Why I love…teaching Shakespeare Characterisation: Othello in Year 9

I’ve written about the first part of this unit before.

With Year 9 as I’ve said before we are working on Shakespeare in order to better prepare the students for their GCSE Lit study and they have risen to the challenge. The SOL and unit on Othello is not mine, two of my colleagues put the unit together and it has been an absolute pleasure to teach it.

We started with a summary of Act One this time and didn’t reveal the play’s conclusion, allowing this to unfold across the unit, which we have not yet finished. First, we read the summary, explored where, what and how the action unfolded through questioning and got the students to summarise what they had learnt. Then, we looked in detail at Act 1 Scene 2 where Othello is summoned in front of the senate and Brabantio accuses him of foul play and witchcraft over the marriage to Desdemona. The class read the scene out loud and then we worked on annotating the language for meaning and effect and what this suggested about the time period. Once we’d explored this scene in detail we used the what – how – why structure to explore first impressions of both Othello and Desdemona.

Next, we read a non fiction article by Andrew Dickenson on Multiculturalism in Shakespeare’s time and explored what it told us about the context of the play and how the play might have been received. Then we looked at Othello’s speech and how he presented his argument eloquently, politely and with dignity, but also looking at how the speech helped to show the internalised racism that Othello was carrying within him. Having explored the context, it was useful to the students to have read the speech after gaining an understanding of the climate of the time period and we annotated and explored his thoughts and feelings in detail. We worked on an extended response to the speech considering – How does Shakespeare use language to present Othello? I shared the following with students to provide some stimulus for them to consider the different aspects of his speech.

We looked at how discourse markers can be used to help build on what you are saying as well.

Next we did some creative writing considering Othello’s story through the eyes of Desdemona with a first person account of what Othello had told her. This was a lovely piece and a nice way to allow students to show their understanding of what had happened to Othello and show empathy through the character of Desdemona.

After this we did some vocabulary work and read a summary of Act 2 & 3 exploring what happened in these scenes again through questioning.

We then explored in detail Act 3 Scene 3 and looked at how Iago is manipulative and deceitful throughout the scene towards Othello and then using What – How – Why as the structure completed an extended response to how Iago is manipulative and deceitful in this scene. I marked these and used GCSE criteria to ask students to identify what they were currently sitting at and how they could improve this, as I wanted them to see what GCSE looks like as the unit is designed to support them with understanding Shakespeare in advance of their Y10 Literature GCSE.

Examples used in the feedback from students and a stretch one from the teacher:

Task: Explore these examples and explain what they have done well and what they need to improve. Are the examples?

  • 1 – Narrative 
  • 2 – Some 
  • 3 – Explanatory
  • 4 – Clear
  • 5 – Thoughtful
  • 6 – Critical

Example 1

Shakespeare indicates that Iago is deceitful when he says “My Lord, you know I love you”. He is being sly and trying to be nice and friendly to Othello because of the fact that he framed Cassio and Desdemona for cheating, trying to make it more believable. Othello is being tricked by Iago and he falls right into his trap. Othello may feel happy that Iago is his friend, but in reality he is being betrayed. Right now he feels flattered that someone is looking out for him. Shakespeare wants to show that from Othello’s perspective Iago was caring and loving, but then from he was betraying Othello. I think that Shakespeare’s intentions were that sometimes people in the real world can be loving and caring but in reality they betray you.

Example 2

Shakespeare also presents Iago as hypocritical and showing not one bit of contrition whilst talking to Othello. The metaphor in “It is the green eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on” shows us that Iago is finally revealing his true egotistical character. The colour green is normally associated with the emotion of jealousy or envy. This means that Iago is telling Othello to watch out for jealous people who are trying to ruin him mentally and emotionally. Othello may feel sceptical as he’s now questioning who the loyalty of those he trusts. Perhaps, Shakespeare is trying to showcase how hypocritical Iago is. Iago himself is jealous of Othello and hates him, yet says he ‘loves him’ and warns him of people envious of him.

Example 3

Shakespeare implies that Iago is sly. This is shown in the pretence he makes of being a good friend to Othello, with the possessive pronoun “My good Lord” and by using the title to imply he respects Othello. The slyness in his character is shown because this is not how he really feels, Iago is rejecting Othello behind his back but to his face he is being polite, respectful and caring. The audience feels angered by Iago’s betrayal and manipulation of Othello. Shakespeare might be saying that people are not always what they seem.

Example 4

Shakespeare presents Iago as dishonest, as he puts doubts into Othello’s mind about the relationship between Cassio and Desdemona. The declarative statement “I did not think he had been acquainted with her.” Is an example of Iago trying to make Othello doubt how Desdemona behaves towards Cassio. However, this initial presentation of doubt is thwarted as Othello is aware of them knowing each other. This makes Iago change tact and begin to imply that Cassio is a dishonest and dislikeable character, ironically as it is actually Iago who is the antagonistic deceiver. The flattering tone in “My lord, for aught I know” implies that Iago doesn’t know whether Cassio should be trusted. By implying this Iago is deliberately deceiving Othello, as he knows there is nothing untoward happening but he wants Othello to have this doubt in his mind. The audience may feel astounded that Othello is so easily deceived, but Shakespeare has cleverly included 55 mentions, by other characters, of Iago’s honesty, so it may have been his intention to make the audience and Othello think that Iago is an impeccable character who is beyond reproach. The noun “honest’ has connotations of truth reliability and good intentions, therefore Othello could be forgiven for assuming Iago is guileless.

We looked at the first one together exploring exactly what they had from the success criteria on the board in them and then the students unpicked the other 3 examples. Finally, they gave feedback on what went well and what could be improved for each.

Following on from this, students chose another quotation and improved their paragraphs.

To have a break from analytical writing and annotations we did a viewpoint: Shakespeare’s plays are no longer relevant. Schools should stop teaching them. This was an inspired viewpoint as the discussion and resulting written pieces shows a depth of understanding of both the for and against viewpoints.

Again, we did a feedback lesson on this, considering how we could improve our skills of expressing a clear and developed viewpoint:

Feedback: Is Shakespeare still relevant?

Have they included?

  1. What – Topic sentence?
  2. Why – Explained their reason in the topic sentence
  3. How – Given evidence from Shakespeare or applications of their ideas
  4. Why – Enhanced it with some persuasive sentences
  5. What – Linked back to the topic sentence

Task: Label each example with the 5 things I have asked to be included in the writing.

Explain what is good (WWW) and what needs to be improved (EBI)

Example 1

Shakespeare as a topic for study is great because it links to topics that are still relevant in today’s society, such as internalised racism, mental health issues etc. Although a vast majority of Shakespeare plays are still relevant in today’s society there are a few percent of people who will argue that some of his plays are irrelevant. For example, ‘A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream’ is about a Donkey which wouldn’t help anyone in today’s society.

Example 2

Plays such as ‘Othello’ and ‘Hamlet’ offer a great view into what society may have been like at the time that they were written. It is clear that pupils can use this information to learn and understand the context og the time. I believe that knowledge of our history is fundamental for young people as it helps their understanding of the world to develop. Learning about these topics through Shakespeare’s splays is an engaging and exciting way for Secondary school students to feel more connected with the past. From my own personal experience, learning about Shakespeare’s plays has helped me to understand more about history. I’ve been able to gain knowledge on issues from the time through watching and reading his stories and I feel that other students should be given this opportunity to do so as well.

Example 3

While some people may believe Shakespeare as a playwright has no further impact on language, other than him creating famous and well known lines, such as “To be or not to be” from Hamlet. However, those people would instead be wrong. Due to Shakespeare we, in society, now have expressions like “cold-blooded” and “epileptic” which have come from his plays and had a massive impact on the way we communicate now. As language is forever changing, it is important to learn some words roots and former usage, so by removing Shakespeare from the curriculum it will shut down the entrance into the learning of communication. Yet, by continuing the teaching of his plays it gives us, as the next generation, a better  understanding of the language we speak.

We have since looked at Desdemona and patriarchy in detail, considered the death of Desdemona and the final soliloquy by Othello before he dies. Our final focus is an Oracy project based on either Hamlet or Othello where students create a paired or group presentation that they will get up and present to the class. This is going really well and I’m really looking forward to hearing what they have to say about Shakespeare’s characterisation.

Although a challenging topic, they have risen to the challenge and shown maturity and understanding. As I said at the outset this wasn’t my scheme of work, but I have enjoyed teaching it, immensely.

Why I love… Teaching Shakespeare Characterisation in Y9: Hamlet

At the moment, I have two vastly different mixed ability sets in English at Y9, they look similar on paper but are very different in reality. However, one thing they have in common is an absolute joy of working on the current unit. Both classes have been studying Hamlet and now Othello and the engagement they have shown with the unit is really wonderful to see. I’ve been feeling like I’ve been neglecting my KS3 classes a bit at the moment with the increased scrutiny and focus on TAGs in KS4, so thought I’d try to reassure myself a bit by writing about how we’ve approached this characterisation unit and how it’s going. Also, I’ve seen some criticism of Hamlet being taught in KS3 on twitter and want to show how it can work in this year group.

We changed Y9 a couple of years ago in order to try to make the curriculum more diverse and reflect the diversity in our school. It was also to increase students ability to study, analyse and write about Literature in preparation for KS4 where we do split entry with Literature GCSE in Y10 and Language in Y11.

The current overview of Year 9 looks like this and this is a working document that will be updated to reflect what we have taught and if there are any other changes that we need to make:

As you can see we have a choice of texts which we deliver as a cold read and which teachers have autonomy over the choices they teach.

Two of my brilliant colleagues put together the unit for Shakespeare characterisation and due to lockdown, this is the first time we’ve managed to actually physically teach it, so it is lovely to be in a class and doing this.

We started with a focus on Heroes and Villains in order to introduce the idea of protagonists, antagonists, flaws and archetypes. Then we went onto focus on a plot overview of Hamlet considering the storyline and understanding what happened. We did this through the SparkNotes summary video, question and answer and lots of discussion. Next we put Hamlet into context and used a context summary and comprehension quizzes. We also worked on lots of consolidation and retrieval practice for the plot of the play to ensure that the students were completely comfortable with what happened.

Students were given a booklet of key scenes and we explicitly modelled through questions and answers how to annotate effectively for meaning, effect and language/structure. Using lots of questioning we started with the supernatural introduction of Hamlet’s father, the ghost. Students were fascinated by why people would have believed that Hamlet had indeed seen a ghost and why Hamlet so readily believed his story. We wrote about how Claudius was presented as an archetypal villain through the impression we gained from Hamlet – the ghosts monologue and looked at the multiple references to the biblical story of the Garden of Eden and how this intertextuality was typically found in Shakespeare’s plays. We also explored how the introduction of a character through the eyes of others’ was an important plot device as before we’ve even met Claudius we are positioned, as the audience to distrust, dislike and see him as deceitful and dishonest. In this way we were able to explore and really appreciate that the play is a construct and that characters are multi-faceted and three dimensional. Then, we moved onto Act 2 Scene 2, where we met Claudius and saw his deceitful nature for ourselves. Again, we used lots of questions and answers and students as the actors to read the scene. The characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern brought up some lively discussion as the students were absolutely certain that they wouldn’t spy on Hamlet on behalf of the King, Claudius through loyalty to their friend. This meant that we could have some really good discussions about morality, when it is acceptable to watch over someone and report their actions back to a third party and generally consider views on the importance of trust and honesty. After this we looked at Hamlet’s turmoil in Act 3 Scene 1 and looked very closely at Hamlet’s ‘To be or Not to be’ soliloquy. There was a lot of discussion about whether Hamlet really was mad or not and whether he actually sent himself mad through his own procrastination or not. Students then wrote about the presentation of Hamlet’s madness. We also looked closely at Queen Elizabeth’s spy network in order to understand how contextually the court of Claudius was linked closely to the fears and concerns of the Queen at that time. Then, we looked at the juxtaposition of Hamlet’s inability to kill Claudius while he was praying (although we didn’t read the scene) and the instantaneous nature of the killing of Claudius behind the arras and we read this scene. We looked at the ironic nature of the killing happening through a religious tapestry, a fact that we think would have been recognised by a contemporary audience and considered carefully the presentation of Gertrude here. Throughout the unit we were considering whether Hamlet truly is a tragic hero or not and kept coming back to this as a big question. We looked at the presentation of Hamlet in the Get thee to a Nunnery scene and explored whether his behaviour was acceptable or not. This also allowed us to discuss the stagecraft and directorial choices. The scenes that we chose to watch for the behaviour of Hamlet towards Othello were quite gritty and opened up discussions about violence and abuse against women and misogyny.

Throughout the unit we did lots of analytical writing and some viewpoint work too. @katiesuther created a brilliant viewpoint task on Joint Enterprise which linked into the topic of Hamlet and Justice, but also importantly taught our students about criminal responsibility.

All in all the work on Hamlet was engaging, allowed us to tackle some really delicate subjects and helped to prepare the students for explorations of language in Shakespeare at GCSE. We are currently teaching Othello and then will move onto Much Ado about Nothing and the levels of engagement, thought and discussion in the classes are just as high as they were with Hamlet.

I hope that this is interesting and shows that Hamlet can be and is a suitable text for KS3. Even though we haven’t taught the whole text, the purpose of the unit is to introduce characterisation and language and I believe that this has been successful, so far.

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.