Category Archives: Teaching

Language Explosion Template: Helping Foundation Students Analyse Language Features

As usual our mock for the AQA GCSE English Language exam a few weeks ago highlighted that quite a few foundation level students are completely hit sideways when it comes to the language feature question (question 3). Many left it completely blank. This, depsite having managed some analysis of language in their controlled assessments for OMM, R&J and poetry earlier in the year.

So in yesterday’s session I spent an hour and a half dedicated on language feature analysis with them. I brought in newspaper and magazine clippings, mostly from the Sunday Times, but a few others as well, and then ran through a reminder of technique on how to spot a good phrase/sentence that links strongly to the main theme of the article, then to zoom in on particular words or phrases within that to: 1) identify a feature of language, 2) quote it, and 3) explain an effect on the reader (but without using the dreaded empty phrases).

It worked really well, and what I was most in admiration of was my students’ ability to cope with Sunday Times type writing and vocabulary. Afterwards most of them agreed that from this exercise they saw the benefit in aiming to read more of those types of articles to improve their writing and vocabulary.

Some images and templates below (as asked for via Twitter).

  1. My example I went through first (how to do it)

language feature explosion template

2. The template I gave to students to have a go for themselves (if you want to use this just save image and copy/paste into a PPT slide and print off as a full page).

language feature analysis explosion template

3. Some images of completed work done by the students in class

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 35: Punctuation – Colons

As said previously, section B of the AQA foundation paper requires secured and controlled use of a variety of punctuation to get strong marks. A quick win can be achieved using a colon to write a list. For example:

“There are many reasons to consider teaching as a career: the delightful students, the abundance of free time, extraordinarily high salaries and very light workload.”

Remember that you don’t need a capital letter after the colon. It’s not a new sentence.

Happy revising!

GCSE English Language Revision Postcard 34: Presentational Devices

A quick way to revise some basic presentational features as a stepping stone task for question 4 on the foundation paper. One of the saddest things I see after a mock or the real exam is when a student has just forgotten what presentational features are and they write about language features by mistake or, worse, nothing at all and leave it blank.

English Language Revision Postcard 33: Using Language

Revision task to recall and use key parts of speech and language features, which are subsequently required to then identify them when reading in section A, question 3 of the AQA exam.

You can describe the women too if you like 😉

Happy revising!

GCSE English Language Revision Postcard 31: Writing to Persuade -Foundation Paper

Here’s another revision task for question 6 on the AQA GCSE English Language foundation level paper, writing to persuade.

When I’ve said “powerful words”, read emotive as well as less common and rare vocabulary.

The aim of the game with persuasive writing is of course to get the reader to take on your point of view, and as such examiners like to see that a student can “manipulate the reader” – the easiest way to do this seems to be by using rhetorical questions to create a feeling of guilt or shame if the reader doesn’t agree with them. That’s something most foundation level students can easily do. It also seems more effective if the manipulative, guilt/shame inducing rhetorical question is attached to the end of an emotive anecodote. For example:

“My beautiful little sister, Gemima, was only 3 years old when she became ill and died as a result of passive smoking. She had the rest of her wonderful life before her: golden locks that curled around her dainty neck and bounced up and down as she laughed and played, rosy cheeks that burned with energy and happiness, and an intense love for a favourite teddy bear, named Fred. However, her precious life was cut brutally short. Why? All because of her next door neighbour’s disgusting smoking addiction. She would play with her dolls right next to the fence where the neighbour used to come outside to puff on his sticks of death. No-one thought anything of it, until it was too late. You don’t want to be guilty of killing beautiful little children, too, do you? No? The answer is clear. Stop smoking today.”

The revision task:


20 Questions: GCSE English Language Foundation Paper Exam Quiz

I’m probably going to use this quiz with my class before their mock exam next week. For them it will be a recap activity of things we discussed and went through at some length in class yesterday when they did the Exam Isle board game (see previous blog post). Feel free to use with your students too if you think it might be useful.

20 Questions: GCSE English Language Foundation Paper Exam Quiz

  1. How many marks is question 1a worth?
  2. How many marks is question 5 worth?
  3. What type of writing is required for question 6 (writing to…)?
  4. What are you required to identify, quote and explain the effect on the reader for in question 3?
  5. What type of questions are 1a, 1b and 2?
  6. How long should you aim to spend on question 6?
  7. Which question will you attempt first?
  8. What are you required to identify examples of from two texts and compare in question 4?
  9. List three examples of language features
  10. List three examples of presentational features
  11. What three types of writing might be required for question 5 (writing to…)?
  12. How many marks is question 6 worth?
  13. Which question will you attempt 2nd?
  14. How many marks is question 2 worth?
  15. I don’t need to write in paragraphs in section A, the reading section: true or false?
  16. List three examples of discourse markers
  17. List three writing to describe techniques
  18. How many marks is question 3 worth?
  19. List three writing to persuade techniques
  20. What is the difference between writing to inform and writing to explain?

Swap your answers with a partner and peer mark while answers are discussed as a class.

GCSE English Language Revision Postcard 30: Writing to Explain – Foundation Paper

Revision task for question 5 on the GCSE AQA foundation tier paper, writing to explain.

Happy revising! 🙂


Will you survive the terrors of “Exam Isle”? PGCE observation

I’m not sure how it went yet as I’ve not had extensive feedback, but today was my 6th of 8 observations that I have to have as part of my two year part time PGCE course. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed preparing for it. The students seemed to benefit (both from an engagement point of view as well as learning from their endeavour as well as their mistakes along the way). And, so far, I do know that the PGCE tutor who observed the session thought that it was “highly effective”. That’s what he’s written on the two pieces of paperwork he had to commit to signing off in my presence this morning anyway. I will get more extensive feedback later, which I’m looking forward to.

So what did I do? To be honest I ran a session that I loved preparing for but that I know I could never sustain that amount of preparation time on in the normal run of things. I prepared two board games, size A1 (Hobbycraft loves me – I spent a fortune!), to run with two separate groups of learners in one class. There were meant to be 4 students in each group but one didn’t turn up (attendance can be unpredictable in these instances!).

The board game took the students through a series of questions to help them reflect and discuss together what would help and hinder their preparation for the forthcoming exam, and then got them to get their hands dirty thinking, remembering and looking at a past exam paper in order to, literally, piece together the bigger picture of “Exam Isle”. I’d got luggage labels, lollipop sticks, card toppers, and “to do” lists galore. It was a veritable treasure trove for crafting.

Students had to discuss and decide which questions focused on information retrieval, language features, presentational features, writing to inform, explain or describe, and writing to argue or persuade. They had to allocate the right marks for each question, and decide how long should be spent on each one, and what order to do them in. They then had to decide which set of “to do” list instructions applied to each question. It took them about 1 hour 20 minutes to work through, and one group finished slightly earlier than the other. When they were finished they used a little note sheet to do a peer performance assessment and rate each other’s efforts during the game on: teamwork, communication, willingness to improve and knowledge. They then handed back the peer performance scorecards to each other and were asked to reflect on how they might improve on criteria they hadn’t been given 10 out of 10 on. The teamwork and communication criteria were relevant in our FE setting as employability factors. I like to think the willingness to improve could have helped them think about general effort they put in and also maybe the state of their “growth mindset”.

After they had finished this session they glued the board game pieces to “Exam Isle” and the huge A1 boards are now up in my base room for students to keep reflecting on over the next few weeks until the exam on June 7th.

That was the observed session. Part two then came after break when the observer had gone, students relaxed, and people got on with real work 🙂 (the real work included no poster activities at all, and just required students to start working through exam style questions, using marking schemes from past papers to peer and self-assess. I was impressed because everyone was very busy and on task for session 2. During this session I also gave feedback on the last two pieces of creative writing they did before the Easter holidays (“Write about a film you either love or loathe,” and “Use a season of the year as the title and idea for a piece of writing”).

Students have a good idea of what their strengths and weaknesses are, and what they need to work on for SPaG between now and the exam, which unfortunately brought their marks down a bit in the grand total for all CAs done.

I dished out and explained the idea behind the metacognitive journal. They had a go, reflected on the points they were asked about on today’s page, and created a learning target for themselves, in addition to the targets they already have ongoing. I’m hoping it will serve to keep reinforcing what they themselves must do to prepare for the upcoming exam.

No revision homework was handed in from the Easter holidays. I encouraged them to re-start their 20 minutes a day revision resolutions from scratch. To be continued…

Image 1: Exam Isle (before class)


Image 2: Exam Isle (set up as two board games in class this morning before students arrived)

IMG_1458 (Edited)

Image 3: Exam Isle (finished – after students had put all the pieces on and worked their way around the island.


Image 4: Exam style questions on those postcards I’ve been pumping through daily on Twitter and elsewhere. Students used the real things in class this morning and then used past exam paper marking schemes to peer and self-assess.



GCSE English Language Revision Postcard 28: Writing to Describe

Here’s another writing to describe revision task for question 5 on the AQA foundation paper. Again, I must issue a warning to those English teachers who despise use of the term “powerful words” – I’ve used it here and it’s bound to make some teachers puke, sorry, nauseate. To translate for their benefit, and to put this in terms of the exam paper assessment criteria, students should use less common and rare words and demonstrate the knowledge and skill to use linguistic features. There’s an Alka-Seltzer in the cupboard.

Happy revising.

2016-04-11 07.34.472016-04-11 07.34.54

Also, I found this word list online at and thought it might help.

spooky words