Stained glass window essay plan

I recently attended two TeachMeets, #TMEng organised by the amazing @Xris32, all the way in Derby, was a fabulous opportunity to meet some English teacher friends made via Twitter. I was surprised by how important it was for me to see these virtual friends face to face.  I also attended (and organised – more on that in another post) #TMLiteracy.

The problem (and joy) of these events is presenting your own teaching ideas or activities.  Whilst not mandatory, this grassroots movement only works with a level of participation from all.  As a I result, I find myself thinking up even more wild (or outlandish – to quote one colleague) activities to ensure I have something interesting and new to share.

This is how the stained glass window essay plan was born.

It started with this picture on Pinterest (, I look at it every now and again and think it would make an excellent visual map for how ideas in a text connect.  I have columns in my classroom and I imagined it would look marvellous.


So this idea has been growing mould in my mind for a while now.  But never really getting clear enough for me to do anything with.

At the same time, as I have previously mentioned, I am busily working with my year 12 students on developing some deep independent analysis skills for our exam and coursework texts.  The next point on this journey is how to turn all of their thinking into something that would benefit the whole class and become a structured piece of writing.

It seemed the ideal time to get all web-like and sticky.  Unfortunately my sixth form lessons are taught in a science lab (!) and therefore my web needed to be portable.

stained glass 1

Backing paper and double-sided sticky tape (thanks Poundland) fixed up an almost perfect copy.

Students then in groups worked on one theme in our comparative texts (Streetcar and On Chesil Beach).  They drew together all their independent analysis and created the flow of an essay paragraph on different colour pieces of paper:

stained glass 2

  • Blue = idea
  • Yellow   = comparative thesis statements
  • Green = quotes from both texts
  • Purple = critical viewpoints
  • Red = context
  • White = critical / scholastic terminology

The challenge was then to bleed / blend one idea into another, so linking power (top left) with gender (middle left) with identity (middle right) with history (bottom right) and love (top right).  We still have some way to go, there are more connections to make – for example between power and love or history and love.

stained glass 3

Given the coursework essay choices (see below), this proves to be a comprehensive and useful working document for us.

Option 1:
“A man’s face is his autobiography. A woman’s face is her work of fiction.”  (Oscar Wilde)
Explore how gender differences are portrayed in On Chesil Beach and A Streetcar Named Desire.

Option 2:
“The entire course of life can be changed by doing nothing” (Ian McEwan)
Explore how time and place shape the characters in On Chesil Beach and A Streetcar Named Desire.

Option 3:
“Love is a risk, not always worth taking”
Explore the ways in personal tragedy and relational tragedy are portrayed in On Chesil Beach and A Streetcar Named Desire.

If you try this activity, please do let me know how it goes!


One thought on “Stained glass window essay plan

  1. I LOVE this idea–both the visual nature of it and the complex thinking that it requires. I am always a big fan of web and graphic organizers and have used a number of the ideas from “Making Thinking Visible”. This fits right in. The lines suggest the connections and the spaces leave room for images, symbols, etc. I am definitely going to try this with my class. Thank you for sharing.


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