A treasure trove of ideas from teachers across the UK to help add excitement to your English lessons, including syllables using football, vim and verb, Bard language and farm fun
Ages 5 to 7
Teach syllables using football. Ask children to suggest two teams, such as Chelsea and Liverpool. The result here would be Chelsea 2 — because there are two syllables in the name. Liverpool scores 3.
Once you put that idea in front of a class, they start devising their own games. They even start announcing it like the results on the radio. Extensions involve exploring how the use of syllables can help us spell the names of teams. Manchester United, Wigan and Everton all provide good examples — though it galls me to see Man U notch up so many syllables. Children can search for the team that scores the most. If you include the Scottish divisions, you can find high scorers.
Huw Thomas is head of Emmaus Primary, in Sheffield
Ages 4 to 11
The great trunk mystery took a writing project to a new level by developing pupils’ questioning and writing skills. A battered trunk was filled with various unusual objects, ranging from a feather boa to a carved walnut. In Monday assembly, the school secretary interrupted normal proceedings to announce its mysterious arrival. The trunk was brought into the hall and excited debate ensued as to whether we should look inside.
Eventually, it was opened and classes later took turns to examine its contents closely. The local press covered the story and tension mounted about the identity of the trunk’s owner. Meanwhile, a wide variety of text types were produced across the school in excited response.
Finally, the mystery person appeared in another assembly in the form of a “Swiss Countess” and her chauffeur, courtesy of the local amateur dramatic society. She gave a convincing account of her life through the objects and the children listened spellbound — even the cynics in Year 6.
Nadia Stanbridge is a Year 4 assistant head at Steeple Morden Primary in Cambridgeshire
Ages 7 to 11
Piece of cake
A good, accessible way to explain genre is through making a cake. I bring in recipes and we talk about how different ingredients, combined together, make different types of cakes. Having established this, we move on to different types of books and that we recognise these by their different ingredients. There only remains the terminology of genre and conventions to be mentioned to replace type and ingredient. As a class, we then have a go at “baking” different genres. Pupils write, in the format of the exemplars, recipes for different types of writing. For instance, a gothic cake might require 10g of ghosts, 5ml of blood, a spoonful of vampires and a mix in a graveyard. Drawing what these genre cakes would look like can be fun too.
Chris Bond teaches at Warwick School, Warwickshire
Vim and verb
Acting can help reinforce the idea of what an adverb is, and how it can complement an accompanying verb. Ask the class to write down the present participle of a verb secretly on a slip of paper, then to do the same with an adverb of their choice. Fold the pieces of paper and put all the verbs in one box and all the adverbs in another. Invite a child to come up and pick a verb and an adverb from the boxes.
Their job is to act out the random combination; speaking is not allowed. Thus they may pretend, for instance, to swim sadly. Other pupils are invited to guess the verb and adverb. A point could be gained both for a correct guess and a convincing piece of acting from the child.
This activity is great fun and adaptable, and could be used as a regular lesson starter or “spare time” game.
Paul Warnes is a supply teacher in Kent
Shakespeare’s language is often an enormous barrier. I used an online “Shakespearean insult generator” to help inspire the children. We are studying A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
We began with three short extracts from a scene in which Lysander, Helena and Hermia are quarrelling. I read this as dramatically as possible, then asked for volunteers. Pupils practised in pairs before acting in front of the class. I then gave out the insult generator: a three- column list of nouns and adjectives from Shakespeare which the children could combine and preface with “thou” to produce phrases such as: “Thou droning, hell-hated foot-licker.”
In pairs, they chose favourite phrases and stand up and insult another pupil. This pupil retaliates with his or her own phrase. Finally, the children created written phrases which they extended into sentences or short paragraphs, using the extracts from A Midsummer Night’s Dream as models.
Joanne Jones is literacy co-ordinator at Gipsey Bridge Primary in Lincolnshire
As children develop story- writing skills, an additional element we seek is the inner voice of characters — insights into their thoughts and feelings.
Gather newspapers and glossy magazines and ask children to hunt through them, finding as many diverse facial expressions as they can. Then ask them to make cloud-shaped thought bubbles, like those in a comic strip. Their task is to write what their chosen faces are thinking or feeling, but stress that they should be imaginative and unpick the feeling in a few sentences.
So “I feel happy” needs developing. It could become, “I feel happy because I won the lottery.” Or, “That means I can make my dream come true and sail round the world.” This enriches the children’s narratives.
Huw Thomas is head at Emmaus Primary in Sheffield
Young spellers struggling to tell you why you add an “s” to “key” or “toy” but change the “y” in “baby” to “ies” clearly need a helping hand — so why not enlist the help of Old MacDonald?
Pupils can have great fun setting nouns ending in “y” to the tune of “Old MacDonald had a farm”.
A shop makes more sense than a farm for example, “And in that shop he had some toys.” The class then sing the question Y or I-E-S? instead of the chorus ee-ay-ee-ay-oh, and each time a different pupil completes the verse “with an A-Y- S” or “with an I-E-S“, as appropriate. Give them a couple of moments’ thinking time to consider their options and remember the rule (vowel before the y, just add s; if there is a consonant before the y, change to ies). Then on cue, each pupil should — hopefully — have reinforced the spelling rule and set it memorably to music for an increasingly varied and imaginative set of words.
John Gallagher is head of English at Stratford-upon- Avon Grammar School for Girls in Warwickshire
Dance auditions and literacy don’t normally mix, but it’s certainly one way to liven up a lesson on prefixes.
Divide pupils into groups of four and assign a prefix to each group member: dis, un, mis and im. Ask everyone to write a word beginning with their prefix. Check spellings, then copy the word on to card and cut it in two, separating the prefix from the rest of the word. Ask groups to shuffle their eight cards before moving to the hall. There, every group swaps card packs. Start the music as pupils deal their cards and then skip around hunting for their partner until all are paired up. Hold a final audition when all the cards have been collected, shuffled and dealt. How long will all the partners take to be matched? To finish, partners should tango to the front of the hall with a flourish and announce their combined word.
Eileen Jones is a literacy specialist in Warwickshire
Kitchen sink drama
Newspaper articles can be a good source of stories for literacy. The Times ran a story about a hamster called Henry, who got stuck behind the kitchen sink. A neighbour tried tying hamster ladders together, then two community wardens used a wire with cord spiralled around it for him to climb. Finally, they cut the base from a yoghurt pot and lowered it on wire to scoop him out. Nothing worked until the vacuum cleaner was called for and put on its lowest setting. Henry was sucked gently on to the end of the nozzle.
I produced an annotated copy for teacher use, highlighting unfamiliar vocabulary and noting adverbial clauses and a mind map of all the directions in which we could take this story. The poem structure was to select a preposition under, over, above, next to or across, then pair it with a noun such as sofa, curtains or toy box. Finally, add an exciting or powerful verb. The result was lines such as:
“Under the sofa Henry scuttled. Up the curtains Henry scrabbled. Inside the toy box Henry nibbled.”
Michelle Gregory is AST/ literacy leader at Oakfield First School in Windsor, Berkshire
Ages 11 to 14
Top of the pack
A resurgence of interest in Top Trumps, the card game, helped my pupils think about characterisation and setting in relation to a text as a whole. I explained the conventional appearance of a Top Trumps card with its picture and table of values and showed some examples.
The children’s task was to design a small pack of Top Trumps for their text. Their first task was to decide, as a class, on the list of “ratings” that would appear on every card, which had to be relevant to the text. For example, “Evilness” might be included in Macbeth (cards can have any character from the text and any key setting from the text on them). Pupils then decided which characters and settings they were going to put on their cards, then thought about the respective profiles they were going to create.
Provided with some card, pupils were set homework to make their Top Trumps. The follow-up activity was to bring the cards in to play the game. However, before starting, pupils had to justify to each other why their profile on each card was as they had decided. The game allows all to interact on a basic level with key aspects of the text.
Chris Bond teaches at Warwick School in Warwickshire
Here’s a simple game designed to help pupils understand the importance of adjectives. English Pupil A sits with their back to a screen (a large card or an electronic whiteboard, for example) showing a picture. Without explicitly naming it, Pupil B describes the image in such a way that Pupil A can guess what it is.
To encourage more subtle and imaginative descriptions, each picture could be accompanied by a short list of “banned” words. For instance, a picture of an elephant could have “trunk” and “tusks” banned. Guessing a picture gets the players a point and moves them on to the next picture. Teams have two minutes to score as many points as possible.
This game is great for speaking and listening and encourages pupils to be thoughtful and creative with their use of descriptive words.
Irfan Shah teaches at Lawnswood High School in Leeds
Ages 14 to 18
Put your pupils into the ring for a round of verbal boxing to assess their oral skills of arguing, discussing and persuading, in English and other subjects. Divide into teams of three to six. Set up home and away matches and give each home team a motion to argue. Give pupils time to prepare their arguments for both the home and away matches.
Each match begins with two teams sending one of their members into the ring, the classroom, for the first round. After two minutes of robust debate, in which each “boxer” tries to out-argue their opponent, the round ends and the boxers return to their respective corners for one minute; either to tag a fellow team member into the ring or collect new ideas to use in the next round.
The best argument over three rounds decides the winning team. This series of lessons soon runs itself, leaving you time and space to listen, assess and record pupils’ achievements.
Josephine Smith is head of English at Casterton Community College in Rutland
The king is dead
Have you ever reached the end of a Shakespeare tragedy to discover that, despite having an overview of the plot and a grasp of the major themes, even your brightest and keenest A-level English pupils are unclear about some of the finer details?
To remedy this, have pupils establish the causes of death of the pile of corpses at the end of King Lear by setting them the task of writing a brief — and possibly humorous — obituary of each character. This encourages pupils to look again at the text and helps consolidate what happens to whom and why. My Year 13 group produced fruitful discussions about Shakespeare's intentions and audience sympathies, as well as responses to the tragic ending of the play.
Heather Owens is deputy headteacher at King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Girls, Birmingham
Ages 11 to 18
Step into their shoes
“I’ll do it too.” Pupils may become more motivated in a timed or independent assignment if they see that you, their teacher, are doing the same thing. Set out the instructions for the task and put yourself in their shoes. For example, begin with: “Before we start, let’s discuss what’s worrying us — for instance, we don’t know how to start.” (This is a common one in the English classroom.) Or that “we won’t have enough time” (possibly leading to some collaborative planning before embarking on the task).
Once you understand the instructions, undertake the same task as your pupils, and under the same conditions. As you do the task (for example, a set of comprehension questions or piece of creative writing), jot down any problems you encounter and use them as a basis for a plenary summing up.
This technique can be extended by copying your work for the class for the next lesson and, if you are feeling brave, allowing them to critique using their knowledge of what constitutes success in this type of activity.
Kerry Hopkins is head of English at The Grammar School in Leeds
Grammaticus is a card game I developed to teach grammar. It consists of a set of 110 playing cards, with words on one side and their word class (verb, noun, adjective) on the other, and a colour for each word class. You can adapt card games — rummy, racing demon, snap — aiming to structure sentences or collect words of a certain word class instead of collecting suits or making straights.
Although developed with A-level pupils in mind, the games would work well lower down the school.
David Kinder teaches at Alton Sixth Form College in Hampshire
Ages 15 to 16
Colour me happy
To encourage my pupils to use a wider range of punctuation, I tell them to highlight all the full stops with one colour. They then choose a new colour for different punctuation. By the end, they might have used yellow for full stops, red for commas and blue for semicolons. Those who use a good range of punctuation have colourful drafts, while others have not.
This gives pupils immediate feedback and a sense of fun about developing their writing.
Anne Carman teaches at Ripley St Thomas C of E High School in Lancaster
Here’s a sure-fire way to get the first piece of written coursework done with a new GCSE English group and get to know the pupils. It’s based on the long-running celebrity Sunday newspaper magazine feature “A Room of My Own”.
Teenagers are often equally proud of their own space at home and, with the right prompts, can turn this into an original piece. Questions that get them thinking include how the room reflects their personality, clues about their past and future, and the thing they’d save if the room was on fire. Getting pupils to map their room at home is a vital first step. They see things they took for granted. And the map then forms the basis for individual oral assessment as they describe it.
Some less adventurous pupils tend towards listing the room’s contents, so why not give them a different perspective? How would the room seem to a detective searching for clues about the occupant? I have even had a piece narrated by one pupil’s PC as it was unpacked and set up. The written piece can qualify as explore, imagine, entertain, as well as personal description.
John Gallagher is head of English at Stratford-upon- Avon Grammar School for Girls in Warwickshire
“Our castaway today has been lost in Sainsbury’s and successfully destroyed all the aliens in Halo 2.” This is a typical introduction to my Desert Island Discs lesson, a speaking and listening activity for GCSE. (The idea came from the BBC Radio 4 programme.)
Pupils write some autobiographical material for me and I interview them. I ask about family, early experiences, memories, hobbies, achievements and ambitions. The interview is interspersed with selections of their favourite music.
They are allowed to take three pieces to the island and are permitted a book and a luxury item, in addition to a religious text and the works of Shakespeare. The pupils explain their choices.
This is an excellent way for them to gain a mark for an extended speech in front of their class.
Francis Farrell teaches at Sale High School in Cheshire
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