Academic writing for GCSE

Academic writing just means that our students need to write in a formal manner that reflects their level of educational and is distinct from how they would converse orally or via text.  A good approach is to gradually introduce students to a range of ways in which they can ensure their writing is more academic.  I find it helpful to divide these into three aims: being concise, being precise, and being sophisticated. Read More
Boy wearing school uniform reading book in library

How to develop brilliant reading at KS3

Reading is in vogue at the moment – and rightly so! Several factors have raised the priority of reading in schools. The number of students reading at home has slowly dwindled as the number of distractions has dramatically increased. Alongside this, the GCSE changes have also increased KS3 reading demand… Read More

How to develop brilliant reading at KS3

Reading is in vogue at the moment – and rightly so! Several factors have raised the priority of reading in schools. The number of students reading at home has slowly dwindled as the number of distractions has dramatically increased. Alongside this, the GCSE changes have also increased KS3 reading demand… Read More
Victorian school desks

Exploring Childhood in Hard Times

‘If we can only preserve ourselves from growing up, we shall never grow old and the young may love us to the last,’ declared Dickens.  This call to protect the magic and wonder of childhood concluded his New Year’s Day essay, published in his magazine Household Words, almost exactly a… Read More
Dracula's house with full moon and bats

Considering Dracula and the supernatural: teaching tips

Gothic literary texts can take so many different forms, but they share a preoccupation with the crossing of boundaries: between life and death, the past and the present, ancient and modern, good and evil or more generally, between what is real and unreal. Gothic writers take their readers, then, across… Read More
Diversity in the English Curriculum - Illustration image

Mapping a more diverse English curriculum

Quite rightly, schools are taking steps to ensure that their English curriculums are more representative of the diverse country that we live in. Many students, regardless of their background, still feel isolated from what they have been learning in their lessons. As teachers, we need to ask two questions before… Read More
Animal Farm pig

Tips for digging deeper into George Orwell’s Animal Farm

The allegory of Animal Farm draws students in, like a puzzle to be ‘solved’: who are Mr Jones, Squealer and Moses ‘really’; what is the Windmill? Understanding the historical context for Orwell’s writing provides a satisfying ‘solution’ for students, but it can sometimes overshadow engagement with the text as fiction. The characters aren’t just metaphors, they are ‘real’ within the story; the novel is carefully structured by Orwell, its themes stretching beyond its immediate context and Orwell’s original intentions. Here are three key talking points to help students engage with Animal Farm’s story and themes, and three activities to help them see the text as a construction, open to conflicting interpretations. 3 discussion points with questions: Orwell was a committed socialist. Animal Farm is a criticism of totalitarianism, not socialism, but it’s not always been read this way. Let students engage with controversy over its publication, as well as aspects of the text that leave us questioning. 1. Socialism Orwell presents socialism as an ideal situation, where “everyone worked according to his capacity” (chapter 3), but it doesn’t last in Animal Farm. Ask your students: What causes the animals to rebel? How do they achieve success? What goes wrong? How does Orwell's metaphor make his meaning ambiguous e.g. with the animal 'types'? 'Animal Farm is doomed from the start': Is this a fair reading? Can animals/men maintain equal control in a democracy, or is it inevitable that some will rise and some sink? 2. Power and propaganda Orwell maintained that the key passage in the novel was the creation of ‘special rations’ for the pigs, agreed by all of the pigs. Ask your students: What allows the pigs to take control? Does Orwell suggest power always corrupts? What kind of a leader is Napoleon? Would Snowball have been any different? How is the idea of totalitarianism still relevant today? 3. Freedom of speech Orwell struggled to find a publisher at a time when Stalin was an ally, and saw this as cowardly censorship, saying that “Liberty is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Ask your students: Squealer’s propaganda is clearly harmful, but is Benjamin’s silence also damaging? How does Orwell emphasise the power of words? Should we be able to say or write what we want? Are spoken words different to published ones? Should artists be political?    3 activities: 1. Understanding structure Once students have read the text, get them to summarise key events in each chapter. They can then come up with a short title for each instead of the existing numbers. As well as being a good revision tool, this helps in understanding narrative arc, or patterns in the structure. An additional aide is to sequence the titles in a storyboard, each illustrated with a key symbol e.g. Chapter 1 might become “Working Together”, “Beasts of England”, or simply “Comrades”, with an accompanying image of two animals singing together. 2. Understanding genre and setting Get students to ‘redesign’ the allegorical framework of the novel by planning a retelling or a film remake of Animal Farm, but changing the setting. The story could take place in: the Amazon jungle or African savannah a typical secondary school (this might prove controversial…) using popular toys (as in the film Toy Story) Afterwards, ask the class how choice of setting introduces other meanings e.g. awareness of existing stereotypes, or conflicting interpretations. How does this relate to the setting of Animal Farm? 3. Reading through different eyes Give students cards with roles or perspectives to adopt: this could be done in small groups (where students discuss their different ‘readings’ of the text) or as a whole-class, for instance, through hot-seating. A good starting point is to use a range of characters from the text to explain their version of events: roles might include Jones, Squealer, Snowball, Benjamin, Clover, Boxer, Moses, etc. This can then be expanded to encourage students to move beyond their own readings. Ideas for groupings might be: Different interests: a primary-school student, an older student, a teacher, a parent, an artist/film-maker Social roles: owner/employer, administrator, office worker, farm or factory worker, soldier, journalist Critical perspectives: Marxist, feminist, New Historicist, psychoanalytical. (These perspectives would need scaffolding e.g. with key questions – a way of simplifying them might be to give students cards with a reading ‘focus’ e.g. political, social, historical, emotional.) By Lucy Toop, a freelance writer and secondary English teacher in South London, and author of the introduction to the Collins Classroom Classics edition of Animal Farm. Read More
broken bridge made of letters. figures looking down at the gap

Why closing the word gap is more important than ever

In recent years, there has been much debate surrounding the best way to support our most disadvantaged students to catch up with their peers. Despite teachers’ best efforts, some pupils still struggle to meet the demands of the new curriculum, and it seems like it is becoming more and more difficult to close the gap between the advantaged and the disadvantaged. Where can teachers begin? Teachers, therefore, need low-effort, high-impact strategies to address this. But where to begin? As a teacher, I believe that teaching vocabulary is a good place to start. Words are, after all, the building blocks of understanding and communicating ideas. If we teach a range of high-leverage words thoroughly, we provide children with a springboard for learning across the curriculum. Sadly, time and time again data has shown that children from the poorest backgrounds are least likely to acquire new words in reading or spoken language. The famous and oft-cited Hart and Risley[1] study suggests that children from professional families hear 32 million words more than their disadvantaged peers before the age of 4, and that this – more than anything else – predicts achievement gaps in later life. This highlights just how important having a strong foundational vocabulary is for young people in the classroom and beyond. The word gap in the time of COVID-19 The pandemic has presented schools and young people with a myriad of challenges. Unfortunately, for many pupils, COVID-19 has further entrenched the disadvantages that our poorest and most vulnerable pupils have always faced. After missing out on months of face-to-face teaching, the vocabulary gap has widened further - and with Key Stage 4 fast approaching for many pupils, time is running short. Now that we are back in the classroom, teachers are feeling the impact of school closures on their students’ progress. A recent study found that 92% of teachers have confirmed that school closures and remote learning have contributed towards a widening of the word gap. Our concerns as a profession have prompted many conversations about how best to support young people to catch up in a post-COVID world. Closing the word gap is perhaps one of the most high-leverage approaches we can take to support our most vulnerable with the academic challenges they now face. In the aftermath of a global pandemic, doing everything we can to close this gap has never been more urgent or important. Start at Key Stage 3 At Key Stage 3, you can make a huge difference to your students’ chances of success at GCSE and beyond by embedding regular, systematic vocabulary instruction into their lessons. The renewed focus on rigorous literature in GCSE English Literature and English Language, as well as the increase in complexity of questioning across other subjects, has prompted us to think more strategically about how best to support those with less exposure to a broad vocabulary, and how to help them catch up with their peers. It only takes 15 minutes! Regular 15-minute doses of systematic vocabulary instruction can make big strides to bridging this gap. A practical resource to help you close the word gap A seminal text on vocabulary acquisition and teaching is Bringing Words to Life by Isabel Beck et al[2]. Beck’s book is a treasure trove of the research on reading and word-acquisition, and provides teachers with a framework for teaching new words effectively. Inspired by the methods laid out in Beck et al’s work, Building Brilliant Vocabulary: 60 lessons to close the vocabulary gap goes some way towards addressing the vocabulary gap. Building Brilliant Vocabulary is a fully-resourced vocabulary programme made up of 60 short, systematic and carefully sequenced 15-minute sessions. Specialist and non-specialists alike have the flexibility to teach each word as a standalone lesson or to integrate the activities carefully into lesson planning. In each lesson, a new word is introduced and taught using a tried and tested approach that: introduces words one at a time in a systematic, coherent fashion provides examples and non-examples to avoid misconceptions gives definitions and examples that provide students with a precise understanding of each word provides students with plenty of opportunities to practise understanding and using these new words in their own writing and speaking. Each lesson is designed to be flexible and intuitive for you to teach, and activities are designed to be accessible and student-friendly. Students see the word in multiple contexts, read about an interesting topic related to the word they are learning, and learn about its origins. They consolidate their learning with a final task that prompts them to practise using the word in their own writing. By introducing students to new words using this rigorous method that is backed by educational research, we can help to address the disadvantages that our children and young people face now more than ever. Inspired? Try some example activities with your class Explore words such as nostalgia, persistence, femininity and compassion. Download a free sample of Building Brilliant Vocabulary here   By Katie Ashford, literacy specialist and Deputy Head at Michaela Community School. Katie is also the author of Building Brilliant Vocabulary: 60 lessons to close the word gap in Key Stage 3   Read More
woman thinking with lightbulb above her head

Why it’s time to Reimagine Key Stage 3 English

Jo Heathcote is a teacher, coach, former AQA principal examiner for GCSE English/English Language, and author of  multiple Collins English resources, including the new Reimagine Key Stage 3 English. In this article, Jo explores why it’s time to re-think KS3 English and how you can use her nine knowledge-rich… Read More