Monthly Archives: April 2016

GCSE English Language Revision Postcard 46: Language Features

Revision task for question 3 on the AQA English Language foundation level paper, focussing on language feature analysis. Often students focus on trying to find easy wins like similes because they haven’t mastered the basics of what a verb, noun or adjective is. I’d say try to remember what they are first because they appear more often! 

Debating #Michaela Last Saturday: Time for a “7 Up” anyone?

I was there in the flesh on the front row of the #Michaela debates at London’s City Hall last Saturday. I loved it. It was great fun – a very polite interchange of views that made for much more engaging CPD than you’d normally receive by a series of PPT presentations on just one topic with perhaps 2 minutes for questions afterwards.

It was a shame to see that some who were not in attendance got huffy on Twitter because either they felt #Michaela as an event was dominating their Twitter feed, or perhaps they were just feeling left out, or miffed that #Michaela as a school was getting so much coverage. It’s true that #Michaela is a controversial school, have a look at their website at to find out more. They do seem to do stuff that has connotations of the Charter Schools in America, which we smile wide-eyed at and laugh and snigger at when we watch their YouTube clips online. The rumours, which may or may not be true, include children being made to walk corridors in absolute silence between lessons.

I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t have to worry about it, because 1) I don’t teach there, and 2) I don’t have a child attending there. Perhaps I should have a moral conscience about it or something, as it does affect the wider educational eco-system we live in. And who knows, some future extremist Minister for Education may use #Michaela as a precedent for insisting ALL schools in the UK may follow suit. That’d never happen though, would it? Would it?

The double clap made me laugh, which headmistress Katherine Birbalsingh playfully got us to do at the end of the day. We saw a brief video clip of students at their school doing it. Can’t hurt, I guess.

Katherine Birbalsingh was a superlative orator, and I tweeted so. Her entire team from #Michaela were a highly polished set of debaters. I wondered if they had rehearsed their gig together beforehand to give each other tips on where to put the intonation on particular words in their delivery. Katherine was very charismatic, a great leader no doubt. Her team of teachers all quite young and idealistic perhaps? If so, then it’d be understandable if what some teachers say might be true: is #Michaela a bit of a cultic school environment?

I don’t know if it’s true that they only have year 7 and 8 students at the moment, due to having started from scratch with admissions right from the get go only the other year. If that’s true, I think we need a BBC or Channel 4 documentary to chart the progress of this scholastic social experiment, a bit in the style of the “7 up” type series done years ago: “Show me the boy of 7 and I will show you the man”. I wonder if you compared students who went to #Michaela and a ‘normal’ school now, and then in 7 years, 14, 21 and 28 years from now, whether there would be any interesting trends that emerge in destination data and progress made through life. What would their choices and limitations in life be? Career wise and otherwise? Would #Michaela students be more or less successful, and how? Would they be limited in some ways? Would they tend to end up in highly structured environments? How many would be entrepreneurs and innovators? Would they be more or less rigid in their expectations of others around them once in the real world? How would they cope with lack of structure and people who don’t conform to society’s rules?

It was interesting that none of my tweets appeared in the live feed displayed to the room on a TV screen on Saturday. Maybe the organisers were filtering out based on some criteria for tweets that conformed to some rules unknown to me. Or maybe my tweets weren’t that interesting. I don’t know…

I think for me personally, my biggest take-home from the day was that debates with starkly opposing viewpoints represented by the debating party are an exceptionally valuable form of CPD. It mattered not whether the views represented were false dichotomies. The end result was that you heard something talked about from a variety of points of view, which provided an enriching and highly nuanced package of delivery. Most of the debates left you with a middle-ground feeling (PBL vs direct instruction/drilling, no-excuses discipline vs a more reasonable approach, personalised learning vs classes in sets receiving direct instruction without differentiation, schools doing whatever it takes and becoming social workers vs not getting involved much at all outside the classroom and putting teacher well-being first through prioritisation). Of course the last debate was hilarious – Jonathan Simons, a non-teacher, arguing in favour of performance related pay to a room full of teachers – even he changed his position at the end!

The middle-ground debates though covered most of the angles. If they had been turned into transcripts with rebuttals and audience Q&A too, it would probably read like an excellent exegesis. No turn really left unturned and all angles critiqued. I think you could compare it to a form of Socratic dialogue, where the audience takes the less vocal role of Socrates. The Socratic line of questioning seems to follow its own implicit and tacit course. The conclusion is, everything having been heard, there is rarely any black and white.

My own feeling on leaving was that as a unique environment and its own system, #Michaela probably works. As do any other systems with their own rules and boundaries. For a time. It’s where the actors within the system then have to leave and enter other systems that interests me.

#Michaela wasn’t promoted or marketed much on the day by the way, not explicitly. Just in case you wondered. I felt it was more about the discussion of the issues at hand that were the focus, and not the school itself.

It was an entertaining day. I’d recommend going if there is another opportunity like that.

GCSE English Language Revision Postcard 42: Writing to Explain (Gun Crime!)

Here’s a revision task for the AQA foundation paper, question 5, writing to explain.See the post card for the task and then see some further notes underneath.

IMG_1682 (Edited)IMG_1683 (Edited)

It’s a bit of a challenge! Can you explain the problem of gun crime in America? To be honest it’s doubtful you’d get a question that required such deep understanding in your exam, but if you’re looking for something to get your teeth into for revision, this is a good one.

It might be controversial for some reading this, or painful if you know anyone affected by gun crime. If so, then apologies. However, in its own right the issue is a topic of extreme importance and is often the subject of passionate debate. It’s of relevance if you live in today’s world, therefore, to be able to understand why some countries allow personal ownership and use of guns (known as the “right to bear arms” and embedded in the country’s laws / constitution). Hence this task.Explore the subject a little first if you have the time. If you don’t have the time, then perhaps make time.

Here are a few links to some posts on the web that may interest you about this subject:

  1. A YouTube video where British journalist, Piers Morgan, gets in a heated debate with an American about gun control in America
  2. Bowling for Columbine: At the bank – a clip showing where you can open a bank account and get a free gun in America
  3. President Obama makes a speech about gun control in America


GCSE English Language Revision Postcard 41:Writing to Inform (Time Travel Task…)

Here we go with another bit of writing to inform revision, for question 5 on the AQA foundation paper. See the postcard below for the task, and then carry on reading beneath for some tips and hints.

IMG_1674 (Edited)IMG_1675 (Edited)

As you may imagine, there are a few time travel summary lists already published on the web. For a writing to inform question you can easily borrow their basic style, which is very close to the “who, what, where, when” type technique, but still manages to go further than simply writing an extended list. For example, look at these three web pages:

Don’t just re-write their lists though! To get your time-travelling juices flowing, have a gander down this wider list and google a few things that take your fancy to find out more. You should talk about at least five in your piece of writing. Or maybe you already have a secret stash of well-read time travel books on your own bookshelf at home?! If so, write about those!

  • The Time Machine, by H G Wells
  • The Time Traveller’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
  • Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
  • A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle
  • Replay, by Ken Grimwood
  • Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-five, by Kurt Vonnegut
  • 11/22/63, by Stephen King
  • Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, by Mark Twain
  • Time and Again, by Jack Finney
  • The End of Eternity, by Isaac Asimov
  • The House on the Strand, by Daphne du Maurier
  • Kindred, by Octavia E Butler
  • Timescape, by Gregory Benford
  • To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis
  • The Accidental Time Machine, by Joe Haldeman
  • Drums of Autumn, by Diana Gabaldon
  • The Time Ships, by Stephen Baxter
  • The Best Time Travel Stories of All Time, by B N Malzberg, P K Dick, and R Silverberg
  • The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers

GCSE English Language Revision Postcard 40: Writing to Describe (Scary Movie Task)

Here’s a revision task to have fun with: another one for question 5 on the AQA foundation paper – writing to describe. See postcard below for the task, and here’s an example of how you might throw some ideas together for this one:
Dear Bertie,
Knock, knock, knocking on your front door.

Tick, tick, tock – as you watch your clock.

Tip-tap, tip-tap – your beating heart… 

Do you have a dread of horror? 
I do now – I’m writing to tell you about the most terrifying film I have ever seen!
Irrefutably, this fearsome B movie will not disappoint as you sit all alone in your cold flat in Fife; hand-on-heart, I promise you, you will feel the extreme, terrific fear of a terrifying fright night and experience the deadly danger and electrifying apprehension of the unpredictable esoteric (or your money back!). Unequivocally, the film I saw is guaranteed to terrify, horrify and petrify, from one end of its repugnant reel to the other. 
Firstly, I was scared witless, tormented, and alarmed, frightened and horrified by this ultimate house-of-horror box of devilish delights. In addition, I felt total terror, alarm and absolute frightful petrification at all the sinisterly spiritual shenanigans simultaneously coming at me like a smorgasbord of supernatural tsunamis through my television screen. Unsurprisingly, I was fearfully apprehensive, and full of anxious consternation the whole way through: uber-edgy, nervous and jumpy to an unimaginable and unfathomable degree. 


Throughout, I was entranced by the menacing, ghostliness of deeply foul-smelling smog. Meanwhile, a noisome spook and a macabre phantom were pitched against each other in this gory, grotesque slasher set in a cliched Victorian London. Perhaps predictably, there was a disgustingly dreadful, ghoulish ghoul; it was ghastly, gruesome, horrendously horrible, totally horrific and monstrous. 
Stunned, in one memorably graphic scene of gratuitous horror, I could taste the victim’s vomit, while she wailed her funerary cries, being ripped asunder by a putrid poltergeist. As would be expected, I recoiled at the repulsively revolting, spooky spectre: it was a terribly horrifying, loathsome spirit – a hideously repugnant, ghostly apparition – full of venomous vengeance; not just your average, grim or grisly ghost. Inevitably, I was so petrified I couldn’t get up to go for a wee until the whole thing had reached its gut-wrenching climax; I just sat wriggling in overwrought angst for 90 nerve-wracking minutes until the fiercely, fiendish fiends had been awesomely apprehended, arbitrarily abyssed, and done away with forever. 
Without a doubt, it was an extremely unpleasant, and atrociously awful experience. Subsequently, if you watch it too, it will scare, frighten and terrorise you, and panicky, petrified fear will always be in close proximity. Unquestionably, you’ll feel a perpetual sense of panic-stricken, petrifying hell, right there in your own living room: terrorised and afraid in trepidation of the dangerous dark and mysterious mist enveloping you on your very own sofa, straight from your wall-hung, flat-screened, plasma TV. 
Will the pale, treacherous and tremulous, timorous hand of chattering, dark and desperate death reach out and grab you garrulously while you bite your lip and clutch the dog-tooth Draylon of your DHS settee? 
Overall, I’d say it was an edge-of-seat-nail-biting, hiding-behind-the-sofa-nerve-jangling, daren’t-go-to-bed-for-week-blood-curdling, wall-eyed-terror-inducing, spine-tingling, hair-raising, super-scary movie. Undeniably, it provided me with a night of sweaty-palm-stomach-churning, knee-knocking, blood-pumping, back of the neck sensory stimulation. 
I loved it… And so will you!
Love, Carol x
PS: Knock, knock… Was that your front door? 


GCSE English Language Revision Postcard 39: Presentational Features / Devices

Another revision task for question 4 of the AQA foundation paper. The postcard task advises you to find a second article on poisonous plants (this relates to the revision task given two days ago in postcard 37). If you didn’t save one, just find two now. 

For higher level paper entrants / gifted and talented, who want extra stretch and challenge. See a previous blog post of mine on the interpretation of photographs, at:
A task could be to read that post and then apply the words studium and punctum to the analysis of any photographic images used to support the sources you find.