Sunday, 22 April 2018

Exam Hacks: Paper 2 Writing

Last year, before the exams I wrote some ‘hacks’ for students. Short little mini lessons or tips to help them get better at answering the question. They often were stylistic choices rather than big ideas guiding how to answer the question. Click here to see my ‘Poetry Hacks’. Click here to see my ‘AQA Paper 1 Reading Hacks’.   

Anyway, here are my hacks for AQA’s GCSE Language Paper 2.  

[1] Start in an interesting way:

Imagine ….

What if…

What does _______ and __________  have in common?

A famous woman said….

The word ‘____’ means ….

[2] Talk to the reader

My friend, I know that…

As you know,…

You know….

Picture this…

Act now and …

Save yourself…

[3]Build a relationship with the reader. Flatter and creep up to them.

My loyal, kind reader…

Only smart, intelligent people, like yourself, will see the benefits of this approach.

Obviously, you know…

A person like you has experience of the issue.

[4] Use pronouns to build up that relationship.

We must …

It is our….

[5] Move between ‘I’ to ‘you’ and then ‘We’ within a paragraph

I think …

You expect …

We know …


My concern is

Your worry is

Our duty is

[6] Repetition is better than chucking every technique under the sun in a paragraph. Repeat a word, phrase or sentence to convince the reader.

I have a plan. I have a plan to change the world. A plan to make things better.

[7] Ethos: don’t forget you need to convince the reader why you are the best person why you should be listened to.

As a teenager, I have had first-hand experience of ….

You probably think I know very little of ….., but I assure you I do because…

I may have the body of a weak teenager, but I have the strong heart and complex brain of an adult.

[8] Use a metaphor and an extended metaphor for dramatic impact.

Bad things – plague, disease, cancer, chains,

Good things – medicine, plants, seeds, light, beacon

Homework is a cancer that plagues a child’s life. They can’t move, play or think without the pain of homework affecting their life.

Exercise is a ray of light in dark, dismal world.  

Tip: it is best if you explain your metaphor in a sentence after the metaphor’s use.

[9] Lists are important – especially verbs and adjectives

Pain, anguish and anxiety are the main problems with …

We all think, feel and know the dangers of …

[10] Verbs are incredibly important when writing a piece of a non-fiction and they can often been underused.

Students cry, weep, sob at the idea of completing homework.

Parents endure the pain of homework too.

[11] Adjectives are your secret to improving your vocabulary. Show off and learn some sophisticated adjectives.

We all want to live in a harmonious society, yet we live in a distorted and disjointed world of discord and chaos.

[12] Plan for a change in tone and mood during your writing. Make your reader cry, laugh and be scared in one piece of writing. Take them on an emotional journey.

Fear -   Children are having their childhood eroded away.

Sarcasm – Most homework is as exciting as reading the Worthington bus timetable.

Serious – We must address this now or will be facing one of the biggest problems today.

[13] Use indirect speech from others to strengthen your arguments. Don’t use direct speech – direct quotes from sources. It weakens your writing.

Parents say…

Teachers say…

Scientists say…

Teenagers say…

[14] Think of the order of things in a list. What do you want to place the emphasis on?

Teachers, students, friends and family are all affected by homework.

Homework restricts fun, friendships and freedom.

[15] Raise the level of urgency and importance with modal verbs. Start with ‘could’ / ‘might’ and end with ‘must’ and ‘have to’

We can

You might ...

We should

You will

We must


Thanks for reading,



The kind people at Twinkl have given me a free account on their website and, in return, I said I’d review, occasionally, some of their resources.

This month’s finds are:  

Narrative Revision Loop Cards

We are in the revision period now and it is a rush to get everything covered. I liked this little resource for getting students to revise some key terms in a relatively easy and ‘fun’ activity. Good as a quick revision activity at the start and end of a lesson.

How to write a sonnet like Shakespeare

I liked the format of this resource and how it can be easily used. It gets students to see the structure of a sonnet and gets them to replicate the structure in their own writing. A nice little worksheet.

Gothic Writing Stimulus

There are a wealth of stimuli for writing on the website, but these ones piqued my interest, because of the topic and the story tasks. They’d make great 200 Word Challenges. They follow the GCSE format for creative writing and so I nice way in for KS3 – especially, if you are exploring Gothic fiction.

All resources can be found here: 

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Power and Conflict Website Links

One of the things I am growing conscious of is the fact that there are a lot of demands for parents, when it comes to revision. Not every parent, or student, can afford to shower students with glossy revision guides and embellish them with a tutor. I am also conscious of the fact that schools cannot photocopy everything so a students doesn't miss out. With that in mind, I have been thinking of a solution.

There has never been a better time for students with the Internet and YouTube. The major issue is volume. I can't cope with 400 TV station and Netflix when selecting a TV show to watch, so how can students narrow down the focus and select what is right. Therefore, I am going to email parents and students this list next week and advise them that they will be a good starting point when revising the poems. 

The key thing is reading. I want students to read and make notes. I am not a big fan of the English teacher talks through their interpretation of a poem - sorry, not my kind of thing. I'd rather student read through text, sifted for ideas, make notes, rather than listen Dave talk about how he found a line really interesting. Plus, I want student to copy the writing and expression. Dave's monotonous intonation of ideas might be easy to mimic, but it will not be something students will imitate in their writing. Plus, no matter how many times you say 'Grade 9 Analysis' it will not guarantee a Grade 9 and in some cases it offers false hope. 

So, I have included a list. I'd like suggestions of additions and help to read through these ones I have included already. Ideally, this list will be used next year and the year after. 

If you have any suggestions, please a comment below. Dave - we are not including any YouTube videos. 



P.S. Disclaimer - I don't take any responsibility for content on the websites or the accuracy of ideas. 


Top Set


Top Set

Extract from The Prelude

Top Set

My Last Duchess

Charge of the Light Brigade

Top Set


Top Set

Storm on the Island

Bayonet Charge

Top Set



War Photographer


The Emigree

Checking Out My History



Sunday, 8 April 2018

We need to talk about Brian’s work!

Ok, I have been using the ‘200 Word Challenge’ for over two years now and in that time I have seen a lot of writing. And, I mean a lot. On average, I look at about forty five pieces a week. Roughly, fifteen pieces a class at KS3. And, in that time I have spotted trends, patterns and interesting things with writing and how students write as I am constantly looking at the writing. I am not doing a termly plough through books, but instead I am measuring the temperature of their writing. Too cold. Too hot. This piece of writing is just right.

Recently, I was working with a student called ‘Brian’. I use that name specifically to hide his identity; I have never taught a Brian. Brian is interesting with his writing, because he is a student who works hard. Brian listens and behaves well in lessons. However, there is a problem with Brian’s work. His writing. He uses paragraphs, punctuation and vocabulary with some proficiency. However, he tends to produce ‘beige’ pieces of writing. They have some value and the content is appropriate, but they often lack variety, interest and enthusiasm. They are just such bland pieces of working. Therefore, they are ‘beige’.

You see Brian isn’t alone in this. And, I think that Brian represents a lot of boys and possibly a lot of girls. I was a Brian at school. I did what Brian did. I ‘phoned-in’ a performance with my work. If there was one thing I can do well, it is to write meaningless waffle. I could do it for hours. Give me a question and I could write ten pages on crop rotation or the benefits of pesticides. You see that ‘phoned-in’ writing doesn’t engage the full brain and so I was able to be in a ‘semi-state of working’. I was neither working really hard nor doing nothing. I was in a trance state. I suppose the nearest thing I can link it to is the state of mind you have when completing a colouring book or reading Facebook comments. You are active and doing the process, but you heart, mind and soul are not fully engaged.

In fact, I’d say that a lot of my education was spent in this trance state. You do just enough to keep the teacher off your back, but not enough to progress further. It was a great place to be, if I was honest. It was a safe place to be. I didn’t get the attention from the teacher for being great at a task (I never thought for a second I’d get that) and the negative attention for not completing the work. So for years I produced drivel and boy did I produce pages of drivel. In fact, I produced so much drivel that I’d rarely be picked up for my lack of work in a lesson. I’d write and write. I’d write with half a brain on the task and the other half on thinking about what I’d have for tea. I’d do this for every subject and every task.

The ‘200 Word Challenge’ has made me see this phenomenon up close. You see Brian turns up the quality of work for final assessments, but by then it is too late. The day-to-day work is phoned in. Brian switches on the automatic pilot and feels comfortable and safe with his work. When you do it so much, it becomes a normal process of working. And, a hard process to break, especially when, physically, Brian is doing nothing wrong. He writes enough and he completes the task set. He is completing the task and the teacher has nothing to complain about. It is a safe place for the student and a safe place for the teacher.    

So, how would I describe this type of writing? Well, I say that it is just average. Average words. Average sentences. Average ideas.  Nothing flashy. Nothing exciting. Nothing impressive.

For an eternity we have had an issue with borderline students. We are constantly feel like we are going to lose our minds over these borderline students. Could there be something in our eyes that’s making such fools pushing us over the borderline? Could it be the fact that these student have adopted this way of working? It isn’t malicious. It isn’t really lazy. It is just safe. A safe place to be. A place to hide. Not every child wants positive or negative attention. They just want to get on through the lesson or day with the least amount of resistance and resilience. Yes, they will add a word to their writing, because the teacher instructed them to. Yes, they will add a simile to their writing, because the teacher instructed them to. No, they will not change the way they write, because it will cause attention and doesn’t feel comfortable.

Boys are often tarnished as being lazy. I’d argue they are not. I’d argue that they often find, like everybody, a formula that works and stick with it and repeat it. From what I have seen over two years is this pattern. Boys writing being appropriate to the task and being neither really good nor really bad. They have been somewhere in the middle. Average. Beige. Bland. Phoned in.

In the classroom, we need to speak about this ‘phoned in’ performance. You see I think boys (and some girls) are not aware of what they are doing. It is a fixed pattern of behaviour that they can’t see, because they are doing nothing wrong. I think we need to talk to the students. We need to talk about it and highlight it and put a spotlight on it. You see extra lessons, extra interventions or a different strategy will not change this child. The behaviour needs to change and not the teaching.

Brian, we need to talk about your writing.

Thanks for reading,