9 English activities for 9 days of term left… 

Just 9 school days left before the winter break, starting this Sunday. So here’s my English teacher 9 day advent calendar of … fun? Well, 9 things to do in class until you all break free😉
1. Take an existing seasonal song and put your own words to it to help you remember and use discourse markers when writing or speaking. Record your song. 

2. Write a poem about skating on thin ice. Use lots of sibilance. Record your poem. 

3. Plan and perform a role play where you use a range of rhetorical devices to persuade someone to buy you a really expensive gift of your choice. Be sure to use emotive language and anecdote. Video your role play. 

4. In a group, enact a dramatical scene where you are a team of researchers en route to the North Pole to find out what really happens there on 23rd December. You encounter a dying reindeer and help to save it. What happens next? Video your drama. 

5. You went out for a winter walk in a forest in Lapland. You saw some unbelievable things that delighted and amazed your eyes. Write a letter to your grandma to tell her all about it. Make sure you use lots of alliteration and triplets. 

6. “The best gift ever” – write a news article for the Winter Weekly using that title. The actual news story is up to you. Make sure you use lots of superlatives. 

7. In groups, create a mannequin challenge with 12 scenes: each to represent something that happened in each month this year. 

8. Write a message of hope for all those enduring difficult times this winter and make a pledge to do more to help those less fortunate than yourselves, explaining how others can too. 

9. Create a ten question winter break kahoot quiz to test fellow students on all the knowledge they’ve learned this year. 

Happy end of term!🙂

Are you up for the 15 minute creative writing challenge?

How many words can you write in 15 minutes? This morning I was challenged by my students to prove that I could write 800 words in the space of a 90 minute lesson. I said if I did then they had to. This came after a discussion about effort and how many words of a first draft could be achieved in one lesson. So anyway, within 15 minutes I proved my point: 627 words. 
The response was mixed: “awww, miss, you are smarter than us!” “You’re making us feel bad now because we can’t write like that.” And so on. However, one or two were spurred on to make more effort than usual too. 
Here’s my 627 words below. Not bad for a fifteen minute first draft, even if I do say so myself. How many might you manage in a similar time?
“The hills were aglow with the beauty of the night’s sky. The scintillating stars were twinkling above my head. The smell of a distant campfire and the sound of it crackling in the woods wafted into the range of my senses. But I was alone. All alone.

My loneliness was not unwelcome. I enjoyed the splendor of my solitude. The only company I had was the stars. The globular lights in the ether capacious. They pulled on my heart strings as gems carbonaceous. My feelings ran through me with urgency and I decided to run.

I ran with all the pulsating power my thighs could muster. My nylon dry-fit leggings were doing their job nicely. The air met my face like a buffeting tail wind around the rudder of a light aircraft: a glider perhaps. My hair was taught against my scalp and the mud under my feet was of no concern. It was just me and the road and the paths on the hills.

Suddenly, the heavens changed: it was a metamorphosis of transient sensory deception – a thunderstorm was looming but it hadn’t yet arrived. Was it night, or hell on the horizon? I couldn’t tell. The potential Val Halle was emitting sonic booms in my imagination already; sonic booms of excitement, fear and thrills all wrapped up together. I had stopped still in my steam train tracks of speed. Mud had spurted onto my face in tiny splashes of miniscule mayhem – a chaotic reminder of my journey so far.

My journey! What had that been? It was all too much to recall sometimes. A metaphor for it may be a boat trip across a stormy ocean, or a balloon ride through a lightening ridden sky. Or was it perhaps hanging on for my own dear life as a runaway train went hurtling out of control into the depths of a valley? Whatever it was, it had been tumultuous, terrific and intrepid. I had grown so much because of it. I had grown so much I could barely remember the young girl I had been before the journey of my life had begun.

As a young girl I had been carefree and full of hope: now I was driven and angry, but enthused with the prospect of winning the race. It was an ultra-run: 100 miles. Was I crazy? Yes. All ultra-runners are. Men and women with insane goals and nothing else in their life – their lonesome, solitary life. That’s all you need to be an ultra runner: no life apart from the run. The run of death for some, over ridiculous terrain, by torrid rivers and arid deserts.

In the midst of my marathon of madness things were clear: my life had purpose and I was the bullet shooting out of a loaded weapon. I could achieve everything. My existence was defined by the motion I was folding out into and enveloping with my toned, muscular, lean body. My calves were as tight as a tarpaulin stretched over a newly harvested crop that the farmer wanted to protect from the elements more than his life.

My feet started to pound the ground once more. Bang, bang, thump. It wasn’t a chore but a dream come true. My ambitions were nearing their climax. The undergrowth I was leaping over scratched and tore at my shins as I raced ahead: I didn’t feel it though. I didn’t care. It didn’t matter.

Run, run, run. It’s all that mattered.

I was alive, although nearly half dead.

My mind flashed through scenes from my childhood – I remembered the good and the bad. The tears, the pain, the cheers and joy. It was complete. And so was I. I had done it – 100 miles in 24 hours. I collapsed in ecstasy.”

A neat little way to get students to focus on one improvement target per lesson: noodle card stands

I’ve been set the challenge of setting students a target for improvement each lesson. As I already do this explicitly in exercise books after marking I thought I’d go the extra mile to make the process even more explicit and came up with the idea of a ‘noodle card stand’.

Anyone who has been swimming at fun splash time or to an aqua aerobics class knows what a noodle is: an elongated tubular float, available in a range of colours. They are used to either create extra resistance in water or help give more support. And, if you dice them up to create circular disks you can also make an incision across the top surface to insert a piece of paper or card and place on a student table. You can then get the student to write their own improvement target on said card or paper, insert into the handy noodle disk slit, and gaze merrily at it all lesson while obviously taking appropriate action. 

Next question: should targets for improvement be ‘SMART’? Answers in comments below. 

See following images for step by step how to…

Sand is a toe warmer … 

Sand is a toe-warmer. Unless it’s cold and damp. Then it’s a rheumatoid arthritis inflicter. 

Sand is a moving nail file, an emery board extraordinaire, smoothing away the rough edges of dead bits of feet and getting under nails. 

Sand is a never ending bumpy, lumpy, shifting, softly undulating yet sometimes quite flat and hard desert. 

Sand is an infinity of potentials: potential castles, trenches, holes, moats, snakes and animals – potentially anything your hand can turn to your mind’s imaginings. 

Sand is an unwitting irritant, plaguing your mouthfuls of lunch at the beach. 

Sand is a reminder that grit endures – unfortunately often in the creases of one’s thighs or elsewhere that is equally uncomfortable. 

Sand is a treasure trove for hunters with metal detectors, searching for ancient artefacts. 

Sand is a money box for lost ten pence pieces. 

Sand is the lost and found department of the ocean, where all sorts of things wash up. 

Sand is a people magnet, with windbreaks, beach towels, deckchairs and half-tents, buckets, spades, sun-hats and cool-bags, ice-creams and frisbees, factor 20 and total sunblock. 

Sand is a welcome mat for swimmers returning and boats arriving – a diplomat of meet and greet. 

Sand is a hiding place, for lovers and nudists. 

Sand is also a litter tray. 

I wish you peace – peace filled classrooms everywhere, for at least a month or so…

You can hear a pin drop. The students are all gone. Summer is upon us. The sun’s already shone. The window left ajar in MFL room six, means displays of jaunty numbers slowly blow unfixed. The racks of tools in D&T start to gather dust. Looming academic EBacc means they may forever start to rust. The school hall has fallen silent but the coat of arms inspires. The ghosts of old terms finished flutter through undisturbed. A sport’s day trophy stands up proud alongside other shiny medals. An empty lunch queue doesn’t wind, and there’s no break at two. A football field dares to send forth more shoots of emerald green. A locker room is left bereft, of all but a lonesome lace and someone’s forgotten shoe. A waft of bleach pervades the staffroom, where coffee stained cups have disappeared. The worktops have been wiped down and a fresh coat of wall paint has appeared. The head teacher’s office seems pregnant let vacant, still ominous – patiently waiting for serious meetings with next year’s errant students. The English textbook storeroom is well stocked, filled to the brim – ready to bestow cultural wealth and capital of literature with excitement, vigour and vim. The interactive whiteboards are all quietly left unplugged. Projectors are on vacation and so do not hum. The library of course is also shut – its tomes of knowledge obediently tucked up asleep on reliable shelves of sturdy wood, the organic matter finding transformed synergy, although having long left trees. The school snores now and its slumber is restful. The grounds are all in peace. The teachers are on holiday: at home, by the coast, perhaps Greece. 

Teacher hopes… What do you hope? 

Teacher hopes…
What do you hope?

I hope my students all want to learn. 

I hope my students have a thirst for knowledge. 

I hope my students all want to work hard. 

I hope my students will do all their homework, keep asking for more, and go the extra mile – over and beyond. 

Because they love the subject.  
I hope my students all actively take on board feedback for improvement,

And try their best to not make the same mistakes next time. 

I hope they learn to get the rules, 

And apply them. 
I hope they respect each other. 

I hope we get off on the right foot, enjoy each other’s classroom company,

And learn lots. 
I hope they love to read. 

I hope they will learn to love it if not. 

I hope they will learn to love making their words drip off the page as they perfect their own craft. 
I hope they will look forward to my lessons and I hope I will look forward to them too. 

I hope they all do well. 

I hope they will be happy as well. 

Head-Hunting. Use Your Head: Classroom Props for Jekyll & Hyde. In 2 minds?

Sian Cumming (@siancarter1) recently posted this great tweet, depicting student use of polystyrene heads in order to teach the concept of duality and the different personalities of the characters, Jekyll and Hyde. 

If you look on EBay you can purchase polystyrene heads for £4 up, as so:

Admittedly, it’s costly, and I don’t think many teachers would get budget to do this, especially if they had several classes with 25-30 students in each. However, this weekend I was in Spitalfields Market, London, and I met this nice lady on her hat stall:

As you can see in the image she also uses polystyrene heads, probably more for the purpose they were intended. I liked what she has done with the papier-mâché – this was her own adaptation to the heads that had cost her about a fiver each. While we both talked about keeping costs down for teaching purposes, she came up with the idea of students making their own heads or masks out of papier-mâché or plaster of Paris. Practicalities and length of time aside, I thought that a brilliant idea. Also, if all else failed, what is wrong with cutting an oval mask shape out of A4 paper and simply using that?

Update: I just searched on EBay again and saw you can obtain polystyrene heads for 99p up, but these were from one off second hand suppliers I think, so those prices might not be reliable. 

Memory… #TSEliot … And reflexive conversations lost in time 

Comic strip by me by the way. Circa 1993.
As the rest of the world probably already knew, but what came to me as news this morning, when Elaine Page sang ‘Memory’ in the Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, Cats, she was singing words inspired by T.S.Eliot’s poetry. I realised it as soon as I read Eliot’s Rhapsody on a Windy Night, and then googled it to confirm my hunch. 
If you fancy hearing / seeing Elaine P sing that again, here it is on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqx3LDawgS8&feature=share 
I love reflexivity between authors and genres. It’s like a cultural conversation that carries on through time. Someone says something in 1917, and then decades later someone else sings a response on Broadway. Also, it made me laugh to then read how a parody had been made for the O J Simpson trial: “Midnight, on my way to Chicago, chasing me in my Bronco on the streets of L. A….”
Can you use a few lines from the poem to be inspired to write your own version? Parody or otherwise? 
The original poem below. 
T.S.Eliot, PRUFROCK and Other Observations, 1917
Rhapsody on a Windy Night
TWELVE o’clock.

Along the reaches of the street

Held in a lunar synthesis,

Whispering lunar incantations

Dissolve the floors of memory

And all its clear relations

Its divisions and precisions,

Every street lamp that I pass

Beats like a fatalistic drum,

And through the spaces of the dark

Midnight shakes the memory

As a madman shakes a dead geranium.

Half-past one,

The street lamp sputtered,

The street lamp muttered,

The street lamp said, “Regard that woman

Who hesitates toward you in the light of the door

Which opens on her like a grin.

You see the border of her dress

Is torn and stained with sand,

And you see the corner of her eye

Twists like a crooked pin.”

The memory throws up high and dry

A crowd of twisted things;

A twisted branch upon the beach

Eaten smooth, and polished

As if the world gave up

The secret of its skeleton,

Stiff and white.

A broken spring in a factory yard,

Rust that clings to the form that the strength has left

Hard and curled and ready to snap.

Half-past two,

The street-lamp said,

“Remark the cat which flattens itself in the gutter,

Slips out its tongue

And devours a morsel of rancid butter.”

So the hand of the child, automatic,

Slipped out and pocketed a toy that was running along the quay.

I could see nothing behind that child’s eye.

I have seen eyes in the street

Trying to peer through lighted shutters,

And a crab one afternoon in a pool,

An old crab with barnacles on his back,

Gripped the end of a stick which I held him.



Half-past three,

The lamp sputtered,

The lamp muttered in the dark.

The lamp hummed:

“Regard the moon,

La lune ne garde aucune rancune,

She winks a feeble eye,

She smiles into corners.

She smooths the hair of the grass.

The moon has lost her memory.

A washed-out smallpox cracks her face,

Her hand twists a paper rose,

That smells of dust and old Cologne,

She is alone

With all the old nocturnal smells

That cross and cross across her brain.

The reminiscence comes

Of sunless dry geraniums

And dust in crevices,

Smells of chestnuts in the streets,

And female smells in shuttered rooms,

And cigarettes in corridors

And cocktail smells in bars.”

The lamp said,

“Four o’clock,

Here is the number on the door.


You have the key,

The little lamp spreads a ring on the stair,


The bed is open; the tooth-brush hangs on the wall,

Put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life.”
The last twist of the knife.

Writing Prompt Extension Activities

What great extension activities do you have up your sleeve for when some students inevitably finish a task ahead of others and there’s still time left before the lesson is due to end?

Below is a list of conversation prompts I compiled years ago, when teaching TEFL to adults in Germany, in a summer school for the 8-18 age group in Dorset, and then as a part time evening job in a language school for adults in London while reading for my degree during the day. I’ve adapted them now and turned them into school age relevant writing prompts instead. Feel free to use and abuse these, and let me know how you get on or if you adapt them in any way for your own setting.

Extension activity writing prompts:

  • A strange and unusual child arrives in your class one day. Describe how your fellow classmates were affected by the newcomer.
  • You have been given an increase in pocket-money. Describe your difficulties in thinking of ways to put it to good use and the reasons for your final choice.
  • Starting in a new school and getting a detention: describe your experiences of one or both.
  • Some people claim that borrowing and lending money are always unwise. Give your opinion, referring to some of your own experiences and others you have heard of or witnessed.
  • A day at school.
  • Describe someone from your day-to-day life who you admire.
  • The amount of school budget available for major projects is limited – how do you think it should be spent?
  • Odd habits. Describe any amusing, annoying or particularly strange habits that you yourself have, or which you have seen in other people.
  • In what ways would you like your own school run in comparison with the school you are now at?
  • Do boys have an easier time at school than girls? Discuss and explain.
  • Write an original short story based on one of the following:
    1. A failure to obey someone’s instructions
    2. A small fire that got out of control
    3. Fraud
  • Memories from the schoolyard, pleasant and unpleasant.
  • “Suddenly, everything went quiet.” Write a short story including this sentence.
  • Have you learnt from your mistakes? Give examples from your personal experience.
  • Write a short story, using the following sentence as a starting point: “Sometimes he wondered whether he would ever pass an exam – bad luck just seemed to hover over him.”
  • The sweet smell of success.
  • The pleasures and pains of being a student at boarding school.
  • Give an account of the most important ways in which your outlook on life is different from that of your parents.
  • Explain why professional games-players are among the most highly-paid of people, and say whether they ought to be.
  • “The first time is the worst.” Describe an occasion when you have found this to be true.
  • Describe a school trip made in bad weather, by land, sea or air.
  • Monday morning.
  • Describe the person who has influenced you most during the course of your life, making clear the effect he or she has had on you.
  • How has the micro-chip changed modern life?
  • Select an area of your school building or grounds that appeals to you for some reason and write a description of it, bringing out its special character.
  • “Never again!” you said. Describe the circumstances that caused you to make that comment.
  • “Old language learners are best,” says pensioner grandma.
  • “Man, 120, dies. Cause unknown.”
  • “Murderer, caught red-handed, walks away free!”
  • “Teacher arrives on time to lesson – ‘Miracle!’ cry students!”
  • “Cemetery faces motorway threat!”
  • “Man and woman eat apple: human race could face death penalty.”
  • “Insane woman found chained to railings attempting to emancipate herself.”
  • “Married man makes wife dinner!”
  • “Homework to be banned forever!”
  • “School day to be lengthened and holidays shortened!”
  • “Contagious disease forces school into lockdown and keeps students quarantined for a month.”
  • “School meals to go purely vegan.”

Things People Eat, Including Each Other: In Pictures

Today’s blog post is brought to you via a handmade mini picture book I did in prep for an anthropology seminar class at uni in 1999. Topic: anthropophagy (cannibalism). Does it really exist? It’s a good one for debate. If not, why do people tell stories about cannibals? I love digging through my old stuff🙂