A good thing



This thing happened and it was good.

There are times when something spontaneous happens in the classroom and the results are so unexpectedly cool that it is hard not to stop and enjoy.

We have had a big push on reading with our reluctant KS3 readers over the last couple of weeks. You know the kids I mean. These aren’t the bright, top set kids – who are reading Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man at the age of 12 – these kids are the ones who declare proudly “I’ve never read a book” or “I’ve only read one book ever – it was George’s Marvellous Medicine in year 3”. My personal favourite: “I hate reading.”

This is my class in year 8. Unsurprisingly they are mostly boys, mostly the cheeky ones you see cutting in the lunch queue, mostly the ones who haven’t made much progress.

It became obvious, when I picked this group up, that our KS3 curriculum wasn’t going to cut it. We needed to read, read, then read some more and then read and keep reading. At first most were struggling to read a sentence fluently. Some were unable to read words with three or more syllables. Remembering what we read from one week to the next was an issue. Trying, and learning to keep on trying, even when it got tricky and embarrassing, was as important as learning how to do the reading thing.

So far this year we have read two novels. I won’t bore you with which ones; nothing fancy, books had been sitting in our book cupboard for a few years. Chosen to meet the criteria of being just hard enough to aid learning and with a storyline that was relatively easy to hook onto and remember. After that we read a translation of Grendel and now we are reading non-fiction texts.

I won’t sugar coat it. Reading extended texts with this class is still tricky. Decoding, comprehension and inference skills are improving, but reading has never felt fun in these hours. Reading is still hard. Very hard.

Fast forward then to last week and World Book Day. We start every lesson with 10 minutes of silent reading – most are doing the Diary of Wimpy Kid thing, some have borrowed from my extensive collection of Horrible History books. They are reading though. Not just holding the books and daydreaming. Eyeballs move. Hands go up – “what’s this word Miss?”. Spontaneous comments “This book is funny Miss”. They are reading.

The non-fiction text of the week explained how chicken nuggets are made. Yep, it caused a stir. We tackled the vocabulary – consumption, tempura, raised (as in chicks raised in factories for consumption) etc. Yum!

I then posed the challenge. “I have never eaten a chicken nugget. Can you create a clear argument that would convince and persuade me to eat a nugget?” After the horrific realisation that they were in the same room as a vegetarian, we looked at writing an argument.

The kids wrote. We peer marked. I have worked hard with this class to develop their basic literacy skills through peer marking. We have a set of criteria and use it every lesson, it has numeric scores (i.e. if they have started every sentence with a capital letter, award them 5 marks) and the boys seem to like the clarity this presents. We champion improving on previous scores. They usually get house points if they are in the top 10%.


Here’s the thing that happened. It was World Book Day. I had been showing off some books that we had been sent and whooping generally about reading. Cheeky Billy piped up “Miss, I want that book. If I get top marks today, can I have it?”

My response was “Heck yes!” After all, what else was I going to do with these books?

Eight other voices called out – “Can I have one if I get good marks?” Affirmative from me.

And so the writing was on. The focus in the room was a notch higher than usual. Muttering could be heard “I need to use an exclamation mark”.

Writing done, peer marking completed, attempts to exploit the marking criteria were batted away and four books were handed out.

The whole class crowded around the box, giving their opinions on each option, helping the lucky four make their choices. Cheeky Billy lost out. His frustration was good humoured “I’ll give you my World Book Day voucher.” Then inspiration struck “Can I earn one tomorrow Miss?”

I grinned and nodded, booting them out the door to lunch and forgot about it.

The next morning, I was on gate duty, four of my gang of boys arrived after the bell shouting “I’m gonna earn that book today Miss.” And so last lesson on Friday afternoon arrived and the remaining gaggle of 11 kids proved themselves desperate to earn a book.

At the end of the lesson, there was pushing and shoving over the last two copies of Cuckoo Song by Francise Hardinge.

Let me repeat, these boys – self-declared haters of reading at the beginning of the year – were pushing and shoving over a book. A book. I could have wept with joy. My job is the best job in the world

Today a whole week later, they are still talking about it. Still telling me what is going on the books they are reading. Still telling their mates that I gave them a book. Still telling their parents that they earned a book at school.

This thing happened and it was good.


Hitting rock bottom

Rock bottom 1

I wonder if you have students at your school who had no hope of getting a C grade?

The ones whose FFTs are Es or Fs. The ones whose FFTs are Cs and Ds but nothing that happened in Years 7 – 11 gave any indication of how that could be. The ones who have complex (or even simple) needs and find learning tough. The ones who are never in school. The one who set the fire alarms off. The ones who SLT are always talking to in the corridors and on the playground.

As much as I love results day – and I do. And as much as I loved watching the faces of my top set when they saw their double A*s; it was the faces of the bottom set kids that I found myself seeking out. Knowing that they would be reading a list of Es, Fs and maybe Us.

You see, as well as teaching top set this year, I also taught bottom set. Two hours a week, Wednesday and Friday last lesson. With a group of 12 kids doing an English Only qualification. You might remember me talking about them in this post.

On Thursday, I watched those few who turned up to collect their results realise that they didn’t get what they wanted. For some of them it wasn’t even close. These are the kids where teachers will say “Well, he got 17 marks (out of 90) and I didn’t think he would do that!” or “An F grade is accurate.”

Whilst these maybe true, I wonder what it is like at the age of 16 to know that something has gone so badly wrong with your life already – that you need to start again, at the local College.

Rock bottom 2

It’s these kids and days like last Thursday that force me to have a cold, hard look at what I did wrong. (I know it’s not all my responsibility – despite what my PRP measure might say).
I feel like I say it every year – we can’t have another year like that.

So here’s my plan:

  1. The early bird catches the worm Our KS3 curriculum is pretty tight, very heavily weighted towards literature and knowledge. Whilst I love this – I have to ask myself whether a different provision might be needed for kids who have some of the fundamentals missing. You see, these kids need to read and be forced to read a lot. So at least half of their lessons will now include reading practice (phonics, reading aloud, guided reading strategies and all sorts of comprehension stuff). It’s time to look again at my Trust Me You can Read project
  2. Test them early, diagnose early, sort it early Running side by side with the above I think I know need a more effective way to test and diagnose reading age and reading skills. I know Katie Ashford at Michaela has blogged about this – although I don’t know this programme yet – I want to. I need data on these kids every term, every half term.
  3. Get my team on board My team are amazing, but by in large they are literature trained. We are lucky that 3 of us have all also taught TEFL. But until I started learning about phonics two years ago, none of us really knew how to teach a child to read. When a kid joins in Year 7, no matter what might have happened before – if I can’t teach them to read, then too much of secondary education is already lost.
  4. Get whole staff on board It’s interesting when you talk about phonics in a secondary school, the only people who know what you are talking about are parents. And most don’t like phonics. This year I will deliver whole staff training on phonics, reading and spelling strategies for all subjects. If we get these kids using the same approaches to reading key terms in Maths and Science as they do to reading a novel, then we have a hope of getting somewhere.
  5. Get parents (and their kids) on board Parent information evenings are great – however, I would like to see more parent workshops, where parents come in with their kids and work together on some of the kinds of tasks that they do in lessons. Providing parents with a little bit of information and lots of hassle-free opportunities to support their son or daughter in reading is better than saying “they need to read more” at parents’ evening.

I can’t say now whether this will have a big impact. I won’t stick my head in the sand anymore. It is a 5 year plan – starting at year 7, so we will just have to wait and see.

And because we all love a motivational poster:

rock bottom 3

Thank you for reading





Espresso Yourself

We heart school1

The first few hours or days back at school in September are hectic. While most schools encourage a full pelt return to hard learning – the sheer amount of admin that needs to be sorted means this isn’t always possible.

We are busy: sorting out seating plans, handing out new books, sorting out target sheets and stickers, homework schedules, SEN and TA resources.

Sometimes we just need a little bit of time.

For my new older classes – I like to gain 10 minutes or so with a few easy ‘get to know you’ activities.  But so I can muddle through the register and seating plan – I need this time to be quiet and calm.

Here’s one that I use for with my new Year 9 and Year 10 classes.

Espresso yourself blog

If you would like to use this – please help yourself: Espresso yourself


Book review: Raising Achievement by Caroline Bentley-Davies

Raising Achievement

The Teachers’ Pocketbook series is designed as handy overview of some the key areas of interest to teachers and school leaders. Raising Achievement does just that. Although it is easy to forget it is a pocketbook at all – so vast are the areas that Caroline Bentley-Davies manages to cover. At 128 pages including the myths of achievement; relevant research; metacognition; countless practical tips and a self-audit. There is nothing reduced or curtailed in this overview of raising achievement. Brevity and precision focus on the topic are what Caroline Bentley-Davies achieves and this is to our benefit.

The view here is holistic, there is no miracle cure for raising achievement – it cannot be done at the snap of our fingers, yet Caroline Bentley-Davies brings a lot of hope in her clear, strategic and practical approach. She covers honestly the issues for classroom teachers, students themselves, support teams, SLT and parents. The practical tips cover everything from first teaching strategies, to feedback, to revision. Sutton Trust and John Hattie are neatly segued into her practical thinking, as is Dweck’s Growth Mindset. While the case studies may be slightly obvious, Caroline Bentley-Davies highlights the gaps and errors we all make when we are hurrying through our curriculum.

Raising achievement is a thing, even in schools where results are good. There are always groups who are underachieving, they might not be pupil premium or able lazy boys, but they are there. It’s easy to think that if we just get on with good teaching then these groups should make progress like everyone. Right? No. It is clear from reading this book that I can look again at how I deal with the graffiti girls and sporting heroes in my school. But the best thing is – I don’t feel that crushing dread at the thought of tackling this issue, because now I have an overview of the ins and outs and some practical tips to try. I really like the idea of family learning – that’s first on my agenda.

I can honestly say I would never pick up a book with ‘raising achievement’ in its title. But I am glad I did.

I was provided a free copy of this book by the author in return for a fair review.

Always look on the bright side of life


Motivational posterLanguage is a wonderful and precious double-edged sword. It has the ability to build and create but can just as easily destroy.

I have a very distinct memory from my time as a secondary school pupil – it was an assembly. We were informed in clear and definite terms that things had changed and it was no longer acceptable to refer to someone as ‘coloured’. That term – too connected to South Africa, apartheid – now held such unpleasant connotations that we needed to drop it.  And so we did.

At various times in my teaching career, words have been banned. Words ‘like’ or ‘ain’t’ are popular – and when well communicated most students see the benefit of being able to express an idea without them.  I worked in Croydon when one famous academy chain banned a whole bunch of words, putting a sign up saying “we woz” is banned. The irony.

‘Basically’ is the classic student sentence opener these days. When students use it – I blame myself.  It’s a filler word, they haven’t clearly formed an answer because I probably didn’t give them enough thinking time.  So I stop, allow time and start again.

All of the above shaping of language seems acceptable, doesn’t it? It is either curtailing prejudice or you know, like, stuff that basically makes you look less cleverer. But who decides what is acceptable or unacceptable?  Where the line between hate-talk and censorship falls?

In 2012, the US Department of Education created a list of words that it wanted removed from classrooms.  It contains some hilarious entries – dinosaur (for creationists among us) and Halloween.  These silly additions belie the worrying undercurrent of some of the other words on the list.  Poverty. Abuse. Freedom. War.  Slavery. Terrorism. Homelessness.

The legislation of language is something that I find troubling in general.  Each year I have to retackle my thinking on it – the ‘nigger’ in Of Mice and Men (or the ‘bitch, slut, tramp, tart’ – although we don’t seem to mind that so much) – forces me to grapple with whether language should or can be censored. And if indeed whether language is the problem at all.

Banning words – one example would be the word ‘banter’ – does not stop teasing or cruelty.  Does censoring student language, help them change their behaviour? Is this what happened when we stopped using the word ‘coloured’? I don’t think so.

The opposite works equally. The muttering over and over of positivity does not necessarily result in rainbows and unicorns.  Singing ‘all things bright and beautiful’ does not the weather change. But I do know many, many people who find comfort in the language of positive thought (religious or otherwise) and are convinced that it can lift the spirits.

How do we decide what approach should be used and enforced in school?  Who should decide this?

I am deeply uncomfortable with banning words – I am happy, always happy, to talk about words and the power that words have.

I am deeply uncomfortable with the use of words to control behaviour. Even when this is designed for positive effect. I don’t like maxims or tenets or sayings – I understand rhetoric, please don’t ask me to use rhetoric that is so hollow, it is in fact empty.

Here’s what I will do:

Talk about words and why words are powerful.

Talk about why words should be spoken with thought.

Explore the responsibility we have for the impact of our words.





Should teachers buy or sell resources?


The first of two posts thinking through how buying and selling teaching resources isn’t the seventh circle of hell that some might think…

This year – for the first time – I have spent my own money on lessons (made and sold by someone else) to use in my classroom. And – now having thought about it – I don’t mind at all.

I know our salaries are squeezed by the unaccounted for costs of teaching – a study guide for a new text; a set of biros or laminating pouches. We buy critical readings for A Level texts, or DVDs, or posters. Edu-books and events like ResearchED now also appear on my list of expenditure – all of these help me think and develop as a teacher. It would be nice if my school could give me a pot of cash to spend on the above, I recognise that it can’t happen often, so I make my own judgement about what I am happy to spend on (and what I am not).

Last Autumn whilst tackling a gap in subject knowledge – I came across TeachersPayTeachers. If you’ve never heard of it, the American grassroots organisation is a glossier cousin to TES Resources. Here teachers across primary and secondary buy and sell ‘products’.

I was helping, via Skype, the child of a friend who was struggling with studying Huckleberry Finn. He’s American, living in the Middle East, and needed some guidance before an exam that would enable him to re-enter mainstream education in US. I hadn’t read Huckleberry Finn in 20 years and certainly had never taught it. My time was limited and a simple Google search brought me to the doorstep of TeachersPayTeachers.

For the princely sum of $6.00 (about £4.00) I purchased a PDF file of 80+ pages of literary analysis which saved my bacon that week.  The analysis was more detailed than a study guide or anything found for free on the internet.  I was impressed and went back to poke around the site some more.

The startling difference from freebie-style resources on sites, like TES, is the products on TPT are slick, well-designed and fit for purpose (the obvious caveat here being I have checked out all of them).

I have since made a number of purchases from the site – all of them were exactly as described, were value for money (when set against my time saved) and without the standard TES apostrophe, grammar, spelling mistakes.

Whilst many of the resources for sale might have started out as classroom lessons or worksheets – it isn’t good enough to just upload your Sunday night rushed PowerPoint to this site. There are rules and advisory guidelines that expound that need to be thoughtful, high quality, clear and customer friendly. It seems that hours and hours are spent creating resources that will match precisely the needs of classroom teacher customers – whether it is algebra or world history or Ezra Pound’s poetry – someone has considered the subject area from my point of view and spent time working out what I might need.

Teachers in the USA can and have made a lot of money from TPT, and who can blame them, given the uncertainty of teaching employment contracts and pay in the US.

But selling resources isn’t an idea that many in the UK are comfortable with. I wonder why – is it that the idea of selling something is in direct opposition to the altruism of a public service job?  Many blanche at the idea of monetising resources – another step towards the capitalism – but I think we are already there.  We will buy resources from EMC but if a colleague has created something genuinely valuable and wants share this – the expectation is that he should do it for free. Again, I ask, why?

Textbooks are on the way back in, another huge cost.  I’ve just reviewed the latest batch of KS3 textbooks from one of the big exam boards and I wasn’t impressed. They contained no deep learning. Just the same old activities, gap-fills, tables and card sorts. The £600 expenditure for a batch would not be value for money. For every double page spread – there was probably one activity I would consider using. Why? Because they aren’t written by the people on the ground.

Classroom teachers are the experts. If they are willing to share it for free – then great, but given their time is saving me time – I have no problem parting with what is a small amount of money in return. These individuals are not out to make a cheap buck. They are thoughtful practitioners sharing ways to access learning – could they possibly deserve to be paid for it?

If I make the choice to spend my money, then I would rather put it directly into the pocket of another teacher, than the TES, Teachit, Edusites or Pearson. And as it turns out – it’s better value for money.


Isn’t that when a man dresses up as a woman?

It was Friday, lesson 5.  The first week back after the holidays was a scorcher.  Our rooms go from pleasantly warm to Primark sweatbox by lunchtime. Children and adults alike are ‘well-done’ by the end of the day.

Added to that Year 11 are on the big countdown. You can’t walk down a corridor without spotting a member of SLT carrying out a Year 11 intervention. I know that my Year 11 lessons are going to be ‘checked’. Not because I am a worry, but to ensure the children are taking the exam prep as seriously as us grown ups are.

Thank the good Lord that no one came into my lesson p5 yesterday.

In the world of checklists, tick boxes and interventions it would have been an epic fail.  The LO was “How do I study an unseen text?”

The starter task was – can you define the following terms:

  • Feminism
  • Sexism
  • Misogyny
  • Gender equality
  • Gender stereotypes

We were going to read the Emma Watson speech – analyse the persuasive techniques and look at the various responses.  This is the text we were due to read that lesson.  Gender – Emma W

We never made it that far. We did not get past the starter task.  This year 11 class is small, 11 students, 8 boys, 3 girls.  Absence is high. Motivation to succeed is also high – now. But knowledge and skills are still being developed. They are weak and slow readers. More often than not, they misunderstand what they read and they understanding is coloured by misunderstandings of the world as a whole.

This class thought that feminism was when a man dresses up in women’s clothing.  So that’s where we started. Here’s what came next.

The history of gender in England – from chattels and the value of virginity, through to 1970s feminist thinking.

We talked about why women were treated differently and why it still happens. Many of the boys openly recognised their own biases, but also admitted they had never considered whether it was wrong for a newspaper to print images of topless women.

We talked about sexism in school, in the workplace and in society. And they learnt the word ‘discrimination’ which they had all heard before, but thought it meant something to do with crimes.  Which, now I think about it, it kind of does.

Then we talked about the oppression – new word – of women in different countries. About FGM, which they had never heard of and were horrified by. The age of consent and inheritance via the male line. We discussed activities that are considered female and why that is.

How to tackle the problem of people’s attitudes and thoughts, when something has been that way forever. We learnt the phrase ‘status quo’.

We talked about misogyny and how it’s funny that men can have such cruel thoughts and ideas about women, and still want them sex (and cooking!).

And we asked ourselves if sometimes we have thoughts and ideas that are sexist or discriminatory.  Then we talked about how unfair it is to label other people.

After watching this, we discussed whether it’s important for men to take action as well as women.

We finished with the word “they” and how it is perhaps one of the most dangerous words in the English language.

One hour later and I hadn’t helped them get ready for their Exam, but I am hoping that I helped them get a little bit more ready for life.


The writing’s on the wall

Writing on the wall

(Errr – don’t watch this if the sweary offends you).

I’m from a very religious family.  My step-dad is a former RAF Chaplain (and served in the Falkland Islands) and is now an itinerant vicar (which is not the same as what George and Lennie were); my brother is a vicar.  I grew up steeped in religious tradition – from churches were the communion wine is golden to ones where they play guitars and dance.  One of my best friends from university now runs a church, in fact many of our good friends run / lead churches.  My husband is somewhat of a philosophical theologian.

Whilst my own personal beliefs have become more confused and contrary with age, I am enduringly grateful for my upbringing.  Not least when it comes to teaching literature.

You see – I can spot a biblical allusion at 50 paces.

*The purpose of this introduction is to contextualise some of mild irreverence below.*

Kids these days…

Have no clue about the Bible and why should they? Yet, this absence of knowledge results in pupils often struggling to identify and understand many of deep running threads in literature.

king arthur

I often describe the need for deep subject knowledge as being like a tapestry – it is complex and interwoven, creating an overarching picture with mini-scenes within.  Threads are drawn upon as needed but always remain embedded in and attached to the big picture.

Yet – if this tapestry is English literature – then much of what we study (if not all) was written in a time when religion and religious ideologies were key to moral and ethical outlook, social norms, thoughts on the creation of wealth and society and the nature of life and death itself.  Rightly or wrongly identity itself, for much of history, was shaped by religion.

king arthur s

Some may disagree – but I would argue that religion was the predominant ideology of English Literature right up until World War I.

Thus over 700 years of written literature is interwoven into a tapestry where life and religion were twisted threads.

Therefore, to study, understand and enjoy literature – knowledge of religion and the religious texts, such as the Bible, is essential.

How should we manoeuvre this camel through the needle’s eye?

It’s easy, as with all things historical context based, to bolt this knowledge onto a unit of work.

You’re teaching Great Expectations – you paraphrase the parable of the Prodigal Son.
The Lord of the Flies – well, that’s just one big Biblical allusion, although you could just summarise beginning of Genesis and then skip to the New Testament…
The Handmaid’s Tale – same.

Whilst this approach works for individual texts, it doesn’t allow students to develop an overall bank of knowledge that they can rely on. It robs them of the cultural knowledge that is part of our history, as well as our literature.

I like what ED Hirsch has to say in The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy:

No one in the English-speaking world can be considered literate without a basic knowledge of the Bible. … All educated speakers of American English need to understand what is meant when someone describes a contest as being between David and Goliath, or whether a person who has the “wisdom of Solomon” is wise or foolish, or whether saying “My cup runneth over” means the person feels fortunate or unfortunate. Those who cannot understand such allusions cannot fully participate in literate English.

Ref: See the link to the Core Knowledge website below:

But this piecemeal approach is not enough

Religious imagery (both positive and negative) pervades culture still.  By only teaching what is needed to tackle one text, we are not weaving the tapestry.

My long goal is create specific units of work that study ‘allusion’ in KS3, knowledge units that study Biblical knowledge as well as mythology from Greek, Roman, English heritage. Not just studying the stories but also studying representations of these stories, characters and ideas throughout literature.

I’m awhile away from being able to do that, so here’s the stop-gap:

At the moment, I teach these as explicit, out-of-context starters in year 9.  Whilst I am aware this isn’t ideal – I do feel that some knowledge is better than none, for now.

Teaching Biblical characters who have become literary “clichés”

Here’s the list of biblical characters and stories that I teach, with some examples below:

Old Testament:
Adam and Eve
Cain and Abel
David (and Goliath)
Joseph (and his cheerful coat)
Lot and often more importantly Lot’s Wife
Noah (and the Flood)

New Testament:
John the Baptist
Mary (mother of Jesus)
Peter (the rock)
Paul (Saul)
Pontius Pilate
*The Holy Spirit*

solomon 2

Top Bible stories to know:

Old Testament:
Creation – Genesis 1 and 2, Adam & Eve, the apple, the snake, the Garden of Eden etc
Cain & Abel – the first death, the first murder
The Flood – the rain, the boat, the animals, the rainbow, the dove.
Jonah and the whale – I didn’t put Jonah as a character above because his story isn’t really all that without the whale. It’s a great narrative about rebellion, trust and redemption.
The Tower of Babel – the arrogance of man and the birth of language.
Moses and the Ten Commandments – what happens at the top of the mountain and what happens when you get down again.
Job – misery loves company.

New Testament:
The birth of Jesus – rather than the nativity itself, I tend to focus on King Herod and the baby genocide, the astronomers and following a star and then idea of the birth of a new humanity and the age of harmony with God.
The story of John the Baptist (or ‘always the bridesmaid, never the bride)
The Beatitudes
The Good Samaritan
The resurrection of Lazarus
The Parable of the Prodigal Son
The “Let he who has no sin cast the first stone” story
The betrayal of Judas
The Crucifixion and Resurrection – tend to look at nature imagery and Christ figures.


Famous phrases

Well, this is a list too far.  I really like the list of characters, stories and phrases gathered by the Core Knowledge team.  It can be found here along with some wisdom on why we should teach Biblical knowledge.

Also because Biblical allusion among other things is tested under the AP Literature curriculum – there are loads of fabulous sites that have lists of biblical phrases etc.  This is one is quite good for common Biblical phrases and I like this PDF because it has a bunch of useful literary, biblical and historical allusions.

What to test your knowledge of Biblical reference and allusion? Have a go at this BBC quiz!

I’d love to hear how you teach Biblical knowledge and allusion, please do let me know.

Thanks for reading.




It was implied


Are inferred meanings and implied meanings the same thing?

On face of it, these two definitions are pretty similar (or in fact, the same).  It’s the old “read between the lines” mantra we use so much in English.



But perhaps they aren’t exactly the same.

An inferred meaning is a conjuncture or a theory – it could be that more than one idea is inferred.  We use deduction from the evidence available to draw a conclusion. We may disagree. We may be wrong. Or right.

One of the problems with inference in literature is that most of the writers we study are dead and so we can’t ask them if our deductions are accurate or not.

Take Curley’s Wife for example:

omam 1

Steinbeck describes her as ‘a girl’ – the different theories about what can inferred from this include her innocence and contrastingly her immaturity.  Our choice of which theory is correct is shaped by our own person bias.

Depending on our reading of the rest of the paragraph (or novel) we may create conclusions and stick with them.

We don’t know for a fact what John Steinbeck was implying. We can infer an idea. We cannot state a truth.

Implication seems a little more solid than inference.  Implication hints of facts and truths, of rights and wrongs.

Take Henry James’ novella, The Turn of the Screw. It often prompts much debate. Is the governess mad or are the ghosts real? If you’re looking for a text that is ripe for inference – look no further than this crooked tale.

Yet, when asked about the different theories, James himself only ever referred to the story as ‘a nice little potboiler’.  He never outright declared allegiance to either side, but the truth is implied by this statement – he needed to make money, and quickly after the disaster of Guy Domville, The Turn of the Screw served its purpose.  The implication being that James did not consciously take the time and thought needed to design a complex psychological tale.

That’s one of the reasons why I love him – his genius was as repressed as the rest of him.

Back to inference and implication – it’s not trick of fate that my example for implication was real-life.  Implication – being intrinsically linked to fact – is more likely to be needed with real-world texts.

As I tackle more and more non-fiction in my classroom, I find myself asking “what is the implication here?” not “what is inferred?”.

Yet I don’t, or least wasn’t, teaching it.

When reading and studying non-fiction texts we often read them at surface level for fact alone and skip forward to spotting rhetorical techniques.

Take this example from the CIE Paper 3 in June last year.

cie paper

The Directed Writing paper expects top band students to be able to tackle the facts of the article and its implied meanings.

The facts presented here are clear – extinction of some species is expected, and it can be avoided, in part, by protecting these species in zoos and safari parks.

What are the implied meanings here?

This is a little more tricky – the writer mentions sabre-toothed tigers and woolly mammoths which became extinct due to the Quaternary extinction event, not caused by humans. Actually I’m not sure that’s what happened to sabre-toothed tigers – but I’m in an exam hall and can hardly google it.

One implication could be that in the past animals have become extinct due to natural causes (survival of the fittest), whereas today, the increasing demands of the human population are causing early or unnecessary extinction events (survival of the fittest mark 2).

In addition to that, the comparison between the protection of species in zoos and visiting them in their natural habitats again seems open to us drawing some kind of conclusion.  Perhaps that the suggestion within the text seems to be wholly focussed on the human experience and does not value the needs to wild animals to live in the wild.

You can see how hard these conclusions are to draw. Particularly in one hour in an exam room and on a subject that you have little or no knowledge of.

So, how do we teach students to find the implied meanings in non-fictions texts?

There is no magic bullet, there doesn’t need to be. As soon as this became a conscious need – it shaped my questioning and the quality of tasks that I set.

Yet the outcomes were immense, a quality of understanding and interpretation of non-fiction that exceeded basic factual knowledge. A thoroughness of thought.

The pace of my lessons reduced though.  This is the kind of thinking that hurts the first few times. Hurts a lot. But that’s good.

Here are some of the ways we look for implied meanings in my classroom:

  1. You can’t fault a thirst for knowledge. Encourage a real passion for knowledge of the world we live in.
  2. Get doing it. Together first.  Exactly the same as inference in fiction – short extracts, modelled time and again.
  3. Set non-fiction texts as reading homeworks, looking for implied meaning.
    Again – initially with guided questions, then with no prompts at all.
  4. Watch the news, listen to the radio, speak to your friends – communication is full of implied meanings. Get finding them.

Ok, here’s your homework. Implied meanings?


It turns out the sometimes semantics can make you a better teacher.

I will upload some of my starters after the weekend.

Thank you for reading.