Why I love… A Level English Language: P1A Meaning & Representation

I am not and have never professed to be an expert in A Level Language, but I have some lovely students that I am currently tutoring. I agreed to take on the tutoring with the caveat that I’m not an expert but I’d give it my best shot. What a revelation. I am actually loving it. It is a new challenge; it is exciting; it is fun; it is so rewarding and hopefully above all else; it is useful for them. I’m going to clarify what I’ve been doing with them here and hopefully my online colleagues who read this will be able to let me know if this sounds useful and on the right tracks or not. I’d really appreciate hearing if what I’m thinking and doing is familiar to those who teach A Level Language, as my expertise and degree is in Literature, so this is new territory for me.

First, I printed off the resource glossary and familiarised myself with that, as well as the specification and past papers, so that I’d know what we needed to look at. Then I called in the experts: former colleagues who teach the specification came up absolute trumps and looking through what they sent me was a godsend and has given me a wealth of knowledge – thank you @miss_thinks (Rachel) and Kelda (not on twitter); twitter @team_english1 also came up trumps and signposted what to do and what to look for; finally Dr Vincent Leigh @fratribus (thanks @dileed for being a good egg and putting us in touch) gave up his time to have a chat with me, which was invaluable and @MrMcVeigh shared some resources which have proved very very useful, as well as the @Englangblog account which is brilliant.

Session 1

In the first session, we discussed exactly what it was that they were looking for support with. Essentially, we came to the conclusion that they were feeling insecure about how to write about English Language at an A Level standard and that they knew about the AOs, but were struggling to understand how these worked in writing.

With this in mind we went over a basic essay structure:

How to structure Paper 1 Section A Q1/Q2:

Introduction – Contextualise the extract – say what the extract is about, why and when it was written. State what you will cover in the rest of the essay.

Main Paragraphs – Structure them around patterns that you notice in the language.

Consider the following ‘invisible questions’ to help you think about this:

What does the text do?

How does it do this (techniques)?

Where does it do this (evidence)?

Why it creates a specific meaning?

What and why it creates a specific effect?

What is it teaching you as a reader?

How was the writer positioning themselves?

Conclusion – Summarise how the language/features are used and explore why the writer positioned themselves in this way.

Then, I asked them how they would annotate the text, in order to be able to identify the features that they were going to write about. This was really useful as it became evident that they weren’t sure what to look for. I gave them the glossary that the exam board provide and we discussed what the following meant:

Grammar

Word Level

Sentence Level

Tone – Specific

Person

PAFT

Lexis and Semantics

I then asked them to annotate the article as they would normally and that showed me that despite discussing it, this was something that needed explicit teaching. That struck me as interesting as at GCSE I teach this, but I wonder if at A Level this is not yet embedded and that it needs to be revisited explicitly, so that students can start to approach texts critically right from the start. If they are unsure what the text contains, then surely they can’t write most effectively about it?

As a result, we clarified a guide to annotation as follows:

Guide to annotating at A Level

Question the text on a whole text level. Think about – what it is about? Who is speaking (the authorial voice)? Consider the purpose, audience, format and tone and what the author wants you to learn. How is the author positioning themselves? Are they expert or layman? What do you think they intend the reader to think and feel and why? What is the title suggesting and why? Does the title guide the information in the text? Zoom in on specifics at a: Paragraph, Sentence, Word level; also, consider the graphological features and how they support your reading of the text; think about where patterns are occurring within the text; what do you notice that seems important or relevant?; consider the denotation and connotations that are coming up.

Obviously, this guide is not an exhaustive list of features to start annotating for, but a useful starting point, I hope.

Then, we looked at some sentence level work, as during the course of discussion with Q&A it was evident that these were not securely embedded as knowledge. Thinking about: Simple, complex, compound and what these look like and how sentence purpose can be a useful pattern; declarative, exclamatory, interrogative and imperative. Through the sentence level work we looked at examples, considered what imperative and modal verbs were, abstract nouns, subject, verb, object, pronouns, prepositions and participles. Considering these through sentence level examples was useful as we were able to go over and discuss these and consolidate/introduce the knowledge of these. We did this by using worked examples that we talked about linked to the text.

I think what I discovered, again, was that the basic building blocks need to be secure before you can really do justice with the new knowledge. This consolidatory work was really useful and has come up several times since.

Finally, we worked together on positive and negative tones, coming up with a list of specific tones that they might want to consider and identify. We also looked at PAFT and bias to think about this and how this is important with the representations that writers are making.

I asked them to finish annotating the extract based on what we’d discussed in preparation for the next session.

Session 2

We built a bank of ‘invisible questions’ that they could use to help them interrogate the texts and consider what the meanings and representations were:

What do I notice… about…

  • patterns relating to words
  • patterns relating to tone
  • shifts/changes in tone
  • the format/graphological features/overall structure
  • patterns in sentence structure and purpose
  • other examples of patterns in the text
  • other terminology used in the text that seems interesting or relevant

Then, we considered the following questions in relation to this:

  • How are any of the above used?
  • Why are they used?
  • Why or how do they create specific effects?
  • How is the author trying to position you?
  • What is the author’s intent?
  • How do you feel as a result of what is said or done in the text or the patterns you have identified?

Then, we con-constructed an introduction with questions and answers. We unpicked this to see what each sentence was doing and did the same thing again but with a main paragraph.

Session 3

Students wrote a paragraph and we swapped and peer assessed, using the criteria from the previous lesson and their strengthened annotations. I wrote at the same time as them and we discussed what was written in all examples and how to smoothly embed AO1 and AO2, as opposed to treating them as two stand alone aspects. We looked at the mark scheme and unpicked what it was actually asking for and how that was shown in the different examples that we had produced. The highlighted parts of the text were up for discussion.

Students were asked to annotate the second source at home and we discussed the context of the 19th century and how this could immediately help us understand the second source on a superficial level, at first.

Session 4

We looked at the comparison structure and discussed the second source in detail. We looked at the question and recognised that it asks for both similarities and differences and that this meant that they would need to do both. We also looked at the mark scheme for the comparison to try and identify what was being asked for. We then co-constructed the example below.

This was annotated in advance of the final session on Meaning and Representations.

Session 5

First, we did a quick quiz and went over the areas that hadn’t stuck yet.

Next, I got the students to explain in their own words what the different highlighted colours equate to.

  • Pink – 2/3 ideas to focus on
  • Orange – comparative points
  • Blue – Terminology
  • Purple – Analytical Verbs
  • Yellow – Evidence
  • We discussed the analysis bits.

Then, we did a bit of maths on how long each question should last.

P1A Q1 & Q2 – 35 minutes

P1A Q3 – 30 minutes

(which I hope is the correct advice) We worked it out by the mark distribution.

Then using the model with the annotations, they wrote their own comparative paragraph and I wrote at the same time. Then, we swapped and peer assessed. They highlighted the work with the same colours as above and considered what those colours told them. It was evident that comparison focus was weak and that although we’d all written about the same example, we had different styles and that was okay. The important thing was to bring in next time writing on meaning and representations the strengths noted in their peers work.

Next session, we are moving onto P1B and looking at that. What I’m hoping from this blog post is some more experienced teachers of English Language A Level will have a read and confirm if what I’m advising is accurate and helpful, or if there are things that I’ve missed or misinterpreted. I’d be hugely grateful and appreciative, as the last thing I want to do is confuse the students or get it wrong. Thanks in advance for any advice. It really will be hugely appreciated.

Why I love…Considering the mental load

This year has been incredibly tough, in fact last year has also been incredibly tough, teaching online and managing from home was really difficult and I don’t even have the added impact of having my own children to consider and help (they are old enough to be almost completely independent when it comes to studying).

However, the mental load of Centre Assessed Grades last year was hard. We had to decide on the grades and rank orders and ensure that they were fair. We had to rely on the integrity of our team, our wider school community and then even wider the whole country of teachers, who just want the best for their students.

This year though is even more mentally challenging. On the one hand, exams being cancelled was inevitable and we knew that, on the other hand it genuinely feels like teachers have been thrown under the bus. A plan from the DFE should have been in place for what comes next. Instead, they foisted it onto JCQ, who have done their best with little guidance, but they in turn foisted this down onto the exam boards who have been sinfully slow in releasing any information but again who can blame them, the failing is at the top and shouldn’t be blamed on JCQ or the exam boards, then somewhat inevitably: the exam boards have foisted this back down onto schools and ultimately teachers.

This means that up and down the country teachers and school staff are literally and metaphorically tearing their hair out to make decisions that should be centralised, equitable and fair, for the futures of our pupils. The pupils lives have already been turned upside down and they have already been penalised in countless ways and now they will have an excuse to ‘blame’ the teachers if they don’t get the grades that they want. Not all pupils will do this, but given the media denigration of teachers, I can’t see it happening any other way. The mental load for the pupils is mad, they are being assessed on what they have been taught both in class and in an entirely alien way from what they did at home. For some, working home was successful, but in my experience even the ones who navigated this successfully are much happier to be in school with a teacher in front of them, teaching. For others, the working from home was unsuccessful, for innumerable reasons and they are aware that this is a problem. No-one who didn’t work or found it hard or who did some of the work has come back to school feeling a sense of achievement and this is problematic. Yes, the majority are now working hard in class with the teachers in front of them, but the sense that they couldn’t do it independently is still there for some of them and as such they feel the weight of this mentally. The good thing is that children are resilient and they do bounce back and they do overcome those feelings.

So, the mental load for students has increased and the media dubbing this ‘the lost generation’ and the narrative around ‘lost learning’ is for me indicative of a wider issue around what we expect from young people. That however, is a different issue altogether.

The mental load for me and those that I work with is mad at the moment. Thinking about assessments, adapting the curriculum, ensuring that we are fair and objective. Ensuring that students have a balance of ‘this is really important’, but also ‘this is not trying to stress you out’ is crucial at the moment. I can’t stop thinking. My mind is constantly racing and racing and racing about making sure that our young people are helped and that my team are supported. We have been put in an impossible situation, but like always we will prevail. We have to. The pupils in our schools are relying on us prevailing. The parents of those children are also worried and we have an obligation to try to make this as fair and as accurate as we can. I don’t have all the solutions. All I do know is that the mental load right now is onerous for everyone working in schools, who has a child at school or is a child in school, preparing for Y11/Y13.

This doesn’t mean that we won’t do it and won’t get on with it. I just think it is important to acknowledge it. I’m pretty sure, I can’t be the only one thinking this is a bit of a mental situation and that the mental load is overwhelming at times!

Why I love…What? How? Why? instead of the dreaded PEA!

What seems like a million years ago now, well it was a few years ago, anyway. I decided to stop using PEA. I’d butchered it anyway, so that it became a jumble of letters that students had to remember in order to go beyond the A and develop their writing. There was so many versions that it had became Frankenstein’s monster, just in the analysis sense. Then, at my last school, I started developing and honing exactly what I wanted students to include in their paragraphs in order to meet the basic and then extend this to meet the developed criteria that meant ‘good’ analysis. I still use the elements of the criteria in my explanation and a lot of the premises in it, along with the What? How? Why? in order to encourage developed analysis.

When I explain how to analyse to students I’ll tell them that I want them to use the following and explain what I mean.

What?

What is your basic answer to the question?

What are you going to say about the text?

How?

How does the evidence in the text support this?

How is the language technique/method supported in the evidence you have selected?

How are connotations explored in a particular word or phrase that you have selected?

Why?

Why does the evidence mean something?

Why does the evidence make you think or feel this?

Why has the writer chosen to present the evidence in this way?

Why has the writer wanted you to know this/think about the evidence/text?

Often, I will just write on the board:

What? = answer to question

How? = technique/method and evidence

Why? = meaning + why? and effect + why?

This becomes a really quick and easy scaffold.

Alternatively, I will give instructions for language analysis as a stepped guide:

Link to the key focus in the question (we will have underlined that together as a class first)

Embed the technique used in the evidence

Embed the evidence

Use an analytical verb

Explain the meaning (literal and inferred)

Use a connective and offer a reason for the meaning

Explain the effect – how you think/feel in relation to the evidence

Include the context if relevant, linked to the evidence used

Include the writers’ intentions – what they are trying to say about a theme/idea or about society

Aiming Higher – Zoom in on words, Use multi quotations to support your initial idea about the question, contextualise the extract before moving into the close analysis, Keep referring back to the question

By using these concurrently, with models, I’m trying to encourage students both for Literature and Language questions to develop their thinking and focus on deeper and more meaningful analysis.

What this looks like in the classroom:

With Year 9 at the moment, we are exploring Hamlet, and students have exploded quotations. First, we did this independently in books, then we crowd sourced from the students, so that they had absolutely exhausted their ideas and added to what they had come up with on their own.

Then, using a the following from a lesson by my colleague:

To what extent do you agree that Claudius is presented as an archetypal villain in Act 1 Scene 5.

I’ve asked them to explore What? How? and Why? thinking about:

What does Hamlet snr say his brother has done?

What does Claudius behave like towards Gertrude?

What way does Claudius kill Hamlet snr?

Example:

Introduction with 3 ideas to explore:

Claudius is clearly shown to be a villain, although this could be considered biased, due to the viewpoint being presented by Hamlet senior, who was the victim of fratricide at the hands of Claudius. Hamlet accuses his brother of the most heinous crime, presents him as an adulterous man who has been predatory towards Gertrude and describes in depth the way in which he is poisoned to his son Hamlet. As Hamlet is a Ghost in this scene, Shakespeare is perhaps deliberately playing on the fascination of the audience with the supernatural to engage the imaginations of the audience and imply that they too should despise and detest Claudius, or perhaps to remind them of the divine rights of the king, as a warning as the ever suspicious King James the first was terrified of plots against him.

Main Paragraph 1 about Hamlet saying what his brother has done:

When the Ghostly Hamlet speaks to Hamlet (his son) about what has taken place he uses the metaphoric reference to imply that Claudius is the devil. “The serpent stung me” indicates that Claudius has behaved in a sly, slithering, stealthy and deceitful way as the reference to a snake has those connotations. The use of “stungforeshadows the later revelation in Hamlet’s monologue of the way that Claudius poisoned Hamlet. The choice of the noun “serpent” as a reference to Claudius is also biblical and makes a direct comparison to the Garden of Eden and the serpent that encouraged Eve to fall from grace. Perhaps, Shakespeare is deliberately showing the audience that danger can lurk in the most unsuspecting places and that upholding religious values is important.

Underlined = What

Bold = How

Purple = Why

I complete this process with the students and label up the examples on the board or colour code them on a PowerPoint slide with them.

I believe that this systematic approach to students analysis helps them in the long run, as the process is so well embedded that they are then able to free up their working memory to just concentrate on grappling with what the text in from of them says and they have these processes, so well embedded that they can do this automatically and then move into developing their own writing style that uses the combination of what – how – why without them even realising that is what they are doing. It helps them to move into higher level analytical thinking, again without them even realising this.

This is really nothing new, but it might be useful.

Why I love…Animal Farm – Chapter 5 – Divisive Behaviour

Previously, when teaching this novella, I was working through example essays with my class and had worked on one essay per chapter, up to Chapter 4. Therefore, I thought I would resume these, now. Perfect timing for me as I will be in class working on Chapter 5 next week. The other blogs are here: Why I love…Animal Farm: A blog collection

How is Chapter 5 shown to be hugely divisive in Animal Farm?

Orwell, a democratic socialist who was active in his anti-totalitarian regime dislike, seems to have deliberately introduced Chapter 5, the mid-point of the novel, as divisive to demonstrate that the animals’ equality is slowly being eroded and the animals have no capacity to change this. Immediately, we have been shown Mollie’s unhappiness which could be divisive as she clearly doesn’t want to abide by the rules of the farm. Then, we have the divisiveness between those who want the windmill and those that don’t. Finally, Snowball’s expulsion can be seen as one of the most divisive moments in Animal Farm, as the complicity of the animals in allowing this expulsion paves the way for a totalitarian regime led by Napoleon, that would not have been possible if Snowball had been on the farm to counterbalance Napoleon.

First, we see Mollie behaviour in Chapter 5 perhaps as a way of foreshadowing her leaving the farm. This is divisive as the animals should all be in favour of running the farm for themselves, but Mollie has been unhappy from the outset. The repetition of “more and more troublesome” at the start of the chapter shows Mollie’s unhappiness is becoming more evident to the other animals and shows that she is a divisive character as she is not blindly following the rules. In fact, she lies about her behaviour to Clover, which is again divisive as Clover is trying to follow the rules, and Mollie is quite indignant in her tone when she says “He didn’t! I wasn’t! It isn’t true!” suggesting that she is actually trying to cover her tracks and is perhaps embarrassed that she has been found out. The exclamatory remarks that she makes really quickly imply that she is lying and trying to claw her way out of this. Mollie’s behaviour appears suspicious to Clover, who searches her stall and finds incriminating evidence “little pile of lump sugar and several different coloured ribbons” both items that Mollie was upset about giving up when the seven commandments were originally set up. The fact that she has these contraband items makes it seem as though she is uninterested in following the same rules as everyone else and makes her divisive as she is willingly flouting the rules and ignoring them, in favour of her own selfish desires. However, she is said to have “disappeared” with the verb indicating that no-one knows where she has gone, only that she is no longer on the farm. This is unsurprising given her unhappiness, however it could be seen as divisive as the utopia that the animals want to create on the farm is clearly not something that every animal shares, as is evident with Mollie choosing to leave the farm. This desertion and dissent in the ranks of the animals could be seen as divisive as other animals might also decide that they are unhappy and want to leave. However, the divisive nature of Mollie’s behaviour doesn’t have this impact and in actual fact is overshadowed by the disagreement between Snowball and Napoleon over the building of the windmill.

Snowball is in favour of building the windmill, while Napoleon is steadfast in his determination that this is a terrible idea. They disagree most viciously and the management of the farm would have been peaceful had it not been for these two: “These two disagreed at every point where disagreement was possible” with the repetitive way disagree is used implying that this is not a simple matter of them not agreeing, but more fundamental that this. They both appear to be oppositional in their behaviour towards each other and the adjectival phrase “violent debates” and the fact that they both had their “own following” demonstrates that the utopian dream put forward by Old Major is in jeopardy, due to the ongoing fued between these two powerful characters. Snowball representing Trotsky and Napoleon representing Stalin implies that this violent disagreement is never going to end well for Snowball. Even though he “won over the majority with his brilliant speeches” with the adjective implying that he is good at public speaking and persuading the animals to think in a similar manner to him, ultimately Napoleon manages to shut much of the equitable debate down. Napoleon encourages the sheep to bleat “Four legs good, two legs bad” whenever a debate or discussion was occurring with the animals and in this way, Napoleon was able to manipulate the decisions being made. This divisive relationship seems doomed to create disharmony in Animal Farm. Napoleon shows a cold and nasty side to his personality when the plans for the windmill have all been worked out. The verbs in “lifted his leg, urinated over the plans and walked out without uttering a word” both literally and metaphorically show the derision that he feels towards Snowball and his schemes to make the farm a better environment for all. Napoleon’s scorn is evident in the way he chooses to behave here and Orwell then states that the “whole farm was deeply divided” which shows further evidence that the animals don’t know who to believe or side with and reinforces the way in which the power play between Snowball and Napoleon creates a divide in the farm, between the followers and supporters of Snowball and Napoleon, which creates the conditions for Napoleon to chase Snowball off the farm a further act that could be seen as devious, calculated and divisive.

Predictably, as Snowball represents Trotsky, it seems fitting that Napoleon manages to chase him off the farm and into exile as this is what happened to Trotsky. The dogs, who have hitherto been hidden away are summonsed by Napoleon using auditory imagery “uttered a high-pitched whimper” and the verb “bounding into the barn.” For the dog’s movement, indicates the power that they seem to possess. The arrival of the dogs marks a turning point for Snowball as they “dashed straight for Snowball” in a targeted attack to either harm or injure him. This could be seen as divisive as Napoleon is clearly in the process of using fear and intimidation as a way to seize power and control over the situation and the farm. He is successful as the other animals are so “amazed and frightened” that they allow the “chase” to take place without saying or doing anything to stop it. Napoleon’s superior power comes from the dogs who he has trained from pups to become as the adjective suggests “enormous dogs wearing brass-studded collars” which must have been an intimidating sight for Snowball and the other animals on the farm. The fact that they are wearing a uniform is suggestive of the secret service who Stalin surrounded himself by and the dogs are clearly symbolic of the secret service in the way that they behave towards Snowball. Napoleon doesn’t have to do any of the difficult and violent work, much like Stalin, but instead instructs his dogs to do this. This coup took place extremely suddenly and the emotions of the animals reflect their shock at the turn of events “even Boxer was vaguely troubled” with the adverb implying that he is aware, despite being considered to be unintelligent that there is something wrong with what had taken place and that Napoleon’s behaviour was divisive. Squealer goes onto lay the foundations of one of the threats that will keep the animals in their place, which again is divisive as he is pitching the animals in direct opposition to humans, which he knows frightens the animals. This speech “Surely, comrades, you do not want Jones back?” is deliberately manipulative towards the animals in order to get them to stop discussing the expulsion of Snowball and consider how they are better off, because they have the farm and not Farmer Jones. Napoleon’s sly and divisive behaviour is finally foregrounded when he announces that the windmill will go ahead. This was the issue that had deeply divided the farm, as a result of Napoleon’s objections towards it and the U-turn that Napoleon undertakes is then explained away by Squealer, once again. Squealer appears to be working with Napoleon as a propaganda machine, talking to the animals and getting them to see Napoleon’s point of view. The repetition of “Tactics, comrades, tactics!” demonstrates the slippery and manipulatory behaviour of Napoleon and Squealer, but the animals don’t seem to notice it and they “accepted his explanation with no further questions” which shows that they have been subjugated at this point in the novella and the intimidatory tactics and persuasion employed by Napoleon have worked.

Throughout Chapter 5, it is evident that the farm is no utopian, equal society and that the dream Old Major shared has been modified and distorted as power gained by Napoleon has grown and his scruples have gone. Mollie leaving could have been divisive as the animals may have seen this as an opportunity to leave also, however it isn’t as they blindly accept this and carry on as if she didn’t exist. The argument and bitterness between Snowball and Napoleon were divisive and in fact caused two factions to grow in the farm, showing a divided loyalty towards the different characters. Finally, the expulsion of Snowball, violently and unlawfully by Napoleon should have been divisive, but wasn’t due to the fear and intimidation that grew as the shocked animals tried to process what had happened. Chapter 5 is where Napoleon takes charge, overthrows any democracy and makes the lives of the ordinary proletarian animals much more difficult. Although the actions are divisive, he manages to take power with an iron fist and this is only going to be detrimental to the ordinary animals.

Why I Love…Thinking about differences between teaching remotely versus in class

Disclaimer

A lot of the thinking behind the approach to teaching remotely has been a collaborative approach with our department. Weekly and even daily they have shared tips and ideas about how to maximise the learning that students are doing while having to be independent. We’ve had a team meeting weekly as a way of breaching the gap that exists from not being in daily face to face contact (oh, how I miss the small interactions that help enrich the way that I teach and think).  I’ve also gained immeasurable amounts of knowledge and ideas from @team_english1 on twitter: threads, individual tweets, blogs and some behind the scenes one to one conversations, all are invaluable and all have undoubtably shaped my thinking and influenced the way that we have approached the challenges inherent in teaching in this very new landscape. However, the biggest influencer has been the Department that I work in and their deep knowledge of the students that we work with in our context. Remote learning is the same as in class learning, context influences what we do and how we do it, every time and it trumps some of the ideas or time saving hacks that we might see and be dazzled by. The deep knowledge of our own students means that some of what I talk about here will be superfluous or not transferable, but that is the beauty of teaching. You can’t take something straight of the peg and expect to have the same results elsewhere, it has to be shaped adapted and moulded to fit the context.

So, with that in mind I’d like to credit the brilliant minds in our team Katie @katiesuther, Jo@joduncalfe1 and Georgia @georgia_may_a and the other 6 teachers and teaching assistants (who are not on twitter) and I work with and just say a huge thanks, first of all.

How we approach Remote Learning in a nutshell for context

Just so you are aware our approach has been a mix of Live lessons, pre-recorded Loom lessons or instructions and Google docs/slides for students to work through. We have tried to include a range of multi-media stimulation, reading and writing tasks and broken it down into specific tasks with estimated timings as much as possible for each task. We’ve found this blog:  https://mrbteachesenglish.wordpress.com/2021/01/11/an-approach-to-remote-learning-resources/ written by Daniel Blackburn @Eng_MrB so useful and adopted the strategies that Daniel uses across most year groups for the adapted curriculum that we are teaching remotely (thanks to @katiesuther for spotting and trialling this). I say adapted curriculum, as how we teach in class doesn’t transfer perfectly to online and the lessons that we would deliver have needed tweaking and changing to suit remote learning. We’ve divided the year groups up into pairs and each pair has adapted the learning for that year group for the team, in order to keep workload sane and avoid us all scrabbling to do the same thing but for different classes. I think this approach has been sensible and worked well for us. It also means we can still collaborate with our partner on what and how to deliver the remote learning and we all know what has been taught across the board, which will aid a smooth transition back into live in class teaching, I hope.

Remote Live lesson teaching versus Live in class teaching

When doing online live lessons, the pace seems excruciatingly slow, compared to live lessons. With the cameras off and the students reluctant to unmute it can be difficult to ascertain whether there is any engagement going on. Waiting for everyone to arrive can feel like dead time with me grinning inanely into the abyss. Watching the chat box continue to be blank brings tumbleweed to mind and never before has allowing students ‘Thinking time’ become more relevant and uppermost in my mind.

It isn’t all doom and gloom. There is some light at the end of the Google Meet tumbleweed tunnel.

Counteracting some of the above has been trial and error and in no way have I got all the answers. Here’s some of the things we/I have done.

A welcome slide with wellbeing questions – thank to Georgia @gearogeadsett for introducing this idea. In the chat if anyone wants to share how they are feeling they can do. On the slide is also a brief what today’s lesson is about. During this part of the lesson, I’ll chat to the students and say Hi (Name) individually to each of them and welcome them to the lesson and generally ask them how they are and explain that we are just waiting for a few more to join. Some will unmute and say hi and this is always a lovely calm start to a lesson. I like to think of this point in the lesson is the relationships bit, where I reconnect with my class and remind them that I’m pleased to see them and looking forward to the lesson. Obviously, one of the best ways that I can do this is through my tone of voice being warm and friendly and my facial expression. So, although I said ‘grinning inanely’ that’s just the self-conscious part of me, as normally in class I wouldn’t be looking at myself so would be completely unaware of what my face is looking like. I might also drop in a why I’m excited about the lesson or a how I’m feeling point “It’s early, hope everyone is alright. I know I’m tired at the moment…” Or, “I’ve being doing online exercises to keep myself energised…” Nothing exciting but just enough to connect.

Next, I’ll do a quick recap quiz with questions relating to what has gone before. When I design this, I keep in mind the idea that I want this to quick fire with all students answering in the chat. So, I number the questions in advance and ask the students to answer question 1, without pressing send and when I say send a flurry of answers arrive and I can quickly see if there are misunderstandings and address them, there and then. In this way, I have some AFL straight up and can offer feedback too. As a deliberate strategy, I keep these questions as short to the point answers so that students get the chance to warm up. In class, I wouldn’t prepare this in advance on a slide, I would probably write them up on the board as the class arrive and I greet them. This does mean that planning a live lesson is more time consuming, in my opinion, than being able to go into the lesson with my board pen, text, visualiser etc.

Then, the lesson will diversify depending on what I want to gain from it.

Sometimes, it will be a bit of feedback of misconceptions that I want to address based on patterns that I have noticed from the learning that has been submitted to me or from the Google Quizzes that have been handed in. This is no different to class learning, as I would normally be able to pick up on these misconceptions either in the lesson and address them or using whole class feedback or individual marking and feedback.

Other times, it will be reading and exploring ideas in a passage of text together so that we create a shared understanding of the text. For this, I might have questions on the screen or in mind that I’ll ask and get students to answer in the chat box. This is just like question and answer in the classroom and I’ll select students by name or say anyone can answer which is similar to in class sessions.

At times, I will have a task that I share on a word document that has numbered boxes. I’ll ask the students to go onto the shared document and complete this live with me offering on the spot tips, questions and encouragement. While this is a different format to working collaboratively, it isn’t that different to class learning as I would ask students to work in pairs or threes and feedback. This way however, all are able to see each other’s work. Thanks to Kirsty Rogers @_krogg for the original post about this and @katie_suther being an early adopter in our team and sharing her success with this.

Other times, I’ll have the same slide on the Live Lesson PowerPoint and students will work independently on the task and I’ll scroll through offering suggestions and asking questions. While, I’m doing this I’ll occasionally ask people to stop and consider a particularly good example of remind the students of something in the success criteria that lots of people are forgetting. I’ll also add sentence stems etc. to help support those who I can see are finding it difficult. This is not dissimilar to the in class circulating that I would have done (pre-COVID-19 teaching in the box). I believe this was shared by Tom Sherrington @teacherhead originally.

At times the purpose of the live lesson will be to offer teacher input on ‘what is coming up’ so that I can explain exactly what and how I want something done. Then, I will offer the students the chance to go offline and work on this independently with me available as a drop in or to stay online for extra guidance and support. This is similar to being the meerkat in the classroom and checking on those that need it.

The biggest difference in the remote live lessons and the class and the part that I miss the most is being able to ‘read the room’. I can’t see how students are feeling about the task or the work without the all-important body language and facial expressions. I just can’t, but in the absence of this we and I have adapted.

Pre-recorded lessons or instructions versus live in class teaching

From the start, we’ve used Loom to pre-record instruction videos. This is different to live as we’d just be there and be able to chunk up the instruction and explanation throughout the lesson, but they’ve been great in so many other ways. Some things we’ve learnt, are:

  • Students appreciate having the video, as they find it useful to hear the instructions given verbally.
  • Offering an opportunity to pause is sometimes useful in these, but not always.
  • They are brilliant for reading longer pieces of text, as we would in class.
  • We’ve created some videos that are tailored to the tasks, tailored to specific skills that can be revisited and tailored to the reading.
  • They are versatile and don’t have to be perfect.
  • The shorter videos are usually better for our students as they are more likely to listen to those in their entirety.
  • Using these to model a paragraph or annotate either on a document or with a visualiser is brilliant in our subject and means that students can go back to this again as revision.
  • Sometimes offering a Loom video during a task is useful, as students have bought in before the video is produced.  
  • They don’t replace or replicate the live class environment but students like them and prefer our own pre-recorded videos to the off the shelf ones that are available***

***We have used some of these and they have been incredibly helpful, but in our context, we found the students didn’t ‘buy in’ as we would have hoped. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t great, just they didn’t work for us.***

Setting work independently via Docs or Slides

Again, this is an alien concept as we have no idea how the students are getting on with this work until they submit it or if they are confident enough to ask a question about the work via Google Classrooms or email. This is very unlike in class teaching, as we are rudderless as the teacher and at the mercy of having to assume that the students are fine and just getting on with it. Then, there is the painful process of checking those submissions and chasing the outstanding bits (this admin part of the process remotely is painstaking and possibly the worst part of the whole thing). I love getting the work and seeing what has been done, marking it and feeding back and thinking about what I learn and how this needs to feed into how we move forward or plan forward for remote learning. The bit I find hard and I’m sure all will agree is the ones that are glaringly absent, or not submitted. That leaves me feeling like I’m teaching into the void.

However, it isn’t all bad. Some of the things we’ve learnt that help increase engagement are:

  • Less is more – don’t overload them
  • Aim for 45 minutes of work to allow for reading and processing time
  • Set clear boundaries to allow them to only work on the day’s work for an hour
  • Try to stick to the same format, to reduce the cognitive overload that they might be experiencing
  • Use models
  • Use scaffolds
  • Differentiate in colour
  • Use timings
  • Clearly label the tasks
  • Use visual stimulus
  • Use multi-media
  • Mix up the tasks so that they don’t become fatigued
  • Make the instructions crystal clear
  • Support these with a loom video of verbal instructions
  • Use the expandable boxes idea from @Eng_MrB’s blog referenced above
  • Offer a challenge task to extend the higher prior attainers
  • Offer support and ways in for the lower prior attainers

This is not hugely different to how we plan, normally, but the opportunity to verbally explain, on the spot model, to adapt and question are removed from this process. It means that the planning has to be clean and clear and speak to the brains of the young people that we work with. We have to attempt to pitch it right, right from the get go, as unlike in the classroom there is no room for reactive teaching. With this approach, we have to try to aim for all possibilities and while we might assume what we have said and done is crystal clear, it isn’t always when seen through the vision of a relative novice.

I’m not sure that I’ve covered everything or even done justice to the nuanced difference that being in the classroom makes versus teaching remotely, but I hope that this is useful and interesting.

Why I love…Comparing poems “Poppies” and “The Emigree” AQA Power and Conflict

This week for remote learning we have planned lessons on Poppies and The Emigree and then a comparison focused lesson on both these poems. With this in mind I have created an extension task that asks students to unpick the essay that I’ve posted below.

Hopefully, after working on both poems and planning their own essay, this one will give them some food for thought about how to compare.

Comparison of Poppies and The Emigree

How do both poems explore the role of the civilian?

In Poppies by Weir and The Emigree by Rumens, we have two persona’s reflecting on their experience of loss in some way. Both are civilians who are slightly removed from conflict but also affected deeply by it. In Poppies the mother has lost a son, while in The Emigree the persona has lost her original home, both of these losses are a direct result of conflict. The loss is experienced in both through memory, a reflection on the grief that the persona’s experience and a sense of longing for things to be different.

Immediately in both Poppies and The Emigree we recognise that the personas are talking about their experiences through memory and as ordinary people who have been touched by conflict. Weir, in stanza one uses the preposition in the third line “Before you left” to introduce the memory she has of saying goodbye to a son, who is wearing what we can assume is a military uniform. The poet uses tactile references “I pinned” and “smoothed” and the symbol of the ‘poppy’ to show the reader that the son is dead without actually telling us this anywhere. In this way the reader is part of the memory and can experience the love that the mother felt for her son through the memory that she is sharing. While in The Emigree memory is the immediate first line reflection with a wistful tone “There once was a country…I left it as a child” to show that the poem is going to be a childlike reflection on the place that the persona grew up. The caesura with the ellipsis is an interesting structural point as the opening “There once” is reflective of a fairy tale and this allows the reader to recognise that the persona misses this place but is possibly looking at it with a bias opinion as they haven’t been there for many years and the memory is rosy but juxtaposed with the harsh reality of what it is currently like there. The modality in “It may be at war, it may be sick with tyrants” allows this recognition that the memory is not the same as the reality. “Tyrants” have connotations of being harsh, dictatorial rulers and if the country is “sick with” these the memory that the persona has is not the same as the truth of what it is actually like. Both poets use memory to reminisce on feelings of love and warmth, in Poppies the love a mother feels for her son as someone who  is a civilian but still touched by conflict and in The Emigree the love a person feels for the country of their birth and the loss that they experience when this is taken away from them, through no fault of their own.

This loss or grief is reflected upon in both Poppies and The Emigree. In Poppies the grief that the mother feels are experienced as she tells the reader the time of the year “Three days before Armistice Sunday” which relates to the title as the Poppy is symbolic of remembrance. The grief is also shown through the repetition of the “single dove” a symbol of love and peace and we see the mother trying to reconcile herself with her loss through a walk to the “war memorial” which was a place of comfort to the persona. Weir chose this place to write about as she used to walk in the church yard with her own son, when he was little and the plethora of war graves made her wonder about the grief that a mother would feel and experience at the loss of a son in conflict and inspired her to write the poem. While in The Emigree there is no real experience of death, unlike in Poppies, there is instead a metaphorical death. The grief that the persona feels in The Emigree is different to Poppies as it is linked to not being able to return to a childhood home, being displaced. In the descriptions that the persona gives “white streets” and “graceful slopes” and “it tastes of sunlight” an impression of beauty and joy and peacefulness is given of the city and country that the persona came from but this peace is not lasting. The persona juxtaposes this relaxing and beautiful imagery with the harsh first-person reality “I have no passport, there’s no way back at all” which creates a contradiction to the experience that the persona has of the city with the “sunlight” being repeated to perhaps highlight the strong sense that this is a place that they long to be in. While both poets reflect on the grief that the feel, there is also an immense sense of joy and love in both poems. Rumens highlights the plight of the refugee in her poem and the sense of displacement, whereas Poppies is grounded in imagery that we can all recognise from our own local area. The grief that is felt is different in both poems but this doesn’t mean that the grief should be ignored or not reflected upon. Both poets make the reader recognise that there is an inherent unfairness in the way that civilians are almost ignored when conflict occurs.

In both poems a sense of longing is created as if the civilians who have been touched by the conflict wish that things were different in some way. Poppies, reflecting on the loss of a son makes it clear in the final wistful tone of “I listened, hoping to hear your playground voice catching on the wind” that the mother would like to hear her son just one more time. We know that this is impossible and this makes the final lines incredibly poignant, as we know that the loss of a child is a devastating experience and while Poppies shows this grief in a subtle way, it is clear in every line that the mother loves her child and wishes that she could see and hold him again. Whereas, in The Emigree the wistfulness and longing are presented through the personification and the use of possessive pronouns to explain the importance of the city “My city takes me dancing through the city of walls” implying that the persona longs to be there and has vivid memories that keep playing in the mind. The verb “accuse” is repeated and shows the personas recognition that it is dangerous for them to go back, but that this does not stop them wanting to revisit, even though they know that they can’t. Both Poppies and The Emigree show that ordinary people long for things to be different, but that ultimately, they have no choice when conflict has externally affected their lives. In Poppies the mother can only remember her son while in The Emigree the persona can only remember the country of their origin, in this way both poets create a sense that they would like things to be different.

Poppies by Weir and The Emigree by Rumens are poems that discuss the effect and impact of conflict on ordinary civilians in a way that helps us to understand the importance their memories have to them, the grief that they have felt from the loss of a son and the loss of a place to call home and the sense of longing that they have for things to be different. Poppies reflects on the grief from losing a person and The Emigree on losing a place, both poems show that loss affects civilians strongly and the impact of conflict cannot be underestimated. Although both poems discuss similar themes, they are fundamentally different as you could argue the loss and grief experienced in both poems are about completely different events that have taken place as a result of conflict. Neither event however is less important as the loss, grief and longing are real in both poets’ reflections.

These are the tasks that I am asking them to complete.

Task 1: Read the essay

Task 2: Highlight on the Google Doc where this has met the success criteria:
poet’s name/poem name 
question focus/what the poet does
In the introduction – three ideas that will be talked about
how the poet uses language (quotations and techniques/methods/terminology)
The analytical verbs to introduces analysis
Comparison connectives or language of comparison
why the poet uses this language (effects)

Why I love…Verbal Questioning for The Emigree by Carol Rumens @AQA Power and Conflict

This is another verbal questioning document. This time for The Emigree by Carol Rumens, which we are preparing to teach remotely next week.

Verbal Questioning for Poppies by Jane Weir

  • What is Armistice Sunday?
  • What day is it?
  • Why have poppies been placed?
  • What does the individual war graves tell you about the families?
  • Who left?
  • What did they pin on the lapel?
  • Who was it that pinned it?
  • What does this suggest is happening to the person having the poppy pinned onto them?
  • Why the tactile imagery?
  • What does it suggest about the bond between the pinner and the person being pinned?
  • What are the “crimped petals” made of?
  • What colour is it?
  • How does it stand out?
  • What is the contrasting colour used in this stanza?
  • Why is the persona drawing attention to the blazer?
  • What does this suggest about what the person is wearing?
  • The first line of the second stanza is tactile again. Why might this be?
  • What do we learn about the home in “rounded up as many white cat hairs”
  • What is the persona trying to make sure of for the person in the blazer?
  • Again, the tactile actions are repeated in the verbs “smoothed”?
  • What does this show about the relationship?
  • Why does the persona say that she “steeled the softening of my face”?
  • What does it show about her emotions?
  • Why “graze my nose” – another tactile image?
  • What does the childhood game create an impression of?
  • Why does she say “I resisted”?
  • What does it suggest she is holding back?
  • Why would she be holding this back?
  • What is the metaphor “gelled blackthorns” implying about his hair?
  • What has happened to her words?
  • What is the symbolism of the listing of the way the words are described?
  • How does she describe her emotions as he left?
  • What does this suggest is happening?
  • Why has she used the simile “world overflowing like a treasure chest”?
  • How does this link back to the earlier “Eskimo” imagery?
  • How long did it take for him to leave?
  • What is he “intoxicated” by?
  • Is the “split second” also reflecting on how quickly she lost her son?
  • What is the metaphor of the songbird telling us?
  • What is a dove symbolic of?
  • Why does she follow it?
  • Where does she go when she follows the bird?
  • Why is this important?
  • How does it link to the first line?
  • Why is her stomach “busy”?
  • What does it show about her emotions?
  • Why the imagery related to sewing “tucks, darts, pleats”?
  • What does the fact she is “hat-less, without a winter coat or reinforcements of scarf, gloves.” Tell us about her state of mind?
  • In the final stanza, where is she?
  • What is she doing?
  • Why might she be doing this?
  • The simile “leaned against it like a wishbone” is another childhood reference, what does this make you think about her state of mind?
  • Are her wishes likely to come true?
  • What does the “dove pulled freely against the sky.” Make you think she has to do?
  • What can we infer has happened to her son?
  • Why “an ornamental stitch”?
  • What is she hoping for?
  • What does this suggest about her son’s memory?
  • Does the ending leave a melancholic and wistful tone?
  • Does the ending suggest that she has to let go of her son and her grief but is perhaps not ready to?
  • The poem, although told in the first person appears to have a dreamlike, ethereal quality about it. Why do you think Weir created this impression?
  • She relates a memory of her son leaving. Why is this poignant?
  • The stanza structure is uneven. Why might this be?
  • What is the significance of poppies in this poem?
  • What does it help us to understand?

Why I love…Verbal Questioning for Poppies @AQA Power and Conflict Anthology

Next week, we are going to be looking at the poem Poppies for remote learning with Y10. So, I thought I’d start by putting down on paper the questions that I would normally fire off during the course of a lesson. Oh, how I miss being in the classroom.

Verbal Questioning for Poppies by Jane Weir

  • What is Armistice Sunday?
  • What day is it?
  • Why have poppies been placed?
  • What does the individual war graves tell you about the families?
  • Who left?
  • What did they pin on the lapel?
  • Who was it that pinned it?
  • What does this suggest is happening to the person having the poppy pinned onto them?
  • Why the tactile imagery?
  • What does it suggest about the bond between the pinner and the person being pinned?
  • What are the “crimped petals” made of?
  • What colour is it?
  • How does it stand out?
  • What is the contrasting colour used in this stanza?
  • Why is the persona drawing attention to the blazer?
  • What does this suggest about what the person is wearing?
  • The first line of the second stanza is tactile again. Why might this be?
  • What do we learn about the home in “rounded up as many white cat hairs”
  • What is the persona trying to make sure of for the person in the blazer?
  • Again, the tactile actions are repeated in the verbs “smoothed”?
  • What does this show about the relationship?
  • Why does the persona say that she “steeled the softening of my face”?
  • What does it show about her emotions?
  • Why “graze my nose” – another tactile image?
  • What does the childhood game create an impression of?
  • Why does she say “I resisted”?
  • What does it suggest she is holding back?
  • Why would she be holding this back?
  • What is the metaphor “gelled blackthorns” implying about his hair?
  • What has happened to her words?
  • What is the symbolism of the listing of the way the words are described?
  • How does she describe her emotions as he left?
  • What does this suggest is happening?
  • Why has she used the simile “world overflowing like a treasure chest”?
  • How does this link back to the earlier “Eskimo” imagery?
  • How long did it take for him to leave?
  • What is he “intoxicated” by?
  • Is the “split second” also reflecting on how quickly she lost her son?
  • What is the metaphor of the songbird telling us?
  • What is a dove symbolic of?
  • Why does she follow it?
  • Where does she go when she follows the bird?
  • Why is this important?
  • How does it link to the first line?
  • Why is her stomach “busy”?
  • What does it show about her emotions?
  • Why the imagery related to sewing “tucks, darts, pleats”?
  • What does the fact she is “hat-less, without a winter coat or reinforcements of scarf, gloves.” Tell us about her state of mind?
  • In the final stanza, where is she?
  • What is she doing?
  • Why might she be doing this?
  • The simile “leaned against it like a wishbone” is another childhood reference, what does this make you think about her state of mind?
  • Are her wishes likely to come true?
  • What does the “dove pulled freely against the sky.” Make you think she has to do?
  • What can we infer has happened to her son?
  • Why “an ornamental stitch”?
  • What is she hoping for?
  • What does this suggest about her son’s memory?
  • Does the ending leave a melancholic and wistful tone?
  • Does the ending suggest that she has to let go of her son and her grief but is perhaps not ready to?
  • The poem, although told in the first person appears to have a dreamlike, ethereal quality about it. Why do you think Weir created this impression?
  • She relates a memory of her son leaving. Why is this poignant?
  • The stanza structure is uneven. Why might this be?
  • What is the significance of poppies in this poem?
  • What does it help us to understand?
This is the image for the first slide of remote learning. A wonderful colleague grouped the poems and this cluster will be: The role of the civilian, hence these specific questions.

Why I love…Verbal Questioning for Remains by Simon Armitage @AQA Power and Conflict

This week, we will be virtually teaching Remains and that got me thinking about the questions that I’d like to ask about this poem.

So, I’ve put together a document with a load of questions that I’m intending converting to a Google quiz (some of them – not all) to reinforce the students understanding of the poem. Some of the questions will spill into my live lesson with Y10, I’m sure too.

Verbal Questioning for Remains by Simon Armitage

  • Armitage starts in “On another occasion” which suggests that they have been there before. Why might he start the poem like this?
  • What are the implied meaning of “sent out”?
  • Who are the collective pronoun “we”?
  • Why use “tackle”?
  • What connotations does this have?
  • How does this make it seem? Serious or not serious. Why?
  • Why the colloquialism “looters”?
  • What does this suggest?
  • What are they doing?
  • Why start the 3rd line with a connective “And”?
  • What tone does it suggest – formal/informal and why?
  • The colloquial phrase “legs it up the road,” tells us…
  • Why use modality in “possibly” and “probably”?
  • What does it tell us about the soldier’s level of knowledge about the “looters”?
  • In the second stanza the first and second line is a list of the soldiers (nameless) who all have the same idea – what does this suggest about them?
  • When they “open fire” is there any emotion suggested?
  • Why are they “three of a kind”?
  • What does the colloquial “letting fly” make you imagine?
  • Does it lighten the fact that they are shooting at a possibly unarmed man?
  • When Armitage uses “I swear” he is bringing it back to the individual soldiers perspective with the first person pronoun and what does this tell us?
  • “I see” is repeated. Why do you think this is repeated?
  • “rips through his life” is a strange way to say a man is dying, why do you think Armitage phrases it like this?
  • What does it tell us about the bullets?
  • How can the soldier see “broad daylight on the other side”?
  • What does this suggest about his state of mind?
  • Or, what does it tell you about the state of the man’s body?
  • What does “So” the connective make you think in the next sentence?
  • Again, we move from the personal into the collective with “we’ve”, why is there this shift?
  • What impression does the final line of stanza 3 imply “he’s there on the ground, sort of inside out,”?
  • Is there are detached or personal response here?
  • What tone is implied in that line?
  • What imagery does “sort of inside out,” with the ambiguity of what is being said make you think or feel and why?
  • Why does the soldier reflect on the “pain” the “looter” has suffered?
  • When “one of my mates goes by” what are we made to think?
  • Was the looter protected or not protected?
  • Was he alone when he died or not?
  • How does the friendly tone in “mate” juxtapose the horror of what has just happened?
  • Why the repeated informal language “tossed”?
  • What does it suggest about the sanctity of life?
  • What imagery is prevalent in “tossed his guts back into his body”?
  • Why “carted” in the “back of a lorry”?
  • What does this remind you off?
  • Is his life worth anything to the soldiers or not?
  • In the fifth stanza, what do we come to realise?
  • There is a juxtaposition in the final stanza’s first line. What does this tell us about the impact of the shooting on the soldier?
  • What is his “blood – shadow”?
  • Is it real or a picture in the mind of the soldier?
  • What does it show he is questioning?
  • What is walking over the shadow “week after week” doing to the soldier while he is on tour?
  • When the soldier ‘blinks’ what happens to him?
  • What does this show about the emotional impact of the event on him?
  • What is he reliving in the start of stanza 6?
  • Why repeat “possibly armed, probably not”?
  • What does it show about his conscience?
  • Why “Sleep” then “Dream”?
  • How does the soldier try to cope?
  • What are the dreams a symptom of?
  • What is Armitage telling us about the soldiers’ memories?
  • Why “flush him out”?
  • What does it suggest the soldier wants to do?
  • Where does the death of the looter stay?
  • Why does he say “dug in behind enemy lines”?
  • What is the meaning of “distant, sun-stunned, sand-smothered land”?
  • What does it tell us about the death?
  • How it feel to the soldier?
  • What does “near to the knuckle” actually mean?
  • Why does he say this?
  • What is the final line a recognition of?
  • Why change the structure to a two-line final stanza?
  • Why repeat “bloody”?
  • Why create a double meaning with “bloody”?
  • What impression do we get about the impact of killing the man?
  • Why is Armitage writing about this event?
  • Is there a sense that this is a war crime or not and why?
  • Throughout the poem there is a mixture of end-stopping and enjambment. Choose some examples and explain why they have been used at that point in the poem.

Copy of the document if you would like to use it:

Why I love…Verbal Questions for Storm on the Island by Heaney. AQA Power and Conflict.

Previously, I have started writing about the verbal questioning that goes alongside my planning for the teaching of the different AQA power and conflict poems. I’ve covered seven of the poems, to date and this is the next in the series.

Hopefully, these are useful. Storm on the Island, I always think is a much simpler and easier poem to analyse than some of the others and as a result students sometimes don’t go into enough detail as they are almost fooled into thinking that they don’t need to.

Verbal Questions:

  • What are the connotations relating to the individual words in the title?
  • Why the repeated collective pronoun “We”?
  • In the line “We build our houses squat” could this be reflected in the shape of the poem and is this a purposeful point?
  • How does the : caesura in the first line create and impact?
  • How do the Irish build their houses?
  • What is the significance of this?
  • What are they preparing for?
  • Why the adjective “wizened”?
  • What are the connotations of this?
    Why the enjambment between “never troubled us” and “With hay”?
  • What does it show about the land that they live in?
  • What cannot be lost?
  • Why is this important?
  • What does it suggest about the people that live there?
  • What occupation do the people appear to have? (this would be implicit)
  • Why is the land so barren?
  • “No trees” – what does this tell you about the landscape?
  • The phrase “which might prove company” implies that they are extremely isolated. Do you agree and why?
  • Where is the house situated?
  • How do you know?
  • What ‘blow full Blast:”?
  • What does this imply about the weather?
  • Is the storm strong or weak?
  • Where is the tone conversational?
  • What does this mean for the reader?
  • The imagery in “raise a tragic chorus” is beautiful, but also poignant. Would you agree with this and why?
  • What is Heaney referencing in this line?
  • How does this create an atmosphere?
  • What atmosphere is created?
  • What do they fear?
  • Why is this ambiguous?
  • What is pummelling the house?
  • There is repetition of an idea in the poem, what is it?
  • What is lacking in the landscape?
  • How does this affect the way that the people live?
  • Why does Heaney use “You might think”?
  • How does it create doubt in the reader’s mind?
  • What does making the “sea” “company” make you think and feel and why?
  • What is the oxymoronic phrase “Exploding comfortably” doing?
  • How does it juxtapose the reality?
  • IF the sea is down on the cliffs – what does this suggest about where the house is located?
  • Does this mean it is open to the elements or not?
  • What is the “flung spray”?
  • Where are the people?
  • What does the simile “spits like a tame cat” show us about the danger inherent in where they live?
  • Why has the “tame cat” “turned savage” and what does this show us about the area?
  • Why are they “sit (ting) tight”?
  • What does “salvo” make you think of?
  • What does it mean?
  • Is there a double meaning to this idea?
  • Why is the wind described as “strafes”?
  • Why “bombarded”?
  • What does this make you think and feel?
  • Is the storm overpowering?
  • What does the adjective “empty” suggest in the phrase “empty air”?
  • “We” is repeated. What does this show us about the importance of community?
  • Why is it “Strange,” with the caesura?
  • What is the “huge nothing” that Heaney talks about?
  • What is it that we fear?
  • Overall, what is Heaney suggesting about the Irish people?
  • What have they learnt over the centuries?
  • The poem is deceptively simple to understand. Do you agree?
  • Summarise the meaning.
  • What is Irish weather off the coast like?
  • What do people do, in order to survive?
  • Does this make the people special?
  • Does this suggest they are hardy?
  • Who works together to overcome adversity?
  • Why do you think this?
  • What happened in the history of Ireland that made people able to endure and overcome hardship?
  • Do you think Heaney displays a pride in his Irish heritage, through the poem?
  • Justify your response?
  • What is stronger in the poem: humanity or nature?