A2 English Lit essay planning


new doc 30_3

Resources from a lesson in which y13 planned essays on Lear, The White Devil and Paradise Lost 9.



“A parent can support or damage a child” How and to what extent is this shown in the 3 texts…

“It is the role of Literature to challenge and confront the traditional values of society”.  How and to what extent…

“It’s love which makes the world go round”.  How and to what extent…

“In what ways and for what purposes have writers incorporated social problems in their literature?”  Discuss…

The titles were not drawn from past OCR papers – we have discussed nearly all the questions related to this text choice, but from IB English Lit papers going back to 2004.  The questions are much more open and can be used with all texts – the challenge is engaging and possibly requires a little lateral thinking in order to look at aspects of the texts which might not have been at the forefront of their thinking.


lear wd pl essay plans


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Touching the Void: character discussion sheets

Based on a lesson today, year 9 (!) produced this resource for year 11…


Students working on Edexcel IGCSE English Language might like to use these sheets as a basis for further development as one of their revision activities.

void character sheets

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TKAM: some student revision materials

My Year 10s were charged with making revision materials for Mockingbird over Easter…

Theme Of Education TKAM (EDITED)-2


The mother figures of TKAM

Justice in TKAM

tkam finished Jem and Scout – revision guide

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“You can’t give us homework, we have to revise!”

I am always happy to magpie good ideas. When revising – feat your eyes on this excellent resource – remember to plan revision and to vary the activities…

Pete Sanderson's @LessonToolbox Blog

How many times have you heard something like this? You plan a test, exam or assessment for your class, give them some homework or an independent learning activity to prepare them and a student in the class shouts out “…but you can’t give us homework, we have to revise!”.

Many students struggle to grasp how to revise, or understand what revision is unless you teach it to them. The majority of students I ask to define revision say one of three things – “Read through notes”, “write notes from a book” or “go on revision websites”. Whilst these are all valid ways to prepare for assessment, there are many ways to go about it.

In an attempt to broaden students understanding of revision I have created the “Student revision toolbox” (see below) which you can download here.

If you can see anything missing from the list, I would be very…

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ENO and me: non fiction – speaking for myself

This is not one of my usual posts – this is me, speaking for myself and bemoaning the sad fate of a company and an art-form which I hold dear.  Feel free to use it as a non-fiction analysis if you wish, but, unusually, it is not intended to have any role in the education of my students, beyond its message.
So, why do we bother?  Why are so many people incensed at the actions of ACE in devising a rescue plan for ENO that involves reducing the number of performances and performers, rather than seeking other ways to cut costs?  It isn’t that this apparently elitist art form has to pay an inordinate wages bill to the chorus after all, even with a 4 singer reduction in  numbers from 44 to 40. The introduction of a forced layoff for 3 months a year is hardly going to replace the £5 million pound cut in subsidy, nor is it going to achieve any part of restoring this once great company to a level of fiscal security and prosperity.
I thought I might ask my friends on Facebook and Twitter to write something about why we should care about the demise of a company which 30 years ago was held in sufficiently high esteem around the world that tours in the USA and Russia were successfully undertaken, or a company which 40 years ago still undertook touring to the provinces…  The poor financial balancing of the Harewood years still haunt the company, it seems, but it is interesting that these years of apparent excess coincided with the most exciting period of artistic life in the company’s history.
My love for ENO dates from 1975.  I am odd.  The first two operas I saw were Die Meistersinger von Nuremberg and Gotterdammerung – and I came back for more. For me, there was no company to match the casts I heard at that time – Hunter, Remedios, Bailey became my musical heroes.  As a teenager I learned the Ring from the ENO recordings and still hear moments of the text in those translations even when listening to the German originals…  sad? As a student at KCL I queued for ROH proms and was thrilled to hear Remedios as a Siegfried at the ROH in 1982 (?).  That was fine cast throughout and only effaced by the staggering Tristan with Solti driving Dame Gwyneth Jones, John Vickers and Norman Bailey at the same venue.  My bread and butter opera was always found at ENO.  Prokofiev’s War and Peace with Bailey and Masterson (and just about any able bodied singer) gave a chance to hear Sir Thomas Allen in the Coliseum – a star from Floral Street in the other place.  Amongst shows I inhaled at that time were the Miller Rigoletto and a Pountney Dutchman, along with the Pountey Janacek cycle in various forms – Makropoulos with Dame Josephine Barstow stands out.
When I left university and was earning money to attend the postgraduate opera studies path which I followed, I worked at ENO as a stage door keeper from Summer 1984 until Autumn 1985.  I saw everything, made numerous friends and managed to be on the door when an armed robbery took place… Importantly though, whether on the door or working in the Front of House, I knew that I belonged to this company.  And what an exciting company it was back then – ground breaking new work such as Glass Akhnaten alongside “classic” productions such as the Hytner Xerxes and the Pountney Rusalka.  And this was a company built on true ensemble – everyone knew each other and the sense of care was tangible throughout.  Maybe I am looking back with over-rosey spectacles?  Hopefully the Opera Director Paul Curran who was in the Front of House Team at the time might be able to comment?
I became a singer and started my career at Scottish Opera in 1987.  I cannot describe my excitement at the moment that my hero, Norman Bailey, actually spoke to me – in the queue for coffee in a rehearsal break.  This was a link.  Several of my teenage heroes from ENO crossed my path (more memorable for me, I imagine) – Alberto Remedies even smashed a chair over my head in Jenufa – what an honour.  It all linked back to 1975….  As I developed I got to know Norman Bailey well enough to work with him as a coach and teacher from time to time, especially when I was part of the National Opera Studio – run by Richard Van Allen – another figure of awe from ENO…
I never sang a show at ENO.  I did jump in bizarrely at an open dress rehearsal of Mikado – another ensemble member of the day – Carole Watson, the House manager who has sold ice creams when I worked the door – made the announcement to the audience in which she welcomed me back to ENO.  I was thrilled, but I imagine regular opera goers were slightly bemused!  My career took me abroad for much of the time and I do not have any regrets that Naples, Cologne or Seattle replaced Bedfordbury in my life.  I was very glad that before I hung up my tonsils in 2003 I had worked as a cover at the Coli.  Returning to the Upper Circle Bar, somewhere where 20 years earlier I might have been croaking my way through an aria as an embryonic singer, to rehearse Golaud or Kaspar meant much to me.  After all, this was my operatic nursery.
The Pountney/Elder Powerhouse may well have cost an inordinate amount of money, but the quality of the product from ground-breaking directorial work by the likes of Alden, Jones, Vick, Hytner , Miller and, of course Pountney himself, and the quality of musical guidance by the likes of Sir Mark Elder or Sir Reginald Goodall or Sir Charles Mackerras enabled a company with a strong roster of contract artists to present the highest artistic standards and to push the ROH all the way on a weekly basis.  Well cast favourites of the repertoire ran for long periods enabling the more esoteric operas to play to less than full houses – how many Miller Rigolettos or Vick Butterflies paid for the ground breaking Freeman Akhnaten?  The apparent fact here is that the casting from strength featured several singers of a calibre rarely heard at ENO now – British and commonwealth singers who had perhaps started at Sadler’s Wells and were retained on contract or by negotiation – thus ENO audiences heard genuinely world-class performances by some of the great British singers of the day without paying half a week’s wage to sit in the stalls.  Singers like Sir Thomas Allen, Dame Janet Baker, Alberto Remedios, Norman Bailey, Valerie Masterson, David Rendall, Graham Clarke, Arthur Davies, Richard Van Allen, John Rawnsley, Anne Murray, Philip Langridge, Sir John Tomlinson…  one could go on and list almost every major British Artist of the late 20th century as appearing at ENO.
With time, the casting seemed to change – perhaps pennies overruled artistic merit at times, perhaps many of the apocryphal stories about John Berry when he arrived at the company and was in charge of casting were slightly less apocryphal and slightly more truthful – “Is there a mezzo role in Aida?” was a favourite for a while – gallows humour perhaps.
Certainly the decision to lay off the experienced roster of staff singers did not raise standards in any way.  Youthful enthusiasm and a 3000 seat auditorium does not always work well.  It could be argued with confidence that the decision to purchase this theatre was an error if the casts were not chosen an a similarly grand scale.  It is too big.  Few theatres in Europe approaches its cavernous size and alarming breadth of stage.  This is an issue – it is too big in many ways for Classical opera and needs casts who can amply fill the auditorium when singing the larger late-romantic works for which it is suited.  One wonders how different the story might be today had the company placed itself in a more standard 1500-1800 seater at that time.  Much more suited to opera in general and much easier to sell out.
As time passed, prices rose.  Audiences are now asked to pay “international” prices for seats at all levels – the product on sale inconsistently justifies these prices and so the audiences drop off.  Increasingly, productions are shared with other houses and the lack of a recognisable “house” product effects the attitude of audiences who used to welcome the chance to see “their” singers – Mezzo Jean Rigby was a prime example – loved by regulars who were all aware that she had graduated from Usherette to Principal singer at ENO and seems to have the company tattooed into her very being.  Interestingly Mark Wigglesworth, the recently resigned GMD, also began his association with ENO in the early 80s as an Usher.  I find it hard dot believe that this association had not added a frisson to his decision to take the post when it was offered, and possibly to his disappointment when the company began to stray so markedly from the company he believed he was taking over.
The company needs radical help – it has been left in a parlous state, but no artistic endeavour tends to improve its position by actively reducing the amount of opportunities and audience has to engage with it.  To actively reduce the chance to inspire the next generation of audience and performer alike is a dead-end process resulting in a steady slip towards oblivion.  Why would hitherto loyal company members hang around if better offers come up? The new contract will not allow them to work at seasonal festival houses because the window is too small – when push comes to shove, do you put up with being treated like a dispensable branch of a company evidently viewed by the Arts Council of England as unworthy of the major investment needed to restore it to a strong artistic position?

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Hunting Snarks in Harrow

This summer my school celebrates 140 years in existence ( JLS 140 ). We are looking for something to work on with Years 7&8 to reflect this. Sadly 1876 seems quite a quiet year for Literature, but it does have the publication of The Hunting of the Snark and I think this might be productive.

  • First published in Easter 1876, Lewis Carroll’s Hunting of the Snark is a classic piece of Victorian nonsense poetry. It is easy to imagine the new boys at The John Lyon School being in receipt of this book as a present and learning to recite the verse among their friends. There meaning of the poem is obscure – if it has one at all!  Certainly the original group of travellers are left in little doubt that the “Snark IS a boojum, you see”.  The suggestion is that the object of our desire is somehow a deceit – a fantasy which will cause the finder to disappear entirely – perhaps to lose their individuality in the faceless world of a wider society.
  • Today, in our anniversary year, we are revisiting this text in Years 7&8 and electing to find our JLS Snark in 2016. A Snark is some form of scholarly success – certainly not solely academic – that might be the boojum- a one-trick pony who offers little to society than an obsession with personal achievement ion a narrow academic context.  Our Snarks seek a wide range of skills and activities and learn that failure is only deferred success and that risk-taking in the name of progress is vital to the development not just of young minds, but of all humanity.”


This work in progress post looks at how I might deliver a short document in which the boys of years 7 & 8 consider their arrival at and path through secondary school as their own Snark hunt.

Quite what a Snark is, I a not yet sure – some form of quantifiable success/maturity, I imagine that becomes a Boojum if it is not rounded and leavened with a good mixture of all that a good school can offer in terms of Art, Music, Sport, Drama in addition to academic progression…

Hopefully each form will produce 1 “FIT” along these lines:FIT 1: Y7 The form gathers. In which forms create 4 line verse pictures of themselves and their Bellman – the form tutor or English Teacher.
FIT 2: Y7 The Bellman’s speech. In which the form write a short poem in 4 line ballad form to reflect the information and exhortations given by their Bellman. Must engage with what a Snark might be and Bellman’s rule of 3
FIT 3: Y7 The hunting (1) Ballad form recount of the main events of term 1 in the new school… – aspects of life: music, sport, art, drama and academic life… possibly playing with the idea that their Snark is a boojum unless it engages with a range of areas…
FIT 4: Y7 Hunting (2) Developing the idea of new skills and new experiences: Hockey? Cricket?
FIT 5: Y8 Have we found it? Looks back into y7 and considers whether it has been found
FIT 6: Y8 Is our Snark a Boojum? If so why – (it should be, at this stage…)
FIT 7: Y8 The vanishing and the determination to keep looking – what is needed in y9,10, 11 and so forth to develop boys as Snarks?

My first ideas can be found here:

snark teaching idea

Any help will be very gladly received!


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Introducing: Ibsen – A Doll’s House

This will be an A level text in the new OCR Literature course, pre 1900 poetry and drama paper. It will run alongside Chaucer’s Merchant’s Tale.

doll’s house

A screencast introduction can be found here, on the JLS English Department You Tube channel
Doll’s House Introduction

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NEW OCR Merchant’s tale possible extracts

Obviously there are any number of possible extracts from the tale – we are looking for around 40 lines of poetry which can clearly be used to discuss character or thematic development. Here are a few to work with – all students should be finding their own and working out the key features of any passage to assist with answering the essay question. DO NOT LEAVE IT TO CHANCE.

L 1-48 (“… and his wyf) My thought here is to link the prologue to the tale, possibly by exploring the links between The Merchant and his male protagonist.

L99 (“… a wyf is Goddes yifte) – 149 (“wol the rede”) This section introduces Januarie’s attitude to marriage and will set up numerous discussions about what actually happens and open the discussion of irony.

L173 (If thou lovest thyself) – 210 (greet forage) One of my favourite sections with plenty of characterisation and the use of Auctoritas and Exempla in the writing. Still focused on Januarie’s lust-driven search for a young wife.

L217-257 Again, focused on the issues around youth and marriage

L349 (“trusteth me”) – 387 Justinus’ advice is ignored as a prelude to a discussion of Januarie’s character. We also see Chaucer’s own voice possibly intruding at the end of this section: “love is blind allday and may nat see”.

L427 (“I have, quod he”) – 461 This section looks at Justinus and his character as well as allowing a discussion of Januarie and the ironic outcome of this advice which Januarie ignores.

L538-580 Looking at Januarie’s character at the (very short) wedding.

L609-650 The description of the love-making could be sed to develop discussion of both Januarie and May. Whilst the content might make it less likely to be used this summer, this is a key passage for useful quotations showing broad knowledge of the text.

L662-704 A useful passage to consider the characters of Damyan and Januarie. Plenty of typical irony here!

L721 (“This fresshe May”) – 764 (“I wole holde my pees”) Focuses on May and Damyan as well as extending the plot. Students should be mining this area of the text for Fabliau-type comments about Courtly Love.

L783 (“This gentil May”)- 825 (“under a laurer alwey greene”) Much here on setting – The garden/Eden links, use of the tree as a phallic image, plenty of irony given what will happen.

L885 (“upon the other side…”) – 912 establishes the love-triangle and allows any of the three characters to be discussed at some length. There is also a short Exemplum using a Classical Auctoritas – highly typical of Chaucer’s writing and here it is short enough not to detract from the passage.

L973 (“This fresshe May…”) – 1018 possibly not to be used since it is a little disparate, but I want to draw attention to the wonderfully heightened poetry at LL1007-1012.

L1116 (“this fresshe May that is so bright and sheene”)-1155 Looking at the build up to the cuckolding and to the actual event itself.

L1150 – 1199 is discussed here: model response

I hope these help – find your own and practice working the passage toyour advantage – you need to know the whole text and should be able to discuss language, structure and form in this question.

Merchant’s tale extracts  a powerpoint by Alistair (y12) in response to this post.



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Merchant’s Tale: suggested response LL1150-1195

As usual I am not trying to write a prefect answer but to give some food for thought…  This is relevant for students working on the Tale for OCR A level (new spec).  PLEASE feel free to add comments in reply – develop your thinking as much as possible!


Consider the depiction of Januarie and May in LL 1150-1198 of the Merchant’s Tale. How are their characters developed here and in what ways is the writing typical of the Tale as a whole?

This passage comes from the very end of the tale, Januarie has had his sight restored by Pluto and May has been given guidance by Proserpina to allow her to give “suffisant answere” to Januarie’s questions about what he has seen in the tree.  In this passage we see Januarie move from his patriarchal position of dominance to take a more “feminine” role in the debate – based on contemporary views of women as intellectually inferior to men.

As the passage opens, Januarie is crying with horror at the sight of May and Damyan making love in his pear tree.  There is irony here since Januarie has built his garden to allow privacy for those acts which are “nat doon abedde”.  He intends this to be a site for his peversions to know no boundaries, but it also allows, ironically, for his own cuckolding – something certainly not done in his own bed.  The strength of his emotion is signified in the 4 cries of pain – “out, help; allas, harrow” and it is hard not to have some pity for the man who, since his blinding, has seemed a more considerate partner than before. At this stage The Merchant begins to stress his relative emasculation – he cries like a “mooder” at the death of her child and refers to May as “stronge” -albeit in the context of her being “stoore” or crude.

Her response develops this sense of a shift in gender balance, something which the scene between Pluto and Proserpina has presaged, with her polite and dignified use of “Sire” and the second person plural “yow” suggesting a distance between the interlocutors.  She begs him to show “pacience and resoun” and stresses the danger to her “soule” which the act he has seen presents. Proserpina promised her and all women the ability to find the right answer to all charges and here she certainly delivers.  May is polite and clear – he defence is based on her teaching and he wish to serve Januarie well.  Following her use of euphemism – ‘to strugle with a man”, Januarie has no response apart from the evidence of his eyes.  His language is coarse – “algate in it wente”, “he swived thee” suggesting a man at the end of his tether.

This is the first section of the Tale in which May has spoken at any length at all, she remains silent during her courting and her feeling s are only expressed in reported speech by the Merchant.  Here she is matching Januarie in all he says and will come to dominate the discussion – again mimicking Proserpina in the earlier section.  Given that the scene is set in Januarie’s love garden (a typical feature of Medieval love-making and the centre of most literature exploring Courtly Love), the idea of Eve in Eden has to be noted here.  Eve/May has been tempted and has fallen for the serpent in the tree and now has to persuade Adam/Januarie to follow her path or to accept her transgression.  Januarie will not suffer damnation as in the Biblical telling of the story, but he will settle for acceptance rather than risking his inheritance and loss of face.  May is able to present totally plausible reasons for the failure of his eyesight to discern the “true” picture of events:  he is simply still “glimsing, and [has] no parfit sighte”.  Januarie accepts this reading of the event and backs off:  “lat al passe out of minde” suggesting an apology for all he has “missaid”, though even at this point he still refers back to the act he witnessed before May concludes the scene with a longer, more considered speech.  This part of the Merchant’s tale is a clear variation on the traditional Fabliau form of scurrilous satire.  Usually the language is coarse and the ideas of Courtly Love are held up to ridicule.  This writing is less coarse than some tales, possibly reflecting the apparent status of the Merchant – there is none of the crudity of the Miller’s Tale, for example.  Still, there is an irony in the escape from utterly evident adultery seen here.  Possibly Chaucer was aware that there was a need in 1399 to avoid writing in a manner too openly satirical and hostile towards the great Knight/adulterer of his day, John of Gaunt – his brother in law once he had married Chaucer’s wife’s sister, with whom he might also have been romantically tangled.  Gaunt was the father of the new King:  Henry IV and there was a need for Chaucer to tread carefully in times of political upheaval.

As May explains the issues surrounding Januarie’s clarity of vision, Chaucer allows a variation to the usual iambic pentameter to interrupt the line “But, sire, a man that waketh out of his sleep”.  Here the 11 syllables might suggest the slight disorientation she is describing or merely draw attention to the interpolation of “sire” as a mark of respect.  As she continues, her verse becomes smooth and consistent, suggesting that she is in full control of herself and of her subject matter. She is clear: “ye may wene as yow lest” suggests her greater confidence in this area.  She seems very considerate here and her character gains by this.  It is no glib response that she gives but suggests slightly more care for her husband than seen hitherto.  She may well be laying the ground for continued infidelity, but it is hard to imagine that she rated Damyan’s emotionless love-making (“in he throng”) as much more than the “bene” at which she valued Januarie’s labours.  The passage ends typically for such a passage of advice with a proverb: “he that misconceyveth, he misdemeth”.  Ironically – and this is a tale driven by irony – this is precisely what Januarie did when he opted to listen to the advice of Placebo over Justinus. Januarie is a man who has sought flattery and who has put his desires over his righteousness throughout the Tale.  May’s summary of the event s in the garden, can, therefore, be applied to the whole tale.



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Escape the family: Lear discussion yr 13

Another y13 lesson posted to assist those absent on interview/open day….

This is a discussion of the idea that there is “NO ESCAPE FROM THE FAMILY”.

lear family

lear family planning

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