Secondary Secondary English

Secondary English – Deleting the text

A colleague recently put me onto a fantastic book called ‘Humument‘.  Inspired by William Burroughs to ‘cut-up’ texts, in 1966 Tom Phillips found a three-pence copy of the 1892 text ‘The Human Document’ by W.H Mallock and then began to score out unwanted words from the text to create a new piece of literature. After a while, he then saw the possibility of making a ‘better unity of word and image’ and incorporated his own illustrations on the pages. The results are stunning and if you do nothing else, please visit the website to have a look at the gallery of pages from the book.

This intriguing text could be used in the classroom in various ways. Photocopies of pages from an original text could be given to students and then they could be asked to delete the unwanted words to create their own piece of writing, based on a relevant theme/genre etc.

Another way that ‘Humument’ could be used is as a stimulus for textual analysis. Again, photocopies of a passage of page from a studies text could be given to students, a question could be set (e.g. ‘How does Conan Doyle use language to create a sense of mystery?’) and then students could delete the text until they are left with the most relevant words on the page. Once students have their deleted texts, they could then illustrate around the words to demonstrate the layers of meaning, denotations and connotations in the language.  As well as providing some wonderful display work for Open Evening, this exercise could be expanded by asking students to write a commentary about their choices or to present this orally to the class. This task could also be differentiated by giving students pages with parts of the text already deleted and then asking them to continue by completing the illustrations. Any students, who shudder at the thought of drawing, could work on the computer, selecting found images, or use collage to complete their work.

I think that these exercises could work with students from Key Stage 3 right through to 5. The analysis task would be a perfect assignment to force my Year 12 students to engage with how Shakespeare manipulates the genre of Tragedy in Hamlet, or for my Year 8 students to consider how tension is create by Morpurgo in ‘Private Peaceful.’ And hopefully all those students with writer’s block can unleash their creativity by deleting someone else’s text rather than writing their own.

Naomi Hursthouse
Advance Skills Teacher
Steyning Grammar School


  • That is a really good idea! Thank you- I will need to try it out. I have used Wordle word clouds before but instead of using the number of times words appear I asked my students to select the words they thought were the most significant then arrange them according to importance, using colour and layout to represent the mood and style of the text. It was a fun lesson with some great results.

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