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

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.

*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

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!

While you are here, please do consider signing up to receive my weekly creative writing email, titled Writing on Wednesday. Every Wednesday, I email out my teacher-friends a writing prompt or some writing advice.


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Blackout Writing

Examples of blackout writing

Blackout Writing (with a twist)

If you teach English or ELA, then you have probably heard of blackout poetry and blackout art. You might have even used this activity with your classes. Here is my take on blackout art -with a twist! You can use it with any literature text you are studying.

I wanted to find something new to do with those book-page scraps knocking about my classroom. So I decided to adjust the blackout poetry concept to fit studying literature. This activity is designed to be used after having read a little way into the novel or play because students will need to have a few things to say about the events, characters, or ideas.

Here’s how I run it:

  1. Allocate each student with a different event, theme, character, setting, or relationship in your novel or play. The first time you use this activity you could do this in pairs.
  2. Handout book pages to each student. It honestly doesn’t matter what book they end up with a page from.
  3. Ask them to use the words on the page to create ideas about the topic they have been given.
  4. Students have to look at the words on their page and carefully link them together to create cohesive statements or ideas about the text. These can be just 2-3 words long or much longer depending on their preference.
  5. Once they have identified the words they draw a square around the words so they are still readable. Then colour the rest of the page in.
  6. If students are feeling confident, they can draw an image on the page as well. It can be with an image to represent the character, theme, etc. It can be colourful or not depending on their topic!

 

Examples of blackout writing

 

If you are looking for other fun and engaging activities to use in your ELA classroom, why not check out these blog posts:

The Perfect Review Game

One Amazing Debate Idea

Also, each week I send an email out to my teacher-friends, in this message, I include one classroom activity (like the perfect review game) and one literature activity (like this blackout writing activity). They are always fun, engaging, and designed to create brilliant learning moments for your students. If you would like to receive this weekly email (I send it on a Sunday morning – ready to help stave off those Sunday scaries), then all you need to do is fill out the email sign up below!

Subscribe to my weekly teaching tips email!

Sign up below to receive regular emails from me jammed packed with ELA teaching tips, tricks and free resources. Also access my free resource library!

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The power of dual coding

Dual coding

This activity is great to use with any class and almost any topic area. It makes sense, doesn’t it? To mix words and visuals to aid memory. Our students now need to memorize and to retrieve information for testing than ever before. Dual coding is one way to help students remember.

What is dual coding?

Dual coding is combining 2 ways that the mind remembers things – most commonly in the classroom – this is words and visuals.

Here you can see the beginning of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy “to be or not to be”. The challenge for students was to come up with as many visuals to replace the words in the speech as possible. They could be as creative as they liked – as long as they could read the whole speech based on what they produced. You can see the word “whether” is replaced by the sun and cloud and the word “suffer” is replaced by a sofa! The aural closeness of these words is the memory trigger.

Dual coding

 

This activity isn’t a quick crafty task or something for a Friday afternoon. It took my students a good hour to think through each word in the speech and then work out how to visualize it. This close attention to the text is just another memorization technique. The very work of recreating it, helps us remember it.

I first did this activity with a group of students 5 years ago. They are now in their final year of education and English hasn’t been compulsory for the last 2 years. But when I see these kids around the school – they still love to show off for me how much of this soliloquy they can remember. So they have been through 4 full school years since they learnt this speech and they can still remember it. Dual coding works!

Here are some ways you can use dual-coding in your classroom:

  1. At the beginning of the year when you agree your classroom rules and procedures with students, use dual-coding to help students remember the rules. Even just a small card with one image on it can be an excellent memory trigger. Have your students create those visuals for you.
  2. Use dual coding as one of your stations or center activities, to review everything learnt in a particular lesson or unit.
  3. Ask students to dual code some knowledge or information at one particular center or station, then have other groups translate the dual coded work at another station or center.
  4. Use dual coding as a way to remember key concepts in grammar, spelling, punctuation rules, or maths.
  5. Give dual coded information as a starter or bell ringer task and ask your students to translate or explain it.
  6. Ask your students to dual code as a homework task.

Here are some ways you can use dual-coding as a literature activity:

  1. Visual note-taking or dual coding makes sense for lots of literature activities: to summarise the action of a text, to look at a character, a theme, or a setting.
  2. One-pagers are super popular at the moment for helping students review what they have read. You can read more about them here (on my friend Betsy’s blog).
  3. Use dual coding as an annotation tool for annotating or making notes on specific themes or concepts. Assign each theme or idea a symbol, then annotate this in the text and also track it in notes.
  4. Create infographics to explain ideas in a text.
  5. Use dual coded timelines to review the events in a story.
  6. Assign each literary device a symbol and use this to annotate a passage.
  7. Symbols are also great for annotating emotions, mood/atmosphere, authorial intention, social and historical context.

I teach symbols and literary devices when I am covering creative writing – we use them as marking codes as well. Then we also use the same codes for our literature units. Then we layer them up as we read through the text. Does that make sense?

Dual coding

 

If you are looking for other fun and engaging activities to use in your ELA classroom, why not check out these blog posts:

The Perfect Review Game

One Amazing Debate Idea

Also, each week I send an email out to my teacher-friends, in this message, I include one classroom activity (like the perfect review game) and one literature activity (like this blackout writing activity). They are always fun, engaging, and designed to create brilliant learning moments for your students. If you would like to receive this weekly email (I send it on a Sunday morning – ready to help stave off those Sunday scaries), then all you need to do is fill out the email sign up below!

Subscribe to my weekly teaching tips email!

Sign up below to receive regular emails from me jammed packed with ELA teaching tips, tricks and free resources. Also access my free resource library!

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The tiny review activity

This review activity is super popular with my classes. So I thought I would share it here. It is so simple and fun that you can implement it with very little preparation at all!

Background

Here’s how I came up with the idea:

A while ago I joked to a colleague that my year 11s knowledge of Animal Farm was just about enough to fill a stamp. I was joking, of course. However, this conversation did remind me of a good friend from my university days. Pete was (and is) an artist.  He found great delight in being quirky and gauche and his best expression of this was the teeny-tiny notes left under my door, which needed a magnifying glass to be read.

Mini message

 

The Tiny Review

I love using the tiny class review with my classes. Essentially, it has two review strategies rolled into one – summarising and questioning. The basic idea is that students summarise their learning onto a postcard… and then another student in the class has to respond in some way!

Tiny review activity

Here’s how it works

  1. First: I ask students to summarise their learning (on whichever topic I need to cover) onto a postcard (usually a sheet of paper cut into 4!).
  2. I collect these up. The second bit will depend on whether you have 2 classes studying the same topic.
  3. To use with the same class: muddle them up and redistribute.
  4. Then ask students to read the postcard they have been given, then form 2 – 3 questions on the summary to challenge or extend the ideas presented.
  5. They write these on the back of the postcard. You can muddle them up with this Q & A going for as long as you have paper.
  6. To use with a different class: complete the postcard summary task with both classes (it doesn’t have to be exactly the same day – as long as both classes have covered the subject areas) collect them in. At a relevant point, hand one set out to the other class and have them read and write questions as above.

Tiny review

What are the benefits of this activity?

It’s the perfect activity for an end of the day lesson when writing what feels like an essay in books can be quite a challenge. You can use any postcards at all of course. Most of the time, I just use scrap paper that I’ve torn up into 4.

One unexpected benefit of this review activity was the competitive nature of my classes, when we started off writing these postcards, they just wrote them. Then after a while, we started seeing who could write 30 words on a card, then 40, then 50. In time, my students became ‘tiny writers’ (just like my friend Pete) and were squeezing up to 100 words squashed onto one postcard. Just imagine my delight!

Competition and more

Added to that, the competition aspect increased when I started using this as an inter-class challenge. My students all knew each other and although they didn’t sign their postcards, they got a kick out writing exceptionally hard questions for their peers in the other class. This upped-the-ante for each class during each session we used this idea. It became crazy after a while. A couple of years ago, we got so into this activity that we even made an inter-class postbox!

Drop me a comment below if you try these ideas out and let me know how they went!

If you are looking for other fun and engaging activities to use in your ELA classroom, why not check out these blog posts:

The Perfect Review Game

One Amazing Debate Idea

Also, each week I send an email out to my teacher-friends, in this message, I include one classroom activity (like the perfect review game) and one literature activity (like this blackout writing activity). These tasks are fun, engaging, and will create brilliant learning moments for your students. If you would like to receive this weekly email (I send it on a Sunday morning – ready to help stave off those Sunday scaries), then all you need to do is fill out the email sign up below!

Subscribe to my weekly teaching tips email!

Sign up below to receive regular emails from me jammed packed with ELA teaching tips, tricks and free resources. Also access my free resource library!

Hidden Content
29th December 2018

How to engage disinterested students

Teaching teenagers can be hard. Teaching teenagers who are disinterested, disengaged, and even (sometimes) disruptive can be really hard. So here are my two go-to strategies for when things are getting a little sleepy or even a little feisty in my classroom.

The two ideas are called: the class coach and the student helpline!

The Class Coach

I love this activity and use it regularly with both younger and older students. It’s great to use at any point in your unit of learning, but I especially like to use it on a day when we are tackling something tricky.

How to engage disinterested teens

The simple is very simple. One student becomes your class’s coach (football, hockey, swimming – whichever works for you) for the lesson or day. They are responsible for encouraging the team and keeping them focused. It is just that though because the class coach has to keep everyone on their best game throughout the lesson, they have to be fully engaged. They have to watch what’s going on, they have to see who’s winning, and who needs to support. 

Here’s how it works:

  1. Nominate your class coach (at first I choose, then later when students are comfortable with the whole thing, I take volunteers).
  2. They are in charge of giving the class a pep-talk at the beginning of the lesson. Give them a time limit of no more than one minute.
  3. Keep your instructions to the coach clear and simple. Mine are: remind the class of their strengths and of everything they have learned so far.
  4. Sometimes we have a special hat to wear or a microphone or a flag (this depends on the embarrassment levels of my teenagers).
  5. So the opening pep-talk is aspirational, inspirational, and motivational!
  6. Then halfway through the lesson, the class coach has to review everything we’ve done.
  7. Again my instructions are: point out what we’ve learned, give a shout-out to students who answered questions or made good points, name students who you could see were working really hard.
  8. Sometimes (depending on the confidence levels of the coach) I might ask other students to nominate their peers for a shout-out at this point. Just in case the coach misses someone.
  9. Finally, at the end of the lesson, the coach can sum up. They should sum how the team (class) did. The only rule I have for this activity is that it is 100% positive. I tell my students that people don’t need it pointing out when they are struggling (they know they are struggling) or if they made a mistake (again, they know). So the class coach keeps the positive and lets everything else slide.

I hope it’s easy to see what the benefits of this activity are. It can take a while for my students to get the hang of doing a great job. I have to model what I want them to do – I generally do a whole session based on this as I am getting my classroom routines sorted at the beginning of the year. However, once they have nailed it. The class coach is something that students are begging to be.

Here is why I love it: it increases engagement, especially for the coach; it increases positivity because there is always something good about getting a shout-out and recognition; it gives the students a voice – and often what they see, I might not have seen.

Try it out a few times and let me know what you think!

The Student Helpline

I also love this activity! And thankfully, it is super easy to explain.  The idea is another very simple one: create a helpline in your classroom. You can use this activity at any point in learning as a quick recap or to generate more discussion. This year, I am adding a fake phone to my classroom to help!

how to engage disinterested teens

Here’s how it works:

  1. Pair up your students and have them stand or sit back to back.
  2. One student rings the help-line (yep, I literally make them say “ring, ring” and “hello student helpline” or “hello Frankenstein helpline”!
  3. The calling student then has to ask for more information what they have learned. As in “I really don’t understand the point of the letters at the beginning of Frankenstein, can you explain it to me?”
  4. The help-line (the other student) has to explain the idea/concept or information. Being back to back is key as it focuses students precisely on listening and responding directly to the question asked.

Obviously, this can be a whole class activity, where every student is sitting back to back. Or if you prefer you can have a student volunteer to man the helpline. They can come and sit at the front of the room, then other students can take it in turns to ask them questions.

This is a fun and engaging activity. It usually starts and ends with laughter. Yet there is a clear learning purpose involved. Students are practicing reforming their knowledge and understanding, these synthesis and summarizing skills are important.

Drop me a comment below if you try these ideas out and let me know how they went!

If you are looking for other fun and engaging activities to use in your ELA classroom, why not check out these blog posts:

The Perfect Review Game

One Amazing Debate Idea

Also, each week I send an email out to my teacher-friends, in this message, I include one classroom activity (like the perfect review game) and one literature activity (like this blackout writing activity). They are always fun, engaging, and designed to create brilliant learning moments for your students. If you would like to receive this weekly email (I send it on a Sunday morning – ready to help stave off those Sunday scaries), then all you need to do is fill out the email sign up below!

Subscribe to my weekly teaching tips email!

Sign up below to receive regular emails from me jammed packed with ELA teaching tips, tricks and free resources. Also access my free resource library!

Hidden Content

Celebrate Christmas in your ELA classroom

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.

Christmas activities your teens will love!

I don’t know about you but I love Christmas. I love Christmas, like I love Shakespeare.
It’s a deep abiding love. The run-up to the holidays here in London is full of little traditions – today is Stir Up Sunday (which I have failed to do and so am behind already!), next week we have our Christmas Give Back collections at school, the Christmas concert, carol service, secret Santa. You name it, we do it.

And yet…every year the teens in my classroom moan and complain about everything Christmas (except the snacks). They love to hate it. They hate the music, they hate the decorations, the Christmas jumpers, buying presents, being nice. Scrooges and Grinches the lot of them. So each year I do 2 activities to combat these Scrooges of ELA.

No.1 color a card for someone at school and
No.2 write your own Christmas card poem.

Color a Christmas Card

These cards are super cool, the slick, modern designs appeal to our London teens. They aren’t interested in Christmas cottages or cuddly Santas. They want something modern, not traditional.

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Christmas-Card-coloring-template-set-FREEBIE-2885538
There are 10 designs to download and print yourself >>>here<<<. Totally free.  I probably end up printing about 100 each year.
  • 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.
And so please download, print, and encourage your cynical or sweet teens to be jolly this Christmas too.

Write your own Christmas card poem

To go along with our newly colored Christmas cards, we get stuck into writing our own Christmas card poems.  I love to convince my students that if all else fails, they could be the Hallmark writers of the future.  I haven’t yet taught this lesson (it usually takes about 2 hours) yet without cracking up at what the kids come up with. It’s Christmas hilarity at its best.
In this lesson, I teach my students 7 different techniques for writing Christmas poems.  For our youngest students (aged 11) this is a great introduction to the rhetorical and literary devices that they will later analyze.  For older students (16 -18) this lesson takes the devices we analyze every day, but now we get to twist and turn until they work for us.
As Christmas approaches students who know me begin to ask “when we will do the funny poems lesson Miss?” and kids, who I taught years ago, will stop me in the playground and say “Miss do you remember that lesson when…”
I love it. They love it. Christmas fun for all.
https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Christmas-Card-Poem-writing-lesson-2885580
In the resource here, I cover cliché, anaphora, anadiplosis, epistrophe, epanalepsis, diacope, and tricolon.  For each device, there are some great examples (the name’s Bond, James Bond), a modelled example for you to work on together as a class AND then instructions on how to write their own sentences or phrases.
At the end of it all, we take our notes and muddle them up, mix them around, and shake them together to create our own series of Christmas card poems. Check out this lesson here!
If you are looking for more ideas for Christmas lessons, have a look at these blog posts:


Love Creative Writing in your classroom!

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*I send emails with teaching tips, tricks, and free resources to my subscribers regularly. I value your privacy and you can learn more about how I handle your data in our private policy. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Hidden Content

How a document camera transformed my ELA lessons

I have had a visualizer (document camera) in my classroom for a few years. I would use it once in a blue moon. Mostly to show the class something that I couldn’t copy. This year, I was thinking about how I could achieve 2 of my personal classroom targets. It turns out that my visualizer was the key to meeting both targets.

Target 1: engage the middle achievers

Quite a few of my classes contain groups of middle achievers, who have a tendency to sit in lessons not doing too much. They complete enough work to scrape by. They don’t cause trouble. They don’t answer questions. They are coasting. This year – I was going to change that. No more passive students!

Target 2: reduce handouts

I want to intentionally cut down on using paper in my classroom. As an English teacher, it feels like I do nothing but generate paper. Unfortunately, we have zero technology available, so that wasn’t an answer. I needed to find an alternate solution to the countless worksheets, printed articles, and practice tests I use.

visualizer and words saying how a visualizer improved my lessons

The unexpected key to success?

This IPEVO* visualizer/document camera proved to be the unexpected key to my success. My very no-techy explanation of what a visualizer is: it’s a camera, that plugs into your computer USB port and you can manipulate to point at a book, sheet, or whatever on your desk. It then projects the image onto your computer screen and thus onto your classroom screen / interactive whiteboard.

Perhaps you have a visualizer knocking around your department, here are a few ways you can put it to good use. If you don’t own one – I can’t exaggerate enough how much I love mine.

UK link* https://amzn.to/2OorlJh

Idea 1: annotate like a boss!

I ‘live annotate’ my literature texts with my class. All my classes have to do examination-style tests on their literature texts. It could be a 19th-century novel, Shakespeare, poetry – they are all tested by a cold extract exam. They don’t get their copy of the book with them. No notes. Just what is in their brain.

So they need a lot in their brains!

First up is ‘live annotation’. I essentially teach the skill of reading and annotating using my visualizer. I put my blank copy of the text under the camera and as we read, we annotate together. It might be comprehension details, word meaning, connotations, themes, or links to historical context.

 

Document Camera in the classroom

The unexpected upside for my coasting students was that this activity was so concrete and so easy at the beginning, that they got all the annotations down without even thinking about it. After all, at the beginning, all they were doing was copying.

As time passed, I asked more questions “what should we be annotating here?” and it felt much less like spoon-feeding my students. Everyone was so comfortable by then that they would be suggesting ideas. They had learned a skill which wouldn’t necessarily have come naturally to them!

 

Document camera laptop and book

Idea 2: no more basic worksheets!

I can’t tell you how many times I have printed and copied 30 blank table worksheet for my class to fill out. Just because I couldn’t be bothered to go through the hassle of explaining exactly how many columns and rows were needed. I admit it, I was lazy. I couldn’t deal with “I’ve run out of room!” or “It doesn’t fit in my column!”

Now I just use my visualizer to demonstrate exactly what I want the table to look like. I get a blank piece of paper, line it up under my visualizer, draw the first line – everyone copies – draw the next line. It probably takes about the same amount of time as handing out 30 sheets and getting them glued in books.

The secondary upside is my meager contribution to saving the planet by reducing copying!

Idea 3: Supported differentiation

In addition to my coasting students, I have a few classes that really struggle with English. Although these classes tend to be smaller and specialist, it is always hard for me to get around and spend time with every student.

 

I use my visualizer as a way to provide me with more 1-2-1 time with certain pupils. Let me give you an example: say we are covering the difference between showing and telling. We complete the first task together, on the visualizer (which means I can also model good handwriting etc). I leave the work on the screen, so my slower writers can take their time to write it down.

Document camera and worksheet

I can then circulate around the class to give individual support.

This works better than going through the work verbally because I don’t have to keep repeating myself.

It also works better than typing the work onto my screen / whiteboard because I can interact directly with the ideas – I can circle words, change them, highlight, put stars by things as I am explaining.

Idea 4: modeled marking and improvement

I’ve saved the best to last. This idea has made a huge difference to my students progress. I started ‘live marking’ in the same way that I did ‘live annotating’. My classes would complete a piece of creative writing or an essay. I would take responses from 4 – 5 volunteers and mark them live using the visualizer.

 

Document camera and class work

Let me break it down for you: say you wanted to work on thesis statements. I would ‘live mark’ those 4 – 5 pieces of work by placing them under the visualizer and looking at just the thesis statements. We would work out together which were the strongest, how to identify the weaknesses, and how to improve any that needed improvement. The rest of the class would then look at their own thesis statements and self-assess.

These are just a few ways that I use a visualizer in my classroom!

Leave a message in the comments if you use a visualizer. I’d love to find even more ways to use it in my classroom!

*These links are affiliate links, you don’t pay any more or any less by using this link. It does mean I get a small commission – which helps keep me in cups of tea!

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