Category Archives: GCSE support

On scaffolded descriptive writing openings

This is a great post by a colleague on Twitter: Thanks Rebecca.
I post it for my Yr 10s and 11s as they approach exams and exam prep – the ability comment is not an issue for me – this applies ot all who need to boost their creative writing marks… give it a try.

The Learning Profession

bournemouth beach

My low attaining year 10 class (average aspirational target of a grade 3) have been struggling with descriptive writing. I have provided some structure (e.g. using zoom boxes to focus in on areas of the image) and we’ve explored what makes good descriptive writing, with lots of modelling and practise, but, invariably, students in this group have found it difficult to move from writing with ‘some success’ to producing writing that is ‘consistent and clear’. In timed conditions, they have been struggling to get started and some have barely managed a couple of paragraphs in the time allowed.

I’ve been reading a lot recently about cognitive load theory and I’ve come to the conclusion that, for these students, the cognitive load in our descriptive writing lessons has been excessive and therefore their learning has suffered. They’ve been battling a plethora of demands: starting effectively; structuring sentences accurately; using paragraphs; using a range…

View original post 463 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under GCSE support, IGCSE support, Uncategorized

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.

1 Comment

Filed under EDEXCEL IGCSE, GCSE support, IGCSE support, OCR A level

Y11 planning Anthology A: Boys messing and Goat.


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


Leave a comment

Filed under EDEXCEL IGCSE, GCSE support

Much Ado: Comedy and Marxism


I gave a short lecture as an extension exercise for y11…


Leave a comment

Filed under GCSE support, Paedagogy, Shakespeare, Uncategorized

A taste of Trump…

I thought I’d paste a little taste of Trump here for students to look over. we spend so many hours teaching students to write with clarity and to structure and organise… and then this:

TRUMP: We stopped giving them because we were getting quite a bit of inaccurate news, but I do have to say that — and I must say that I want to thank a lot of the news organizations here today because they looked at that nonsense that was released by maybe the intelligence agencies? Who knows, but maybe the intelligence agencies which would be a tremendous blot on their record if they in fact did that. A tremendous blot, because a thing like that should have never been written, it should never have been had and it should certainly never been released.

But I want to thank a lot of the news organizations for some of whom have not treated me very well over the years — a couple in particular — and they came out so strongly against that fake news and the fact that it was written about by primarily one group and one television station.

So, I just want to compliment many of the people in the room. I have great respect for the news and great respect for freedom of the press and all of that. But I will tell you, there were some news organizations with all that was just said that were so professional — so incredibly professional, that I’ve just gone up a notch as to what I think of you. OK?

All right. We’ve had some great news over the last couple of weeks. I’ve been quite active, I guess you could say, in an economic way for the country. A lot of car companies are going to be moving in, we have other companies — big news is going to be announced over the next couple of weeks about companies that are getting building in the Midwest.

You saw yesterday Fiat Chrysler; big, big factory going to be built in this country as opposed to another country. Ford just announced that they stopped plans for a billion dollar plant in Mexico and they’re going to be moving into Michigan and expanding, very substantially, an existing plant.

I appreciate that from Ford. I appreciate it very much from Fiat Chrysler. I hope that General Motors will be following and I think they will be. I think a lot of people will be following. I think a lot of industries are going to be coming back.

We’ve got to get our drug industry back. Our drug industry has been disastrous. They’re leaving left and right. They supply our drugs, but they don’t make them here, to a large extent. And the other thing we have to do is create new bidding procedures for the drug industry because they’re getting away with murder.

Pharma, pharma has a lot of lobbies and a lot of lobbyists and a lot of power and there’s very little bidding on drugs. We’re the largest buyer of drugs in the world and yet we don’t bid properly and we’re going to start bidding and we’re going to save billions of dollars over a period of time.

And we’re going to do that with a lot of other industries. I’m very much involved with the generals and admirals on the airplane, the F-35, you’ve been reading about it. And it’s way, way behind schedule and many, many billions of dollars over budget. I don’t like that. And the admirals have been fantastic, the generals have been fantastic. I’ve really gotten to know them well. And we’re going to do some big things on the F-35 program, and perhaps the F-18 program. And we’re going to get those costs way down and we’re going to get the plane to be even better. And we’re going to have some competition and it’s going to be a beautiful thing.

So, we’ve been very, very much involved, and other things. We had Jack Ma, we had so many incredible people coming here. There are no — they’re going to do tremendous things — tremendous things in this country. And they’re very excited.

And I will say, if the election didn’t turn out the way it turned out, they would not be here. They would not be in my office. They would not be in anybody else’s office. They’d be building and doing things in other countries. So, there’s a great spirit going on right now. A spirit that many people have told me they’ve never seen before, ever.

We’re going to create jobs. I said that I will be the greatest jobs producer that God ever created. And I mean that, I really — I’m going to work very hard on that. We need certain amounts of other things, including a little bit of luck, but I think we’re going to do a real job. And I’m very proud of what we’ve done.

And we haven’t even gotten there yet. I look very much forward to the inauguration. It’s going to be a beautiful event. We have great talent, tremendous talent. And we have the — all of the bands — or most of the bands are from the different — from the different segments of the military. And I’ve heard some of these bands over the years, they’re incredible.

We’re going to have a very, very elegant day. The 20th is going to be something that will be very, very special; very beautiful. And I think we’re going to have massive crowds because we have a movement.

TRUMP: It’s a movement like the world has never seen before. It’s a movement that a lot of people didn’t expect. And even the polls — although some of them did get it right, but many of them didn’t. And that was a beautiful scene on November 8th as those states started to pour in.

And we focused very hard in those states and they really reciprocated. And those states are gonna have a lot of jobs and they’re gonna have a lot of security. They’re going to have a lot of good news for their veterans.

And by the way, speaking of veterans, I appointed today the head secretary of the Veterans Administration, David Shulkin. And we’ll do a news release in a little while. Tell you about David, he’s fantastic — he’s fantastic. He will do a truly great job.

One of the commitments I made is that we’re gonna straighten out the whole situation for our veterans. Our veterans have been treated horribly. They’re waiting in line for 15, 16, 17 days, cases where they go in and they have a minor early-stage form of cancer and they can’t see a doctor. By the time they get to the doctor, they’re terminal. Not gonna happen, it’s not gonna happen.

So, David is going to do a fantastic job. We’re going to be talking to a few people also to help David. And we have some of the great hospitals of the world going to align themselves with us on the Veterans Administration, like the Cleveland Clinic, like the Mayo Clinic, a few more than we have. And we’re gonna set up a — a group.

These are hospitals that have been the top of the line, the absolute top of the line. And they’re going to get together with their great doctors — Dr. Toby Cosgrove, as you know from the Cleveland Clinic, has been very involved.

Ike Perlmutter has been very, very involved, one of the great men of business. And we’re gonna straighten out the V.A. for our veterans. I’ve been promising that for a long time and it’s something I feel very, very strongly.

So, you’ll get the information on David. And I think you’ll be very impressed with the job he does. We looked long and hard. We interviewed at least 100 people, some good, some not so good. But we had a lot of talent. And we think this election will be something that will, with time — with time, straighten it out and straighten it out for good ’cause our veterans have been treated very unfairly.

OK, questions? Yes, John (ph)?

Thank you to the BBC website, where you can find the whole transcript of the recent press conference.

It’s not a question of bringing politics into the classroom, but since many of use have used Obama as an exercise when discussing rhetoric, this ought to be considered…


1 Comment

Filed under AQA LitB 4, EDEXCEL IGCSE, Edexcel IGCSE from 2016, Uncategorized, writing skills

feedback: Who is the most memorable character…

… in TKAM?

When answering this type of question, popular in the Edexcel IGCSE students might want to use these steps as a guide:

1: There is no right answer, but you must have enough material in your chosen character to establish a good, detailed and broad response in order to show, at least, “thorough” knowledge as required to attain 19-24/30.
2: If a character is truly memorable that is because the writer wished the readers to remember that character. Bear this in mind. The character must embody something about the messages which the writer wishes to impart. If you are not sure about the underlying themes or philosophies being discussed, then this is a tricky essay to write well.
3: This essay is not a straightforward character essay. Yes you will need to explore their character, but also explain what it is that makes them memorable.
4: Any character is a construct. Try not to write as though they are real, autonomous characters who think for themselves. They don’t. They have been created in a certain way to convey a certain purpose. Try to show you understand this…

With this in mind, students have just been writing a response to this question based on TKAM in a past IGCSE Lit paper.

I will show an outline plan here for 2 characters: Atticus and Bob Ewell…

Atticus: role- educator, personification of justice, father. Lee is writing to point up the parlous state of bigotry and justice in the South in the 30s. She is intending her writing to reflect the mood of the late 50s and early 60s. This Atticus is needed to be memorable since he embodies the role of the “righteous”…
Here are some ideas:

a: For Atticus to teach the children the fundamental character traits needed to deliver a better world he needs to be put into a series of “lessons”. Throughout part 1 there are a number of these, from stopping the playing of the Radley-game to the lesson in courage which bis Mrs Dubose. Choose wisely and explore a couple to develop the idea that both the children and the reader need to be educated before the trial starts to ensure that the lessons are fully learned.
b: The trial is the centre piece of Part 2 and the lesson here is about justice and the idea that there is a natural justice which is not always represented by the justice delivered by a society which has formulated laws to reinforce the status quo within that society. Atticus is not necessarily free of the taint of racism, but he is clearly embodying the idea that what is just should be fought for, whatever the odds. This section can be used for what Lee evidently intended to be the set piece – his summing-up speech. This speech is so clearly an attack on the complacency of a white hierarchy that it becomes, almost verbatim, the centrepiece of Gregory Peck’s Atticus on film – a depiction of the novel which is so Atticus centered that it tends to slew our recollection of the novel. Clearly we are meant to remember this speech if little else!
c: Atticus is self-effacing yet has deep courage. It is no accident that two passages complement each other in this text: the shooting of Tim Johnson and the threatening second mob scene. In both Atticus is depicted as the calm “ever fixed mark” at the centre of a tempest. Highly memorable scenes which serve to stress the idea of justice being immovable at the centre of a wild world.
d: As a father Atticus is a model – almost too good to be true. He is a single parent who manages to bring up his children in an era of poverty and yet manages to teach them about fairness, courage and honesty despite the challenges he faces. You can choose any of his interventions, but cast an eye to the structure of the novel. Jem is useful. We recall how he is “disappointed” in Atticus early in the story, and becomes hero-struck during the trial, hanging on every word. This book is a bildungsroman. Atticus is particularly memorable because it is his interactions with the children which show the pair develop from the innocence of the opening pages to the worldly experience of the end of the novel. He is memorable because Lee despite Atticus’ input, it is the children who seem to make this journey for themselves.

I use Bob briefly to show how one can approach another character, with much less input on the pages of the book.
a: He embodies Lee’s message that despite social adversity, a good human does not fall below a certain standard of behviour. She needs her readers to recognise this and to take this message away from their reading.
b: His character is memorable because of those to which he stands in apposition. The main difference can be found in the description of his home compared with that of the poor black community. Here setting meets character – Bob’s home is Bob. It is destroyed by his selfish obsession with his own pleasure and his general laziness and careless cruelty. His character is set into by Mayella and her pathetic attempts to bring beauty and colour into the home. This makes his savage assault on her, possibly the mother of some of his children, all the more horrific.
c: He opposes Atticus in the trial and is all Atticus is not. He shows scant respect for the proceedings and an arrogance born of the colour of his skin seems to lead him to ever greater excess of behaviour. He is memorable by comparison, and he does not come out of the comparison well.
d: He seems to embody a cowardly, disreputable white bigot of a kind which Lee wants to hold to account. In a book full of racism, hypocrisy and scant regard for the dignity of those worse off, the best one can say about Ewell is that he is not a hypocrite, unlike the fine Maycomb ladies. He is shown to be a shallow and cowardly being from the moment Burris is scornful (children in this book are a direct product and reflection of the mores of their parents) and cruel to Miss Caroline to the final murderous attack on the children. He acts when drunk and in the comfort of a protective group of hangers on.
We should remember Bob just as much as we remember Atticus – he is the figure against which we are being warned. Men like him should be challenged, says Lee. He has to be memorable if the story is to have any lasting purpose.

1 Comment

Filed under EDEXCEL IGCSE, Edexcel IGCSE from 2016, GCSE support, Harper Lee, mockingbird, writing skills

MAAN: on Comedy and Marxism

I am due to give a talk for Year 11 next term. It is a MAAN lecture and I want to move beyond the basic plot retrieval and character sketch mode…


There is a screencast and I have covered this material before in some of the earlier posts on the blog…

Still, I hope it is useful

Leave a comment

Filed under EDEXCEL CERTIFICATE, EDEXCEL IGCSE, GCSE support, KS4, Shakespeare, Uncategorized

Knowledge Organiser MAAN for KS4

After the brilliant blog post by James Theobald here, I am sharing my Knowledge organisers as I make them… I will not share his – follow the link for many, many more, and I will add mine to his collection.

Here is Much Ado for KS4



Leave a comment

Filed under EDEXCEL IGCSE, GCSE support, IGCSE support, Paedagogy, Shakespeare, Uncategorized

Journey’s End resources.

These resources for reading Journey’s End have come to me from one of my colleagues: @missjboyle. They cover acts 1 and 2 at the moment and have a distinct Osborne focus.
I apologise if I am unwittingly presenting slides without due credit – I hope they are useful.

They relate to other posts on the blog:

















Leave a comment

Filed under KS3/4 drama ideas, KS4

Using a visual stimulus for creative writing

I got this material after attending a session at NATE 2016. The original can be found on the brilliant Manchester art Gallery web site. The teaching notes are here: Teachersnote

My attempt to derive a teaching resource – you will need big paper and pens and can dip in rather than use this as a coherent lesson model:

writing from image

I hope I have done this justice…

Leave a comment

Filed under EDEXCEL IGCSE, exam techniques, GCSE support, writing skills