Sensational sentences #3

I was pushing the boundaries a little with this one.  My year 12 literature class study Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw.  I love it.  The ambiguity makes it a fantastic text for debate.  James’ style and narrative makes him an equally fantastic model for writing lower down the school.  We don’t normally teach this more advanced form of rhetoric, however children hear it all the time, and so it seems familiar and less daunting that having to write a whole bunch of sentences with no guide at all.

Here are some of my favourites from this year, examples from year 7 and year 9 this time.



Year 9, a piece of original writing based on the character of Ralph in Lord of the Flies.

We shan’t wait until the time is right,
We shan’t fade into the darkness,
We shan’t let them steal our hope,
We shan’t be silent any longer.
We shall stand for what is right,
We shall keep hold of truth,
We shall remember,
We shall go home!

Antimetabole (which I pronounce – An-Tim-Ta-Bowl)


Year 7, original writing as part of our dystopian fiction work.

In the darkness of our society, hope gleams a light.  Light gleams as hope breaks the darkness in our society.

Pain and truth are forged together, linked until crushed by the Tech.  Together, forged are truth and pain, Tech crush what they have linked.

And finally, Anadiplosis (no, not a type of dinosaur):


Examples here from both year 7 dystopian fiction writing and year 9 Lord of Flies responses:

He clung on, hoping against all hope that the rain would come.  The rain would come soon enough, but would the storm follow?

The patrol hovered, waiting.  Waiting, almost impossible to detect, as the battle raged on.

Piggy shuddered, aware that his breathing creaked and stuttered, echoing off the rocks.  Echoing off the rocks too the sound of chanting, of feasting and that meant food.

More sensational sentences to follow soon!


Visual learning

Today I spent an hour clearing out my year 12 resources box.  I only have one year left of teaching The Turn of the Screw, On Chesil Beach and A Streetcar Named Desire – I’m not happy the specs are changing.  These 3 texts have grown on me.

During my tidying, I realised just how much of a visual learner I am.  As the texts we study are not popular A level texts I find myself making a lot of resources.  It seems my approach has been pretty visual.  For someone who got a D at GCSE Art, I’m pretty pleased with some of these.












Now that I look at it, many of the activities I have done in response to texts this year do  seem to have a visual theme.

Colour coded quote gathering:

Quote gathering



Different layers of meaning:

Different layers of meaning 2


Visual essay writing:

Colour coded essay


Make it Monday (kinda)…Time lapsing it

A couple of months ago, I was introduced to the joys of time lapse photography by my 11 year old.  I have used it a number of times now and have decided it is possibly my favourite reflective tool.

For those of you who can’t imagine it, here is one I found on the internet (there is no way I am uploading my ones – I value my job too highly).

I filmed my time lapses by using Lapse It (for Android) on my tablet but I have also seen some fab ones filmed with iMotion (for ipad).  I have no idea how one would approach it using a normal camera, but I’m sure it’s possible.  Finding a good place to prop up my tablet was my greatest challenge.

The benefits for me in terms of reflection were:

  • It allowed me to see roughly how long students were spending on activities (independent, whole class, collaborative etc) and which students “flagged” first.
  • I could focus on individuals or groups of students to see the reality after I gave an instruction.
  • As a whole class, I could see quite easily how engaged and how active students were about their learning.
  • I was able to watch my interaction with students and the interaction of my LSAs to see whether any were left behind (yes some were).
  • As an English teacher, I am always concerned about spending too much time reading and too little time writing – I was able to judge at what point the first students started to drift and at what point most students had lost concentration (the average was between 2 mins  – 7 mins into reading!).

Now you may say, I should know this stuff already and I did (intuitively) but now I have hard evidence I can go back to next year.  I can look at my planning, my use of LSAs, how long we read for and write for, when we do reading and writing, my movement around the room and how fun my learning time is and see it with a new pair of eyes.

And best of all, my lessons are reduced to 1.5 mins each!

Words on Wednesday…

Ok, so I’m out of sync with the days again.  Sorry.

Spelling and vocabulary.  Not an easy one to tackle at secondary level, especially given the pressures of the curriculum.

I love words, I guess that comes of being married to an ex-wordsmith, I love the sounds of words and the fun I can have gluing them together.

I’m guttered that kids don’t always share my love of words.   I have tried a little this year to up my game in terms of words and wordsmithing in class.

Words on Wednesday

Words on Wednesday is a simple vocabulary exercise.  I chose Wednesday (not just because of the nice alliteration) because I taught all day and that gave me more opportunities to try out new vocabulary.  I taught 4 new words to each class, tailoring the choices to the content we were covering, but ensuring my usage examples were not too easy just to copy.  The examples below were from my year 10 unit 1 non-fiction writing CA on reading.

The key for Words on Wednesday was that students would get a prize if they were able to come up to me at any point during the following week and get one of our Wednesday words into conversation without forcing it.  This became a point of much hilarity with my year 10s, examples whilst I was on duty in the student dining hall included  – “It is futile asking X to roll her skirt down miss”; “Miss, we need a better incentive to buy healthy food” and finally as the bell rings “Miss I am reticent to attend X lesson today.”  I love those year 10s.

words on wednesday 1

Words on Wednesday 2

Another life saver this year has been this book.  The LSAs I work with have been tireless in trying to find a practical and useful spelling book that we can use with students.  Our spelling / handwriting intervention is usually done in a very small (20 min) tutor time slot at lunch.  As such we have needed a resource that can make a difference under limited circumstances.  Handling Spelling has proved its weight in gold.  It is out of print but you can get secondhand copies from Amazon still.

Spelling book

Treasure box 

Did you know that thesaurus literally means treasure box?

treasure box

(Don’t believe me –

I love this because words are treasure.

So this year I made a literal thesaurus in my classroom and have spent the year filling it with as much treasure as possible.

Go to my downloads page to get a pdf of the first batch of treasure I included.

Today I am reinventing the wheel…

In April 2012 I was asked to create a specialised literacy lesson that would be delivered to our lowest ability year 7 students. Essentially they would have 4 lessons of English a week, one named literacy and this would try and top up some of their basic skills.

At the time I was an NQT, keen as a bean, and relished the idea of being ‘in-charge’ of something all my own.  With no particular experience in literacy (although a better than average grammar knowledge thanks to TEFL) I jumped straight in, writing 30 odd lessons that would “transform” these left behind ones.

It was hard to find resources and ideas that weren’t aimed at younger children, and one year on, I think this is still one of my greatest annoyances.  There is a huge gap between a year 6 kid and a year 7, I should know – I have my own.  A year 6 kid will still follow instructions, will put their hand up (even at home), and will still play imaginary games.  A year 7 kid will slam doors, change outfits 4 times before going out and will only communicate via technology.  Although this perhaps tells you more about bringing up girls.

My saving graces in terms of thinking and planning were:

Pinterest – if you haven’t discovered Pinterest yet, I suggest you check it out.  You can follow me here –


Hot Fudge Monday – a fantastically fun and sassy activity book based around sentence structure and parts of speech.  It’s pretty American, so I have needed to do some tweaking but I would recommend this to every literacy teacher out there.

Hot fudge Monday

Unjournalling – another American book and a Language Arts idea.  10 – 15 mins of every lesson spent writing based on an idea, a picture or a prompt.  See below for a 10 min free write story written by one of my literacy students.


A little bit of unjournalling – the prompt was this picture and sentence starter (thanks to for the inspiration).

unjournalling 2

Although Olivia suspected that something was living under her bed, she never had proof until the night of her eighth birthday, when a pair of hairy, hideous, revolting hands slid out stretching its fingers towards her.  Screaming, petrified Olivia froze.  Waiting for her dad to save her.

Bursting in, slamming the door he crept in, with caution he looked around as he reached for his Colt 1911.  Aiming and without hesitation, he fired two rounds. 

The hands slithered back under Olivia’s bed, she pounced into her dad’s arms and cried out, “we need to leave daddy.”

“Okay,” he replied softly.

Scared for his family, Olivia’s father decided to ensure the creature could never threaten them again.  They would leave but not until it was destroyed.  With calm confidence he poured petrol around the lower floor of his cursed home, and without looking back, he threw a lighted match into the darkness.

“Wow” said Olivia, looking out of her new bedroom window, “I can see the ocean!” She squealed with delight.

Later than night, Olivia crawled into her new bedroom, looking around her new room with pleasure.  No more terror.  But she couldn’t sleep, she was so excited for her new home and her new life.  She crept down to the kitchen to fetch a glass of water.  Sneakily, she stole a biscuit from the new cookie jar.  Sighing with happiness, she crawled back into her bed.

Olivia’s father finished unpacking his work stuff and turned the downstairs lights off.  Before going to his room, he poked his head into Olivia’s bedroom to check on her.  Her bed was empty. 

Reinventing the wheel…

So, why am I sharing of all this today?

Well because today I am going to reinvent that wheel.  Last year I had energy and enthusiasm.  Now (thankfully) I still have those, but I also have a little bit more knowledge, a little bit more experience and a little more of an idea about what these kids need.

So September will bring another new batch of year 7s, another scheme of work and I hope some more fun.

If you are interested in having a copy of my new upcycled scheme of work (or even the old one) let me know.

Sensational sentences #2

In my last post I mentioned various attempts to encourage students to write in a more engaging manner.  I was looking for less clunky, less mechanical (you’ll get the “less, less, more, more” reference in a minute) and with more joy in words, more fun in their writing.

Here are a few more ideas that have worked (stolen from @Xris32’s sentence project again – I can’t recommend it enough).

The “more, more” sentence seemed particularly popular with my students as their worked to rewrite the end of Dracula.  I think they liked the dramatics of it.

The more more (2)

  • The more screams, the more pain, the more death, the more doom.
  • High above the clouds I watched the pieces shatter, more pain, more weeping, more sorrow.
  • The more he thought, the more he cared, the more he died inside.
  • He was tired, the more tired he got, the more angry he became, the more angry he became, the more violence controlled him.
  • The more she watched, the  more she died as well.

Having said that, the “less, less” sentence was not to be outdone.

The less less

  • The less he backed off, the less it hurt, the less he felt, the less he cared.
  • The less he succeeded, the less he valued.
  • The closer he approached, the less she felt joy, the less she breathed, the less she lived.

More sensational sentences to follow soon…

Sensational sentences #1

My students struggle to write in a way that is engaging and inspiring.  They disagree with me, of course.  They think what they write is just fine.  And because most of their reading matter is texts from their mates or the sports pages, I can’t really argue.  So we had a little competition this last term to see who can write the most sensational sentences.  The idea was sparked by @Xris32 (also at and his sentence structures project.   If you are literacy or an English teacher and aren’t involved, get hold on board.

The next few posts will be dedicated to some of the best from my year 7s:

Sensational sentences #1

Based on Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities but given a futuristic, dystopian edge.  Imagine a world where you are controlled by the government (I know, I said “imagine” right).

It was the best of spy technology;
It was the worst of times for humanity;
It was an age of eternity;Examples Sensational sentences 2It was an age of control;
It was an epoch of destruction;
It was an epoch of true evil;
It was a season of despair;
It was a season of hell.

Sensational sentences #2

Next came our shaped sentences based on Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.

My personal favourite is the renamed facebook, I-C-U.
Examples Shaped sentences

More sensational sentences to follow…

Make it Monday (err…Wednesday)

The holidays are here, which means the return of Make It Monday.  As all you teachery types know, we lose track of the days once the hols start, so you’ll forgive me if this week’s Make It arrives on a Wednesday.

We have a lot of books in our house, enough to open a shop I’m sure.  Not all of them are worth reading.  So this summer, I intend to put some of this paper to better use.

Here is this week’s project:

You will need: one unsuspecting novel (as you can see no great works of literature were harmed in this project), a black pen, a pencil and some tippex.




Take out a few pages, I like books where the pages are somewhat weathered.


Next, draw round your outline (that bit is up to you) in pencil and then carefully go over your pencil line in tippex.



Repeat for as many letters (or whatevers) you need.

Finally, add definition by going around the inside of the white tippex line with a black fine liner.



Not a bad turnout for all of 15 mins work.  Now all I need is frames and I have some new classroom art.





Well, it’s finally the holidays and I’ve been looking back over some of my fav activities from this year.  For a long time, I’ve been looking for different ways to access and respond to non-fiction texts.  Kids often struggle with summarising, like the picture above I tend get back a recreated copy of the original rather than a true a summary.

I’ve tried a bunch of different things – here are a few that have worked for me.

Summarising with SUM


Although I really like this idea, it was too hard for the kids at first.  So I broke it down every more for them and taught each of the skills separately.

Firstly, skimming:


Next, scanning:


Finally, detailed reading and annotation:


These 3 steps seemed a much more engaging approach for students.  They were able to do both the skimming and scanning tasks without having to read every word.  Everything they picked out was connected to the main ideas in the texts.

The final activity enabled students to read in detail and make notes about their own response to the text, before discussing it as a whole classroom.

From this we moved back to summarise with SUM and the summary cube:


All in all, it’s taken a while but I think we are much more confident now.

Download resources for free here.

Extending student talk 1


Literacy is now defined as communication, reading and writing.  For me, it is no coincidence that they are listed in that order.  I see Student Talk and the first and greatest starting point to improving literacy.  If I can encourage articulacy, complexity and sophistication in dialogue, then I can demonstrate it in writing and I can analyse and evaluate it when reading.

Kids develop evaluation, critical and analytical skills verbally – this is demonstrated every time I overhear a teenage conversation.  These skills are intrinsic to the teen psyche.  I want to tap into that and exploit it in my lessons.  I believe students can learn to write well by having opportunities to talk well.

I also believe that given the opportunity to be more opinionated, more included, more valued, students will engage more and learn more in my lessons.

I choose a bunch of different strategies and activities to increase student talk in my lessons.  Here are a few that have worked well.

class coachThe class coach – here a nominated student acts as team coach for the whole lesson.  I allowed them to be in charge of rewards and sanctions, as appropriate.  They summarised our learning, asked questions to the class, clarified knowledge.

The secret success of this, is it doesn’t matter who you choose.  I made an effort to choose both the nosiest, most disruptive kids as well as the timid, meek ones.   Once the class realise they are engaging with a peer, rather than me, they love it.

Image50 questions in 50 minutes – this was a hard strategy for me.  When I get excited about a text or an idea, there is sometimes no stopping.  The idea behind this strategy was to limited my enthusiasm, in order to allow students more space to enthuse.

So I did not allow myself to speak during the lesson at all, unless it was to ask a question.  I worked out in advance about 70 questions that would led students through the learning experience, but I had to build enough leeway in that we could go with them and their answers.

My questions were not all higher ordered questions or particularly enlightened but at the end of the lesson, when I asked “what did you learn today?” The answer “that we don’t need you to tell us stuff.” Yes!

ImageThis strategy scared me witless when I first considered it.  But I have to admit, it does work.

Again, it takes some preparation and nerves of steel.  And I did end up using the evil eye more than once but it didn’t take long for the kids to work out that I wasn’t going to help them, or tell them what to do.  So they asked each other.  They figured it out and go on with it. They realised they didn’t need me, that had learnt all the skills already and just need to use them.