Picturing Poetry

4 Oct

Many students find it challenging to write poetry from scratch. To assist these students, I like to offer them an illustration from a picture book. Using this image as inspiration, they then compose a short poem. If students require additional assistance, you cold even create an alphabetised list of all/a selection of words from the book, providing this to students as a vocabulary bank on which they could draw.

An alternate approach would be to provide the alphabetised list of words from one book and the images from another. While undoubtedly more challenging, the possibilities for creativity are arguably greater.

Yet another variation would to provide an image from one book and the title of another. Again, this could lead to intriguing possibilities given students will need to demonstrate creativity in order to articulate a relation between the themes/ideas suggested by the title and those of the illustration.

Closing Arguments

3 Oct

Students often struggle to end a persuasive speech in a way that compels their audience/listener to take concrete action. I find that it is helpful to have students examine a range of examples from film so that they can understand how manner, matter and method combine to move, impact, or emotionally engage their audience.

Here, here, and here are some powerful examples that often resonate well with students in years seven to nine.

Questions and activities to stimulate discussion might include:

  1. Identify persuasive elements.
  2. Rank these persuasive features in order of most to least persuasive. Provide supporting reasons.
  3. With reference to one clip, create a persuasive storyboard in which you summarise key moments with reference to the dominant persuasive device(s) used. Justify your choices to a partner/the class.
  4. What role is played by language in making the closing persuasive?
  5. What role is played by visuals in making the closing persuasive?
  6. What role is played by gesture in making the closing persuasive?
  7. Which of the clips do you find most persuasive? Why?
  8. Which of the clips do you find least persuasive? Why?
  9. What are the three key takeaways/lessons regarding persuasiveness?

Rapping Shakespeare

23 Mar

Inspired by the tutorial delivered by Lorianne from the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company, I think it would be fun to have students experiment with different ways of reading excerpts from Shakespeare’s work.  This could offer a fun entry into the notion that Shakespeare’s plays are designed to be performed.

For students who have studied a range of plays, there could be interesting discussion around which plays/excerpts are most suitable to be rapped.  Discussion could focus on tone, characterisation and mood.

Building Paragraphs

7 Mar

Students sometimes struggle to move their paragraphs from recount and description to analysis.  I think the table below could be useful to help students understand the different requirements.  It is also a neat way to differentiate work, map student progress and assist students in the formulation of learning goals.

In this table, all students would be required to complete the THEME/IDEA and POINT sections.  The THEME/IDEA section is purely organisational in that it emphasises for students the focus of the paragraph.  The POINT section functions as the topic sentence.   Work could then be differentiated according to student ability, such that:

  • students who are still working on organisation of writing could complete the green EASIEST task, which is simple explanation without quotes and techniques
  • students who can organise their writing can work towards the integration of quotes in the MIDDLE task, honing their ability to use evidence to support their argumentation
  • students who have mastered the incorporation of evidence can move towards analysis, using literary techniques to explain HOW the author’s choices have created meaning.

Depending on the needs of the class:

  • joint construction could take place for students to understand how the table works
  • cloze passages could be used to provide additional scaffolding for struggling students and/or to co-create models for writing
  • sentence starters could be provided, thus offering another layer of differentiation
  • a quotes and/or techniques list could be provided
  • relevant quotes or techniques could be included in the table as hints

As the year/unit progresses, this template could be modified such that the EASIEST and MIDDLE columns are no longer offered, thus signalling students’ progression beyond those levels.

Early Childhood: Vehicles

6 Mar

Do you have a vehicle obsessed child? If so, these activities may appeal:

  • Use the tyres of various plastic vehicles as painting implements.  In addition to providing an exciting sensory experience, vocabulary can be developed around texture, colour, size, pattern and comparison. (ART, CREATIVITY, LANGUAGE, SENSORY PLAY).
  • Encourage the child to use paper plates, cardboard boxes and art supplies to create a vehicle that they can sit in and pretend to drive.  The child can then pretend to drive, acting out motions and vocalising relevant sounds.  Older children can be encouraged to narrate their actions, building vocabulary around vehicle parts and function and, perhaps, even scenery (ART, CREATIVITY, LANGUAGE, IMAGINATIVE PLAY).
  • Walk around the neighbourhood, taking note of the various signs that are visible.  Encourage the child to use their art supplies to replicate/approximate these signs.  Place these around the garden/playground, and have students role play abiding by the instructions.  Activity can be modified to promote early literacy through labelling the signs, focusing on signs with writing, and/or writing descriptions of the actions that must occur/cease at the relevant sign.  Another modification would be for a child/adult to hold up the signs in a modified version of ‘Simon Says’ (ART, CREATIVITY, LANGUAGE, LITERACY, IMAGINATIVE PLAY, GROSS MOTOR).
  • Children use painter’s tape or similar to create a carpark on the ground/floor.  Language development can occur around concepts such as size, position, placement.  Key STEM concepts such as spatial awareness can be rehearsed in relation to selecting which vehicles best fit within each parking spot.  For an added literacy component, parking spaces can be marked with letters indicating vehicle placement so that ‘D’ indicates dump truck, ‘T’ indicates tanker.  Alternatively, markings could be colour-coded, allowing children to focus on matching the car colour to the car space colour (LANGUAGE,  LITERACY, STEM).
  • Fill a box with sand (or similar).  Provide children with a range of different vehicles, offering opportunities for them to scoop, dump, flatten etc.  Not only are students engaged in sensory play, but language development can occur around concepts such as texture and actions.  Early STEM concepts can also be introduced, with students encouraged to hypothesise and test which types of vehicles are best suited to each task.  This activity could also be modified such that children have multiple boxes, each with a different material.  Here, language development can be extended to discuss comparison, weight, volume and colour, and STEM concepts might include measuring how much of each material can fit in the back of a dump truck (SENSORY PLAY, IMAGINATIVE PLAY, LANGUAGE, STEM).


5 Mar

Students in Years 7 and 8 English classes spend a lot of time trying to understand characterisation.  Below are a list of activities that can be deployed in classrooms to support students’ learning in this area:

  • Provide students with a picture of their character/an outline of a generic person.  Students quotes (from the text or a provided list), organising them in accordance with the logic of the human body.  Thus, quotes about the character’s perspective will be placed near their eyes, quotes about what they think will be placed near their head etc.
  • Provide students with a list of quotes about their character.  Students to create a visual representation (abstract is fine) of their character based on the provided quotes.  Students should be encouraged to consider engaging with a range of materials to best capture the complexity of the character.
  • Provide students with a diagrammatic representation of a character’s development over the course of the text.  Students work in pairs to locate one key quote for each significant event/moment of development.
  • Task students with creating a Twitter profile for their character.  Students must select quotes from the text/provided list that speak to the character’s development, state of mind and perspective on the world.  These quotes MUST fit within the parameters of a tweet length.  This activity could be modified so that different groups of kids are responsible for curating content for different characters.   For a further challenge, these tweet quotes can then be mapped to a plot diagram.

Scaffolding Writing

4 Mar

Introducing students to analytical writing can be fraught with challenges: metalanguage needs to be introduced, paragraph structure must be taught, language for connecting ideas needs to be developed.  Below are some ideas for how to scaffold writing.

  • Cloze passages can be used to involve students in the construction of model responses.  These can then be annotated and colour-coded so that students understand which parts of the paragraph perform each function.  For visual learners, this can then also be translated as a diagram so that they can have an adaptable visual scaffold to follow each time.
  • Collaborative cloze passages could be adapted to enable students to jointly construct a model paragraph.
  • Furnish half the class with cloze passages minus the relevant quotes and the other half of the class with a list of quotes.  Students wander around the room searching for the quotes missing from their paragraph or the paragraph that best fits their quotes.  This activity could be adapted so that paragraphs are missing topic sentences or linking sentences or both.
  • Students complete a cloze passage model paragraph.  Yet, instead of drawing on a list of possible answers, students need to consult class notes to locate the relevant information.
  • Poetic techniques bingo can be used to test students’ understanding of relevant literary techniques.
  • Students are provided with partially completed analysis tables and they need to fill in the blank columns.
  • Students work in pairs to match sample paragraphs and questions.  Students then work collaboratively to improve those paras that difficult to match (and therefore did not answer the question well).
  • Direct students to a relevant section of the text and provide students with a dot point list of analysis.  Students need to match each piece of analysis with the relevant supporting quotations from the text (see this example activity).

Snowball Stories

25 Feb

I was reading about literacy activities and stumbled on snowball stories.  Students write the start of a story in response to a prompt.  Then, when the allocated writing time has expired, they scrunch up the paper and throw it towards the front of the class.  Students then rush to the front, selecting a snowball.  They write the next phase of the story.  The process then repeats until the stories are finished.  Teachers should endeavour to provide an engaging writing prompt, and should scaffold the expectations for each phase of the story.

Teachers could also extend/challenge students by offering stipulations regarding a secondary character that the protagonist must encounter (for example, a man in a frayed green cardigan), an object that must be introduced at a particular point in the narrative, or a line of dialogue that must be plausibly incorporated.

STOP! Poetry Time!

22 Feb

Ask students to spend one week ‘collecting’ words from signs.  They may, for example, write the word STOP on their list after seeing a stop sign, or ‘mask’ after reading a sign on the bus requesting that passengers wear a mask while on public transport.  At the end of the week, students create a poem using only the words they have collected.  If students have insufficient words, either allow students to pool their words together or change the requirement so that at least one of the found words appear in each line of the poem.

Getting to Know You Activities

21 Feb

Each year I ask my students to write me a letter introducing themselves.  While the letter does give students ample opportunity to let me know who they are, and is helpful from a welfare perspective, it does not really offer students the opportunity to showcase their creativity.  To that end, I have devised a list of alternate options:

  1. Compose and present a song about yourself set to the tune of a well-known nursery rhyme
  2. Imagine that your life is a book.  What would the title be?  Why?
  3. Imagine that your life is a book.  What image(s) would be on the front cover?  Why?
  4. Imagine that your life is a book.  Write the blurb.
  5. Create a storyboard for a film about your life.  The storyboard should highlight five key moments of struggle and/or growth.
  6. Imagine that you were creating a collage to represent your feelings about the new school year and studying English.  Which images would you include?  Which textures would you include?  Which colours would you include?  Why?
  7. Write a poem/slam poem/rap introducing yourself.