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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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…

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Unseen Practice for A level: possible links.


This is a work in progress table to help OCR A level students prepare for the Unseen in Dystopian Literature.  The texts cited have either been used in part as unseen practice or have been read by the students.

Typicality and textual reference in unseens

Narrative voice 1st person: Handmaid, Delirium (Oliver), Divergent, Maze Runner


  3rd person: 1984, Station 11, The Road
Narrative tone Factual: We (Zamyatin), NLMG
  figurative: time  machine,
Future improved


Brave New World, we, Ender’s Game
Future degraded The Road, (anarchic, post-apocalyptic), I am legend, Station 11, Riddley Walker, The time machine, Delirium, F451
Location Earth?


Totalitarian/ police


1984, Fahrenheit 451, Handmaid, Delirium (?)

Hunger games, the dispossessed

Location elsewhere Ready Player 1,
Location town (protection) 1984, Handmaid, We, Hunger Games
Location country (to be feared or a sanctuary)  

1984, Station 11, The Road, I am legend, Logan’s Run (sanctuary)

Time of day  
Character types  
names Ofred (offered and belonging, (Regal), Winston Smith, anonymous so universal – The Road, F451 Guy Montag – new beginnings, August (Station 11) -power
jobs 1984/F451 – destruction of (written) language, mundane employment: 1984, We, Handmaid, F451(?), War of Worlds, Wyndham novels, Children of men: Lippiatt has a high status role, Station 11 – ‘the prophet’
skills In YA skills can be more evident-  Castniss
Action Passive Handmaid
Action Active Winston Smith
Past was better 1984 – Winston perceives past as better, official documents disagree. Handmaid. Delirium, Brave New World – reservations The Road, Riddley Walker, NLMG
Capitalist or Communist takeover F451, There will come soft rains, Body Snatchers – USA 1950s/60s, Animal Farm, 1984
Destroyed individuality NLMG,1984, We, Hrarison Bergeron, Cloud Atlas (Sonmi 451)
Control by state NLMG, 1984, BNW
Mankind corrupted The Road, Chaos Walking trilogy, F451, Handmaid, Time Machine, Maze Runner
Individual against corrupt society The Road- Man and child seek redemption
Class ‘warfare’ Hunger games, Time Machine, 1984, brave new world

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Class feedback: IGCSE language Paper 1

This is my powerpoint give back of class improvements for Edexcel IGCSE English Language paper 1 for my Year 11 class.

give backPaper 1

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Oral commentary: Merchant’s Tale lines 945-999

In my endeavour to focus Y12 on AO2, I recorded this today in a lesson. Please take a lesson – it was not pre-prepped and I make no apologies for the rough edges…

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Chaucer: discussion sound file. Lines 943-999. Merchant’s Tale.

A discussion of an essay submitted to consider the presentation of Januarie and May at a turning point in the poem.

The discussion is 35 minutes long and there is a slight corruption of the file at the end of the session. Plenty of interesting stuff here though.


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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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Unseen: Station Eleven for OCR A level

This passage is taken from the 2014 novel Station Eleven by Emily Mandel.

station 11 extract.

From the outset of the passage the reader is given information about the setting which establishes mood and location. The passage is set ‘twenty years after the end of air travel’. A reader immediately recognises a common trope of Dystopian Literature in that the passage is clearly set in the future, but a future in which the conditions in which people live have been reduced with a subsequent loss of  technological knowledge. This is reminiscent of a number of Dystopias such as Mac Carthy’s The Road, Hoban’s Riddley Walker and Wyndham’s The Chrysalids to name three. The description of ‘caravans’ and the ‘symphony’ are perhaps reminiscent of the world of Riddley Walker, with itinerant players reproducing the Punch and Judy plays as a means of connection with the lost world.

The conditions in which the travelers are living are harsh and hostile: The heat is described both as metaphorically ‘white-hot’ and then again in a more prosaic yet equally alarming clarity as ‘106 Fahrenheit, 41 Celsius. We note that the thermometer is ‘twenty-five-year old’ suggesting a date for the event which plunged the society back into this un-technological state.  Within this world, the travelers are surrounded by trees which ‘pressed in close’ suggesting further stifling actions and which also are seen to have ‘erupted’ through the pavement.  Nature is reclaiming the manmade world and doing so in a violent fashion – the verb suggesting speed and violence in equal measure. Just as in The Road, where we see the manmade infrastructure of modern USA returning to the wilderness, so here, the same action is evidently taking place. However there is contrast – trees provide shade and the leaves are described as’ soft’ as they are ‘brushing’ the legs of horses and Symphony alike’. This gentle description of the emerging foliage possibly suggests that there is hope for the future and that some succour will be found in time as nature reclaims the land. At this point, though, the landscape is seen as dangerous – or in the typically understated tone of this narrative as ‘questionnable territory’.

Perhaps for this reason the group contains scouts who carry ‘weapons’ and there is a recognition that this group serve to protect the ‘Symphony’ – a group of travelling players, it seems- named after the prime artistic endeavour of the 19th century – the musical whole- who seem to be made up both of musicians and actors. Names are shared and the passage focuses on and elderly ‘director’: Gil, aged 72, and two other players: Kirsten and August. The latter name conferring a level of respect on the character with its meaning of reverence and carrying its root back to the Roman emperor Augustus. This man is seen as both a musician and an actor and also as a ‘secret poet’, an interesting designation. This is a time in which to be a poet was thing to be kept hidden, possibly because of the overt exploration of private emotion to be found in that art form. The narrator is not named – a third person narrator, seemingly omniscient tells of this unusual group of artists trekking slowly across America in the past tense. Presumably their fate is known to the narrator and the reader is engaged in finding out what will happen to the group. In many Dystopian novels the narrators or the protagonists are deliberately ordinary citizens, working in ordinary jobs – Winston Smith, for example. Here the characters are far from ordinary, and seem also to have lost an element of their identity – not only are there no surnames, but another character is referenced solely as the ‘seventh guitar’ – no name, no identification, only a job.

The characters are suffering a degree of deprivation – their shoes made from ‘automotive tyre’ which helps to explain the condition of the vehicles in which they travel. These wagons, the caravans of the Symphony, are made from functional 21st Century vehicles, such as ‘pick-up trucks’, chosen for their capacity rather than for their comfort. They have been stripped back to the basic level of function and now resemble the covered-wagons in which the American pioneers crossed the continent in the 19th Century. We learn that gasoline has come to an end, recalling again The Road and also that the trucks are pulled by horses, much as John Wyndham writes in his novel ‘The Chrysalids’. Practicality is evident in that despite the stripping-out of weight, the toughened glass remains as protection against an unnamed potential foe. As in  so many tales of a ‘fallen world’, danger lies everywhere.

Kirsten and August pass time by running lines from their production: King Lear. Again a layer is added to the intertextual subtext here as we recall a banished King wandering on the heath and slowly losing his wits as a medium for recognising the fragility and vanity of the world he has lost – the ‘pomp’ of the royal court. We assume that the message here is not dissimilar and that the Symphony are recognising the overblown and empty grandeur of the mechanised 21st century world, now ‘rendered useless’.

Their journey is laborious and dangerous. The heat is ‘relentless’ and they need to rest the horses ‘more frequently than anyone would have liked’ suggesting a compulsion both of time and also of potential danger on their journey. We know they are at Lake Michigan, but we know no end-point for the journey in this section of text, and we recall that for many, the end point is not known. For The Man and The Boy in The Road, the West Coast is a potential destination which takes on great spiritual significance. In this passage, the Symphony just walk, ‘weapons in hand’. They talk little. The only direct speech is in the form of the lines from Lear and a statement from Gil relating the action of their walking to performing on stage. There is  a sense of a world with the comfort removed – the ‘tarps’ have been painted ‘gunmetal grey’ a far-cry from the painted caravans of a travelling circus or the groups in Riddley Walker, and the vehicles have lost their comfort: the glass is a necessity and the seats removed, replaced by a bench on the roof. The name of the group – printed in capitals for emphasis – acts almost in the same way as a red cross sign – a request to leave them unmolested since they come in peace.

The passage is written in an understated manner though in no way similar to the terseness which categorises MacCarthy’s writing. There is little figurative language, and moments are often undercut by the choice of language, possibly as euphemism, to avoid unnecessary fear developing. To this end, the danger of the ‘questionable territory’ is described also as ‘fraught’ and the glass is left because it is ‘nice to have somewhere relatively safe to put the children’. In this phrase the weak adverb ‘nice’ is further reduced in impact by the adjective ‘relatively’ before the sentence reaches its true purpose by the arrival of the noun ‘children’ -the only mention of the children in the passage which has focused solely on adults of indeterminate age to this point. It is as though the passage is narrated in a tone designed to reduce the potential anxiety of the actual situation. The sentence length increases with added subordination in the fifth paragraph as the narrator seeks to give explanations for some of the changes being made -the reader becomes increasing complicit, therefore as he understands and accepts the rationales behind the vehicles being described.

The passage considers the difficulty found in surviving in post-apocalyptic world. The passage gains more interest in that the survivors focused upon carry the cultural capital of society with them. In this they resemble Riddley Walker himself – often ignorant of the heritage of the culture he carries yet driven to defend it. There is no overt Christian message or sense of a coming redemption here, just a struggle for survival of a culture, the current enemy of which is Nature itself.


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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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