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Questioning Strategies

Question eggs

I love this questioning and review activity, is it perfect for the Spring and Easter season to bring a little fun to my classroom.

An eggs-cellent idea!

It’s about this time of year that supermarkets and pound (dollar) stores fill up with Easter goods. These little plastic eggs are a fabulous and cheap addition to your teacher-toolkit! They are great because the eggs come in 2 halves so you can put stuff inside. In my local store, you can buy a set of 12 plastic eggs like this for £1.

So as you can imagine, I have a whole load of them.

Ways to use your eggs in the classroom!

1. Question eggs!

Place a different quiz question in each egg. Pass them around and get students to answer different questions from different eggs. All you need to do is to make a list of quiz questions on one page. Print and cut them into strips. You can create enough so that everyone has a different question or you can double up and have two sets circulating at once. This is a great way to review material in a low stakes test.

2. Challenge and reward eggs

Fill some eggs with rewards and some eggs with challenges to generate a little bit of engagement in your activities.

3. New learning eggs

Break up your new learning/information and place it into several eggs. Then get students to do an egg hunt to gather all the new information. So I would create 10 slips of paper with our new learning on. You can’t fit big pieces of paper in these eggs so you have to be concise. One strategy would be to number the slips and have students make sure they’ve gathered all of them. Or you could challenge your class by telling them there are 10 pieces of new information, they have to find them all and then get them into the correct order.

Question eggs

4. Analysis eggs

If you are teaching a text, then you could place quotations or textual references in different eggs for students to analyse.

5. Writing eggs

For a writing task, you could place new vocabulary, writing techniques, different sentence structures into the eggs and students to self-select to create a success criteria or rubric for their own writing. I might choose to be a little more structured and include specific elements I want to see in writing. For example, one might say ‘simile’, another ‘metaphor’, another ‘personification’. I might also include instructions like ‘an 8-word sentence showing emotion’. Another might state ‘a character with a sinister motivation’. I have these in a huge bowl at the front and I ask the class to take 3 – 4, then they write these down as their success criteria. They can then return them and choose more.

6. Word Eggs

Introduce new vocabulary by placing sentences on slips into the eggs. The new vocabulary word could be in capital letters. Students have to work out the meaning of the new vocabulary from the context of the sentence.

As you can see there are loads of different ways that you can use these plastic eggs in your classroom,  just to add a little bit of fun and variety to your learning.

So if you see them in the shops this Spring, I would highly recommend picking while they are there!  If you would prefer buying them online, then you can find them here:

US Amazon*                                                            UK Amazon*

                                                   

*These are affiliate links. This doesn’t mean you pay any more or any less for the items shown. The price stays exactly the same. It does mean that I get paid a small commission if you buy these items using my link. It’s just enough to keep me going in cups of tea.

Question eggs

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Deep thinking in English Literature

Do you want to help your students develop deep thinking skills? Then this blog post is for you. In it, I share 2 visual strategies for developing deep thinking skills.

Strategy 1: Shallow, Deep, Profound

Here’s the story of how I use “shallow, deep, profound” to help my students who struggled with creating deep and detailed analysis of the literature texts.

Real-talk time: my students really struggle with analysis. Any kind of analysis. Instead of analysis, my students tend to act as Google Translate. They take the language of our lit text and ‘Google Translate’ it into their own words. They think this is what I mean by analysis. Even when I model it. Or when we talk in detail about the connotations and implications in the language.

So for the last few months, I have been using the stages ‘shallow, deep, profound‘ to help them visualize moving their understanding to a more profound place. We walk through these steps to ensure their analytical is deep and detailed.

Shallow, deep, profound

These 3 words “shallow, deep, profound” are the key. I have them printed, chopped up, laminated, and up on my wall. My students are so used to these terms now, that all I need to do is point to them and they get what I’m saying.

Here’s how I introduce and define the process for my classes:

Shallow – this is when you are just giving me a surface reading of the text. You are essentially re-wording the text into your own words or showing that you understand what it is about.

Deep – this is when you explore the deeper meaning suggested by the language, techniques, or structure. You read into the implied meaning behind the words. These are the connotations of the language.

Profound – this develops on your deep reading above (that’s the first step). You have explored already the connotations of the words used, now you consider how the author is shaping the readers’ thinking. How does it link to the themes in the text? How does it confirm or subvert accepted thinking?

If you like the idea of using “shallow, deep, profound” in your classroom – then all you need to do is click here to download a pdf with the colour and blackline versions of this file.

Strategy 2: Why and Because

I think I must use these two words 100 times a day. My students are great at having ideas – but I have to push them to tell me why they decided on that particular idea, or to give me the evidence to justify it. This is where my “why” and “because” reminder cards come in!

I have laminated these 2 words, enlarged to poster size, inside speech bubbles. I have them on my desk, ready to go! Sometimes I tack them to the wall, sometimes I wander around just holding them.

They are big and visible. Now I can just wave the laminates, point to them, even just nod in their direction, and my students know they have to develop their answers for me.

Here’s how I explain them to my classes:

Why – why is important because you have to justify to me the reason you made that decision. What did the author do? Write a metaphor. Why? The word “why” in itself forces deeper thinking. What is the best idea we’ve had today? Why?

Because – teaching my students to use the word ‘because’ in their classroom dialogue and their analytical writing has been transformational. Just like moving from shallow to profound thinking – it forces them to move from the ‘what’ in a text to the ‘why’. It is the gateway to discussions concerning authorial intent, motivations, and purpose. The word ‘because’ nearly always follows a ‘why’ discussion, so it’s great to have on hand!

Again – if you like the idea of using these “why and because” prompts in your classroom, then all you need to do is click here to download the pdf file with them in.

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Deep thinking skills in English and ELA

Literature Task Cards

Reading literature is a huge part of English and ELA lesson time. Whether you are reading articles, short stories, or studying Shakespeare – it can be difficult often to find tasks that have the ability to engage and challenge students. I was finding that I was setting the same boring worksheets again and again. Fill out a table. Answer these quiz questions. While these are all fine. I wanted something more for my students. That is why I decided to create a set of task cards just for my literature texts.

What are literature task cards?

Very simply these are a set of printable task cards with activities on that students can complete independently or in groups. All I had to do was print them once, in colour, and laminate them. Now I can take them out 4 – 5 times a week and use them with different classes.

Literature Task Cards

The cards I created (and there is a free download here) are based on Blooms’ Taxonomy. There was no particular reason behind this, other than that I wanted to cover a range of skills. Some people treat Blooms’ like it is a hierarchy.

I didn’t want the task cards to be like that. Each of the tasks, I created 60 in total, are designed to get my students thinking. None is better than another.

How to use them in the classroom:

  1. Give different cards to individual students after reading an excerpt or during your normal reading lesson. Each student completes their individual task. Of course, you can use this as a quick win for differentiation!
  2. Turn them face down and have students select without knowing. They could work individually or in pairs to complete the task, this way no one will be able to keep picking the same task over and over.
  3. Select one level: say comprehension or synthesis. Then just give out the tasks from this level to really focus on developing one skill set
  4. Give a pupil one card from each level (so every colour) and have them work through to work on a range of skills.
  5. Obviously, these are great for collaborative work. Assign them to pairs or groups. Then students can work collaboratively or independently at first and then share their ideas.
  6. They are also great as starters, plenaries, challenge tasks for early finishers, and homework tasks.
  7. Use them as part of a centers or stations rotation. Using the worksheet to help students keep a record of their work!

Interested in downloading 10 tasks cards to try for free? Just click here!


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3 fun teen group work activities

3 ideas for group work

Do you want your teenage students to be more active and engaged in group work? Well, this blog post has some group work gems. These activities are guaranteed to get your students moving, keep them engaged, and get them more involved in their learning!

The human photocopy

This activity is exactly what the title suggests. You turn student teams into human photocopiers! They work in groups to create an exact copy of a document you give them. This is great for teaching new material, reviewing prior learning, or consolidating your current unit.

Group work activities

Decide the topic and content

Before you begin, you will need to decide what you want your students to recreate. I usually create A3 sheets with information that I want my class to understand.

Each sheet needs to contain a mixture of images, labels, short phrases, and text written in long form. I don’t produce these to be beautiful (this is partly the point). They are often handwritten and my own drawings to make them a little more tricky to recreate!

Sometimes I give all the groups the same sheet to reproduce. Sometimes I give them different information sheets to reproduce and then teach the rest of the class (a bit of reciprocal teaching is always good)!

Here’s what comes next!

  1. Take 5 A3 sheets of information, place these facedown at the front of my room.
  2. Put students into 5 teams. Give each team member a number, say 1 – 6. Each team needs a table to work at, their own piece of A3 paper, and pens/pencils etc.
  3. The aim is for each team has to recreate their allocated original sheet. They become a literal human photocopier.
  4. I will call out ‘number 1s go!’. Each of the team members who has number 1 will come up to the front. They then have 20 seconds to look at the image before they have to turn it back over, return to their table, and recreate as much as they can remember.
  5. I will then call out ‘number 2 go!’.
  6. So each team member takes it in turn. At any given time, one team member will be at the front memorising the information sheet. While the others will be working on their copy at the table.
  7. They have to work together to recreate the whole text. All the while remembering what they have added already and what is missing.
  8. Depending on your class, you may want to let each number go twice. Or you can give the whole team 30 seconds to look at the entire image and another minute to finish it.
  9. After the activity, each group has to present the information they ‘human copied’ to the class and explain the ideas etc.

This activity is a great way to review information and ideas, as well as work on short/long memorisation of key knowledge.

Race the horses

This super-simple strategy helps you manage team or group work but with a twist! It creates a sense of competition and can help keep students on task.

It is really simple – just click to download this PowerPoint slide

Race the horses activity

Then set up your group or teamwork as you usually would. This time use the racehorses to track the progress of each team. The team that completes all the tasks first wins 20 pts (or whatever you choose).

 

I have made the file completely editable so you can adjust it to fit your classes. The clipart is royalty free.

Dry Erase Table Debate

If you follow me on IG (please do!) – then you have probably seen me talking about the power of letting students write on your desks!

Yep, I said write on your desks. Of course, what I should have added was – with a dry-erase pen. This group work idea takes writing on the tables to another level.  All you need to have to run this group work activity is dry erase pens for your students!

Dry erase table debate

Ok, so how does this dry erase table debate thing work?

  1. First, I tack a discussion question or debate topic to the centre of the table.
  2. Now the debate part can work in a couple of ways: sometimes I give each student their own color dry erase pen and they have to debate/discuss on their table. Each student notes down all the ideas as they go. They can build on each other’s ideas, challenging, changing noted etc. But all their discussion must be written down.
  3. OR you can give each table just one color to work with. They can debate and write notes as above – then – get up and they go to another table (with a different topic) and add their own ideas, questions, and challenges to that particular discussion.

This is a really great strategy to use for classes who get distracted during group discussions, or where some students opt-out of participating (they can scribe). I just take a photo of the debate, quick print, and they stick in their notebooks!

Did you love these 3 group work ideas? I share teaching tips with my teacher-friends every Sunday via email. My “Making Sense on Sunday” email goes out each Sunday morning and it contains one classroom activity (like the ones above) and one activity to use with any reading or literature text. If you would like to hear my teaching tips first, then sign up below!

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3 group work activities

Zap recap activity

This recap/revision game is perfect for any GCSE subject and is a fun and engaging way to interest your students in their revision. It does require a little bit of preparation. But it is definitely worth it! Once you have it ready to go, it’s done for future use.

Here, I have shared my Valentine’s edition of the game. But it would be super easy to make seasonal – you could do coins for St Patrick’s Day, eggs for Easter, flowers for the summer, apples and pumpkins in the autumn, or gravestones at Halloween. Whatever shapes you like for the season! Of course, you can also use generic shapes: stars, clouds, fish – you choose!

Here is the basic idea: the aim of the game is for your team to score as many points as possible.

Beforehand:

  1. Cut a variety of shapes out of coloured paper. For my Valentine’s edition, I will do small, medium, and large sized hearts.
  2. Label each one with different scores: 1pt, 5pts, 10pts, 20pts, and ZAP. These need to be big enough for students to see them – they are going to want to aim for the high scoring shapes!
  3. Pin the shapes on the wall in a group, so it isn’t too easy to hit a specific one.
  4. Finally plan your 1pt, 5pt, 10pt, and 20pt questions. Ready to ask students as part of the game.

 

Playing the game:

  1. Divide the class into 2 teams (more if necessary).
  2. Give each team has their own ball (I use a soft tennis ball – but a ball of old paper would work).
  3. Each team member takes it in turn to hit the wall with their ball. If they hit one of the shapes with a point score on it. Then ask them the relevant question. If they get it right, they gain the points. But if they miss all the shapes, then the next team goes. Also if they hit a ZAP, they lose all the points they’ve gained so far.
  4. Go through each team member, asking questions, and scoring points. You can decide the winner a number of ways: the first to 50 or 100 wins, or the team with the highest score after every team member has had a go.
  5. I tend to keep a running tally on my whiteboard.

This is a great fun activity for a tired Friday afternoon class and for reviewing key knowledge and information. Once you have made the shapes once, get them laminated and you can use them again and again.

GCSE revision game

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

 

If you love these teaching ideas, then you can sign up to my teaching tips email! Each Sunday you will receive “Making Sense on Sunday” and email stuff full of teaching ideas! Just sign up below!

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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?

Describe

  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!

If you love these writing prompts, then sign up for my weekly “Writing on Wednesday” email. Each week I send out fresh and fun writing prompts to all my email friends! Just sign up below.

 


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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

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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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!

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