Category Archives for "GCSE Revision"

Is it time to stop PEE-ing?

Several years ago I participated in a piece of classroom research into how essay writing is taught in English. It was a honour for me to add my voice to this conversation. Before the 2015 specification, the keys to success in exams for essay writing appeared to be about reduction and concision, rather than detail and breadth. There was one year when some students were encouraged to draw a PEE table onto the exam paper!

The conversation has moved on a great deal in the intervening years. The voices in Team English had add some fantastic alternatives. If you are looking to develop your teaching of essay writing, then a fantastic first point of call is Becky Wood’s (@shadylady222) blog Why I No Longer PEE.

If you are interested in reading my NATE article on PEE – then you’re in luck. They have very kindly agreed for me to share it here. So thank you NATE – while I am on the topic, do have a look at their website.

So here is my article. Just click on the image below to read the whole thing.

You can also find it here!


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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

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.


  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

Writing prompts for English Language GCSE

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

Writing a room

Choose one room in your house and list everything that can be: seen, smelt, heard, felt (and tasted).

Write 100 words describing this room using only sensory imagery.

When you have finished writing, ask yourself this question – were you able to create a sense of the room with this tightly controlled word count? If not, consider why? Look at your nouns and adjectives, are they specific and precise? Did you waste words? Make just 5 changes and see if this improves your writing.

Slow your writing down

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

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

Writing character

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


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

12 writing tasks in 12 days

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

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

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2nd February 2019

How can I help my child revise for GCSEs?

help your child revise for GCSEs

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

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

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

Step 1: know your child

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

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

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

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

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

Parents! Help your child revise for their GCSEs

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

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

Parents! Help your child revise for their GCSEs

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

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

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

Step 3: how do they best memorise facts?

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

So what actually is revising?

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

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

Option 1: flashcards

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

Or smaller ring bound ones like this*:

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

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

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

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

Option 2: posters and mind-maps

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

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

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

Parents! Help your child revise for their GCSEs

Option 3: complete practice papers

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

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

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

Here are the relevant links:

AQA – just click Find Past Papers

Edexcel – click Past Papers

OCR – just click Past Papers

WJEC – click Past Papers

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

Parents! Help your child revise for their GCSEs

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

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

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