have they revised?

I like the drip-feed principle. Remind students very term and month about revision. Remind parents regularly about revision and what students can do to revise and, more importantly, what does revision actually look like.

Revision needs a PR agent, darling. It is all about maximum exposure, darling. Give it more light, sweetie. Wonderful.

Thanks for reading,


P.S. Things might be a bit quiet for a bit as I work on my ‘Pop-up revision sessions’, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ revision themed flavoured drinks and work with the school canteen to rebrand the menus around ‘A Christmas Carol’. I am particularly pleased with the Cratchit burger, Scrooge semolina and Fezziwig’s triffle.