Thanks to a Twitter post by @veldaelliott, Associate Professor of English and Literacy Education at Oxford, a list of excellent texts for teenage readers has been produced by Balliol College, Oxford.  I attach it and the little activity I want to run from it in Years 9-11 next year.  I’ll try anything to encourage more reading…

The following list has been produced by BALLIOL COLLEGE


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ToK A brief introduction…

I am very pleased to be teaching ToK (Theory of Knowledge) again next term, albeit as part of a 6th form enrichment programme rather than as a fully fledged IBDP ToK course…  Here is an idea for the 5 lesson introduction…

tok intro lessons

Much of my older material can be found here and I will be delivering a 6 lesson follow-up focused on ToK of the Arts later in the year.

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Macbeth coursework Preparation booklet

This is version 1 of the prepbook I will be using for Year 10.  It will be used in conjunction with teaching the play in the “usual” way – reading, discussing, acting and generally ensuring engagement and comprehension.  I hope that this booklet will help to focus the students’ ideas prior to writing coursework and help to obtain a range of response based on individual thinking – always a bit tricky with a single prescribed question.

Macbeth prepbook

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Macbeth and the Great Chain – task planning

As I consider my eventual IGCSE coursework essay for Year 10 this year, I am working through ideas for myself. Here I am looking at the material I will want students to explore to enable them to access an essay on the effect of breaking the Great Chain…

Introduction: Students will need to show briefly how the Great Chain works and the degree of belief in 16/17C. This should be linked to 1606 context AO4 is examined in the Heritage essay…) by means of mention of Guy Fawkes and the palpable sense of breaking of the Great Chain which would have pervaded in England at the time. Context cannot be bolted on and all comment must be relevant.

After this, students can show evidence of change having taken place around the time of and following the murder of Duncan.
They have around 1500 words for the task and will need to remain clearly focused…
My specific areas would be:


Much can be made of the desire of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to operate at night. Thus adjectives such as “dark” and “black” carry symbolic power – night as a time of evil. Students can look for evidence of darkness being chosen over daylight to illustrate this – 1.7″stars hide your fires./Let not light see my black and deep desires” would be a good start. Evidence can be drawn from both M and LM as well as from 3.1 & 3.4 when Banquo is killed and Macbeth seems to have shortened the day.

Macbeth, subdivided into Gender and The Devil

Macbeth Gender breaks down again:

Comparison tables can be drawn up to consider Macbeth in 1.2 and 1.4 being seen as a Good MAN before he loses his nerve and being seen as a weakling by Lady Macbeth. I would want to see evidence from 1.7,2.2 and act 3 to support the idea that his actions have caused him to lose his manhood. Evidence from Malcolm/Macduff in 4.3 can be used to reinforce what masculine virtue should look like… contextual comment can be used to link into a discussion of LM losing her femininity and taking male attributes. Thus one can show an inversion of the natural order of all beings is established in the first half of the play.

Macbeth Devil can be developed from LM’s “be the serpent under it” quotation in Act 1 in order to establish a Macbeth/satan link reinforced by Macduff’s ‘Hell-hound” in Act 5. I would want students ot use the Porter in 2.3 to briefly establish both the metaphor of the castle as Hell and by extension Macbeth as the Devil ruling Hell and showing context in the discussion of events of 1606 and the trial of equivocators like farmer Garnet. Equivocation is the action of the blaspheming – this play is full of it, form the witches, through all Macbeth’s actions in Acts 2 and 3 and even in Malcolm in 4.3.

I will he drawing up a short booklet to help students gather information and to assist with the early preparation of this task and will publish it here in another post.

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Macbeth and the Great Chain of Being: Initial thoughts

A powerpoint to introduce the idea of the Great Chain of Being to Year 10.  I like this focus for coursework since it requires understanding of the whole play and a wide range of characters.

There will be more on this subject and my Macbeth tag carries several linked pieces of writing.

Macbeth Chain 1
A screencast can be found on the department YouTube channel

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Macbeth: a few points before we begin.

A few points on Metre, verse and thou/you…. amongst other things.

macbeth 1


A screencast is available on the department You Tube channel

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Some “Quite Interesting” things about Nora Helmer…

  1. She has a loan of £250 from Krogstad which she is repaying as best she can.  She does not work…
  2. She pays around £6 per week to employ her maid
  3. In London in the mid 19C Female copy clerks earned around £1 per week (Get a look at LUCY PICARD’S “Victorian London” – a great source book for interesting titbits).
  4. She leaves to buck a trend expected and perhaps best represented in this poem by Coventry Patmore (a man writing about his wife..). Here’s a taste:
  5. Man must be pleased; but him to please
    Is woman’s pleasure; down the gulf
    Of his condoled necessities
    She casts her best, she flings herself.
    How often flings for nought, and yokes
    Her heart to an icicle or whim,
    Whose each impatient word provokes
    Another, not from her, but him;
    While she, too gentle even to force
    His penitence by kind replies,
    Waits by, expecting his remorse,
    With pardon in her pitying eyes;
    And if he once, by shame oppress’d,
    A comfortable word confers,
    She leans and weeps against his breast,
    And seems to think the sin was hers;
    Or any eye to see her charms,
    At any time, she’s still his wife,
    Dearly devoted to his arms;
    She loves with love that cannot tire;
    And when, ah woe, she loves alone,
    Through passionate duty love springs higher,
    As grass grows taller round a stone.
  6. Nora fits into a pattern of women in Literature who are depicted as breaking this mould – Jane Eyre, Tess to name a couple
  7. She had to suffer a change of heart in the revised version of the play thought fit for German stages. In this version motherhood is seen as the highest virtue, far exceeding the right to be an individual human being.
  8. Ibsen is not a “feminist” writer, he strives after the individual and follows Kierkegaard in seeing an existential need for all humans to forge their own existence. Nora does pre-echo some of the characters by the great feminist and proto-feminist writers such as Kate Chopin – look at my guide to the Awakening  – Jean Rhys and Maya Angelou… all full of the “caged bird” imagery used here.

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Images in A Doll’s House

A powerpoint giving a brief overview of some of the key imagery in Ibsen’s play.

DH imagery

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The Doll’s House and The Merchant’s Tale

For the new OCR A level examination, these two texts can be run together in the drama and poetry paper.  I am quite excited about this: a 19th century Well Made Play and a Mediaeval poem, albeit a dramatic poem with narrator, hardly seem clear bedfellows.

The questions will take the from of general statements for discussion in the manner of the old A level paper. Alevel sample paper  In this paper I am offering my initial thoughts as a stimulus.  There are few examples of AO2 and my intention is to offer a springboard for my Year 13s to develop their own paths.

It strikes me that The Merchants’ Tale could indeed by a subtitle for Ibsen’s play.  It moves the focus from Nora – usually perceived as the doll and the player with dolls suggested by the title- onto Torvald.  A 19th Century merchant suffering from all that implies:  ludicrous working hours, a need to maintain ‘face’ and a need to sustain a position in society based on a high moral purpose.  Now, Januarie has little moral purpose – he is clearly marrying for sexual gratification and attempting to sidestep the sin of lust in so doing.  But there are similarities.

Both are obsessed with their business – Januarie shows this in his constant use of business lexis when discussing marriage and love, and Torvald in the need to work on December 26th at a job which he has not even started yet.  So both are driven and both enjoy their earning power.  Torvald has made the home lovely and chosen most of the decor of the apartment in a manner which resembles Januarie’s luxurious Italian decoration for the wedding feast.  Both have created a secret garden:  Januarie in reality and Helmer in the apartment.  It is clear that the return to the apartment in Act 3 is solely for sexual gratification (whether Nora agrees or not) much as Januarie builds his garden to allow him to perform the acts which can’t be performed in the home!  Thus the societal requirement of a locus amoenus in which to woo and make love is still alive in the 19th century.  One could even paint Dr. Rank in the colour of the courtly lover.

You should consider this.  Rank loves an untouchable maiden, the wife of a friend.  He is sworn to celibacy and suffers not only from his love-disease but also from the constant proximity of the unattainable.  In Act 2, when he admits his feelings Nora is horrified.  Whereas May seizes the chance for adultery with both hands, Nora ends the discussion with a firm finality.  She will not break her moral code to that degree and is also reluctant to remove herself from the position of control which she currently inhabits.  Whilst the two female protagonists share nothing in the discussion of morality, it is clear that they are consummate actresses who control their husbands even when their husbands do not realise it.  That the outcome is so different is due to Nora’s determination to stop playing roles and to establish her individuality.  Helmer is happy to compromise his moral position regarding Nora’s crime, just as Januarie places his hand on May’s womb, probably containing another man’s child.  Nora is a new woman for the 19th Century.

Elsewhere we see Helmer as a man unable to take advice if it is not in line with his straightforward pronouncements and thus mirroring Januarie’s ignoring of Justinus’ advice.  Where Januarie is flattered by Placebo, we could argue that Helmer enjoys the flattery of Nora who constantly plays the ‘squanderbird-game’, no more so that when she wants money.  She knows her sexual allure and is not afraid to use it to get what she wants.  This suits Helmer who wants to show her off  at the masquerade dancing the tarantella in the costume of a fisher women.  He revels in her beauty and is clearly turned on by this action.  From here it is a small jump to Januarie showing off his lower-born wife at the wedding.  Both men wish to take their rights as a husband when they are alone.  Januarie is not successful and Helmer is interrupted by a string of events.

In both texts society is challenged.  Ibsen writes a critique of bourgeois complacency and proposes the emergence of a new Existentialist citizen based on the writing of Kierkegaard.  Chaucer holds a mirror to the world and finds it wanting. He has held positions of power in commerce and has seen greedy merchants at first hand, moreover he makes his merchant a Knight – old and lust driven – a dangerous thing to do when the ghost of John of Gaunt hovers over your family.  IN short, neither offer a radical political manifesto for change, but both highlight the faults and fissures in contemporary society for those who wish to see them.

Convinced?  Well, this idea will develop as the new academic year progresses.  Hopefully there will be new writing and plenty of comment.

f comment.






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Anna-Maria, the nurse: thoughts on a character

Anna-Maria  is a small character in the play A Doll’s House, but should not be overlooked.  As the adage puts it:  “No such thing as a small role – just a small actor”.

Anna Maria

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