An English Teacher's Toolbox

An English teacher at a Secondary School in the UK. * Sharing and questioning the day job. * I teach KS3/4/5.
* Looking for inspiration and motivation, to share with others. * Looking to constantly improve and grow. * On Twitter at @MissBex_M *
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Doing this with Shakespeare next week! #Pedagoo #ukedchat #blackout


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The Kansas City Star is running a blackout poetry contest and wrote up some good tips for making your own poems, many of them from Newspaper Blackout. I thought I’d share some of them here, along with my own notes. New poems coming tomorrow! —AK

Use the newspaper.

LOL. I wanna do this… #ukedchat #engchat



Teacher’s Most Powerful Tool: Piquing Students’ Curiosity

Ramsey Musallam, a high school chemistry teacher from the San Francisco Bay Area, has been creatively using digital tools in his classroom for several years as a way to drive students to deeper inquiry. In a recent TED talk, Musallam says that a teacher’s strongest tool — the force that draws students deeper into learning — is piquing students’ curiosity. In his classroom, Musallam follows three rules: curiosity comes first, embrace the mess, and reflect and revise.


Recently, I was reading an article in May’s edition of 'Report' Magazine. The article, 'Conservation up for debate' inspired me, and ignited a need to explore and question the need to teach Speaking and Listening skills, explicitly, within the curriculum.

The article was penned by TV presenter Michaela Strachan, and although her passion for conservation is admirable, it was her comments on the application of ‘debate in the classroom’ that really caught my eye.

Strachan referenced the well-known Chinese proverb: “Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand” to support her ideas about conservation and debate being taught in the classroom.

However, to me it emphasised the need to model and practice the art of debating from an early age - in the same way we model and practice essay writing. This stronger focus on debating is relevant to the current KS3 and KS4 curriculum and examinations I’m delivering. In the article, Strachan states that 'every opinion needs debating', and that although relying on emotion and passion can mean for enjoyable experiences - it isn’t enough. Instead, it is far better to 'involve the kids by getting them to debate issues' and to 'get them researching the facts themselves and have a class debate'. Strachan’s insistence got me thinking…

With Speaking and Listening’s value currently hanging by a thread for KS4, from the Government’s point of view, I began thinking about how to explore debating at KS3. I completely agree with Strachan’s view that ‘when telling an audience about an emotionally charged subject, it is only fair to give both sides a voice’. We deliver this repeatedly when teaching pupils the skill of writing ‘to argue’ - but I think when doing speaking and listening I am guilty of focusing on purposes to inform and persuade, neglecting the need to teach pupils to verbally articulate balanced responses.


So, on reflection I asked myself: What can I do to change this?

One of the key preparations is to create a safe environment in which pupils can take risks, with confidence, and this can often be done in collaboration with the students - encouraging them to decide on the rules to create the right climate for learning.

Another change can be focusing on the importance of creating relevant, skills focused success criteria that are used consistently across the department (and school). In his excellent book “(2012) The Perfect Ofsted English Lesson”, David Didau details the importance of clear success criteria. I’m already a big fan of the s.c. and I include it in all independent tasks, but Didau succinctly explains that 'without them [success criteria] students will struggle to do what you want' and that the success criteria 'tells them how'. Didau builds on this saying that 'ideally, what we want are success criteria which move students from surface to deep understanding'.

Therefore, I believe that it is through modelling; deconstructing live examples; creating a safe environment, and clear success criteria that we can deliver the concept of debating effectively, and encourage students to apply these skills themselves.

How have you successfully taught debating? What strategies and activities have you employed?

Things to do with your English degree… awesome ;) #ukedchat


The Guardian: Exams chief warns against emphasis on English and maths GCSEs. Overall progress by pupils studying English and maths is a better measure of school performance than an over-emphasis on exam results, England’s exam regulator has told the government in response to its overhaul of…


Which viewpoint should you use?

As a writer you can choose to tell your story using first person, second person, or third person as your viewpoint. Different viewpoints suit different stories. Different tenses suit different types of stories. Memoirs, for example, are almost always written in first person present tense. Crime fiction, especially in the police procedural genre, is almost always written in third person past tense.

There are no absolute rules for choosing a viewpoint for your story. You can even choose to tell the story from multiple viewpoints, although we suggest you have no more than three per novel.

Once you’ve chosen there is one rule you should observe with viewpoint. Never change viewpoint in a scene. This confuses readers who like to be in one character’s head at a time.

We cover viewpoint in more depth on our Writers Write course, but I’ve put together some definitions, and examples here.

First Person – The character tells the story, using the pronoun ‘I’

Example: I walk into the room. I know he’s there in the darkness. I smile as I smell the sunshine and wind in his hair.

  1. Simple – One character tells the story. Example: Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
  2. Simple Unreliable Narrator – One character tells the story but we don’t know if he is telling the truth. Example: Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye
  3. Rashamon Effect – This means multiple characters tell their version of the same events in the story. Example: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner 
  4. Separate Multiple Viewpoints – This means multiple characters tell the story using first person perspectives. Example: blueeyed boy by Joanne Harris 
  5. Sequential Multiple Viewpoints – This means different characters tell the story from their perspective in a timeline or sequence. You may have Jane narrating events in January, Debbie narrating events from February to June, and Sarah in July. Example: The family sagas written by Susan Howatch
  6. First Person Omniscient - The narrator is a character in the story, but also knows the thoughts and feelings of all the other characters. Examples: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Second Person – The character tells the story using the pronoun ‘You’

Example: You walk into the room. You know he’s there in the darkness. You smile as you smell the sunshine and wind in his hair.

This is the least common of all viewpoints used by authors. It is used to make the reader feel uncomfortable. The character is often alienated or in an altered state. The reader feels as if he or she is being compelled to listen. Children do not like second person. Examples: Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney, Half Asleep In Frog Pajamas by Tom Robbins

Third Person – The narrator tells the story using the pronouns ‘He’ and ‘She’

Example: She walks into the room. She knows he’s there in the darkness. She smiles as she smells the sunshine and wind in his hair.

  1. Subjective – This means the author focuses on one character and his thoughts and feelings. It is similar to simple first person but the author uses ‘he’ instead of ‘I’. Examples: The Harry Bosch novels by Michael Connelly,The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.  (You can also use separate multiple viewpoints and sequential multiple viewpoints in third person subjective.)
  2. Omniscient – This means the author gives readers a broad view of the story. The thoughts and feelings of many, or all, the characters are shown. Examples: Jane Austen’s novels, Tom Clancy’s novels, Charles Dickens’ novels
  3. Objective – This means the author observes, and tells the story according to the actions of the characters. Readers have no idea what is going on inside the heads of the main characters. Examples:  Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway and The Mallory Novels by Carol O Connell 

By Amanda Patterson, author of Writers Write – how to write a novel

Something we’ve focused on in recent department meetings is how we, as individual class teachers, can reduce the amount of ‘teacher talk’ that’s happening.

Our acting HoD set us an interesting challenge before half term, to record the amount of time we ‘teacher talk’ in 6, 1 hour lessons. We then had to reflect and consider, a) at which points in the lesson were we talking the most and why? b) how did the pupils’ behaviour change at different points? and c) what strategies might we be able to employ to reduce the talk?

On reflection, I realised that for me the biggest amount of ‘teacher talk’ was at the start of the lesson, where I was setting up the context of the lesson and the task. One way I’ve dealt with this in the last few months is through the use of ‘bell work’ (see earlier post). This strategy enables students to be actively engaged immediately and independently, as the task requires little or no elaborate instruction from the teacher.
Here are 2 recent examples:




Both of these activities allow for complete independence as soon as the pupils enter the room. If they are unsure, I direct them back to the board or to ask their table or teaching assistant (where applicable).

The use of bell work means I can set up the lesson, deal with issues and sort register etc. without eating into the learning time.

Another strategy which has helped me to decrease ‘teacher talk’ is to give very clear, concise instructions visually as well as verbally. This means using the PowerPoint/ Smartboard to support my task instructions clearly. For an example, see below:


The reinforcement of the LOs and clear instruction means that I can spend more time supporting individual students, rather than repeating and reexplaining tasks.

Of course, there are other strategies to employ. For example, you can use students as teachers, or set tasks up so that the ‘dialogue’ is in the style of verbal football. But I’m interested in other ideas.

What strategies do you see as useful in cutting ‘teacher talk’ and increasing the pupils’ time spent engaged in independent activity?