Macbeth: 3 ways to take your lessons to the next level!

As we get towards September, I know teaching Macbeth is just around the corner. Again. Please don’t misread me, I LOVE teaching Macbeth. It’s almost my favourite Shakespeare play to teach (see my post on teaching The Tempest).

I teach Macbeth every year and every year I find I l-o-v-e it all over again! In my class, there is no room for a quick trot through the play. My students all sit an examination on the play at the end of their 2 year English Literature qualification. We have to know the play and know it very well. Each year I try to add something new to my Macbeth armoury.

Here are 3 ideas that I used this year to take my teaching of Macbeth to the next level!

1. Get stuck into Holinshed’s History

Raphael Holinshed was an English chronicler (similar to a historian today) and it is his chronicle of English history that was Shakespeare’s main source for the play Macbeth. Holinshed published two ‘complete histories of England, Scotland, and Ireland’ in the years 1577 and 1587. Each publication holds a large and comprehensive description of the history of these three nations.

Holinshed’s version of the story of Macbeth describes the reign of King Duncan and shows Macbeth to be a bloody dictator. It also included a woodcut illustration of the three witches that presents them more as nymphs or fairies, and less like the dark, genderless creatures in Shakespeare’s play. You can find out more about Holinshed and his chronicles here at the British Library site.

I have included resources for Holinshed’s history in my Macbeth unit on TpT. If you’re curious about what’s included you can find it here!

How do I use Holinshed in the classroom?

It is very simple, we have a short extract that we read directly from Holinshed (like the one below). We read it directly in Early Modern English (Elizabethan English) – you can talk to students, if you feel like it, about this transition moment in the English language. I love that Holinshed, like Shakespeare, shows both the old styles and new styles in his writing.

So somewhere around the end of Act 4 and the beginning of Act 5, we read a page from Holinshed, describing Macbeth’s later reign (remember Macbeth was actually King of Scotland for 17 years). We chuckle at the funny spelling and words.

Then we talk about the differences between Holinshed’s description of Macbeth and Shakespeare’s one. Holinshed generally comes out the winner because his presentation of Macbeth is bloodthirsty to the extreme.

After that, I ask my students to discuss the play by referencing Holinshed’s history. I might use sentence starters like:

  1. Holinshed’s Histories reveals Macbeth castle at Dunsinane was…
  2. Holinshed explains the complete nature of Macbeth’s tyranny…

2. Explore 1606

The year that Shakespeare wrote Macbeth was a truly spectacular year for English culture and politics. Not only did London see the first performances of King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony & Cleopatra in that one year but England was rocked, almost constantly by political intrigue.

Let’s start with the obvious:

  • In late 1605 the Gunpowder Plot saw a failed assassination plot to kill the King. Let me say that again – kill the King. Now, according to medieval beliefs, the King is God’s representative on earth. A man appointed by King to rule of the earth.
  • To kill the king (I love the word ‘regicide’) was then to kill God’s appointed leader, to go against God’s plan, and to break his organisation and order of all the things. To kill the king was to go against nature himself.
  • Now many of us know the Gunpowder Plot because of Guy Fawkes and 5th November and fireworks night. But, what is often overlooked in our popular memory of history is that the Gunpowder Plot was arranged by a group of Jesuit priests.
  • In fact, the assassination plan was known to the head Jesuit priest in all of England,  Henry Garnet. So let’s recap: a group of priests were planning to kill God’s representative on the throne. Wow! Something surely was rotten in the state of Denmark (I mean England).
  • The sensational trial and execution of Henry Garnet, Guy Fawkes, and other members of the Gunpowder Plot took place in early 1606.
  • Think back to Macbeth – what happens? That’s right. The King is murdered. Right in front of the audience, Shakespeare plays out the ‘what might have been’. It’s like Shakespeare invent reality TV 400 years before Big Brother.
  • Added that we have the Berwick Witch trials, the Oaths of Allegiance to the King, Catholic Equivocation, James’ own version of the Inquisitions, and…the hint that Shakespeare might have been a Catholic sympathiser. Well, it seems, 1606 was a year of intrigue.

3. Get stuck into Shakespeare’s sounds

I have a long post already about how I teach Shakespeare meter and rhythm. You can read it here. I use many of the same strategies when I teach Macbeth, but I can never pass up the opportunity to add a little piece to my metrical teaching.

Here are a few ideas that I love in Macbeth:

  1. Most of us are happy with Shakespeare’s basic metrical rhythm, iambic pentameter. Here’s an example from Act 5. But get thee back; my soul is too much charged. You can see the “iamb” which is the pattern of ‘unstressed’ then ‘unstressed’ syllables. Then the pentameter is 5 pairs of syllables. So 10 syllables per line.
  2. A “trochee” is the opposite of an “iamb”. This is where you start with the ‘stressed’ syllable and it followed by an ‘unstressed’ syllable. Because the stressed syllable comes first, the trochiac meters tend to sound harsher. Gall of goat is a great example from the witches’ spell Act 4 Sc 1. Many characters move to speaking in trochiac meter at different points in the play. The break in the usual meter shows emotion, turmoil, or change.
  3. The witches don’t just invert the metrical pattern, they also use a lesser number of syllables. This is called catalexis. The process by which a metrical pattern is cut short for effect (it can be at the beginning or the end). Shakespeare doesn’t just give the witches otherworldly words to say, he gives them a whole otherworldly way of speaking.
  4. Their lines are shorter than the other characters’ lines – often made up of seven syllables (seven was associated with witchcraft). Consider the symbolism of this, they have short lines because Shakespeare shows they are less than human.
  5. Their chants are mostly written in a catalectic (incomplete) form of trochaic tetrameter, which sounds like an incantation or magical spell.

If you’re curious to learn more about how to teach the meter and sound patterns in Shakespeare then do read my other blog post and download the free resource.

You can also see my complete Macbeth unit by clicking on the picture below:

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3 ways to improve descriptive writing

Writers can never get enough opportunities to write more detail. We live in the cracks on the pavement and the blank spaces between letters. Here are 3 quick writing activities that you can set your students to help them improve description and descriptive writing.

1. Find all the details

Here’s a quick-write task you can to practise the skill of ‘finding all the details‘. Choose one room in your house and list everything that can be: seen, smelt, heard, felt (and tasted). Write 100 words describing this room using only sensory imagery. When you have finished writing, ask yourself this question – were you able to create a sense of the room with this tightly controlled word count? If not, consider why? Look at your nouns and adjectives, are they specific and precise? Did you waste words? Make just 5 changes and see if this improves your writing.

2. Look beyond the surface

Description isn’t always just about giving an accurate observation of something. Sometimes it’s about seeing it deeply. Perhaps we need to look into the heart of things before we can describe them well. Use these quick-write tasks to practise this skill:

  1. Sit somewhere public (the cafeteria at school is perfect for this).
  2. Describe the faces of 5 strangers, show personality through expressions and gestures.
  3. When you have your 5 descriptions, create some conflicts between them.
    One character bumps into another character. One character asks another for help.
  4. How would your character react based on the personality you created for them?

3. Slow your description down

Slow writing is the opposite of quick writing and quick writes. The idea is to write slowlypreciselycarefully, selecting each word intentionally. Slow writing can take 5 minutes with one sentence and 30 minutes with a paragraph.

Imagine this scene: It is sunset and you are waiting for your friends, who are late. Describe the setting as the day moves towards darkness.

So how can you slow your writing down? you are waiting, probably bored, perhaps a bit annoyed. Now,
s-l-o-w your writing down, exactly like time seems to have slowed down while you are waiting. Walk your reader through the tick, tick, tick of your watch as you wait.

If you enjoyed these writing tasks and prompts then you should check out my writing prompt sets on TeachersPayTeachers. You can find them here.

 

 

 


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5 tips for new writing teachers

As we head back to school for another year of writing, I thought I would just take a minute to share my 5 top tips for teachers who are new to teaching writing.

1. Do all the writing tasks yourself first.

I am a firm believer that if I want students to complete any writing task (small or large) then I need to do it first. Why? It’s the same reason why we read the text before we teach it. I need to know that the task I’ve set will achieve the outcome I’ve planned for. So rather than just project a picture of an elephant and say write a description. I write the description. The side-benefits of completing the tasks yourself are: you can create mentor texts that suit your students; it helps with pacing – writing ALWAYS takes longer than we think (doing the writing yourself proves this); it helps you understand the ‘in brain’ process your students will go through (so you can support them better when they get stuck); and it can help you spot with misconceptions and simple errors.

2. Have a clear outcome for every writing task

This sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But let me break it down why it’s important. There are so many skills that we teach and test for in writing. The technical aspects of grammar, spelling, sentence construction, dialogue. Then you have narrative structure, character creation, mood, atmosphere, action, resolution. Finally, there are things like word choice, punctuation, literary devices, genre writing. So, for every writing task you set – make sure you and your students are really clear on which of these (and all the others) you want them to focus on. Make it explicitly clear for them.

3. Make the writing process transparent

This tip goes hand in hand with number 2. Creative writing can be (and often is) as stressful and terrifying for students as essay writing. Even students who are readers often can’t see the creative thought process that results in a great story, so we need to show it all to them.  That means actively teaching and then demonstrating narrative writing, story structure, character, description, action, dialogue, transitions, literary devices, paragraphing – the list goes on. Show your kids good examples, bad examples, how to fix mistakes, how powerful editing can be.

4. Use “miniature moment” tasks

I don’t call these quick writes because I don’t want to unconsciously indicate that writing can and should be bashed out in 10 minutes. Even if that is the only time I can give a particular task. As all writing (whether it’s about practising sensational similes or creating complex characters) is about creating moments that the reader will remember, I use the term ‘miniature moments’. What are these exactly? Well, they can be anything you want. Lasting from 2 – 10 minutes, these activities are fantastic for focusing on a handful of key elements that contribute to a larger piece of writing. Say for example you will spend the lesson looking at descriptive writing – then your miniature moments could be: listing nouns, sourcing adjectives that add clarity, testing out metaphors, writing open lines, creating a 1-minute piece of dialogue. These miniature moments in themselves should all be compelling pieces of writing, but together that serves as great reminders of everything students need to remember!
I love miniature moments so much I created a 12-month writing calendar full of them! Have a look here if you are in the US or here if you are in the UK!

 

 

5. Harvest vocabulary from texts.

This might be my favourite tip. Whenever you read anything with your class – whether you are doing a writing unit or not – harvest vocabulary from the text. There are a couple of ways you can do this: 1) as you are reading together and come across a cool word, make a note of it; or 2) nominate a student or two to be in charge of writing down cool vocab as you are reading. Then I like to make a display of all of the words we’ve collected – this year we made this one. If you are curious about how I teach vocabulary in the classroom then check this out.

 

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2nd June 2018

5 ideas for better high school creative writing

Raymond Bradbury is reported to have said (among other things):

Over 20 years ago this advice was given to us – a gaggle of wet-behind-the-ears Creative Writing undergraduates. It seems rather contrived now: to carry about a notebook and chewed pencil end. But I do. The purpose then was to build fluency. Fluency in the practicality of writing, fluency in expression, voice, inspiration, and silence. “Building writers is like building a wall,” said one professor, “one sodding brick at a time.”

It would be gross exaggeration to say that I have followed Bradbury’s advice faithfully. But over the last 20 years I have filled some 15 notebooks and over a hundred pages online of writing.

When I was 20 years old, my writing voice was cynical, dark, and worrying. At 30 years old, the voice was hollow: falsely buoyant, darkly comic, restricted and curious. Now at 40, my writing voice is no more confident or certain, it is changing again. Bleak landscapes inhabited by warm-hearted individuals; pain moulded relationships living in richly symbolic environments. My writing has shifted in style too, sometimes daily it seems. Laboriously dense description. Then sparse. And every shade between.

Every time I sit down to write (honestly now perhaps 3 or 4 times a week) I start with anxiety. What shall I write about? How will I start? The waiting and the silence are hard task masters. Only with years have I realised these moments are also part of the process. So I feel great empathy for the students I teach who struggle with the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of writing.

Like so many things in English – we as teachers are often the jack-of-all-trades, and while I don’t necessarily want to use the word ‘master’, I must confess that even with over 20 years of writing, a degree and a Masters in it – I still don’t feel well qualified to teach it in the classroom.

Teaching writing means so many things…

Handwriting. Spelling. Grammar. Punctuation. Sentence openers. Techniques. Sentence length.

It is this multiplicity of outcomes that I think has inaccurately shifted the spotlight of emphasis onto the technicalities of writing, rather than the what of writing.

So this year, we have been giving students the opportunity to write more.

Here’s what it looks like:

1. Use Mentor Texts

A short exemplar of either narrative voice; setting; character; dialogue; action (etc). I rotate focus and style for variety’s sake.
This is the ‘read more’ bit of Bradbury’s advice.  We have a huge collection of mini-exemplars available for any and every purpose.

The above is the opening of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood – we use this with nearly every year group.

2. Simple prompts

A simple instruction that focuses on who the narrative voice is and what the content is:

3. Free writing

At first we do two minutes, then 4, then 5. We alternate these depending on what else we are covering in a lesson. These writing moments are not designed to create polished writing. The purpose is to ask students to write often, write variety and to write freely.

4. Use a Writing Calendar

We do this daily (if possible) sometimes in class, sometimes at home. I have started generating Writing Calendars for students and colleagues who want to write every day.  More, more, more writing is the point.

 

5. Spit and polish

At the end of a particular session of writing (perhaps 3 lessons, perhaps 6) students then choose which piece they would like to develop. The word ‘develop’ here is significant for me. It would be very easy to use the word ‘improve’ but improvements often imply a prescriptive success criteria that requires students to write more like Dickens and less like Hemingway.

So we return again to narrative voice and style – who is this person telling this story? What is important to them? What do they need the reader to know, to feel, to think?

We ask:

  1. How does this person think and speak?
    Unless they are Victorian then we don’t need to sound like Henry James; we then go back to our exemplars and find example of one that is closest in style.
  2. How quickly is the drama or action unfolding?
    This will often shape the sentence length and sentence structure used.
  3. What is the most important detail?
    This is the focus for descriptive techniques – here is often when I give my one restricting instruction. Just one technique* allowed in this piece of writing.
    Choose it well. Plan it well. Use it well.

 

* As a side note here, I tend not to encourage the use of poetic techniques in prose writing (alliteration, onomatopoeia etc). We teach personification (and pathetic fallacy) and extended metaphor.

 

If you are interested in the daily writing calendars they can be found on TPT here.

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3 ways to teach kindness in school

It feels like there has never been a more important time to bring kindness, resilience, bravery, and growth mindset into our classrooms. Over the last few months I’ve been working on ways that I bring kindness and character writing tasks into my ELA lessons.

Kindness characters

The first way we looked at kindness worked really well with our reading work. We had been reading the novel Once by Morris Gleitzman (see my blog post on this awesome novel here!). In the novel (I won’t spoil it) the children who are trapped in Nazi-occupied Poland undertake beautiful acts of kindness for one another. We decided the display “Choose Kindness Every Single Time!”. Every student had a letter, inside the letter they had a writing prompt about acts of kindness.

 

Brave characters

Our identity poetry unit resulted in this summary of all the poetic voices we had studied. “Kind Heart, Fierce Mind, Brave Spirit!” I a-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y loved this idea by my students. Again, each student decorated one letter for my classroom. I gave them a choice of 3 possible creative tasks – I want this particular class to have the option to draw images, instead of writing. And it worked really, really well!

Growth Mindset characteristics

Finally, with my youngest class (just 12 years old) we decided that we want to list all of the Growth Mindset characteristics they had demonstrated since starting secondary school. The move from primary education to secondary is huge and daunting. Students have to demonstrate huge adaptability, resilience, and cheerfulness to cope with it all. So now we are nearly at the end of year, we wanted to celebrate their achievements.

We came up with 32 different words to describe how awesome they had been this year and I turned them into a set of pennants to display around my classroom!

I hope you enjoyed these ideas!

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6th April 2018

Teaching The Seafarer

Teaching language change and development is one of my favorite units. The English language is constantly changing – MTV was fly in the 90s, today it’s the Inbetweeners is sic. What is the link between Generation X’s slang and teaching The Seafarer? Before I begin tackling this Anglo-Saxon poem – I spend some time with my classes looking at language change and the history of spoken language.

Language change

I ask students to research words recently added to official dictionaries, sometimes we do this in lessons; sometimes we flip it and this is a pre-unit homework. Always I share a few of my favourites – these were added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2017

  • Bubblehead – an foolish, empty headed person
  • Listicle – an article that is formatted as a list
  • Ghost – to abruptly cut off communication with someone
  • Throw shade – to disrespect someone publically

After this, I like to ask students what words they would add to the dictionary, or even to teach the teach a few new words! This is how I learned: sideman, dench, moist (yuck), peak, and would you believe – roadman! Kids don’t get to use these words in my lessons – ever – so this is their one and only chance to sling some lingo.

Then, I ask students to tell me the oldest word they know. They generally come up with something like “thy” or “thou”, occasionally they might throw in something more groovy. Some clever sprite might try “forsooth”.

At this point I introduce Anglo-Saxon words that are still in use today, including Viking, berserk, gun, ransack, hell, troll, saga. Are you sensing a theme? There are some great ones: claw, clip, crawl, get, give, hit, race, run, stammer, and take. The Anglo-Saxons were people of action. Now my class understands that our language is both ancient and very modern.

And so we cycle round to The Seafarer. We begin by writing our own poetic lines based on some of the words in the poem.

We discuss man and nature, adventure and fame, and explore the language of the ancient world. We look at theme, character, and Anglo-Saxon beliefs. We research The Exeter Book and the history of the poem. We create our own poetry, writing, and display work.

If you’re interested in more details about how I teach The Seafarer please click here.

 

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If you are ready to bring a bit of Brit Lit spark to your classroom - then this Austen resource pack is for you!

23rd March 2018

Teaching Once by Morris Gleitzman

If you’ve never heard of the novel Once by Morris Gleitzman then I challenge you to go and read it now. I’ll make it easy – here are the Amazon links! For US readers click here and for UK readers click here (these are affiliate links). Once tells the story of a young Jewish boy named Felix, the year is 1942 and the Nazis have invaded Poland. Felix believes his parents are in danger and sets out across occupied Poland to save them.

We teach Once to our newly arrived secondary students – year 7s – they are aged 11 and 12 years old. It is a fabulous novel for the secondary classroom: short, pacey, with strong characters and unexpected twists. The story is grown-up enough that my newly-minted secondary students are shocked by some of the events. It captures them with a mixture of horror and fascination. We live Felix’s adventures: this young boy speaks our language, we make mistakes and discoveries with him.

For a teacher, Once is the perfect text – I get to dive deep into history and explore why and how the invasion and occupation of Poland became history’s most horrifying genocide. I get to talk about prejudice, racism, violence, and fear with a group of students are just beginning to see the world through growing-up eyes. I get to discuss bravery, courage, kindness, and friendship in the midst of horror, and show our kids that they can be heroes in their own lives.

I cry every time I teach Once. I read it aloud to my students and there are two points in the novel where I outright cry – every single time. I’ve got used to it now. I don’t try and cover it up. I use my reaction – as a mum to the death of a child – to talk about why this fiction-based-on-reality is so wonderful and hard. We talk about why history and truth are important, why stories should be told, and why books are the secret to understanding the world we live in.

Last year I taught Once to a particularly disillusioned group of students. I was hard for me to meet 11 year-olds who already had the cynicism of adults, who thought death was funny, and prejudice acceptable. I just hoped that Felix might reach them. There is a point towards the end of the novel when I show some YouTube clips of Auschwitz and we talk in detail about what happened in the death camps. The following conversation sits in my memory like it was yesterday.

Student: Hold on, miss, is this real?

Me: Real? As in – did this really happen? Is this true? Yes.

Student: What?! Really. This actually happened?

Me: Yes. Between 1939 – 1942 nearly six million people were killed in these camps, that’s about the population of London.

Student: Why didn’t anyone stop it?

Me: Well, it appears that not many people outside knew about these camps. They were discovered once the Nazis were defeated and the Allies were pushing into Germany and Poland.

Student: We really *bleeped* up history back them, didn’t we miss? We can’t let it happen again.

Eighteen months on, I still teach these kids and we often talk about “never again”. What are all the things that we would say “never again” to if we had the chance? Reading Once gave me this opportunity with these kids and I treasure that. Another secret joy for my English teacher self is that Once is the first of a trilogy and I can’t tell you how many of my students scramble to borrow my one precious copy of book two.

If you are looking for a new book to add to your curriculum then Once should definitely be one to consider.

 

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10 book gifts for Brit Lit loving teachers

Finding Christmas gifts for high school literature teachers can be tricky – after all, the world is full books – but which ones to choose?! If you are a parent, a colleague, or a family member and you want something special to show your appreciation for a British Literature loving teacher this Christmas, then this gift guide is for you. Below are 10 wonderful books that any Brit Lit loving teacher will adore. I own and have read each one, so these are my personal recommendations. This post does contain affiliate links (and I do receive a small commission from any purchases made using these links) – but I love and use these books myself!

10 book gifts for British Literature Loving Teachers

Shakespeare!

I love this book by Jonathan Bate. He has an easy style but as a Shakespeare scholar – he knows his stuff. This biography digs into the possible motivations for Shakespeare’s many works. It charts his life, education, and adult life – the influence of the politics of the day and how his success changed him.  A must-have for any Shakespeare teacher!

Click here to see this book on Amazon US.

Or click here to see this book on Amazon UK.

 

James Shapiro’s book ‘1606 The Year of Lear’ is actually his second account of Shakespeare’s history. This book focussing on 1606 is the sequel to the hugely popular 1599. 1606 was the year that King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony & Cleopatra were first performed – arguably three of Shakespeare’s greatest plays.

I was lucky enough to attend Shapiro’s book launch at the Globe Theatre last year and in about an hour he summarized a thousand minute histories that helped shaped Shakespeare in this year of power.  He explores the significance of the shift in politics and power. The gossip about Shakespeare’s family. The struggles in Europe and across the globe. I cannot recommend this account of the history of Shakespeare enough.

Find the US Amazon version here and the UK Amazon version here!

Rex Gibson’s book Teaching Shakespeare is a staple in English classrooms in the UK. It is on the reading list of nearly every teacher training institution for English teachers and this is no coincidence.

He has a wonderful way of explaining Shakespeare’s ideas and contexts, as well as giving 100s practical and ready-to-go classroom activities to get students involved in studying, enjoying, performing, and analyzing Shakespeare plays.

Find the Amazon US version and the Amazon UK version here!

 

The novelists!

This autobiography of Charles Dickens isn’t the only Claire Tomalin book I am recommending today. She is a wonderful researcher and a passionate lover of literature.

I first read this book about 5 years ago when I was teaching Great Expectations and I was trying to understand the shift in Dickens’ narrative style away from social commentary and onto relationships.

Tomalin answered every question I have ever asked about Dickens and many I have not. She sets out his traumatic childhood, his sensational public appearances and acclaim, and the affair that nearly destroyed him. Her writing is joyful and sympathetic and full of wonderful factual detail.

Click here to find the Amazon US edition and then find the Amazon UK edition here.

For me, the title: ;The Bronte’s Wild Genius on the Moors’ says it all. Juliet Barker’s book is a swiping text that fully details their tragically repressed home life and the story of each talented sister. Emily is truly wild, beautiful, strangely unrepressed. Romantic without being a true Romantic. Anne – rejected, alone, unrequited. Then Charlotte, a melancholic teacher, who dreamed of living in her imagined worlds.

If you are looking for a book that celebrates woman in world that could not and would not celebrate them, then The Brontes is for you.

Click here for the Amazon US version and here for the Amazon UK version!

My second choice from Claire Tomalin is her definitive history of Jane Austen. I always wanted to know why a woman who never married could write with such accuracy about relationships and marriage.

There are so many rumours about Austen (she was engaged for just one evening). Tomalin perfectly captures Austen’s wit, social criticisms, intelligence, and her insight.

I love this book! Find the Amazon US version hereClick here to see the Amazon UK version.

 

Last but not least is perhaps my favorite of all these Brit Lit novelist biographies – Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft & Mary Shelley.

Of course, the lives of Wollstonecraft and Shelley are great fodder for Charlotte Gordon, but her exploration of their truth, their realities, and their impact is extraordinary. The triumphs and heartbreaks of these two women are beautiful articulated – mother and daughter are completely united – in this struggle to find their place in the world.

See the US Amazon version here and the UK Amazon version here!

Theory and Reference!

I can’t seem to leave those Romantics alone! My first reference book is a cross-over history and literature text. Richard Holmes is an expert historian and biographer and in this book he digs into the Romantic era and finds the science, explorations, and inventions that shaped the Romantic imagination.

The full title is ‘The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science’ and it helps us to see the Romantic sublime experience of the technology of the day.

For any fan of the Romantics or even the Gothic this text is an exceptional grounding in history.

Find the US Amazon edition here and the UK Amazon edition here!

Jonathan Bate makes a reappearance with this amazing introduction to English Literature. If you haven’t seen these “Very Short Introduction” books, they are excellent: short, precise, clear. Enough but not too much!

If you are studying or teaching English Literature for the first time, then this book is for you. If you are a veteran, this this book will refresh and renew your love of all this Brit Lit.

Click here for the US Amazon version.

Click here for the UK Amazon version.

 

If like me you love gorgeous visuals and pithy summaries then The Literature Book is for you.  A beautiful chronological journey through literature (not just British!) this wonderful book gives a great overview of each literary era and then zooms in on seminal or canonic works.

This book has pride of place in my classroom it is my go-to resource to give historical context, detail, or greater reference to anything we are studying.

Check out this amazing book on Amazon US here and on Amazon UK here.

I hope you enjoyed my gift guide of books for British Literature loving teachers.  I would love to hear about any other books that you would recommend – just drop me a comment below.

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Three Ideas to bring Comfort & Joy to your classroom this Christmas

It is an absolute pleasure that I have joined a group of a-m-a-z-i-n-g secondary bloggers to bring you the 12 Days of December Blog Hop and Giveaway! So grab a cuppa, snuggle up, and enjoy. Click here to find out more about the 12 Days of December Blog Hop.

So – here’s my seasonal serving of Christmas cheer!

Spread some Christmas Joy: thank a teacher, friend, hero

Christmas is a timing of giving, right?! But it doesn’t have to be about spending money, sometimes a hand-made-with-love gift is worth more than anything store bought. So in my classroom (with my pretty cynical London teens) we make and give cards to teachers, support staff, dinner ladies, traffic wardens – in fact any adult in our school.

These FREE card templates are super cool, slick, and modern design. If your teens aren’t interested in Christmas cottages or cuddly Santas, then these FREE card templates are just for you and your students. There are 10 designs to download and print yourself >>>here<<<. Just print, give to your students, color and spread some Christmas joy!

We color them for teachers in other subject areas to say thank you. We color them for support staff and dinner ladies, who are always there with a smile and a joke. We color them for our friends to remind them we care. We color them for family because nothing’s better than a homemade gift – right?! And finally we color them for the residents in our local area, we drop them through their letterboxes to wish them the best of year.

This year, for the first time we will color them for the elderly residents of a local care home. Many are alone, many will have no visitors at all over Christmas. This year, we hope to bring them joy.

If you love the idea of creating Christmas Cards with your students, then check out this hilarious Christmas Card poem writing lesson. Teach your class anaphora, anadiplosis, epistrophe, and other rhetorical devices to create some classic festive card poetry.

And so don’t forget to download your free card templates, print, and bring some comfort and joy to your classroom! I would love to see your finished cards – so do tag me on IG @literaturedaydreams!

Write some Christmas Joy

 

Christmas is a fantastic time of year for creative writing activities. Here are a few of my favorites!

The UK department store, John Lewis, is famous in England for having wonderful, cosy, uplifting, heart-warming, and generally all-round wow Christmas TV advertisements.

These adverts make wonderful writing prompts. Just show the advert to your classes and give them the writing prompts below! Here are my favorites:

Writing prompt: describe someone struggling to wrap an awkward present.

Make sure you watch this one to the very end! Writing prompt: describe that ‘bed-time on Christmas Eve’ excitement.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iccscUFY860

Writing Prompt: Write a narrative where a wild animal brings unexpected joy at Christmas!

If you enjoy these writing prompts, then you might also like my Christmas Fun Writing Prompt Bundle.

Host an Elizabethan Christmas!

If you are looking for something a little different for your Literature classroom this Christmas then perhaps you could host an Elizabethan Christmas. If you teach Shakespeare at this time of year, then this question might have popped into your brain!

Well, in short – I would say – an Elizabethan Christmas was chaotic fun, social, and full of beauty. An easy way to introduce your students to this would be to pose the question: “what did everyone eat for Christmas dinner in 1588?” Let them guess. The answer is not surprising and surprising all at once. Goose. Goose wasn’t the usual meal for everyone at Christmas time in those days. But in the year 1588, by Royal decree, everyone in England was to eat goose. Why, I hear you ask? Because a goose was the first animal that Queen Elizabeth I saw after hearing that the Navy had defeated the invading Spanish Armada! (Thankfully it was a cat or a horse!)

This host an Elizabethan Christmas set contains hours and hours of fun. The centerpiece – or showstopper – is group work activity where each group brings a gift to your Christmas celebration. They research, and then make an object to represent six elements of Christmas for the Elizabethans. The Christmas Candle, the Yule Log, the Dawn Mass, the Feast and more.

Your students will work together, learn a great deal about an Elizabethan Christmas, they will have fun, and build community in your classroom. What better way to bring comfort and joy this Christmastide!

Don’t forget to find to check out what treats my secondary seller friends have in store for your this season. Click here to find all the details. A-n-d don’t forget to enter our Giveaway for a chance to win some amazing prizes!


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How to host an Elizabethan Christmas in your classroom!

Engage and inspire your students this festive season by hosting an Elizabethan Christmas in your classroom. Don’t worry – no cooking required!

Let me ask you something:

  • Did you know that in the year 1588 Queen Elizabeth I declared that everyone should eat goose for Christmas dinner?
  • Did you know that there were no Christmas trees in the Elizabethan times?
  • Did you know during the 1600s midnight mass was held at dawn to celebrate the transition from darkness into light?

Interesting isn’t it?

Every time I teach a Shakespeare play – I find myself wondering “would they have done this in Elizabethan times?” My questions usually run to “did they play football?” (the answer is yes, it was called Gameball and was more violent than you can imagine) or “did they have oranges then?”(the answer is yes again, although only the very rich would have been able to afford them, they also had melons and pomegranates).

Last year in the run up to Christmas, I happened to be teaching a number of Shakespeare plays. By sheer luck my brain was stuffed full of the Elizabethans and so it wasn’t a surprise then when this question wormed its way in: “what was an Elizabethan Christmas like?”

If I had to sum up an Elizabethan Christmas in 3 words, I would choose: fun, collegial, symbolic.

Fun meant food and games and frivolity. The festive season for the Elizabethan was the moment in the year where the hard work of life ceased and every man, woman, and child celebrated the festival of mid-winter.

Collegial and shared celebrations were the norm for all. At this point of the year the rigidity of social class structures dissolved. Noble man and peasant would stand side by side to share in Christmas cheer.

Symbolism and ritual were also the hallmark of this season. The Christmas Candle, the Yule log, Wassailing, and the 7 course banquet all played a role in making Christmas truly spectacular period for the Elizabethans.

So how can you bring some Elizabethan fun into your classroom?

Read a poem about an Elizabethan Christmas

Read Thomas Tusser’s poem “Christmas Cheer” as an introduction to Elizabethan Christmas festivities and perhaps even study some Elizabethan Christmas Carols in your lessons.

My “Host an Elizabethan Christmas” set includes Tusser’s poem along with other authentic texts describing an Elizabethan Christmas. It also includes 4 Elizabethan carols for your students to read, understand, and explain.

Work together to host an Elizabethan Christmas

Create a beautiful Christmas community in your classroom with this fun and informative group work task.  Here’s how it works:

In groups, students learn about the different elements of an Elizabethan Christmas (for example Christmas decorations, or the Yule Log). They then have 2 creative tasks to share with the class:

  1. first, create a visual summary of what they have learnt (see the sunburst sheet for an example below) and then and most importantly,
  2. they make their gift to contribute to the class Elizabethan Christmas.  There are 6 groups and they make: the feast (see the peacock, goose and ships); the yule log; the Christmas candle; a people paper chain, decorations; and Christmas stars. Each one of these represents the ritual and symbolism of an Elizabethan Christmas.

Everything you need to set up this group work activity is included in my Elizabethan Christmas pack. It is almost as easy as print and go (you just need scissors, glue, colors and you are done!)

Once the groups have made their gifts, they can give a presentation covering what they have learned and this foldable mini-book is a great place for students to record their new knowledge.

That’s not all..!

This set also includes:

  • A description game to guess the complete menu of a Tudor 7 course Christmas banquet.
  • A guide to creating your own Elizabethan Christmas banquet.
  • An explanation of the tradition of The Lord Of Misrule, with an opportunity to become a modern day Lord of Misrule.
  • Information on Mummer’s Plays and their purpose, and a modern re-imagining of this traditional hero story.
  • Some Elizabethan Christmas games and how to play them, including “Hide fox and after all”; “Hotcockles” and “Snapdragon”.
  • Last but not least, an exploration of the tradition of Wassailing and its reinvention into carol singing or yule-singing.

This fun and engaging set contains 3 days+ of activities and will bring some hilarity, joy, and a lot Christmas history into your classroom. Click here to go straight to this set.

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