Monthly Archives: February 2019

23rd February 2019

Word Grid Challenge

The word grid challenge

Have you heard of the word grid challenge? This activity can be used in any subject area. It would make a great lesson starter, review task, or even as a homework activity. The best thing about this activity: it is super easy to create. In fact, I now have a bunch of word grids made up and ready to go in my classroom.

So what exactly is a word grid?

Simple, a word grid is, well exactly as it sounds, a grid with words in. I create a grid or table of 3 x 3 or 4 x 4 boxes. Inside each box, I place a different word. The challenge for my students is to connect each word on the grid to the topic we are currently studying. I make sure there is plenty of space around the grid for them to write notes.

How do I choose the words for each grid?

Real talk time: I have a bunch of these made up and ready to use in my classroom. I make them so there are 2 per page. I tend to have a few leftovers. So sometimes I will just grab a set – with no prior thought (!) and ask my students to link the words to whatever text we are studying.

And you know what?! They always do it. They prove to me that they are capable of creative, out of the box thinking.

This week, the words I used with 3 different classes were:

  • money;
  • hope;
  • celebration;
  • questions;
  • sound;
  • fear;
  • plans;
  • shape;
  • and freedom.

I plucked these out of the air with no particular purpose in mind. My students were able to link them to a Shakespeare play, modern poetry, and a short non-fiction text on survival. This same set of words.

Words with purpose

Generally, I do write these grids with specific words in mind. Perhaps I have taught my class the word ‘Machiavellian’ and I want to give them an opportunity to circle back round to the keyword from a new angle.  Another strategy is to take key terms from a prior topic and see if they can apply them to this new topic. So for example, when reading A Christmas Carol, I might have looked at the idea of ’empathy’. I would add empathy to the word grid for a new topic on a different novel or text.

How do I use these grids in my classroom?

It’s super simple! Create the word grid: I simply make 2 tables in a Word document – ensuring there is enough room for pupils to write their ideas around the outside. Then:

  1. Print and copy
  2. Give to each student (or pair)
  3. Ask them to link all of these words in some way to the topic we are covering
  4. Feedback with ideas

Another strategy is to use your ‘leftover’ grids and give different grids to different students. That way you have more words being covered and more discussion about your topic.

The word grid challenge


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Hidden Content


Writing prompts for English Language GCSE

Below I have shared 5 different types of writing prompts for you to use this week with your classes! If you are preparing your classes for GCSE English Language, or any type of creative writing, then these writing will be great for you to use!

Writing a room

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.

Slow your writing down

Both of these writing prompts are great for s-l-o-w writing. Slow writing is the opposite of a quick write. The idea is to write slowly, precisely, carefully, selecting each word intentionally. Slow writing can take 5 minutes with one sentence and 30 minutes with a paragraph. Write these moments of action (or inaction), imagine them in slow-motion. Try and recreate this in your description.

  1. Imagine your family is eating a meal together. Someone knocks over a drink and it spills across the table. Describe this moment.
  2. You are waiting. Probably bored. Perhaps a bit annoyed. Walk your reader through the tick, tick, tick of your watch as you wait. It is sunset and you are waiting for your friends, who are late. Describe the setting as the day moves towards darkness.

Writing character

  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. Or one character asks another for helpHow would your character react based on the personality you created for them?


  1. Find a picture of a new-born baby. Describe in detail its face and features.
  2. Write a precise description of the feeling of grass beneath bare feet.
  3. Write a precise and detailed description of a seashell. Ensure every shape and ridge is defined.

12 writing tasks in 12 days

This one is super easy. You can just click here and download the free PDF – inside you will find 12 descriptive writing tasks for your students to complete over 12 days!

So you can download this free one-page worksheet of writing tasks here!

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2nd February 2019

How can I help my child revise for GCSEs?

help your child revise for GCSEs

What are the best ways to revise for GCSEs? How many hours should a child spend revising? When should they start? What can I do to help them at home? 

Parents ask me this question a lot. They are keen to help their son or daughter at home and ensure they are ready for their GCSEs. I have experienced GCSEs both as a parent and (of course) as a teacher. It’s time to get the lowdown on GCSE revision.

So here is my honest advice on how you can support your child through their GCSEs:

Step 1: know your child

This sounds silly, I get it. The key here is to know how they work, how long they can work for, and when they work at their best. Most children will create a revision timetable that is unrealistic. They will put down 2 hours and label it ‘science’, without ever considering that they may not be able to (or even want to) work for that long.

By knowing ‘how your child works’ you can begin to encourage them to divide their revision up into realistic chunks. Would they prefer to spend 30 mins on one topic? Or would they be better completing 3 x 10 mins on 3 different topics?

How do you find this out? Well, it’s going to take some old fashioned detective work.

  • Keep an eye on them when they are meant to be working.
  • How long do they keep going before they get distracted?
  • Do they stick at one topic for a long time?
  • Do they listen to music? Does it seem to help?
  • Do they keep checking their phones?
  • Is distraction a problem?
  • How focussed are they (really)?

Consider social media / website blocking apps. You can find a great article about them here “10 Apps that block distractions”.

Parents! Help your child revise for their GCSEs

Parents! Tackle GCSE stress with my weekly tips and advice email

In this weekly email, you will receive 2 revision ideas. One for English Language and one for English Literature. As well as other tips and advice to help your teenager make the most of their revision time!

Parents! Help your child revise for their GCSEs

Step 2: know the difference between ‘getting ready to revise’ and ‘actually revising’

Many students mistake these two activities. They think that making lots of revision resources, flicking through their textbook or classwork book, or watching YouTube revision videos is actually revising. To a limited extent, it is. However, there is a distinct difference: getting ready to revise and then actually knuckling down and doing the learning.

Once students have a clear idea of what they need to learn. They actually have to learn it.

Step 3: how do they best memorise facts?

There is no getting away from that the fact that GCSEs require children to know a lot of facts. Gone are the days when a bit of cramming the night before and some good luck will result in a good grade. So your son or daughter will have to memorise a lot of facts, for every subject they are studying.

So what actually is revising?

  • Answer questions under test conditions
  • Being quizzed by someone (a parent, friend)
  • Instant recall (of facts, dates, information)
  • Literally repeating them over and over!

You can help them work out the best way to do this. There are a few options:

Option 1: flashcards

Create them at home or online.  I prefer the physical ones made from postcard-sized card. You can get ruled A5 ones like this*:

Or smaller ring bound ones like this*:

Anyone can test your son and daughter once the flashcards are created. It is also really easy to use them for actual exam questions. You simply write a question on one side and then write the answer on the other.

  1. Use them for facts: When was Henry VIII king?
  2. For memorisation key information: What is a quote that describes Scrooge’s character at the beginning of A Christmas Carol?
  3. They can be used for actual exam questions: Curitiba is an example of: a)…; b)…; or

Frequently Asked Question: I’ve seen on Amazon, that I can buy pre-made flashcards for a lot of subjects. Is this a good idea?

My answer is that it depends. If you are considering these because you have a lazy child and you are desperate to help them in any way you can, then my honest opinion is that they probably won’t make any different – and – you might have more success having the fight about making them. However, if your son or daughter is genuinely struggling with the material in a subject, then it could be a good idea.

Option 2: posters and mind-maps

If your son and daughter would appreciate having facts and information pinned up around their room, then posters or mind-maps might be the way to go. They could organise all of the key information from one unit or sub-unit onto an A4 piece of paper and then pin up.

The keys for success here are to include both words and images. We remember information best when we see it in two form (like words and pictures). The combination of words and pictures is called dual-coding – you can read my post about it here “the power of dual-coding”.

Ensure that both the words and images to be big enough that they are visible from the other side of the room. Don’t let them be tempted to squeeze an entire textbook onto one page.

Parents! Help your child revise for their GCSEs

Option 3: complete practice papers

This is my favourite one. Students hugely under-utilise this strategy. It may be because they are sick of completing practice questions in class. The problem is – if you’re only writing practice answers in school, then you are never doing it completely by yourself.

As your son or daughter what EXAM BOARD they are studying for each subject, if they don’t know – get them to check.

You can find them from the relevant exam board and download them at home.

Here are the relevant links:

AQA – just click Find Past Papers

Edexcel – click Past Papers

OCR – just click Past Papers

WJEC – click Past Papers

I hope you found this advice yourself. This is the first in a series of posts from me this year about revising for GCSEs.

Parents! Help your child revise for their GCSEs

Parents! Tackle GCSE stress with my weekly tips and advice email

In this weekly email, you will receive 2 revision ideas. One for English Language and one for English Literature. As well as other tips and advice to help your teenager make the most of their revision time!

*These are affiliate links. This doesn’t impact you or the price you pay in any way. It does mean that if you purchase using this link I get a small commission from Amazon.

5 super cool short films your ELA students will love

A roll of film and the caption 5 super cool short films for ELA

I love using short films in my classroom. I bet you already have a collection that you like to you. I’m not different. I use short films for a bunch of different reasons: to introduce a new idea, or to explain something we all found complicated. Sometimes to inspire discussion and debate, or to get stuck into some creative writing.  Short films are fabulous for both literature and writing.

So, here are my top 5 favorite films for high school ELA.  I’ve split them so you have:

  • 2 for teaching literature,
  • 2 for teaching writing, and
  • 1 for debate

The Tiger Who Came to Tea – introducing critical theory

I love using this short reading of the children’s classic, The Tiger Who Came to Tea, with my older literature classes. In fact, I used to only use with my senior students who are studying literature and needing to apply different critical theories. Over the last few years, I have been using it as a debate prompt with my younger students as well.

The first question I ask is “what does this text tell us about society?”.

At this point, I introduce critical theory. Gender and feminist theory and also Marxist theory.  *Warning* – this discussion does result in some criticism of Judith Kerr’s text. It’s great to consider the narratives that shape our understanding of the world as children, but it’s not always a comfortable discussion.

We discuss:

  • What did you notice about society?
  • What does this text show about men, about women, about children?
  • What does this text show about work and social class?
  • What is the relevance of the tiger arriving and eating all the food?
  • Why a tiger?
  • What groups in society might the tiger represent?

At this point, I might draw a comparison between this text and invading forces: the Nazis in Poland, Judith Kerr has spoken of this being the inspiration for her story.  The discussion is often lively.

An interesting counterpoint to this story is the another children’s story – Where the Wild Things Are. Here we develop our discussion to include colonization, imperialism, and how other races and ‘the foreigner’ can be represented in literature.

Again the discussion is often lively.

Copy Shop – introducing concepts in literature (literature)

Copy Shop is an unusual silent film by Virgil Widrich, 2001. It received an Oscar nomination for a short action film. The film is 12 minutes long and ‘tells’ the story of a man who accidentally photocopies himself until ‘he’ takes over his town.

Just this concept alone is intriguing enough for students!


I often begin this lesson by asking students to mind-map all of their thoughts on the topics of:

  • identity,
  • gender,
  • relationships,
  • reality, and
  • society

These thoughts can be as generic or as specific at you decide. I generally put these topics on the board and then pose the question “write down everything that comes into your mind”.

After watching the film, sometimes twice, I ask students to add ideas to their mind-maps based on the film.  For identity and society – we discuss how we are shaped as individuals, how society shapes us into a particular mould. For gender and relationships – students often notice that the single female is replaced by the male, that the relationships show companionship, then threat. For reality – we discuss to what extent we can trust our senses, what we see.

The final step is to debate some of the big ideas in literature:

  • Our individual understanding of reality cannot be trusted
  • Masculinity and femininity are entirely constructed by society
  • Society is at its roots chaotic and disordered
  • Technology controls humanity
  • Capitalism and consumerism has made humanity self-destructive

I could go on!

Picture Perfect – the Jubilee Project (writing)

I use this short and sad story for a variety of different reasons with my classes: writing flashbacks, relationships, realistic dialogue, incidents, and memory writing.

It’s a poignant tale and dedicated to survivors of Leukaemia, a sensitive one to use with classes but often generates excellent sympathetic debate and great emotionally intelligent writing.

Lock Up – by BloodyCuts (Writing)

*Warning* – this short film is the epitome of suspense and then a moment of terror. Your class will scream. Please, please, please watch through till the very end before you decide to use it! Don’t look away at the end, otherwise you might miss ‘it’! To be absolutely clear – you get a glimpse, the most fleeting glimpse of ‘it’.

Ok, you survived!  Here’s how I use this film: to build tension, to create a character who has no idea what is about to happen next.

This short film is fantastic for writing a realistic moment of suspense – rather than one that is filled of creaky staircases and slamming doors. Write a character who has literally no idea what is about to happen to them!

You need to be speedy with the pause button here.  I watch with kids up to the bit where the man collects his keys. Then pause. We write this opening section as descriptive narrative.

Then we watch – pause – write until the very end.  As the students haven’t seen the whole thing – when they first see the figure – they are shocked, their character can be shocked. So their writing is often much more authentic, than if we had planned it in advance.

It’s great for writing genuine expressions of a character’s experience of cluelessness to horror.

Fireflies – the Jubilee Project (debate)

Another one from the guys at the Jubilee Project, I do love them, and to be honest you could use any of their films effectively in the classroom.

But Fireflies is something special.

I pose a bunch of questions when using this film, sometimes before, sometimes after, sometimes both!

  • What is friendship?
  • What is normal?
  • How can we truly know one another?
  • Can we know ourselves?
  • Does everyone have to be the same?
  • Why are children more accepting?
  • Can society change?
  • Do we need to let children teach adults how to behave?

Film and caption 5 super cool short films for ELA

More short films for your classroom enjoyment…

The stories we wear

This short film is actually an extended advertisment for the outdoor clothing company Patagonia. Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll is on the road talking about climbing and about his very patched and repaired jacket. It’s such a beautiful film and would be great as a writing prompt. Here it is “The Stories We Wear by Patagonia”.

Life lessons from a 100-year-old

These British 100-year-olds talk about their lives, their experiences, and they dispense advice about how to be happy. Sit back and prepare to get emotional! Find it here “life lesson from a 100-year-old” 

Jekyll and Hyde characters song

As this is a classic English Literature GCSE text, I cannot resist this Jekyll and Hyde song. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde…when a good man releases his evil side…Mr Hyde and Dr Jekyll…who are the characters when the dust settles? 🙂

Enjoy all the chuckles here “Jekyll and Hyde characters song”


Alma is such a great short cartoon, it’s absolutely perfect for creative writing. It is silent, sinister, and completely mesmerizing.  Watch Alma here

I promise to keep adding to these as I find them, but do drop your favorites in the comments below!


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Love Creative Writing in your classroom!

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