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Create a BANG this fireworks night in your ELA classroom

Pop Quiz! Which of these best fits you?

  1. My students love debating.
  2. I want to push my students to apply their learning to the real world.
  3. I think we can learn lessons from history.
  4. My students struggle to link literature to life.

If you answered “me, me!” to any of these 4 statements, then today’s blog post is dedicated to you. Here are 3 engaging classroom activities that: give your students a chance to debate; challenge students to stretch classroom knowledge to become real world knowledge; and help them link history and literature with their lives!

1. Research the man Guy Fawkes

It’s easy to forget that Guy Fawkes wasn’t the instigator of the Gunpowder Plot, the man and the money behind it was Robert Catesby. A wealthy farmer and Catholic, Catesby persuaded many of his friends that James I was a weak king and could be easily removed from power.

Guy Fawkes, however, was also not the bumbling fool often portrayed in cartoons. He fought in the Spanish wars against the Dutch Republic and was an experienced soldier.

If you and your students are interested in finding out more about Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder plot – then check out my Guy Fawkes Hero or Villain resource on TpT.

After you have researched Guy Fawkes in detail, use these debate prompts (a sneak peek from above resource) to spark some deep discussion in your classroom.

2. Watch and discuss V for Vendetta

**Now a big disclaimer is needed here: V for Vendetta is rated a 15 here in the UK. The whole film is not suitable for classroom use.**

How do I use the film in my lessons to help discuss Guy Fawkes then?

Introduce the story: V for Vendetta (1998) is a graphic novel by Alan Moore. The story is set in a dystopian future where the United Kingdom is ruled over by a neo-facist regime. One night, 5th November, a freedom fighter attempts a revolution. He takes over the national media and makes a speech encouraging all citizens to join him the following year (on 5th November) again to start a rebellion.

Watch the clip:

Read the speech and discuss persuasion:

I have attached a file with V’s revolutionary speech here. We discuss rhetoric and persuasion here and compare it to other political speeches. Then we discuss V’s use of 5th November as a sign of positive revolution.

I pose the questions:

  • Is V rewriting history?  What is the evidence for your response?
  • Can we trust history? Can we trust historical evidence and facts?
  • What happens when history is altered or parts of history are forgotten?
  • How is history dangerous?

In his dystopian novel, 1984, Orwell writes, “who controls the past, control the future” – we discuss this and the truth of it in our world today.

If your students love V as much as mine do then I often let them watch these two extra clips: The 5th of November Overture and *spoiler* the finale scene (note this contains swears) and will also spoil the film for them – so beware!!

3. Write your own nursery rhyme

One of the best things about nursery rhymes is that they are all pretty gruesome in nature. If they aren’t warding off the plague, they are accusing you of being a witch.  The nursery rhyme written for the ‘celebration’ of failed Gunpowder Plot is just as brutal.  We study it for ‘historical accuracy’ and rhetorical techniques and then we create our own Gunpowder Plot nursery rhyme. Sometimes we cast Guy Fawkes as the hero. Sometimes a hapless fool deserted by his comrades. Sometimes we write about James and the Lords in Parliament. Occasionally we imagine the horror if it had succeeded. If all else fails – we create a visualization of the original rhyme with lots of gory detail.

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

Guy Fawkes, guy, t’was his intent
To blow up king and parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England’s overthrow.

By god’s mercy he was catch’d
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.

And what shall we do with him?
Burn him!

An extra sweet treat…

Check out this interactive Guy Fawkes game on the BBC History website.  Go to the Powder Plot Game here.

Ok friends

If you wanted to get your students debating; brief history and literature into the real world and challenge your students to really think, then this post was for you.

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15th September 2017

Friday funny!

I saw this today, it made me chuckle.

It is also so true for me, for the next couple of weeks anyway.

6th September 2017

Revision Jenga!

Revision is a tricky nut to crack, especially for literature students where the topics for revision are as wide ranging as quotations from the text to feminist readings to historical context.
Jenga Revision is just one of the ways I help student memorise everything they need to know.

Here’s how I do it:

1. Get hold of your Jenga blocks (you will need felt tips as well)
The cheapest Jenga blocks I have found are these mini Topple Towers from Poundland. Just £1 each.  The tower doesn’t stand much higher than 15cm. But that makes it perfect for small group work.
*Note – buy the cheapest ones you can – because these will be unfinished wood and easier to write on with felt tip!*

2. Decide what you are going to write on them.
When I started out using this activity, I was totally laid back about what went on the blocks. A few years on and I’m a little wiser.  Here’s what I learnt:
Colour code the categories – so red for direct evidence from the text, blue for historical context, green for key literary terms.
Get students to plan / find the information first – no writing on the blocks until you’ve written it on paper (this can help avoid lots of repetition too)
Brevity rules! The blocks can only take 1 or 2 words – so precision is needed.
Neatly does it – some of those boys need to earn the right to write. Prove to me you can be legible, gentleman!

 

3. Get working on making the blocks.  Depending on the number of texts to be revised, I will either allocate each group a different text or split the chapters or sections across a number of groups.

4. Get your game on. Here are the rules of the game.
# Choose who goes first (tallest, shortest – I don’t mind).
# Person number 1 pulls out a block and uses the information on it to ask a question of someone else in the group. For example – say the block has the name “Crooks” on it. The questioner could form any question that will give them the response Crooks. The harder the question, the better. Which character in Of Mice and Men has their own chapter? Who does Curley’s Wife threaten to string up? Which character in the novel reads a lot?
# If the response is correct, then the responder is given that block to start making their collection. They then take the next turn.
# If the response is incorrect, then the questioner keeps it (for their collection).  And they keep taking turns and keeping blocks until someone answers correctly.
# The winner is the one who has the most blocks when the tower is completely gone. This encourages them to make the questions as difficult as possible.

And that my friends is how we play revision Jenga!
Thanks for reading.

2nd September 2017

2 easy character activities for your ELA classroom

If you are looking for new and creative ways to embed ‘character’ into your curriculum, then this post is for you! In this video, I share 2 ways you can use character in your ELA classroom. Firstly, in creative writing and secondly, in your study of literature.

So enjoy!

And then checkout this >>>DOWNLOAD<<< to help you on your way!

*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.

Love British Literature?

Access this Austen free resource and a whole lot more!

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

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1 fab idea for back-to-school!

The first few hours or days back at school are hectic. Timetables to give out, courses to enrol, books to organise. Annndd in my case – uniforms to check, planners to sign, and inevitability parents to call about incorrect shoes, hair, make-up, skirt length, nail varnish. We are busy: sorting out seating plans, handing out new books, sorting out target sheets and stickers, homework schedules, IEPs and TA resources.

Yup – back to school is hectic.

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Back-to-school-freebie-We-Heart-School-Yes-We-Do-1970192?aref=x62abwh1

Added to this, most schools encourage a full-pelt return to hard learning. “What the learning question for your first lesson?”
Sometimes we just need a little bit of time.

For my new classes with older students – I like to gain 10 minutes or so with a few easy ‘get to know you’ activities.  

Espresso Yourself – does that just that. Buys me 10 minutes to calm, followed by quality chat with the kids I have only just met.  While I am muddling through the register and seating plan, they are telling me everything I need to know about them.

How do you love to get to know your HS students?
I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below.
You can download my Espresso Yourself worksheet (and a few other goodies) here for FREE. Enjoy!


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Love Creative Writing in your classroom!

Are you ready for dynamite descriptive writing in your classroom?Download your FREE 3-step guide now!

*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.

20 verbs for analytical writing

In my classroom, we spend a great deal of time analyzing language and techniques in literature. Often one we have read and discussed a text, my students are confident with their ideas. They have things to say about the language used, the structure, or the form. Yet they can struggle to put these ideas to paper.

I avoid using sentence frames for literature essay writing whenever I can. They are hugely restrictive and it is boring to mark a whole set of essays that read the same.

One way to improve how close analysis is written up is to focus on the verbs of analysis. I have these 20 posters up in my classroom and I refer to them frequently. I also have them printed in a small task card size so students can have them on their desks.

These verbs not only help students focus their thinking and ideas, but also allow them to bring some variety to their analytical writing. We are avoiding the overuse of ‘this suggests’ and ‘this implies’!

 

 

This list of 20 verbs is free for you to download here!

While you are here – consider signing up for my weekly newsletter. Every Sunday I send out two teaching ideas: one classroom activity, and one literature activity. You can sign up using the form below!

 

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31 ideas for Back to School

Hey teacher-friends!
This post is a sweet morsel from me to bring you a hamper full of ideas for Back To School.  Sound good?  Well, head on over to my IG account to find them there.  Throughout the month of August, I am sharing my favorite classroom ideas igniting a spark in the classroom.  Even better – I am sharing freebies and gifts as well, exclusively on IG. So let’s get connected!

That’s all for today but check back soon for my new series of blogposts on teaching Macbeth!


Love Creative Writing in your classroom!

Are you ready for dynamite descriptive writing in your classroom?Download your FREE 3-step guide now!

*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.

 

5 ways to help your students love 19th century literature

We all love a period drama don’t we? Well, you and I probably do. But your average teenager… Reading 19th century literature with classes presents us, as teachers, with a number of unique opportunities. It is at this moment that we are, probably, at our most multi-disciplinary. We are scientists – discovering electricity and inventing CPR. We are adventurers – seeking out the south pole and charting the North West Passage. We are theologians – struggling to believe in the Age of Enlightenment. We are historians – obsessed with the Classical Age, avoiding the present. We are politicians – fearing Revolution and rebellion.  When I look at the 19th Century I see all the “old England” of smugglers, pirates, and highwayman and I also see all the “new England” of the factories, technology, and workhouses.

1. Starting at the beginning

Before I even put a piece of 19th century literature in front of my students, I pose the question: “What is the difference between life today and life in 19th century?”. Generally, at first strike – I get only the obvious answers (people were dirty). The knowledge that my students have of history is limited. They can tell me loads about life in the workhouse, they can talk about factories. But beyond these specifics they are still in the dark. “History” says the historical novelist Dame Hilary Mantel “is what’s left in the sieve when the centuries have run through it”. The bits we pick out of the sieve to teach our younger students is pretty specific.

So what are the main differences we see:

  • Language – the language and vocabulary of the 19th century will be different
  • Topics – life was different, so writers will be writing about different things
  • Attitudes – people believed different things, those beliefs will come out in literature
  • Social class – it was definitely a thing back then
  • Gender roles – while we might not think the fight for equality is over yet, at the beginning of the 19th century it hadn’t even begun
  • Science, religion, geography, technology: the list of differences goes on.

2. Different writers same ideas

Once we have made this list, it’s time to jump straight in and look at some writers. At this point – I might set my classes up with an author research study.  Sometimes I find it is favourable for students to know in advance some of the historical and biographical details linked to a particular author. For Austen, Dickens, and Shelley, these are particular relevant.

We also tend to notice that while there are few narrative links between stories we read (A Christmas Carol -> Pride and Prejudice -> Frankenstein); we do come across the same ideas again and again. The abuse of power, the issues of social class, the treatment of the poor, the role of women in society. Each of these novels, in some way, speaks to these universal themes again and again.

Ok, so we’ve talked about the differences between now and then, we’ve met the author. We can’t put off reading the text any longer!

We also don’t always read full texts (shhhh don’t tell the writers!). There are some 19th century texts that our national curriculum and examination syllabi require us to study. But other than that we have free reign. However, given that many are 300+ pages and some have opening sentences that run to 100+ words, I don’t always decide to read entire novel. In fact this year, I have been teaching extracts only. Extracts from my favourite 19th century fiction and I have been BLOWN AWAY by the understanding shown by my students. This broad range has given them a far greater insight into this area of British Literature than if we had just focussed on one novel. The image above shows an extract from Sense and Sensibility that we love to study!

3. Reading 19th century fiction: 1-2-3 read

There are 5 skill areas that I cover when we read 19th century literature:

  1. Comprehension: the narrative plot line
  2. Comprehension: language
  3. Comprehension: ideas, attitudes, perspectives
  4. Analysis: language and imagery
  5. Analysis: syntax and structure

Developing comprehension of these extracts can take time. I don’t want to tell students what everything means, being reliant on the teacher in that way doesn’t help anyone. But – students need to know a whole bunch of stuff before they can even begin to grapple with the ideas and points of view presented in a text. For example: the language here is quite tricky. Marianne states “Is there a felicity in the world superior to this?” I kid you not when I ask classes about this sentence – they often think it is about a girl named Felicity.  When we are reading we are trying to work out what is going and what can sometimes be hindered by our understanding of language. So comprehension of narrative and comprehension of language must go hand in hand.

Students are great at creating a general understanding of what is going on by themselves. They know that they won’t get it all straight away. So we do a 1-2-3 reading strategy.

I start off by reminding students that a 500 word extract should only take about 2.5 minutes to read. I tell them, that because I love them and because it’s like “way old writing”, I’ll give them 3 minutes.

  1. First read. Then share with their partner: who are the characters / people in the extract? What was the most dramatic or interesting moment?
  2. Read again: build on their first reading – what kind of people are the characters in the extract? What are they like? What emotions do they express? What do they do in the extract? Pair and share ideas again.
  3. Third read: what happens in each paragraph? At this point, I normally get them to draw up a numbered table in their notebooks and write out the events as they read again. Final time to pair and share, they can add anything they’ve missed.

And what do you find? That despite not knowing what the word ‘felicity’ means – students have understood what happens in each paragraph.  This particular extract from Sense and Sensibility is perfect for this exercise (and guess what – shhh – you can download it as a freebie here).

4. Word Work

So now we know what is going on in the extract – we can flip back and do some word work. This is absolutely vital before we do any close analysis. It would be very easy to treat this as another dictionary task, but one issue with 19th century literature is the use of language that has slipped outside of everyday usage. Students need to grapple with these words for themselves before they can interpret another writer’s use.

For me then this word work is 2 phrase: first the dictionary work to define and then second to use these new words (or reframed words) in their own writing. The examples above are sentence starters that I give students using the vocabulary. I do this because with this students are more likely to use language correctly with this additional support, than if asked to just come up with their own idea.

5. Studying syntax

The final area we really focus on when studying 19th century literature is syntax and sentence structure. For us in the modern age, the event of modernism, saw a revolution in sentence structure. Authors rejected the highly embellished writing of their predecessors. Modern writers use shorter sentences and fewer clauses. Students can find reading the long sentence types seen in 19th century literature a challenge. So I turn it into a puzzle or a scavenger hunt.

By teaching the syntactical structures, such as polysyndeton, cumulative, and periodic sentences, students can make sense of what they are reading, and find ways to explain its purpose.

For my Maths and Science boys – literature becomes a literal puzzle, one that they can define, measure, and explain with more ease.

I hope these hints and tips will help you make 19th century literature come alive in your classroom.  If you are interested in my resources to help deliver these ideas in your classroom please see the links below!

 

Back To School: Letter Writing Project

As the new school year approaches, I get a feeling – the same feeling I get every year – nervous and excited. I know that I will be meeting a bunch of new students: some I’ve never taught before, and some returning faces.

For each of these kids, I make a silent promise each September, that I will really see them. That I will take the time to get to know them. That they won’t fade into the background. That even though I will only see them 3 times a week (sometimes less) that they will be known in my classroom.

So I do all the usual stuff: learning names, memorising faces, greeting at the door.

Yet, it isn’t our classroom chat that helps me find out who these kids really are. It helps for sure. But there is something I do with my students that, every year, blows my mind without fail. It is to have them write me a letter. In fact to have them write me lots and lots of letters. A letter, a week for the first full term of school. That’s 13 letters, 13 chances for them to tell me the stuff that matters.

I love letter writing. It’s been ages since I’ve received anything more personal than a greetings card in the post. When I receive a letter, well, that’s something special.  I like to tell kids about how when I left home, there were no mobile phones, no email or FB. I mean it was the 1990s, man! If we wanted to keep in contact with friends, who had moved to another part of the country, we had to write a letter. I moved to London. My best friend moved about 400 miles away to the Scottish borders. We would write to each other once a month – sometimes 10 sides of paper or more – I loved receiving those letters.

Letter writing, like diary writing, has been replaced by 140 characters or a fuzzy selfie. As letters are by their very nature personal – when we lose them, we risk losing a deep knowledge of human nature. Today we can watch fast-moving news events live. But what about the people involved a week later or a year later? Letters allow us time to reflect on our circumstances. If ever a species was in need of a pause button, it is humanity.

The first letter

The first letter that my students write – is a letter to their future selves. Meh. You might say. Been there, done that. Well, this letter is something a little different. Perhaps because it isn’t a letter at all. I like to ease my students into the idea of writing me a few pages. It’s more a series of thoughts, or reflections, a collection of hopes and dreams.

We write this first letter in class. Students color in the different sections and then hilarity follows as I show them the complicated way to fold it up to make a ‘Renaissance folded letter’. I explain that paper and postage were very expensive in the 1600s-1700s. Envelopes would have been a huge waste. So people learned to write on every available space, except for the space with the address and the wax seal.

This moment has another purpose. We learn to laugh together. We learn to fail together. We become a team in this lesson.

Letters of them

After this first lesson, I set my students a letter-writing homework each week through September, October, November, and December. We have a few mini-sessions on the “Lost Art of Letter Writing” (start with a greeting etc) but other than that, this is one of the rare times my students get to do writing without overly structured input.

They do have a rubric, but I have to be hands-up-honest here and say, I don’t always mark their letters for grammar and spelling and stuff like that. I find myself thanking students for sharing something, more often than not I find myself asking questions, wanting to know more. At this point for me, these are more than marks on the grade sheet. And my kids need to know that.

There is no topic I won’t set, and depending on the age group of my class, we have covered them all. From ‘what is love’ to ‘my best day out’. From ‘is Britain a dystopia?’ to ‘is free speech really a good thing?’. Students know the letters that are set for them to think through a particular topic. To express their beliefs, opinions, and whatever muddle comes in between. Many times a student will start out with “I believe…” and by the end, they have found some different thoughts.

Side benefits?

While I am being honest, I also what to tell you about the unexpected and awesome benefits of these letters. These were totally unplanned by me when I was developing this idea. First off, my students are more confident to express their ideas and opinions in my classroom. Yay! Less tumble-weed and more “I’m waiting for quiet!” but in an ELA classroom debate, discussion, and ideas are at the heart of what we do. Second, I discovered these kids are funny and clever and may does that give me hope for the future. (This one probably should have been first up). Last but by no way least, my students are better writers. And that’s my day job. These letters push them to think on topics they don’t really think about and they are improving in their writing and their expression for it.

So my advice – get your students writing letters. If you are interested in using this idea in your classroom. Click the image below.



 

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1 secret for developing close analysis skills

Developing close analysis skills when teaching literature texts can be tricky. Think of all the things a student needs to know first:

  • vocabulary knowledge
  • understanding of explicit and implicit meanings
  • working out which implicit meanings are relevant or useful
  • ability to recognise figurative language and appreciate what is suggested
  • how layers of meaning are created and how to work them out

Developing an understanding of explicit and implicit meaning

Here’s what we talk through first – explicit and implicit information. I introduce this very simply. Explicit information is clearly written in the text. “Last weekend, it rained a lot.” The text states it rained, so we know it rained. Implicit information needs a little detective work – we use our existing knowledge of the world around us to work out what is being suggested.

We look at the above example.  The explicit information is that two people (named Mark and Clara) paid for some tickets for ‘something’ and after that they went to buy some popcorn.  We use our existing knowledge of the world to workout that Mark and Clara at the cinema.  They could be at a show, the theatre, or at a gig, but we suspect not. And I ask students to explain why not.

Here’s what they generally come up with: most people who go out, go to the cinema (after all tickets for shows, theatre and gigs are expense). If you are going to a gig, you won’t be buying popcorn. This is also probably true for theatres and shows – we leave this for the interval.

After working through this inference together – students try the following:

  • Yesterday we packed everything into boxes and drove to another town.
  • Paul had a bad night’s sleep and then when he woke up, there were branches and leaves all over the roads.
  • It was always Sally’s dream to have a puppy, yesterday that dream came too.

This week I have also been using this amazing trailer from Miss Peregine’s Home for Peculiar Children.  There is so much that is hinted at this trailer – it’s great to discuss.

So now we develop our inference skills into analysis skills!

Rainbow Analysis

I first came across the idea of Rainbow Analysis on Twitter about a year ago. You can see the details here.

It is a structured and visual way to ensure that students are creating detailed inferences and then turning this into close analysis.  As you can see the sheet has 7 circles in an arc shape.  You can pretty much use these circles for any purpose that suits your outcome.

Here is what I include:

Circle 1: quotation

Circle 2: what does the quote mean in your own words?

Circle 3: choose one word (or short phrase) from the quotation and identify the technique used by the author (eg simile)

Circle 4: Now zoom in on the implied meaning of the word or phrase and explain what is suggested by it.

Circle 5: Are there alternative interpretations that could be made of the quotation? Does it contain ambiguous language or ambiguity of meaning?

Circle 6: How does the quotation link to contextual factors such as the period in history or the author’s biographical context?

Circle 7: How does the quotation challenge or impact the reader’s thinking about the character or situation?

Of course, then we colour it all in – to remind ourselves that we are understanding the shades of meaning.  Soooo, friends, would you like to give it a go?  Well, signup to my newsletter below and you can download the resources from my FREE resource library.

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