Category Archives: EDEXCEL IGCSE

Still I rise, Significant Cigarettes, Dyslexia… Anthology Part 2

My former colleague Michael Mellor left this wonderful teaching outline for the Edexcel IGCSE new anthology….

I like it…

very much indeed.  Thanks Michael.

NEW IGCSE Lang_2016_Angelou_Tremain_BenZeph


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A passage to Africa: notes on Explain Everything

Recently we got new laptops at work… woop!

I have been experimenting with Explain Everything – a piece of software which I had previously only encountered in an iPad form.  It’s great and allows you to annotate and record a class discussion in real time…

Year 9 (!) discuss Alagiah’s Passage to Africa from the Edexcel IGCSE anthology…

It can also be found here:

Explain files need to be downloaded – I am working on an MP4 version. The Explain Everything App is free at first with a subscription after a month – well worth the payment.

I hope the link works – it is work-in-progress and my writing with the stylus on screen will only get better!




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Mayella and Boo: Thoughts

Mayella and Boo: Class notes

After a discussion in y11 around an essay which asked for ‘children who suffer’ in the novel to be compared, we developed this list. I suggest that students find evidence to support these statements and to extend them.

Mayella Boo
Single parent family Single parent family
Abusive father (sexually) Abusive father (neglect)
Uneducated (choice of family) Uneducated beyond a teen years (father)
Mother figure to siblings No siblings but seems to wish to care for the children
Coward in the trial (moral) Brave at end (physical)
Tries to improve life for children: geraniums Gifts in the tree
Bigoted –picked up from father  
Appalling living conditions clearly described Home likened to Gothic haunted house.


I think that the key to this essay might be to look at how the children cope with their ‘suffering’ – in this case Boo rises above it and does what is right, yet Mayella could be said to lack that moral compass. Setting is relevant as well and students might wish to consider the difference between the Radley house which has the best view of all the events in the novel against the house on the dump.


There is much more to find, but this is a start….

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Jamie Zeppa: Bhutan for IGCSE

A powerpoint, based on the Edexcel IGCSE materials to assist with teaching and revision of ‘Beyond the sky and the earth: a journey into Bhutan.


Zeppa Tasks for class



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H is for Hawk (for Edexcel IGCSE

A powerpoint, based hugely on the Edexcel text book.  PLease feel free ot use it.

H is for Hawk

From H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald
[When Macdonald’s father died suddenly of a heart attack, Macdonald was
devastated. An experienced falconer, she adopted a goshawk to distract her
from her grief. In this extract Macdonald meets her hawk for the first time.]

‘We’ll check the ring numbers against the Article 10s,’ he explained, pulling a sheaf of
yellow paper from his rucksack and unfolding two of the official forms that accompany
captive-bred rare birds throughout their lives. ‘Don’t want you going home with the
wrong bird.’
We noted the numbers. We stared down at the boxes, at their parcel-5 tape handles, their
doors of thin plywood and hinges of carefully tied string. Then he knelt on the concrete,
untied a hinge on the smaller box and squinted into its dark interior. A sudden thump of
feathered shoulders and the box shook as if someone had punched it, hard, from within.
‘She’s got her hood off,’ he said, and frowned. That light, leather hood was to keep the
hawk from fearful sights. Like us.
Another hinge untied. Concentration. Infinite caution. Daylight irrigating the box.
Scratching talons, another thump. And another. Thump. The air turned syrupy, slow,
flecked with dust. The last few seconds before a battle. And with the last bow pulled
free, he reached inside, and amidst a whirring, chaotic clatter of wings and feet and
talons and a high-pitched twittering and it’s all happening at once, the man pulls an
enormous, enormous hawk out of the box and in a strange coincidence of world and
deed a great flood of sunlight drenches us and everything is brilliance and fury. The
hawk’s wings, barred and beating, the sharp fingers of her dark-tipped primaries cutting
the air, her feathers raised like the scattered quills of a fretful porpentine1. Two
enormous eyes. My heart jumps sideways. She is a conjuring trick. A reptile. A fallen
angel. A griffon from the pages of an illuminated bestiary2. Something bright and
distant, like gold falling through water. A broken marionette3 of wings, legs and lightsplashed feathers. She is wearing jesses4, and the man holds them. For one awful, long moment she is hanging head-downward, wings open, like a turkey in a butcher’s shop, only her head is turned right-way-up and she is seeing more than she has ever seen
before in her whole short life. Her world was an aviary no larger than a living room. Then it was a box. But now it is this; and she can see everything: the point-source glitter on the waves, a diving cormorant a hundred yards out; pigment flakes under wax on the
lines of parked cars; far hills and the heather on them and miles and miles of sky where
the sun spreads on dust and water and illegible things moving in it that are white scraps
of gulls. Everything startling and new-stamped on her entirely astonished brain.
Through all this the man was perfectly calm. He gathered up the hawk in one practised
movement, folding her wings, anchoring her broad feathered back against his chest,
gripping her scaled yellow legs in one hand. ‘Let’s get that hood back on,’ he said tautly.
There was concern in his face. It was born of care. This hawk had been hatched in an
incubator, had broken from a frail bluish eggshell into a humid perspex box, and for the
first few days of her life this man had fed her with scraps of meat held in a pair of
tweezers, waiting patiently for the lumpen, fluffy chick to notice the food and eat, her
new neck wobbling with the effort of keeping her head in the air. All at once I loved this
man, and fiercely. I grabbed the hood from the box and turned to the hawk. Her beak
was open, her hackles raised; her wild eyes were the colour of sun on white paper, and
they stared because the whole world had fallen into them at once. One, two, three. I
tucked the hood over her head. There was a brief intimation of a thin, angular skull
under her feathers, of an alien brain fizzing and fusing with terror, then I drew the
braces closed. We checked the ring numbers 45 against the form.
It was the wrong bird. This was the younger one. The smaller one. This was not my
So we put her back and opened the other box, which was meant to hold the larger, older
bird. And dear God, it did. Everything about this second hawk was different. She came
out like a Victorian melodrama: a sort of madwoman in the attack. She was smokier and
darker and much, much bigger, and instead of twittering, she wailed; great, awful gouts
of sound like a thing in pain, and the sound was unbearable. This is my hawk, I was
telling myself and it was all I could do to breathe. She too was bareheaded, and I
grabbed the hood from the box as before. But as I brought it up to her face I looked into
her eyes and saw something blank and crazy in her stare. Some madness from a distant
country. I didn’t recognise her. This isn’t my hawk. The hood was on, the ring numbers
checked, the bird back in the box, the yellow form folded, the money exchanged, and all
I could think was, But this isn’t my hawk. Slow panic. I knew what I had to say, and it
was a monstrous breach of etiquette. ‘This is really awkward,’ I began. ‘But I really liked
the first one. Do you think there’s any chance I could take that one instead . . .?’ I tailed
off. His eyebrows were raised. I started again, saying stupider things: ‘I’m sure the other
falconer would like the larger bird? She’s more beautiful than the first one, isn’t she? I
know this is out of order, but I … Could I? Would it be all right, do you think?’ And on
and on, a desperate, crazy barrage of incoherent appeals.
I’m sure nothing I said persuaded him more than the look on my face as I said it. A tall,
white-faced woman with wind-wrecked hair and exhausted eyes was pleading with him
on a quayside, hands held out as if she were in a seaside production of Medea. Looking
at me he must have sensed that my stuttered request wasn’t a simple one. That there
was something behind it that was very important. There was a moment of total silence.

1 porpentine: a type of porcupine animal
2 bestiary: a (medieval) descriptive passage on various kinds of animals
3 marionette: a puppet worked by strings
4 jesses: a short leather strap fastened to the leg

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On learning quotations for exams.

There has been a lot of traffic on Twitter recently around this topic. The new GCSE exams are requiring students to sit closed-book exams in all elements of English Literature and there is understandable concern from teachers that the children may not be being prepared sufficiently for this task.

So, before my ha’pen’orth of advice as to some strategies, my cards on the table:
I like closed book exams. I sat them as a child and have taught them at A level, IB and IGCSE for many years. I have never understood why the old CIE Literature IGCSE was closed for one paper and yet open for the modern drama paper – it seems unnecessarily confusing.
Yes, learning quotations is potentially arduous and may result in a large amount of unnecessary material being consumed and committed to memory, but there is a purpose. It seems that a student who has committed elements of the text to memory – who really ‘knows’ the text – is better placed to respond to the unexpected in an examination. Not only that, but the time wasted leafing through the text in search of the perfect quotation is significant in examinations which give only around 45 minutes to assimilate, plan and write a response. There is also a significant risk that students will give scant weight to revision of the texts involved, on the grounds that they can look up the necessary material in the examination.
That said, I see no reason not to give the text of a poem read as a disparate group of poems in an anthology – there is little to be gained from memorisation of all 16 or 20 poems and the responses need to focus on poetic techniques rather than on memorisation. Whole texts are different and need to be addressed from the outset with the aim of embedding knowledge of the text as habit. Moreover, since most poems are relatively short, regular reading and discussing will embed quotations in the long term memory, aided by any rhythmic or rhyme=pattern which can be discerned.

So, that said, how do I try to help my students with the task of ‘learning quotations’.

1: Avoid the ‘this is hard’ approach. It is worth recalling that a quotation my simply be a single word. Often open book exams result in two or three lines of a poem or a play being cited with the focus being on a single word in the second line. Students do not need to quote at extreme length and should be aiming for neatly embedded quotations which can be further discussed. They are not being tested on their recall per se, but the inferences about writers’ craft which they make from their chosen quotation. Keep it short and keep it simple.
2: Start early. Habitual retention of quotations can be made into regular practice in KS3 quite easily.
3: From KS3 be explicit about the regular use of quotations in discussion and all oral activity. Use questions to reinforce the students’ ability to recall and deploy quotations in all aspects of lesson time. When a student paraphrases in an oral response, offer the question back and require a quotation- as in the exam, this need not always be word perfect if a longer phrase, but should be discussed with the key word shared around the room.
4: Build confidence with unfamiliar language. I try to use Shakespeare’s language in my questioning and discussion – the more the language is heard and utilised, the easier it becomes to recall at a later date. The same is particularly true of Chaucer (at A level currently) where I find students struggle to recall accurately the spellings of Middle English. Here there needs to be a mixture of aural and visual stimuli.
5: Regular low-stakes testing of recall can be built into lessons – starters and paired activities are good for this.
6: Whilst I can offer a list of ‘key quotations’, I tend not to do so. I believe that students will recall with greater ease those quotations they ‘find’ for themselves. The fact that certain quotations will have received greater ‘air-time’ in class than others can help to ensure that the ‘key quotations’ are learned, but others will be remembered because the students themselves have ‘discovered’ them.
7: All quotations must have a purpose – simple memorisation is not enough. Consider the ‘key quotation’ ‘…it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird’ much beloved of students reading TKAM. This is often used, and often misses a key point because the first half of the quotation has been ignored – ‘shoot all the bluejays you want’. It can be very useful to use both ends of this little balanced phrase if only to note that society is far from a kind and gentle place, even in Atticus’ ideal world. Another example would be the wanton use of “To be or not to be” without the succeeding lines in which Hamlet engages in exploration of the actual alternatives on offer, focusing on the idea of one choice being ‘nobler’ than another. The essay becomes much deeper and more interesting as soon as one expands the selection.
Whatever is chosen, the focus of the writing must be to explain why the quotation has been chosen to illustrate the specific point being made.
8: To aid more than simple memorisations, I encourage students to buddy-up for revision:
a) Top Trumps. When my children were young I used to loathe top trumps with a passion – it all seemed so futile, to sit down and get roundly trounced on my knowledge of Tall Buildings because my sons had played so often that the material had become second nature. I use this to suggest a good use of cue cards. On one side the Quotation, on the other a list of bullet point comments – speaker and interlocutors, place in the text, contexts, thematic links, and other potential character references. The game is played in pairs with the responder needing to hit the bullet points in whatever focus the questioner requires. This can lead to a further development, that the responder needs to list all the material on side 2 AND to add further material. When played alone, the quotation is displayed and the player writes a list of bullets to compare with the flip side. Memorisation for exam use should not be simply about chanting quotations without context.
b) The stakes can be raised on the game above by playing slaps or a variant. As before the quotation is displayed before the pair take it in turns to present alternate contextualisations and elaborations. The one who falls silent first receives a ‘slap’ or similar non-physical forfeit.
c) Larger groups can play classroom cricket…
9: It is vital that students do not confuse reading with revision. Revision needs to be pro-active and I am keen to clarify that simply reading will add little to one’s long term memory, and therefore one’s ‘knowledge’ of a text. I encourage this technique: read a pre-determined section of text with a focus in mind form the outset. For example, read Much Ado About Nothing Act 1.1 with a focus of noting references to status. As they read, I want them to make notes – jotting down every thing which sparks their interest whether a quotation or a comment about the text itself. At the end of the reading, there must be engagement with the notes. These should be read through and turned into more useful and focused notes on that scene – filled out and given some explanation. IN doing this, the material will hopefully be retained in the long term memory and the student will have more ammunition on which to call in the exam.
10: Utilise your windows and other ‘dead’ areas. get the students to create window displays based around use of quotations – not just lists, but little contextual discussions if possible. The more these are seen and used in discussion, the more natural it becomes to utilise the material thereon.

I am sure that many of you will have developed these and other techniques far beyond the level of this post! Good luck to you all.

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Edexcel IGCSE English Lit: Love group

Year 10 linking work for the poetry anthology.

love grouplove group  the pdf version


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TKAM: Characters of Cal and Tom. A give-back

I have just been marking Y11 practice essays on Mockingbird relating to the characters of Calpurnia and Tom. Given the stem: ‘how are the characters…. presented?’ the focus is clearly on Lee’s technique but also on her intention in creating these two characters. Students need to ask themselves what the function is of any character in a question such as this and then address the ways in which the author brings out that function in the writing.

Both are black and in a book focused on the racial divide of the deep south, this is an obvious point to make. More than this , both are ‘good’ and therefore can be seen not only as ‘Mockingbirds’ but also as the antithesis of the ‘white trash’ defined by the Ewell family. This is important since Lee is at pains to point out that there is inherent worth in Tom which cannot be seen at all in Bob, though Bob, being white, will receive the benefit of the bias of the jury.
Thus both symbolise an essential concept of goodness. Both are also part of Scout’s education though in different ways. Calpurnia, from before the start of the text is an active teacher whose role is criticised by society in the shape of Miss Caroline; Tom is himself a lesson – he never meets Scout, but is as much a part of her education as anything undertaken by Calpurnia or Atticus.

An intelligent and hard working black woman employed to replace Atticus’ wife in the Finch household. It is clear from the early stages of the narrative that Scout is utterly indebted to Calpurnia for her education and her burgeoning awareness of the world around her. Cal is not the only surrogate mother – Maudie and Alexandra must also be considered in this light, but Lee uses her for clear social education -whether when teaching Scout not to disrespect Walter or when taking the children to her church and responding to Lula’s verbal aggression.
It is Cal to whom the children turn when upset and it is Cal who will be chosen by Atticus to accompany him to call on Helen following Tom’s death. She has the feminine virtue of compassion and empathy in a way that Atticus does not. This is not to say that she is a ‘soft touch’ -Jem’s comments about the strength of her hand in a beating make that eminently clear.
Towards the end of the novel Calpurnia is presented in two scenes: Alexandra wishes to be rid of her and Atticus is clear -he can’t live without her. This is not a romantic attachment, but one of support and mutual respect. Look again at the little scene in which she enters the body of the courthouse to tell Atticus that his children are missing – she bears herself with dignity in the lair of the white folks and carries out one of her last duties in regards to the children. After this in the novel she will wait and serve at the tea party and help to comfort Helen, but her role as educator in chief is no longer relevant. In Part 1 she seems to be Atticus’ accomplice in educating the children. By the middle of part 2 she is replaced by circumstance and by Tom.


Although mentioned in Part 1, Tom plays no part in the text until part 2 – as though Part 1 has been preparation for the key idea: the black man, however poor, is not to be written off because of the colour of his skin. His trial takes up around a quarter of the text and is without doubt the central event of the whole text. In it Tom is set against Bob Ewell and the pair are held up to scrutiny. Tom is as much portrayed by his own deeds and speech as he is by Bob’s: the one is the antithesis of the other. Where Tom is quiet, respectful and unwilling to use Bob’s own words in his evidence because they are too uncouth. Bob, on the other hand, is brash, disrespectful and boorish. Lee uses the trial to give the reader a detailed description of the Ewell home which will later be contrasted with the homes of the black community. Both are near the tip but Bob’s is virtually on it – there are no windows and a fence made of savage-looking ruined tools. The only touch of softness is the attempt by Mayella to grow geraniums in a poor copy of Maudie’s garden in the centre of town. The Black community dwellings are, in contrast, cosy and carry the scent of cooking to the visitors, despite their poverty.

This is the key: despite poverty, at the middle of the depression, Tom finds time for dignity and honesty. This is seen time and again in the court house and also in the fact that he is employed at all, and a good worker. Not only this, he pities Mayella. Whilst this is used against him in court, it is so important – his thoughts are not for himself but for others. For this caring nature he is held up as a scapegoat by a jury of bigots. When he is killed trying to escape, he has run out of hope and his death presents the reader with a clear recognition that a terrible injustice has taken place.

His death is the last piece of Scout’s jigsaw. She sees Calpurnia being asked to provide comfort outside her family and also sees her Aunt – until this time a figure of hostility and perceived unkindness – in a different light. She too can see that it is time to grow up and to find dignity in the face of adversity.

Many will write that Tom is a ‘mockingbird’ but few refer to the jail scene. Here after the lunch ob has dispersed it is Tom’s weak voce which pierces the evening air. A frightened and vulnerable soul in a violent and cruel world.

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Edexcel IGCSE poetry for Lit (Anthology C)

I am preparing Y10 for the Anthology C poems for Edexcel.

This is a draft spreadsheet to try to organise their thinking in relation to the 16 poems.. I would welcome feedback and suggestions.

poems reference grid

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Y11 planning Anthology A: Boys messing and Goat.


Two hexagon plans: Boys messing around and Goat from Edexcel IGCSE Anthology A.


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