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Fully updated to reflect changes in teacher education and the curriculum, the Fifth Edition
of Learning to Teach English in the Secondary School explores the background to debates
about teaching the subject, alongside tasks, teaching ideas and further reading to expand
upon issues and ideas raised in the book.
Throughout this volume, the chapters focus on the key aspects of the teaching and learning
of English, such as Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, Language and Grammar,
Poetry, and Shakespeare. Planning and assessment within the National Curriculum for
GCSE and A Level is covered, as well as a comprehensive history of the subject and a
chapter on the nature of English as a curriculum subject. This new edition also features:

■■ changes in policy and practice, including the most recent GCSE reforms;
■■ a new chapter on ‘Media literacy in English’;
■■ a consideration of modern digital technology and how it underpins good practice in
all areas of English teaching and learning; and
■■ cross-referencing to guidance on assessment and well-being and resilience in the
core text Learning to Teach in the Secondary School.

A key text for all trainee teachers, Learning to Teach English in the Secondary School
combines theory and practice to present a comprehensive introduction to the opportunities
and challenges of teaching English in the secondary school.

Jon Davison has been Professor of Teacher Education in four UK universities, including
the Institute of Education, University of London, where he was also Dean.

Caroline Daly is Reader in Education at University College London Institute of Education.

Series Editors: Susan Capel and Marilyn Leask

Designed for all students learning to teach in secondary schools, including those on
school-based initial teacher education programmes, the books in this series comple-
ment Learning to Teach in the Secondary School and its companion, Starting to Teach
in the Secondary School. Each book in the series applies underpinning theory and evi-
dence to address practical issues to support student teachers in school and in higher
education institutions in learning how to teach a particular subject.

Learning to Teach Geography in the Learning to Teach Design and

Secondary School, 3rd Edition Technology in the Secondary
Mary Biddulph, David Lambert and School, 3rd Edition
David Balderstone Edited by Gwyneth Owen-Jackson
Learning to Teach Physical Education Learning to Teach Science in the
in the Secondary School, 4th Secondary School, 4th Edition
Edition Edited by Rob Toplis
Edited by Susan Capel and Margaret Learning to Teach Art and Design in
Whitehead the Secondary School, 3rd Edition
Learning to Teach Citizenship in the Edited by Nicholas Addison and Lesley
Secondary School, 3rd Edition Burgess
Edited by Liam Gearon Learning to Teach Foreign Languages
Learning to Teach History in in the Secondary School, 4th
the Secondary School, 4th Edition
Edition Norbert Pachler, Michael Evans, Ana
Terry Haydn, Alison Stephen, James Redondo and Linda Fisher
Arthur and Martin Hunt Learning to Teach ICT in the
Learning to Teach Music in the Secondary School, 3rd Edition
Secondary School, 3rd Edition Edited by Marilyn Leask and Norbert
Edited by Carolyn Cooke, Keith Pachler
Evans, Chris Philpott and Gary Learning to Teach in the Secondary
Spruce School, 8th Edition
Learning to Teach Mathematics in Edited by Susan Capel, Marilyn Leask
the Secondary School, 4th and Sarah Younie
Edition Learning to Teach English in the
Edited by Sue Johnston-Wilder, Secondary School, 5th Edition
Clare Lee and David Pimm Edited by Jon Davison and Caroline Daly

For more information about this series, please visit:
A Companion to
School Experience
5th Edition

Edited by
Jon Davison and
Caroline Daly
Fifth edition published 2019
by Routledge
2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, OX14 4RN
and by Routledge
52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017
Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business
© 2019 selection and editorial matter, Jon Davison and Caroline Daly;
individual chapters, the contributors
The right of Jon Davison and Caroline Daly to be identified as the authors of
the editorial material, and of the authors for their individual chapters, has been
asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and
Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or
utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now
known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any
information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the
Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered
trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent
to infringe.
First edition published by Routledge 1998
Fourth edition published by Routledge 2014
British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
A catalog record for this book has been requested
ISBN: 978-1-138-58045-9 (hbk)
ISBN: 978-1-138-58047-3 (pbk)
ISBN: 978-0-429-50730-4 (ebk)
Typeset in Times New Roman
by Apex CoVantage, LLC
For Stuart, Ellie, Greg and William and the teachers with whom I’ve learned over three
decades, who are at the heart of this book. CD

For the fine English specialists who inspired me and developed my love of the subject:
Jack Riley, Charles Hersee and S. H. (Tim) Burton; and for Elaine, Kyle and Nyla, who
inspire me daily. JD

List of illustrations xi
List of tasks xiii
Notes on contributors xv
Introduction to the Fifth Edition xix
Introduction to the First Edition xxi

 introduction: where are you coming from?  the diversity of
English  the Cox Report’s five views of English  consensus or
compromise?  principled positions  the National Curriculum
 futures  summary and key points  further reading

  2 BATTLES FOR ENGLISH 1894–2018 18

 introduction  the nineteenth century  English and the Board of
Education  the Newbolt Report  the 1930s  Leavis  English
teaching postwar  English from 5 to 16  Kingman cometh
 language in the National Curriculum Project  the Cox Report
 summary and key points  further reading


 introduction  the scope of English  the history of the National
Curriculum  framing the subject: the purposes of English
 the choice of text  planning  planning at KS4  summary
and key points  further reading  useful websites  a note on the authors



 introduction  understanding classroom talk  learning about
talk  exploring variety in spoken language  learning through talk
 activity one: authentic problem-solving  activity two: structured
group work  activity three: fantasy dinner party  progression and
assessment in speaking and listening  oracy across the curriculum
 summary and key points  further reading  acknowledgements

 introduction  reading in the National Curriculum  readers
and texts/the act of reading  practical approaches  literature,
identity and representation  reading for pleasure  assessment
of reading  summary and key points  further reading  websites

 introduction  getting writing going  speaking, listening,
reading and writing  audiences, purposes and genres  debates about
the teaching of writing  responding to writing  summary and key
points  further reading  websites  acknowledgement


 introduction  grammar: implicit and explicit knowledge about
language  grammar: making use of a shared metalanguage
 exploring use and theorising structure  analysing language in
literature and in children’s writing  summary and key points
 further reading


 introduction: the twenty-first-century citizen  English in the twenty-
first century  English and the emergence of media education  English
for the twenty-first century, not the nineteenth  media work in the
English classroom  summary and key points  further reading
 resources


 introduction  the digital revolution  some history  addressing an
audience  the National Curriculum  processes involved – media production


 filming strategies  the next shot  storyboarding  filming  editing

 Doing the News  summary  further reading


 introduction  drama in the curriculum  drama in education – some
history  connections between drama and English pedagogies  drama
and culture  drama and reading  drama in your English classroom
 from imagination into dramatic action  writing and acting in role
 identifying opportunities for drama  entering a novel by depicting
a dramatic event  text, adaptation and transformation across different
media  establishing a theatrical frame  summary and key points
 further reading and resources


 introduction  starting points – knowledge, attitudes and obstacles
 a single speech  the play in ten lines  historical contexts  the text:
playwright, company and the conditions of production  authenticity
and interpretation: production histories and contemporary Shakespeares
 assessment  further reading  resources for teachers and teaching


 introduction  the need for a rationale  planning poetry lessons
 poetry across the age range  early Key Stage 3: the pleasures of
poetry  later in Key Stage 3: focusing on interpretation  entering
Key Stage 4: the challenges of criticism  low-stakes poetry:
developing your own subject expertise  summary and key points
 note  further reading


 introduction  changes and developments in Advanced Level
English – an overview  understanding the assessment objectives,
knowing your awarding board specification  classroom approaches
 encouraging independence and developing skills  alternative
interpretations  the contexts in which texts are written and received
 the writer’s craft: how writers make meaning  language and
literature A Level  IB and Pre-U  summary and key points
 further reading



 introduction  student teacher development  monitoring
development  developing roles and relationships  reflection
 summary and key points  note  further reading



3.1 Sequence of activities with A Christmas Carol43
3.2 Sample of work for Year 8 (a shared class novel) 46
4.1 Teachers in detention 60
4.2 Crime scene clues and roles 63
4.3 Fantasy dinner party roles and responsibilities 66
4.4 Assessing talk 68
7.1 Layers of understanding about language 111
11.1 Working with a speech 170
11.2 Richard III in ten lines 171
12.1 Linking learning and assessment 194
12.2 A student’s analysis of Scannell’s ‘The Fair’ 200
13.1 Interpretation 216
14.1 Subject knowledge in relation to KS3 subject content 229

1.1 National Curriculum views of English in 2007 and 2014 10
4.1 Analysing a transcript 57
6.1 Two sequences for teaching writing 98


1.1 The educational purposes of English 3

1.2 Views of English in the classroom 8
1.3 Exploring English debates in official documents 13
1.4 The textual representation of the diversity of English 16
2.1 Why English? 19
2.2 Correctness and character 22
2.3 How were you taught English? 27
2.4 Principles of English teaching 29
3.1 The role and importance of English 40
3.2 Which texts to read – and study? 41
3.3 Texts in time 44
3.4 Planning coverage of the English curriculum 47
3.5 From GCSE specifications to classroom practice 47
4.1 Reflecting on your own experiences 52
4.2 Identifying helps and hindrances 54
4.3 Making a transcript 58
4.4 Transcribing anecdotes and stories 59
4.5 Analysis of the teacher’s and the pupils’ roles in three talk activities 62
4.6 Setting targets 69
5.1 Your personal reading history 75
5.2 Ideas for teaching a Key Stage 3 novel 79
5.3 Literature, culture and identity 81
5.4 What helps to create a supportive reading environment? 83
6.1 Writing autobiography 88
6.2 A case study of a writer 93
6.3 Ideas to support writing in different genres 96
6.4 Planning a sequence of lessons 97
6.5 Investigating sequences for the teaching of writing 98
7.1 A language autobiography 103
7.2 Cave words – a grammar game 106
7.3 Jokes: it’s the way you tell ’em, or it all depends on the grammar? 110
7.4 Earl Spencer’s speech 113
7.5 Analysing syntax 114
7.6 Analysing a piece of pupil writing 116


8.1 A place for media literacy? 121

8.2 My media education 122
8.3 A sense of perspective 125
8.4 Media forms 126
8.5 ‘I read the news today’ 133
9.1 Referencing cultural aspects of digital media 138
9.2 Constructing a media production autobiography 139
9.3 Addressing an audience 142
9.4 Framing the next shot 144
9.5 Editing 147
10.1 Your experience of drama 158
10.2 Reflection on reading 160
10.3 Strategies and conventions 163
11.1 Versions and visions of Shakespeare 167
11.2 Openings 169
11.3 Comparing editions 175
11.4 Images as evidence of production histories 177
11.5 What counts as a Shakespearean text? 177
11.6 Assessing pupils’ responses to Shakespeare 178
12.1 Poetry memories 185
12.2 Making an informed choice 189
12.3 Formulating learning objectives 197
12.4 Developing a critical response to poetry 201
12.5 Engaging in the critical process 202
12.6 Three ways to develop your subject expertise 204
13.1 Your own experience of A Level or Advanced Level courses in English 208
13.2 Investigating your specification 211
13.3 Questioning a text 214
13.4 Helping pupils to make powerful use of contextual knowledge 217
13.5 Sharpening up comment on language, structure and form 219
14.1 Individual Statement 227
14.2 Subject review 228
14.3 Great expectations? 230
14.4 Theory and practice 236


Gill Anderson is a lecturer in Education at University College London Institute of

Education (IOE). She taught in London secondary schools for 13 years before becoming
involved with teacher education as English Subject Leader in a London SCITT and
since 2008, as a lecturer in English at the IOE. She has taught on the English Secondary
PGCE and on the Master of Teaching course. Her research interests are in the teaching
of writing, the development of teacher identity and professional development in the first
few years of teaching and Literature teaching in urban classrooms.
Barbara Bleiman was, until 2015, Co-director of the English and Media Centre,
London (EMC). She was previously Head of English at a sixth form college. She
continues to work at EMC, leading projects, co-editing emagazine, a print magazine for
A Level, and running courses on A Level and other aspects of the English curriculum.
She has contributed to numerous EMC publications, including most recently KS3 Poetry
Plus (July 2018). She has been involved for more than three decades in curriculum
development at A Level, working in a consultative role with QCA, Awarding Bodies and
other organisations. She has written many articles, chapters in books and blogs about
English as a subject discipline, its pedagogy and curriculum. She is also the author of
two novels, Off the Voortrekker Road (2015) and Accidents of Love (2017).
Theo Bryer has been a lecturer in Education at University College London Institute
of Education (IOE) since 2003. Her expertise is in drama teaching in the main, but she
has considerable experience working across the curriculum, particularly with bilingual
and refugee learners in different contexts. Until 2011, she taught in a South London
secondary school alongside her teaching on the English with drama PGCE at the IOE.
She still finds time to do drama and media projects outside the IOE, most recently
working with Refugee Youth as part of their film festival at the British Film Institute.
Her research interests are in drama and media teaching and learning and in how they
relate to learning in English.
Gabrielle Cliff Hodges is a senior lecturer in Education at the University of
Cambridge Faculty of Education. She taught in three 11–18 comprehensive schools in
Cambridgeshire, in the last as Head of English, before moving into teacher education
in 1993. She co-ordinates and teaches on the Secondary English/English and Drama
PGCE courses, as well as contributing to the MEd Researching Practice in Primary and
Secondary Schools and MPhil Approaches to Children’s Literature. She is an Executive
Council member of the United Kingdom Literacy Association. From 1997–1998 she


was Chair of the National Association for the Teaching of English. She is author of Two
Poems by John Keats (NATE, 1998) and co-editor of Tales, Teller and Texts (Cassell,
2000). She has also published a number of chapters and articles on reading, writing
and language in secondary English teaching. Her current research focuses on students’
development as readers, especially in the early teenage years.
Jane Coles is a lecturer in Education at University College London Institute of
Education. She is Programme Leader for the MA English Education and contributes to
the secondary English PGCE. Before moving into Higher Education, she taught English
for 15 years in London secondary schools, latterly as a Head of English and then as
a deputy headteacher. Her current areas of research and publication focus on creative
literacies and the teaching of Shakespeare.
Caroline Daly is Reader in Education at University College London Institute of
Education (IOE). She taught English and drama in secondary schools for 11 years, five
of which as a head of English. She taught on the secondary English PGCE programme
at the IOE, and has co-led Initial Teacher Education. Her research areas are in English
teaching, mentor education and teachers’ professional learning. Publications include
Debates in English Teaching (co-edited with Jon Davison and John Moss, Routledge,
2010, Second Edition 2019) and articles in The International Journal of Mentoring
and Coaching in Education, Professional Development in Education, E-Learning and
Teaching in Higher Education.
Jon Davison was the first professor of teacher education in the Institute of Education,
University of London, where he was also Dean. His research interests include
sociolinguistics, the teaching and learning of English and Media, citizenship education
and the professional formation of teachers. He was head of English and Media Studies
in a large London comprehensive and became an advisory teacher at the English and
Media Centre, London, where he co-authored and edited two award-winning media
education publications. He has published extensively on the teaching and learning
of English and Media and on teacher education – The Media Teacher’s Handbook
(Routledge, 2011), Education Matters (Routledge, 2012), and the Second Edition of
Debates in English Teaching (Routledge, 2019). He serves on the editorial boards of
the British Journal of Educational Studies and the Journal of Citizenship Teaching
and Learning. His fellowships include the College of Teachers, the Higher Education
Academy the Royal Society of Arts and the Society for Educational Studies. He is a
Founding Fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching.
Anton Franks is a Senior Research Associate at the University of Nottingham, School
of Education. After teaching drama and English in inner-London schools, he was a
teacher, educator and researcher for many years at the Institute of Education, University
of London, then going on to the University of Nottingham as Associate Professor of
Creative Arts and Education, and to the University of Warwick as Associate Professor
in Creativity, Arts and Education. He has published articles and chapters on drama and
arts education, recently including: ‘How environment affects learning: schoolteachers
engaging with theatre-based pedagogies’ in Davis et al. (eds), Dramatic Interactions
in Education: Vygotskian and Sociocultural Approaches to Drama, Education and
Research (2015); ‘Teachers, arts practice and pedagogy’ (co-authored with Pat
Thomson, Christine Hall and Ken Jones, 2014) in Changing English; ‘Drama and the
representation of affect – structures of feeling and signs of learning’ in Research in
Drama Education (2014); ‘The performing arts in learning, curriculum and culture’


in Dominic Wyse, Louise Hayward and Jessica Pandya (eds), The SAGE Handbook of
Curriculum, Pedagogy and Assessment (2016); and ‘Drama and Learning’ in Oxford
Research Encyclopedia of Education (2019).
Andy Goodwyn is Professor and Head of the School of Education and English
Language, and the Director of the Institute for Research in Education, at the University
of Bedfordshire. He is Emeritus Professor at the University of Reading where he was
Head of Education from 2007–2015. After 12 years teaching English in schools he
moved to work in teacher education and research. He has been a member of NATE for
35 years and is a former Chair and current Research Officer. His research focuses on
first-language education and on the concept of teacher expertise. He has a particular
focus on the professional identity of English teachers. He has published extensively
including single authored and edited books, contributed to many scholarly journals
and given lectures and presentations around the world. He is on the editorial board of
numerous journals. He is currently President of the International Federation for the
Teaching of English, the convenor of the BERA SIG, English in Education and a Fellow
of the Royal Society of Arts.
Morlette Lindsay (1958–2016) taught in urban schools for over 20 years, including
some of these as Head of English. Subsequently, she became a lecturer in Education at
the Institute of Education, University of London whilst continuing to teach English two
days a week in an inner London school. She was part of the leadership of the London
Association for the Teaching of English (LATE).
John Moss is Dean of Education at Canterbury Christ Church University, Kent.
A former head of English, Drama and Media Studies in a large comprehensive school,
he has taught undergraduate English and Drama at university level and Secondary
PGCE courses for two decades. He is co-author of Subject Mentoring in the Secondary
School (with Jon Davison, Routledge, 1997), co-editor of Issues in English Teaching
(with Jon Davison, Routledge, 2000), Debates in English Teaching (with Jon Davison
and Caroline Daly, Routledge, 2010) and is series editor of books on citizenship in the
secondary curriculum.
Elizabeth Rawlinson-Mills is a lecturer in Education in the Faculty of Education
at the University of Cambridge. She is the Course Tutor on the MSt in Advanced
Subject Teaching (English) and Course Director for a number of International Summer
Programmes courses, focusing particularly on experiments in narrative form from the
1880s to 2000s. As a Wolfson Scholar at University College London, her PhD explored
‘Poetry, politics and popular culture: newspaper poems of the South African War
(1899–1902)’. Her forthcoming publications include: ‘Soldiers of the Queen: Reading
newspaper fiction of the South African War (1899–1902)’, in the Journal of Victorian
Culture and ‘“That far-off Southern tomb”: visions and versions of South Africa in
British newspaper poetry of the South African War (1899–1902)’ in B. Franchi and
E. Mutlu (eds), Crossing Borders in Victorian Travel (2018).
Anne Turvey was an English teacher and Head of Sixth Form in a London secondary
school for a number of years. She is now a lecturer in education at the University
College London Institute of Education, where much of her work is with the PGCE
secondary English course and the Master of Teaching. She is Chair of the London
Association for the Teaching of English and a member of the Initial Teacher Education
committee of the National Association for the Teaching of English. Her interests


include the development of subject knowledge in the early stages of teaching, learning
and teaching grammar and literacy and gender.
John Yandell taught in inner London secondary schools for 20 years; since 2004, he
has led the Secondary English PGCE course at University College London Institute
of Education. He is the editor of the journal Changing English: Studies in Culture and
Education and the author of The Social Construction of Meaning: Reading Literature
in Urban English Classrooms (Routledge, 2013). Other recent publications include
Rethinking Education: Whose Knowledge is it Anyway? (co-authored with Adam Unwin,
2016), and Critical Practice in Teacher Education: A Study of Professional Learning
(co-edited with Ruth Heilbronn, 2010).


Jon Davison and Caroline Daly

With the inception of the National Curriculum for English in 1990 and a revised national
system for the initial professional preparation of secondary school teachers from 1992,
one might be forgiven for questioning the need for a new edition of Learning to Teach
English in the Secondary School on average every five years since 1997.
However, since this book was first written in 1997 there have been:

■■ six UK Governments;
■■ twelve Secretaries of State for Education;
■■ three new Circulars governing teacher education;
■■ multiple revisions of the Requirements governing Initial Teacher Education;
■■ the introduction of effectively ‘no-notice’ Ofsted inspections of schools and of Initial
Teacher Education;
■■ the introduction of Skills Tests to achieve Qualified Teacher Status;
■■ front-loaded Skills Tests for trainees embarking on Initial Teacher Education;
■■ four revisions of the Professional Standards for Qualified Teacher Status;
■■ the removal of Qualified Teacher Status as a requirement to teach in academies and
‘free schools’;
■■ the establishment of Teaching Schools and Teaching School Alliances;
■■ promotion of School Direct as a school-led model for Initial Teacher Education;
■■ the introduction and withdrawal of the national Masters in Teaching and Learning;
■■ the extension of academies and ‘free schools’ with further de-standardisation of their
■■ the raising of the school leaving age to 17 and then 18 years of age;
■■ the compulsory study of English to obtain a grade 4 at GCSE for those studying post-16;
■■ six revisions of the National Curriculum;
■■ the introduction of the National Literacy Strategy in primary schools and Key Stage 3;
■■ the ending of the National Literacy Strategy in primary schools;
■■ the introduction and abandonment of the Secondary National Strategy;
■■ four radical revisions of GCSEs to include terminal examinations and the replace-
ment of coursework with non-examined assessment tasks that are ungraded, reported
separately and designed to assess subject-specific knowledge and skills that cannot
be examined by timed, written papers;


■■ the replacement of GCSE grades A* to G in England by a new grading system num-

bered from 9 to 1, initially for English Language, English Literature and Mathematics.
■■ four revisions of A Level including division into AS and A2 levels;
■■ the proposal and abandonment of an English Baccalaureate for 16-year-olds;
■■ the removal of Local Education Authorities;
■■ the dissolution of the General Teaching Council for England, the Training and Devel-
opment Agency, the Teaching Agency and Becta;
■■ the founding of the Chartered College of Teaching;
■■ the closure/selling off of government-funded web-based national teacher develop-
ment resources;
■■ the closure of the National College for Teaching and Leadership; and
■■ the rapid development of, and new ways of using, a host of digital technologies and

Depending on their age when they began their Initial Teacher Education, those readers
of the First Edition of this book undertaking their PGCE English course in 1998 will now
have had 20 years’ teaching experience. It is clear from the litany of changes listed above
that the 2019 context of the English classroom is somewhat different from that of two
decades ago.
How much more demanding might it be for someone beginning their Initial Teacher
Education, to make sense of what can seem to be bewildering times?
This new edition will help you to navigate your way through a landscape of chang-
ing curriculum requirements, assessment practices and demands of professional devel-
opment. It is written by a group of very experienced English specialists and focusses in
detail on the key aspects of not only the content and assessment of the English curric-
ulum, examination specifications and successful approaches to pedagogy, but, equally
importantly, this book explores the principles that underpin the best, effective practice in
the English classroom.
Given the shifting landscape of teaching and learning with its, sometimes competing,
if not contradictory demands, it is more important, even than before, for English teachers
to develop principled practice, and to be able to make critically informed judgments about
how to teach, which have persistent value in the face of serial change. This book helps the
formation of such judgments, always mindful of the pupils themselves and the ways in which
they bring rich resources to the English classroom through their experiences, identities and
capacities for creativity in a range of language modes – spoken, written and multimodal.
The chapters in our book are premised on viewing classrooms as social spaces, where
the English teacher learns with and about their pupils in order to develop as a practitioner,
not just during initial professional preparation but throughout a teaching career. We hope
that you enjoy developing your curiosity about how young people learn English and take
from these chapters enduring insights into what it means to teach the subject – insights
that will help your professional judgment about how to manage the inevitable change that
will characterise your career. This edition thus aims to help you to develop your practice
with a set of pertinent questions in mind about the rationale for the choices you make.
They have far-reaching consequences for the young people in your care and for the nature
of the subject itself as it continues to evolve with each generation of new teachers.

Jon Davison and Caroline Daly

April 2019


Jon Davison and Jane Dowson

What is expected of a would-be teacher of English and what does the student teacher
expect from a teacher education course? DES Circular 9/92 heralded the era of
competence-based teacher education with a requirement for substantial elements of
Initial Teacher Education (ITE) courses to be based in school. Two-thirds of Second-
ary PGCE courses are spent in school; therefore, during those 120 days, much of the
responsibility for the development of student teachers now rests with mentors working
in partnership with Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). Therefore, much of the time
on your course will be spent working with your mentor and departmental colleagues in
school, not only to develop your classroom skills, but also to develop you in the widest
sense as a subject specialist. In recent years, the terms ‘reflection’ and the development of
the student teacher as a ‘reflective practitioner’ (Schön, 1983; Calderhead, 1989; Lucas,
1991; Rudduck, 1991) have become central to ITE programmes run by HEIs. Indeed, it
would appear that the reflective practitioner is now ‘the dominant model of professional in
teacher education’ (Whiting et al., 1996). The aim of this book, therefore, is to promote a
coherent approach to school experience that will help you to draw together and investigate
what you read, what you have experienced during your own education, and your school
experience as an English specialist. More general approaches to school experience can
be found in the companion volume Learning to Teach in the Secondary School (Capel,
Leask and Turner, 1995).
Learning to Teach in the Secondary School is a valuable introduction to issues that
concern every student and new teacher; it is complementary in looking at aspects like
assessment or being a ‘professional’ in the context of becoming a subject specialist in
English. The chapters introduce issues concerning the teaching of English which par-
ticularly relate to current developments such as competence-based and competenceas-
sessed courses; working with a mentor; working with the National Curriculum; using
IT in English lessons; understanding GNVQ. In addition, we are introducing aspects of
English teaching which sound familiar, such as Speaking and Listening, Reading, Writ-
ing, teaching Shakespeare.
How might you use this book? It is intended to be sufficiently flexible to suit different
stages of initial teacher education and different contexts. It is assumed that the book can
be read in its entirety as a course text and also be used as a reference book, particularly on


school experience. For example, you may be teaching a scheme of work on poetry or be
involved in assessing speaking and listening for the first time: you would then consult the
relevant chapters for principles and ideas which would aid your planning and your evalu-
ation of your lessons. Some tasks are more suited to your university or college sessions,
and may be directed by the tutor; others are clearly school-based. It is unlikely that you
will undertake all the tasks but you may wish to try some out on your own or with a part-
ner. Above all, the tasks are designed to guide your thinking and enquiry about why teach-
ers do what they do and why you will make the decisions that you do. What is important,
however, is that you consider and apply the principles to your particular context.
In the following chapters, the point is made several times that, just as when you are
teaching, aspects of English are integrated, so, although these chapters are separated into
activities like ‘Writing’, ‘Drama’ or ‘Knowledge about Language and Grammar’ for the
purposes of investigation, it is recognised that they are all interdependent and interactive.
You will be able to transfer principles raised in one area to their significance in another
area; this is particularly true, of course, with media and information technology education.
It is usual for student teachers to begin a course with a fairly clear idea about what
‘being an English teacher’ is like; their reading and observations in school soon illustrate
that there are many models of English teacher and that there are competing ideas about
the aims of English teaching; they may be surprised to realise the extent to which English
is perceived as ‘political’ by politicians, journalists and teachers. The lack of clarity and
lack of consensus about the nature and aims of English teaching can be unsettling, but
also exciting as the English teacher appreciates the significance of their role; because
of the relationship between language and power, English teaching, which is based on a
notion of literacy, is inherently political. As Burgess puts it, ‘the connections between lan-
guage, education and full participation in a political democracy have lain behind debates
round English throughout two centuries’ (Burgess, 1996, p. 67).
It is in the context of encouraging new teachers to participate in the debates about lan-
guage, education and power, that the first three chapters outline the ‘battles’ for English;
they examine the changing ideas about the nature of English and their implications for
the perceived roles of the English teacher. The background to current legislation demon-
strates that a concept of what constitutes ‘good practice’ in English teaching is not fixed
and never has been. English teachers may argue fiercely about whether to set their groups,
whether drama should be used by all teachers, whether all pupils should take literature
exams or how best to teach a child to spell or recognise a sentence.
Debates about the relative importance of grammar and spelling, language and litera-
ture, drama and media studies are longstanding and continuing. If you are coming to this
book hoping for ‘answers’ you may be disappointed. We cannot reduce complicated pro-
cesses concerning the relationship between language, thinking and identity into simple
guidelines; we cannot resolve the questions about the proper nature of language study or
how to teach someone to read or spell. These debates, along with ‘what constitutes a text’,
and more precisely what constitutes a ‘good text’, or ‘major author’ are the bread and
butter of English and Cultural Studies; these debates keep English as a dynamic subject
which interacts with social trends.
The chapters consciously combine the critical issues surrounding each aspect of
English teaching with ideas for classroom practice in order to encourage individual criti-
cal thinking. Many of the tasks are exploratory in nature and aim to provide opportunities
to develop principles by which to make decisions concerning what and how to teach a text
or an oral lesson or GCE A Level; they are not offering blueprints. There are, however,

           Introduction to the First Edition

some common approaches to the discussions and tasks; most signifcantly, there is a con-
sensus that the job of the English teacher is to enable each child to become more literate.
Although there is disagreement about what constitutes literacy, the current thinking is
that we should speak of ‘literacies’ as incorporating the range of texts which people read;
this version of literacy is not as radical as it might sound to conservative thinkers. The
development of literacy has always been based upon available reading material; available
reading material now encompasses all kinds of fiction and non-fiction, media and tech-
nological sources.
Many applicants to teacher education declare a love of ‘literature’, ‘reading’ or ‘books’
as their reason for wanting to teach English. Once on the course, they find themselves
being asked to question the definition of ‘book’, the terms of describing a ‘text’ and the
notion of reading. In schools they find that teaching a literary work is a small part of what
English teachers do. The skills of critical analysis, however, which they have developed
during their degree, are central to all areas of English teaching. Learning to Teach English
in the Secondary School offers opportunities to work through the transition from previous
engagement with English or cultural studies to the school curriculum; with its emphasis
on ‘critical practice’, it suggests that it is not only possible but essential to retain a critical
perspective on your reading and school experience, and on your model of initial teacher
education. It is intended that, from an understanding of historical changes in the subject
from the more remote and recent past, you will develop alternative ways of seeing the
present conditions in education. We are also concerned that you will be a participant in
setting the agenda for English teaching in the future.
It is a truism that what is most up-to-date is quickly dated. This is particularly appli-
cable to the English curriculum which is subject to frequent changes in statutory require-
ments. We have had to make reference to current orders, particularly reference to the
National Curriculum, but realise that these may change. At all times, it is acknowledged
that it is the principles of suggested teaching ideas which are important and that these
would have to be implemented with reference to current syllabuses and resources.

Jon Davison and Jane Dowson

May 1997


When the First Edition of this book was in preparation during 1997, it would have been
impossible to foresee that it would remain in print for over 20 years and that a Fifth Edi-
tion would be produced in 2019.
We are extremely grateful to all those colleagues who have contributed to the contin-
ued success of Learning to Teach English in the Secondary School over the years:

Jane Dowson Gill Anderson

Elspeth Bain Richard Bain
Barbara Bleiman Jane Coles
Theo Bryer Gabrielle Cliff Hodges
Anton Franks Peter Gilbert
Andrew Goodwyn Morlette Lindsay
Rob McInnes John Moss
Elizabeth Rawlinson-Mills Victoria Raybould
Elaine Scarratt Anne Turvey
Jo Westbrook John Yandell

Our thanks also go to the many colleagues at Routledge (Taylor and Francis) who
supported us in the preparation of the various editions: in particular, Helen Fairlie, Helen
Pritt, AnnaMaria Kino-Williams and Ting Baker. We are also most grateful to Anna
Clarkson for her continued support and guidance.

Jon Davison and Caroline Daly

London, April 2019


John Moss


As you begin your secondary English initial teacher education (ITE), you will bring to it
a perception of what English teaching is about that has been formed from a combination
of the following: your own school experience of being taught English; your undergrad-
uate studies in English, and perhaps other subjects; information you have gleaned from
the media, observation visits to schools, and conversations with teachers you know; and,
in some cases, work experience that is related to your planned career, such as working as
a Teaching Assistant, teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) or running a youth
club drama group.
Any analysis you have undertaken of these experiences will have engaged you in think-
ing about one or more of three ways in which the identity of English is constructed: by
those who determine its scope and limits as an academic subject in higher education; by
the definitions that apply to the statutory school curriculum and its assessment mech-
anisms; and by the teachers interpreting its lived-out identity through the teaching and
learning that actually goes on in schools.
If you were asked what English is during an undergraduate literature or language semi-
nar, you would probably have concentrated on the first of these matters, and it is also likely
that you feel more confident about it than the others. You may be expecting your Initial
Teacher Education to require you to focus on exploring ideas about the teaching and learn-
ing of English and the relationship between these ideas and the statutory curriculum. You
will, however, probably find that these explorations will also challenge you to re-evaluate
your understanding of what English as an academic subject is or could be beyond school.

At the end of this chapter you should be:

■■ aware of the major versions of English available to you and their implications
for your work;

John Moss          

■■ aware of the complexity of the debates about English; and

■■ able to place your own past, present and future experiences of English in the
context of these debates.


Your re-evaluation of English may well begin as soon as you meet other members of your ITE
English course and/or other student teachers at the school where you are learning to teach.
You will find that a wide range of different academic experiences of English has influenced
their ideas. You may find, in any group of aspiring teachers, individuals who have experienced:

■■ A Levels in English that explored English literature, the English language, or both,
in varying combinations, as well as media studies and drama;
■■ chronologically structured English literature degrees, whose overarching questions
and concerns were with the relationships between literary tradition and originality
or issues of canonicity;
■■ degrees in English language that explored historical and geographical variations in
English, and in which they learned to use sophisticated tools to analyse spoken and
written language;
■■ degrees in English language and literature in which studying the history of the lan-
guage and stylistics has given them a perception of the significance of language
change and writers’ language choices to the analysis of literature;
■■ degrees centred on current debates about the value of different kinds of literary
theory and the ways in which they can inform reading practices, which have been
explored with reference to a range of literary and non-literary texts;
■■ joint honours degrees in which the study of media, philosophy, history or art has
given students particular perspectives on ways in which the study of literature can be
enriched by a knowledge of one or more types of social, historical or cultural context;
■■ joint honours degrees in English and drama in which, among other things, students
have experienced the value of practical drama methods in interpreting texts;
■■ joint honours degrees in English and education in which students have explored
issues such as language development which have a direct bearing on the teaching
they will undertake in school.

You may value highly the versions of English you have experienced, or you may have
developed a critical distance from them. In either case you may expect the school English
curriculum to be underpinned by clear theoretical positions about the subject that you can
compare with those that have influenced your own educational experiences to date. In
fact, the variety of ideas about ‘what English is’ is represented in an ongoing debate about
the English curriculum that takes place through academic writing both about English and
English-in-Education, the frequent publication of new curriculum policy documents pro-
duced for government, and through the development of classroom practice.


The task you face in defining your position as a teacher of English is similar to that which
has been faced by those responsible for defining and redefining a National Curriculum


for English since the late 1980s. Brian Cox and his team, the first group to attempt this,
pointed out:

Throughout our work we were acutely aware of the differing opinions that are held
on a number of issues that lie at the heart of the English curriculum and its teaching.
Our Report would not be credible if it did not acknowledge these differences and
explain our response to them.
(Department of Education and Science (DES), 1989, para. 1.17)

The development of your own credibility as an English teacher requires you to engage
with these opinions and to be able to explain your position in relation to them.
Before you continue, complete Task 1.1.

Task 1.1 The educational purposes of English

Write a 50-word statement defining the educational purposes of English as you
understand them from your own educational experience at A Level and/or degree
level. Exchange your statement with another student teacher and write a 50-word
commentary on his or her statement. In a group discuss the statements and com-
mentaries you have produced, identifying repeated words and ideas and any con-
tradictions. Try to achieve a consensus statement, and consider the reasons for
your ability or inability to do so.

The Cox Report (DES and WO, 1989) famously defined the different views of English
that its writers found in the teaching profession:

2.21 A ‘personal growth’ view focuses on the child: it emphasises the relationship
between language and learning in the individual child, and the role of literature in
developing children’s imaginative and aesthetic lives.

This view is associated with work undertaken in the 1960s on the need for a child-cen-
tred approach to learning in English, which permanently changed the subject at the time.
John Dixon’s Growth Through English, first published in 1967, was a particularly influen-
tial book, making a strong case for the importance of activities such as creative writing,
talk and improvised drama, which many teachers had sought to prioritise in their teaching
and wanted validated by the National Curriculum.

2.22 A ‘cross-curricular’ view focuses on the school: it emphasises that all teachers
(of English and of other subjects) have a responsibility to help children with the
language demands of different subjects on the school curriculum: otherwise areas of
the curriculum may be closed to them.

This view had been promoted by the recommendations on language across the cur-
riculum of Chapter 12 of the Bullock Report, A Language for Life (DES, 1975) that was
strongly influenced by the work of Barnes, Britton and Rosen (1975) in Language, the

John Moss          

Learner and the School. In the 1970s and 1980s many schools had devised language across
the curriculum policies in response to Bullock, but implementation was patchy, and some
interest groups wanted this work to be consolidated through the National Curriculum.

2.23 An ‘adult needs’ view focuses on communication outside the school: it em-
phasises the responsibility of English teachers to prepare children for the language
demands of adult life, including the workplace, in a fast-changing world. Children
need to learn to deal with the day-to-day demands of spoken language and of print;
they also need to be able to write clearly, appropriately and effectively.

Cox’s reference to a ‘fast-changing world’ implies that an adult needs view of English
will also place considerable emphasis on communications technology and the literacies
involved in using digital technologies. Both before Cox and since, government has been
concerned to take into account the views of employers, as represented by groups such as
the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), about the extent to which the curriculum
is providing the communication skills needed in the workplace. From time to time, and
to varying extents, the assumption is made that it is the primary function of English to
provide these skills.

2.24 A ‘cultural heritage’ view emphasises the responsibility of schools to lead chil-
dren to an appreciation of those works of literature that have been widely regarded
as amongst the finest in the language.

This view is associated with those schools of literary criticism that claim to be able
to determine which books are most worth reading. A leading figure in the history of the
idea of cultural heritage is F. R. Leavis, who, for example, in his book on the novel The
Great Tradition (1948), argued that the great novelists could be identified as those who are
‘distinguished by a vital capacity for experience, a kind of reverent openness before life,
and a marked moral intensity’.

2.25 A ‘cultural analysis’ view emphasises the role of English in helping children
towards a critical understanding of the world and cultural environment in which they
live. Children should know about the processes by which meanings are conveyed,
and about the ways in which print and other media carry values.

This view is associated with forms of criticism that acknowledge that the interactions
among writers, readers and texts are influenced by a range of social, cultural and historical
factors. Holders of the cultural analysis view may believe that the investigation of these
interactions in relation to any text – literary or non-literary, print or digital, written or
spoken – is potentially of equal value, since the value of any text is not absolute but cul-
turally determined. In the 1970s and 1980s, students of English in higher education had
become increasingly exposed to a broad range of critical approaches which challenged
Leavisite positions, and as teachers, sought to embed them in the school curriculum.
These views of English have been the subject of much discussion and research, both
by those who have attempted to find out to what extent each view is represented in the
teaching profession (e.g. Goodwyn, 1992), and by those who have questioned the validity
of the categories or their definitions, or suggested other ways of defining viewpoints in the
debate about what English is (e.g. Marshall, 2000). You may be particularly interested in a

           Which English?

contribution to this debate, made shortly after the Cox Report (DES and WO, 1989) was
published, by a group of student teachers (see Daly et al., 1989). The historical context of the
debate among views of English that Cox identified is explored further in Chapters 2 and 3.

What has become most clear from the debate is that the position that Cox took when
deciding what to do about the different views of English that he found, which was to
assert that they ‘are not sharply distinguishable, and . . . certainly not mutually exclusive’
(para. 2.20), fudges the issues. Reading between the lines of the definitions of the ‘cul-
tural heritage’ view and the ‘cultural analysis’ view, for example, it is not difficult to find
a sharp distinction between the ‘appreciation of those works of literature that have been
widely regarded as amongst the finest’, and ‘critical understanding of the . . . cultural
environment’ (para. 2.24–2.25). The distinction is between being taught a taste for what a
particular group in society, whose identity is hidden by the passive construction, wishes
to have culturally transmitted, and learning to make an active analytical response to all the
signs and sign systems of the cultural products available to that analysis.
You may find this distinction reflected in positions held by other student teachers,
whose ambition as teachers is ‘to pass on’ something (e.g. a love of a particular kind
of literature) and those who seek ‘to change’ something, perhaps their pupils’ sense of
their own power to influence the development of society. Daly et al. provide an import-
ant statement of one version of the second position: ‘we must develop goals, classroom
approaches and materials which will transform “English” into the study of how and why
our entire culture is produced, sustained, challenged, remade’ (1989, p. 16). The distinc-
tion between ‘cultural heritage’ and ‘cultural analysis’ is both profound and political. Cox
offered a compromise rather than a consensus rationale for the English curriculum, per-
haps in an attempt to steer a course between the Scylla and Charybdis of extreme views.
Later in this chapter, you will be asked to consider where the newest iteration of the
National Curriculum for English is placed in the ‘Which English?’ debate. However, it
will be useful for you to explore this document with knowledge of two particularly coher-
ent texts, which offer explicit rationales for the models of English they promote. Their
authors demonstrate that principled positions distinctive from the Cox compromise are

Critical literacy
One particularly valuable attempt at achieving a coherent radical vision of English which
nevertheless acknowledges the complexity of the arguments about it may be found in West
and Dickey’s Redbridge High School English Department Handbook (1990). This book
draws on a range of ideas about language, learning and literacy to formulate a theoretical
position which might drive the work of a secondary English department in a typical urban
high school: a multifaceted statement of departmental philosophy introduces detailed
suggestions for teaching. A key text for the authors is Paulo Freire’s Literacy: Reading the
Word and the World (1987) from which they derive a view of English as ‘critical literacy’:
English is concerned with the processes of language and with all aspects of the making of
meaning. Its business is the production, reproduction and critical interpretation of texts,

John Moss          

both verbal and visual, spoken and written. Its aim is to help [pupils] achieve critical lit-
eracy. To do this it seeks to:

■■ enable [pupils] to make meaning;

■■ develop their understanding of the processes whereby meanings are made;
■■ develop [pupils’] understanding of the processes whereby meanings;
■■ conflict and change.
(West and Dickey, 1990, pp. 10, 23)

The authors note that this definition is intended to encompass ‘aspects of Media Edu-
cation and Drama that are undertaken by the English department’. They state that they see
their definition as building on Cox’s description of ‘cultural analysis’ by emphasising the
social dimension of literacy: in a democratic society, pupils have the right to make and
contest meanings as well as to understand how they are made. This definition of critical
literacy informs the practical details of the schemes of work suggested in the book, and,
in doing so, illustrates how the way teachers think about what English is influences their
planning models and classroom practice.
Whether or not your vision for English is the same as West and Dickey’s, it is vital
for your practice to be similarly principled: you need to learn how your conception of
what English is can inform all the decisions you make about content, lesson structure and
sequence, teaching and learning objectives and assessment strategies.
All of West and Dickey’s schemes of work include sections headed: starting point,
exploration, reshaping, presentation and opportunities for reflection/evaluation. For
example, in a unit of work called ‘Introduction to media education’ pupils work on a
photographic project. Among other things, the pupils are asked to:

■■ start by discussing the statement: ‘The camera never lies . . .’ and by creating a dis-
play about this idea;
■■ explore a range of magazine photographs in a sequence of work that draws attention
to issues of authorship, intention, technique and representation;
■■ ‘reshape’ a collection of photographs of their school, which they take themselves,
into sets of six frame sequences, some negative, some positive, some balanced;
■■ present a selection of the photographs to an audience either within the class or out-
side it;
■■ reflect on the presentations in oral and written responses that may cover issues such
as: the way the project has affected their view of the school; their understanding of
the relationship between selectivity and representation.
(Selected and adapted from West and Dickey, 1990, pp. 151–152)

This unit of work shows how pupils who are studying the ways in which texts (here,
primarily visual texts) are created can extend their learning in important ways by partici-
pating in the processes by which similar texts are shaped and reshaped. Above all, pupils
following this unit of work will learn about the power of makers of texts to make meaning
consciously, deliberately and persuasively, and to contest meanings constructed by other
makers of texts.
In ‘Critical social literacy for the classroom: an approach using conventional texts
across the curriculum’ (Lankshear et al., 1997), Colin Lankshear sets out the fundamental
questions about texts with which critical literacy is concerned. These are as follows:

           Which English?

1 What version of events/reality is foregrounded here?

2 Whose version is this? From whose perspective is it constructed?
3 What (possible) versions are excluded?
4 Whose/what interests are served by this representation?
5 By what means – lexical, syntactic, etc. – does this text construct its reality?
6 How does the text position the reader? What assumptions about readers are reflected
in the text? What beliefs, assumptions, expectations (ideological baggage) do read-
ers have to entertain in order to make meaning from the text?
(Lankshear et al., 1997, p. 52)

Lankshear’s list helps us to understand how the bridge between the theory and practice
of critical literacy can be constructed through the adoption of a consistent approach to
textual analysis.

Language in the National Curriculum’s (LINC) functional model

of language
Whilst learning about and through textual construction is at the heart of the model of
critical literacy proposed by West and Dickey, their definition of English begins by iden-
tifying ‘the processes of language’ as its primary concern. The unpublished materials
produced by the Language in the National Curriculum (LINC, 1992) project offered a
model of language that could provide a coherent rationale for the English curriculum,
and which complements West and Dickey’s work through its comparable emphasis on
meaning-making. The authors of the materials see their work as an attempt to form a
synthesis of the language theories of Britton and Halliday. Britton’s importance is that his
work, centred in language in education, ‘clearly demonstrated the centrality of context,
purpose and audience in language use [and is] grounded in fundamental consideration of
the relationship between language and thought’. Halliday’s work complemented this by
offering ‘functional theories of language [which] placed meaning at the centre’ (LINC,
1992, p. 2) (see Chapter 2 for further discussion of the LINC Project). The authors define
the theories of language implicit in the LINC materials as follows:

1 As humans we use language primarily for social reasons, and for a multiplicity of
2 Language is dynamic. It varies from one context to another and from one set of users
to another. Language also changes over time.
3 Language embodies social and cultural values and also carries meanings related to
each user’s unique identity.
4 Language reveals and conceals much about human relationships. There are intimate
connections, for example, between language and social power, language and culture,
and language and gender.
5 Language is a system and is systematically organised.
6 Meanings created in and through language can constrain us as well as liberate us.
Language users must constantly negotiate and renegotiate meanings.
(LINC, 1992, pp. 1–2)

The practical implications of the LINC view of language for teaching are best indi-
cated in Knowledge about Language and the Curriculum: The LINC Reader (Carter,


1990). In particular, in the fourth chapter of the book George Keith outlines a scheme of
work for Key Stage 3 that any English department could usefully consider using as the
basis of a coherent and systematic approach to language teaching. The integrity of the
scheme of work derives from the centrality accorded to work on language and society
and the investigation of talk. The following practical suggestions for exploring this topic
demonstrate how the LINC theories of language recorded above can be translated into
schemes of work:

■ using questionnaires and interviews to find out information about people’s attitudes,
beliefs, opinions: vox populi – getting people talking (will involve reflection on
method of enquiry as well as on content of data);
■ ‘they don’t speak our language’ – enquiries into occupational dialects;
■ jargon; officialese; slang; codes; accents; Received Pronunciation; talking ‘posh’;
talking ‘dead common’; regional stereotypes and foreign accent; stereotypes – use
BBC recordings;
■ ‘the language of situations’ (pragmatics) – having an argument; being questioned or
interviewed; threatening, bullying; embarrassing situations;
■ euphemisms and taboo subjects in conversation;
■ ways people talk to each other (gender, age, social class, social power);
■ the speech of young children as a source of knowledge about language.
(Carter, 1990, pp. 90–91)

An English teacher or English department could base a coherent approach to the teach-
ing of English on the principles of critical literacy, the theory of language in LINC, or
indeed, since they focus to different extents on texts and language, but share similar posi-
tions on the processes of meaning-making, on the complementary implications of both.
Now complete Task 1.2.

Task 1.2 Views of English in the classroom

Observe three English lessons in your school with the intention of determining
what view of English is being communicated to pupils or constructed by them.
Make notes on matters such as: the choice of material; statements made by the
teacher about the purpose of the work; the kinds of questions the teacher asks;
the sequence of activities pupils engage in. You may find evidence of more than
one view of English in a single lesson, or that one teacher teaches lessons that
seem to offer very different views of English on the same day. Discuss your find-
ings with the teachers and/or your fellow student teachers.


Since the publication of the Cox Report (DES and WO, 1989) there has been a prolifer-
ation of official documents setting out to define the curriculum for English. These docu-
ments have explicitly or implicitly promoted the different views of English identified by

           Which English?

Cox to different extents, but, disappointingly, have frequently failed to provide any kind
of substantial justification for the positions taken.
As you work towards redefining your own view of English, it will be helpful to apply
the principles of critical literacy to your reading of these documents. Clearly, a docu-
ment with an explicit rationale invites the reader to consider Lankshear et al.’s (1997)
key critical literacy questions, but no official curriculum document concerning English
has provided as comprehensive a rationale as the 14 chapters of the Cox Report since its
publication. However, it is still possible to engage with Lankshear’s questions using a
range of strategies, including searching documents for references to previous versions of
the positions they take.
For example, in English in the National Curriculum (Department for Education (DfE),
1995), two pages of general requirements offer the closest thing to a rationale, and this
short statement is more concerned with stressing the importance of standard English
than justifying the position taken in relation to the whole English curriculum. Moreover,
this curriculum statement can be shown to be a heavily redrafted revision of earlier doc-
uments, in which meaning has been distorted as the result of unacknowledged battles
between various interest groups to control the definition of the curriculum.
There is only scope in this chapter to illustrate this point with one small example, so
a statement about a particularly controversial issue, the place of standard English in the
curriculum, has been chosen. According to English in the National Curriculum:

The richness of dialects and other languages can make an important contribution to
pupils’ knowledge and understanding of Standard English.
(DfE, 1995, p. 2, para. 2)

The first thing to notice about this sentence is that it is ungrammatical. It needs to be
prefaced by ‘Learning about’ or ‘Experience of ’ to make sense. Second, the sentence
makes the nonsensical and linguistically imperialistic claim that the main purpose and
value of learning about other forms of language is to inform an understanding of Standard
We can expose the battle for control of the curriculum that was taking place by find-
ing the equivalent sentence in English in the National Curriculum: Draft Proposals,
May 1994, the consultation document produced as a first draft of the 1995 Order:

The richness of other languages and dialects can make an important contribution to
pupils’ knowledge and understanding of language.
(School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA), 1994, p. 1, para. 4)

This sentence has nothing to do with Standard English, and makes a much more log-
ical statement about the relationship between the study of examples of different kinds of
language and the development of an understanding of language principles.
You may find conducting similar textual comparisons of key policy documents useful
in helping you to define your own position on English more precisely, as well as giving
you insight into the priorities and emphases in the latest government pronouncement.
The National Curriculum for England: English (Department for Education and Skills
(DfEE)/Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), 1999), The National Curricu-
lum: English (QCA, 2007) and the National Curriculum programme of study for English
(DfE, 2013) all pay lip service towards offering a rationale for the subject under the

John Moss          

heading ‘The importance of English’ or ‘Purpose of study’. However, it is disappointing

that these lack substance. Traces of the debates in Cox can be detected, but in a watered-
down and neutralised form, so that the tensions among different views have been dis-
solved in an apparently seamless compromise, the origins of which cannot be determined,
at least without applying the techniques of critical literacy to reading them. In Table 1.1,
the relationship between the most recent attempts at a government rationale for English
are reviewed with reference to the Cox Report views of English.
Although it is easy to recognise a rearticulating of the Cox compromise position in
both the Curriculum 2007 and Curriculum 2014 statements, this is not to say that the
debate has stood still since 1990.

■■ Table 1.1  National Curriculum views of English in 2007 and 2014

Curriculum 2007 statement View of English suggested

English is vital for communicating with Cross-curricular view
others in school
– and in the wider world Adult needs view
– and is fundamental to learning in all Cross-curricular view
In studying English, students develop skills Adult needs view – with a hint that
in speaking, listening, reading and writing this involves the national Curriculum’s
that they will need to participate in society general aim of creating responsible
and employment. citizens who make a positive
contribution to society.
Students learn to express themselves Personal growth view
creatively and imaginatively and to
communicate with others confidently and
Literature in English is rich and influential. Cultural heritage view . . .
[although ‘Literature in English’ is
broader than ‘English Literature’]
It reflects the experiences of people from The modification is suggestive of the
many countries and times and contributes post-colonial globalisation of English,
to our sense of cultural identity. but it is noteworthy that cultural
identities are not referenced in the
plural as a cultural analysis perspective
might suggest.
Students learn to become enthusiastic This could suggest either the cultural
and critical readers of stories, poetry and heritage or cultural analysis view of
drama reading . . .
– as well as non-fiction and media texts – but the inclusion of non-fiction
indicates value being placed on a wide
range of material in the cultural analysis
– gaining access to the pleasure and However, the reference to ‘pleasure’ is
world of knowledge that reading offers. perhaps more suggestive of personal

           Which English?

Looking at the patterns, structure, origins There is little sense here of placing
and conventions of English helps students meaning at the centre of a theory of
understand how language works. language (as in LINC) . . .
Using this understanding, students can  . . . and although there is a hint here of
choose and adapt what they say and write the empowerment promoted by critical
in different situations literacy . . .
– as well as appreciate and interpret . . . the term ‘appreciate’ carries
the choices made by other writers and connotations that link this sentence
speakers. back to depoliticised modes of analysis
and towards a cultural heritage view.
2014 Programme of study
English has a pre-eminent place in A general assertion of the importance
education and society. of English.
– for pupils, understanding language Cross-curricular view
provides access to the whole curriculum.
A high quality education in English will The inclusion of ‘emotions’ here gives
teach pupils to speak and write fluently so this sentence a ‘personal growth’
that they can communicate their ideas and dimension.
emotions to others.
Through their reading and listening, others This sentence does not establish why
can communicate with them. these communications are valued.
Through reading in particular, pupils have A personal growth view appears to be
a chance to develop culturally, emotionally, emphasised with a hint at ‘adult needs’
socially and spiritually. and either ‘cultural heritage’ or ‘cultural
Literature, especially, plays a key role in ‘Such development’ could be that
such development. promoted by cultural heritage or
cultural analysis views.
Reading also enables pupils both to Suggestive of a ‘cross-curricular’ or
acquire knowledge and to build on what ‘adult needs’ view.
they already know.
All the skills of language are essential to This is suggestive of the aspiration to
participating fully as a member of society; empowerment associated with critical
pupils who do not learn to speak, read literacy, but not enough is said to be
and write fluently and confidently, are, sure whether a more mechanical notion
effectively, disenfranchised. of ‘adult needs’ is intended.

One key development has been the incorporation of the language of literacy in the offi-
cial discourse about English. For example, the National Literacy Strategy (NLS) Frame-
work for Teaching English: Years 7, 8 and 9 (Department for Education and Employment
(DfEE), 2001) had a section entitled ‘Rationale’ including a statement about literacy:

The notion of literacy embedded in the objectives is much more than simply the
acquisition of ‘basic skills’ which is sometimes implied by the word: it encompasses
the ability to recognise, understand and manipulate the conventions of language, and
develop pupils’ ability to use language imaginatively and flexibly. The Framework
also encompasses speaking and listening to support English teachers in planning to

John Moss          

meet the full demands of the National Curriculum, and to tie in the development of
oral skills with parallel demands in written text.
(DfEE, 2001, pp. 9–10)

What is striking here includes:

■■ the clear statement that literacy goes beyond the ‘basic skills’ that may meet a narrow
definition of adult needs, but the lack of clarity about what this additional value of
literacy is;
■■ the hint of pupil ownership of language, which might be linked to a view of English
based in critical literacy, in the suggestion that pupils should learn to ‘manipulate’
language and use it ‘flexibly’;
■■ the hint of a recognition of personal growth in the word ‘imaginatively’ – but the lack of
any sense of a deep understanding of the connections between speaking and listening,
reading and writing in the curiously bolted-on sentence about speaking and listening
(it is also interesting that the term ‘oracy’, which has given speaking and listening more
weight in recent years, has not been used);
■■ the merest hint of the LINC project’s view of language in the recognition of pupils’
needs to recognise and understand the conventions of language as a means of inform-
ing their use of them;
■■ the absence of any sign of the cultural heritage or cultural analysis views of English:
no attempt has been made to suggest how the NLS project’s vision of literacy informs
decisions about what will be read and why (however, the NLS objectives for reading
are more in tune with cultural analysis than cultural heritage).

The question ‘Which English?’ increasingly involves further questions including:

‘English and/or literacy?’ and ‘Which literacy (or literacies)?’ Moreover, it is possible
to detect in the provision in The National Curriculum: English (QCA, 2007) details
that strengthen the position of approaches to reading in harmony with critical literacy
and approaches to language study in sympathy with LINC partly as a result of a much
enriched interpretation of cross-curricular practice, including the cross-referencing of cit-
izenship to English, and which mark a resurgence of enthusiasm for the personal growth
view of English under the banners of creativity and enjoyment.
Each new official curriculum document shifts the balance among the components of
the Cox compromise. The implications of this situation for you as a student teacher are
serious. You need to define a rationale for your teaching, however provisionally, in order
to set the learning objectives of any lesson. It will be helpful for you to discover where
those responsible for your Initial Teacher Education and the teachers in your placement
schools stand in relation to the various debates that have been identified above. Some of
the questions you should ask tutors, heads of English departments, mentors and teachers
include the following:

■■ Does your English teaching aim to reflect the complexity of the debates about what
English and literacy are, or to promote a particular view of what English and/or
literacy are?
■■ How are your aims interpreted at the practical levels of planning, teaching, assess-
ment and evaluation?
■■ Do you expect me to teach as if I share your aims in my teaching?


■ How do you reconcile your aims with the demands of national assessment require-
ments such as the learning objectives in GCSE and A Level specifications?
■ In what ways does the National Curriculum inform your practice and how
should it influence mine?
■ In what other official curriculum documents are there statements that strongly influ-
ence your work?
■ How as a beginning teacher can I experiment to begin to formulate and implement
my own views of English?

Before continuing complete Task 1.3.

Task 1.3 Exploring English debates in official

Identify a language issue, such as multilingualism, drafting, dialect, discourse
structure, grammar, literary English, language variety, spoken standard English.
Either on your own or in a group of student teachers, find and compare state-
ments about this issue in documents such as: English for Ages 5–16 (DES and
WO, 1989), Language in the National Curriculum: Materials for Professional De-
velopment (LINC, 1992), English in the National Curriculum (DfE, 1995), The Na-
tional Curriculum for England: English (DfEE/QCA, 1999), the NLS Framework for
Teaching English: Years 7, 8 and 9 (DfEE/QCA, 2001), QCA National GCSE Crite-
ria for English and English Literature (DfEE/QCA, 2001), The National Curriculum
for England: English (DCSF/QCA, 2007), the National Curriculum programme of
study for English (DfE, 2014), recent and current examination board specifications
for GCSE English and English Literature (the majority of these documents are
available online).
What similarities and differences, emphases and omissions do you notice in the
documents? Where does the most recent National Curriculum for English stand
on this issue and in relation to the ongoing debates about language represented
in the documents collectively?

So far, this chapter has asked you to consider ideas about English that are derived from
your own educational experience, from recently formulated but established views of the
subject, and from debates that have contributed to the introduction and revision of the
National Curriculum. The last part of the chapter focuses on some developments that
are currently transforming teachers’ perceptions of what school curriculum English is or
can be. Three central threads in these developments concern: ideas about the importance
of genre and rhetoric; the impact of new technologies on speaking, reading and writing,
and the relationships between them; and the regionalisation and globalisation of English.

Postmodern textuality: genre and rhetoric

One way in which the ‘personal growth’ and ‘cultural analysis’ views of English may
form a new synthesis is through an adjustment of the ideas about the self that are

John Moss          

associated with the former, in the light of ideas about genre and rhetoric which are
associated with the latter. The discussion of ‘critical literacy’ earlier in this chapter
drew attention to the value of examining the ways in which meanings are constructed
in texts. Pupils who are to be politically empowered by the English curriculum need to
understand both how different genres work and how to select and adapt the genre that
is most appropriate to their purpose when they seek to use spoken or written texts to
exert influence on society. This understanding must be based partly on consideration
of the conventions used in different genres. Some of these conventions are major and
structural, but others operate at the level of syntax and vocabulary. For example, sci-
ence fiction often translates familiar social and ethical problems to unfamiliar narrative
contexts, but also makes use of specialised vocabulary to define the technological capa-
bilities of its characters.
The art of rhetoric was concerned historically with using language to exert influ-
ence, or to persuade, and in particular with the careful selection of figures of speech, the
arrangement of language features in a spoken or written text, and with oratorical delivery.
It offers us insights into the constructedness of texts at the level of language detail, and
promotes the view that effective oral communication is founded on technique rather than
on personality traits. Thinking about rhetoric and genre together can help us to see that
the composition of a text in a particular genre and using particular rhetorical devices has
something of the nature of a scientific experiment about it, since it involves throwing one
of a number of available frameworks over reality. It may even suggest that meaning exists
only in the constructs of different generic and rhetorical procedures. Another way of put-
ting this is to say that rhetoric and genre provide analogies of the kind of real or imaginary
theatrical masks that actors use to establish character and to make the communication of
dramatic meaning possible.
This view of textual construction has something in common with postmodern views of
the fragmentation and constructedness of the self, which in some versions would suggest
that the self is identifiable and definable only in terms of the language or conventions
through which it is expressed at particular times. Personal growth may then be about the
taking on of new selves through the taking on of new rhetorical and generic conventions.
Teaching in a way that draws attention to rhetoric and genre may then make an important
contribution to the personal growth of those who experience it. In practical terms this may
mean placing greater emphasis on allowing pupils to experiment with the conventions
of genres, by providing them with opportunities for parody, to transpose texts from one
genre to another, and to create new genres or texts which, like a considerable number of
postmodern ‘literary’ texts, make use of a number of different genres.

Literacies and digital technologies

Digital technologies are having an accelerating impact on our understanding of what it
is to be literate, and how literacy is achieved. As noted above, The National Curriculum
for England: English (QCA, 2007) included the statement that ‘In English pupils develop
skills in speaking, listening, reading and writing’. It is widely recognised that a fifth term,
‘viewing’, needs to be inserted into this list of processes, to reflect the media literacy that
plays such an important role in pupils’ lives and their language development. In addi-
tion, we must acknowledge the relevance to language development of the Internet, social
media, multi-media texts, e-mail, texting, podcasts, wikis, blogs and tweets and that these
technologies extend the ways in which we understand both the individual processes of

           Which English?

reading, writing, speaking, listening and viewing and the increasingly interactive rela-
tionships between them.
For example, reading digital text, especially web pages with hyperlinks, draws atten-
tion to the multidimensionality of reading. We know that we are not obliged just to read
in a sequential way across and down a two-dimensional page, but nor are we limited to
exploring the two-dimensional architecture of that page as we do when, for example, we
look at a footnote. Reading a website is more like playing three-dimensional chess: one
move through a hyperlink can completely redirect our attention, and even if we do choose
to return to the previous page, it may be with an entirely new perspective on its content.
This experience modifies our understanding of what reading is. Some other experiences
of using the Internet challenge our conceptions of the boundaries between the different
language processes. For example, chat rooms in which ephemeral comments about a
topic can be recorded and responded to, and which are periodically cleared by whoever
maintains the site, are redefining the boundaries between speech and writing.
Digital technologies can also cause us to rethink our positions in relation to the estab-
lished views of English discussed earlier in this chapter. For example, the Internet may
affect the extent to which we tend towards ‘cultural heritage’ or ‘cultural analysis’ views.
It makes available a wide range of texts that it was previously difficult to access. A sub-
stantial number of pre-twentieth-century literary texts by women that are out of print are
available on the Internet. This makes it much easier than before to demonstrate that the
male white literary canon promoted in the ‘cultural heritage’ view of English is a con-
struct. For some time, word processing and real-time online editing software have made
texts available to readers in many different states and drafts in a way that shows us that
meanings are not fixed.
The brief discussion of the drafting of the 1995 National Curriculum above illustrates
how access to such drafts can affect our understanding of the material with which we are
presented, and allow us to recognise how the possibility of shifting meaning in particular
directions is related to power. The easy links between web pages and websites make read-
ers very aware of the intertextual context of texts, and draw attention to the ways in which
many apparently coherent and complete texts both contain gaps and draw, in different
ways, on the work of a multiplicity of authors. Indeed, readers using the Internet have to
learn to recognise and accommodate the fact that what they experience as a single read-
ing event consists of texts produced by many different authors. These processes promote
modes of reading that are linked with the ‘cultural analysis’ view of English.

Regionalisation and globalisation

Whilst all versions of the National Curriculum for English have maintained the impor-
tance of Standard English, students of language are gaining more access to other system-
atic, rule-governed and dynamic versions of English than has ever been available before.
Academic studies have long drawn attention to differences such as those between Ameri-
can Standard English and English Standard English to explode the myth that there is one
Standard English that should be developed and used for global communication, and they
have also demonstrated the systematic, rule-governed character of all dialects.
However, in the past 20 years, recognition of the value of regional and international
varieties of English in the media, in film and in literature has reoriented the way many
readers of visual and printed texts perceive their relationship to speakers and writers who
use dialects other than those with which they are most familiar. We place more value


on the global diversity of ‘Englishes’ than on the dominance of one English, and recog-
nise that the high status accorded to particular versions of English has been culturally
In this context, one important word-level shift in versions of the National Curriculum
is that the category of texts previously described as ‘texts from other cultures’ was first
retitled ‘Texts from different cultures and traditions’ (QCA, 2007) and then replaced by
‘seminal world literature, written in English’ (DfE, 2014). Similarly, the statement that
‘The study of English should include . . . the significance of standard English as the main
language of public communication nationally and globally’ (QCA, 2007), failed to rec-
ognise that any version of English exists as one variety of a language that contemporary
communications technology makes globally available alongside many others. This state-
ment has recently been replaced by the more linguistically democratic expectation that
pupils will learn about ‘differences . . . between Standard English and other varieties of
English’ (DfE, 2014).
Now complete Task 1.4.

Task 1.4 The textual representation of the

diversity of English
What all three sections of the preceding discussion of ‘futures’ for English have
in common is a sense of a need to develop approaches to teaching that pro-
mote and celebrate diversity and flexibility in language use, a moving in and out
of and between genres, language modes, texts and/or cultural perspectives. Find
a literary or non-literary text or group of texts in which the writer or producer en-
courages the reader or viewer to experience shifts in meaning or a multiplicity of
meanings, and write a commentary in which you either describe your response to
the material or suggest ways in which you could use it in the classroom.


This chapter has set out to make you aware that your English teaching will take place
in the context of a complex, ongoing debate about the subject and to introduce you to
the versions of English likely to be most significant to your developing practice. It has
assumed that you have real choices to make about the rationale for your teaching and
that your teaching will be more effective if your planning is informed by clear thinking
about why you are teaching what you are teaching, and why you are teaching in the
way you are. It has invited you to apply the principles of critical literacy to your reading
of policy documents to help you to place your own thinking about the subject in rela-
tion to the expectations placed on you by others. It has invited you to take account of
developments in thinking about language and literacy, including those arising from new
technologies and globalisation in developing your own rationale for teaching English.

           Which English?

Many of the formulations of English discussed in this chapter may be interpreted as

serving the interests of particular privileged groups rather than as genuinely offering
pupils the empowerment which can be stated as at least one justification for even
those versions of English which may now strike us as most reactionary. As you begin
your development as an English teacher, one question that you should keep firmly
at the centre of your thinking, despite the temptation to abandon it which may result
from your having to address more immediate issues, concerns your pupils more than
English. What futures do you imagine for them, and how can your English teaching
contribute to their development towards those futures?

Brown, J. (2012) ‘Managing difference: secondary English in the National Curriculum’, English in
Education, 46 (3), 247–260.

This is one of several important contributions to ongoing debate about the identity of
English that can be found in this journal. Other contributions can be found in English
in Education (2006) 40 (1), a volume of the journal devoted to ‘English: what for?’ and
English in Education (2000) 34 (1), which is a special edition on ‘English in the New
Kress, G. (2003) Literacy in the New Media Age, New York: Routledge.

Gunther Kress writes extensively on the identity of English in the twenty-first century. His
work often highlights the significance of changing technologies.
Davison, J. and Daly, C. (eds) (2019) Debates in English Teaching (2nd edn), Abingdon: Routledge.

These collections of essays by various authors invite further exploration of many of the
issues raised in this chapter and elsewhere in this book.
Goodman, S. and Graddol, D. (1997) Redesigning English: New Texts, New Identities, London:
Mercer, N. and Swann, J. (1977) Learning English: Development and Diversity, London: Rout-

Both books consider what kind of language English is becoming globally, and the issues
involved in teaching it in this context.
Searle, C. (1998) None But Our Words: Critical Literacy in Classroom and Community, Bucking-
ham: Open University Press.

This book explores the challenges one teacher faced when promoting a radical and prin-
cipled version of critical literacy in his teaching.

ENGLISH 1894–2018

Jon Davison

English is a subject suitable for women and the second- and third-rate men who are
to become schoolmasters.
(Professor Sanday 1893)

Chapter 1 explored the main formulations of English as a school subject, some of which
‘may be interpreted as serving the interests of particular privileged groups’. With the
inclusion of the subject in the curriculum of state schools that are funded from the public
purse, it is unsurprising that the foremost interested group might be seen as HM Govern-
ment. Perhaps surprising today, however, is the fact that English as a curriculum subject is
still very young and that it was established in the face of considerable opposition.
‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ . . . ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ . . .
‘and is there honey still for tea?’ English: fine words; noble sentiments. A spontaneous
overflowing of powerful feelings, or emotion recollected in tranquillity? One might be
forgiven for thinking of English as a soft, safe, some have argued ‘feminine’, subject,
but since its inception and until the present day, the subject has been, and remains, a
battleground. Because of the way in which English Literature has been presented as a
corpus of historical texts, there exists a notion that English as a subject likewise has its
origins somewhere in the mists of time. English as a recognisable school subject has
existed only since the beginning of the twentieth century and the category of English
Literature, as we know it, is little more than a hundred years old (Gossman, 1981,
p. 341). The Oxford School of English was not established until 1894 in the face of
strong opposition from the Classicists as the quotation that opens this chapter indicates
(Palmer, 1965, pp. 104–117). Nevertheless, within the last century the centrality of
English to the education of children was embraced and the subject continues exists
as part of the ‘core’ of the National Curriculum. However, the progress from new to
established subject was not a smooth journey and, at times, the conflicting beliefs about
the nature and purpose of English caused fierce debate, not least during the late 1980s
when there were two national reports on the teaching of English: Kingman (DES, 1988)


and Cox (DES and WO, 1989). The National Curriculum Order for English, produced
in 1990, was revised in 1993, 1994, 1999, 2007 and (as a staged introduction, because
of rapidity of change) in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
This chapter explores the roots of the views about English teaching that has under-
pinned the many debates. Before continuing complete Task 2.1.

Task 2.1 Why English?

Answer the following question:
‘Why should it be mandatory for every child in this country to study English in
school as part of a core of the National Curriculum?’

Either by yourself, or with a partner, map out all the reasons you would give for
studying English. Then list your reasons in order of importance. If possible, discuss
them with another student teacher/pair and be prepared to justify your list and the
relative importance of your reasons. Then as you read this chapter, look for the con-
nections between your reasons and the reasons others have given during the last
100 years.

By the end of this chapter you should:

■ have some knowledge of the key reports that determined the shape of
English as a subject;
■ be aware of philosophies and attitudes to culture and social class that
underpinned the establishment of English on the curriculum;
■ understand the importance to the subject that has been placed upon the
literary ‘canon’;
■ be aware of the reasons why notions of ‘correctness’ have been seen as
central to English;
■ understand that different and conflicting paradigms of English as a sub-
ject have influenced the National Curriculum for English.


Before the turn of the twentieth century, English did not exist as a separate school
subject (Ball, 1985, p. 53). It was not until 1904 that the Board of Education (BoE)
Regulations required all elementary and secondary schools to offer courses in English
language and literature. The reasons for the subject’s inclusion in the curriculum of
state schools were not necessarily ones that teachers today might deem educational.
Indeed, some commentators, for example Eagleton (1983, p. 23ff.), believe that the
need for state education and the importance of English was ‘advocated in a hard-headed

Jon Davison          

way as a means of social control’ (Gossman, 1981, p. 82). There is not space in a chap-
ter of this length fully to detail the growth of the subject; however, the main strands of
development are worth exploration as many of the earlier beliefs and opinions about the
subject can be found to underpin much of what happens in the name of English today.
Although the Cox Report notes that ‘Views about English teaching have changed in the
last 20 years and will continue to do so’ (DES and WO, 1989, para. 2.4), it is possible
to trace the differing views of English teaching back to the origins of state education in
this England (see Chapter 1 ‘Which English’ for a discussion of the perceived purposes
of the subject).
With the growth of Victorian technology there was an obvious need of a workforce
trained ‘in terms of future adult work’: a workforce comprising adults who could read
simple instructions; understand verbal commands; give and receive information and who
exhibited ‘habits of regularity, “self-discipline”, obedience and trained effort’ (Williams,
1961, p. 62). Broadly, this utilitarian approach to education was dealt with in schools
as ‘Reading’ and ‘Writing’ lessons. Later, the Board of Education’s Elementary Code
averred that teachers should give pupils:

some power over language as an instrument of thought and expression, and while
making them conscious of the limitations of their own knowledge, to develop in
them [such] a taste for good reading and thoughtful study . . . to implant in the
children habits of industry, self-control and courageous perseverance in the face of
(1904, p. viii)

For Matthew Arnold, poet and Her Majesty’s Inspector of Schools (HMI), writing in
1871, English literature was ‘the greatest power available in education’. Arnold, who
sadly died whilst running for a tram in 1888, was much influenced in his thinking by the
poet Wordsworth and as a child he spent holidays in a Lake District cottage, Fox How,
neighbouring the poet’s own cottage. In the Preface to his Lyrical Ballads (1800), Word-
sworth argues:

Poetry is the first and last of all knowledge – it is as immortal as the heart of man . . .
The Poet binds together by passion and knowledge the vast empire of human society,
as it is spread over the whole earth, and over all time.

As he grew older, Arnold developed a belief in the power of poetry to act as ‘an excel-
lent social cement’ (Eagleton, 1983, p. 23).
Elsewhere, in A Defense of Poetry (1840) Shelley regards poetry as ‘something divine’,
because ‘it is not like reasoning . . . It is as it were the interpretation of a diviner nature
through our own’. To inhabit the realm of literature is to somehow transcend the quo-
tidian; to be at one with a diviner nature; to be at one with the ‘vast empire of human
society’. That its nature could not be debated, rather its truths could only be ‘felt’ or
‘experienced’ is significant, because this view gave rise to the development of poetry
‘appreciation’ rather than ‘criticism’ in the school curriculum for much of the first half of
the twentieth century. As Palmer (1965, p. 39) puts it: ‘The main emphasis in the moral
evangelical approach to literature is upon reading, upon the value of making contact with
the great imaginations of the past’.

           Battles for English 1894–2019


The present is an age of educational reform. The methods of teaching most of the
subjects in the curriculum have undergone considerable changes and been vastly
improved, during the last decade.
(Roberts and Barter, 1908, p. 1)

The reader might be forgiven for thinking that the quotation above from The Teaching
of English had been written in the 1990s rather than in 1908. However, the first 20 years
of the twentieth century saw an outpouring of publications from the Board of Educa-
tion that attempted to define and structure the curriculum in elementary and secondary

Good taste versus slang

The Board of Education’s Circular 753 (1910) was instrumental in establishing the nature
of English as it came to be in school. It shows clearly the underlying philosophies men-
tioned earlier:

instruction in English in the secondary school aims at training the mind to appre-
ciate English Literature and at cultivating the power of using the English Language
in speech and writing . . . Literature supplies the enlarged vocabulary, which is the
mechanism of enlarged thought, and for want of which people fall helplessly back on
slang, the base coin of the language. Pure English is not merely an accomplishment,
but an index to and a formative influence over character.
(BoE, 1910, para. 2)

Clearly, the approach is a high cultural, pure-English-as-civilising-agent approach

advocated in the previous century by Matthew Arnold. The Circular envisages its own
literary canon: a body of great literary works to which pupils need to be introduced.
Pupils ‘should be taught to understand, not to criticise or judge’ the great works (ibid.,
para. 36). Texts recommended include Hiawatha, Ancient Mariner, Robinson Crusoe,
Stories of Heroes, Patriotic Songs, Gulliver’s Travels, and the poetic works of Milton,
Gray, Coleridge, Tennyson and Wordsworth. There is an obvious lack of Dickens, or any
other novelist, who might venture into the realms of social realism; but stories of courage
distanced in the realms of Romanticism were quite acceptable. Maybin (1996, p. 236)
reminds us that canonical texts have always been important not only because they are
regarded as the backbone of English literature, but also in relation to the definition of
Standard English. In compiling his English dictionary, Samuel Johnson based it upon the
books he regarded as illustrating ‘authoritative uses and meanings in the language’. Simi-
larly, histories of the English language in the nineteenth century focused upon the written
works that were believed to be most important rather than the spoken word. Ultimately,
the nature of English in school in the twentieth century fundamentally determined by the
legacy of nineteenth-century beliefs about the importance of literature in relation to its
‘divine’ nature, by notions of correctness and Standard English, and the subordinate status
of the spoken word.


The unsuitability of novels

Startlingly perhaps for teachers today, the Circular has this to say: ‘Novels, indeed, though
occasionally points for discussion, are rarely suitable for reading in school’ (para. 34) and
‘Boys and girls will read of their own accord many books—chiefly fiction. These . . . are
only of transitory interest and involve little or no mental effort’ (para. 17). How very dif-
ferent from, for example, the National Curriculum’s (1999):

During Key Stages 3 and 4 pupils read a wide range of texts independently, both
for pleasure and for study. They become enthusiastic, discriminating and responsive
readers, understanding layers of meaning, and appreciating what they read on a crit-
ical level.
(DfE/QCA, 1999, p. 34)

Part of the explanation for the Circular’s antipathy to novels lies in the growth of mass
production. For at least 20 years, novels had been widely and cheaply available. A further
explanation of this hostility to popular culture lies in the view of high culture that under-
pins Circular 753 (BoE, 1910): ‘the real teachers of Literature are the great writers them-
selves . . . the greater the work, the more it speaks for itself’ (para. 21). Such an attitude to
the difference between literary language and the spoken language of working-class chil-
dren and the negative effects of popular culture is also in evidence in the Newbolt Report:

The great difficulty of teachers in elementary schools in many districts is that they
have to fight against evil habits of speech contracted in home and street. The teach-
er’s struggle is thus not with ignorance but with a perverted power.
(BoE, 1921, para. 59)

The document displays a clear attitude to the ‘evil habits’ of children from the work-
ing class, who in their culture of ‘home and street’ are believed to threaten established
norms, not through ignorance but by virtue of a ‘perverted power’. Part of this power was
no doubt located within developing popular culture. Therefore, the best thing an English
teacher can do for a pupil is ‘to keep him from the danger of the catchword and everyday
claptrap’ (BoE, 1921, para. 81); ‘to teach all pupils who either speak a definite dialect or
whose speech is disfigured by vulgarisms, to speak Standard English’ (para. 67) – there is
no acknowledgement that Standard English is, in itself, a dialect.
Now complete Task 2.2.

Task 2.2 Correctness and character

Look back over this chapter so far. Examine the language of the educational policy
makers. Alone, or with a partner, answer the following questions:

1. What recurring connotations do you notice in the language (for example the
adjectives) used to describe the working class and children’s spoken lan-
guage? What attitudes does such language display?
2. How important do you believe is Standard English in written work?


3. How important do you believe is Standard English in speaking?

4. Can great literature be inspirational and an influence over the formation of char-
5. Can/should English teaching be used as a form of social engineering?

How do the reasons given in these early documents for the importance of study-
ing English compare with your reasons produced in Task 2.1?


The most formidable institution we had to fight in Germany was not the arsenals
of the Krupps or the yards in which they turned out submarines, but the schools of
Germany. . . . An educated man is a better worker, a more formidable warrior, and
a better citizen.
(Lloyd George, 1918)

It is significant that the first major evaluation of education after the First World War was
carried out into The Teaching of English in England (BoE, 1921) by the Newbolt Commit-
tee (the full text is at

Play up! and play the game!

The constitution of the Committee bears analysis, for its composition undoubtedly shaped
the approach to English that underpinned not only the Report, but also the teaching of
English for the following 30 years. Sir Henry Newbolt chaired the Committee. Oxford
educated and Professor of Poetry from 1911 to 1921, Newbolt is, perhaps, now best
remembered for his poem ‘Vitae Lampada’, which details the virtues of self-sacrifice
for one’s country and contains the refrain: ‘Play up! play up! and play the game!’ Other
Oxford men on the Committee were John Bailey, F. S. Boas and Professor C. H. Firth,
whilst from Cambridge came Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and John Dover Wilson (critic
and HMI). Other notable members included Professor Caroline Spurgeon, best known for
her exhaustive work on Shakespeare’s imagery, J. H. Fowler of English Usage fame and
George Sampson, author of English for the English. With such luminaries on a committee
of 14 members, it is not surprising that notions of correctness, cultural heritage and a
belief in the humanising nature of literature should hold sway.
The Committee discovered that, in schools, ‘English was often regarded as being infe-
rior in importance, hardly worthy of any substantial place in the curriculum’ (para. 6);
whilst in boys’ schools the study of English was ‘almost entirely neglected’ (para. 106).
Of greater concern to the Committee was the attitude of the working class:

especially those belonging to organised labour movements, [who] were antagonistic

to, and contemptuous of literature . . . a subject to be despised by really virile men . . .
to be classed by a large number of thinking working men with antimacassars, fish-
knives and other unintelligible and futile trivialities of ‘middle-class culture’ and ‘to
side-track the working movement’.
(para. 233)

Jon Davison          

Although the Report is lengthy (393 pages) it is ‘seldom positive in its proposals’
(Palmer, 1965, p. 82). Like all reports produced by a committee it is, on occasion, con-
tradictory. For example, English is asserted to be the ‘basis of school life’ (para. 61) and
the Report coins a phrase that still has currency: ‘every teacher is a teacher of English,
because every teacher is a teacher in English’ (para. 64). However, in a contradictory para-
graph it notes that good English teaching ‘demands skill and resource, [and] is too often
thought a task which any teacher can perform’ (para. 116).

Changing pedagogy
Although the Newbolt Report’s central philosophy mirrors earlier Board of Education
publications, its approach to pedagogy is different. The Report is critical of the approaches
advocated in Circular 753. It deplores that there was often ‘Too much emphasis on gram-
mar and punctuation, spelling’ (para. 79). Paragraph 81 lists 11 ‘positive methods’ for the
improvement of English lessons. Whilst most recommendations are fairly standard and
had been proposed in earlier documents, such as ‘listening’, ‘using the dictionary’ and
‘summarising’, three recommendations appear surprising:

(g) proposals from the children about the choice of subjects; class discussions, dra-
matic work;
(h) preparation in advance of the subject matter of composition . . .
(k) free and friendly criticism by the scholars of each other’s work.
All agree in emphasising the value of oral exercises.
(BoE, 1921, para. 81)

Such pedagogy would not seem out of place in an English department today. However,
in the 1920s it is obvious that factors such as class size would have militated against the
adoption of these recommendations, in the same way it did against the Report’s belief
in the value of discussion between small ‘groups of children’ (para. 74). It is clear that
within its short existence as a curriculum subject, what we now believe to be ‘traditional’
methods had become the backbone of English teaching, whilst the more progressive rec-
ommendations of the Newbolt Report would not be adopted for another half-century.

THE 1930S
For the Spens Report (1938) (, hope lay
in the great tradition, the values and higher moral code espoused by the great writers
that, ‘involves the submission of the pupil to the influences of the great tradition; it is his
endeavour to learn to do fine things in a fine way’ (BoE, 1938, p. 161). The study of litera-
ture was believed to exercise ‘a wide influence upon the life and outlook of the adolescent,
more general and long lasting in its effects than that normally exercised by any other sub-
ject in the curriculum’ (p. 218). Teachers ‘may yet succeed in making the normal citizen
of this country conscious and proud of his unequalled literary heritage’ (p. 228). Here
again we are presented with a view of culture as complete: a legacy, an heirloom, which,
having been cherished, is to be handed down to the next generation. Presumably, any cit-
izen not ‘conscious and proud of his unequalled literary heritage’ is perforce ‘abnormal’.
More worrying for some was the standard of spoken English, which was seen (or
heard?) as ‘slovenly, ungrammatical, and often incomprehensible to a stranger’ (p. 220),

           Battles for English 1894–2019

but which the ‘common habit of English teaching’ (p. 222) would cure. The textbook
Good and Bad English (Whitten and Whittaker, 1938, pp. 69–71) mirrors this attitude
throughout: for example, ‘NEVER—never—write “alright”. It is all wrong (not alwrong),
and it stamps a person who uses it as uneducated’. Similar attitudes may be found in the
April 1993 draft proposals for National Curriculum English 5–16 (DES, 1993a) in its
regular restatement that, from Key Stage 1 pupils ‘should speak clearly using Standard
English’ and ‘should be taught to speak accurately, precisely, and with clear diction’. The
draft proposals include a variety of what can only be described as patronising ‘Examples’:
‘We were (not was) late back from the trip’; ‘We won (not winned) at cricket’; ‘Pass me
those (not them) books’; ‘Clive and I (not me) are going to Wembley’; ‘We haven’t seen
anybody (not nobody)’ (pp. 9–23).
If high culture was to be the saviour of working-class children, the Spens Report, like
earlier documents, knew where to lay the blame for their slovenly language:

Teachers everywhere are tackling this problem [debased forms of English] though
they are not to be envied in their struggle against the natural conservatism of child-
hood allied to the popularisation of the infectious accents of Hollywood. The per-
vading influences of the hoarding, the cinema, and a large section of the public press,
are (in this respect as in others) subtly corrupting the taste and habits of the rising
(BoE, 1938, pp. 222–223)

The burgeoning mass media, like some virulent disease (‘infectious accents’), were
portrayed as corrupting a whole generation. As in earlier documents, a discourse of dis-
ease, corruption and perversion links the mass media and the working class. Popular
culture was seen as a threat because pupils needed no introduction to it – it was the stuff
of their lives – whereas they needed to be ‘brought into the presence’ of great writers who
would civilise them.

English students in England today are ‘Leavisites’ whether they know it or not.
(Eagleton, 1983, p. 31)

The Great Tradition and Practical Criticism

Arguably, the major influence upon the development of teaching English literature in this
country was the launch of the critical journal Scrutiny in 1932 and the development of the
‘Cambridge School’ of English. Central to Leavisite critical theory is the notion of ‘close
reading’ or ‘practical criticism’ (Richards, 1929) of texts, whereby the critic deals with ‘an
individual’s work rather than a writer’s achievements as a whole’ (Daiches, 1956, p. 299).
Unlike the vagaries of the Romantic appreciation promoted by Arnold and his descen-
dants, which culminated in the Board of Education promoting a love of greatness in liter-
ature without judgment, practical criticism is ‘unafraid to take the text apart’ (Eagleton,
1983, p. 43). For F. R. Leavis, texts would be analysed in relation to the literary standards
exemplified in the canon of great literature. It is this method that has come to be at the
very core of the teaching of English literature in universities and schools. However, whilst
Leavis’s methodology may have differed from Newbolt and Arnold’s, his philosophy was

Jon Davison          

strikingly similar. The Leavisite canon included inter alia Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jonson,
Bunyan, Pope, Blake, Wordsworth, Keats, Austen and George Eliot. To be included in the
canon a text had to ‘display particular kinds of moral, aesthetic and “English” qualities
which would arm readers against the moral, aesthetic and commercial degeneration of the
age’ (Maybin, 1996, p. 245). It is clear that the belief in the humanising effects of great
literature, produced in some past golden age, is central to the Leavisite view.
However, the Norwood Report (BoE, 1943), Curriculum and Examinations in Sec-
ondary Schools ( not only criticises
the notion of close reading but also reaffirms the power of literature proposed by Arnold
and Newbolt. Paragraph 93 of the Report argues that ‘too much attention has been paid
to aspects [of great literature] which are of secondary importance and the higher values
have been obscured’. It asserts that these values are ‘final and absolute: they cannot be
broken down into constituent parts: they are beyond analysis and wait upon the apprecia-
tive powers of the pupil’. The paragraph concludes that the teaching of English literature
is concerned with that ‘which is past analysis or explanation, and values which must be
caught rather than taught’.
To sum up, in all official policy documents relating to the study of English that was
produced before the Second World War, it is possible to identify a number of recurring
themes. First, there is a belief that it is possible to identify a number of works from the
past that stand the test of time because they exhibit certain values and qualities which
are universal. Second, a conviction that such works have a humanising effect on the
lower classes and are therefore an aid to social stability. Third, pupils should be taught to
appreciate great literature, not to criticise it. Fourth, the spoken and written language of
working-class children is of extremely low quality. Fifth, the exposure of pupils to ‘fine
writing’ will enable them to write and speak Standard English. Sixth, popular culture
should be seen as a corrupting influence and an enemy to high culture.


If the Oxford and Cambridge Schools were instrumental in shaping the ‘English as litera-
ture’ paradigm of the subject prior to the Second World War, arguably the most influential
institution postwar has been the Institute of Education, University of London (formerly
the London Day Training College, now University College London Institute of Education).
Foremost among those associated with the Institute who helped to shape the teaching of
English in the second half of the twentieth century were Douglas Barnes, Jimmy Britton,
Nancy Martin and Harold Rosen. Together they pioneered ground-breaking theoretical
work in language and learning as founding members of both the London Association for the
Teaching of English (LATE) in 1947 and the National Association (NATE) in 1964.
Whilst the Cambridge School, for the most part, addressed itself to the teaching of the
subject in grammar schools, the ‘London School’ was more associated with the spread
of comprehensive education in the 1950s and 1960s. The difference between London and
Cambridge in Britton’s words was the difference ‘between using the mother tongue and
studying it’ (Britton, 1973, p. 18). Ball (1985, p. 68) characterises the London approach as
the ‘English as language’ paradigm of English teaching. Key texts that have underpinned
the development of this paradigm are, among others, Language and Learning (Britton,
1970); From Communication to Curriculum (Barnes 1976); and Language, the Learner
and the School (Barnes et al. 1975). Since the 1950s it is clear that both paradigms of


English teaching have held sway, often to be found in the differing approaches of mem-
bers of the same English department.
If societal influences in Victorian times and in the 1920s and 1930s may be seen in
some ways to have shaped the foundations of English teaching, the same may be said
of the 1960s and 1970s. These two decades saw not only massive changes technologi-
cally in the 1960s and an economic recession in the 1970s, but also radical changes in
relation to state education. The Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE) English was
introduced. It ran alongside General Certificate of Education (GCE) O Level courses;
but whereas O Level English examinations comprised ‘Composition’, ‘Comprehension’,
‘Précis’, ‘Grammar/Vocabulary exercises’, CSE was much less formal. Similarly, whilst
O Level English literature syllabuses focused, in the main, on writers drawn from the
canon, CSE texts were more likely to be written by contemporary authors. Furthermore,
the introduction of CSE Mode 3 examinations – set and marked by teachers in school –
and up to 100 per cent coursework elements were regarded as ‘soft options’ open to cheat-
ing by those who favoured the traditional ‘terminal’ O Level examination (such attitudes
are still evident and clearly underpin the revision of GCSEs in the second decade of the
twenty-first century). Elsewhere, the restructuring of the teaching profession, changes
in teacher education, the spread of comprehensive schooling, the Raising of the School
Leaving Age (RoSLA), the work of the Schools Council, all contributed to the conditions
for curricular change.
However, the emergence of a language-based model of English teaching that was not
necessarily focused upon ‘traditional’ notions of grammatical correctness; of a model
that some characterised as being in direct opposition to the ‘traditional’ literature-based
model, caused genuine tensions – not only within English departments but also in society
at large. Subsequently, the publication of the Black Papers (1969–1977), concerns over
‘falling standards’ and ‘progressive child-centred’ education; the perceived threat to the
11-plus and grammar schools through comprehensive schooling, led to the establishment
of another enquiry into all aspects of English teaching, chaired by Sir Alan Bullock.

A Language for Life

It is clear that the Bullock Report gathered evidence of a variety of practices in schools
that were both ‘traditional’ and ‘progressive’. A Language for Life (DES 1975) (www., concludes: ‘The time has come to raise
language as a high priority in the complex life of the secondary school’. The Report
condemns the study of grammar in isolation but asserts the traditional role of the teacher
when it maintains the importance of teacher intervention in pupils’ work. Both paradigms
of English teaching – ‘as language’ and ‘as literature’ – are reinforced positively.
Task 2.3 asks you to reflect on how you were taught English.

Task 2.3 How were you taught English?

Think back to your own school days. How were you taught English? What was the
place of drama and media in English? What emphasis was placed upon the study
of English Literature? Which texts were studied? How were they chosen? What
part did ‘appreciation’ or ‘criticism’ play? What room was there for enjoyment?


Did the teaching of grammar take place? Was this done in isolation, or in relation
to literature, or your own writing? What emphasis was placed upon Standard
English in writing and speaking? What strategies did your teachers use when cor-
recting your work? What emphasis was placed upon discussion? Which paradigm
of English do you feel characterised the way you were taught the subject? Did
different teachers exemplify different models of the subject?
If possible, share your experiences with another student teacher. You might
wish to discuss with your mentor, or another member of the English department
in your placement school the ways in which he or she was taught English and
whether it has affected the beliefs they hold about the subject.

Secretary of State for Education Sir Keith Joseph’s speech to the North of England Edu-
cation Conference on 6 January 1984 outlined the Government’s intention to ‘raise stan-
dards’ through a move towards the establishment of agreed criteria for subjects and their
assessment, which would lay the foundations of a national curriculum. His speech was
followed swiftly by a series of HMI discussion documents ‘intended as a contribution to
the process of developing general agreement about curricular aims and objectives’ (HMI,
1984b, p. 54). Significantly, The Curriculum from 5 to 16 (HMI, 1984b) was the second
document in the series, the first being English from 5 to 16 (HMI, 1984a). English, as a
subject, was still considered of special importance to HMI and policy makers alike.
HMI recognised that English from 5 to 16 ‘was the most controversial publication in an
HMI series’ (HMI, 1986, p. 18). The document listed a number of age-related objectives
for pupil development in the areas of Listening, Speaking, Reading, Writing and ‘About
language’ – nomenclature developed, perhaps, to avoid the heated ‘grammar’ debate. The
document contains all the beliefs about the purposes and nature of the subject described
previously: ‘Speak clearly, audibly and pleasantly, in an accent intelligible to the listen-
er(s)’ (HMI, 1984a, p. 10). Similarly, the seeds of National Curriculum English are also
being sown in the recommendations that pupils should:

Have experienced some literature and drama of high quality, not limited to the
twentieth century, including Shakespeare’ and ‘Read newspapers, magazines and
advertising material critically . . . apply similar judgments to entertainment in other
media—theatre, cinema or video films, television and radio.
(p. 11)

Responses to the document were heated, and many respondents expressed themselves
in ‘matters of belief, principle and practice that were close to their hearts’ (HMI, 1986,
p. 1). Responses were collated and discussed in English from 5 to 16: The Responses to
Curriculum Matters 1 (HMI, 1986). This report shows respondents to be ‘anxious or
angry’ (p. 5) about the proposals in the earlier publication. Because the earlier document
had been such a mixture of approaches to the subject both ‘traditional’ and ‘progres-
sive’ all parties felt dissatisfied (p. 7). Elsewhere, ‘There were widespread expressions
of support for increased attention to the spoken word (speaking and listening)’ (p. 18).
Of course, those who responded to Curriculum Matters 1 were a self-selecting group


and may in no way have been truly representative of the views of English teachers as a
whole. Although many respondents were groups – schools, LAs, HEIs and representative
bodies – only 913 responses were received in total.
As a result of disagreement among respondents, in The Responses’ ‘Conclusions’ HMI

It may be that a concentrated and thorough public discussion of the issues is needed;
perhaps even a national enquiry is required to focus opinion and guide policy for-
mation about what should be taught about our language and what needs to be known
by teachers and pupils.
(HMI, 1986, p. 19)

Within six months a Committee of Enquiry into the Teaching of English Language had
been announced.
Now complete Task 2.4.

Task 2.4 Principles of English teaching

Obtain copies of English from 5 to 16 (HMI, 1984a) and English from 5 to 16: The
Responses to Curriculum Matters 1 (HMI, 1986) (available as one document at

1. Examine ‘Some Principles of English Teaching’ (pp. 13–16) in Curriculum Mat-

ters 1. You may wish to discuss this section of the document with another
student teacher or your mentor /tutor. What reservations or questions would
you wish to raise with HMI about the beliefs expressed here?
2. Read ‘Matters Arising’ (pp. 34–42) in The Responses document. How far are
your own views represented in this section? Keep any notes you make and use
them in any work you undertake on National Curriculum English or which asks
you to give an account of your own beliefs about the purposes of teaching

On 16 January 1987 Secretary of State for Education Kenneth Baker lamented ‘Most
schools no longer teach old-fashioned grammar. But little has been put in its place’ (DES
Press Release) and announced the formation of committee chaired by John Kingman.
Interestingly, Kingman was a notable mathematician. The Kingman Committee was to
‘recommend benchmarks for what children should know about how the language works
at ages 11 and 16’ (Independent, 17 January 1987). Significantly, the first of the terms of
reference for the Committee was:

1. To recommend a model of the English language, whether spoken or written,

which would: i) Serve as the basis of how teachers are trained to understand how
the English language works.
(DES, 1988, p. 73)

Jon Davison          

This statement signalled the Government’s intention to control teacher education more
tightly, particularly in the area of English. The Report of the Committee of Enquiry into
the Teaching of English Language (DES, 1988) was published within just a year (www., such was Mr Baker’s sense of urgency,
and some readers were not heartened by the fact that its opening line was a quotation from
the Newbolt Report (BoE, 1921):

. . . the danger confronting English today is not so much indifference as distraction’.
Those words, from the Newbolt Report of 1921, strike a chord nearly 70 years
later. The Newbolt Committee was discussing the risk that much of English as a
distinctive subject might be crowded out of the school curriculum by the demands
of other ways of developing children’s abilities, aptitudes and experience to meet the
needs of adult life.
(DES, 1988, p. 1)

However, there was equal concern expressed in some quarters (Mr Baker’s was one)
that the Report did not recommend a return to the formal teaching of grammar. For the
purposes of this chapter it is worth noting that the Report did, indeed, make recommen-
dations for the teaching of knowledge about language in teacher education programmes.
Thus, it gave birth to the ill-fated Language in the National Curriculum (LINC) project
that was set up to develop training materials to improve learning about language, which
exemplifies the ferocity with which battles for English have raged.


The LINC Project (1989 to 1992) was just one of three major projects (The National
Writing Project (1985 to 1989) and the National Oracy Project (1987 to 1993)) related to
the teaching of English. The LINC Project, however, was controlled directly by the DES,
because the Kingman Report had

failed to deliver the two simple, linked nostrums expected of it: that the most import-
ant thing teachers need to know about language concerns the grammar of sentences;
and that children come to command language by being taught the grammar of sen-
tences in advance.
(Richmond, 1992, p. 14)

Because the Project’s teaching package still did not deliver the required approach
to grammar, the Government not only refused to publish it, but they maintained
Crown copyright on the materials – thereby preventing anyone from publishing them.
Nevertheless, it is estimated (Richmond, 1992, p. 17) that at least 20,000 photocopied
packages of the materials were in schools, Local Authorities (LAs) and higher educa-
tion institutions (HEIs) in 1992. The ban on the materials provoked certain sections
of the press to new heights of vitriol about progressive teaching methods in English.
Almost exactly 100 years after Professor Sanday made this chapter’s opening state-
ment, an ill-informed article that referred to the ‘LINK’ Project throughout typifies
the reaction:

           Battles for English 1894–2019

And although the DES will not publish the document, it is being distributed to teacher
training institutions, where its voodoo theories about the nature of language will
appeal to the impressionable mind of the young woman with low A-levels in ‘soft’
subjects who, statistically speaking, is the typical student in these establishments.
(Daily Telegraph, 28 June 1992)



The National Curriculum English Working Group was commissioned by Mr Baker in
order to make recommendations on attainment targets and programmes of study for the
subject of English in the new National Curriculum. Brian Cox, Pro-Vice Chancellor and
Professor of English Literature at the University of Manchester, chaired the Group. Pro-
fessor Cox had been one of the principal writers of the right-wing Black Papers on educa-
tion in the 1970s. However, neither Mr Baker, nor his deputy, Angela Rumbold MP, were
satisfied with the Report, as Brian Cox describes:

The Report was submitted to Mr. Baker and Mrs Rumbold by the civil servants, and
again I was not invited. There was some question about whether the Report should
be published in its entirety, for Mr Baker and Mrs Rumbold were worried that there
were sections which the Prime Minister [Thatcher] would not like. On the other
hand, if they refused to publish the whole Report this would anger the teaching pro-
fession and provide the journalists with a sensational story.
(Cox, 1991, p. 11)

Nevertheless, after almost a century of discussion and debate, the first National Curric-
ulum for English was introduced into schools on 1 September 1990.

Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
. . . For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
(The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock T. S. Eliot 1920)

It would be reasonable to expect that after a century of debate about the subject and the
establishment of a National Curriculum for English the battles were finally over: far from
it – they now began in earnest and set the pattern for the next three decades.
After just one year in existence, in the summer of 1991, the National Curriculum
Council (NCC) commissioned the University of Warwick to undertake an evaluation of
the English National Curriculum. In 1992 (two years before the subsequent publication
of the Warwick Report) the NCC advised the Secretary of State that the English National
Curriculum Order needed revising. The Secretary of State asked the NCC to conduct a
review, which was to be completed in March 1993.

Jon Davison          

It was rumoured that the Conservative Right were given a free hand with education in
exchange for support of Government policy on the Maastricht agreement. Whether this
was true or not we may never know; but if we look at the speech given to the Conservative
Conference by Secretary of State for Education John Patten on 7 October, it is clear that
the agenda is being set:

We believe in greater choice and diversity, in ensuring every child is equipped for
adult life. We want the best education system in order to benefit all – not just a few.
To achieve the best, we must raise standards. There are no shortcuts to a good educa-
tion . . . But all too often, the problems of education lie – not with parents, not with
teachers – but with the 1960s theorists, with the trendy left, and with the teachers’
union bosses.
(Patten, 1992)

Mr Patten’s speech was a classic of the discourse of the political sound bite. He
carefully positions children and parents with the government, in wanting and needing
‘the basics’ of ‘a good education’; concerned with ‘standards’ – whilst the examina-
tion boards are lined up with ’1960s theorists’, ‘the trendy left’ and ‘teachers’ union
bosses’, who will destroy ‘our great literary heritage’ by offering a diet of popular
culture in ‘our classrooms’. ‘They’d give us chips with Chaucer. Milton with may-
onnaise. Mr. Chairman, I want William Shakespeare in our classrooms, not Ronald
Macdonald’ (Scarratt and Davison, 2012, p. 20). Then without the least recognition of
irony, Mr Patten accesses a shared understanding of popular cultural discourse when he
warns examination boards: ‘Listen very carefully, I shall say this only once. Get your
act together!’ MPs sharing the allusion to a catch phrase in BBC comedy series ’Allo
’Allo, roared their approval: an extremely interesting duality of cultural values (Davi-
son, 1994, p. 40).
Following almost universal rejection of the 1993 Order for English, the 1995 (Dearing)
National Curriculum was literally a ‘slimmed down’ version of the earlier (1990) model
but without the helpful Non-statutory Guidance. The 1995 Revised Orders were a return
to English literary heritage and Standard English. However, some of the Cox (DfE and
WO, 1989) curriculum ideas about the writing process, and the need for culturally differ-
ent texts, media and non-fiction were perhaps reluctantly retained. Chapter 3, ‘English as
a Curriculum Subject’, considers the changes to the English Order after 1995 (for a full
account of the introduction of the National Curriculum, see Capel et al. (2016), Learning
to Teach in the Secondary School (Seventh Edition).
The slimmed-down Revised Orders did offer the opportunity for teachers to go beyond
the narrow focus on skills and the prescribed texts, particularly since ‘text’ increasingly
meant media or information text as well as a written or more narrowly ‘literary’ text and
since the meaning of ‘literacy’ had broadened to include the ability to read and write in
several media.
The Revised Orders, with its uncertain mix of content and skills, could be said to
reflect the turning, and churning, state of the nation at the tail-end of 18 years of con-
servative rule. With the election of New Labour in May 1997 and its election mantra of
‘education, education, education’, it was inevitable that David Blunkett, as Secretary of
State for Education, immediately set about revising the National Curriculum to reflect
the new thinking about inclusion and entitlement, under the rigorous umbrella of raising
standards for all.

           Battles for English 1894–2019

Revisions to the National Curriculum were in schools by autumn 1999, with the
English curriculum in place by September 2000. There were only minor modifications to
GCSE syllabuses, which started in 2000 for examination in 2002. Crucially, the National
Curriculum was aligned with the National Literacy Strategy that Labour had pushed out
as its first major educational initiative in September 1997 to all primary schools. After
a decade of continuous change to the National Curriculum, it might have been in order
to expect a period of settlement, but a further revision was introduced for 2007. With
the elections of the 2010 Coalition and the 2015 Conservative governments further revi-
sions to the National Curriculum and the examination system were introduced for 2010,
2014, 2015 and 2016. However, whilst earlier changes were characterised by lengthy
and appropriate periods of wide consultation, the changes to the National Curriculum
subjects, assessment, GCSE and A Level, to Initial Teacher Education, Ofsted inspection,
teachers’ pay, the increase between 2010 and 2014 in academies from 203 to 4095 (with-
out requirement for QTS teachers) and the establishment of 174 free schools, brought
about by the Secretary of State for Education were carried out with little consultation
beyond the members of the ‘Expert Group’ established by Mr Gove. As a result, proposed
developments of many aspects of education policy (for example, the proposed scrapping
of GCSE in favour of O Level, the establishment of the English Baccalaureate) were
often characterised by Government statements followed almost immediately by complete
In an article Mr Gove wrote for the Daily Mail (23 March 2013) entitled ‘I refuse to
surrender to the Marxist teachers hell-bent on destroying our schools’, the Education
Secretary berated teachers for opposing his plans. He was seen by many as a very divi-
sive figure, demonising teachers, academics, teacher unions as ‘the Blob’, and ‘the new
enemies of promise’. Mr Gove likened his plight to the dilemma facing Hollywood actor
Steve McQueen in the 1958 science fiction film, The Blob, about an alien amoeba that
was absorbing the world wherever it slithered. He continued his crusade for over a year.
‘We believe children will flourish if we challenge them but the Blob, in thrall to Sixties
ideologies, wants to continue the devaluation of the exam system’, says Gove (Indepen-
dent, Friday 7 February 2014). His approach bore a striking similarity to Secretary of
State for Education, John Patten’s speech 20 years previously, which was examined at the
beginning of this section.
In a speech given on 10 July 2014, Michael Gove was considering his successes since
2010 and looking forward to continuing his work:

But that doesn’t mean ‘job done’. There’s still much further to go. In 10 years’ time,
children who started school back in September 2010 will be finishing compulsory
education at the age of 18 – the first cohort since our reforms began. So today I’d like
to set out what the self-improving system should achieve by that time. What a world-
class education, and education system, will look like – not just today and tomorrow,
but next year, and in 2024 and beyond.

Four days later, on 14 July 2014 Michael Gove was replaced Nicky Morgan, who was
replaced by Justine Greening (14 July 2016), to be succeeded by Damian Hinds on 8 Jan-
uary 2018. The subsequent three Secretaries of State for Education have been much more
measured in their dealings with teachers.

Jon Davison          


English is a relatively young subject. It has existed for just 125 years. Major reforms
in the subject appear to take place in times of great social change. English in schools
has been regarded as important for a variety of reasons – not least for the belief in the
‘humanising’ qualities of English literature. A number of works from the past have been
identified that are believed to exhibit certain values and qualities that are universal and
that will stand the test of time. These texts have formed the literary canon. Authors in-
cluded in the canon have been the bases for school examination syllabuses. The most
fundamental change in relation to the study of literature has been the move from literary
appreciation to literary criticism.
Notions of correctness and the importance of Standard English have been linked to
a ‘high culture’ view of the subject, which have put it in opposition to popular cultural
forms. Since the Second World War, the ‘English as language’ paradigm has placed
greater emphasis upon using the subject rather than studying the subject. Opposing
models of English teaching have given rise to tensions within the school and in society
at large.
The National Curriculum was born out of an almost unprecedented plethora of ed-
ucational documentation produced by the Government and its agencies. For the first
time in the history of state education, a curriculum for secondary schools was centrally
imposed. English as a subject has continued to be regarded as central to the politics
of education. Opposing models of English continued, and continue, to create tensions
for educationists and policy makers. It would appear that for much of the latter half of
the 1980s, much of the 1990s and, despite a slightly different political agenda during
the years of the New Labour Government, Conservative and Coalition governments
have sought to ‘turn back the clock’ in order to produce an English curriculum founded
upon notions of correctness, canonical literary texts, such as Shakespeare, Dickens
and Austen, Standard English and formal grammar. Whilst we cannot be certain of the
exact specificities of any future National Curriculum for English, what we can be sure
of is that it will continue to change throughout the twenty-first century as a result of the
political agendas of future governments.

Eagleton, T. (1983) Literary Theory, Oxford: Blackwell.

Eagleton’s book provides a comprehensive overview of literary theory. Chapter 1, ‘The

rise of English’, charts in detail the development of approaches to English literature that
influenced the ways in which the subject has come to be taught in school.
Black, P. and Bolton, E. (1992) Education: Putting the Record Straight, Stafford: Network Educa-
tional Press.

This collection of papers is written by many of the educationists who were at the heart of
the development of the National Curriculum. It is a highly critical insider’s view of the
political machinations that influenced the development of education in this country in the
1980s and 1990s.

           Battles for English 1894–2019

Cox, B. (1995) The Battle for the National Curriculum, London: Hodder & Stoughton.

This book gives an account of the implementation of the 1990 National Curriculum for
English and the process by which it was replaced by the 1995 English in the National
Curriculum. Although it pulls no punches in describing the political interference and
shortcomings of the new Order, it recognises positive aspects in relation to the limits of
the 1989 Curriculum. Brian Cox suggests a way forward, rather than simply a nostalgic
view of the current situation.
Davison, J. and Daly, C. (2019) Debates in English Teaching (2nd edn), Abingdon: Routledge.

This book explores the major issues all English teachers encounter in their daily profes-
sional lives. It engages with established and contemporary debates, promotes and sup-
ports critical reflection and aims to stimulate both novice and experienced teachers to
reach informed judgements and argue their point of view with deeper theoretical knowl-
edge and understanding.
Richmond, J. (1992) ‘Unstable materials: the LINC story’, English and Media Magazine, spring,
English and Media Centre/NATE.

John Richmond was joint leader of the North London Language Consortium, one of the
consortia of what were then called Local Education Authorities that conducted the work
of the LINC project. His article describes in detail the conflict between the government
and those working on the project.


Morlette Lindsay and

John Yandell

As the first two chapters of this book make clear, there is nothing straightforward about the
history of English as a subject. It continues to be, as it has always been, a contested area, shaped
by different interests and different conceptions of its content and purposes. Your own experi-
ence of English, at school and beyond, will have contributed significantly to your sense of what
English is and of the possibilities that it offers; whilst the fact that you have made the decision
to become an English teacher indicates that you have some commitment to the subject.
In this chapter you have the opportunity to reflect on your own views of English in the
context of its history as a subject and to find out a little more about the debates that have
been played out in different versions of the national curriculum for English. The examples
of planning and activities encourage you to think about the principles that inform the con-
struction of a curriculum, as well as how to mediate the curriculum in your classroom, to
meet the needs, strengths and enthusiasms of your pupils.

By the end of this chapter you should have:

■■ understood how the National Curriculum has changed over time;

■■ explored issues raised by the National Curriculum;
■■ considered how to plan in order to meet the demands of curriculum pol-
icy and the needs of your own pupils;
■■ considered your own strengths and enthusiasms and any areas for


All subjects have their boundary disputes. Mathematicians argue over the place of sta-
tistics, for example, and the distinction between Chemistry and Biology has become an

           English as a curriculum subject

increasingly fuzzy one. English stands out, nonetheless, in the extent to which there has
never been a settled view of either its disciplinary centre or its borders. Is it primarily to
do with the study of texts, or of certain kinds of text (literature, for example)? Or is its
focus on language, either in terms of the analysis of structures and regularities (the field
that is sometimes referred to as ‘grammar’), or as a means of communication? How does
English relate to Media, or Drama? Are these separate subjects or subsets of English?
Would English be different if it were renamed Literacy, or Cultural Studies, or Communi-
cation? (And what does each of these alternative titles suggest about different conceptions
of the subject?)
Not neatly separable from these questions of content or title are the arguments about
what English is for. If you believe that English Literature, as the study of canonical texts,
is at the heart of English, it is likely that you will subscribe to the view that English is, first
and foremost, about the preservation of a valuable literary heritage and about the trans-
mission of a set of skills, or readerly attributes, that might enable each new generation to
read these texts with discrimination and sensitivity. If, on the other hand, you see English
as that part of schooling that is charged with preparing young people for the literacy-re-
lated demands of adult life and the world of work, you will tend to privilege different
kinds of text and the inculcation of a different set of skills.
The moment of the production of a curriculum for English is one in which these dis-
putes about the identity and purposes of the subject tend to become most intense (and
frequently bad-tempered). The process of curriculum planning is also, to some extent,
how these disputes become resolved, at least for a while.
Since 1989, when the first version of the National Curriculum (NC) was introduced,
the statutory curriculum has provided one way of answering these questions of what
English is. A national curriculum has much to recommend it. It gives the impression
of common ground, a shared construct: it offers the prospect of an entitlement cur-
riculum, outlining clearly the education to which all pupils have a right, the skills,
knowledge and experiences that should be central to the processes of schooling. The
difficulty starts, however, with the shift from the abstract principle of a national cur-
riculum to the concrete manifestation of the National Curriculum: in its particularity,
it is immediately subject to the policies of the time produced by the politics of the
Each version of the National Curriculum that has been produced in the last quarter of
a century has attempted to outline an entitlement – what children and young people have
a right to learn, or what teachers might reasonably be expected to teach. Embedded in
this last sentence is one of the contentious aspects of the statutory curriculum. In some
versions, the entitlement has been expressed through the use of the sentence stem, ‘pupils
should be taught . . .’; in others, the form adopted has been ‘pupils should learn . . .’ or
even ‘pupils should be able to . . .’. Each of these forms entails a different allocation of
the responsibility for the curriculum, and a different conception of the agency of those
involved in teaching and learning.
As a teacher, you can legitimately expect to be part of this process of change and
contestation. Equally, as a teacher, you will have to be aware of the statutory force of the
National Curriculum (though you will find that its salience in the minds of teachers varies
greatly, depending on the kind of school that you are working in). We are expecting of
you, even in this chapter, to deal with documents that may not be part of your usual rep-
ertoire of reading, but will enable you to have a constructively critical engagement with
the discourse of policy.

Morlette Lindsay and John Yandell          


As we have seen in the preceding chapters, there have been five distinct versions of the
National Curriculum since its introduction as part of the Education Reform Act (1988).
In English, the first version, produced by a committee chaired by Brian Cox, attempted
to reconcile sharply different views of the subject. A second version (1993–1995), aris-
ing out of the Dearing Committee’s work to make the whole national curriculum more
manageable, was both slimmer and less accommodating of different perspectives. The
third version, often referred to as Curriculum 2000, tended to place more emphasis on
cross-curricular themes, particularly inclusion. The fourth version (2007) continued
this trend in its attempt to reshape the curriculum to take account of the New Labour
Government’s priorities as outlined in the Every Child Matters agenda and in the drive
towards ‘personalisation’. The latest version appeared in draft form in 2013, was revised
in July 2014 and implemented from September 2014.
Amidst all these changes, certain aspects of the NC have remained largely unaltered.
Literature continues to occupy a prominent place within this curriculum, with Shakespeare
as the one compulsory author and the canonical status of the English literary heritage
enshrined in statute. English as a subject continues to be configured around three main
categories of language use: Speaking and Listening (now renamed ‘Spoken English’),
Reading and Writing, though what is meant by these terms and the relative weight that
is to be attached to each of them have shifted considerably in different versions of the
National Curriculum. Thus, for example, the current version offers a much-reduced role
for oracy, and one that privileges particular kinds of oral performance: its orientation is
towards public speaking rather than more provisional and informal forms of talk.
It is important to recognise, too, that the statutory curriculum – the National Curriculum –
is only one dimension of the school curriculum in general, or of the English curriculum
in particular. Both authors of this chapter were teachers before the National Curriculum
was first imposed on schools in England and Wales. This did not mean that we started our
teaching careers without any curricular frameworks. Indeed, it is questionable whether
it would be meaningful to talk about schooling without curricula: one of the defining
characteristics of formal educational processes is precisely that they involve a planned
sequence of learning. Arguably, that is what distinguishes schooling from the learning
that happens in the rest of life – that there is a plan of what is to be learned or experienced,
a plan that is more or less explicit and that can, in principle, be shared among all those
involved in the process. This distinction between schooled learning and other learning
experiences is not absolute, of course: as James Gee (2003) has suggested, video games
involve a very carefully planned sequence of learning activities.


As discussed in Chapter 1, the Cox Report (Department of Education and Science (DES)
and Welsh Office (WO), 1989) states that ‘it is possible to identify within the English
teaching profession a number of different views of the subject’. Cox stresses that these
are not the only possible views of English.

A ‘personal growth’ view focuses on the child: it emphasises the relationship

between language and learning

           English as a curriculum subject

A ‘cross-curricular’ view focuses on the school: it emphasises that all teach-

ers . . . have a responsibility to help children with the language demands of different
subjects on the school curriculum . . . In England, English is different from other
school subjects, in that it is both a subject and a medium of instruction for other
An ‘adult needs’ view focuses on communication outside the school: it empha-
sises the responsibility of English teachers to prepare children for the language
demands of adult life, including the workplace, in a fast-changing world. Children
need to learn to deal with the day-to-day demands of spoken language and of print;
they also need to be able to write clearly, appropriately and effectively.
A ‘cultural heritage’ view emphasises the responsibility of schools to lead chil-
dren to an appreciation of those works of literature that have been widely regarded
as amongst the finest in the language.
A ‘cultural analysis’ view emphasises the role of English in helping children
towards a critical understanding of the world and cultural environment in which they
live. Children should know about the processes by which meanings are conveyed,
and about the ways in which print and other media carry values
(DES and WO, 1989, paras 2.20–2.25)

In contrast, the 2007 National Curriculum frames each subject by identifying the key
concepts that underpin it. The approach here is significantly different from that taken
at the inception of the National Curriculum. Whereas Cox’s five views of English rep-
resented an attempt to accommodate a wide spectrum of teachers’ perspectives on the
subject, the key concepts are presented as foundational to the learners’ grasp of English:

Pupils need to understand these concepts in order to deepen and broaden their knowl-
edge, skills and understanding. These essential concepts promote pupils’ progress in
speaking and listening, reading and writing.

1.1 Competence
a. Being clear, coherent and accurate in spoken and written communication.
b. Reading and understanding a range of texts, and responding appropriately.
c. Demonstrating a secure understanding of the conventions of written lan-
guage, including grammar, spelling and punctuation.
d. Being adaptable in a widening range of familiar and unfamiliar contexts
within the classroom and beyond.
e. Making informed choices about effective ways to communicate formally
and informally.
1.2 Creativity
a. Making fresh connections between ideas, experiences, texts and words,
drawing on a rich experience of language and literature.
b. Using inventive approaches to making meaning, taking risks, playing with
language and using it to create new effects.
c. Using imagination to convey themes, ideas and arguments, solve prob-
lems, and create settings, moods and characters.


d. Using creative approaches to answering questions, solving problems and

developing ideas.
1.3 Cultural understanding
a. Gaining a sense of the English literary heritage and engaging with import-
ant texts in it.
b. Exploring how ideas, experiences and values are portrayed differently in
texts from a range of cultures and traditions.
c. Understanding how English varies locally and globally, and how these
variations relate to identity and cultural diversity.
1.4 Critical understanding
a. Engaging with ideas and texts, understanding and responding to the main
b. Assessing the validity and significance of information and ideas from dif-
ferent sources.
c. Exploring others’ ideas and developing their own.
d. Analysing and evaluating spoken and written language to appreciate how
meaning is shaped.
(Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), 2007)

The latest version (2014) marks a return to an approach to curriculum design that
focuses primarily on content rather than skills. In some ways it is less prescriptive: the
long lists of approved authors have disappeared, for example. In other ways, it is more
prescriptive – such as in the specification of the kinds of literary text on which pupils
will be assessed. This version places considerably more emphasis on literature, and spe-
cifically the English literary heritage, which is placed firmly at the centre of the subject,
whilst scant attention is paid to the study or production of texts in different media.
Before reading further, undertake Task 3.1.

Task 3.1 The role and importance of English

What underlying assumptions about English and education are revealed in the
Cox Report? Is anything missing?
Which of Cox’s five views of English is closest to your own? Do you disagree with
any of them? Place them in your own order of priority.
What view of English would you want to see in the National Curriculum?
Read the paragraphs that introduce the English section of the draft National
Curriculum (2013) that follow:

Purpose of study
English has a pre-eminent place in education and in society. It is a subject in its own
right and the medium for teaching; for pupils, understanding language provides ac-
cess to the whole curriculum. Through being taught to write and speak fluently, pupils
learn to communicate their ideas and emotions to others; through their reading and


listening, others can communicate with them. Through reading in particular, pupils
have a chance to develop culturally, emotionally, spiritually and socially. Literature, es-
pecially, plays a key role in such development. Reading also enables pupils both to ac-
quire knowledge and to build on what they already know. All the skills of language are
essential to participating fully as a member of society; pupils, therefore, who do not
learn to read and write fluently and confidently, are, in every sense, disenfranchised.

The overarching aim for English in the National Curriculum is to promote high
standards of literacy by equipping pupils with a strong command of the written
and spoken word, and to develop their love of literature through widespread
reading for enjoyment.
(Department for Education, 2014, p. 14)

Comparing this statement with the paragraphs from the Cox Report, what similar-
ities and differences, in content and in emphasis, do you find?


Some texts arrive in the English classroom with long histories attached to them – histories
of other readings and of other readers’ value judgements. These prior evaluations become
institutionalised in many different ways – in the classic texts chosen for serialisation on
television or for adaptation into film, for example. Inclusion within the curriculum is
another, highly influential way in which value is conferred on a text. Each version of a
curriculum, each change to an examination specification, produces a different selection
of texts, a privileging of a different set of authors and their work. Through such processes,
canons are formed, transmitted, reformed and contested.
As a teacher, you will be involved in processes of canon formation as well as trans-
mission. Every time you choose to read a text with your class, you are making claims on
behalf of that text: your choice implies that this particular text is worth reading; more than
that, it implies that this text is worth spending time on within the context of the English
curriculum. What we are suggesting here is that the very process of curricularisation, as it
were, confers a kind of canonical status on a text, whether that text is a Shakespeare play,
a Romantic poem or a Facebook page.
Now do Task 3.2.

Task 3.2 Which texts to read – and study?

Look at the most recent version of the National Curriculum (

■ What does it say about the texts that should be read within the secondary
English curriculum?
■ What can you work out about the criteria for selection?


■ What assumptions are being made about literary value and about the reasons
for reading particular texts?
■ What challenges and opportunities might these texts provide for the pupils in
your school? Find out more about how these texts are read in your school.
■ What kinds of text are excluded or marginalised?

If you were to choose a novel to read with your Year 7 class, which criteria would
you use to inform your choice? How important would any of the following be to you?

■ literary value;
■ topicality;
■ coverage of important issues;
■ linguistic or formal properties;
■ accessibility.

Would you use different criteria if you were choosing a short story to read with a
Year 11 class? What about an A Level group?

Find out about the views of members of the English department in your school.

There is a more limited sense of the canonical which informs the construction of the
secondary English curriculum. In this sense, the canon is a way of gesturing at the impor-
tance of a selection of texts that represent the history of English literature. These are the
texts that are customarily seen as canonical, texts that are invested in particular notions of
tradition and literary value.
Many teachers feel daunted at the thought of ‘doing’ a canonical text with a class,
especially at KS3. Similarly, pupils’ initial reticence is often the result of preconceived
ideas that a classic text may be ‘boring’ or the language challenging. But in practice, your
pupils’ degree of engagement with the text and enthusiasm for it will be affected by how
you approach the text in the classroom. Figure 3.1 provides an example of how you might
work with Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with a Year 8 class.

Activity 1: Before reading the text – using pictures to explore historical context
and pupils’ prior knowledge and to open up the text to questions and hypotheses
Select a series of pictures that would be representative of life in 1843. Two very good sources for such
images are the Victorian website ( and the British Library Victorian website
( Both these sites include a mass of images representing different aspects
of Victorian life and times.
Allocate one image to each pair or group of pupils. Mount the image in the middle of a large piece
of paper, so that pupils can annotate around the image.
Ask pupils to think about the following three questions in order, making notes about each.

1. What can you see in this picture? (Be factual, do not speculate.)
2. What can you infer from this picture?
3. What questions do you have about this picture?

Displaying these annotated pictures after the activity provides a useful reference point and allows you
to introduce some of Dickens’ themes.

           English as a curriculum subject

Activity 2: Marley’s Ghost – using moving image as a way into close reading
Marley’s ghost is described in great detail in Chapter 1. Show pupils the sequence of Scrooge arriving
home, seeing his door knocker taking on the appearance of Marley as well as Marley’s visit. Allocate
to different groups of pupils the following specific foci:
1. Any signs that indicate something out of the ordinary
2. How Marley is represented
3. The dialogue
4. Sound effects (including music)
5. How Scrooge reacts to this event.
(The 1981 version directed by Clive Donner and starring George C. Scott works well for this activity.
There are several versions of this scene available on YouTube. It could also be a homework task for
pupils to watch some of these scenes and to pick their favourite and to justify their choice.)
Once pupils have watched this extract, allow them some time to note down their findings and share
their thoughts. Next, read with the pupils the section of the chapter covered by the clip. Ask them
to find evidence in the text that clearly influenced the director in his interpretation of this scene. This
involves pupils in a close scrutiny of the text and could be used at a later stage in a debate on whether
film versions of a book can ever do justice to the original text. Pupils will have a range of experience of
this – the Harry Potter films or Lord of the Rings for example.
If you have time, showing pupils more than one version of the scene enables them to see how dif-
ferent directors have interpreted it differently – and encourages them to express preferences and the
reasons for their preferences.
Activity 3: Marley’s obituary – from the literary text to other genres
The literary text can serve as a springboard for looking at other genres of writing. Pupils can study
examples of obituaries from different newspapers, ascertaining what needs to be included in order
to write Jacob Marley’s obituary based on their knowledge of his character and history. Pupils may
infer that Marley may be praised for his business acumen but there will be no mention of philanthropy!
Activity 4: The ghosts’ visits – from tableaux to work in role
The visits of the ghosts entail showing Scrooge scenes from his past, present and future. As these
sections are read, pupils form freeze frames or tableaux to represent each of these scenes. Individual
‘characters’ in such a frame may be asked questions about their thoughts of Scrooge – for example
Mr Fezziwig, who may wish to say he had high hopes for Scrooge’s future but did worry at times that
he seemed to put work before any pleasure.
This would be a good starting-point for pupils to write in role from another character’s point of view:
Belle, his former fiancée, or Bob Cratchit, to name but two possibilities.
Activity 5: After reading – evaluating influences
Give pupils images of different characters and ask them to discuss which of their allotted characters
was most influential in changing Scrooge’s attitudes. Talk of this kind, in which pupils are expected to
justify their opinions by close reference to the text, is both valuable in itself and a very powerful way of
supporting pupils in the production of literary critical essays.
Activity 6: After reading – media representations of Christmas
The text also allows for discussion about the vision of Christmas that Dickens portrays and how adver-
tisements today may tap into that vision of Christmas. There is a wealth of commercials available on
YouTube: the 2011 John Lewis ‘The Long Wait’ advert presents a particular narrative around Christ-
mas that would present a good point of comparison, as would others in the sequence of John Lewis
Christmas adverts, all available on YouTube.
If Dickens were writing today would he caution against the commercialisation of Christmas?
What would a modern-day Christmas Carol have to say to its audience?
If you presented pupils with images of a Victorian Christmas circa 1843, what pictures would they
select to represent the way Christmas is celebrated today - and why?

■■ Figure 3.1 Sequence of activities with A Christmas Carol


Now undertake the activities in Task 3.3.

Task 3.3 Texts in time

Read the following texts:

(a) Henry V’s speech at Harfleur, ‘Once more onto the breach, dear friends’;
(b) Tennyson’s ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’;
(c) Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘The Man He Killed’ (written in 1902);
(d) ‘Dulce et decorum est’ by Wilfred Owen;
(e) ‘Say this City’ by W. H. Auden;
(f) Colonel Tim Collins’s speech delivered in Iraq the night before his men went
into battle ( v=D3H7omWdwAw).

■ How will you support pupils in understanding how these different texts relate to,
were produced by, and illuminate a particular time in history?
■ What non-literary texts could you use that will help them to understand the
historical context, but also allow pupils to analyse different text types?
■ Use the Internet and the school library to collect a range of pictures and texts
that reflect the historical, cultural and social context of the above texts.
■ What guidance would you give pupils to enable them to select information from
the sources you have provided in order to do a presentation to the rest of the
class that will help them understand the historical context of these different

Planning always has to take account of a wide range of factors. On the one hand, you will
have regard to the National Curriculum (though both the statutory force of the NC and its
salience in the planning process will vary depending on the kind of school in which you are
working). At the same time, you must consider the strengths and needs of your pupils, and the
context of your own school – the resources available to you and the rhythm of the school year.
Wordsworth’s poem ‘Composed upon Westminster Bridge’ (1802) has much to offer.
Here is an example of a plan for the first lesson.
Before the lesson copy the poem on card, cut up the lines and place in envelopes.

■ Ask pupils to work in pairs or threes to sequence the text. Make it clear that, as they
are doing so, they should think about the strategies they are using to help them make
their decisions – for example, looking at rhyme, punctuation or their knowledge of
how different texts appear on the page.
■ Allow time for some feedback before presenting them with a copy of the poem (on
paper or on screen) so that they can check their version.
■ Use questioning and pupil discussion to explore how structure, grammar (e.g. punc-
tuation) and meaning complement each other.
■ Pupils work in threes to look closely at the text. One half of the class is to find the
lines in the poem where Wordsworth is giving his opinion or commenting on how

           English as a curriculum subject

what he sees affect him, whilst the other half of the class focuses on the lines that are
descriptive, evoking the scene Wordsworth sees before him.
■■ Allow pupils to present their findings to the class.
■■ Challenge pupils with an ‘exit question’: how is Wordsworth’s poem an example of
place influencing an author? They have to answer this by referring to the poem and
making use of quotation(s) to substantiate their view. Pupils can write their answers
on sticky notes that can be pinned on the board as they leave or if time permits, some
can read out their responses.

The poem also presents an opportunity for further tasks including creative writing.
Pupils can look at a drawing of Westminster Bridge in 1808 (
Composed_upon_Westminster_Bridge,_September_3,_1802) and compare this with
today’s view from the bridge by using the street view facility on Google Maps.
Set a creative writing task – pupils have to pick a favourite spot in their area and use
their mobile phones to take a picture of the place to accompany their poems. Like Word-
sworth, they need to make use of a colon to introduce the scene they observe from their
chosen vantage point. They, too, have to show their response to this scene in their poems.
Sharing their poems and pictures in a subsequent lesson with opportunities for making
suggestions on how to improve their poems would be a good way of ensuring everybody
completes the homework task.
Many authors have been influenced by their surroundings – a sense of place, in their
work. This poem and creative writing activity can spark an interest in exploring more
writing that reflects the landscape – the description of Kent in the opening chapter of
Great Expectations, the moors in Wuthering Heights, Dublin in the work of Joyce. Such
links with place, using pictures and extracts and allowing pupils to do their own writing in
response to places that are meaningful to them, allow them to see how place has inspired
writers. This type of activity is a wonderful opportunity to introduce texts to your pupils
that you are passionate about.
When looking at British heritage writers, why not have a map of the UK, pictures of
the writers and the places that inspired them as a display? Pupils can be responsible for
the research: give each pupil an author to research and to find pictures of the author and
the place or area that inspired them as well as writing a short paragraph to explain these
author links in language appropriate for Year 6 students. This task will involve a range
of reading (skimming, scanning) and research skills (selecting relevant information) and
writing for a specific audience (which helps to combat the copy and paste routine) as well
as result in a display that will interest all classes using the classroom (or it could become
a library display with the co-operation of the school librarian, complete with books by the
authors featured).
Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands, by Christina Hardyment (2012), was pro-
duced in conjunction with the exhibition of the same title and explores the link between
authors and place (see also the introduction to this exhibition:
More generally, it is well worth exploring the British Library website ( for
inspiration, not just for the written word but also their archive of accents and dialects.
For writing up schemes of work to give an idea of long- and medium-term planning,
schools usually have their own template. Figure 3.2 provides one such example, based
around using Holes by Louis Sachar as a shared class novel.

Morlette Lindsay and John Yandell          

Spoken English Reading Writing

1. Debate: What makes 8. Groups working on character 13. Newspaper article on

appropriate punishment for studies of the boys in Stanley’s Kissing Kate Barlow – before
teenage boys? group, Kate Barlow, Sam, writing it groups will look at
the Warden, Mr Pendanski – articles from newspapers on
Prepared in groups and
each group will do a different crime stories, e.g. escape from
main points/arguments and
character, to present to class jail etc. In groups they analyse
conclusions shared with class.
and substantiate points with and come up with a list of
teacher assessed piece quotations. what they should have in their
2. Role–play: Stanley’s parents newspaper. The articles will be
Stills from the film to be
receive his post card from drafted straight on computer in
used of each character and
Camp Green Lake. pairs – two lessons booked in
the character study and
ICT suite.
peer assessment quotations to be set out round
the character’s picture for peer assessment – pairs giving
3. Role-play: case conference classroom display. feedback to each other
on Zero – social worker,
teacher and police officer. teacher assessment 14. Social worker’s report on
Zero – written after the role play.
activity to feed in to written task Extension task for targeted
pupils: assessed piece (teacher)
4. Statements on why Sachar
is telling two stories – pupils to 9. Tracing the split narrative – 15. The developing friendship
pick two they agree with and large sugar paper on wall – between Stanley and Zero –
say why. pupils allocated to making notes analytical piece, pupils asked
what happens in each story, put to focus on two key moments
5. Interview people from Camp page references in. in the friendship. Use of
Green Lake ten years after the quotations to support points.
lake ran dry – try to get them 10. HW find and read stories/
Range of activities in class to
to talk about the day Sam the myths that explain how
build up to this assessed piece
onion man was killed. something has come about –
in class.
e.g. How the leopard got his
6. Make up own story to tell spots. teacher assessed piece
to the class – How did Camp
Green lake run dry? 11. Work in group of four – read 16. Quotations on cards – pairs
the chapter allocated to you – have different quotations – all
7. Prepare a short speech to make notes – present to the about Stanley and Zero’s
deliver to all of Year 8 saying rest of the class what happens growing friendship. They have
why you think Holes should go in this chapter. to decide what each quotation
into the Year 8 list of ‘Top Ten tells the reader about their
Books to Read this Year’. 12. Compare a key scene in
friendship – write it down to
the book with the film version
put on the wall next to the
of same scene. Discuss the
quotation (support activity for
director’s ‘reading’ of the
writing of essay).
scene and how successful the
adaptation is. Focus on how 17. Review of the film written
visuals and dialogue are used to for an Internet site that invites
present the scene. reviews.
OR write a review for www.
18. Create an email account for
Stanley and encourage pupils
to email him.

■■ Figure 3.2  Sample of work for Year 8

           English as a curriculum subject

Having examined Figure 3.2, consider the points in Task 3.4.

Task 3.4  Planning coverage of the English curriculum

Figure 3.2 provides an example of a shared departmental resource. There is a list
of assessed pieces as well as a range of other activities members of the depart-
ment have developed whilst teaching Holes.

■■ Think about these in relation to a class you teach. Which of these activities
would work with this class? What would meet their needs?
■■ From what you have done so far it is clear that a unit on a class novel will
address a whole range of objectives. In thinking about planning over time it is
also useful to prioritise one or two key objectives. Which objectives would you
choose for this scheme of work?
■■ Now look back at the activities. Which will contribute most to your objectives?

At KS4 GCSE specifications are written to reflect the requirements of the National Cur-
riculum. Exam board websites are useful sources of information that will enable you to
find the specifications as well as documents like the examiners’ reports, which are well
worth reading as they make it clear where schools can improve on their teaching and
preparation of the pupils. Many publishers work with the examination boards and produce
additional resources to support their courses.
Task 3.5 asks you to undertake some work on the GCSE course in your school.

Task 3.5  From GCSE specifications to classroom

■■ Ask your school for a copy of the specifications and supporting materials they use.
■■ How does the department prepare pupils for the examinations?
■■ Ask to see the department’s plan for the delivery of GCSE over two (or three) years.
■■ Find out when mock exams usually happen and how revision is planned for.


Curriculum policy, nationally and more locally, describes the content that teachers of
English are expected to teach. Such policy is always contested and always in flux.
The person mediating all this for pupils in the classroom will be you. Your knowl-
edge of your subject  – your sense of what English is and what it is for – and your
enthusiasm to share it with young people will shape how you approach your planning
and teaching.

Morlette Lindsay and John Yandell          

Apple, Michael (2004) Ideology and Curriculum (3rd edn), New York and London: Routledge-Falmer.

First published 40 years ago, this remains the best serious introduction to the politics of
the school curriculum. It will not help you to plan your lessons, but it will make you think
about what is at stake in every lesson you teach and about the power relationships that are
embedded in and reproduced through the curriculum.
Gibbons, Simon (2017) English and Its Teachers, Abingdon and New York: Routledge.

This provides an account of the struggles over secondary English across the last 50 years.
Gibbons contrasts the rise of progressive approaches in the 1960s and 1970s with the
more recent period of central policy intervention.
Jones, Ken (2016) Education in Britain: 1944 to the Present (2nd edn), Cambridge: Polity Press.

To understand where we are, we need to know how we got here: extending back far beyond
the introduction of the national curriculum, Ken Jones’ account of the transformation of
education since the 1944 Education Act helps to elucidate recent policy developments by
placing them in a broader historical context.
Van de Ven, Piet-Hein and Doecke, Brenton (eds) (2011) Literary Praxis: A Conversational Inquiry
into the Teaching of Literature, Rotterdam: Sense.

This is a highly innovative international exploration of what is involved in work around

literary texts. It brings classroom teachers and researchers into dialogue with each other
and, precisely because of its contributions from around the globe, sheds fresh light on
what is specific to different national and local contexts of teaching and learning.

British Library (
An invaluable resource for the spoken word and also for a very wide range of textual artefacts.
English and Media Centre (
This site is invaluable to teachers in terms of information, excellent publications containing
classroom resources and courses for teachers.
Love Reading for Kids (
A mine of information on authors and children’s books.
Poems on the Underground (
An archive of some of the poems on underground trains.
Scottish Poetry Library (
Printable posters of poems for use as display and other poetry resources.
Poetry Archive (
Recordings of poets reading their work and some classroom resources.
National Gallery (
Resources for teachers linked to paintings.


Morlette Lindsay died in 2016. The current chapter draws on an earlier version that she
wrote in collaboration with John Yandell.


Gabrielle Cliff Hodges and

Elizabeth Rawlinson-Mills

Within the English curriculum, the importance of reading and writing has always been
clear. The importance of speaking and listening, in contrast, has been much more hotly
contested. Before the 1960s, oral work was very likely to consist of teacher-led ques-
tion-and-answer sessions or formal activities such as reading aloud, debates and prepared
short talks. However, during the 1960s the influence of educators such as Andrew Wilkin-
son and a growing awareness of the work of psychologists such as Lev Vygotsky led to
more systematic studies of the role of classroom talk in pupils’ learning. New understand-
ings about the relationship between language and learning emerged and led to significant
changes in classroom practice. Wilkinson coined the term ‘oracy’ as a way to draw atten-
tion to the fact that pupils can and should make progress in their use of spoken language,
in the same way that they do in their written language (‘literacy’) (Wilkinson, 1965).
Speaking and listening were gradually afforded greater status and made a compulsory
part of the assessment of English at GCSE, worth 25 per cent of a student’s overall grade.
Subsequently, ‘Speaking and listening’ became the first attainment target for English in
the National Curriculum. In the past three decades, as other chapters have discussed, the
National Curriculum and GCSEs have undergone, and continue to undergo, significant
revisions. From 2010, the study of talk briefly assumed a central place in the GCSE cur-
riculum, as pupils were required to undertake their own research into the spoken language
they encountered in their everyday lives, and to write up their analysis of this language
in a piece of coursework worth 10 per cent of their GCCSE grade. Most recently, how-
ever, the status of speaking and listening in the English curriculum has been challenged
by changes to GCSE assessment which mean that students’ achievements with spoken
language – their own, and their understanding of others’ – no longer contribute towards
their overall grade. Meanwhile, at KS3, the National Curriculum Programmes of Study
for English have increasingly prioritised students’ talk in formal performance contexts
like presentations and speeches, in favour of the broader continuum of different kinds of
talk activities seen in previous versions of the documents, which tended to include oppor-
tunities for informal, exploratory and dialogic forms of spoken language. Many English
teachers regard these changes as retrogressive, because they seem to ignore what has been

Cliff Hodges and Rawlinson-Mills          

learnt about the need for students to learn about and make progress in their talk, as well
as about the rich potential for speaking and listening to support students’ other learning.
Vygotsky’s theories are helpful to English teachers in a number of ways. First, he artic-
ulated the processes by which children’s language develops. He argued that, at a certain
stage in the child’s development, speech divides into two distinct kinds: ‘communicative’
speech, to be used for communication with others, and ‘egocentric’ speech, or speech
for oneself, which will eventually turn inward to become ‘inner’ speech with its own
idiosyncrasies of grammar, for individual thinking. Inner speech has different rules from
communicative speech: with inner speech, speaker and listener form the same conscious-
ness, so there is much that can be taken as read; with communicative speech the need is
to be understood by another person, so more must be made explicit. Inner speech is not,
therefore, a mirror image of communicative speech; it is essentially different because it
is serving a different purpose. The distinctive natures of inner and outer speech and the
power of the dynamic relationship between them to enable intellectual development are
vital to an understanding of how children become effective learners and the part teachers
have to play in that development. As English education specialist John Richmond puts it,

we should not be so overwhelmed by this admiration for the preschool child’s

achievement in learning spoken language that we assume that the job is done by the
time the child comes to school. The job is very far from done.
(Richmond et al., 2017, p. 13)

Teachers of English have a crucial role to play in helping students continue to make
progress in their mastery of spoken language throughout secondary school, just as they
have a responsibility to help students develop their reading and writing skills.
Second, for Vygotsky, the development of speech is integral to the development of
thought. Vygotsky argues that children learn to think by talking with others, by engaging
in a social process that enables them to ‘grow into the intellectual life of those around
them’ (Vygotsky, 1978a, p. 88). His concept of the Zone of Proximal (or Potential) Devel-
opment is founded on the belief that what pupils can do in collaboration with others –
through conversation, discussion, negotiation, trial and error – is both more advanced
and ‘more indicative of their mental development’ than that which they can achieve alone
(Vygotsky, 1978a, p. 85). Drawing on Vygotsky’s work, Mercer and Littleton have writ-
ten about the ways teachers can create communities of enquiry in which all students are
encouraged to participate actively; within these communities, students benefit from what
Mercer and Littleton call a collective ‘intermental development zone’ (Mercer and Little-
ton, 2007, p. 38). The teacher has a dual responsibility, then: to support students’ devel-
oping communicative speech skills by modelling advanced, complex spoken language in
use, and to plan for opportunities for the kinds of pupil–pupil collaboration where oral
communication of increasing sophistication is necessary for problem-solving.
In the late 1960s, inspired by Vygotsky and with the aid of portable tape-recorders,
researchers and teachers such as Douglas Barnes, James Britton and Harold Rosen were
able to study much more systematically than ever before the kinds of spoken exchange
that actually took place between teacher and pupil, and between pupil and pupil, in ordi-
nary classrooms (Barnes et al., 1975). They analysed how and when learning seemed to
be happening, looking at the part played by home dialects, spoken Standard English, the
task set, the formality of the context and the authenticity of the problem to be solved. New
understandings emerged about the role of exploratory talk in cognitive development, of

           Speaking and listening

how talk might be used to learn through speculating, hypothesising, arguing, negotiating
and so on. These understandings, in turn, led to new classroom practices. Teachers began
to organise their classrooms for group work, to plan activities that involved solving prob-
lems, discussing texts, and debating controversial issues more informally than hitherto.
Time was also spent teaching about talk, making explicit what pupils knew implicitly
about how, for example, spoken language is affected by the context and purpose of the
communication and by the audience to whom it is addressed; about why and when people
alternate between speaking in standard English and their regional dialect. Whether pupils
were learning through speaking and listening or learning about speaking and listening,
silent classrooms were no longer prized, once it was realised that talk might have a greater
role to play in the development of learning than silence. Gradually, there was a move was
towards recognising the centrality of speaking and listening, and investigating how it
might be assessed.
In light of the ways in which changes to curriculum and examination requirements have
undermined the status of talk in the English classroom, however, teacher educator Simon
Gibbons suggests that in English lessons in the second decade of the twenty-first century,
speaking and listening have been pushed back to ‘the margins’, seldom forming ‘the focus
of the lesson’. Gibbons has noticed that talk tends to be seen primarily as ‘a tool for the
production of other types of learning, rather than viewed as learning in and of itself’ (Gib-
bons, 2017, p. 130). Against this background, it is more important than ever that beginning
English teachers think critically about the role of talk in their classrooms, seeking oppor-
tunities to teach the skills of effective speaking and listening, so that their students are able
to make progress in this vital area and in all other areas of their education.

By the end of this chapter you should:

■■ be aware of some of the factors that contribute to or inhibit effective,

purposeful speaking and listening in English;
■■ be aware of how teaching about the differences between spoken and
written language and about different types of talk can assist pupils in
their development as speakers and listeners and their study of spoken
■■ understand how planning and the organisation of classrooms can con-
tribute to pupils’ language, learning and cognition;
■■ begin to understand how to assess pupils’ speaking and listening against
given criteria and to link assessment with future planning.

A journey in thought
For those new to English teaching, the important point to remember is that speaking
and listening in classrooms has not always been viewed the way it is now. It is worth
familiarising yourself with how its current position has been arrived at (Howe, 1992;
Gibbons, 2017), what some of the debates have been and still are, and what theories have
informed them, so that you can begin to develop a rationale of your own for teaching and


assessing speaking and listening. You may remember vividly what counted as speaking
and listening when you were at school and have strong feelings about it, but however
recently you were at school yourself, things will have changed. As a learner you need to
trace for yourself the steps that will show you the moves from more traditional patterns
of speaking and listening in schools to newer approaches adopted by many teachers
nowadays, informed by ideas such as exploratory talk (Mercer and Littleton, 2007), dia-
logic teaching (Nystrand, 1997; Alexander, R., 2017) and greater attention to the power
of listening (Alexander, J., 2008). Crucially, you have to make what is described in the
Bullock Report as ‘a journey in thought’ (Department of Education and Science (DES),
1975, p. 141) about speaking and listening for yourself. This chapter is designed to help
you set out on that journey.
Now complete Task 4.1.

Task 4.1 Reflecting on your own experiences

Think back to your own education and jot down some notes in response to the
following prompt questions.

■ How many different kinds of talk activities can you remember happening:

a) in your Primary school classrooms?

b) in the first years of your Secondary education?
c) as part of your GCSE English course?
d) at A Level?
e) as an undergraduate?

■ How did talk activities make you feel at different stages of your education?
What did teachers do to assuage anxieties and boost confidence levels?
■ How were messages about the status of speaking and listening communicated
to you, implicitly or explicitly?
■ How was your talk assessed, and in what ways were you guided to make prog-
ress in your speaking and listening?
■ Have you had any opportunities in your education to date to study spoken

Summing up
As you set out on your journey to becoming an English teacher, what assumptions
and beliefs about the importance of speaking and listening do you bring with you?
How might your own experiences have shaped these assumptions and beliefs?


Observing speaking and listening
In order to enable pupils to develop their speaking and listening it is useful to consider the
range of talk that may occur within the boundaries of the classroom. In order to evaluate

           Speaking and listening

pupils’ speaking and listening (so that you can identify achievement and plan for progres-
sion) there has to be consideration of audience, context and purpose. It is also important
to understand the role of the teacher in providing opportunities for all pupils to participate
and achieve.
When you first begin to learn to teach you are likely to spend a good deal of time in
classroom observation. One of the best ways to begin thinking in depth about speaking
and listening is to make diversity of talk and the range of classroom opportunities for
speaking and listening key targets of that observation.

While you are observing, you will become increasingly aware of the difference made by
the contexts in which speaking and listening are taking place. Small group discussions or
question-and-answer sessions in English classrooms will involve pupils differently from
drama lessons in which pupils are planning for performance or role-playing. In library
lessons, pupils engaged in independent research will talk and listen differently to each
other from how they will when working collaboratively on screen. Some of the most
exciting and exhilarating classroom talk happens when least expected, but these moments
are made possible by classroom cultures and routines that communicate to pupils, implic-
itly and explicitly, that their talk is valued and valid, and that talking can be just as ‘hard
work’ as writing.

Range, audience and purpose

You will begin to note the opportunities pupils are given to:

■■ talk formally/informally;
■■ talk in pairs/small groups/whole-class discussions;
■■ use talk to explore and develop ideas at length;
■■ use talk to express their feelings and opinions;
■■ use talk to question and challenge what they hear;
■■ use talk to negotiate;
■■ use talk to instruct/listen to, and act on, instructions;
■■ use talk to ask questions as well as answer them;
■■ use talk to plan, explore and evaluate other activities;
■■ talk to a specified audience;
■■ talk for a specified purpose;
■■ talk about speaking and listening;
■■ plan and evaluate their talk;
■■ discuss different types of talk being used in drama and role-play.

The role of the teacher

The role of the teacher in developing pupils’ speaking and listening is central. In terms
of planning, organising, differentiating and so on, there is much to consider. In addition,
however, teachers need to be conscious of how their own use of language affects the
language used by pupils in their classes. It is therefore valuable to spend time in lessons
observing teachers’ as well as pupils’ use of language.


A frequently used technique in many lessons across the curriculum, for example, is
for teachers to ask questions of their pupils as a way of eliciting information, recapping
on prior learning or checking instructions have been understood. It is worth considering,
however, which are the pupils in any one class who are most likely to answer the teacher’s
questions. How long are pupils given to think before the chance to answer is passed on to
someone else? Research has revealed that:

when questions are posed in everyday conversations, a response usually comes within
less than a second of silence. This is also true of classroom questions. Teachers usu-
ally allow about a second for a reply and, if none is forthcoming, they take back the
conversational floor. [But] where a longer silence was left – even one as short as
three seconds – the quality and extent of pupils’ responses improved dramatically.
(Wood, 1992, pp. 204–213)

Wood goes on to suggest that particular types of teacher talk create a classroom cli-
mate that affects how pupils themselves will talk. For example, where closed questions
are common and are not followed up by the teacher with open-ended questions, pupils’
responses are underdeveloped – even single words. On the other hand, where teachers
themselves speculate, surmise, listen and ask authentic questions – questions to which
they do not already know the answers – pupils will often respond in kind; that is, they will
hypothesise in response to hypothesising, speculate in response to speculating. Research-
ers such as Martin Nystrand (1997) and Robin Alexander (2017) describe these kinds of
responses in their work on dialogic teaching and learning which, as Alexander explains,
‘challenges not only children’s understanding but also our own’ (ibid., p. 31). As part of
your observations you may wish to note how teachers develop pupils’ speaking and listen-
ing through the use of questioning, and to evaluate your own success in using questions
in lessons.
Now complete Task 4.2.

Task 4.2 Identifying helps and hindrances

In order to gain a clearer picture of the variety and value of talk in the classroom,
find opportunities to observe pupils speaking and listening in at least two different
subjects, including whilst they are completing written work by hand and using
technologies. Draw up two tables, as below, and use them to note down your
observations and evaluations. Jot down as many direct quotations as you can.

Types of talk observed

(e.g. narrating, discussing, questioning, giving short answers, explaining/giving
reasons, giving instructions . . .)

From teachers From students


Evaluating talk
(think about task design, room layout, modelling and scaffolding, time allocations,
differentiation . . .)

Factors contributing to Factors inhibiting purposeful,

purposeful, effective talk effective talk

Think about the best talk you observed. How far was it the direct result of delib-
erate planning? Did you observe any instances of outstanding talk that seem to
have occurred unexpectedly? What classroom cultures and routines made these
moments possible? Compare your findings with those of a beginning teacher in
another subject.


Exploring differences between spoken and written language
Speech is fundamentally different from writing. It has its own characteristic grammatical
features and is greatly affected by the fact that it almost always takes place when speaker
and listener are face to face. Despite this it is very easy to make quick and erroneous
judgments about people based on the way in which they speak.

Examining your own knowledge and attitudes

As teachers it is vitally important that we understand clearly some of the differences
between spoken and written language so that our judgments about pupils’ achievements
are not the result of ignorance or misconception. As Katharine Perera points out in Under-
standing Language:

There are two important points to be made that concern the nature of speech on the
one hand, and the nature of writing on the other. First, there is a fairly widely-held
but mistaken view that speech is some kind of careless or sloppy version of writing.
This view leads people to make judgments of speech that are inappropriate because
they derive from the written standard . . .
Secondly, it is necessary to realize that written language is not merely a transcrip-
tion of speech; so learning to read and write means not just learning to make and
decode letter shapes but also acquiring new forms of language. Some difficulties in

Cliff Hodges and Rawlinson-Mills          

reading spring from the language itself rather than from the written code, because
there are some grammatical constructions, which are common in writing but which
occur very rarely in speech.
(Perera, 1987, pp. 17–18)

Some characteristics of spoken language

Depending upon where, when, why and to whom they are talking, speakers will probably
alter some or all of the following:

■■ their register (e.g. from formal to informal);

■■ their grammar (e.g. from clauses embedded in complex sentences to linked simple
sentences peppered with gap-fillers, false starts and changes of direction);
■■ their dialect (e.g. from Standard English to regional);
■■ their accent (e.g. from a regional accent to Received Pronunciation);
■■ the paralinguistic features of their speech (e.g. gesture, body language);
■■ the prosodic features of their speech (e.g. tone, speed, rhythm).

Many of us find that, when we explore our views about spoken language, we unearth
prejudices and misconceptions such as those described by Perera above. Many of these
have their origin in ‘rules’ we remember being taught as children, but they are also fre-
quently inflected with class and gender assumptions which, as teachers, we ought to
expose and challenge. The more we investigate language, the more we see how complex
speaking and listening can be and how significant and skilful the apparently ordinary
spoken contributions of pupils often are.

Transcribing spoken language

Recording and transcribing pupils’ talk can be a very helpful way for you to enlarge your
understanding about their achievements for yourself. Finding time to listen to, and transcribe,
what you have recorded can be very difficult. However, it is important to do this from time
to time, especially if you skim through what you have recorded and only transcribe the key
moments that are likely to be worth looking at in more detail. The following two examples
demonstrate what transcription can reveal. Both of these transcripts record the words spoken
by a pupil (D) in a piece of improvised drama. In the first transcript he is role-playing a villager
being asked by an interviewer (I) about a play to be performed by the village drama group.

Transcript 1: the interview

D: Well, I’m Tom Evans, and I’m sort of the narrator in these plays. We’re sort
of re-enacting the story of another legend which was about the two monsters
that supposedly are buried in the mine . . . they’re supposed to have thousands
of years ago came and . . . well . . . arrived in Talybont and murdered a few
people . . . of the village and the people caught them, put them away, but they
escaped again not long ago.
I: How did you find out about this story? How did you know it in the first place?
D: Well . . . I was down the mine and I was um hacking, hacking away um ready to
push the cart away full of coal and um I sort of found this book. I don’t know why
there was a book down there. It was a sort of diary.

           Speaking and listening

■■ Table 4.1  Analysing a transcript

Analysing a transcript

Transcript Recording
Sound (accent, intonation, pitch)
Vocabulary (dialect, idiolect, slang, jargon)
Fluency (repetition, fillers, pauses, false starts)
Interaction (turn-taking, questions, interruptions)

An analysis of the way pupil D speaks in role here shows that he employs many of
the features of spoken language. His speech includes examples of hesitancies such as
‘um’ and ‘sort of’, which give him time to think what comes next. His words are mostly
a series of clauses linked by ‘and’; for example, ‘and I was hacking’, ‘and I sort of found
this book’, ‘and it sort of told’. This is what Gunther Kress calls ‘chaining’ (Kress, 1992,
p. 31) and it is characteristic of spoken as distinct from written language.
In the second transcript the pupil is the same villager, now performing in the play
itself. The rest of the class, also in role as villagers, watch the play being acted out. The
performance begins with the sound of drilling announcing that the characters are already
down the mine. Pupil D then begins to speak as Tom Evans, the narrator of the play’s
events. While he narrates, the rest of his group mime the story. Putting down an imaginary
drill, Pupil D then picks up a fairly large, fat dictionary, the group’s only prop. His open-
ing words explain what this dictionary is: it is an old diary, the book that was found down
the mine. Turning the pages of this ‘diary’ he then proceeds to ‘read’ from it.

Transcript 2: the performance

D: The story which I am about to tell is one which I do not believe myself.
Recently, in the village, it is said that two monsters suddenly came out of the
cave and started murdering and killing the people of Talybont. Several were
killed. They were finally caught after a lot of effort. While they were trying to
come out of the cave they were grabbed and seized by the people. They took
them and put them in a cast iron coffin. The coffin was set in a hill and covered
up. This is all I can say. A hundred years ago when the mine was opened for the
first time it is said they did not like having a mine built on top of their grave
and so they came out of the coffin to take revenge . . . there was a murder down
the mine and it is not known if it was the monster but it could’ve been. The
victim was found screaming and shouting, ‘Terror! Terror! It’s coming!’ He
died of shock in hospital. They think it was the monsters that did it, but that’s
only a legend.

The language of this second transcript is ‘written’ language, even though it has never
been scripted. There is not a single example of hesitancy, unlike the many that featured in
the earlier, ‘spoken’ version. Furthermore, the syntax shows all the signs of a ‘hierarchi-
cal’, embedded structuring, which Kress says is distinctive of written language. Here we
have relative clauses (‘which I am about to tell’), adverbial phrases (‘in the village’), use
of the passive voice (‘it is said’) and so on.


These many distinctive features of Pupil D’s language, illuminated in the transcribing,
suggest a highly sophisticated, internalised sense of the difference between spoken and
written language. Because spoken language is ephemeral unless captured by audio or
video recording, the achievements of many pupils are bound to pass us by. But two things
can help to prevent us from underestimating what pupils can do: the first is to develop
our own knowledge about language so that we may recognise more clearly what pupils’
spoken language tells us about their learning and understanding; the second is to spend
time, now and then, analysing transcripts to remind ourselves of the complexities of what
we are teaching and assessing.

Making transcripts with pupils

Transcribing recorded speech is very valuable for pupils’ own study of how spoken lan-
guage works, and is an activity that can be adapted readily for use in the classroom, with
any age group, especially now that most pupils carry sophisticated recording equipment
around with them in their pockets. Easi-Speak microphones also work well for this kind
of task because they enable students to record directly into the microphone, play back
what they have recorded immediately or download the file onto a computer through the
built-in USB. Your planning will need to take account of the time allotted between lessons
for you (or the pupils) to transcribe the recordings.
Task 4.3 asks you to make a transcript.

Task 4.3 Making a transcript

If you have not had the opportunity to do so before (e.g. as part of your own
schooling or university course), try making a transcript of a short piece of spoken
language. The purpose of the task is to encourage you to focus your attention on
some of the characteristic features of spoken language texts.
Record someone, possibly another student teacher, talking about the school
they used to go to. When you transcribe the recording, you might end up with
something like the following:

Um I went to a quite a big private school and big red brick building with lots of
very good facilities and swimming pool um and little well quite a big theatre as
well where we put on quite a lot of shows and um I really liked doing English
I had a really excellent English teacher who sort of inspired me um lots of po-
etry we did and also nineteenth-century novels which I particularly enjoyed um
what I liked about the school was that everyone was you could enjoy the work
without feeling that you were um being boring in fact it had a very academic
purpose to it um you weren’t meant to it wasn’t there weren’t ideas about
being cool um by not working or pretending that in fact for lots of people it the
school was quite difficult there was a lot of pressure to do well to er produce
things not just academic but also creatively um creative writing or drama um
also suited me because sport was not at all emphasised um you could in fact it
was quite looked down on if you enjoyed um playing sport against other teams
um so in that respect it’s quite unlike other private schools with the sort of play
up and play the game ethos


Ask other people to read your transcript. Before the recording is played to them,
jot down under the heading ‘Transcript’, in a chart similar to the one given in Ta-
ble 4.1, what they predict about the speaker and how their words might sound.
Play the recording. In the column headed ‘Recording’, jot down notes about
what is actually heard. Pay special attention to any discrepancies between the
assumptions based on the transcript and your findings from the recording itself.
(In this case the speaker is a young woman who sounds fluent and assured. The
varied intonation and steady pacing of the spoken language mean that the whole
hangs together and sounds more coherent than it appears when transcribed. The
speaker does not have a regional accent, but certain features commonly associ-
ated with social class are prominent.)

Now Task 4.4 asks you to transcribe pupils’ anecdotes and stories.

Task 4.4 Transcribing anecdotes and stories

The purpose of this task is to provide you with an activity, suitable for a Year 8 or
Year 9 group, which you can use to discover how much pupils know or can learn
explicitly about some of the characteristic features of spoken language texts.

1. Make sure you have some suitable recording equipment.

2. Each pupil records a short anecdote about a topic such as the following:
How I got my scar, A time when I was really scared, My earliest memory, The
most exciting time of my life.
3. Transcribe the anecdotes or ask pupils to transcribe their own.
4. Ask pupils to do some oral redrafting of their stories, shaping them as a prac-
tised storyteller might, drawing on some of the techniques of traditional story-
telling (you might wish to refer to storytellers such as Kevin Crossley-Holland or
Hugh Lupton who discuss different aspects of their craft in Tales, Tellers and
Texts (Cliff Hodges et al., 2000)). When they are ready to do so, pupils retell
their stories, perhaps being video-recorded so that facial gestures and body
language can be discussed afterwards.
5. Ask pupils to redraft their anecdotes using a deliberately literary style.
6. Discuss with pupils some of the differences between their original anecdotes
and their more crafted storytelling. They might, for example, notice differences
between beginnings: impromptu anecdotes often begin with initiators such as
‘right’ or ‘well’ whereas a prepared story is more likely to start with a formulaic
phrase such as ‘A long time ago’ or even possibly ‘Once upon a time’.


Having established, for yourself and with your pupils, some of the differences between
spoken and written language through Tasks 4.3 and 4.4, you may now wish to focus on
variety in spoken language.

Cliff Hodges and Rawlinson-Mills          

Formality and informality

An interesting area to investigate with pupils is how the context, audience and purpose for
speaking and listening affect the formality or informality of the language used. A light-
hearted piece of improvised role-play such as the Figure 4.1 ‘Teachers in detention’ can
result in a serious consideration of language registers.
Pupils (perhaps in Year 7 or Year 8) read an article entitled ‘Teachers in Detention’
(Figure 4.1) and improvise a series of different conversations afterwards:

■■ In pairs, the two teachers talk to each other when they first realise what has happened;
■■ In threes, the two teachers explain/apologise tactfully to the head on Monday morning;
■■ In fours, the teachers recount their experiences to two colleagues in the staffroom on
Monday morning;
■■ In fours, one of the teachers explains to pupils in their form group on Monday
morning (following the incident and the newspaper report) what has happened.

It is interesting to ask pupils to predict which of the four scenarios will result in the
most formal or informal register and why. For example, will the conversation between the
head and the two teachers be more formal than the one that takes place in the form group?
What factors contribute to the various registers being used?

Accent and dialect

Several of the activities described above may lead to discussions about accent and dia-
lect and the use of Standard English. For example, pupils may discuss whether some of
the roles in ‘Teachers in detention’ are more likely than others to involve use of regional
dialect words rather than their Standard English equivalents. In these circumstances it

By our Education Correspondent

THERE WERE RED FACES all round last night when two local teachers found themselves locked in
school until the early hours of Saturday morning.

Working late
They had been working late in the workshops in the centre of the school campus. They did not realise
that they had been locked in until they tried to get out at 9.30 p.m. last night.

999 call
But the most embarrassing moment was yet to come. The school caretaker, Mr Arnold Jones, was
woken up in the middle of the night when he heard a noise of banging and clattering. ‘I thought it was
vandals, so I called 999’, he said today. ‘I can tell you, the police were not well pleased to be called
out at two o’clock in the morning’.

The teachers involved refused to comment – but they will certainly have some explaining to do on

■■ Figure 4.1  Teachers in detention

           Speaking and listening

is important to be absolutely clear yourself about the concepts and knowledge involved,
about what the differences are, for example, between accent and dialect or between
Received Pronunciation and Standard English. Use of linguistic terminology, rather than
labels from folk linguistics such as ‘posh’ or ‘common’, can help to move the discussion
away from the stereotypical and towards a more precise knowledge and understanding of
how spoken language works and is used.


Planning and organising classrooms for speaking and listening
Your observation of speaking and listening will have demonstrated to you how much talk
goes on all the time in schools and how rich and varied it is. A good deal of what you have
observed, however, will have been carefully planned for, with classrooms organised and
tasks chosen to enhance opportunities for speaking and listening. Pupils need plenty of
occasions to talk and listen informally and incidentally. They also need the chance to talk
and listen in more formal and challenging contexts.
An important paragraph in Towards Dialogic Teaching (Alexander, R., 2017) makes
clear where the teacher’s and the pupils’ responsibilities lie:

It is not sufficient, then, to repeat or reformulate a pupil’s contribution: what is said

needs actually to be reflected upon, discussed, even argued about, and the dialogic
element lies partly in getting pupils themselves to do this.
(Alexander, R., 2017, p. 26)

The next section of this chapter looks at some examples of how planning and organis-
ing classrooms for talk can develop pupils’ language, learning and cognition and increase
the complexity of their thinking.

Planning for effective talk activities: making

space for serious play
What follows is a description of three activities that might be undertaken by mixed-attain-
ment groups at Key Stages 3, 4 and 5 respectively. In each, talk is the main focus of a les-
son, with scope for students to reflect on, evaluate and make progress in their speaking and
listening skills. At the same time, in each case, this talk supports pupils’ learning in other
areas of the English curriculum, allowing them to make and demonstrate progress in: a)
adapting the register of their spoken and written language to suit particular forms and
audiences; b) understanding a difficult speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V; and c) using
critical perspectives and relevant contextual material in their A Level literature essays.
Vygotsky argues that ‘a child’s greatest self-control occurs in play’ (1978a, p. 99),
going on to explain:

A child’s greatest achievements are possible in play, achievements that tomorrow

will become her basic level of real action. . . . In play a child always behaves beyond
his average age, above his daily behaviour; in play it is as though he were a head
taller than himself.
(Vygotsky, 1978a, p. 102)


Vygotsky’s belief in ‘a unified historical line’ between play and ‘the highest forms of
written language’ (ibid., p. 116) is an important reminder that ‘play’ is not something that
ends when a pupil arrives at Secondary school. All three activities described below are
based on the premise that, in Mercer’s terms, ‘we “appropriate” ways of using language
from the people with whom we interact’ (Mercer, 2000, p. 125), recognising that our cre-
ative imaginations have a central part to play in this process. In all three of the activities
described here, the pupils are invited to assume a role – and the language that goes with
it – of someone else. At least one of the activities described below also involves the teacher
‘in-role’, modelling a different register, vocabulary and interaction style that pupils can
emulate and build on. This kind of serious play makes for memorable lessons, but also
provides the opportunity for students to reach ‘beyond’ their current achievement levels.
Task 4.5 asks you to analyse the teacher’s and the pupils’ roles in each of these three

Task 4.5 Analysis of the teacher’s and the pupils’

roles in three talk activities
For each of the activities described below, think carefully through the roles and
activities undertaken by pupils and teacher. If you are able to try out or adapt the
tasks in the classroom for yourself before analysing them, so much the better.

1. Draw two columns on a sheet of paper, labelling one ‘Teacher’ and the other
‘Pupils’. Work your way through each section of the activity you have chosen,
making brief but precise notes about what the teacher and the pupils are doing
in terms of speaking and listening.
2. Consider some or all of the following issues:
a) Involvement.
From your experience of reading or working your way through the activity,
and from the notes you have made, assess what proportion of the class
have been actively involved in purposeful speaking and listening.
b) Differentiation.
Are there noticeable differences between the speaking and listening tasks
performed by different groups of students in the class? If so, can you rank
them in order of difficulty? Could the structure of the groups and labelling of
group members be prepared by the teacher in advance so as to differentiate
between the pupils in the class?
c) Equal opportunities.
How is the activity organised to try to pre-empt any individuals taking an
unduly dominant role and to give space to those who are inclined to hold
back? Is the subject matter accessible to all pupils, whatever their cultural
background, or might the teacher need to provide some support materials?
d) Envoys.
Using envoys is one of a range of ways of organising group work that can
successfully promote speaking and listening in the classroom. Can you
analyse why it is usually successful? Find out from teachers with whom you
are working what some other commonly used methods for grouping and
regrouping pupils are and note the differences between them.

           Speaking and listening


Aims: to solve a mystery collaboratively; thinking creatively, making and sharing infer-
ences; listening to others’ interpretations of evidence; staying ‘in role’ and using a regis-
ter and vocabulary appropriate to that role.
This activity builds on Vygotskian notions of play, but also takes account of another
psychologist Jean Piaget’s idea (described by Mercer) that ‘one of the motivations for
intellectual development was the “cognitive conflict” that periodically arises between
children’s experience of the world and their understanding of it’ (Mercer, 2000,
p. 124). This lesson establishes such ‘cognitive conflict’, by providing students with
just too little information to make sense of a situation without an imaginative leap on
their parts.

1. Set up a ‘missing person’ crime scene in your Key Stage 3 classroom. Move the
desks aside and set out a range of props behind some ‘Police Line: Do Not Cross’
tape. This needn’t be complicated (see Figure 4.2). It can help to have three or four
possible explanatory scenarios in mind to help you select ‘clues’, but it’s important
that you don’t have a single ‘solution’ in mind: the idea is for students to collaborate
to make their own sense of the evidence you provide them with.
2. As students arrive, greet them at the door ‘in role’ as Chief Inspector Smith,
and answer only to that name for the rest of the lesson. Distribute ‘role cards’
allocating three quarters of the students the role of ‘police inspectors’ and the
remaining students ‘members of the press’, giving them instructions such as
these in Figure 4.2.

Possible clues
■■ A man’s boots and jacket
■■ An empty wine bottle and tipped-over glass
■■ A hen party/girls’ holiday invite, with ‘Surprise!’/‘You’ll See!’ instead of a date
■■ An angry handwritten note, vague and unsigned
■■ A scrap of paper with a mysterious phone number and an unusual name, together with yesterday’s
date and a time.
■■ One woman’s shoe and a pair of tights/stockings
■■ A dress
■■ Lots of toiletries
■■ Family photos, including one torn picture showing a couple
■■ A book of poems, bookmarked at a poem about heartbreak
■■ A tipped-over chair with a man’s boot-print on the seat
■■ An open laptop showing an online poker game in progress
■■ A receipt for a new bikini

Role cards
Information for police inspectors
This is the apartment of one Amy Villiers, 19. It is understood that she lives here alone. We have serious
concerns for her wellbeing after she was reported missing this morning (Tuesday), having failed to turn
up to work for the second day in a row.
You are reminded that it is our policy to avoid leaking information to the Press as far as possible.
The Force recognises, however, that it is sometimes necessary to exchange intelligence and/or spec-
ulation with our journalist colleagues when they have information of use to the investigation. You are
trusted to use your discretion.

Cliff Hodges and Rawlinson-Mills          

Police statement for members of the press

Amy Villiers, age 19, was reported missing this morning. A missing persons investigation is underway
and we are following up a number of leads.
As accredited journalists you are reminded that you must not go beyond the Police Tape line or
distract Officers at work. If you find yourself in possession of information that might have a bearing on
our investigation we trust that you will make an Officer aware of it; you might find such collaboration
is to your mutual advantage.

■■ Figure 4.2  Crime scene clues and roles

3. As Chief Inspector, you can direct students’ attention and insist on everybody’s par-
ticipation, but you will find that, as pupils get to grips with the activity, you can
increasingly allow them to take the lead. As Officers explore the crime scene, dis-
cussing the evidence they find, and journalists try to overhear as much as possible,
discreetly introduce additional evidence into the scenario. For example, pass individ-
ual Officers further clues (perhaps selecting students who are hanging back politely):
the transcript of a group text message chat; a copy of Amy’s passport; a letter from
a bank detailing overdraft fees. At the same time, feed the journalists ‘rumours’:
accounts of conversations with Amy’s sister/neighbour/colleague. It is important
that the clues at this stage do not all add up to a single solution; have Amy’s sister
describe her as unreliable, while her colleague emphasises her trustworthiness; have
the neighbour and colleague name two different boyfriends, or make incompatible
claims about when they last saw Amy.
4. End the activity when you are satisfied that students have considered all your clues
and shared a range of possible interpretations.
5. This activity can be the starting-point for a range of other work. For example:
■■ non-fiction writing for different purposes (a tabloid-style newspaper account;
a formal police report) in which students need to adapt their language to suit a
particular purpose, audience and form;
■■ creative writing (fictional account, poem, playscript);
■■ further in-role activities, determined by the conclusions the students draw (a
hot-seating activity with the sister/neighbour/colleague?).
6. You might also encourage pupils to self-assess their speaking and listening skills in this
activity: how well did they collaborate? Did they negotiate effectively with members
of the other group to share information? Did they listen carefully before evaluating
other people’s interpretations?


Aims: to encourage close study of the language of a difficult speech, with a view to being
able to reread the speech, speaking the words with greater intensity and emotion; to cre-
ate maximum opportunities for purposeful talk which will involve everybody and extend
their thinking and understanding.
This activity might be undertaken by a mixed-attainment Key Stage 4 class studying
Shakespeare’s Henry V. The class has reached Act IV, Scene vii, the point in the play when

           Speaking and listening

Henry is handed the two lists of those who have died in the Battle of Agincourt. The first
is the list of the slaughtered French; the second gives the number of the English dead. The
two parts, the King and the herald, are first read aloud by volunteers. Even for adults, the
speech is difficult to read aloud with feeling straight away. For pupils it is likely to prove
even more so.

  1 The class of 30 pupils is divided into six groups of five. In the groups pupils are
labelled A, B, C, D and E. The groups are told that they are members of different
stonemasons’ workshops in France at the time when the play is set. They have been
given the possibility of a contract to create stone memorials to the French dead after
the Battle of Agincourt. The list has arrived at their workshop just as it is in the
King’s speech up to line 22. Their task is to put in a bid for the contract. Every group
member should keep their own record of the results of their discussions.
  2 Groups should work their way through the list in the King’s speech to establish the
facts (e.g. about who has died, their names (if known), what their rank or position
  3 Groups should then consider what type(s) of memorial might be appropriate: should
there be just one or should there be several different ones? Why? Where should the
memorials be erected?
  4 One member of the group (A) should sketch out what their memorial might look
like. The rest of the group should consider what should be carved on it and discuss
why. They should instruct A in how they want the memorial to look.
  5 During these discussions you should move from group to group asking one pupil
in each group (B) for an interim explanation of the group’s findings, suggestions,
  6 Once all the groups have completed this first stage, an envoy (C) is sent from each
group to the next group to try out their group’s ideas on another audience. The
remainder of each group listens to the ideas of the envoy and notes any similarities
with, or differences from, their own.
  7 Envoys return to their own groups where one person (D) fills them in on what they
have missed while they have been away. The group’s ideas are adjusted as necessary
in the light of anything that has been learned from the envoys.
  8. Each group then sends a representative (E) to the front of the class with the sketch of
their memorial to summarise briefly to the rest of the class what their ideas are, using
the sketch as a visual aid to support their talk. Class members may wish to question
or comment on their plans.
  9 Finally a decision can be made (perhaps by a representative group from each work-
shop, e.g. all the As) as to which stonemasons’ workshop should receive the contract
and why.
10 Then, of course, the speech can be put back into its context within Henry V to be
reread or dramatised in the light of understandings that the activity, if successful, will
have generated.

One criticism sometimes levelled at this kind of work is that it may take pupils rather
a long way from the context of the original speech. You can decide for yourself what
you think by going back to the stated aims for the activity. When the speech is finally
reread and the study of the play itself is resumed, consider what difference the work might
have made to the pupils’ understanding of the significance of this deceptively awkward

Cliff Hodges and Rawlinson-Mills          

speech. A group of student teachers who tried out the activity for themselves found that it
led them quickly into discussions about vocabulary (mercenaries, dubb’d), rank (barons,
lords, knights), attitudes to warfare (volunteers, paid soldiers), word forms and functions
(use of adjectives – gallant, brave, lusty), punctuation (commas to signal words or phrases
in apposition; semicolons to separate the individuals listed). That they were in role as
stonemasons bidding for a contract led also to thinking about ordinary people’s attitudes
to remembering those who die in battle and how those attitudes might be swayed by
financial considerations. The student teachers differed in their views about whether the
activity impeded or enhanced the emotive qualities of the speech. But they were not in
doubt about the extent to which it promoted valuable, focused discussion.


Aims: to discuss a set text ‘in-role’ as a key figure of critical or cultural significance, or as
a character from the text itself, rehearsing skills necessary to meet key assessment criteria
orally in preparation for written work.
Post-16 literature courses require students to consider their texts in light of a range
of other readers’ interpretations, as well as taking contextual material into account. The
skill of weaving this into the fabric of an argument, rather than allowing it to become
a bolt-on extra, is something frequently identified by teachers, students and examiners’
reports as a particular challenge. This activity is designed to allow Key Stage 5 students
to ‘hear’ a range of perspectives on their set text(s), rehearsing orally the way different
interpretations might interact, and developing their understanding of how essays might be
structured to take account of other readers’ views.
The description below takes Frankenstein as an example, but the activity works equally
well with any other text or combination of texts.

1. Before the ‘dinner party’ lesson itself, students are assigned a role or roles from a
list such as the one in Figure 4.3. In preparation, they need to research and collate as
much material as they can find about their assigned person’s views and perspectives
(the amount of support and scaffolding you provide for this planning will depend
upon your particular students). They might present this material in the form of an A4
poster, which can be used as a place-mat, allowing students to move around during
the dinner party itself to try out different roles and perspectives, asking and answer-
ing their own questions.

Whatever their role, students should consider a range of possible themes and topics and collate quo-
tations which might support their character’s point of view, questions and challenges for other char-
acters and individuals, and comments about the text as a whole, in light of their character’s particular
interests and concerns.

Critical perspectives
These roles require students to understand key concerns and approaches used by different schools
of literary theory.
■■ Sigmund Freud, representing a psychoanalytical perspective;
■■ Germaine Greer, representing feminist readers;
■■ Karl Marx, representing Marxist critics;
■■ An ecocritic, interested in the interaction of humans with the natural world;
■■ Franz Fanon, representing post-colonialism.

           Speaking and listening

Cultural contexts
These roles invite students to reflect on how different kinds of readers across the ages might respond
to the novel and the themes and ideas it deals with.
■■ The author, Mary Shelley;
■■ Her first audience, a representative of the group of Romantic poets who heard her telling the story
for the first time;
■■ Aristotle, an expert on tragic literature;
■■ A twenty-first-century film director;
■■ A scientist from the early 1800s;
■■ A modern-day scientist.

The text
These individuals are especially responsible for ensuring that the discussion is informed throughout
with relevant and precise textual detail.
■■ Robert Walton;
■■ Victor Frankenstein;
■■ Elizabeth Lavenza;
■■ The creature;
■■ Henry Clerval;
■■ Justine Moritz;
■■ Agatha De Lacey.

■■ Figure 4.3  Fantasy dinner party roles and responsibilities

2. The dinner party: the teacher’s role during the activity will depend upon the profile of
students in the group and their confidence and independence, but you will probably
want to ‘host’ the dinner party, arranging the classroom and providing appropriate
snacks or drinks, as well as being responsible for structuring the discussion around
the questions you have pre-planned. For instance:
■■ Is Frankenstein a tragedy?
■■ What is the significance of mothers and maternity?
■■ What is the role of technology in Frankenstein?
■■ Why does Mary Shelley write so much about the weather?
■■ Monster or creature?
These three tasks, like most of the activities described in this chapter, show how differ-
ent elements of the English curriculum may be integrated: poetry, language study, writ-
ing, speaking and listening, media education. There will be occasions when, as a teacher,
you put speaking and listening under the spotlight, to teach specifically about an aspect
of oral work that you want your pupils to develop. Much of the time, however, the richest
and most fruitful speaking and listening will occur when the complexity of the activity
demands it and when classrooms and resources are organised so as to maximise pupils’
opportunities for purposeful talk.


You have now been introduced to a number of classroom ideas for encouraging speaking
and listening. However, it is also necessary to think about how pupils can be supported

Cliff Hodges and Rawlinson-Mills          

to make progress in oral work. There are several issues that need to be considered

■■ How will the chosen topic motivate and challenge pupils?

■■ How will the task set engage pupils in speaking and listening and make appropriate
demands of them?
■■ To what extent will the learning objectives for the lesson be focused on learning
through talk or learning about talk?
■■ Are there any aspects of speaking and listening within the task that need teaching
(e.g. the difference between asking each other open and closed questions when try-
ing to elicit information; explanations of concepts such as register or dialect)?
■■ How will pupils’ contributions be logged? Will they be recorded or summarised by
the pupil and commented on by the teacher on a speaking and listening record sheet?
■■ What criteria will you use to assess their involvement?
■■ Are pupils aware of the criteria by which they will be assessed?

As these questions suggest, progression involves a cycle of planning, selecting topics

or material, teaching, task setting, pupil activity, recording, assessing against criteria,
pupil review, teacher reflection and evaluation. You will need to find out whether and how
speaking and listening is logged across the age range in your department and to familia-
rise yourself with whatever systems are in place for ensuring continuity of pupil records
from year to year. When you are preparing to teach a lesson or unit of work that involves
speaking and listening activities and assessment, you will need to look back at pupils’ oral
records in order to plan for progression and continuity.
Figure 4.4 organises some possible assessment criteria for learning about talk and
learning through talk into the different areas you might hope to cover over the course of
a school year or Key Stage, while Task 4.6 invites you to begin thinking about how to
promote, recognise and record progress in these different areas.

Learning about talk

Sound Vocabulary Fluency Interaction

- understanding - understanding - being able to - understanding
how speakers’ the differences identify fillers, how talk between
accent, intonation between Standard pauses, false starts people progresses,
and pitch affect English and dialect and repetition in taking account
meaning forms, and when spoken language; of turn-taking,
and why speakers - understanding questions and
switch between the ways the interruptions;
these; grammatical form - being able to
- recognising slang, of talk differs from identify ways that
jargon and idiolect; written language power, gender
- understanding and class shape
how speakers episodes of talk
choose language
for effect


Learning through talk

Presenting and Listening, discussing Role-playing: creating

performance: and collaborating: and sustaining roles
communicating and interacting and - creating convincing,
adapting language responding complex characters
- performing individually - listening attentively in through judicious use of
and in groups, in tasks groups of different sizes, verbal and non-verbal
including storytelling, engaging with what is dramatic techniques,
improvised and rehearsed heard through perceptive, including speech, gesture
scenes, dramatic readings thoughtful and considerate and movement;
and recitals; responses and questions; - demonstrating insight
- presenting and giving - helping to shape into ideas, issues and
speeches, individually and discussions by relationships in different
in groups, in a range of summarizing, analysing situations;
formal contexts; and reflecting on other - taking on roles in varied
- communicating people’s ideas and formal and informal
information, ideas and asking questions to help scenarios;
feelings with clarity and identify bias or prejudice,
or to clarify issues and - making appropriate use
emphasis; of digital technologies
- adapting and shaping talk and recording devices to
and non-verbal features - making purposeful enhance performances, as
to meet the demands contributions that well as recording them for
of different contexts, encourage other people’s evaluation
purposes and audiences; participation and
- making appropriate
use of Standard English - demonstrating initiative,
vocabulary and grammar patience and stamina
in collaborative tasks,
negotiating disagreements
and helping build

■ Figure 4.4 Assessing talk

Now complete Task 4.6.

Task 4.6 Setting targets

This task is designed to help you develop your ability to plan for progression in
speaking and listening, taking into account a pupil’s prior learning and achieve-
ments across a range of oral activities.
Choose one of the speaking and listening activities described in this chapter. De-
cide which aspect(s) of the Assessing Talk table (Figure 4.4) it addresses. Imagine
three different pupils, one just beginning to meet the assessment aims, one meeting
some but not all of them, and one meeting them to a high level. For each student:


a) draft feedback that identifies strengths as well as areas for improvement in their
learning about talk/learning through talk;
b) design a new task in which they will be stretched and challenged to meet the
target you have identified.


Your school quite possibly has a Literacy Coordinator; a member of the English depart-
ment responsible for promoting and equipping the teaching of literacy skills across all the
subject areas in school, so that the progress students make in reading and writing in their
English lessons is supported and enhanced by the reading and writing they do in the rest
of their learning. But does your school also have an Oracy Coordinator? The arguments
made in this chapter for the way that effective, well-planned talk can support and enhance
student learning are just as relevant in history or mathematics as they are in English; your
colleagues in other subjects may be just as grateful for encouragement and training in
ways to develop their planning for effective talk. Moreover, students use their speaking
and listening skills in every other subject, just as much as they use their reading and
writing skills; who takes responsibility for ensuring that they are able to make progress
while they are doing so? Recognising that effective oral communication skills are vital
to students’ futures, in further study and in the workplace, some schools see oracy as the
foundation of students’ learning in every aspect of their school lives (see, for example,
Millard and Menzies, 2016). In other schools, oracy tends to be left to look after itself,
while reading and writing skills are implicitly or explicitly privileged. Perhaps this is
something you might like to champion, as your career as an English teacher progresses?


Pupils need opportunities to speak and listen in a wide variety of contexts and for a
wide range of purposes, in order to increase the complexity of their thinking, to develop
their powers of communication and to provide examples of language in use through
which to develop their explicit knowledge about speaking and listening.
As a teacher you will need to learn when and how to intervene in pupils’ discussions
to help them to move on, and when just to listen to what they have to say unprompted.
When considering pupils’ progression it is necessary to analyse and reflect on their oral
work and to plan subsequent teaching accordingly. Activities often need to be carefully
organised and classrooms deliberately arranged to maximise the chance of all pupils
being able to participate to the best of their ability. Pupils’ achievements need to be
communicated to them both in general terms and in relation to specific assessment
You also need to be able to recognise and make explicit to pupils their achieve-
ments: this can be done by teaching about spoken language and how it differs from
written language, as well as by assessment, recording and reporting.

           Speaking and listening

Alexander, R. (2017) Towards Dialogic Teaching: Rethinking Classroom Talk (5th edn), York:

A thought-provoking argument for dialogic teaching and learning in which communica-

tion between pupils and teachers is searching and reciprocal.
DES (1975) A Language for Life, London: HMSO.

Commonly referred to as the Bullock Report, this is an important work for anyone want-
ing to explore ideas raised in this chapter in greater depth. Chapters 4 and 10, on language
and learning and oral work respectively, are well worth reading.
Mercer, N. and Littleton, K. (2007) Dialogue and the Development of Children’s Thinking, Abingdon:

Based on classroom research undertaken over many years, this book explores how dia-
logic teaching and learning support pupils’ thinking and hence their educational develop-
ment. This text also explains how classroom talk can be recorded and analysed, enabling
teachers to undertake their own critical enquiries into the relationship between speaking,
listening and learning.
Richmond, J., Burn, A., Dougill, P., Goddard, A., Raleigh, M. and Traves, P. (2017) ‘Talk’ in Curric-
ulum and Assessment in English 11 to 19: A Better Plan, Abingdon: Routledge/UKLA, pp. 9–28.

A concise but detailed critique of the current English curriculum, in light of historical
changes, proposing alternative approaches which individual teachers and departments
can incorporate within their schemes of learning.

The authors would like to thank the many colleagues and students with whom the ideas in
this chapter have been developed over the years.


Jane Coles

The current National Curriculum for English (DfE, 2014) aims to ‘ensure all pupils read
easily, fluently with good understanding’ and ‘develop the habit of reading widely and
often, for both pleasure and information’. On the face of it these ‘overarching’ inten-
tions are uncontroversial: after all, most people would agree that the ability to read is an
essential skill if one is to function fully in daily life and take an active part in a modern
democratic society. It touches on almost every aspect of our lives, including implica-
tions for our personal development, social relationships, cultural identity, career pros-
pects, political and economic engagement. Within school, pupils’ experience of reading
has implications for the way they are able to participate in learning across the whole
curriculum – and, ultimately, for their success in public examinations. Perhaps not sur-
prisingly, therefore, reading has been at the forefront of Government education reforms
in England since 2010, resulting in renewed attention on the teaching of reading at the
beginning of a child’s school career and a revision of the reading curriculum at Key Stages
3 and 4. The precise nature of those reforms, however, has been controversial, involving a
tighter regulatory framework within which primary and secondary teachers must operate.
This framework includes the requirement for primary schools to adopt a specific pho-
nics-based approach to reading instruction in the Early Years and for secondary English
teachers to focus predominantly on the study of canonical literature at Key Stages 3 and
4 (or, to quote the Programme of Study for KS4 Reading: ‘read and appreciate the depth
and power of the English literary heritage’, DfE, 2014).
Views about what constitutes reading and what counts as literature worthy of study in
school are deeply polarised, as is illustrated by the following statements made by policy
makers and teacher-academics. Consider how literature is defined in each one, and what
each commentator has got to say about the role of literature within contemporary society.
What cultural assumptions underpin the five statements?

1. We need to reform English. The great tradition of our literature – Dryden, Pope,
Swift, Byron, Keats, Shelley, Austen, Dickens and Hardy – should be at the heart of


school life. Our literature is the best in the world – it is every child’s birthright and
we should be proud to teach it in every school.
(Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, 2010)

2. Children [should be helped] towards a critical understanding of the world and cul-
tural environment in which they live. Children should know about the processes by
which meanings are conveyed, and about the ways in which print and other media
carry values.
(Department of Education and Science (DES) and
Welsh Office (WO), 1989)

3. Reading emancipates us from the everyday. It liberates us to pursue our interests

in non-fiction and it introduces us to the great heroes and anti-heroes of the ages.
Through the canon, we are invited into the conversation of humankind.
(Nick Gibb, School Standards Minister, 2017)

4. Reading is our means of engaging with the world. That engagement takes place in a
multiplicity of ways, in a multiplicity of dimensions . . . In ‘taking in the world’ we
transform it.
(Gunther Kress, 2004, p. 77)

5. Now that there are more readers than at any time in the past, more books to choose
from and new literacies, we must accept that differences among readers and among
texts are normal. There is no going back to a single text, a single way of reading, a
single way of defining ‘good readers’.
(Margaret Meek, 1991, p. 36)

Each of these statements attempts to position pupils rather differently in terms of their
relationship to texts and in terms of their own cultural lives. It follows that these alterna-
tive positions also attempt to construct the role of English teachers in contradictory ways,
with important implications for classroom practice.
The first statement was delivered in a speech by the senior politician who oversaw the
review process culminating in the current iteration of the National Curriculum published in
2013. Here Michael Gove makes explicit his expectation that a particular ‘canon’ of literary
texts, those which have come to carry authorised value in society, should be central to the
reading curriculum in schools. Because his selection excludes anything written in the past
100 years (and authors named here figured in the earliest literature courses in schools and
universities over a century ago), it is consequently unlikely to reflect the diverse cultural
traditions and practices of readers in contemporary classrooms across the UK. Instead, this
version of the reading curriculum seeks to induct young people into the ‘English literary
heritage’, one that is claimed to be inherently superior to any other (‘the best in the world’).
This statement suggests that not only is it presumed to be the role of English teachers to
reproduce the cultural traditions underpinning this selection of texts, but that ‘we’ should
take a degree of nationalistic pride whilst doing so.
By way of contrast, the second statement comes from the first National Curriculum
document for English published in 1989 (known popularly as the ‘Cox Report’, DES

Jane Coles          

and WO, 1989). This cultural analysis view acknowledges the need to teach pupils to
be critically aware as readers. This view asks questions of the cultural heritage model
for reading, and seeks to empower pupils by teaching them to examine the way texts
are culturally produced. It emphasises the ways in which readers are positioned in rela-
tionship to authorised literature and helps them to understand – even challenge – that
relationship. It is perhaps worth noting that the members of the Cox Committee explicitly
rejected the option of compiling a list of canonical authors (apart from Shakespeare) in
their final report on the grounds that, ‘there is such a variety of good literature available
for inclusion in syllabuses that we want teachers to have the freedom to make their own
choice of suitable books’ (1989, para 7.14), thus raising important issues around teacher
professionalism and agency.
Gunther Kress’ statement constructs reading as a much broader phenomenon, one that
is not anchored to a body of literary texts. For him, reading is a way of engaging with the
world around us. Not only is it likely to take a number of diverse forms, it has the poten-
tial for emancipatory change. In many ways his position is reminiscent of Paolo Freire’s
famous statement that, ‘The act of learning to read and write has to start from a very com-
prehensive understanding of the act of reading the world, something which human beings
do before reading the words’ (Freire, 1987, p. xiii). Both commentators regard reading as
a set of social practices, within which readers take an active role in the ways they make
meaning out of texts. The interplay between relating to the world and engaging with texts
is conceived as a dynamic one that affords cultural and political agency to readers, both
individually and in groups.
It is interesting that Nick Gibb’s statement (number 3 above) is almost diametrically
opposed to Kress’ view, in that for him reading offers young people an escape from real
life, rather than a deeper engagement with it. His statement complements that of his min-
isterial colleague, Michael Gove, in the privileging of canonical texts. However, here he
takes Gove’s position one stage further by suggesting that the values inscribed in that
narrow selection of texts are universal ones, shared the world over, and it is through
familiarity with the canon that young people will gain access to this authentic, living
tradition. Whereas Gibb’s approach serves to obscure difference (in both readers and in
texts), Margaret Meek’s statement (number 5 above) embraces difference as an inevitable
part of contemporary literacy. She suggests that society is making increasingly complex
demands upon readers. Social networking, for instance, means that young people are
likely to be adept at moving rapidly between different types of texts, exchanging informa-
tion in a range of formats and modes (and this will be explored further in Chapters 8 and
9 which address the teaching of media and working with digital technologies in English).

By the end of this chapter you should:

■■ have gained an understanding of ‘reading’ as a set of practices and have

considered various approaches to the teaching of reading and respond-
ing to texts in secondary classrooms;
■■ have reflected upon your own history and identity as a reader and thought
about what it means to be a reader;


■ be aware of issues of diversity and how English teachers might broaden

the range of texts encountered in classrooms;
■ have considered ways of assessing reading;
■ have thought about ways of creating a reading environment in your


Before working through the rest of this chapter, you might want to revisit task 3.2 in
Chapter 3, which asks you to consider the reading requirements in detail and how they are
approached in your school.
You will see that the National Curriculum for English raises questions about what
counts as reading and is heavily weighted towards literary study. Essentially, it is organ-
ised into three core areas. The first addresses the range of reading required, encompassing
both fiction and non-fiction, although only literary genres are specified, including Shake-
speare. ‘Seminal world literature’ appears as a required category only at KS3; it is omitted
at KS4, where the emphasis falls more heavily on the ‘English literary heritage’ including
‘representative Romantic poetry’. All of the works studied are to be of ‘high quality’
but the document offers no guidance as to how this is defined or, indeed, who makes
that judgement. Media texts are omitted altogether. The second core area deals with
the development of comprehension skills such as summarising and synthesising (KS4)
applied to ‘increasingly challenging texts’ (KS3). The third requires the development of
critical appreciation skills and the recognition of literary features. There is no mention of
pupils ‘responding’ to texts or making meanings for themselves, but pupils are expected
to develop a ‘love of reading’ at KS3 and go on to choose reading books ‘for challenge,
interest and enjoyment’ at KS4.
At this point it is worth considering your own history as a reader and what helped (or
hindered) you in developing ‘a love of reading’ (see Task 5.1).

Task 5.1 Your personal reading history

In The Rights of the Reader (2006) Daniel Pennac sets out his manifesto in support
of young people’s rights to be whatever kind of reader they want to be. Pennac
is sharply critical of the way formal education systems often operate to alienate
many young readers. He invites teachers and parents to consider reading as a
broad set of social practices and to reflect upon their own reading histories. He
suggests, for example, that our ‘friends, lovers, classmates and even family’ are
likely to have played a big part in shaping our reading preferences (p. 87); and that
some of the books that have had a profound influence on our lives may have been
read ‘in a spirit of opposition’ (p. 82).
Reflect upon your own reading history, starting with your earliest memories
(perhaps as a young child sharing picture books with siblings or adult carers)
and trace your development as a reader. Try to include works of both fiction and
non-fiction that represent significant milestones in your reading life. Which of these


texts were introduced through school and in what ways are they important to you?
At the same time, don’t forget to include ‘unauthorised’ texts (such as comics
or particular online reading material); what were (are?) your ‘guilty reading plea-
sures’? What was the special attraction of these choices  – and how were you
introduced to them? Pay attention to moments of discontinuity and rebellion. Did
you read different texts in different ways and for different purposes at different
moments of your life?
Either make notes using headings (for example, organising your material ac-
cording to ages or stages of your life); or represent your reading history as a visual
collage similar to the ones Gabrielle Cliff Hodges encourages teenage readers to
create as part of her ‘Rivers of Reading’ case study (see her article in English in
Education, 2010).
Compare your reading history with other student teachers’. In what ways are
they similar and in what ways are they different? Can any of those differences be
explained in terms of your respective backgrounds (eg. age, social class, gender,
sexuality, ethnicity and schooling)?
Discuss what implications this activity might have on your approach to the
teaching of reading in a secondary school.

The KS3 and 4 Programme of Study for Reading in the National Curriculum states
that pupils ‘should be taught’ to ‘appreciate’ specific works of literature and other texts; to
’understand increasingly challenging texts’ and to ‘read critically’. This suggests a simple
transactional arrangement by which the teacher instructs (or mediates texts) and pupils
learn to respond in the required way. However, what reading looks like in a secondary
English classroom is likely to take on a number of different forms and involve a rather
more dynamic relationship between pupils, texts and teacher. Consider the following list
of reading activities. What aspects of reading are covered here and how might these activ-
ities collectively meet the requirements of the reading Programme of Study:

■ whole-class reading of a shared text (for example, read/performed by the teacher; or

read/performed by pupils – or a combination of both);
■ reading in small groups (e.g. focusing on a single passage or chapter with a view to
presenting information and/or ideas back to the rest of the class);
■ paired reading tasks (sometimes involving fluent readers paired with less confident
■ silent individual reading (pupils reading their own choice of texts; or reading/
re-reading a ‘set text’ for study);
■ reading a section of a play or novel and comparing it with a film version or other
relevant moving image text;
■ acting out a scene from a literary text; role-playing characters;
■ reading and comparing news articles and other media texts (print versions and/or
■ reading texts that combine words with images, graphs, tables and other information
in diagrammatic form;
■ scanning a variety of resources, information texts and sets of data to find out specific
information (perhaps, groups of pupils seeking different information, then pooling it);


■■ the whole class reading information on an interactive whiteboard (e.g. PowerPoint

slides) while the teacher talks;
■■ worksheets that might give instructions, explain tasks, offer support, set up further
■■ pupils reading (and discussing) each other’s writing.


Arguments about the canon (what texts are included/excluded through the process of selec-
tion) focus on what we read but tend to obscure an equally important issue: how we read,
how we make meanings out of texts. You may have undertaken a module on literary the-
ory as part of your degree studies and although its abstract nature may seem irrelevant to
school classrooms, how you conceive of the relationship between writer, text and reader
is likely to shape the way you approach the teaching of reading. Theories of reading that
emerged in the early to mid-twentieth century tended to privilege the writer and/or the text,
whereas more recent reader response theories focus on the act of reading itself, regarded as
a dynamic interplay between an individual reader and the text (e.g. Rosenblatt, 1978). The
tendency of the first position is towards a teacher-dominated pedagogy, where a teacher’s
role is to help pupils unlock a text’s meaning. The second position recognises that individ-
ual readers have different experiences, interests and reading histories that account for a
range of possible interpretations of a shared text. Reader response theory not only acknowl-
edges that texts generate a plurality of meanings, but importantly it affords agency to the
reader. Applied to education, that places pupils – their prior knowledge, their perspectives
and their own cultural lives – at the centre of the classroom enterprise.
Critical Literacy (e.g. Morgan, 1997) offers a more consciously ideological approach
that is also underpinned by a belief that the reader is actively engaged in the process of
meaning-making. As a method it invites the reader to deconstruct a text, to interrogate
its values and assumptions and to explore how any text is socially and historically con-
structed (and in whose interests). In schools this approach has most commonly (but not
exclusively) been associated with the reading of media and other non-fiction texts (and
Chapter 8 explores the reading of media texts in more detail).

If the starting point is the pupil and what they bring to their encounter with texts, then the
way a teacher organises classroom activities needs to enable pupils to try and make sense of
a text for themselves, drawing on their own sets of cultural knowledge and life experiences –
whether as an individual or shared with others in the class. The examples which follow are
all based on this pedagogical principle. Consider each in turn, then go to Task 5.2.
Ways into texts (class readers): the opening sequence of activities often serves to
shape the way pupils perceive the text under study. It should draw in your readers and
whet their appetite to read on. You will have to decide at which point you actually start
reading the text with pupils – and whether that always means starting at page 1. Here are
some suggestions for interactive ways into shared classroom texts:

■■ a comparison of different front covers taken from various editions (e.g. looking at
title, images, layout, colours, font etc.); predictions also draw on pupils’ prior knowl-
edge from previous reading experiences;

Jane Coles          

■■ a dramatic or intriguing moment taken from part-way through the text (making
deductions, asking questions);
■■ predictions based on the title, names of central characters, place
■■ discussing a short film/documentary raising relevant issues or exploring a specific
moment in history, etc.;
■■ bringing in artefacts/prop bags, maps, etc. and asking small groups to suggest what
connects the items;
■■ stage a scene in the classroom relevant to the themes of the text (e.g. a pre-arranged
‘argument’ between you and another willing adult).

DARTs: Directed Activities Related to Texts, first developed by Lunzer and Gard-
ner’s (1979) Effective Use of Reading project, offer a range of interactive, open-ended
approaches to texts, equally useful whether dealing with fiction (prose, verse, drama) or
non-fiction. Crucially, each of these ideas is designed for shared exploration of texts – and
to make them effective, teachers must exercise professional judgement as to the strategy
most suited to any specific piece of text under study. Many DARTs activities prompt close
attention to the language and structure of a text and during feedback pupils should be
asked to explain the choices they have made.
DARTs activities most commonly observed in English classrooms include:

■■ cloze procedure (deleting key words prior to pupils reading a text; readers use contex-
tual clues to discuss what possible substitutions might be, then compare with original);
■■ sequencing (cutting up a text into separate paragraphs or stanzas so that pupils have
to try and work out the original order using clues such as overall meaning, markers
of textual cohesion, verb tense, punctuation, etc.);
■■ text marking (underlining or highlighting specific types of words or phrases that
may, for example, form a pattern across the work);
■■ prediction (of next lines, future events, endings);
■■ statement games/card sort (a range of statements about a text that pupils discuss in
turn, sorting which they most and/or least agree with).

Recreative activities: these ask readers to re-imagine the text in new forms or modes.
It is an approach that not only demands knowledge of the source text, but usually requires
pupils to take up a critical position in relation to the text (see McCallum, 2012). Pupils
have to draw on their familiarity of the new genre, working within known conventions and
adapt their material to the affordances of specific modes:

■■ drama activities (e.g. dramatisation of a scene; tableaux based on images or meta-

phors from the printed text; hot-seating of a character);
■■ writing in role (inhabiting the world of the text from the perspective of a particular
■■ a different point of view (e.g. flipping a non-fiction comment piece; rewriting a scene
from a minor character’s point of view);
■■ textual recasting (changing the genre, for example a factual description of an inci-
dent into a television news item; a scene from a novel turned into a playscript);
■■ creation of collages/visual displays (often involving a focus on imagery);
■■ storyboarding; making film trailers (e.g. focusing on narrative structure, key
moments and quotations).


Task 5.2 Ideas for teaching a Key Stage 3 novel

If possible, work with other student teachers. Look at the range of Key Stage 3
novels used in your placement school English departments and choose a novel
that you are all familiar with.

a) Discuss what you like about this novel and why you would want to share it with
a KS3 class.
b) Agree your overall aims and then sketch out some ideas for teaching the text
(assume this constitutes a half term unit of work).
c) Using any of the practical approaches suggested above or other activities you
have observed in school, plan three of your teaching ideas in more detail (these
need not be full lessons): one should be the opening activity and the other two
can be taken from any other point during the half term’s work. In your intro-
ductory activity can you ‘hook’ your pupils, sparking their interest in the text?
Focus on the language of the text for one of the other activities; and for the
other choose an activity which involves pupils producing a creative response to
the text.
d) Consider what resources you will need and produce supporting materials as

Once you have finished planning your teaching ideas, share with your mentor or
other teacher at school and talk through the thinking behind each of your activities.


Affording pupils the space to explore their own cultures and evolving identities should
be a part of any English classroom, and this becomes particularly relevant when reading
and sharing literary texts. After all, literature regularly invites readers to inhabit other
worlds (including alternative versions of their own) and consider other lives and expe-
riences. Recognising difference in the classroom draws attention to the ways in which
individual pupils make sense of shared texts, and helps them to position themselves in
relation to the values and assumptions adopted by writers in both fiction and non-fiction
Although the current version of the National Curriculum focuses heavily on the
‘English literary heritage’, a reading curriculum dominated by canonical texts such
as Dickens and Shakespeare should not preclude a pedagogical approach that opens
up space for productive discussion and active meaning-making in the classroom (as
Chapters 3 and 11 in this volume make clear). Having said that, it is important that
pupils encounter a range of texts in the classroom, not only ones that expand their
existing horizons, but also ones that directly reflect their own lives and experiences.
Teacher and researcher, Darren Chetty (2017), recounts his experience as a primary
school teacher where children in his ethnically mixed class routinely wrote stories
where the main protagonist was white and even objected when a recently arrived Nige-
rian boy broke this tacit narrative rule (‘You can’t say that! Stories have to be about

Jane Coles          

white people’). Chetty argues that this is as a result of the narrow range of reading
material that his children had thus far encountered at school. He draws on studies
by Rudine Sims Bishop, a professor of children’s literature, who suggests that books
can act as both mirrors and windows for readers: windows onto other worlds and
experiences; mirrors in which we see ourselves reflected, helping us develop our own
sense of identity. Bishop’s research indicates that children from minority backgrounds
mainly experience books ‘as windows into lives which [are] different from their own’
whereas ‘children from the dominant culture had been offered fiction that mirrored
their own lives’ (Bishop, 2012, p. 9) and she argues that all young people should have
a right to encounter books that do both.
Patterns of reading behaviour may also be gendered (and it is worth remember-
ing that when English Literature was first established as a subject at university it was
regarded as particularly suitable for women). Since the early 1990s successive govern-
ments have expressed specific concern about the attainment of boys in English. In 2017,
for example, according to government statistics 73 per cent of girls achieved at least a
grade 4 (the government ‘benchmark’) in GCSE English Literature as opposed to 57 per
cent of boys – despite the eradication of coursework, popularly claimed to favour girls.
Reasons for this ongoing discrepancy in attainment are not straightforward. Based on
her detailed ethnographic research, Moss (2007) describes a complex interplay between
the social construction of gender and ability. A report from the Boys’ Reading Com-
mission (National Literacy Trust, 2012) suggests that home and societal influences are
two core factors that influence boys’ attitudes and practices in reading. Another fac-
tor the commission identifies is the school environment and the ways in which teach-
ers offer opportunities to experience reading material and approaches which stimulate
boys’ interests. Moss’ classroom-based research, however, leads her to avoid attributing
simple binaries of gender in her explanations (for example, the assumption that girls
prefer novels, boys favour non-fiction). Instead, she argues that the way the literature
curriculum itself is constructed and assessed is based on a reductive concept of what it
means to be a successful reader. Within the current standards-based discourse, reading
tends to be seen as a set of hierarchical skills to be systematically acquired and formally
measured at specified intervals. Moss says that both girls and boys find various ways of
playing out their notions of femininity and masculinity in response to this, shaped by the
resources to hand and the specific context. What becomes clear from her research is that
it is important for teachers to avoid making assumptions based on gender stereotypes,
particularly where judgements are made about relative reading proficiency. There is no
quick fix, but you may find it helpful to consider some general principles for building
an inclusive reading classroom: talk to pupils about their reading preferences and try
to create the conditions where pupils can exercise some degree of autonomy over their
reading choices. Encourage the formation of social networks where pupils can influence
each other’s reading preferences. When planning, consider a range of strategies for sup-
porting less confident readers (for example, short stories can offer narrative enjoyment
and a sense of completion without sustained reading effort). On occasion organise sin-
gle-sex groupings, which can help pupils to explore gendered perceptions of reading as
a practice. Encourage the broadest definitions of what it means to be a reader: critically
evaluate the range of texts that feature in the curriculum and the variety of methods by
which pupils can respond to them.
Before reading further, undertake Task 5.3.


Task 5.3 Literature, culture and identity

1. As you observe English lessons in your school, consider what range of literary
texts (both canonical and non-canonical, from the ‘English literary heritage’ and
beyond) that you have witnessed being taught and compare your findings with
a student teacher from another school. What opportunities have you observed
for pupils to make connections between these texts and their own sets of cul-
tural knowledge developed outside of school? In what form did these opportu-
nities take place?
2. Nominate a literary text that was significant in helping shape your sense of iden-
tity at some point in your life, a text that ‘spoke to you’ in a very specific way.
Get together with other student teachers and share your choices. Explain the
text’s importance to you and the context in which you came across it. Which of
these texts might you want to take into the English classroom and why?


Prospective English teachers will often say at interview that a love of literature was what
first motivated them to enter the profession, and they frequently go on to add that it is this
life-long passion for reading that they want to ‘instil’ in pupils. However, the assumptions
that underpin such a statement of intent are likely to be thrown into some doubt after a
very short amount of time observing in most secondary classrooms and, indeed, inter-
national comparisons of reading attainment across OECD countries suggest that young
people in England are less likely to read for pleasure than their peers in other devel-
oped nations (OECD, 2009; McGrane et al., 2017). Pressure to prepare classes for public
examinations can mean that pupils’ experience of literature in school has become a very
narrow and skills-focused one, even at Key Stage 3, a curriculum shift that hardly seems
designed to encourage pupils to regard reading as a pleasurable leisure activity. However,
the successful promotion of wider reading was highlighted as a key identifying feature of
‘outstanding’ English departments by a major Ofsted subject report in 2011. In response
to the growing body of research evidence that highlights the social, emotional and educa-
tional benefits for pupils of reading for pleasure from childhood through adolescence (for
example, see Sullivan and Brown, 2013; DfE, 2012; Clark and Rumbold, 2006), many
schools have adopted whole-school reading policies to which English departments may
be expected to make a significant contribution. For example, the following wider reading
initiatives are commonly found in secondary schools and you should find out what whole-
school reading policies are in place in your school:

■ whole-school reading periods (‘Drop Everything and Read’) where the entire school,
all staff included, devote an hour to focused, private reading every week;
■ the expectation that every lesson will start with ten minutes of silent reading;
■ book boxes in all KS3 tutor rooms organised with help from volunteer sixth formers;
■ shadowing schemes (often run by the school librarian) associated with national book
competitions, e.g. the annual Carnegie Award;

Jane Coles          

■■ commercially produced reading schemes that claim to match individual readers to

books that have been colour-coded and then track pupils’ progress over a period of
time via online quizzes. If your school operates a similar system, find out more about
it and think about the way the scheme conceptualises reading ability (for instance,
what kind of information about a book is rewarded in the online tests?).

At the same time, it is important for English teachers to support wider reading specif-
ically within English lessons. An enjoyable area of development for you as a beginning
English teacher is to expand – and continue to update – your knowledge of fiction writ-
ten specifically for children and young adults so that your literary expertise extends well
beyond the scope of the established literary canon. The more widely an English teacher
reads teenage fiction, the better placed they are to foster conversations with pupils about
the books they are reading (and sometimes, by extension, the films they are watching) and
to make recommendations for further reading that meet pupils’ diverse needs and interests.
Furthermore, in the digital era it makes sense that an English teacher’s working definition
of ‘text’ is broadened to include the forms of reading with which pupils are likely to engage
outside of school (such as, comics/graphic novels, online news articles and gossip, mag-
azines, moving image texts, computer games and other kinds of texts accessed through
mobile technologies). Not only does this help to validate pupils’ existing cultural experi-
ence and practices, it will also enable you to invite pupils to make meaningful connections
between texts set for study and the popular cultural forms they are more familiar with.
As you observe English being taught in school, it is worth considering how much
opportunity is afforded pupils to exercise choice over the reading material that they
encounter as part of the formal curriculum. Pupils may be required to bring in a ‘reading
book’ for use during moments of the school day designated for silent reading, yet this
practice may signify little more than a settling device at the beginning of lessons, put to
one side the minute the ‘real’ lesson starts. Consider one student teacher’s experience
recounted below. Here Catherine reflects upon the challenges in encouraging her ‘top set’
Year 10 English class to read during these silent reading lesson starters:

Once I began teaching the Year 10 class in question I dedicated ten minutes at the
beginning of every other lesson to silent reading, which seemed reasonable as I had
them four times a week. For some, this was a quiet time to continue reading The Book
Thief or The Great Gatsby, which they would happily discuss with me when asked,
but for some it felt like a forced silence where they would attempt to read something
they picked up at the back of the classroom in which they had little or no interest. In-
terestingly, two girls who had emphatically identified themselves to me as non-readers
would pick up copies of KS3 class readers that they were told by their teacher to avoid,
but continued pretending to read as an act of subtle defiance. Some of the boys, on the
other hand, would choose books classified by the class teacher as appropriately chal-
lenging but not seem to understand or like them at all. When I asked one boy how he
was getting on with Hard Times he said he had been reading the same page for weeks.

In order to create space for more sustained private reading, some English departments
timetable a weekly lesson in the library for KS3 classes and it is worth trying to observe
different teachers’ approaches to making this a productive and inclusive reading experi-
ence for all pupils.
Now consider the activities in Task 5.4.


Task 5.4 What helps to create a supportive reading

Closely observe two or three English classrooms in your school. Analyse how
the following factors send messages about reading to pupils. Consider especially
how these factors influence the reading environment for pupils who have Special
Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and bilingual pupils:

1. Book displays and class libraries. What kinds of texts count as reading? Lit-
erary, non-literary, information, comics, graphic novels, picture books, hobby
books, books written in languages other than English?
2. What provision is there for ‘quick reads’, which can give a sense of achieve-
ment for less confident readers?
3. What reading material can you see that has been written and published by
pupils, both in English and in the languages of multilingual pupils?
4. What reading material is represented on wall displays? Commercially pro-
duced material? Pupils’ work? Are pupils ever prompted to read the wall dis-
plays? Are any of the materials interactive, inviting a response to the material?
5. Are there any book boxes? If so, consider the range of material they contain –
what counts as reading?
6. Information about the school library, book clubs, reading events (e.g. World
Book Day) and competitions? Does the school make connections with the
local public library?
7. Is there an area of the classroom (or immediately outside) organised to
encourage group or individual reading?
8. How inclusive are any of the above reading materials? For example, consider
the way gender, ethnic and linguistic diversity, disability and sexuality are rep-
9. What reading materials are on the teacher’s desk? What signs are there that
the teacher is also a reader?
10. What are the school protocols concerning access to digital texts and mobile

Discuss with another student teacher, your mentor or your tutor ideas you have for
how you would like to set up your own classroom space when you are a qualified
teacher. Try to explain your rationale.

When it comes to the assessment of reading, a number of complications arise. In order
to make visible what goes on in individual readers’ heads after an encounter with a text,
responses need to be transferred into another medium such as speech or writing. Thirty
or 40 years ago the most common way to gauge pupils’ understanding of texts was by
answering sets of comprehension questions – until this strategy was demonstrated to be
extremely limited in its effectiveness beyond rewarding simple information retrieval (see
Lunzer and Gardner, 1979).

Jane Coles          

How do teachers make informed judgements about pupils’ achievements in reading?

What does progression in reading look like? How can you describe this progression in
meaningful ways that will help motivate pupils? Broadly speaking, across KS3 and 4 the
National Curriculum constructs progression in the following terms:

■■ breadth of reading (genres, historical periods, forms and authors);

■■ depth of reading (e.g. detailed textual analysis);
■■ progressively challenging material (particularly pre-twentieth century fiction and
non-fiction texts);
■■ increasing degrees of independence as a reader;
■■ informed personal response.

None of these are as straightforward as they first appear. For example, there appears to
be an assumption that pre-twentieth century literature is inherently more challenging to
read than modern works (is that really true? In all circumstances?). Curiously, offering an
‘informed’ personal response is only expected at KS4 and not at KS3, yet we know that
children are able to offer a personal response to texts at a very young age. And if ‘indepen-
dence’ is prized as a quality, why are pupils offered no chance to demonstrate their inde-
pendence in selecting texts for themselves within the GCSE assessment regimes? Instead,
independence appears to be conceived as the individual’s ability to read and respond to
unseen texts chosen by a distant examiner.
Currently at KS4, reading is formally assessed at GCSE level entirely through timed,
written answers produced in exam conditions (for both English Language and English
Literature). One of the consequences of this has been the tendency to shift attention on
to exam skills, on to the form of writing rather than on what pupils have to say. You may
find yourself observing what are ostensibly reading lessons centring on the listing of quo-
tations and the teaching of formulaic ‘PEE’ (Point Evidence Explanation) style of writing
frames, rather than focusing on the generation and exploration of possible meanings. You
would indeed be remiss if as a beginning teacher you were not concerned with helping
your students perform well in public examinations. But this preparation need not become
routinised and uncreative in its scope, and your assessment of pupils’ reading responses
need not be limited to PEE paragraphs – or, indeed, written outputs at all. Sometimes
writing or talk might precede reading (for example, in predicting what a text might be
Consider how you might build up a picture of individual pupils’ progression in reading
over a period of time by employing some of the following strategies. In what formats
might you provide appropriate, meaningful feedback for your pupils:

■■ oral responses to what has been read, generated individually, in pairs or in groups;
■■ presentations by pupils to the whole class (e.g. using flipcharts, PowerPoint, etc.);
■■ dramatisation based on a text;
■■ visual/graphic accounts of what has been read (e.g. film-making on tablet comput-
ers; storyboarding; collage-making);
■■ pupils’ personal reading journals or blogs;
■■ written responses with a focus on reading objectives (rather than writing skills),
produced independently and collaboratively;
■■ creative responses arising out of texts;
■■ instant, short responses jotted onto mini whiteboards.


The emphasis here is on pupils being actively engaged in the processes of making
meaning(s) out of texts and exploring ways of articulating their responses through a range
of media and in a range of contexts. Importantly, these approaches rest on a unitary view
of English where reading, writing and speaking are integrated and regarded as mutually
supportive modes of language.


This chapter has raised issues about reading as a classroom activity, whilst locating it
as part of a set of social and cultural processes. If readers are to be active in mean-
ing-making in your classroom, then the cultural diversity of your pupils should be your
starting point in planning for a broad and meaningful reading experience. However,
you will need to negotiate spaces within and around the National Curriculum as it is
currently constructed, particularly in introducing pupils to a range of texts, including
digital media. It is therefore recommended that this chapter is read in conjunction with
Chapters 8 and 9. Creating space within which pupils can talk about their own reading
preferences and exercise some reading autonomy is a key strategy to creating an in-
clusive reading environment in your classroom.
The pleasure of reading is something that can easily be lost or distorted at a time
when teaching is dominated by the demands of high-stakes testing and the charting of
pupils’ measurable progress. This chapter suggests that there are ways to respond to
texts creatively, critically and collaboratively which serve to remind pupils that reading
can be genuinely enjoyable as well as intellectually and emotionally challenging.

Chambers, A. (1991/2011) Tell Me: Children, Reading and Talk, Stroud: The Thimble Press.

‘Tell me’ is a ‘booktalk’ strategy that prompts pupils to share enthusiasms, moments that
a text puzzled them and encourages them to discover connections between texts, lived
experiences and the world. A children’s author and researcher, Chambers offers sets of
structured questions that teachers can adapt according to different contexts.
Dymoke, S. (2009) Teaching English Texts 11–18, London: Continuum.

This is a useful, detailed textbook focusing on teaching the full range of texts in the
English classroom; Dymoke applies a broad definition of text and considers a number of
appropriate approaches and activities for building an inclusive classroom.
Meek, M. (1991) On Being Literate, London: The Bodley Head.

Meek describes how teaching reading today is bound up with changes in contemporary
society. She explains how a modern concept of literacy must embody full recognition of
the texts that people actually need and use, and how children develop their reading across
a broad spectrum of these texts.
Moss, G. (2007) Literacy and Gender: Researching Texts, Contexts and Readers, Abingdon: Routledge.

Jane Coles          

Based on research, Moss makes an important contribution to the debates about boys’
literacy practices and the persistent attainment gap between boys and girls in this area.
She problematises over-simplified explanations and argues that much of the problem lies
in the structures of schooling and the role the reading curriculum plays in constructing a
hierarchy of learners.
Pennac, D. (2006) The Rights of the Reader, London: Walker Books.

Pennac is a passionate advocate of providing young people the space within which they
might develop the habit of reading for pleasure. He challenges many common practices
associated with reading within the school system and sets out his reading manifesto (pub-
lished originally in 1994 as Reads Like a Novel London: Quartet Books – widely available).
Traves, P. (2017) ‘Reading at 11–16’. In Richmond, J. et al., Curriculum and Assessment in English
11–19: A Better Plan, London: UKLA/Routledge.

This chapter, which provides an informative overview of reading in secondary English,

sits within a book that offers a vision of what English might look like in an alternative pol-
icy context. It is well informed and compiled by highly experienced teachers and writers.

It is worth having a look at the Carnegie Medal website (
carnegie.php), which lists all of the novels that have been shortlisted for the award each
year alongside the winners (usually announced in June). The Carnegie Medal is an annual
award made by children’s librarians for outstanding literature written for young people.
Schools participating in ‘shadowing’ projects, in which pupils read and review the short-
listed titles, are able to create their own home pages on the shadowing website. For details
of ‘The Shadowing Scheme’ see the Carnegie Medal webpage (www.carnegiegreenaway.
The United Kingdom Literacy Association (UKLA) publishes information, research and
other items of interest to English teachers (
Authors’ websites are a useful way to extend pupils’ interest in favourite writers. Try Ran-
dom House’s YouTube site for author interviews, book trailers and more (


Gill Anderson

Although writing development is talked about ‘in general’, it always happens ‘in
(Lucy Calkins, 1983, p. 7)
If we are successful, children will continue to write as themselves . . . What is
important is that children in school should write about what matters to them to
someone who matters to them.
(James Britton, 1982, p. 110)
The best writing is vigorous, committed, honest and interesting. We did not include
these qualities in our statements of attainment because they cannot be mapped onto
(Brian Cox, 1991, p. 147)

What was your own experience of learning to write, inside and outside school and what
kind of experiences of writing do you hope your pupils will have? This chapter sets out to
help you think more about those two important questions.
But first, and so often a useful way into writing – a story.
My brother came home from his final school English exam and told us he had written
his ‘usual’ story, about the bank robbery. It had plenty of dialogue and description and
the ‘the twist in the tale’ (which he knew to be a sign of a good story) was the revelation
that the apparently reliable narrator had been one of the bank robbers who had, in fact,
escaped. He revealed that the title he chose from that day’s list was ‘Curtains’. I can still
remember the mix of hilarity and horror that greeted his irreverent explanation that he
just wrote the story, same as always and then added a final line: ‘Curtains to you’! ‘And
anyway’, he added, ‘that’s the last time I’ll write it and the last time I’ll ever write a story’.
There are some assumptions that underpin this experience that are perhaps more last-
ing and more prevalent than you might think, including:

■■ the main purpose of writing in school is for assessment – of writing. There is little
link made to writing in the world or to the personal purposes of the writer;


■ writing is envisaged as a discrete and an innate individual skill that a pupil needs to
demonstrate periodically. There is little sense here of the way writing is related to
talk and reading or of how it may be connected to thinking or learning (in fact, the
successful repetition of the story over several years demonstrates that learning is not
what seemed to be required);
■ ‘doing well’ in the assessed writing depends on manipulating a limited and appar-
ently fixed set of generic features: dialogue, description, ‘a twist in the tale’;
■ it is therefore reasonable to expect pupils to write to order in highly controlled con-
ditions with the most minimal stimulus (the famous one-word titles). Pupils are not
required to engage affectively or to negotiate the task or the content and are not
required – and often do not expect – to have their own view of what good or useful
writing is.

There are assumptions indicated in this story which, at the very least, need more prob-
ing. If there are flaws in this kind of thinking, what are the alternatives and what kinds of
practice might support them?

By the end of this chapter, you will:

■ have reflected on your own history and identity as a writer and consid-
ered some of the values and assumptions that underpinned your experi-
ences of learning to write;
■ be aware of some more approaches to ‘getting writing going’ in the
classroom and where to find further ideas and resources to support your
developing practice;
■ have considered why and how you might respond to pupils’ writing;
■ understand some of the different theoretical approaches to thinking
about writing and about the teaching of writing and begin to situate your-
self within these debates.

Now try a piece of reflective writing based on Task 6.1.

Task 6.1 Writing autobiography

Try writing a reflective piece on your own history as a writer. This might include
some of the following:

1. What kind of writing tasks do you remember from your own education? Did
particular kinds of writing dominate at different stages; primary, secondary,
degree level or beyond? Was any rationale ever offered for this and reflecting
on it now, what do you think the rationale was? Is it one you agree with?


2. Do any pieces of writing stand out as particularly memorable or enjoyable? Try

to describe the processes and feelings involved in producing this writing. How
can you account for this experience?
3. How would you describe your own journey as a writer  – the high and low
points? If you ever struggled with any aspect particular aspect of writing  –
handwriting, spelling, dyslexia, expression  – it can be really helpful to think
about this and what did and didn’t help. If writing has always come easily, how
can you account for this?
4. Reflect on any significant writing you did outside school: diaries; fanzines; writ-
ing in role or to support play? How was this writing similar to or different from
school writing?
5. Think about the kinds of responses made to your writing by the teacher or by
others. What kinds of features were commented upon and how much sense
did these comments make? Can you think of one really helpful response any-
one has ever made to your writing and try to say something about what made
it helpful?
6. How aware were you of written language being different from the language you
spoke? If you write in other languages, you could reflect on any different con-
texts, relationships or practices surrounding these and your own developing
feelings about them.

Compare your experiences with some other student teachers’. In what ways might
your own experiences shape your values and expectations about what should
happen in the classroom and has anything you have seen in schools challenged
Discuss how you might get pupils involved in reflecting on their own writing
histories too.


Three stories of classroom writers and their writing
The stories that follow were collected in the course of work with PGCE student teachers
and master’s level work with a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT). They each reveal some-
thing different about writing processes and practices in the classroom. As you read them,
consider what choices the teacher has made in their planning and what kinds of experi-
ences of writing these pupils had.
The first story is about a pupil called Toby, who could be described as a resistant writer.

Toby is in Year 8 in a boys’ school. The data the school has collected about him present
him as a ‘below average’ pupil in English with a reading age of 8. He has difficulties with
spelling and says he hates poetry, which he thinks is ‘boring’ and ‘dead’. As illustrated
by the following extract from a conversation about tsunamis after a Geography lesson,
he likes to present himself as down-to-earth and actively resists complex vocabulary and
‘school knowledge’ that does not fit with his current identity.

Gill Anderson          

Zach:  Did you know miss, when the wave gets near the water that isn’t as deep, it
gets more slow and then its amplitude increases?
Imran:  What’s amplitude?
Jude:  Like, how high it is.
Toby:  Just say that then!
Zach:  It’s the proper word.
Toby: Whatever!

At the end of a sequence of four lessons, Toby wrote the following poem (spelling

The tornado ripping houses apart

churning the earth like a fork
spreading across the earth like
a wild fire.
It screams
like a baby crying.

Ripping trees out the ground.

anything in its path.
The tornado circles in
the air making cars,
trees, houses look like ants.

It roars like a hungry lioness

like a savage in the air
ripping branches and
tossing them in the air.
It is a demand in the wind.

The savage eating till it’s full

to the brim
spinning in the
wind like a whirlpool
churned and spat out like
a grown man spitting. It starts
to die down.

There is much to admire here by any standard, but for a pupil who is very far from being
an experienced or keen writer, it is a really significant achievement. So what kinds of
teaching and learning might account for this?
Toby’s teacher had picked up on a current enthusiasm amongst the boys for extreme
weather events and asked them to carry out their own research and present it in a way that
interested them. Toby presented detailed information about tornadoes, and his writing
reflects his ownership of the topic and his fascination with the possibility of some big
weather closer to home: ‘Most people think that you can’t get tornadoes in England but
there have been some before’. The teacher introduced the pupils to two poems, Whitman’s


‘Patroling Barnegat’ and Heaney’s ‘Storm on the Island’. Before reading the first poem,
they were given a ‘crunched’ version that contains every word from the text, like this:

a a advancing air along and and and beach beachy breasting by careering careering
combs combs confronting cutting daylight death-wind demoniac dim distance east-
erly edge gale group fierce firm fitfully flaring forms high hoarse in in incessant is
is lashing laughter milk-white milk-white midnight midnight murk muttering never
night of of of of on out piercing pealing red remitting roar roar running sand sand
savage savagest sea shadows shouts signal slanting slowly slush slush snow spirts
spray steadily steady storm struggling swirl that that the the the the the the the the
that the the the the their there those through through through till tireless trinity trin-
ity undertone warily watchful watching waves weird wending where wild wild with

Pupils were asked to use the words to create three sentences of their own (an alternative
to this would be to cut up the words from the poem and give them out in envelopes
and ask pairs or groups to construct their own poem by selecting from and arranging
the words in any way they liked, or to use cut and paste functions to manipulate the
text on a word processor). Readings of the poem followed, with extended, open-class
discussion about lines that interested the pupils. Individual observations became a
shared resource for the class. One pupil noticed the word ‘trinity’ and drawing on his
own experience of Catholicism explained how it made him think the storm was ‘all-
powerful like God in The Trinity’, leading to a discussion about how the readers of
poems create new readings by drawing on their own experiences. A group discussion
about ‘Storm on the Island’ saw Toby worrying away at the poem’s image of the spray
that ‘spits like a tame cat turned savage’. Toby spoke at some length about his nan’s
friendly tabby cat, Tommy, and how difficult it was to imagine him spitting; ‘it’s not
what you expect to happen like the cat wouldn’t be savage, so it’s more scary’. After
writing the poem, Toby spent some time discussing some of his language choices;
why he put the word ‘demolishing’ in a line on its own and why the present tense. He
then redrafted his poem for display on the classroom wall, with a second copy for his
grandmother’s fridge.
The second story is not about an individual writer, but about collaboration, role play
and the opportunities presented by digital technologies in a Year 8 class, 8T.

It is early on a Monday morning and a class of Year 8 boys are well into a scheme of work
about ‘news’. 8C are in the basement classroom, which is bare except for an inspiring
quotation or two and some graffiti-style doodles painted on the walls; ‘Don’t press this
button’, or ‘What happened here?’ beside a large red paint splat on the wall. Previously,
they have considered examples of different news reports from various media, reflect-
ing on issues of content, style and mode of production and audience and they are now
working from lesson to lesson in role as two competing media companies, each with TV,
radio and print sub-groups (for further details of such work, see Chapters 8 and 9 of this
volume). This morning’s task is to produce a print, radio or TV news report on the earlier
sighting of a bear in the school. They have only 25 minutes. Writing straight onto the class
set of iPads on their individual blogs they get underway.

Gill Anderson          

Some groups move to the walls and use aspects of the graffiti as prompts for impro-
vised drama to get things going, others start to search the Internet for information on
bears, some start writing on their own, others in pairs or groups within the sub-groups.
They form and reform physically like shoals of fish and, for a while, it looks unlikely that
they will all produce a finished piece in time. They discuss and amalgamate their ideas.
Their teacher, who works in role as commissioning news editor to begin with, now moves
into role as a teacher within the ‘bear in the school scenario’ and feeds in some prompts
to develop the content of the writing (‘there was a strange smell at the bottom of the
stairs during assembly’!). At some point, a few pupils decide to break the ‘stay in your
classroom’ rule and check whether it’s safe to go outside. Some are prompted to interview
other witnesses, such as Teaching Assistants who have been primed with extra pieces of
information about further sightings of the bear and the havoc it has caused. One of the TV
crews goes out to a courtyard to film the live broadcast on the iPads and after exactly 25
minutes they are back together watching and reading all six multi-modal reports directly
from the online blogs on the large interactive whiteboard. An absolutely serious discus-
sion follows in the course of which each piece is critically evaluated. Issues of content,
style, medium and audience arise.
The final story is about the writing of a bilingual pupil, newly arrived in a school in

Almaz has joined a Year 7 class half way through the autumn term. She arrived in the UK
from Eritrea having travelled through Sudan to escape the war. She attended school in
Eritrea and speaks and writes Tigrinya. She speaks hardly any English when she arrives.
By the beginning of January, Almaz has done some writing and drawing to introduce her-
self to her teacher and her teacher has written back. She now joins the class in exploring
the First World War novel Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo.
Almaz’s teacher communicated an initial interest in who Almaz is and what she knows,
and this resulted in a series of pieces about her life before the UK, which included some
words in her own language. Perhaps enabled by this interest, a very short time later,
Almaz began making predictions about the class novel and using writing to draw on her
own life experiences in making sense of the book cover from Private Peaceful. She also
made notes for herself in two languages in ways that support her learning as a bilingual
pupil in all sorts of ways; explaining the cultural associations attached to the rank of ‘Pri-
vate’, translating key words like ‘peaceful’, as well as developing personal readings of the
images on the book cover.

Writer identities
Perhaps the most obvious point is that in each case above, writing is not ‘taught’ as a
series of discrete or de-contextualised skills that can be ‘delivered’ in individual lessons
or ‘measured’ in a linear way. At no point did the class teacher teach a lesson ‘on similes’,
and yet Toby’s poem is full of them. Their stories could have included that Almaz has a
sheet pasted into the back of her book saying she is level 3c and her target is 3b, that Toby
is level 3 and has Special Educational Needs and that most of 8T are working between lev-
els 5 and 7, but that would not begin to do justice to the complexity of their writing stories.
Instead, you can see that each of the pieces of writing arises from a series of interactions


with peers and the teacher over time. The pupils have their own evolving and sometimes
fragile identities and histories as individuals and writers – and teachers need to find out
about and plan for them as part of the teaching and learning of writing. Here is Toby’s
teacher reflecting on his achievements:

Whilst Toby’s poem about the tornado was indeed an important outcome of this
particular lesson, I would suggest that the outcomes that were more meaningful, for
example a newfound engagement with poetry, happened over the course of a series
of lessons.
(Hannon, 2012)

One of the most important aspects of learning to write is learning to think of yourself as a
serious and successful writer, and it is part of your responsibility as an English teacher to
think creatively and sensitively about how you will contribute to this process for different
pupils in your class. Toby’s reading out his poem and discussing his language choices and
later displaying it at home and at school is one example. The boys in 8T have all the work
they write published online on their class blogs, so their writing is in the public domain
and they are all routinely expected to exercise the responsibility that goes with being a
public writer. This is not unproblematic, but does shift the status of their classroom writ-
ing and their own sense of themselves as writers in interesting and productive ways.
Now try Task 6.2.

Task 6.2 A case study of a writer

Write a detailed case study of your own about a particular pupil and the story of
a piece of writing they have done in a class you have taught or observed. Like
Toby’s teacher, you will want to reflect on the pupil’s starting point, the sequence
of interactions, lessons and learning that fed into the writing and the implications
for your own future planning.


Writing cannot be taught meaningfully in isolation from talk and reading. Toby’s poem
developed out of his reading of Geography textbooks, Internet sources, two particular
poems and out of many discussions with his peers and teacher that were open and flexible
enough to encompass his own feelings about life experiences (his nan’s cat), his interest in
tornadoes and his fascination with the possibility of experiencing one in England, his and
others’ readings of poetic imagery (‘The Trinity’) as well as philosophical reflection on
the nature of reading itself! The poem could not have been written without all this – and
this has strong implications for the way you organise your classroom, the kinds of talk and
relationships you encourage and the ways of working you establish.
Wide reading of engaging texts and collaboration in imaginative activities around those
is one of the surest routes to successful writing. One of the most helpful things you can read
to prepare yourself for teaching writing is The Reader in the Writer (Barrs and Cork, 2001).
This research shows how pupils learn about the sound and rhythm of texts through repeated

Gill Anderson          

performative readings. In part, this involves listening together as a class to strongly expres-
sive readings of shared classroom texts, often revisiting passages many times in the course
of working on them. Pupils are motivated to borrow and adapt the vocabulary, rhythms and
cadences of these texts for their own expressive and personal purposes. In Toby’s writing
too, there are traces of the poems he read. Here is his teacher again,

the influence of both Whitman and Heaney is clear. The line ‘like a savig in the air’ is
a direct reference to both poems, which use the word ‘savage’ to describe the storms.
Toby also makes reference to the tornado’s voice in his poem; he refers to how it
‘screams’, roars’ and ‘demands’, clearly echoing the ‘shouts of demoniac laughter’
from Whitman’s poem which Toby found so intriguing. He also draws on the image
of the spitting cat, but in his poem, it is the tornado that spits out what it has ‘eaten’
in its destruction.
(Hannon, 2012)

These literary ‘models’ have informed Toby’s writing but they have been passed through
the crucible of his own interests and experiences. I would suggest that it is also important
that he had opportunities to play creatively with the language of the poem in pre-reading
activities (the ‘crunched’ poem), before he ever heard the published version for the first
time and you may want to give more thought to this aspect of your own planning. All of
this has given him a purchase on the language, rhythms and structures of the poems to use
as a resource but it is certainly not as simple as setting out a checklist of poetic vocabulary
or techniques for pupils to include in their writing.
Taking part in group drama or pair work also helps pupils to build the imaginative
world of the text as well as to develop affective responses and can lead to rich, empathetic
and expressive writing (see the example of teaching Sachar’s Holes in Chapter 10 of this
book, ‘Drama in teaching and learning English’). Similarly, the complex and fluid way
the boys in 8T shifted between different roles is important: as actors in a scenario (pupils
in a school with an escaped bear), writers in role as members of a media empire and as
themselves (but also journalists published on the class blogs) critiquing their own and
other pupils’ work. You will want to go on thinking about and experimenting with ways of
using drama and role as a shared resource for pupils to draw on when they write.


As suggested at the start of this chapter, problems can arise when writing is approached as
a discrete, individual skill to be learned in school, primarily in order that it might be tested.
This is because writing is a socio-cultural practice, or set of practices. It involves people
making meaning and getting things done within a cultural context and using, adapting
and changing a set of cultural resources that are already established, including vocabulary,
grammar and genres. If we want to complain about poor service, for instance, there are
established ways we might set about doing this in writing. This view of writing needs to be
recognised in writing pedagogy, if pupils’ experiences of writing in the classroom are to be
personally meaningful and socially and culturally significant beyond the classroom – not
simply a set of tricks to be wheeled out to pass a school exam like the bank robbery story.
One implication is that it will be important to consider who the audience is for any
writing task. Not only can a clearly defined audience help pupils to imagine the reader at


the point of writing, it can also motivate writing and make it purposeful. There are three
aspects of audience worth considering when you are planning for classroom writing:

The self as audience

In the 1970s and 1980s, James Britton argued that, as teachers, we need to pay attention to
the kind of writing that helps pupils to think, and to the stage of writing which is mainly
‘a search for meaning that in its expression satisfies the writer’ (Britton, 1982, p. 150).
He called this ‘Expressive Writing’, which he characterised as writing that is close to the
self, derived from speech and where the writer’s attention is focussed mainly on emerging
meaning rather than on the words and structures used to communicate. You can probably
think of examples where you have written extended notes or written loose ‘abbreviated’
prose to help you work out ideas in the early stages of planning and writing an essay. We
can see something of this in Almaz’s writing as she works between two languages, some-
times in note form, to negotiate her own experiences across cultures with the demands of
the new school context and curriculum. Britton’s powerful contention was, that if we do
not give enough time and status to this kind of writing in the classroom (and in the context
of a bilingual pupil, this may include writing in the first language alongside English) and
instead rush too quickly to ‘performing’ in more elaborated public forms, we risk cutting
writers off from their most important resource: themselves.

Audiences within the classroom

Britton also argued that the teacher has a special role in ‘extending to the child a stable
audience’ (Britton, 1982, p. 97) and the case studies presented as stories above suggest
something of what that might look like. In each case, the teachers engage deeply and
thoughtfully with pupils, their lives, identities, interests and their writing and these reflec-
tions shape their planning. Pupils can form important audiences for each other’s writing,
in role or as critical response partners, giving feedback as readers on what they enjoyed
or thought was unclear, or as an audience to be entertained. Key Stage 4 pupils who have
argued over issues of real importance to them, perhaps over several weeks or terms, will
have each other in mind when they write and you will soon discover how much younger
pupils enjoy including their friends in their stories or drawing on shared cultural refer-
ences or ‘in jokes’.

Audiences beyond the classroom

What opportunities can you think of for making creative use of audiences beyond the
classroom such as writing books for younger children (including bilingual books) or con-
ducting oral history interviews in a local pensioner’s club? Love that Dog by Sharon
Creech (2001) is a lovely short book that can be used in many ways to inspire writing,
including suggesting ways that pupils might be encouraged to write (on paper or online)
to authors of texts they have read.

If we accept that genre is an important cultural resource for writing, it follows that
you will want to offer pupils opportunities to engage with a range of writing genres


and to be very clear about your rationale and pedagogy in doing so. Have a look at the
classroom activities in Task 6.3.

Task 6.3 Ideas to support writing in different genres

1. As a starting point for writing, give pupils a skeleton storyline or several ingredi-
ents to include, for example:
Write a story which includes all of the following – a monkey; a scarf; a bench;
a key; an old woman.
■ In groups, pupils write their story in a particular genre: romance, horror,
fairy tale, detective story, science fiction. Their first version should be written
together and could be just the opening with a specified time limit.
■ Each group should then read out their story or opening and the class can
say what they think the genre is and why. This can lead to wide-ranging
discussion of their own experience of these genres that will be drawn from
a complex web of sources including literary texts, film, advertising and com-
puter games. Individuals within the class may well have areas of particular
knowledge and experience that can be made available for everyone to draw
on and this is also a valuable source of information for you about their cul-
tural tastes and interests.
To extend the task:
■ If the groups have written only the opening, they can complete the story
■ If they have completed the story, within the groups they can try re-writing the
first paragraph in different styles: first person narration, unreliable narrator,
stream of consciousness, opening with dialogue, opening with scene-set-
ting. They can then compare and discuss how it changes the story and their
responses in each case.
■ Pupils can also be asked to edit their stories down to 100 words or 50
words and then explore what is left out of these versions – as another way
of focussing critical attention on genre indicators.
2. Pupils can be asked in pairs or threes to consider three different versions of
a text ‘type’. This works well using authentic texts and when pupils are posi-
tioned in roles that give them some authority such as the following:
■ Give pupils three letters written by teenagers applying for a part-time job, or
three critical essays. They discuss them and put them in order of preference.
For example, as employers, they discuss how they would rank the letters for
short-listing, or as examiners they discuss which grades they would award,
then share their decisions with the whole class. They should defend their
choices and then pool their ideas as a class about the criteria they devel-
oped to make these decisions. The point is not to get the order ‘right’, but
to generate and evaluate the range of criteria at play.
3. To support pupils in discursive writing, produce 15 statement cards with a
range of points on a topic.
■ Working in pairs, they should discard any they think are not relevant to their
own argument and then arrange the cards in any way that makes sense to


them to show how their argument will develop. They should then justify their
arrangement in a larger group.
■ You can also ask them to produce a specific arrangement  – a ‘diamond
nine’ shape with a hierarchy of points, or an agree/disagree pile or continu-
um of descending order for each point.
■ A similar activity can be done with a ‘statement line’ on the floor of the
classroom which can be made with string or an imagined line between two
fixed points, to represent a statement of an argument or viewpoint. Pupils
are asked to stand at a distance in relation to the line to show to what extent
they agree or disagree with the statement and are then asked to explain
their view. This gives opportunities to draw attention to the ideas at play, but
also to practise and highlight language structures from the genre: ‘to some
extent’, ‘while I agree with . . . I also think that . . .’.

These activities allow pupils to engage together, with both content and aspects of lan-
guage, form and structure. Importantly, they draw on what pupils already know about
genre and do not assume they start from a blank sheet and need to be given a list of pre-
scriptive conventions or criteria. They thus engage with genres that may be more or less
familiar, making explicit some of the features and expectations of each but, crucially, also
allowing for debate about the range, purpose and value of the conventions themselves.
Now try the planning exercise in Task 6.4.

Task 6.4 Planning a sequence of lessons

1. Discuss with your mentor the next opportunity you have to plan a sequence of
lessons or unit of work. Whatever the focus of the unit, there will be occasions
when pupils are required to write. Discuss how they can be supported in this,
and how reading, speaking and listening activities might work together with
2. Now plan the sequence and try to include collaborative interaction with inspir-
ing texts, drama or role play and a range of purposes, audiences and genres
for writing.


Over the last four decades there have been hotly contested debates about the teaching of
writing in schools in the UK and internationally, resulting in a range of practices being
developed by teachers as well as national policy frameworks being introduced by succes-
sive governments. The Further reading section at the end of this chapter suggests ways
of finding out more.
One of these debates centres on the extent to which the teaching of writing should
focus on the text and its features or the writer and writing processes. This is some-
times represented rather simplistically as a debate about ‘Process’ versus ‘Genre’ models


■ Table 6.1 Two sequences for teaching writing

Qualifications and Curriculum Authority National Writing Project (1985)

(QCA) (2007)

■ Establish clear aims ■ Motivation to write

■ Provide a relevant model ■ Brainstorming
■ Explore the features of the text ■ Reflection
■ Define the conventions ■ Making preliminary notes
■ Demonstrate how it is written ■ Drafting
■ Compose together ■ Revising
■ Scaffold the first attempts ■ Editing
■ Independent writing ■ Writing final copy
■ Draw out learning ■ Publishing/Display
■ Response from readers

of writing and a straightforward account of these traditions can be found in Teaching

English (Brindley, 1994, p. 186). Further complications have arisen from the fact that
process and genre approaches (and there are many versions of each) have become asso-
ciated with particular teaching strategies. Have a look at Table 6.1 to see how these might
be represented.
Having studied Table 6.1, do Task 6.5.

Task 6.5 Investigating sequences for the

teaching of writing

1. Discuss the two sequences for the teaching of writing that are shown in
Table 6.1. Which would you say best describes the teaching you have observed
in your school experience?
2. Can you think of a particular lesson that clearly maps on to one or the other
and what were the outcomes for pupils in terms of their experience of
3. Have you seen lessons where elements of both are in operation?
4. What are your own views about the relationships, values and assumptions that
underpin each sequence?


If teachers have a special role as readers of their pupils’ writing, then this brings respon-
sibilities with it. In the first instance, you should always try to respond to the content and
to what the pupil has achieved. Consider how you will ensure the best qualities of the
writing are visible and how you will avoid your response being over-determined by a par-
ticular set of narrow assessment criteria. Remind yourself of the quotation from the Cox
Report at the beginning of this chapter and of the teacher’s responses to Toby’s writing
earlier. It is very important indeed to be clear about the audiences for and purposes of
your responses and one of the best ways of working towards this is to read a short booklet
called English in the Black Box (Marshall and Wiliam, 2006). Drawing on key findings
from their classroom research, some of the principled guidance they offer to English
teachers includes:

■■ Avoid deficit models of pupils’ writing. Start from what the pupil can do and in the
first instance, respond to the content and what seems to have interested them.
■■ Think of your responses as part of a dialogue. What questions are raised by the writ-
ing for you as a reader and what would you like to ask the writer to help you better
understand their purposes? Sometimes the most effective responses from a teacher
come in the form of oral feedback at the point of writing or as part of a face to face
discussion of a draft, when there is still some possibility of making changes. Written
responses can form part of a dialogue too and many teachers find it effective to set
aside class time for pupils to respond to written comments with further writing or
with an answer, perhaps in a special journal dedicated to this purpose, or in a dia-
logue page at the back of their exercise book.
■■ Your responses as a teacher will provide a model for pupils to assess their own
writing and to act as peer response partners for each other. Many of the activities
described in this chapter, such as short-listing from application letters or debating
the merits of a selection of critical essays, will help to build what can be described as
‘guild knowledge’ about what makes for interesting and effective writing (Marshall
and Wiliam, 2006, p. 5). Helping pupils to build their own critical judgements about
writing is one of the most important parts of your role.


This chapter has encouraged you to explore you own experiences as a writer in order
to reflect on the different purposes, challenges and rewards of writing and also the
values that underpin the teaching of writing as part of the school curriculum.
Classroom writing should build on pupils’ interests and experiences and in turn build
their writer identities and their sense of how writing can serve their own purposes, be-
yond as well as within the classroom. In terms of pedagogy, this means allowing pupils
some choice and scope to negotiate the form and content of their writing but you will
also want to consider what pupils draw on when they write. Some suggestions made
in this chapter include: collaborative and inclusive approaches to working with rich lit-
erary texts, using drama and role play, creative thinking about audience and a properly
complicated view of genre that avoids reductive over-simplification but does provide

Gill Anderson          

scaffolding for early attempts with less familiar genres. Digital technologies can lead
to collaboration in varying forms of multimodal text design and can lend purpose and
seriousness to pupils’ writing through new kinds of drafting processes, publication,
audiences and responses. As time goes on, you will want to consider the benefits of
writing alongside your pupils as part of the way you build a community of writers able
to critically evaluate their own and others’ work (see information about the National
Writing Project included in the recommendations below).
Try to follow up the suggestions below to help you find out more about debates
around writing. Doing so will enable you, over time, to become a professional with
views and values of your own to inform the decisions you make about your writing

Barrs, M. and Cork, V. (2001) The Reader in the Writer, London: Centre for Language in Primary

Through a series of engaging, careful and detailed case studies, this research builds up
a rich and fine-grained picture of how writing develops in classrooms and draws clear
practical conclusions about what kinds of pedagogy support it.
Cremin, T. and Myhill, D. (2012) Writing Voices: Creating Communities of Writers, Abingdon:

As well as looking at the subject of school writing from many angles and offering a wealth
of ideas for classroom approaches, this excellent book also offers a clear overview of key
debates including the role of grammar in improving writing, process and genre models
and gender and writing.
Loane, G. and Muir, S. (2017) Developing Young Writers in the Classroom: I’ve Got Something to
Say, Abingdon: Routledge.

An uncompromising stance is taken about inspiring pupils to write, based on practical,

stimulating activities and ideas from working with literature and poetry.
Marshall, B. and Wiliam, D. (2006) English Inside the Black Box, London: King’s College, London.

Part of a larger research project into assessment, Marshall and Wiliam’s excellent research
on what formative assessment looks like in the English classroom and how you might go
about doing it, repays careful reading.

English and Media Centre (
EMC’s excellent publications are constantly updated and closely linked to the curriculum.
Browse online and pay-per- download to access some outstanding teaching resources that
will really help you develop your own writing pedagogy.


National Writing Project (

This website explains the aims and findings of the Teachers as Writers Project, which has
been running in the UK since 2008. The project aims to encourage teachers’ own writing
but also to promote reflection on writing in classrooms and to help teachers consider ways
of writing alongside their pupils. You can also read or download a short article here by
Simon Wrigley and Jeni Smith on the history and development of the project, as well as
information on how to join or set up a Teachers as Writers group near you.

The author would like to thank the pupils and teachers who have made such a valuable
contribution to the development of this chapter.


Anne Turvey

No child should be expected to cast off the language and culture of the home as he
crosses the school threshold, nor to live and act as though school and home repre-
sent two totally separate and different cultures which have to be kept firmly apart.
(A Language for Life, Department of Education and
Science (DES), 1975, para 20.5)

English is my first language; it is my father’s second language. Although he speaks

relatively fluently now, he has a strong accent and his English is peppered with
grammatical mistakes. What does it mean to use your ‘own’ language? What does
it mean to ‘own’ a language? I speak a different English to my father than I do to
my English friends. I speak a different Farsi to my Anglo-Iranian contemporaries
than I do to my family. There are differences within the languages that I speak as
well as differences between them. It takes time to see these differences as strengths
and not as weaknesses, to see them as sources of pleasure and not of pain, and
to think of them as links to communities rather than as alienating factors from
(English student teacher, 2001)

Verbal hygiene comes into being whenever people reflect on language in a critical
(in the sense of ‘evaluative’) way. The potential for it is latent in every communi-
cative act, and the impulse behind it pervades our habits of thought and behaviour.
I have never met anyone who did not subscribe, in one way or another, to the belief
that language can be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, ‘good’ or ‘bad’, more or less ‘effective’
or ‘appropriate’. Of course, there is massive disagreement about what values to
espouse, and how to define them. Yet however people may pick and choose, it is rare
to find anyone rejecting altogether the idea that there is some legitimate authority
in language. We are all of us closet prescriptivists – or, as I prefer to put it, verbal
(Deborah Cameron, 1995, p. 9)


As teachers, we need a properly complicated model of language and language develop-
ment. We need to see the roots and purposes of language as irreducibly social and ines-
capably individual: individual in that your representation of the world is different from
mine; social in that my representation is the result of countless social interactions where
my language is shaped and shared and re-shaped. The way we use language is always and
everywhere affected by questions of time, family, culture, education, friendship, history
and power. It therefore matters very much how language enters people’s lives and what
factors influence its development. Education and schooling are just one part of a complex
set of relationships that shapes our language and our views about language.
Some of you will have anxieties about what you do not know (or think you do not
know) about language. Others of you, for reasons of education, employment or personal
interest, will feel more confident, particularly in what you know about the structures and
formal patterns of language – namely, the grammar of language. But, as Deborah Cam-
eron suggests, you will all have views about language and probably about its place in the
English curriculum. You will be asking questions about the linguistic and grammatical
knowledge an English teacher needs in order to support pupils’ learning. You will be
wondering which parts of this knowledge and how much of it should be presented to the
pupils themselves and if it is possible to make such knowledge both useful and interesting
to them.

By the end of this chapter, you will have:

■ explored your own attitudes to language and grammar;

■ considered the knowledge you and your pupils have about language and
grammar and ways to build on this knowledge;
■ considered the role of knowledge about language and the place of gram-
mar teaching in the English classroom.

Before you read further, undertake the activities in Task 7.1.

Task 7.1 A language autobiography

The purpose of this task is to help you to reflect on your own development as a
language user so that you can come to a better understanding of pupils’ develop-
ment with, through and in language.

Read the extract from a PGCE student’s language autobiography and answer the
questions that follow it.


In Mauritius where I come from, English is the ‘official language’, the language
of the civil service and bureaucracy. It is the language that gets you through
examinations but not through school, where instruction is mediated through
French and sometimes, less officially, through Creole.
Because English is far removed from everyday life, it has no bearing on
activities such as getting up, enjoying yourself, the seaside, the market, rotis,
chapatis, fast motorcycles racing down the street on Saturday nights, our mass
colourful festivals. English can convey the facts about what happens but it does
not raise the sights and smells of life as Creole does.
And yet when a Mauritian child goes to school from home, she has to learn
to speak French, forget the use of Creole or Bhogpun (a dialect of Hindi, spo-
ken by Indo-Mauritians in rural areas) and learn to speak French and English,
with all the subsequent effects of what dropping the home language means.
A barrier is created between home and school.
I am sure that many of the students in London schools feel a similar barrier
when they come to school. I am also sure that any consideration of teaching
and learning in school must be based on an understanding of language and
culture. I would want all my fellow PGCE students to consider this question at
the beginning of our course: What does English mean to you, and do you think
that it means the same thing to everyone you will teach?
Seeing my own position and the way I am in part defined by my relation to
English has helped me to think about the multiple and challenging identities
of my students. I  hope that I  can help my students to use writing in such a
powerful way.

■ What do you think the writer means when she says she is ‘defined in part by
my relation to English’?
■ How would you describe the writer’s ‘relation to English’?
■ In what ways can language create a barrier between home and school?
■ Do you think the issues the writer raises are relevant in your school?

Plan and write your own language autobiography. This could include the following:

■ the story behind your name/your nickname

■ family sayings
■ the language of home
■ the language of school
■ the language of the playground
■ your memories of learning to read and write
■ having an accent
■ speaking a dialect
■ times when you have felt self-conscious, ashamed, proud or defiant about the
way you speak
■ speaking/reading/writing more than one language

Make a list of the language groups to which you belong (you might prefer to rep-
resent this as a set of circles – possibly interlocking – or as a spidergram or other
visual representation).


■ What identifies the membership of these groups? Is it: age; shared history;
specialist vocabulary; degree of formal/standard language; a special coded
language that excludes some; degree of slang; a second or third ‘language’ –
none of these; something else?
■ Can you choose the language groups to which you belong?
■ Is membership fixed for life?


Make a sentence from the following words:

tea, Jamie, biscuits, his, for, likes, chocolate

Without too much thought, there are a number of possible sentences you might have

1. Jamie likes chocolate biscuits for his tea.

2. Jamie, for his tea, likes chocolate biscuits.
3. For his tea, Jamie likes chocolate biscuits.
4. For tea, Jamie likes his chocolate biscuits.

What do you know that enabled you to make a sentence(s)?

Can you describe the structure of the sentence(s) you made?
To answer these questions, you draw on your knowledge of the world – a world where
‘tea’ refers to a beverage but also to a particular mealtime, where chocolate biscuits are
eaten, and so on. As well as this cultural knowledge, you draw on your knowledge of how
language works to make meaning. You knew instinctively if a sentence you generated
‘worked’ by asking yourself the question, ‘does it make sense?’ and you knew just as
confidently if it didn’t ‘sound right’. If you decided that the word ‘Jamie’ might be the
first word of a sentence, you then began looking for ways to say something about Jamie
and you were probably trying out possibilities in your head to do this. You worked on a
hunch that this might involve the word ‘likes’ so you put that next and then there were
various ways to continue the story of Jamie. ‘Likes what?’ you might have asked yourself,
because in the system of English grammar it would be unusual not to have this question
answered: you can’t just like in English; you have to like something. Or to put it another
way: ‘to like’ is a transitive verb in English because it needs an object. So, the concept
of ‘person doing something’ led you to look for the object of the liking – the chocolate
biscuits – and then you had to decide what to do with the phrase ‘for his tea’? Well, you
could move it around and as a result achieve different effects.
As this brief description should make clear, you know quite complex things about
words and how they can be put together in different ways to convey meaning. Your pupils
know these things too.

The second question above – Can you describe the structure of the sentence(s) you made? –
might have given you pause for thought, some of you more than others, depending on your


confidence in handling those terms and specialist vocabulary used to discuss language,
sometimes called a ‘metalanguage’. We will return to this question of a metalanguage and
its place in describing language; but for now, let us explore what such a description might
look like in a way that should make sense to everyone.
Each of the sentences above has a slightly different ‘meaning’ that linguists say is ‘real-
ised in the grammar’. For example, if you chose to start the sentence with ‘Jamie’ as in
sentence (1), you have started with what is sometimes referred to as the ‘subject’ of the
sentence. You are drawing attention to Jamie, as opposed to any of the other people in the
world whose actions or feelings or states of mind might be commented on. You are also pre-
paring your listener/reader to find out something about Jamie, which turns out to be some-
thing Jamie does – he ‘likes’ (it is possible to categorise the kind of verb here – likes – as a
‘mental state’ as opposed to an ‘action’). If, on the other hand, you began the sentence with
the phrase ‘For his tea’ as in (3), you are emphasising the time when Jamie likes chocolate
biscuits – for tea but maybe not for breakfast, lunch or dinner, although in the real world this
proposition is debatable given the natural attraction between people and chocolate biscuits.
When the sentence begins with that phrase about time, ‘For his tea’ (sometimes called
an adverbial, because it tells us when an action was done), there is a different effect from
a sentence beginning with ‘Jamie’. The adverbial mobilises a different set of expectations,
knowledge and speculation – about a world where someone likes to eat chocolate biscuits
at a particular time of day called ‘tea’. He may, of course, like to eat them at other times of
the day and he may like to eat other things with them; but that cannot be settled yet. Sen-
tence (4) has the same basic structure as (3), which in grammatical terms is described as:
adverbial – subject – verb – direct object. But there is an interesting shift in (4): the word
‘his’ has left its place by ‘tea’, where it did not really suggest ‘possession’ as in ‘his book’
or ‘his pen’, and attached itself to the chocolate biscuits where it does suggest some kind
of ownership, thus opening up a new set of possibilities about Jamie’s world where more
than one kind of chocolate biscuit exists – his, not anyone else’s – and where it matters
whose chocolate biscuits you eat for tea.
In producing the different sentences, you demonstrated that you have understood the
concept of a sentence and how the different bits of it work together. You did not need to
know what the different bits were called in order to manipulate them in sophisticated
ways. On the other hand, when it came to describing the structure of the different sen-
tences, as opposed to producing them, some of you will have felt confident in using
terms and phrases, those labels for the concepts that are meaningful only in so far as the
concepts they describe are understood. If you did use the metalanguage, you probably
referred to such things as ‘subjects and objects’, ‘clauses and phrases’, ‘nouns and verbs’,
‘adverbials and possessives’. This is one kind of knowledge about language that you will
have met and it is the one that often intimidates the uninitiated. But it is only part of the
picture and not the place to begin a discussion of grammar.
Now try the grammar game in Task 7.2 with two or three other student teachers if

Task 7.2 Cave words – a grammar game

The purpose of this task is to encourage discussion about what grammar is and
what it is for. One way to approach this is to imagine language without it. The


following activity can be adapted to suit any number of people, including pupils.
You and your community have a language consisting of only the words

big go fire burn kill

eat man hot small knife
tiger rabbit hill home axe
tree water dead run woman

In groups of three or four devise a scenario and hold a conversation using only
these words. After rehearsal, present your improvisation to a larger group, if pos-

Now consider the following questions:

■ What were you able to communicate in your language?
■ What was hard to communicate?
■ What other resources did you draw on?
■ What kinds of words are included in your vocabulary and what are not?
■ What decisions were made about word order? Where did these decisions
come from?

The ‘grammar game’ (Task 7.2) helps you to think about the place of grammar in commu-
nication, spoken as well as written. The activity was devised by Michael Swan and I draw
here on his commentary in his book Grammar (Swan, 2005). In playing the game, you
will probably have discovered that your language would benefit from having:

1. a way to indicate how one element in the language is linked to another: what goes
with what. You say to a member of your community the three words: tiger-big-hill.
The context is likely to suggest the meaning, but it is not absolutely clear if there is
a big tiger on the hill or a tiger on the big hill. It might not matter that much in some
situations, but what about: tiger-dead-man?
2. a way to indicate roles and relationships in the language: who does what to whom
and where and when? If you say tiger-woman-kill, all sorts of things are not as clear
as you would like them to be.
3. a way to ask questions and give commands as well as make statements. Are the fol-
lowing pairs of words statements, questions or commands: tiger-dead; woman-home;

There are a number of ways in which you could give your language what it lacks. For
(1), one way to show what goes with what would be to invent a rule that says you put the
word for a quality immediately before or immediately after the word for the thing that has
the quality: ‘big tiger’; ‘rabbit small’.
To distinguish the ‘doer’ from the ‘done to’ (2), you could invent a rule about word
order. Alternatively, you could add something to a word to show its function. So, add

Anne Turvey          

an ‘a’ to a word – ‘tiger’ – and it means the word is the ‘agent’ or ‘doer’; add ‘ob’ and it
means the word is the ‘object’ or ‘done to’: ‘Tigera kill womanob’ versus ‘Womana kill
tigerob’. Problem solved?
For (3) you could rely on tone of voice. Or you could invent some ‘little words’ that
always go at the beginning if you’re asking a question and not if you’re making a state-
ment. ‘Dap man kill tiger?’ is the question; ‘man kill tiger’ is the statement.
Working out such strategies for making meanings that are more complex than a sim-
ple one-to-one correspondence between a word and an object and its accompanying
characteristics – tiger, big – or between a word and an event, situation or state of affairs in
the world – kill, dead – has involved you in devising a grammar for your language. Michael
Swan describes grammar as ‘essentially a limited set of devices for expressing certain kinds
of necessary meaning that cannot be conveyed by referential vocabulary alone’ (ibid., p. 7).
He has called grammar the ‘glue’ that holds the bits together in meaningful ways. If you
accept that this is what grammar is and what it is for – making meaning in language – then
you should be confident that you already know a lot about grammar and how it works.


When you produced the ‘Jamie’ sentences, you were able to construct a sentence because
you have a great deal of knowledge, both implicit and explicit, about the way grammar
works in English to make meaning:

■■ you recognise the forms of words and how we alter them to do specific jobs;
■■ you recognise classes of words (and phrases) and how they usually function;
■■ you identify word order from your knowledge of different possible sentence

Where things can get tricky is when you encounter the word ‘grammar’. One of the
things that cause a problem is that grammar is used to mean different things and it is not
always made clear which meaning is being used. Grammar can mean the capacities and
knowledge in your and your pupils’ heads. You saw with the Jamie exercise that whether
or not you are confident in using terminology, you understand the concept of a sentence
and its constituent parts. In addition, you found that you can actually talk about what you
are able to do to form sentences. In your teaching, might it not be helpful and interesting
to have a way of talking with your pupils about how language works and what we know
about it – that is, to have a shared metalanguage? Grammar is sometimes taken to mean
‘sentence grammar’ and so refers to a specific way of talking about how words within
a sentence are combined to make meaning. Finally, grammar can refer to a course of
explicit instruction in the structural aspects of language and so some of you feel you
‘missed out’ because you were not ‘taught grammar’.
So, grammar can mean:

1. capacities and knowledge in people’s heads;

2. a metalanguage;
3. a level in the language called sentence grammar;
4. a course of instruction.

           Teaching language and grammar

The danger in starting with (4) and not taking account of (1–3) is that we end up
with lists of terms or injunctions to teach ‘the function of the pronoun’ or ‘complex and
compound sentences’. The process of finding things out about language with pupils is
truncated or completely pushed aside in a focus on observing rules.
What we need is coherent knowledge deployed to make sense of language in use. Let
us try putting some of this knowledge to work with one kind of ‘text in the world’ – a
joke – that often depends for its effect on grammatical ambiguities. Before we launch into
how this works in particular examples, here are some helpful pieces of metalanguage:

1. phonology – the sounds that make up the language;

2. morphology – the way words themselves are structured and can change their form to
express differences in meaning;
3. lexis – the individual words of the language and the way they can fulfil different
4. syntax – the way the words are structured into phrases, clauses and sentences.

It is no joke – or is it?
Now, a joke:

How do you make a cat drink?/That’s easy. Put it in a liquidiser.

The joke depends on the phrase ‘make a cat drink’, which can have two meanings, each
of which is realised in the grammar in different ways.
Meaning one: how can you persuade or force a cat to drink. This depends on two
things: (1) the lexical range of meanings around the word ‘make’ in English: it can mean
‘to force’ as well as ‘to produce’ and it is pronounced and spelled exactly the same for
both meanings; (2) the way a word can belong to different ‘classes’ depending on the job
it does in a sentence. If ‘make’ means ‘to force’ as it does here, then ‘a cat’ (a noun phrase
made up of a determiner ‘a’ – sometimes called the indefinite article – and the noun ‘cat’)
is the ‘object’ of the verb, ‘to make’, and the word ‘drink’ is another verb, in a shortened
form of the infinitive ‘to drink’.
Meaning two: how do you make a beverage called ‘a cat drink’? Again, the different
meanings of the word ‘make’ are exploited. Here too, word class is key. Now the deter-
miner, ‘a’, introduces the slightly more complex noun phrase, ‘a cat drink’, where ‘drink’
is now a noun and the word ‘cat’, which still looks like a noun, occupies an adjectival slot
before the noun ‘drink’. Words can shift class/shift function, and this can have a profound
effect on the meaning.
In English there is nothing about the structure of each sentence (the syntax) to
indicate the different meanings; nor is there anything about the words themselves (the
morphology) where ‘cat’ with an adjectival function might have had a different form,
a different ‘inflection’ – ‘cat-e’ or ‘cat-o’ maybe – from the one it has with a noun
function. This is to say, it might have had to ‘agree with the noun’ as adjectives do
in some languages. In other languages, syntax and morphology work differently and
one might speculate about the success of the ‘cat drink’ joke in other languages. How
would it work?
Now it is time for you to consider jokes in a little more depth in Task 7.3.


Task 7.3 Jokes: it’s the way you tell ’em, or it all
depends on the grammar?
The purpose of this task is to see if you can put grammatical description to work
in analysing one kind of ‘text in the world’: the joke. You might consider the op-
portunities for doing this kind of language work with pupils. Most people like jokes!

(a) Try to analyse the following jokes, using the categories introduced earlier: pho-
nology, morphology, lexis and syntax.
(b) What else, apart from grammatical categories, do the jokes depend on for their
(c) Collect examples of your own and analyse them in relation to (a) and (b).
■ Be alert! Your country needs lerts.
■ What’s black and white and red all over?/A newspaper.
■ Why did the lettuce blush?/He saw the salad dressing.
■ Have you got a light, Mac?/No, but I’ve got a dark brown (or dark, brown)
■ Do you believe in clubs for children?/Only if kindness fails.
■ ‘The bowler’s Holding, the batsman’s Willey’ (allegedly said by Brian John-
ston, cricket commentator). Michael Holding played for the West Indies and
Peter Willey for England.


When you made the Jamie sentences and when you analysed jokes you drew on both
explicit and implicit knowledge. Some further points about your knowledge:

■ your knowledge has different layers;

■ you are drawing on word knowledge and sentence knowledge;
■ you ‘map’ the different layers of your knowledge together.

It would now be appropriate to explore a little further what we understand by the ‘different
layers of your knowledge’ about language and how it works. Figure 7.1 is based on Kath-
arine Perera’s work (1984) with children and her investigations into what they know about
and can do with language. This model offers one way you might investigate – with each
other and with pupils – how the different layers of language work together when we meet
a text. One of the strengths of the model is that it encourages you to think about what you
already know about language in the world, while suggesting areas of knowledge about
the formal options in the language, the subjects of grammatical and linguistic description,
that you may be less confident about.

A speech
Jokes were one kind of ‘text in the world’. Let’s consider another – a speech. The example
that follows is well known and often quoted: the speech delivered by Earl Spencer at the
funeral service for his sister, Diana, Princess of Wales, in September 1997.

           Teaching language and grammar

Layers Areas of

Culture About cultural settings and institutions, social Language in

relations, beliefs and expectations, conventions, society

Spoken Discourse About varieties of language, style, genres, types of Analysis of

text, audiences, purposes discourse
Textual About strategies for organising whole texts,
sequencing, paragraphing, coherence and cohesion
Wording About wordings within texts, vocabulary choices, Grammar
text sentences and word order, sentence structure,
clauses, phrases, word classes

Words About word formation and structure, origins of words, Morphology,

spelling, sounds and letters Phonology,
Substance About sounds and scripts and codes and media – the
physical realisation of language

■■ Figure 7.1  Layers of understanding about language

First, try to watch/listen to a recording of the speech on You Tube (

You might begin by watching it with no sound and then listening to it with no picture,
or vice versa. Do either or both of these, if you can, before you look at a printed version of
the speech. Then look at Perera’s diagram and consider this question: what understanding
of ‘culture’ are you drawing on to make sense of the speech, even before you look at the
text? Such understanding is fundamental to an interpretation of this text ‘in the world’
and it is something worth making explicit in discussion with your pupils. What are the
cultural understandings you and your pupils share? What do your pupils share with each
other, and where are the differences and tensions? Together you will be able to answer
this question – about culture and language in culture – in considerable depth and detail.
The discussion with pupils could go along these lines:
What do you know about that time in September 1997 and about the day of the funeral
itself? Did anyone you know watch the service on television? In England? What was their
mood as they watched it?
Start with the person giving the speech: a brother, but one who is positioned in com-
plicated and controversial ways in relation to his sister who is the subject of the speech, to
other members of his immediate family and to ‘the royal family’.
What does that phrase, ‘royal family’ mean to you? Does the camera take in these
other family members? What might you expect a brother to say about his sister in such a
Think of the setting – Westminster Abbey – and all that this conveys about institutional
power, as well as about a certain kind of public religious practice. As Spencer takes his
place to give the speech, can you ‘read’ the various symbols within the camera frame?
Where does he stand and what is the effect of that?
A eulogy is a particular kind of spoken text and we bring to it certain expectations.
Does Spencer’s speech fit what you know of a eulogy? The occasion is very formal and

Anne Turvey          

very public: how was this established at the time? When you listen to Spencer’s words, are
you conscious of any variation in pitch, pace, tone and emotion? Does his delivery seem
in keeping or at odds with the setting?
At the end of the speech there was a gradual build-up of applause, something that was
seen as both surprising and shocking at the time? Why was this? Would the effect be the
same in other ‘religious buildings’ that you can think of?
There follows an extract from the beginning of Earl Spencer’s speech at the funeral of
his sister, Lady Diana Spencer, at Westminster Abbey on 6 September 1997:

I stand before you today, the representative of a family in grief, in a country in

mourning, before a world in shock.
We are all united, not only in our desire to pay our respects to Diana, but rather
in our need to do so.
For such was her extraordinary appeal that the tens of millions of people taking
part in this service all over the world, via television and radio, who never actually met
her, feel that they, too, lost someone close to them in the early hours of Sunday morn-
ing. It is a more remarkable tribute to Diana than I can ever hope to offer her today.
Diana was the very essence of compassion, of duty, of style, of beauty. All over
the world she was a symbol of selfless humanity, a standard-bearer for the rights of
the truly downtrodden, a very British girl who transcended nationality. Someone
with a natural nobility who was classless and who proved in the last year that she
needed no royal title to continue to generate her particular brand of magic.
Today is our chance to say thank you for the way you brightened our lives, even
though God granted you but half a life. We will all feel cheated always that you were
taken from us so young, and yet we must learn to be grateful that you came along
at all.
Only now you are gone do we truly appreciate what we are now without, and we
want you to know that life without you is very, very difficult.
We have all despaired at our loss over the past week, and only the strength of the
message you gave us through your years of giving has afforded us the strength to
move forward.
There is a temptation to rush to canonise your memory. There is no need to do so.
You stand tall enough as a human being of unique qualities not to need to be seen
as a saint.
Indeed, to sanctify your memory would be to miss out on the very core of your
being, your wonderfully mischievous sense of humour, with a laugh that bent you
double. Your joy for life transmitted wherever you took your smile and the sparkle
in those unforgettable eyes. Your boundless energy, which you could barely contain.
But your greatest gift was your intuition, and it was a gift you used wisely. This
is what underpinned all your other wonderful attributes, and if we look to analyse
what it was about you that had such a wide appeal, we find it in your instinctive feel
for what was really important in all our lives. Without your God-given sensitivity we
would be immersed in greater ignorance at the anguish of Aids and HIV sufferers, the
plight of the homeless, the isolation of lepers, the random destruction of landmines.
Diana explained to me once that it was her innermost feelings of suffering that
made it possible for her to connect with her constituency of the rejected.

Now undertake Task 7.4.


Task 7.4 Earl Spencer’s speech

Consider the extract from Earl Spencer’s speech. Use the layers in Perera’s di-
agram (Figure 7.1) to analyse this extract. Not everything you might want to say
about the speech will map simply on to a layer. Are there things you would want to
draw attention to with your pupils that do not seem to ‘fit’ the diagram?
In both the textual and the wording sections of Perera’s diagram, you could
have considered the ‘figures of speech’ Spencer uses, to hold the speech togeth-
er and to make an impact through:

■ sound (alliteration, onomatopoeia, assonance, rhythm, rhyme);

■ meaning (metaphor, personification, simile, hyperbole).

How do these contribute to the shifting tone of the speech: admiration, affection,
despair, anger?

In your analysis, as you work down to the level of grammar and its sub-sections, you
will want to make links with grammatical resources in the language that are available to
the speaker/writer. For example, why does Spencer shift pronouns in the course of the
speech? Another way to ask this question about the grammatical aspects of any text is:
why did the speaker/writer choose to use the language that way and what is the effect on
the listener/reader of the choice?
You are experienced readers of texts and you should build on the understanding that
this has given you of how texts are constructed to achieve certain effects. Your pupils have
this kind of knowledge as well and you should start with this: find out what they know
about texts, as you did with ‘culture’, and build on that. The learning you are aiming at in
your work with pupils would develop in two ways: at one end learning about use and the
creativity of selection, and at the other about options in the structure of the language on
which such use depends: ‘exploring use and theorising structure’.
Grammar works as a layer in the understanding that we all, pupils and teachers
alike, bring to language and it is interesting to think about where this knowledge comes
from and how it can be acquired. You should see your teaching of grammar as part
of your interest in and teaching of any aspect of language study, and as a continuous
conversation with pupils – about use and structure. Such a conversation requires sets of
understandings in the teacher’s head and an awareness of the potential for interesting
children in these issues. It also requires a willingness to develop your own knowledge
and understanding of language that includes knowledge and understanding of grammar
and what it is for.

In doing the kind of language work that underpins the analysis of Earl Spencer’s
speech, you will be working with pupils’ implicit knowledge, as has been suggested;
but you will also be looking for ways to connect the implicit with the explicit. For
example, an examination of Spencer’s opening sentence could lead to a discussion
about that triplet of packed noun phrases – ‘the representative of a family in grief, in
a country in mourning before a world in shock’ – within the one sentence and why
Aristotle’s ‘rule of three’ is such an effective rhetorical device. You might want to

Anne Turvey          

look at further examples of the openings of speeches and discuss what choices others
have made in their attempts to grab attention, set a tone, sway an audience.
(For examples of many classic speeches, see for example, MacArthur, 1996)

You might also want to encourage the pupils to try out for themselves particular lan-
guage features in writing texts of their own. This sequence of teaching combines ‘exploring
use’ within a writer’s text and ‘theorising structure’ in arriving at a picture of the options
available in the language. These complementary principles – exploring use and theorising
structure – should guide your work with pupils. From this perspective, ‘use’ includes the
range of texts encountered and produced in classrooms and those processes of speaking
and listening, reading, writing and viewing by which texts are interpreted and constructed.
‘Structure’ refers, in turn, to syntactic, grammatical and other formal options on which such
use depends. You want to show your pupils that this way of talking about language, treating
language as an object of reflection, is about the choices available in the language – to them
as well as to published writers – for making meaning in spoken and written texts.
Now look at the opening lines of two poems in Task 7.5.

Task 7.5  Analysing syntax

Consider these openings from poems by two poets. The first is by Emily Dickin-
son, the second by WH Auden:
Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me.
. . . . . . . . ..
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters:

■■ Discuss the different ways each poet could have written the opening sentence.
■■ What is the effect of the different sentence structures?
■■ Why is there a colon at the end of the Auden opening?
■■ Did you draw on grammatical terminology to answer these questions?
■■ Does it add to your response to the poems if you can?
■■ Would you want pupils to be able to do this?

Here is Terry Eagleton on what he calls ‘Auden’s syntactical sidling’:

The poem begins in casual style, as though we have just dropped in on some-
one’s after-dinner conversation; yet there is a certain understated drama about
this opening as well. It sidles obliquely into its theme rather than starting with
a fanfare: the first line and a half reverse the noun, verb and predicate, so that
‘The Old Masters were never wrong about suffering’, which would be far too
bald a proposition, becomes the more angled, syntactically interesting ‘About
suffering they were never wrong,/The Old Masters’.
(Eagleton, 2007, pp. 3–4)

Do you think the kind of knowledge Eagleton draws on here has a place in writing
about poetry or literary texts?

           Teaching language and grammar


Read this extract from Chapter 8 of the novel Great Expectations where Dickens describes
Pip’s first visit to Satis House and his first sight of Miss Havisham.

She was dressed in rich materials – satins, and lace, and silks – all of white. Her
shoes were white. And she had a long while veil dependent from her hair, and she
had bridal flowers in her hair, but her hair was white. Some bright jewels sparkled on
her neck and on her hands, and some other jewels lay sparkling on the table. Dresses,
less splendid than the dress she wore, and half-packed trunks, were scattered about.
She had not quite finished dressing, for she had but one shoe on – the other was on
the table near her hand – her veil was but half arranged, her watch and chain were
not put on, and some lace for her bosom lay with those trinkets, and with her hand-
kerchief, and gloves, and some flowers, and a prayer-book, all confusedly heaped
about the looking-glass.
It was not in the first few moments that I saw all these things, though I saw more of
them in the first moments than might be supposed. But, I saw that everything within
my view which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its lustre,
and was faded and yellow. I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered
like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of
her sunken eyes. I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young
woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose, had shrunk to skin and
bone. Once, I had been taken to see some ghastly waxwork at the Fair, representing
I know not what impossible personage lying in state. Once, I had been taken to one
of our old marsh churches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress, that had been
dug out of a vault under the church pavement. Now, waxwork and skeleton seemed
to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me. I should have cried out, if I could.

Great Expectations is a work of Dickens’s mature imagination, a novel about aspira-

tion and pride and the hard road to self-knowledge and compassion. It is also about time
and the ways our adult selves are shaped by childhood, one that is experienced by the
narrator, Pip, as a vivid present. But Pip is also looking back with an adult’s perspective
to these childhood experiences and so memory both creates and comments on the past.
What is remarkable is the way Dickens exploits options in the language for handling
time, particularly in relation to verbs. The above extract is a good example of this and it
is worth spending some time teasing out this idea of ‘options in the language’ that make
it possible for a writer to juggle past, present and future - major themes of this novel and
of much literary fiction.
The second paragraph is all about time and the way the child is caught in a moment of
intense physical experience. The details of Miss Havisham’s faded and decaying world,
so slowly and painstakingly built up in the first paragraph, are then re-presented in the
opening sentence of the second paragraph in a way that mimics how the child took them
in at that moment – a blur of fragments as well as an overall impression. This is further
complicated by the phrase ‘than might be supposed’. Dickens could have written ‘than
you might suppose’ or even ‘than I, looking back, might suppose’ but he has opted for
the passive voice as well as the modal form of the verb. Together the effect is one of inde-
terminacy, a blurring of the boundaries of time that separate Pip the child from Pip the


adult narrator and a blurring of person: simultaneously the form involves us as readers in
a relationship with an authorial presence that is not quite the same as, although very close
to, the adult Pip.
This shifting between moments in time is continued in the next sentence where Dick-
ens uses the present ‘ought to be white’ – not the perfect ‘ought to have been white’ or
‘should have been white’, which you might expect to precede the pluperfect ‘had been
white long ago’. With this verb form, he is taking us right back to the vividness of that
moment in Miss Havisham’s room and then further into the past when Miss Havisham
was young. The pluperfect form of the verb here – ‘had been white long ago’ – suggests a
state of affairs that existed in the past but is no longer what it was, leaving us to speculate
on what might have happened in the meantime. Dickens is suggesting the slow, inexorable
passage of time that has turned a young woman into the desiccated figure before Pip.
But Dickens also uses another pluperfect in a remarkable way: to stop the action that
we are in the middle of in order to whisk Pip even further back in time: ‘Once, I had been
taken to some ghastly waxwork at the Fair’. The two distinct but psychologically related
memories – of the waxwork and the old marsh church – seem to rise suddenly, as long
suppressed memories will do, brought to the surface at this moment as a result of the adult
Pip’s return to childhood to confront the memory of Miss Havisham. Her figure, ‘shrunk
to skin and bone’, is now before the child Pip and the verb is a simple past: ‘waxwork and
skeleton seemed to have dark eyes’. The concluding sentence – ‘I should have cried out,
if I could’ – moves in the blink of an eye from an action – ‘crying out’ – that is partly in
the past as the perfect tense suggests, but is also in the present of Pip’s terror – ‘if I could’.
Images of waxwork and skeleton have been telescoped into this hideous vision that is as
fresh as it was all those years ago.
There is a great deal more that could be said about Dickens’s technique here, but by
focusing on the verbs you can see how a writer exploits to the full the possibilities in the
language to achieve such a range of effects. Dickens makes maximum use of the tense and
modality of the verbs to enable the reader to see what he sees. If this sometimes results
in ‘inconsistency’ in his use of tense, this can be seen as evidence of both the complexity
of English verb forms and a writer’s skill in using the complexity to share an experience.

The questions with which a reader or a critic finds it natural to approach a passage
of Dickens – ‘what is he trying to do in this piece of text? How is he going about it,
and how well does it work?’ – are equally good questions for teachers to ask about
the writing of their pupils.
(Cameron, 2007, p. 86)

Now analyse a piece of pupil writing in Task 7.6.

Task 7.6 Analysing a piece of pupil writing

Read the extract from a pupil’s writing:

Re-entering a childhood memory

by Gabriela, Year 10


Christmas time is something all little children look forward to, well I did. this was
always the best time in the year it was not only Christmas it is my birthday as
well it was great, my presents were in mum and dad helping me to put the tree
up before uncle Patricio came back from the army all decorations were ready
for the big night, Christmas eve.
As mummy was getting ready daddy calls me to the front room. I thought he
was going to tell me off about something, I went in as if nothing was happening,
he calls me and ask me to come closer. You see every year dad put the star in
the tree he and only he was the only one that did this every year. He places the
star in my hands as mum came in the room. Then he lifts me up and up and
mum is saying ‘Is your turn Gabby’. The light in my Christmas tree are glowing
so bright, the night sky blue and the stars and the moon and all the people
outside happy.

With Deborah Cameron’s perspective in mind, answer the following questions:

■ With a partner, mark the verbs in this piece of writing.

■ What is complicated about this writer’s handling of time?
■ What would you correct?
■ How would you feedback to the writer?


Start with the ‘big picture’ about language and the role it plays in establishing our place
in the world and our relationships with each other. Explore with your pupils what it
means to see language as central to identity.
When you move to consider an approach to the teaching of grammar, start with
what you know and extend this to planning work with your pupils. Ron Carter puts it
like this:

Grammar is a fundamental human meaning-making activity which can be inves-

tigated as a fascinating phenomenon and explored from the powerful basis of
considerable resources of existing knowledge possessed by the very youngest of
children. In this respect, a study of grammar should always be rooted in children’s
positive achievements, that is, rooted in what children can already do with grammar.
(Carter, 1997, p. 35)

You and your pupils have a great deal of implicit knowledge about language and
grammar. Find out what they know and build on this. Use the grammatical metalan-
guage in your discussions with pupils, not as a series of ‘labels’, but as a way of help-
ing pupils to reflect on the linguistic concepts they are getting to grips with. Think about
the range of spoken and written texts that would encourage reflection about language
choices and their effects on the reader, listener or viewer. Develop this reflective, ana-
lytic approach in supporting pupils’ development as writers.

Anne Turvey          

Bain, E. and Bain, R. (1997) The Grammar Book, Sheffield: NATE.

This is a rich collection of classroom materials underpinned by an exploratory approach

to language and grammar. The materials have been designed to encourage children to
reflect on their own language use and to develop their awareness of the structure and
patterns of language.
Cameron, D. (2007) The Teacher’s Guide to Grammar, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

This concise and accessible guide to grammar will be interesting to trainee English teach-
ers for its use of examples of both spoken and written texts. The analysis of pupils’ writing
is fascinating.
Crystal, D. (2005) The Stories of English, London: Penguin Books.

This is a particularly valuable resource for teaching about language change in English.
Questions of dialect – including Standard English – are addressed in ways that offer many
possibilities for classroom practice.
Myhill, D., Jones, S., Lines, H. and Watson, A. (2012) ‘Re-thinking grammar: the impact of
embedded grammar teaching on students’ writing and students’ metalinguistic understanding’,
Research Papers in Education, 27 (2) 139–166.

Debra Myhill has written extensively on aspects of grammar and the teaching of gram-
mar. With Helen Lines and colleagues from Exeter University, Debra has led a year-long
research project investigating the effects on students’ writing of embedding grammar in
the teaching of writing. Three schemes of work, based on different writing genres – narra-
tive fiction, argument, poetry – offer teachers a way to consider this approach to grammar
and writing.


Andy Goodwyn


The subject of English has a number of purposes but one of its simplest and most pro-
found aims has always been to enable young people to critique and enjoy texts whilst in
school and then to become mature and critical citizens, active participants in a demo-
cratic society. If you ask English teachers why the subject of English matters so much
in schools and therefore to society, they are much more likely to offer this view than to
argue simplistically about ensuring all students understand grammar and can spell cor-
rectly. English is, therefore, an ambitious and exciting subject and always aspirational and
passionate about empowering its students. What could be more important than enabling
pupils to deal with the texts that currently dominate their lives and will continue to do so
for all of adulthood? The great majority of these ‘texts’ are not fixed print, they are audio
visual or even multi-modal, that is, they are media texts and they require some media
literacy to be fully understood.
‘Media literacy’ is not a simple term and can be much contested, however it is a useful
way to conceptualise what reading and writing are like in a digital world. Literacy links
us to the basic needs of the citizen who must function as an adult, whilst the broad term
‘Media’, reminds us just how different is the world that our students inhabit compared
to their parents’ generation. Currently, and bizarrely, there is no reference to this kind of
literacy in the National Curriculum for English or the GCSE specifications – but there has
been a good deal of reference in the past – so we are at a particular moment in the posi-
tion of English in schools when its teachers are well aware of the nature of their students’
digital lives and yet need to find creative spaces to engage with those lives. This chapter
sets out to ensure you feel that you will be confident to engage your students meaningfully
with becoming media literate.

Andy Goodwyn          

By the end of this chapter, you will have:

■■ explored various definitions of media literacy and identified your current

perspective on what approach you take towards educating future citizens
about becoming media literate;
■■ developed an understanding about the place of media literacy in English
and how this has evolved historically;
■■ considered how to include media focused work in English in KS3 and
■■ considered the nature of your students’ digital and multimodal life worlds;
■■ developed an understanding of the amazing affordances of media texts
and also the well-recognised and associated dangers to young people
that require teachers to be teaching critical skills in the era of ‘fake news’
and helping to safeguard their students;
■■ considered the possibility of becoming a specialist teacher of Media


It has been said often that should a nineteenth-century doctor be time transported to a
modern hospital that they would be delighted and astonished by the wonderful advances
of medicine – and yet they would still see beds and wards and operating spaces. It has
been argued that a Victorian teacher, in contrast to the doctor, would not notice much dif-
ference in schools, there would be the same classrooms, seats for students and corridors
and playgrounds; and there would be that teacher at the front of the class ‘instructing’ the
students. They might be curious about electronic whiteboards or some classrooms full of
electronic devices.
However, if they wandered into the Media Studies area – should there happen to be
one – they would need someone to explain to them what a group of students were doing
as they watched and discussed a film on a large screen – and said time traveller would
need even more explanation to understand what the small cameras were and what they
did, what the editing desks were for and – if students were showing their own work – how
on earth could these young people create what would appear to be a technological mar-
vel? And in this school scene, the teacher tends to be in the group and not ‘at the front’.
It is worth your while to reflect on the fact that these 15-year-olds might simply be in the
English department making such ‘marvels’ and that the subject that started all this atten-
tion to the media and that enabled students to begin to analyse and later to make media,
was English. In that sense English has a remarkable history as the prescient subject that
invented Media Studies.
What becomes clearly an absolute certainty is that the literacy needed by the young
person in the twenty-first century is remarkably more complex in form than that mode
produced in the Victorian classroom – we will call this ‘media literacy’. If the school
building still seems nineteenth century, the world that surrounds it is twenty-first


century. We can [probably] agree that ‘traditional’ reading and writing using print
remain fundamental and core elements of English – although speech recognition tech-
nology does question the pre-eminence of written language and Artificial Intelligence
will make huge advances possible in speech recognition and reproduction – but we
can more certainly agree that the twenty-first-century citizen needs to have media
literacy to both survive but even more, to thrive, in the contemporary world. How is it
then that such an obvious and incontestable need for media literacy – and, one might
add, digital literacy – that should surely be an outcome of schooling – is not even
mentioned in the current National Curriculum for English? It is also important to note
that England is completely out of step with the world in this respect and countries with
similar approaches to English teaching and shared histories like Australia and New
Zealand, give very serious attention to media literacy in English. We must go back to
the future . . .
Before continuing with this chapter undertake Task 8.1.

Task 8.1 A place for media literacy?

Consider the place of media literacy in your placement school:

■ What work have you observed involving media texts?

■ How were those texts addressed, as media texts or as adjuncts to other texts?
■ What Schemes of Work have you looked at that directly address topics that
involve media literacy, e.g. studying texts and their film adaptations, examining
and evaluating ‘news’, considering the impact of social media, etc.?


A very brief history
In order to understand the present state of teaching about the media within the subject of
English it really is helpful to have a sense of its vexed history and to gain a perspective on
why something so obviously important in everyone’s lives should currently appear to be
absent from the formal English curriculum. It is best to think about the current situation as
a peculiar and rather eccentric phase and certainly not any kind of final phase – teaching
about the media in English has never been more important and can only become more
so in the twenty-first century. The three phases discussed chronologically below each
represent a kind of ‘stance’ towards the media, which are now interwoven strands that
together and, perhaps in equal measure, currently make up a combined approach to teach-
ing about media texts. However, as you consider each phase it is a good opportunity to
reflect on whether you recognise in yourself each stance towards media texts or whether
your sympathies and feelings are currently much closer to a particular one, rather than all
three combined??
Before reading further, consider Task 8.2.


Task 8.2 My media education

Think back to your own schooling:

■ Can you recall any lessons from your time in school that featured media texts
in English?
■ Note down what stands out about the way your teachers approached these
■ Did you feel they were negative or positive about the influence of the media on

Phase 1 – ‘Discriminate and resist!’

Phase 1 is always associated with the famous literary critic F. R. Leavis whose book
Culture and Environment was co-written in 1933 with his English teacher friend Denys
Thompson and it was a kind of textbook for secondary English teachers to use with sec-
ondary students. Leavis himself was a fierce purist about the value of great literature,
especially the classics of English literature, and he loathed popular culture, which he
considered morally corrupting and damaging to civilisation. It is worth reflecting on the
unquestionable fact that the 1930s did see the emergence of a new paradigm called ‘the
mass media’ and Leavis was prescient in feeling its power. ‘Ordinary people’ could now
listen to the wireless at home, could go regularly to the cinema, it now being ‘talking
pictures’, and the more traditional medium of newspapers and magazines had entered the
era of mass production and relative affordability and now contained significant amounts
of advertising. The 1930s also saw the rise of Fascism and a recognition that these mass
media were excellent means of propaganda whether explicit documentary films or mes-
sages embedded in popular film.
Leavis’ battle cry in Culture and Environment was ‘discriminate and resist’. He advo-
cated that English teachers should teach their pupils how to read popular text forms
critically and carefully so developing in them a resistance to such toxic material. In the
current era of ‘fake news’ and the dark web and the notion of ‘the viral’, that idea of close
critical analysis of media texts still makes remarkable sense. Ironically, by taking the
media seriously as part of the cultural environment, Leavis invented what later we came
to call Media Studies [or sometimes Cultural Studies] and his concept of close analysis
was called – retrospectively – ‘inoculation theory’ – that is giving students a controlled
exposure to the mass media that revealed its toxicity, so giving the individual a life time’s
There is no question that this paradigm persists in schools and that English teachers
do see themselves, quite rightly, as moral guardians of young people and wish to equip
them with the critical skills that allow them to analyse and understand the way media
texts convey meaning and certainly to resist ‘fake news’. For most teachers this is really
an extension of the approach adopted towards print texts, especially in Key Stage 4, where
pupils are encouraged to analyse and explain how texts ‘work’.
However, this paradigm is almost entirely negative and implies that almost all popular
texts are somehow not only toxic but should never be enjoyed or allowed to be pleasur-
able. Leavis had a great insight but he was a narrow purist who despised popular culture.

           Media literacy and English

English teachers generally have much more mixed feelings about ‘it’ – and are them-
selves, quite naturally, regular consumers of media texts of all kinds and thoroughly enjoy
most of them – although some traces of ‘guilt’ can remain, something discussed later on
in the chapter.

Phase 2 – Media culture and popular enjoyment – from

resistance to ‘demystification’
The next phase is really what evolved in the 1950s up to the 1970s, characterised by
further expansion of the media and by the emergence of new forms of media text that
revolutionised everyday life. The two greatest changes were television and popular music.
In this period not only did television become a fixture in almost every household but by
the 1960s there was no longer the monolith that was The BBC but also ITV [Independent
Television] with programmes of all kinds and with advertising – an enormous cultural
change. Simultaneously, ‘pop’ music and youth culture became huge features of society
with the new concept of the youth ‘market’ for everything from hair styles to feature films.
Television and film both embraced the idea of culture as containing both ‘high’ art and
‘low’ art and began to produce media texts on a spectrum from the quiz show to serious
drama, including serialisations of many classic books.
So, whilst ‘discriminate and resist’ became even more powerful because the media
really had penetrated into every aspect of the life of citizens, it also became unques-
tionable that the media were hugely important sources of information through news and
documentary, for example, but equally were providing enormous pleasure and engage-
ment with all kinds of media texts from soap opera to film versions of Shakespeare’s
plays. In other words, it could no longer be argued that the media were merely ‘toxic’ and
even more importantly, the media were bringing culture to all citizens in accessible and
remarkable ways.
At this point in curriculum history, most English teachers were still predominantly
following Leavis and adopting his stance. For example, a well-known and influen-
tial book, a sociological study of English teachers published in 1975, was called The
Preachers of Culture (Mathieson, 1975) and it provides clear evidence that ‘great
literature’ was not just the most important influence on English teachers but also
something they evangelised about with their pupils. Equally revealing, another very
influential book about the nature of English, Growth through English, first published
in 1967 (Dixon, 1967) but revised and updated in 1975, barely mentions the media in
any respect. There is still no doubt that most English teachers choose the profession
because of their ‘love of reading’ and their passionate desire to pass this feeling on to
young people. What you might reflect on at this point in your development as a teacher
is how much this feeling, this love of reading, represents your own view and whether
it might make you – at least in certain ways – be something of an elitist in relation to
the culture of most of your own pupils? By ‘love of reading’ do you really mean ‘love
of literature’, particularly what is commonly called great literature? This is a good
challenge to your thinking.
It is evident that, at that moment in our educational history – say 1975, English teach-
ers were mostly what have been called ‘Leavisites’. Terry Eagleton, arguably one of
the most influential literary critics since Leavis (see Eagleton, 1983), suggested that all
English teachers are Leavisites in attitude whether they know anything about him or not.
You might reflect here on your own English teachers, especially the ones you vividly

Andy Goodwyn          

remember – what kinds of comments did they make about great literature? What do you
think were their attitudes towards popular culture and especially the media?
In 1973 a book was published based on careful research in schools called The Mass
Media and the Secondary School (Murdock and Phelps). Adopting a sociological per-
spective, it reported on the attitudes and experiences of teachers of a range of subjects
and their pupils towards both the place of the media in society and the ways the media
were ‘mediated’ in schools. What the report really illustrates is that English teachers were
at a turning point in including work on the media in their normal lessons and adopting a
positive attitude towards media texts but the tensions remained. Interestingly, Mathieson
(1975) argued for English to retain its narrower focus on great literature because pupils
would know the teacher was ‘an amateur’ in such media matters and that such lessons
would be ‘pathetic imitations’ of the real world. Equally, Len Masterman, a highly influ-
ential figure in the 1970s and 1980s (see Masterman, 1980, 1985), also argued against
much attention to practical work by students because it would be inauthentic and amateur-
ish. His slogan was ‘demystification’, in other words for young people to get beyond the
glamour of film and television and to see how the messages were produced and mediated,
never simply to copy them.

Phase 3 – The rapid rise of media education and the

recognition of the active, intelligent citizen; enter
the expert teacher of media education
In 1988–1989 the Cox committee designed the original National Curriculum for English
and it contained a chapter entitled ‘Media Education and Information Technology’. The
chapter is headed by a quotation from the Kingman Report of 1988 (DES 1988), a report
of the Inquiry into the Teaching of the English Language.

Round the city of Caxton, the electronic suburbs are rising. To the language of books
must be added the language of television and radio – the processed codes of the com-
puter. As the shapes of literacy multiply so our dependence on language increases.
(DES, 1988, para. 2.7)

In the previous paragraph the Kingman Report stated: ‘We live in times in which social
and technological change is taking place at an unprecedented rate and we face an unknow-
able future’ (ibid., para. 2.6).
This statement was 30 years ago in 1988, how much more extraordinary have the
changes been than was then imagined?
The vital importance of the Cox chapter lies in its broad acceptance of media texts as
part of ‘normal English’ teaching and its vague but prescient recognition that computers
were going to be fundamentally important in society and therefore in schools. The Report
also introduced what Cox felt was an emerging element of English teaching dubbed Cul-
tural Analysis and considered to be just as important as Cultural Heritage.
In summary, over the next 15 years, the great majority of English teachers began to
incorporate media education within English on an ever increasing scale in terms of the
amount of curriculum time they devoted to it but also, and very importantly, drawing from
the whole spectrum of media texts whether defined as ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture or chosen
because they would enable students to critically understand the relationship between the
media, power, economics and societal influence. Mathieson’s ‘amateur’ English teacher


was no more. For example, soap operas were now valuable material in many dimensions,
considering them as a popular art form constructed by the use of setting, character and
narrative, and also presenting stereotypes and prejudices that could be scrutinised econom-
ically and politically. Attending to the media in this way required English teachers to learn
the language of media study and to become skilled analysts of media texts. This period was
also marked by the increasing potential of ‘practical work’ – put simply, students being
able to produce their own media texts. Although this was much less common than media
analysis by pupils in the role of user, it was a remarkable change in its own right.
During this period the distinctive subject called ‘Media Studies’ became a feature
first of higher education and then in secondary schools at GCSE and ‘A’ level. The great
majority of Media Studies teachers were English teachers who either became dedicated
specialists or, more commonly, maintained their ‘normal’ work on media texts in their
English classroom but also became successful specialist teachers as well.
In 1989 Cox et al. (DES and WO, 1989) hinted at the importance of ‘Information Tech-
nology’ but they could not have imagined the spectacular and extraordinary development
of the Internet. In 2000 the National Curriculum for English was revised to include the
most comprehensive attention to media texts in its history and with considerable focus on
what has come to be known as ‘digital literacy’ with emphasis on pupils making texts as
well as analysing them. This curriculum referred to all English teachers teaching about the
‘moving image’ – even the Leavisites were not allowed to dwell only on the stillness of the
printed page. In formal terms, this was perhaps the high point of media work in English.
However, the profound suspicion about the place of the media in society has continued
to dominate political and educational arguments. This is perfectly illustrated by the polari-
sation of opinion about the subject of Media Studies, so often derided as a ‘Micky Mouse’
subject not fit for study by any serious learner at any level.
However, only ten years later, an extreme reaction to views like Jowell’s were so
ascendant that Media Studies at GCSE and ‘A’ level were seriously threatened with being
eradicated as qualifications. Over a period of about three years, 2014–2017, battles were
fought – mostly behind the scenes – both to ‘save’ the qualifications but also to narrow
their scope. It can be said the ‘war’ was won in that both qualifications and Film Studies
have survived, but at some very real cost to the nature of the content. For an insight into
this particular policy war see Buckingham (2018). However, the real loser in this struggle
was English as all references to media related work were removed from qualification
specifications and the National Curriculum.
Having read about each of these perspectives, undertake Task 8.3.

Task 8.3 A sense of perspective

You have read about each of these perspectives:

1. ‘Discriminate and resist!’

2. Media culture and popular enjoyment – from resistance to ‘demystification’.
3. The rapid rise of media education and the recognition of the active, intelligent
citizen; enter the expert teacher of media education.
■ How are you currently feeling about the purpose of teaching about the me-
dia within the subject of English?


■ Do you align strongly with one perspective?

■ Do you see all of these approaches as equally valid?
■ Has the need for ‘safeguarding’ made ‘discriminate and resist’ an urgent
priority for your teaching?


You are now in a good place to return to the needs of our pupils. If the National Curricu-
lum for English ignores media literacy, that certainly is absolutely no reason why English
teachers should themselves ignore such an important and such a truly exciting part of
what good English teaching has always included. The future of the lives of young people
has always been at the heart of English teaching.
The term media has so far been treated as a ‘given’ and that has been possible as you
will recognise it as an everyday term. It comes from the Latin word medium [singular],
which fundamentally means the middle – as in the middle of something – but medium in
English took on the additional meaning of being (as with a spiritual ‘medium’) something
more ‘in between’ – a kind of intervening agency. The word media (plural) in the early
twentieth century took on its modern definition of multiple ways of conveying meaning –
by the 1930s we had ‘the Mass Media’ (see Chapter 2 ‘Battles for English’ in this volume
for an account of educational policy makers’ attitudes to the Mass Media).
What is our list of twenty-first-century media? If in 1918 it would have included books,
‘periodicals’ (newspapers and magazines), the ‘wireless’ (radio), film (mostly silent mov-
ies) and photographs, then we can see two key things emerging. First, all these ‘forms’ are
still with us – only more so – and second they illustrate that even then ‘traditional’ literacy
was rapidly evolving.
Now undertake Task 8.4 to consider media forms.

Task 8.4 Media forms

Is the following list comprehensive enough as a starting point of current media forms?

■ All forms of print:

● books, newspapers, magazines, comics, graphic novels, leaflets, posters,

ephemera (those things that come through the letter box);
■ The audio-visual:

● feature films, short films, animation, television, radio, music (especially videos);

■ What might be called ‘e-media’:

● the Internet, especially websites, social networks (what exactly is Face-

book?), mobile phones, video games, WhatsApp, YouTube.

Can you either add to this list, or would you wish to contest any ‘item’?

           Media literacy and English

What the list in Task 8.4 illustrates is simply the profusion of platforms that young
people and adults experience – recent research suggests that YouTube is the most watched
app by under 5s.
The other dynamic generated by the list is that any individual category has its own
form of profusion. Take a very traditional media form as simple-sounding as ‘magazines’.
Not only are there the most extraordinary number and variety of magazines coming in all
kinds of physical shapes, formats and regularities of publication, but they all now exist
on websites with accompanying blogs, vlogs and podcasts. And within all these forms are
advertisements aimed at the target audience of the ‘reader’, which especially need close
critical analysis. Suddenly we are into the world of the English classroom – here we have
traditional literacies and media literacies working in tandem to the improvement of both.
We will return to this example when we consider some indicative English work.

What is media literacy?

We acknowledged earlier that media literacy does not displace ‘traditional’ print literacy,
rather it subsumes it into a more sophisticated and relevant concept. Here are definitions
from a variety of sources: do you find one that satisfies your own view, or will you need
to combine elements to create a valid and workable concept?

1. A simple one:

The term ‘media literacy’ refers to the knowledge, skills and competencies that are
required in order to use and interpret media.
(Buckingham, 2003, p. 36).

2. A more ambitious one:

1) Media literacy is a 21st Century approach to education. It provides a framework

to access, analyse, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of
forms – from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of
the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression
necessary for citizens of a democracy.
2) Media literacy is the ability to ACCESS, ANALYZE, EVALUATE, CREATE,
and ACT using all forms of communication. In its simplest terms, media literacy
builds upon the foundation of traditional literacy and offers new forms of reading
and writing. Media literacy empowers people to be critical thinkers and makers,
effective communicators and active citizens.
(The Center for Media Literacy, USA, 2018)

3. A more complex and comprehensive one:

The term ‘media literacy’ is often used interchangeably with other terms related
to media and media technologies. To clarify what we mean when we talk about
media literacy, NAMLE offers these definitions:

●● Media refers to all electronic or digital means and print or artistic visuals used to
transmit messages.

Andy Goodwyn          

●● Literacy is the ability to encode and decode symbols and to synthesize and analyze
●● Media literacy is the ability to encode and decode the symbols transmitted via media
and the ability to synthesize, analyze and produce mediated messages.
●● Media education is the study of media, including ‘hands on’ experiences and media
●● Media literacy education is the educational field dedicated to teaching the skills
associated with media literacy.
(NAMLE – National Association for Literacy Education)

4. UNESCO’s version and contextual statement as stated in the report that follows by
McDougall and Livingstone, with Sefton-Green and Fraser (2014, p. 2):

Media Literacy
UNESCO’s action to provide critical knowledge and analytical tools, empowering
media consumers to function as autonomous and rational citizens, enabling them to
critically make use of the media.
The proliferation of mass media has brought about decisive changes in human
communication processes and behaviour. Media education aims to empower citizens
by providing them with the competencies, attitudes and skills necessary to compre-
hend media functions.
Today’s international landscape for media literacy/education is characterized by
four overlapping discursive models, each of which is integrated in various ways into
formal institutionalized practice. Social models locate elements of media literacy
within ‘new literacies’ and ‘multiliteracies’, sharing the view that ‘the competen-
cies that are involved in making sense of the media are socially distributed, and
that different social groups have different orientations towards the media, and will
use them in different ways (Buckingham, 2003: 39). Competence models may be
more or less ‘protectionist’ in their objectives but are defined by their attempts to
benchmark media literacy against ages and contexts. These are generally dependent
on normative judgments and definitions of a media literate person, group or whole
society (Livingstone et al., 2012: 5). Citizenship models operate within a broadly
Habermasian (1993) model of public sphere communication and are often framed
as a response to technology and in terms of engagement in participatory society –
a ‘new civics’. Another dominant strand of the citizenship model is the ‘employ-
ability’ discourse, which is more politically neutral – indeed, it entirely reproduces
the neo-liberal hegemony – but nevertheless shares the assertion that media literacy
competence is required for contemporary participation in the modern world. Cre-
ativity models are perhaps the most contested variant of the media literacy discourse
and also the least evident in practice. The role of Web 2.0 in facilitating creativity
has been the subject of an overly polarized academic debate over the need or not for
a Media Studies 2.0 (see Berger and McDougall, 2012).

Critical perspectives?
However, not everyone accepts the term media literacy as having sufficient clarity or
conveying the importance of what citizens need. David Buckingham argues: ‘there is a

           Media literacy and English

danger of it becoming far too vague and generalized and poorly defined – a matter of good
intentions and warm feelings but very little actually getting done’ (2010, p. 10). Cary
Bazalgette, one of the most influential media educators, has found the term problematic
claiming it is: ‘inherited from an outworn and discredited twentieth-century tactic; that of
adding the term “literacy” to topics and issues in an attempt to promote them as new and
essential aspects of learning’ (cited in Murphy, 2010, p. 24).
As a key term media literacy may not be perfect, but currently it mostly conveys what
we mean and has a resonance with the public [especially parents] and politicians.


Whether you are already comfortable with the term media literacy, you will have no problem
with recognising its importance in young people’s lives. A good way to start thinking about
media texts can be found in a simple set of questions designed by the BFI in the late 1980s:

■■ Who is communicating and why?

■■ What type of text is it?
■■ How is it produced?
■■ How do we know what it means?
■■ Who receives it, and what sense do they make of it?
■■ How does it present its subject?
(BFI, 1989a, 1989b. For more detail see Goodwyn, 1992)

The virtue of these questions is that they can be applied to a simple, single-authored
text or to a Hollywood block buster. For a Year 7 class they might be used with a print
advertisement from a magazine page. Such an ‘ad’ will have text, visuals, a ‘product’
and an implied audience. The advertisement is usually one of many, all embedded inside
a larger text, a magazine; and this magazine is one of many of that type, e.g. women’s
magazines, which again can be subdivided by audience age and price, the latter linked
to the production values from simple to the ‘glossy’. Five minutes studying the way a
newsagent presents the magazines in the shop shelves reveals a multiplicity of categories
and genres but all easily recognisable and distinguishable. Even if our students do not
buy or read many of these texts they have an everyday acquaintance with their nature.
The questions are also helpful when your students turn to practical work and making their
own texts, for example making their ‘own’ advertisement in one of the above magazines.
Students thoroughly enjoy inventing a new product with its own name and then designing
the layout combining the necessary elements and this can be achieved just as effectively
with scissors and paper as with Adobe Photoshop.

Four key media education concepts: languages,

representations, audiences and institutions
The signpost questions are always a good starting point and they lead very logically
towards much more sophisticated levels of challenge and pupil understanding. Most
media educators agree that there are four major concepts, all closely interlinked but con-
ceptually distinctive, and in terms of the English classroom, useful ways to organise work
on media texts and to enable planning and assessment. Each concept will be introduced
and a suggestion made for related English work, but Audience will be examined in more

Andy Goodwyn          

detail as a very good starting point for extended work in KS3. The concepts also pro-
vide useful indicators for what we can loosely call ‘practical work’, discussed below. In
the conclusion there are some thoughts on how many English teachers become Media
Specialists. If you take that route then you will need to become closely familiar with the
GCSE and ‘A’ level specifications, the latest versions of which will be operating from
2019. At this level, especially KS5, both teacher and pupils will begin to use terminology
that is both more academic e.g. theory, and technical, e.g. camera angles.
When working within English in KS3 and KS4 not much of this language is
essential – but it is always helpful because pupils’ tacit knowledge is very profound and so
they can adopt quite alien terms very readily after some direct teaching. A good example
relates to sound in audio-visual texts such as film. Audiences experience simultaneously
the sound that is part of action of the film – the sound of the car engine when the actors
are ‘driving’ – and the sound track – the music that ‘accompanies’ the action and might be
used to create the mood of the action, racing along or more about the landscape of desert
or soaring mountains. At the simplest level we might talk about ‘actual sound’ or ‘sound
effect’ – the more technical term coming from Greek word Diegesis for ‘recounted story’
would be diegetic sound (the sound IN the story) and non-diegetic sound (the sound
outside the story). English teachers are highly skilled at working with words! They are
also very sensitive to students’ needs and rarely obsess about terminology and for many
beginning English teachers, Media Studies terminology is a newish language to use in
the classroom, even after undertaking some media study themselves. We learn best by
teaching something to others.
Overall, English at KS3 an KS4 is the only place where pupils could (and should)
be guaranteed opportunities to do media work and this chapter is arguing that the need
for such work is greater than ever. We want citizens who are media literate. In a strong
English department, committed to authentic learning, there will be units of work in each
year that have some focus on media work. Even where exam pressures at KS4 are domi-
nating there are multiple opportunities when focusing chiefly on literature or language to
engage in learning about the media. Finally, English teachers make their lessons relevant
to pupils’ lives and, as the events in the world unfold every day, so there are moments
when an opportunity comes along that irresistibly presents itself as worth some class
time; spontaneity and improvisation are key characteristics of the best English teaching.

Media languages
With the example of sound above we have begun to examine specific media language, that
is how meanings are conveyed in ways distinctive to a medium. At the macro level are
concepts like genre and narrative: what exactly is a ‘horror film’? How do we know we are
watching horror (a genre) and not a ‘spoof’, a kind of comedy? How do horror films usu-
ally end and why (knowledge about narrative)? How does the director use particular cam-
era shots: the close up; the pan; long distance; a fade out rather than a cut (the language
of film)? Give pupils a page from a horror story and ask them to decide how it might be
filmed – even a few sentences are enough to produce real critical and creative thinking.

Media representations
The key emphasis is RE-PRESENTING. The media take from our ‘reality’ and through
their mediation, show us (intentionally or unintentionally) another ‘view’. At the

           Media literacy and English

simplest level we might start with a hero or heroine in an action film. How are they
characterised? What makes us able to understand the ‘anti-hero’? With more sensitive –
and more challenging – portrayals of ethnicity, class, or gender, where do we notice
stereotyping? How has this film text avoided the stereotype or challenged us as an
audience to confront our prejudices? Here we move into complex areas of ideology and
cultural dominations.

Media institutions
It is reasonable to say that this aspect of understanding the media is especially remote
from our pupils, especially in KS3. It concerns itself with both media organisations
themselves but also media regulation and societal ‘norms’, for example asking why
does this film have a particular certificate? It addresses the economics of the block-
buster but also the small scale documentary – how did that get made and why? Why
does the BBC have no advertisements? Who owns the BBC, who owns ‘Sky’? With
our pupils it may be more manageable to address this fundamentally remote concept
through a gradual raising of awareness over KS3 and KS4. The ‘Audiences’ example
below may help.

Audiences (media and otherwise)

The concept of audience, especially ‘implied audience’ is a good starting point in English,
not least because each Year group is a ‘target audience’ themselves. We have begun to
explore this concept above with reference to magazines and advertising.
We have seen in our reflections on the development of studying the media how there
has been a move away from the simplistic notion of a ‘mass media’ with passive mass
audiences to a much more nuanced recognition that each individual can have a unique
reaction, can be part of a very specialist social (the family) or interest group (Goths,
Star Wars aficionados) or conceptualised by much larger demographics such as ‘teen-
agers’, ‘baby boomers’ and so on. All of these concepts can be applied to literature
as well as media texts. However, the production of media texts unquestionably has
many singularities. The sign post questions can be used to address this concept about
any media text. Something relatively static and physically material might make a good
starting point for a KS3 class – a few copies of two contrasting newspapers, four or
five of each is enough for a class working in groups – such as The Sun and The Times.
All the evidence is that our pupils have little interest in such texts but that older adults
still do. This is both something to discuss with a class, i.e. how habits and products are
changing demographically and technologically, and also a reason for providing with
texts that are – in a sense – novel, usefully strange. Newspapers also have a powerful
history in relation to literacy – a theme in itself – and are a live global issue in many
less wealthy countries.
Questions about newspapers to explore with pupils include:

■■ Who is communicating and why?

We have immediately the opportunity to consider the multiple notion of authorship

from the journalist, sub editors, editors and owners – and what is their collective purpose,
it is more than just selling a newspaper?

Andy Goodwyn          

■■ What type of text is it?

Is the term ‘newspaper’ sufficient? Does the term ‘tabloid’ and ‘quality’ have contem-
porary meaning? Are some newspapers more like comics?

■■ How is it produced?

Here we still have some of the ‘mass’ elements – in that it is produced electronically
but printed and distributed physically.

■■ How do we know what it means?

This is where the materiality of the papers is quite helpful because students can be
asked to adopt close reading techniques with sub questions about headlines and subhead-
ings, relating text to photographs, interrogating stories for surface and implied meanings.
How does the use of ‘sections’ help establish meanings for each reader?

■■ Who receives it, and what sense do they make of it?

This question homes in on audience very specifically, not just in discussing who really
does read these texts but also readers’ age, class, gender, ethnicity – even literacy (The
Sun famously has a reading age of eight). What do the texts within the text, e.g. advertise-
ments, tell us about the audience/s?

■■ How does it present its subject?

What exactly are the ‘subjects’ of The Sun – celebrity? politics? sport/ scandal? gos-
sip? Are the subjects in The Times really the same and are there differences in the way
each paper presents ‘women’? How do audiences react to the representations? What is
missing from the two papers – what might they include that they perhaps ignore and how
is that linked to their audiences and their preferences?
And what about the ‘stories’? Can the stories be broadly categorised into narrative and
documentary? Why do audiences want stories more than facts – where are the heroes and
villains in these stories? How do the pictures ‘anchor’ our interpretations of character?
In the classroom much of the emphasis is on critical reading and interpreting the
‘implied’ audience but audiences are both real and quantifiable. How many copies of The
Sun or The Times are sold every day – what about their websites, how many readers only
read online? How far do the websites just provide additional material? How far are they
texts in themselves?
Finally, the two papers are owned by the same corporation, News Corp, famously/
infamously owned by Rupert Murdoch and family, an old-fashioned media baron of enor-
mous wealth power and global reach. This latter point is unlikely to interest Year 7 – or the
fact The Sun claims to have been the key influence in many general elections and Brexit –
but this is a key point in each pupil’s understanding of audience. We may be critical read-
ers but there are times when those messages affect many millions of people – and so we
come full circle to ‘fake news’, actually something newspapers have been peddling for
nearly 300 years. Ownership, control, censorship, propaganda, fake news, media ‘cam-
paigns’ are inescapably important elements in a democracy and all of these areas can be


considered in English in developing media literacy. We return knowingly to Leavis’ battle

cry ‘discriminate and resist’! All teachers must consider safeguarding and our pupils are
potential victims as well as consumers. English is a space in which they can openly dis-
cuss the pressures and demands of twenty-first-century adolescent living.
Now look at Task 8.5

Task 8.5 ‘I read the news today’

Design a lesson for your students that will enable them to begin to understand
how news is presented in print form. This may well also include reference to online

■ This lesson might use the front pages of two newspapers printed on the same
day and covering at least one common story to examine differences in style,
tone and point of view – for example a ‘serious, broadsheet’ paper such as The
Times or The Telegraph and a ‘tabloid, red-top, popular paper’ such as The
Sun or The Mirror.
■ Copies of other front pages from different papers of the same day could be
distributed to small groups in the class as an additional task to compare to the
two shared by the whole class.
■ Each group could then present what they notice about these additional front
■ The whole class could then come together to consider:

● just how many different papers there are;

● what purpose they serve in society;
● what is the implied audience for each paper?


We have examined the ‘case’ for media literacy in English, partially through examin-
ing the way work on media texts has evolved over time within English and then, very
recently, been ‘removed’. We have explored a variety of ways of thinking about media
work in English as often building on ‘typical’ classroom activity in English, but also that
this does need distinctive kinds of attention if media literacy is to be developed. Units
of work where media literacy is the main goal need to be part of a strong and contem-
porary English Department. All English teachers need to become skilled in the design
of such work and in assessing its particularities; we are not assessing traditional read-
ing and writing ONLY; assessing pupils’ genuine understanding of film as a medium
is working with a particular kind of knowledge. Unlike a former Secretary of State for
Education we might immediately we see rich possibilities in considering the novel To
Kill a Mockingbird and the famous film. Almost any form of adaptation from literature,
to film, radio or television series, brings traditional literacy and media literacy into com-
plementary territory, which is why even at KS4 there is real scope to keep developing
pupils’ media literacy. For some beginning English teachers this additional dimension

Andy Goodwyn          

to their practice can lead to very successful work as media specialists at GCSE and ‘A’
level, even to becoming head of such a department.
The current phase of, in a sense, excluding media literacy work from English, makes
no sense for pupils or English teachers and is completely out of step with the English
curriculum in comparable countries including almost all of Europe and much of the rest
of the world. Much better for beginning teachers to incorporate such work, by whatev-
er means seems best, because it is so central to our pupils’ needs, to the values and
beliefs of English teachers and to the health of our future citizens.

Buckingham, D. (2003) Media Education: Literacy, Learning and Contemporary Culture,
Cambridge: Polity Press.

This text, written by a key authority on media education in the UK, still has the best broad
introduction to the subject.
McDougall, J. (2012) Media Studies; the Basics, Abingdon: Routledge.

This is a valuable look at the purpose and place of Media Studies in contemporary edu-
cation, very accessible and especially useful if you are thinking that you might like to
become a specialist in Media Studies teaching at ‘A’ level.
Scarratt, E. and Davison, J. (2012) The Media Teacher’s Handbook, Abingdon: Routledge.

A very useful general introduction to designing teaching activities for secondary pupils
that will engage and motivate their interests.

The British Film Institute (
The BFI supports a wide range of medial literacy activities (not just film) and provides
teachers with a whole range of resources; it also includes the archive of Film Education,
which has a huge range of valuable resources developed over the last 20 years. It offers a
professional development programme and conferences.
The English and Media Centre (
This centre produces excellent resources for media work, especially related to English but
also supports ‘A’ level Media Studies including a magazine aimed at ‘A’ level students. It
also provides excellent professional development opportunities for teachers.


Theo Bryer

This chapter is a companion both to Chapter 8 (‘Media Literacy and English’) and Chap-
ter 10 (‘Drama in Teaching and Learning English’). The purpose of this chapter is to
help you to consider the relevance of digital technologies to your teaching of English. It
begins with some reflection on the significance of the ‘digital revolution’ to classroom
practices and to the subject of English and then offers a rationale for a creative approach
that engages pupils in the processes of making to help them to understand the construc-
tion and language of different texts, including multimodal texts (still, moving image and
sound texts, in particular).
The short history of media production included here underlines the cultural links
in a pedagogical tradition of working with cameras and sound recording equipment
with school pupils. One of the most significant aspects of the digital revolution is that
it means engaging with the technologies of representation, like these, has become
increasingly easier, faster and more affordable. And yet it may not be immediately
obvious to you that learning about media: photography, film, the graphic novel, ani-
mation, sound, etc. in a practical way, is necessarily within the scope of the English
classroom. Hence this chapter also proposes ways in which making such texts can
support expanding pupils’ understanding of themes, genres and the cultural location
of the novels, poems, plays and non-fiction that they study in English – providing
them with opportunities to generate their own readings and meanings. This might be
identified as learning through media – or learning that is facilitated by the judicious
use of digital technologies. So, the emphasis in this chapter is on forms of pedagogy
that draw on the technological and cultural resources that you have at your disposal
in English classrooms to teach about all kinds of texts and aspects of the subject, in a
practical and creative way.

Theo Bryer          

At the end of this chapter you should be able to:

■■ understand aspects of the debate around digital technologies and

■■ develop your own rationale for the creation of digital texts, including still,
moving image and sound texts in your classroom;
■■ understand about some of the technical processes involved in making
and sharing multimodal texts with pupils;
■■ plan for pupils to make and share multimodal texts to support learning
in English.


Your pupils are growing up with a digital revolution that has transformed the experience
of work, play and learning through ‘the shift of all culture to computer-mediated forms
of production, distribution, and communication’ (Manovich, 2001, p. 19). Manovich
reminds us that the digital aspect of digital technologies is cultural. This means that digi-
tal technologies have become

central to the many ways in which we form and sustain relationships, communicate
ideas, and generate, share and distribute knowledge . . . For many children digital
devices and the possibilities they enable are threaded through everyday life from
the earliest days, and their early experiences and understanding are patterned by
technology use.
(Burnett, 2016, p. 3)

This chapter might appear something of an anomaly – as would be a chapter about

pens and paper! But it is important not to overlook the cultural significance of the shift
into the digital realm. One of the significant changes brought about by the everyday
use of digital technology is that most of us now write to communicate on a far more
regular basis than we did 20 years ago – in more sustained and committed ways and
in anticipation of a wider audience, through our use of social media, texting and
email (Brandt, 2015). Yet currently in English lessons in the UK, pupils are far more
likely to be involved in studying the features of essays and speech writing than they
are the features of postings on social media, emails or blogs. This is one example of
the disconnect between pupils’ digital experiences in and outside school, underlining
that much of young people’s learning and experience online is ‘beyond the reach of
either parents or teachers’ (Alexander, 2010, p. 269). You can probably think of more
It has been recognized that the possibilities of the Internet and the ways that it changes
our relationship with knowledge or information has ‘potentially far-reaching implications
for pedagogy – not just for what we teach, but also for how we teach’ (Buckingham, 2010,

           Working with digital technologies

p. 287). Howard Jenkins originally defined this broader cultural movement as ‘participa-
tory culture’,

a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement,
strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal
membership whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to
(Jenkins et al., 2006, p. 3)

This is relevant to the way that education has been reconceptualised by enthusiasts like
James Paul Gee, for example, who writes about the potential that computer games have
to teach in open and collaborative ways (Gee, 2003; Gee and Hayes, 2011). If you play
multiplayer games you might consider the forms of collaboration and activities that you
engage in and the ways that you learn skills through that process. It might be harder to see
the connections with teaching and learning in the classrooms that you are familiar with.
Technologies and their associated cultural experiences are unlikely to initiate change in
schools without a major cultural shift in teaching and the way that education is configured
(Selwyn, Potter and Cranmer, 2010, p. 156; Schleicher, 2015, p. 17). That is not to say that
as a teacher you do not have some agency in the process.
The first decade of this century saw a substantial investment in technology in schools
in the UK, reflected in an increasing number of computers and interactive white boards
(IWBs) in core subjects, including English. Moss et al. (2007) identified features of
IWBs as ‘increased pace of delivery; increased use of multimodal resources, incorpo-
rating image, sound and movement in new ways; and a more interactive style of whole
class teaching’ (ibid., p. 6). The technology also tended to support a transmission style
of teaching and Moss et al. found that interactivity was likely to happen around the
board rather than in the classroom (ibid, p. 8). A report (Decoding Learning, Luckin
et al., 2012) concluded that in the development of innovation in teaching and learning,
‘it is important to concentrate on the way technologies can be used by pupils’ (ibid.,
p. 62). The focus in this chapter is not on what you can do at the front of the class
with slide presentations or the interactivity that whiteboards and touchscreens offer.
It is rather on what your pupils can do with the digital technology that they can get
their hands on. In most cases this involves forms of ‘participative and performative
activity’, pupils working together and sharing their work with each other (ibid., p. 61).
Luckin et al. (2012) define the learning opportunities offered by the variety of digi-
tal devices available as learning: from experts; with others (using Google Docs, for
example); through making; through exploring (in virtual worlds, for example); through
inquiry and through practising and in and across settings (with mobile devices). There
is not space here to consider all these possibilities but you should find out about your
pupils’ enthusiasms and draw on your own expertise and interests to develop different
approaches for the classes that you teach. Pupils’ use of YouTube revision videos to
support revision for school exams might be defined as ‘learning from experts’ but the
videos they find useful are often those created by other pupils, their own age. With this
shift in orientation, the whiteboard or the touchscreen TV at the front of the classroom
comes into its own for the sharing or display and critique of pupils’ work rather than
amplifying the teacher’s input.
Now consider the questions in Task 9.1.


Task 9.1 Referencing cultural aspects of digital

■ What do emails, tweets, texts and social media have to do with English?
■ What value do you see in pupils developing a Facebook page, Instagram posts
or a Twitter stream for Romeo, Tybalt or Juliet or referencing Assassin’s Creed
(Ubisoft, 2007–2018) or another popular computer game, when studying cre-
ative writing?
■ Can you think of ways that you might reference other aspects of digital media
in your teaching?

Creativity and criticality
Chapter 8 provided you with an overview of the history of media education.
According to the received history, despite their negative stance Leavis and Thompson
were responsible for bringing the ‘multitudinous counter-influences – films, newspapers,
advertising – indeed the whole world outside the class-room’ into the educational domain
(1933, p. 1). The idea that engagement with these forms of media might involve some
sort of production activities did not immediately suggest itself to English teachers except,
possibly, in forms of print journalism.
Following some initiatives in the previous two decades, the 1950s saw a more con-
certed interest in film making for educational purposes pioneered by the British Film
Institute and the Society for Education in Film and Television. Lowndes, working with
teenagers at Hornsey College of Art in the 1960s, proposed that pupils use still and film
cameras to interrogate the world around them, to look more closely at the familiar and
every day through the frame of the camera lens (1968). This approach embodied both an
emphasis on the grammar or language of film and the use of film making as a form of
expression – two strands that characterise the history of media production in education
(Sefton-Green, 1995). There are many more examples of media production carried out in
youth settings, offering young people the time and resources to make work that reflected
aspects of their social world and their concerns. Dewdney and Lister (1988) regarded the
still camera as a cheap and simple ‘mechanical means’ for young people to challenge the
hierarchy. They identified ideological tensions in schools’ reluctance to get involved in
production and as a reason why pupils’ cultural productivity was side-lined or ignored –
the constraints of time and resources are the excuse more often cited.
In the 1980s Masterman and others advocated the use of analytical semiotic approaches,
‘to ensure that people everywhere are liberated rather than enslaved by the new informa-
tion order’ (1985, p. 268). In Teaching about Television, Masterman explains his attempts
to develop a curriculum that is relevant to pupils’ lives, offering them opportunities to
‘read’ the TV programmes that they encounter everyday as ‘cultural texts . . . which can
be decoded to reveal large numbers of meanings’ (Masterman, 1980, p. 20). This process
of ‘demystification’ involved pupils in various filming activities including interviewing
and making their own TV news programmes (ibid., p. 27). Masterman was interested
in the ways that pupils appropriate the values of TV news through the creative process,


recognising the potential for further analysis arising from the activity (ibid., p. 83) with
a focus on ‘problematizing media representations’ (Masterman, 1985, p.198). The aim
of this chapter is not to detract from the significance of this kind of knowledge – about
who owns the media, whose interests it serves and how people are represented. Pupils,
in taking and editing still and moving images on their digital devices are drawing on the
resources of the material culture and around them and with reference to familiar media
conventions – in doing so they may appear to espouse some of the values reflected in the
products of these technologies with which they are most familiar. All this is brought into
play when you offer pupils the opportunity to make meaning in this way. Asking pupils
what the images they create remind them of can be a way of initiating a dialogue that
begins to acknowledge how people are represented and meanings communicated in their
work – and in the cultural forms that they draw on.
In the 1990s the work of Buckingham and Sefton-Green (1994) and Buckingham,
Grahame and Sefton-Green (1995) marked a recognition of collaborative practical work
as a means of exploring young people’s enthusiasm for forms of popular culture, like
soap operas. Buckingham and Sefton-Green suggest that, ‘If English is concerned with
the individual reader’s personal response to the individual writer’s personal vision, Media
Studies is concerned with the social production of meaning’ (1994, p.134). This is a view
that might be contested by many English teachers who engage their classes in social
and collaborative approaches to reading a class novel, for example. This chapter is about
extending the possibilities of shared reading, offering ways in to texts studied in the
English classroom. Burn and Durran champion this creative approach to media literacy,
suggesting that the availability of affordable ‘digital authoring tools’ offers opportunities
for playful forms of creative classroom activities from which different forms of critical
understanding can emerge (2007, p. 13). Critical analysis is seen here as a process of dia-
logue and negotiation of meanings and intentions and for many pupils the most accessible
way to join that dialogue is to engage in forms of production themselves.
Before reading further, undertake Task 9.2.

Task 9.2 Constructing a media production

This activity is intended to help you to reflect on the opportunities that you had to
produce media texts – and also to reflect on your pupils’ experience.
Write a list of the authorised (school) and unauthorised (out of school) opportu-
nities that you had to make media texts.
Here is an example of someone who may be a bit younger than you:

YEAR 9 (Age 13 / 14)

Made a film for Philosophy, Beliefs and Ethics about Islamophobia. It took
ages and my friends and I were concerned not to misrepresent what it is like
to experience prejudice.
The dance teacher let us film dance rehearsals on someone’s phone so that
we could remind ourselves of the choreography.


Remade memes, tagged my friends and posted them on Instagram.

Made a cooking tutorial for my Instagram Story.
Edited a series of photos I took on a protest, set them to music and shared
this on YouTube.
Worked on a short documentary at a Saturday morning club, about what we
did at the club – involving lots of interviews. Interviewing our friends was fun but
we had so much footage, we didn’t finish the editing.
Played around with GarageBand – sampling some music and a recording of
my friends talking. I didn’t share it.

When you have done this, compare it with another student teacher’s. What differ-
ence do aspects of your identity and background, e.g. age, gender, cultural affilia-
tions, sexual orientation, schooling, access to technology, make to these forms of
production? Why do you think that is?
The example above is that of someone younger than you. Do you think that
your pupils are likely to have had more production experiences than you?
(It might be worth asking them to find out).
Can you identify what space there is for pupils to offer their own perspec-
tives and narratives about aspects of their lives, particularly through popular
cultural mediums of video and photography, in the schools that you find your-
selves in?
What implications do you see in this for your classroom practice?

This brief survey has not touched upon the complex question of whether learning
through digital technology is essentially different from other kinds of making and learn-
ing. The mutability and provisionality of digital technology, seems to encourage risk tak-
ing because mistakes can be so easily undone and decisions remade (Manovich, 2001,
p. 133). Research has documented pupils’ pleasure at the shift in role from consumer to
producer facilitated by the ‘speed and capacity’ of digital editing software (Burn, 2009,
p. 55). Although the majority of pupils in your classrooms are likely to have mobile
phones about their persons that offer all kinds of potential for digital making and learn-
ing, their use in classrooms in not currently sanctioned in most school contexts in the UK.
iPads are probably the most prevalent mobile devices that you will encounter in school
(Burnett and Merchant, 2017, p. 239). As you know, touchscreen technology is quick and
responsive allowing for easy access to online content and all kinds of applications (apps).
Some apps are regarded as more educational than others – many seem more orientated
towards training (Burnett and Merchant, 2017, p. 4).
In our experience, the combination of camera, keyboard, word processing and editing
apps, the capacity to share material online and the relatively large size of the screen,
supports collaborative writing, making and learning (Bryer, Lindsay and Wilson, 2014;
Burnett, 2017; Potter and Bryer, 2016; Merchant, 2015). We have found that using iPads
with pupils has sped up the processes of media production so that film-making activities
that used to take a day and that involved booking a computer room, can happen in a les-
son, in any classroom. One simple way in which you might put tablets to use would be to
ask your pupils to teach or share something with each other, a poem for example, using

           Working with digital technologies

the presentational tools available (like Padlett, Prezzi or Sway). You might continue to
experiment and to reflect on the experiences of learning using digital devices like these,
when they are available for classroom use.

Writing in school is often construed as activity undertaken by pupils sitting alone or
pretending to be alone; encouraged to ignore the pull of the 29 or so individuals with
whom they inhabit the classroom. Hence the subsequent sharing of that material seems
more readily to imply an audience of one, the teacher or possibly ‘peer assessor’, than
the sharing of video or drama texts, for example. Buckingham suggests that media pro-
duction in school contexts is ‘inherently and necessarily social, both in the sense that
it is generally collaborative and in the sense that it uses socially available resources’
(2003, p. 137). Addressing a familiar audience through creative work often involves
drawing on shared cultural tastes. Haas Dyson has long called for the curriculum to
be more ‘permeable’ (1993, 1997) – to help children to make connections between
the popular cultural texts that they enjoy and the texts that they might meet in school,
particularly with respect to the structures and patterns of narrative. Acknowledging this
cultural knowledge in school can be motivating for learners (Alexander, 2010, p. 67;
Marsh and Millard, 2000).
Through Barrs and Horrocks’ research into Education blogs and their effects on pupils’
writing (2014), they found that the discursive style that blogging seems to encourage
proved a stimulus to write. They concluded that:

In most classrooms, for most pupils, blogging resulted in pupils’ increased engage-
ment in writing, increased confidence in writing, greater awareness of audience,
greater sense of their ‘voice’ as a writer, greater awareness of their own writing and
that of others, and an enhanced sense of belonging to a writing community.
(2014, p. 45)

Website platforms such as WordPress enable opportunities for collaboration, shar-

ing, appreciation and critique via a blog where pupils post their work – open for every-
one who is interested, including parents, to read and to make comments. In one London
school, the department replaced English exercise books with iPads and in some classes
pupils have their own blog. Pupils are able to read, comment on each other’s work and
ask each other questions and their teacher, Chris Waugh, found that the immediate
feedback he could offer online meant pupils responded readily to his suggestions. The
department used the site to post resources and to access and share pupils’ work, via
the whiteboard – so that the whole class could comment on it in lesson time. Pupils
also made their own videos and animations, often very speedily, using iPads – and they
uploaded these too.
Of course, such activity does not happen seamlessly. Maintaining and updating tech-
nology is always an issue – it is time-consuming and costly and mobile devices may ‘wan-
der’. Often the expertise is not necessarily shared by everyone in a department or school.
It might be helpful to find out what goes on in other departments in your school, partic-
ularly Computing – and to seek further support and resources through your colleagues.
Before reading further, undertake Task 9.3.


Task 9.3 Addressing an audience

1. Make an audit of the opportunities that pupils have to share their work with
other pupils in their classroom, during the course of a week at school.
■ What medium were the pupils using (e.g. drama, video, hand or digitally
written text)?
■ How did the pupils respond to sharing this work with their peers?
■ Did they produce work specifically for this audience or was the sharing an
■ What difference do you think this makes?
■ What opportunities do you see for this form of sharing in your teaching?

2. Investigate setting up an educational blog on the Internet. You might start by

finding out what you can do with virtual learning environments that your school
uses (like Moodle, for example) or search online for blogging sites like Edublogs
or the WordPress blog creation facility.
■ Try reading and commenting on blogs that you are interested in and consid-
er setting up one of your own.
■ What potential for learning do you see in blogging?


The 2007 National Curriculum Programmes of Study for KS3 and KS4 encompassed
the study of multimodal texts – with a focus on the creation of meaning ‘through the
combination of words, images and sounds’ (2.2 Reading KS3). This validated a creative
approach as the most effective way for pupils to develop ‘a critical grasp of the systems
of meaning-making which operate in media texts’ (Burn and Durran, 2007, p.169). In
the current Programmes of Study for English at KS3 and 4 (DfE, 2014) there is no
mention of media or multimodal texts – the focus is on reading ‘books’. This should not
discourage you from using these practical approaches, at the very least to help pupils to
engage with and to make sense of the novels, plays and poems that they are studying.
For a long time, the literary canon, the works of Dickens and Shakespeare, for example,
have been interpreted in the medium of film or TV. There are over 120 film and stage
versions of Jekyll and Hyde for example, meaning that very few of your pupils will be
surprised by the ending when they read it in school. In the digital age there is conver-
gence across different mediums so that young people are used to experiencing literature
in different forms and in a variety of ways – like Pullman’s Northern Lights (1995) as a
novel, on screen, in the theatre or as a computer game. Interrogating the forms of nar-
rative that emerge from interpretations of texts in different media can help your pupils
to understand aspects of the printed version. There is much potential for learning about
narrative tropes through the processes of adapting a play, novel or epic poem, as we dis-
covered working with Beowulf (Coles and Bryer, 2018). Through remaking this ancient,
canonical text, into drama, film, spoken word and computer game – with reference to
the many recent adaptations of Beowulf – student teachers and pupils explored represen-
tations of violence and the female characters, including the monster, Grendel’s Mother

           Working with digital technologies

and developed insights into the ways the poem’s structure echoes the shifting perspective
of a camera (ibid.). One teacher, who taught Beowulf to her Year 8 class as part of this
project, reflected:

What was particularly interesting to me as an English teacher was to trace how the
pupils drew on their multi-media lessons, beginning to experiment with the struc-
tural devices used in the films and including far more visual and tactile description
in their own writing. Studying in this way seemed to allow pupils to grasp hold of
Beowulf as if it was a tactile thing . . . they began to feel entitled to interrogate, twist
and play with its language, conventions and ideas as they reinvented it.
(Smith, quoted in Burn, Bryer and Coles, 2016, p. 66)

Similarly, through Mills’ research with pupils she concludes that what she calls, trans-
mediation not only invites creativity but also promotes ‘evaluative and generative think-
ing’ (2016, p. 68) because of the significant ways that pupils have to adapt their purposes
to the cultural conventions of the particular medium they are working in.
A significant justification for involving your pupils in media production is the argu-
ment made in the drama chapter that reading, like literacy itself, is ‘transformative
and creative. It does not simply involve understanding a text – it involves, to different
degrees – remaking that text’ (Burn and Durran, 2007, p. 2). To understand this form
of Reader Response theory (Rosenblatt, 1978), it is worth considering the possibilities
offered by the social context of the classroom (Yandell, 2016), where pupils are able to
share their individual understandings, imaginings and the references to other texts that
the reading brings to mind. Drama and film making offer opportunities for pupils to
negotiate and embody their interpretations, through a creative process that enables them
to ‘speak back’ to the text. Pupils sometimes describe this as putting themselves into
the text or making the imagination ‘real’ – offering the opportunity to create or make ‘a
virtual text . . . not the actual text – however great its literary power – but the text that
the reader has constructed under its sway’, as Bruner describes the process of reading
(1986, p. 37).


Manovich compares the way that computer users are automatically involved in speaking
‘the language of the interface’ through writing emails and the like, and that film con-
sumers or users do not necessarily ‘speak’ the language of film though they understand
it (2001, p. xv). The rest of this chapter will focus on the production of multimodal texts
because it is in this area that student teachers often need most guidance and because there
is a pedagogical tradition to draw on here. As you read on, you might reflect on your atti-
tude to practical activities involving forms of digital technology in the English classroom.

There are many ways in which making short moving image texts can be done by the whole
class, by small groups or by individuals. Use of the term film refers to digital film making
(referencing the cultural processes involved as much as its digital aspects).



As part of an approach to teaching a film, you might pause the film and ask pupils to
create the next shot. For example, if the class is studying, About a Girl (Percival, 2001)
one of the films on the British Film Institute compilation, Moving Shorts, you might
pause the film just before the shot with the central character’s mother and sister (1:05
mins) or with her father (1:23 mins). You might then ask pupils to plan and shoot the
next shot, in pairs or small groups, including no more than one line of dialogue. This
activity asks pupils to consider narrative structure – the way that the film is constructed
so that the girl’s situation is revealed or hinted at in an economical way. Alternatively,
if the class is studying Frankenstein (Shelley, 1818), you might choose to focus on the
construction of a moment of high drama by asking them to plan the shot after the crea-
ture’s hand first twitches in the James Whale film version (1931) – that you can find on
YouTube (search for It’s alive! Frankenstein). It is interesting to discuss pupils’ know-
ledge of this iconic moment and to compare it to Chapter 5 of Shelley’s text (1818) – as
we suggest in Chapter 10 on drama. Pupils can use tablets, mobile phones or digital
cameras to do this. The benefits of using mobile phones are that there are likely to be
enough technical resources to go round and that pupils know how to use them. If it is
too tricky to upload to the class computer, pupils can easily share their work with their
neighbours in the classroom.
In viewing the shots that are produced, ask the pupils to consider how each one con-
tributes to the development of the narrative, build-up of tension and atmosphere. Some
useful further questions might be: What do you notice about this shot? Does anything
surprise you? How does it make you feel? What does it remind you of? How does it
change your understanding of the narrative or the impact of the film? Why do you think
they made those choices? Before continuing to view the next shot in the original film, you
might emphasise that any of these choices is valid and that film makers face choices like
this all the time.
Now try Task 9.4.

Task 9.4 Framing the next shot

Try the ‘framing the next shot’ activity out for yourself. First sketch your idea, then
try actually framing (i.e. working out what you want in the camera viewfinder or
screen) and taking the shot – which might involve you asking a friend to act.

■ What is the difference between the two approaches? How is planning on paper
different from actually taking the shot?
■ Did you make decisions about shot types (for example, close up or long shot),
on paper?
■ How did you make those decisions when shooting?
■ How does each activity change the way that you view finished film and its
■ What insights does it give into constructing and sequencing shots?
■ Did you enjoy aspects of these activities? Why?
■ Can you think of another text that would lend itself to this activity?

           Working with digital technologies

If you want your pupils to film short sequences of action, it is a good idea for them to plan
in advance. Storyboarding is useful for this but it is something that pupils often find diffi-
cult to do, if they have not had experience of filming. Pupils are sometimes given lists of
shots to include, as they might be given suggestions for writing techniques when writing
persuasively, for example. What learners find difficult, is engaging with the meaning mak-
ing potential of different shots – and although prompt sheets maybe helpful, selecting shots
from a kind of tick list can be a distraction. Making and sharing work with others in the
medium of the moving image, is far more potent than sharing two-dimensional storyboards.
It is as hard to teach spatial aspects of continuity editing, for example, without trying
it out, as it is to teach some of the rules of football without playing the game. But once
pupils engage in constructing a simple narrative (about two people meeting and sharing
a look or a package, for example) – they have to consider what to focus their camera on
and how to frame each shot. When they watch the results back, they can make a judgment
about what makes the narrative interesting or difficult to follow, providing opportunities
for reflection on how continuity editing frames the way that we view moving image texts
in the Western world. Representations of space and points of view are some of the more
technical aspects of filming that pupils will engage with through the process and that you
and they can learn about through making and reflecting on the results.

Here are some examples of making short films to support the reading of a class novel or
other text. As we suggest in the drama chapter, it is important to define the parameters
of the practical task. Unless you make it clear to pupils what making a one or two-min-
ute sequence means, they are liable to set about planning a feature film. It is useful to
be specific about the number of photographs and shots (still and moving image) – you
might limit it to ten, for example. Beginning film makers need a hook or clear stimulus to
plan their list of shots around. It works well to select a moment of tension, with limited
dialogue, from a text. Perhaps it is the moment in Noughts and Crosses when Sephy has
saved a seat for Callum in the classroom and he walks in (Blackman, 2002, Chapter 11).
The pupils can decide what Callum’s and other pupils’ reactions are (before they read fur-
ther in the novel). This moment has been selected because it lends itself to the medium of
the moving image, offering the potential to focus the camera on faces and small gestures.
The classroom setting will also help to support the diegesis or fictional context of the film
that the pupils are endeavouring to create. There are other moments from the text that you
might decide are better explored through drama.
If you want to reference the medium more deliberately you might ask the pupils to film
the moment when Sephy stops the fighting at the school gates on Callum’s first day, as it
is captured on the TV news that Callum watches later (Chapters 5 and 10). The benefit of
the latter is that this is news footage, so it might just include one shot of the action (less
constructed than film drama). The news package could conclude with an interview with
a member of the crowd. Showing the class the iconic media images of the moment when
Little Rock Nine made their way to school, in Arkansas in 1957 on the advent of the
desegregation of schools in the USA, will provide a reference point and enlarge pupils’
reading and understanding of the novel and its themes.

Theo Bryer          

You might do this activity as a whole class or in small groups. Obviously, pupils will
have to negotiate who should film and who should act. It is a good idea to prompt them to
keep the camera as steady as possible – to use a tripod or to stand with feet apart and to
avoid filming with a bright light behind the actors – but all this can be discovered through
trial and error. It is practical to maintain a discipline of counting down before shooting.
Bear in mind that background noise can be muted in the edit.
There are many texts that lend themselves as a stimulus to short film making in ways
that offer opportunities to explore their language, genre, mood or atmosphere through an
expressive approach – so that the constraints of continuity editing are not an issue. Texts
that have elements of the Gothic, like The Raven (Poe, 1845), The Rime of The Ancient
Mariner (Coleridge, 1798) and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Stevenson,
1886) are particularly rich stimuli. Working in the medium of film enables pupils to draw
on their knowledge of horror and zombie films to develop their understanding of the
genre, for example.
It is worth thinking through what will help pupils to capture some essence of the text or
to respond to a dramatic moment. Pupils working on The Raven (Poe, 1845) can be asked
to develop a short sequence that follows the opening of the door at this point in the poem:

And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,

That I scarce was sure I heard you”- here I opened wide the door; -

In small groups they choose locations in the school basement and then find ways to
transform themselves, within their everyday environment, using the lights from their
mobile phones in dark corners and editing images to make them appear strange and
uncanny (Bryer, Lindsay and Wilson, 2014). The most striking aspect of this is the ways
that it provides a platform for pupils to articulate their understanding of the poem, with
reference to their own readings.
When studying Haroun and the Sea of Stories (Rushdie, 1990), pupils can be asked to
make two-minute films about a sudden change from the routine and every day to the fan-
tastical, as happens when Haroun and his father leave the ‘sad city’ of Alifbay (Rushdie,
1990, p. 15). Consider how you would show a switch from the everyday to the fantastical
with two actors in school uniform, a school corridor and a door to the outside. You might
be able to show the shift with a change of light and might use some material or bit of
costume to transform your actors’ appearance. You would also have to rely on your actors
and their reactions, their gestures and quality of movement.
The joy of this kind of activity is that it encourages pupils to think about how to use the
‘affordances’ of the technology at their disposal, to manipulate time and space. In the edit
they can put things together that happened at different times, so that someone may appear
at one end of the corridor and suddenly be gone or appear outside. The film can also be
speeded up or slowed down. Adding music makes all the difference in capturing mood
and atmosphere and building tension. A useful constraint (especially with tablets and
cheap cameras) might be that there is no dialogue, and then music, sound effects or voice-
overs can be used to help to structure and complete the text (see Potter and Bryer, 2016).
Student teachers involved in work like this have been struck by the potential that the
activity offers for collaborative learning and freedom of interpretation. A careful choice of
location enhances the repertoire of resources that pupils have to draw on. Using technical
skills learnt outside school gives them a degree of ownership over their learning and it is
clear that they enjoy making texts in a medium that has cultural value. Tablet technology


adds to this process, marking a clear moment for evaluation and review during the filming
because of the way the sizeable screen, camera and editing apps are combined (Bryer,
Lindsay and Wilson, 2014; Potter and Bryer, 2016). Above all, evidence of pupils’ creative
responses and their understanding of the original text is embodied in these digital readings.

Engaging in editing offers the opportunity to make meaning through a precise, creative
process – manipulating images that represent time and space, drawing on the nuances
of different shot types or sound files and sequencing them in particular ways with the
possibility of adding further layers or lines of images, sound, music and titles to make
meanings and develop narratives. For most pupils it is not negotiating the technology that
is an issue – the challenge is engaging with what it means to cut, sequence and shape for
particular purposes. There are substitute activities for this, involving sequencing hard
copies of still images. They are a useful prelude to editing but do not necessarily provide
the same insights on their own.
One of the most straightforward ways to work with sequences of images and sound is
to arrange digital photographs or pictures into a form of montage or narrative sequence.
There are different ways of doing this via digital storytelling applications or downloads
like Photostory 3, GarageBand, Storybird or Bookemon or editing software like iMovie or
Windows Story Remix. There are opportunities for pupils to make comics, using Comic
Life 3 or to make animations, using GoAnimate or, I Can Animate – or to create sound
texts with Audacity or GarageBand, for example. It is up to you to find out what you
can access in school and what suits your purposes. Of course, although these downloads
and packages are currently available, they are liable to change and there will be new and
more interesting possibilities that emerge. It is worth being wary of apps designed for an
education market that are too prescriptive, although pupils are likely to subvert them for
their own purposes.
In organising an edit on computers or other digital devices, you can split up the small
groups who have done the filming (if you have enough machines) so that more people get
the opportunity to enact decisions. Make sure that relevant music and sound effects are read-
ily available, alongside those provided by the software. You will need to provide your pupils
with some instructions about how to import their footage into the editing software, drag
shots on to the timeline in a rough order and begin to edit. A useful way of teaching yourself
to edit is to write them some instructions about this activity – or pupils can follow instruc-
tions provided with the software. They often work it out by trial and error exploration.
Now explore the activities in Task 9.5.

Task 9.5 Editing

1. Open up whatever editing application or app you have on your computer or
digital device (you may have to download iMovie or another app, if you haven’t
2. Import your footage – photos or videos.
3. ‘Grab’ your footage and move it to the timeline or project, as it is called in


■ Experiment with sequencing, cutting and adding sound. Instructions are

provided with the software about how to do this.
4. Export the finished product as a movie file that you can play and share  – a
Quicktime file or an MP4, for example.
■ How does this transform the footage/text that you are working on?
■ How does it make you feel being able to do this?
■ What does this activity remind you of?
■ What possibilities do you see in this for learning in the English classroom?
5. Search on YouTube for videos and photomontages about any of the poems
that your pupils are studying for GCSE.
■ What do you think the pupils who made them might have learnt through the

One of the most significant aspects of digital texts is the potential they offer for re-mak-
ing or re-editing (or making ‘mashups’). The challenge that this poses you is how to find
and download texts with which to work. There are obvious places to go for this and easy
ways to download or ‘rip’ sections of moving image texts, but you may have to search the
Internet to find out how to do this. In terms of copyright check the Terms of Service of
the website (usually in the bottom left hand corner of the Home page). Also check that the
text you want to use is not already infringing copyright. Obviously, whatever you do is for
educational purposes and not for commercial gain. Adding a voice-over to the David Lean
film of Great Expectations (1946), representing Pip’s thoughts as he climbs the stairs
behind Estella on their way to Miss Havisham’s room, is one example of an adaptation of
a digital text that works well.


Simulating TV news broadcasts has long been within the scope of the English classroom.
Anton Franks (2008) developed an activity called Doing the News with school pupils in
the late 1980s, which involves pupils making a two-minute TV news broadcast in a single
lesson and then filming it in one take. It can be adapted to make a one or two-minute news
item that is suitable for sharing on social media – like those made by AJ+, a news channel
run by Al Jazeera Media Network.
This sequence of activities can be done in a double lesson (in about 90 minutes). You
will need a set of tablets with an editing app, in a ratio of 1:3 pupils, ideally – and some
pieces of card or blank paper:

■ Ask the pupils where they get their news. You may find the answers surprising!
■ Ask whether any are familiar with the AJ+ videos, shared on Facebook and other
media platforms.
■ Share a couple (via Facebook or the AJ+ website). Notice that they have subtitles, so
that they can be watched with the sound down, and that they often end with a ques-
tion, to provoke further debate.

           Working with digital technologies

■■ Every pupil then has a few minutes to write two short news stories, on a piece of card:
●● one story to do with current affairs and one that concerns them, their peers or
their school community. Both stories should have a title or headline and end
with a question (it is fine if that is all some pupils write).
■■ Divide the class into small groups of three or four (depending on how many iPads
you have).
●● Each small group should choose one story from their collection of cards and
then take no more than ten still images and two or three moving images, to tell
their story. They might use images from the Internet. Be strict about shooting
time – no more than 20 minutes.
■■ Give each small group instructions for editing or show them how to find out the
instructions via the editing app. Encourage pupils to edit so that the movement
between shots and images is faster paced than that programmed by the software.
■■ Finally, pupils can add subtitles and possibly music and/or a voice-over.
●● Each small group should title and export their videos, so that you or they can
publish them online (on a private channel on YouTube or Vimeo) or upload
them to a computer for sharing. If there is too little time for uploading, pupils
can gather round and watch each other’s films on the iPads.
■■ After sharing, pupils should consider:
●● What conventions do the videos draw on and which do they subvert?
●● What debate might these films provoke, online?
●● How does it feel, making the news and watching it back?

The point of this exercise is not to simulate a news item precisely but to enable pupils
to assume different roles and thus to access what they know about language, register and
media conventions, to make the news, in a seriously playful way. Through the process
pupils can consider the relevance of some of the conventions that Masterman so assidu-
ously critiqued. Often the tendency will be to make some form of parody but for parody to
work it has to have some basis in the known and familiar. If you are interested in the pupils
responding to a particular news event, you might reference this at the stage of writing. It
might be related to the events of a class novel, as above.
If you are interested in developing this approach in a more conventional way, you
might get involved with BBC School Report, an annual event in which school pupils
deliver the news from their schools around the UK. You could just use the accompanying
resources, which can be found online (

The focus of this chapter is not on which digital technologies to use but on ‘why and
how’ you might use them in particular ways in your English classroom, to support
learning (Buckingham, 2007, p. 177). It is up to you when and how you find a place
for digital technologies in your classroom – whether it is woven into your close read-

Theo Bryer          

ing of a class novel or poetry or part of a scheme of work about the non-fiction texts,
for example. Digital technologies offer pupils the opportunity to make and share
texts that have cultural significance that extends beyond the classroom. If you feel
daunted about the prospect of engaging your pupils in practical work in school, start
simply by setting some homework to make a relevant multimodal text to be shared
with the class. Think carefully about what pupils come up with and the processes
that they engage in to do it. It may well be that you find they share resources and
work collaboratively – and that some may be prepared to dedicate considerable time
and effort to creating something to show to a classroom audience. The results may
surprise and delight you and encourage you to be brave in drawing on the consider-
able technical and cultural resources that you have at your disposal in your English

Burn, A. (2009) Making New Media: Creative Production and Digital Literacies, New York and
Oxford: Peter Lang.

An interesting collection of Burn’s theoretical writings based on case studies and practical
work with school pupils.
Burn, A. and Durran, J. (2007) Media Literacy in Schools: Practice, Production and Progression,
London: Paul Chapman.

A collaboration between a teacher and an academic, this book draws on practice, theory
and research in its accounts of cross-curricular media production work in a secondary
Hayward, S. (2018) Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts (5th edn), Abingdon: Routledge.

A readable and enjoyable ‘dictionary’ of key terms, including genres of film and defini-
tions of terminology relevant to film making.
English Allsorts – Student Teacher Edition (

This affordable download offers all kinds of teaching strategies informed by the English
and Media Centre’s practical and engaging approach.
British Film Institute Education and Research (

The British Film Institute have been involved in research around film literacy and learning
for decades and this site provides useful resources for teachers, news of upcoming events
and links to research
DARE project Digital Arts Research Education (

This blog represents a research partnership focused on the digital arts in education, led by
the University College Institute of Education, and the British Film Institute. The collab-
orative offers courses for teachers and you can comment and share your experiences of
using digital media in the classroom.

           Working with digital technologies

Into Film (

Into Film is a film education charity that develops film-based materials and programmes
for children and young people across the UK. They have free, up to date resources for the
English classroom.
The Media Magazine (

This magazine for teachers and pupils, published by The English and Media Centre pro-
vides a wealth of articles and ideas for the classroom. There are other resources available
on the English and Media website, including materials for editing.
Tom Barrance’s Learn about Film (

Tom Barrance’s website and resources provide tried and tested and accessible ways in to
short film making and resources for teaching about film.

About a Girl, Percival, B., 2001.
Great Expectations, Lean, D., 1946.

Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft, 2007–2018.


Anton Franks and

Theo Bryer

Drama, as a means of teaching and learning and as an object of study in text and per-
formance, has always been part of English teaching in schools. In this chapter we will
be exploring the ways that drama can be used as both a method and as a form that can
be applied to the study of many kinds of text – literary or mundane, still or moving
image, prose fiction or non-fiction, play text or film script – alongside the exploration and
understanding of spoken and written language in different social, cultural and historical
Whether as pedagogic method or as text and performance, drama is a unique means
with which to animate texts, issues, themes and ideas, bringing abstract ideas and imag-
ined worlds to life in physical form. There are many ways of approaching and doing
drama in classrooms and studios, levels of role-taking and acting out that involve teachers
and pupils in different activities that range from sedentary drama, with pupils sitting
behind desks, to pushing back the desks and using the empty space. At the same time, we
recognise that although many teachers see the potential of drama as part of English, some
people will feel that getting pupils to stand up and do active drama is to push the bound-
aries a little too far. Perhaps you feel that doing drama might be risky?

By the end of this chapter, you should have:

■■ learnt about drama and its relation to the teaching and learning of English;
■■ understood something of the history of drama in education and its rela-
tionship with English;
■■ reflected on your own experiences of and attitudes to drama;
■■ considered the ways in which drama draws from and contributes to stu-
dents’ experience and understanding;

           Drama in teaching and learning English

■■ been introduced to a range of examples and ways that drama can be

applied to the teaching and learning of English;
■■ been introduced to a range of resources to support the teaching and
learning of drama as part of English.

Later, we will give examples of how drama has been used in English lessons, some of
them taken from the work of student teachers, a few of whom will have had little expe-
rience of participating in or using drama in the past. It is intended to show how, even by
engaging in relatively short drama-based activities, the use of drama and in-role work
can be used to enhance and support the reading and learning of different texts, to reflect
on character, social interaction and uses of spoken language, as well as being an end or
outcome in its own right.
In drama, the verbal modes of speech and writing are set in the context of bodily
communication and embodied relations between people. Sharing drama work in progress
with the class, showing devised scenes and role-plays, or performing scripted work either
as a dramatized reading or as a rehearsed presentation provides real audiences for pupils’
work. As well as the intrinsic pleasures of performance, sharing and showing drama can
provide a platform for further debate and discussion around a text – and an opportunity
for pupils to develop their ability to give positive feedback and constructive criticism.
Drama work can be a motivating, engaging and enjoyable learning experience for pupils
if they have clear direction and a sense of purpose.
From our point of view, we see drama as a whole spectrum of activity that stretches
from asking pupils to take on the role of characters in a novel and perhaps writing a diary
entry or a letter, to moving into a performance space to enact whole scenes, whether
scripted or devised: from, ‘what might the character Stanley Yelnats from the novel Holes
write to his mother after a week in Camp Green Lake?’, for example, to ‘show me how
the assembled nobles react to Macbeth’s outbursts in the banquet scene – Act 3, Scene
4’. Although the activities apparently seem far apart, both involve the processes of dra-
matization in imagining what it feels like to be in a different place and time, realising
characters, situations and dilemmas – and both draw on processes of reading and involve
writing or preparing to write. This is to make claims about the complexities and multi-
modalities of making meaning in drama, ideas with which we take this chapter forward.


In its first version, the National Curriculum (NC) document for English by Professor Brian
Cox and colleagues (known as the Cox Report) and drawn up after a consultation with
English teachers around England and Wales, included a whole chapter devoted to drama
(DES and WO, 1989). Here, similar to the way that English is seen both as a means of
instruction and a field of study, Cox et al. pronounce that ‘Drama is not simply a subject,
but also – more importantly – a method; it is both a creative art form in its own right and
also a learning tool’. The authors go on to write of drama’s potential in the development
of confidence, as well as exploring a range of feelings and variety of social situations and
dilemmas (ibid., para. 8.6). This document is the most expansive on drama as part of teach-
ing and learning of English – more so than any subsequent NC publication. In subsequent

Anton Franks and Theo Bryer          

versions, drama is merely a subsection of ‘Speaking and Listening’. The more reduced 2007
Programmes of Study for KS3 English recommended dramatic techniques and approaches
that included Teacher in Role and Forum Theatre alongside tableaux and hot seating.
Reference to understanding the way that meaning is created in multimodal texts through
combinations of words, images and sounds, was a feature of the 2007 Programmes of
Study within 2.2 ‘Reading’, KS3. This not only expanded the definition of texts to impro-
vised drama and film but also offered opportunities for a more visual frame of reference.
Through each of its versions in the 1990s and into the 2000s, and despite its growth in
popularity as a separate curriculum subject and examination option at GCSE and A level,
drama was not granted the status of having its own NC document. The Arts Council did
publish and reissue curriculum documents on drama, focusing on ‘making’, ‘performing’
and ‘responding’ to drama as an independent subject, whilst placing little emphasis on
drama as a means of teaching and learning in other subjects such as English (Arts Council
of Great Britain, 1992; Arts Council of England, 2003).
In the current English Programme of Study for Key Stage 3 (2014), drama features min-
imally, with the requirement, under the heading ‘Reading’ that ‘pupils should be taught’
to read plays including two plays by Shakespeare (p. 4). There is further emphasis on
developing critical reading skills through: ‘understanding how the work of dramatists is
communicated effectively through performance and how alternative staging allows for
different interpretations’ (p. 4). There is mention of writing scripts under ‘Writing’ (p. 5)
and a bullet point about ‘improvising, rehearsing and performing play scripts’ with a focus
on language, tone and dramatic action, under the heading of ‘Spoken English’ (p. 6). The
same bullet point appears in the parallel document for Key Stage 4. There are no direct ref-
erences to drama or scripts under ‘Reading’ (p. 5) or ‘Writing’ (p. 6), apart from the stip-
ulation to study one Shakespeare play at Key Stage 4 (p. 5). There is no mention of drama
to support learning in English or other subjects, or of drama as a subject in its own right.
Yet, in an Ofsted survey of English conducted between 2008 and 2011 and published
in 2012 (Ofsted, 2012), Ofsted inspectors promote a view of ‘active and innovative class-
room approaches including well-planned drama activities’ (para. 26) to ensure the full
engagement of all pupils. They characterise drama as a key aspect of English that might
be fully integrated alongside poetry and media to provide a ‘rich and varied programme
for pupils’ (para. 38). Under the section on ‘Leadership and Management’ of English on
the whole curriculum, inspectors note that drama plays a part when the curriculum and
the teaching of English is viewed by school leaderships as a ‘creative, interactive’ subject
(para. 79). When Shakespeare is taught, stressing ‘dramatic and presentational elements’,
Ofsted note that students are motivated by the sense of the text being directed at ‘a real
audience’ and thereby seeing that there are ‘clear reasons’ and ‘definite outcomes’ in
learning Shakespeare through drama (para. 138). Despite the inspectors’ emphasis on
practical engagement, the current curriculum makes no connection between pupils’ prac-
tical involvement in acting out Shakespeare and developing a critical reading or under-
standing of the text – or script.


Learning through drama
Drama in classrooms, either as pedagogic method or as object of study, is not a new
thing – in fact, in the history of compulsory schooling in the UK, it has a history that

           Drama in teaching and learning English

stretches back well over 100 years. In the early part of the last century, village school
teacher, Harriet Finlay-Johnson used drama methods as a means of teaching and learn-
ing across the whole curriculum and, at the independent Perse School in Cambridge,
the teacher Henry Caldwell Cook encouraged his pupils to make their own versions of
well-known plays and to dramatize stories and various forms of literature (see Bolton,
1998). In the 1950s and 1960s, alongside the growth of what is referred to as ‘child-cen-
tred’ education, learning through play and drama (Slade, 1976/1954) and personal devel-
opment through drama exercises (Way, 1967) began to make their way into primary
From the 1970s onwards, drama as a ‘process’ and ‘medium’ of learning (that is, learn-
ing through drama as opposed to learning about drama), gained in popularity across sec-
ondary and primary schools, particularly associated with the work of charismatic drama
teacher, Dorothy Heathcote (Heathcote, 1985, 2014; Heathcote and Bolton, 1995; Wagner,
1999) and her close colleague, Gavin Bolton (Bolton, 1979; Bolton, 1984; Bolton, 1998;
Bolton, 2010, edited by Davis). Heathcote’s approach was referred to as ‘Living Through’
Drama (Bolton, 1998, p. 199) or ‘Man in a mess’ (sic) (Heathcote, 1972; p. 157), involv-
ing a collaborative approach to tackling a problem posed through the fictional, dramatic
context. It involves moments of spontaneous, improvised drama, in which the teacher
adopts a dramatic role alongside the pupils, to explore themes, ideas and narratives and
to reflect on their meanings. Heathcote wrote of the sense of urgency and immediacy
generated by this approach,

I am constantly amazed by the miracle of the way thinking about a dramatic idea can
in an instant, become that of carrying it into action. There is a world of difference
between someone in the class saying, ‘Well they would take all their belongings with
them’, and saying, ‘Let’s pack up and leave’.
(2014, p. 72)

One aspect of this form of drama is the way that it prompts pupils ‘to access linguis-
tic registers that they might not normally be expected to be able to use’, having obvious
implications for English classrooms (Barrs, 1987, p. 9). Heathcote and Bolton’s Teacher
in Role pedagogy has been developed in various directions by practitioners who have
written up examples and structures or schemes of work in accessible forms that can be
adapted to many purposes. Cecily O’Neill, for example, has developed many schemes
that draw on the elements of what she refers to as ‘Process Drama’ (O’Neill, 1985; see
also, O’Neill and Lambert, 1982; Neelands, 1984, 1992, 1998; Neelands and Goode,
2015; O’Neill, 1995; Hulson, 2006).


At the same time that methods were being developed by specialists in drama education,
specialists in English education acknowledged the place of drama in the English class-
room as a means, for example, of developing language repertoire, narrative and under-
standing characters (Britton, 1970/1992; Barnes, Britton and Rosen, 1971). Work in this
area drew substantially on theories of learning associated with prominent developmental
psychologists, including those of the early twentieth century (see, Piaget, 1962; Vygotsky,
1978b) and the later work of their successors (see, Bruner, Jolly and Sylva, 1976; Bruner,

Anton Franks and Theo Bryer          

1986). Broadly, those interested in child and adolescent learning and development saw an
interrelation between play, as physical action, language and the formation of mind and
the development of the individual in the context of social relationships. For, at its widest
definition, drama is essentially the active representation of social relationships in partic-
ular places and particular historical contexts – unsurprising then that many young people
have an affinity with it.


If the notion of play and its connections with drama in childhood and adolescence is to
be made relevant to the teaching and learning of English in secondary classrooms, then
account has to be taken of prevailing cultural conditions that provide new contexts for
the role of play and drama. Over 40 years ago, Raymond Williams, a key figure in the
development of cultural studies and then Professor of Drama at Cambridge, observed the
then rise and prominence of what he characterized as ‘the dramatized society’ in which
drama had, through the medium of television especially, ‘become habitual’, with more
drama being seen in a week than previous generations would have seen in a lifetime
(Williams, 1983, p. 12). More recently, Baz Kershaw, in looking at developments in the
workplace as well as the culture of leisure, updated the concept in referring to current
conditions as the ‘performative society’ (Kershaw, 1999, pp. 13–15). In many forms and
modes of the media – print, broadcast and digital – audiences witness the performance
and drama of world events, of the natural world and the universe, in which things and
events are animated and performed within dramatic narratives. In English classrooms,
the reading of novels, including explorations into language, plot and characterisation, is
often accompanied and extended through the display and analysis of film adaptations in
which narrative action is dramatized, character is realized and so forth (see Chapter 9,
‘Working with Digital Technologies’). Increasingly, digital versions of theatre produc-
tions are being made available to schools, for example through the ‘National Theatre: On
Demand’ programme.
So, as others have noted, we are claiming that drama is now an ordinary component
of everyday life and culture (Boomer, 1988). Drama is, as Raymond Williams noted, a
particular way of thinking about and responding to the world and, among other forms of
media and the arts, represents particular ‘structures of feeling’ (Williams, 1983, p. 23)
that form part of the cultural context in which our pupils and we are immersed.


From other angles, drama and the processes of dramatization can be connected with talk
and with reading. Dipping briefly into some of the literature supporting this assertion,
American philosopher John Dewey observes that, ‘Through speech a person dramatically
identifies himself with potential acts and deeds; he plays many roles . . . in a contempora-
neously acted drama’ (Dewey, 1958, p. 170). For Dewey, it is through processes of speech
and the playing out of roles that mind emerges.
Examining children’s response to literature, Michael Benton characterizes reading as
an active and creative process; a reader is a performer of texts who ‘builds a mental stage
and fills it with the people, scenes and events that the text offers him’ (Benton, 1979,

           Drama in teaching and learning English

pp. 73–74). Picking up on Benton’s point, Cecily O’Neill and Theresa Rogers take the
notion of the active and creative reader further, treating the reading of texts as what they
call a ‘pre-text’ for materializing the world of narrative in active drama – allowing stu-
dents ‘to enter, experience and explore the imagined world’ (O’Neill and Rogers, 1994,
p. 48). A central idea in thinking about the relationship between reading and drama is the
way in which dramatic activity in classrooms opens reading out, moving it from an indi-
vidual communing with a written text into the social arena.
John Yandell develops an argument on the social nature of reading and its particular
relevance in contemporary multimodal culture (Yandell, 2008). Thinking about the rele-
vance and agency of embodiment in drama in its relation to reading, Yandell cites Terry
Eagleton’s comment that ‘having a body is a way of going to work on the world’ (ibid.,
p. 53). Yandell expands on Eagleton’s notion of ‘work’, pointing out that, for the pupils he
presents in his research, the body becomes both a ‘semiotic and heuristic resource’ (ibid.),
that is, a resource both for the making of meanings and for learning about and understand-
ing the world. This process helps pupils to engage with the text – to understand it and to
assume a different relationship with it, something that we will look at more closely in the
examples in this chapter.


What do you think?
Now it is time that attention is turned to the practicalities of doing drama in English
classrooms. At the outset, we recognised that teachers of English have a variety of atti-
tudes to doing drama in English lessons with their pupils. Leading drama as a teacher
or participating in it as pupils demands that both teachers and pupils have actively to
participate with their whole beings, their bodies, minds and feelings, and for some, this
might seem like a somewhat risky and exposing thing to do. So, the first consideration
is about levels of security – to ask the question, first of you as teacher, ‘How far am
I prepared to go with and in drama and from this point, what will I be asking pupils to
do?’ It seems clear that a teacher needs to feel at least secure in what they are going to
do before they can ask students to partake in drama activities. Here, we are thinking of
what Dorothy Heathcote refers to as ‘Thresholds of Security’ (2014, pp. 18–28). As with
any classroom activity, but especially one that might involve pupils in moving around,
using their imaginations in improvising and devising drama, it is important to be clear
with instructions and boundaries, both in yourself and for your pupils. Finding a clear
focus for your drama activities will also help your pupils to make connections with their
learning in English.
Working in your schools and departments, you will encounter a range of attitudes to
doing drama as part of English lessons, some positive and others less so. A common com-
ment when new teachers show a plan that includes role-play, or doing frozen images as
part of English, is, ‘Oh, that won’t work here’. Our contention is simply, that one doesn’t
know until one tries. If you are a teacher that has the confidence and clarity of instruction
to try out drama in the classroom, it is most likely that students will engage with enthusi-
asm: it is, perhaps, expressions of such enthusiasm that deter some teachers.
Now consider Task 10.1.


Task 10.1 Your experience of drama

With a colleague or friend . . .

■ Talk about your experience of drama at school, either in English lessons, in

drama lessons or as an extra-curricular activity.
■ If drama was not included in your learning of English, why do you think this
might have been the case?
■ If you had drama lessons, what do you think you learnt from drama that en-
hanced or added other aspects to your experience of learning English?
■ How can you describe the kinds of drama you were asked to do? Was it role-
play, simulation, process drama, devised group scenes, reading or enacting
scenes from scripts, dialogue from novels and stories or something else?
■ What do you think that teachers expected you to learn from any of these drama
■ What, in retrospect, do you think you gained from doing drama in English les-
sons, learning about language, literature or media?


Next, we will look at some examples of drama that we have done or seen with pupils as
part of English lessons. As we indicated earlier, there are different activities that might
be counted as drama, but common to them all is the ability that humans have to imagine
situations, people and interactions in different settings of place and time. In thinking
about the development of imagination, Vygotsky commented, ‘The old adage that child’s
play is imagination in action can be reversed: we can say that imagination in adolescents
and schoolchildren is play without action’ (Vygotsky, 1978a, p. 93). Here, we are saying
that through doing drama in different forms, imagination is bodied forth out of individual
minds and becomes a social activity and a mode of learning. You may know that the lines
‘And as imagination bodies forth/The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen/Turns
them to shapes and gives to airy nothing/A local habitation and a name’ come from The-
seus’s speech at the beginning of Act 5, Scene 1 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is a
resonant image in the context of a play that is about imagination and transformations. At
the same time, it is a reflexive statement about the nature of drama and theatre, their power
to transport and to materialise imagination.


Let us return to an activity we have observed in English classrooms based on the novel
Holes (Sachar, 2000) we mentioned above and start with an example that might not, at
first glance, appear to be a drama activity at all. Holes, a popular class reader for KS2 /
KS3 students (and one that you may have encountered), engages the reader from the out-
set with its central protagonist, Stanley Yelnats.
Having read to the point when Stanley has arrived at Camp Green Lake, you want the
class you are reading it with to do some writing that helps pupils to deepen their under-
standing of Stanley’s character and develop some sympathy with him and to recount his

           Drama in teaching and learning English

experiences. After reading about his first day at the Camp you might ask pupils to imagine
that they are Stanley writing home to his mother about his arrival and his experiences
(Sachar, 2000, up to p. 46). You might set up the letter writing by asking some questions
about how he might be feeling, what he might feel able to write to his mother whilst trying
not to cause her too much worry.
When teachers ask pupils to write letters from the perspective of a character in a novel,
to write in the first person as that character, then this is to ask them to imagine and
to adopt the role of that character. Pupils’ imagination is made manifest and is shaped
through the activity of writing. They have to develop a sense of Stanley’s voice, convey-
ing his experience, thinking and feelings whilst having some sense of Stanley’s mother
as a reader of the letter. It is a complex sequence of activity that leads through reading as
imagined action in the head, to some level of identification with a character, to the out-
wardly expressive activity of writing for both the imagined audience of Stanley’s mother
and a real audience that might include the pupil’s peers and teacher. The activity demands
that pupils hold together different roles as readers of stories, as the character of Stanley,
and as readers and writers of letters. Assuming a role through acting and writing as a char-
acter involves holding together different worlds, imagined and real. Drama has a role here
in bringing imagined worlds to life in the classroom. Barrs recognises that all forms of
writing involve sustaining a role – a form of ‘drama on paper’ (1987, p. 9) – meaning that
developing a facility for creative writing in role has implications for the many different
genres of writing that pupils are expected to engage in.
Coming at the same outcome, the writing of a letter in role as Stanley Yelnats, from a
different direction, consider the following sequence:

■■ Teacher reads to the middle of p. 46 of Holes – ‘He waited to write the letter until
after Squid had gotten up to play pool’. It is just before Stanley begins to write a
letter to his mother.
■■ The teacher asks about how Stanley might be feeling after his first day at Camp
Green Lake. What might he be able to show to others in the Camp about how he is
feeling? Is this something that he can share with others at the camp? What might he
be able to tell his mother?
■■ At their desks, the teacher asks pupils to pair up (if an odd number of students, make
one group of three) in which one of each pair is ‘A’ and the other ‘B’
■■ Still sitting at their desks, the teacher asks ‘A’s to take on the role of Stanley and ‘B’s
to take on the role of Zero.
■■ Teacher tells pupils, Stanley is writing to his mother. Stanley feels Zero standing at
his shoulder. Who might speak first, the teacher asks, and what might they say? What
might the response be?
■■ The teacher writes these first lines of suggested dialogue on the board and tells the
class they may use these lines to begin a role-play if they want. She tells the class that
they will not be sharing or showing these role-plays.
■■ Teacher counts down from 3 to 1 and in that time, ‘A’s are to take up a frozen position
as if they are writing a letter and ‘B’s adopt a position as Zero, interested in what
Stanley is up to. When the teacher says go, Stanley and Zero are to come to life and
have a short conversation. Teacher asks if she has been clear and checks this by ask-
ing a pupil to repeat back instructions.
■■ Teacher then counts down and the role-play commences. The teacher watches and
listens in to gauge the level of involvement. She allows the role-play to continue for a


while if she sees that most are engaged. The indication of engagement is if she thinks
that pupils are attempting to capture something of the characters as they have been
portrayed in the novel and whether they are developing the imagined situation, away
from the novel, or a ‘back-story’, that has some substance.
■ The teacher claps her hands and tells the pupils to ‘freeze’ again and then to relax. If
she wants both partners to experience being Stanley, she might ask pupils to swap roles.
■ She tells the class that Stanley continues writing his letter to his mother and that
whatever role they played, everyone should now write, as Stanley. The teacher tells
them that she will set a time limit of ten minutes.
■ Teacher walks around and looks at the letters as pupils write. Selecting a few, she
asks pupils to read them to the class.
■ Teacher then reads to the end of Chapter 9 and discusses with the class the differ-
ences and similarities between their role play and letters with Sachar’s published

An observation
To end this section on drama based on Holes, there is a brief description taken from an
observation of a student teacher reading the novel with a Year 7 class. Having just read
Chapter 7, in which Stanley has been introduced to the punishing work of Camp Green
Lake, digging the eponymous holes, the teacher asks the class to close their books and
whips out a beanie hat. Donning it, he says in a cod American accent, ‘I’m Mr Sir and,
as I’ve lost my Stetson, I have to wear this beanie hat. Now, you all stand up!’ The class
stands. ‘Now’, continues the teacher, ‘pick up your shovels and dig those holes’. As he says
this, he mimes picking up a shovel of his own. ‘Dig, I said! Faster! We have to dig them
holes!’ Standing behind their desks, the pupils pick up their imaginary shovels and dig and,
when prompted, increase their ‘digging’ to a furious pace, which continues for just a few
seconds, until the teacher whips off his beanie hat and instructs the class to stop and sit.
Before you read on, undertake Task 10.2.

Task 10. 2 Reflection on reading

Reflecting (on your own or with a partner) on your reading of the examples above:

■ Identify how you think that the sequence provides a structure for the teacher
and students to feel ‘safe’ when working in drama.
■ Are there parts of the structure that you might adapt or omit? What are your
■ Looking at the Mr  Sir, hole-digging section, why do you think the student
teacher chose to do this activity? What did it add to the pupils’ experience of
reading the novel? What do you think he might have done next with the class?

Planning for writing in role:

■ Choosing a novel that you have seen being taught or that you will be teaching,
devise your own plan for writing in role. Use or adapt anything from the outline

           Drama in teaching and learning English


One of the first considerations in planning to do drama with a class is to think about
moments from published literature or oral stories that might lend themselves to dramatic
interpretation or re-readings. Then, you should consider how drama will contribute to
pupils’ learning, how it might help them to link the work of English to their own expe-
rience and areas of expertise and how drama might aid or enhance processes of reading
and writing. You will have to decide when and where it might happen – and how it could
link to aspects of the English curriculum. The Holes activity might be a discrete activity
that happens early in the reading of the novel, with your classroom arranged in the usual
way, for example. In what follows we suggest some drama activities that might be done
with the desks pushed back – offering hooks into Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein
(1818) and the Philip Pullman play (1990) often studied at KS3. As you read, try to
pause after each suggested activity and think about what dramatic action you might plan
to focus on next.


As suggested in Chapter 11, ‘Approaching Shakespeare’, the beginning of published work
is not necessarily the place one might find a way into exploring the text as a whole. As
you will know, Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein does not launch directly into the story
of Dr Frankenstein’s making of the Creature. It is quite probable that pupils will possess
some sense of the story as, in many permutations and adaptions, it is a narrative that is
deeply embedded in culture.
Here, we begin with the scene at the beginning of Chapter 5 of the novel, the point at
which Frankenstein first beholds his creation as it awakes for the first time.

■■ Teacher reads the opening paragraph of Chapter 5, up to ‘it breathed hard, and
a convulsive motion agitated its limbs’. If possible, put up this paragraph on the
whiteboard (the whole text is freely available on the web (
shelley-mary/frankenstein/) and it is also free in eBook form).
■■ Ask pupils to work in pairs – one to play Frankenstein, one the Creature. Give them
only a minute or two to create a short piece of dramatic action showing how the
Creature comes to life, ending in a freeze frame of the moment that Frankenstein first
really sees what he has created. Count down to zero at the end of the allotted time
and say ‘Freeze’, repeating if necessary.
■■ Half the class is to relax and divert attention to those in the other half of the room.
Count the performers in and watch the short piece of action, ending in the freezes.
■■ Question the audience about what they saw that suggested the Creature has come to
life. Ask them to be specific. Then focus on one or two of the final images, asking
what they see, what the participants are feeling and how they know this from the
facial expression, position, postures and gestures of the actors. This is to draw atten-
tion to how we interpret the human body and its expressiveness. It is ‘working from
the outside inwards’.
■■ Ask the first half to relax and tell the other half that you will count them in. Repeat
the sequence above, focusing down on a few examples.

Anton Franks and Theo Bryer          

■■ Draw attention to the similarities and differences between the final images, all of
them stimulated by the same short paragraph. Ask pupils what different moments
and images remind them of and what accounts for differences of interpretation.
■■ Compare the images pupils make with those available from doing an image search
on the Web. Ask about differences and similarities between the found images and
the embodied images made by the students. What do these differences and similari-
ties tell us about the story and interpretation? What do the students’ images tell the
teacher about their knowledge and perception of the Frankenstein ‘myth’?


Those familiar with the novel will know that, later, Frankenstein learns that his brother
William has been murdered in a letter from his father. Frankenstein is convinced that the
Creature is the murderer and goes in pursuit of him. In an ice-cave on a glacier, where
the Creature has lured Frankenstein, he tells his side of the story since being abandoned
by his creator. Having grabbed Frankenstein’s coat to cover his nakedness, he had run
off into the woods, eventually seeking refuge in a lean-to attached to a small cottage or
hovel in which lives a family of refugees. The Creature comes to love the family and, by
observing them, and then stealing away some of their books, he learns to speak and read.
The patriarch of this refugee family is an elderly, blind man named DeLacey and he lives
with his son, Felix, and daughter, Agatha, and a Turkish girl, also a refugee, called Safie.
Eventually, sensing that the old man has a compassionate nature, the Creature decides to
approach him when the young people are away from the cottage:

■■ The teacher briefly narrates the story in the way set out above (best to prepare and
tell it in your own words rather than read)
■■ Telling the pupils to listen carefully because of what they will have to do next, pick
up the reading halfway through Chapter 15 where the Creature is telling of his meet-
ing with DeLacey. Continue reading from the excerpt quoted below to the end of the

One day, when the sun shone on the red leaves that strewed the ground and
diffused cheerfulness, although it denied warmth, Safie, Agatha, and Felix
departed on a long country walk, and the old man, at his own desire, was left
alone in the cottage . . .

■■ Tell the class to move tables to the side. Then, working in groups of about four, they
are to choose three significant moments from the reading and to make them into
freeze-frames. These moments should tell the story and at the same time carry the
ideas and emotions of this scene in which the Creature tries to befriend the family. If
they have the text, pupils can give titles to each scene taken from the chapter. Give
them five minutes to work on this and extend if necessary.
■■ Share the sequences – one after the other, around the class.
■■ If possible, it is useful to record the freeze frames as a digital image. You might print
these off so that pupils can annotate them later or use them as a prompt for writing
in role.


■ At intervals, teacher asks questions of the audience and the group presenting:
● To the audience, what is going on? How, from what the group is showing
through the use of gesture, posture, position and facial expression, do the audi-
ence know what is going on? What might each character depicted be thinking
or saying?
● After directing just a few questions to the audience, ask the presenting group
to give their captions for each freeze frame (these, too, are usefully recorded).

In follow-on lessons you can pick up on the same scene in reading the Philip Pullman
version of Frankenstein. Pullman has chosen to make particular changes to Shelley’s orig-
inal depiction of the Creature’s first attempt to make contact with people to seek friend-
ship and solace.

■ Read through the Pullman version of this scene (Act 2, pp. 217–237). Explore with
students why they think he has decided to make particular changes in his adaptation.
Ask the class to reflect back on the images they have selected to adapt the same
scene from Shelley’s novel, discussing (and perhaps writing about) the processes of
selection and adaptation, its gains and losses.
■ You will also find versions of the same scene in, for example, James Whale’s 1935
film, The Bride of Frankenstein (quite a lengthy and, at times, rather humorous
scene), in Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and in
Danny Boyle’s 2011 theatre production of Frankenstein (based on Mary Shelley’s
novel and adapted by Nick Dear), available from the National Theatre: On Demand.

In considering using drama in this way, you might reflect on what happens when words
are lifted off the page and into action and how these activities become forms of collabo-
rative reading. Consider how different adaptations, in the form of script, theatre perfor-
mance or film or the pupils’ own drama, might be related to class or individual readings
of the novel.
Before reading further, undertake Task 10.3.

Task 10.3 Strategies and conventions

■ Together with a fellow student teacher or mentor, think about selecting a mo-
ment that might lend itself to drama from a text you intend to use or are cur-
rently teaching.
■ From drawing on our suggestions and referring to Neelands and Goode’s book
Structuring Drama Work (2015), or another of the drama books we recom-
mend, select a drama approach or two that will enhance students’ learning,
enjoyment of the text or complement reading and writing.
■ Carefully plan a sequence of activity involving drama and related classroom
tasks or activities.
■ Reflect on the drama activity after you have tried it. What has it taught you:

● about doing drama with pupils?

● about your pupils?
● about the text used or themes explored in the drama?

Anton Franks and Theo Bryer          


Finally, we move to a short and rather simple exercise designed as preparation for study-
ing a play text – Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge, often studied at KS4. In many
instances, it is read around the class, a rather flat and novelised version of a play script. So,
we work here simply on establishing a theatrical frame and the setting from the outset, so
that students might be better able to imagine the action as it plays out in space.
Miller writes lengthy and quite specific stage directions, often in narrative form, so it
is his opening stage directions referring to the setting that we start with here:

■■ Clear a bit of space at the front of the classroom – not much is needed.
■■ Read, or ask a pupil to read the opening stage direction of the play.
■■ Using chairs and perhaps a desk or two, read through the directions again, asking
pupils where they think things should be placed as you come to them. Pupils will
also be involved playing the parts of ‘Louis’ and ‘Mike’ pitching coins in mime. You
might have to explain the conventions of ‘stage left/right’, ‘up/downstage’, etc.
■■ With Alfieri’s desk in place, you the teacher should walk onto the set to deliver Alfi-
eri’s opening speech, important in establishing him as the semi-detached commenta-
tor, or ‘chorus’, on the ensuing action. The speech is best read by the teacher and it
is well worth rehearsing it before the reading.


O’Neill and Rogers suggest that drama encourages ‘a range of interpretations though
re-framing, de-familiarising, and changing perspectives on the event’ (1994, p.  50).
There are clearly implications in this for your pupils’ study of different texts. A starting
point for your planning is to find a clear focus for the dramatic activity, as we have indi-
cated here. You might think about roles that your pupils and even you might assume,
that offer opportunities to stand in someone else’s shoes or to understand a fictional
event from a position of interest. If you address your class in a role, as Mr Sir, or the
convener of a meeting about an issue of concern you may find that the atmosphere
and sense of possibilities in your classroom shifts – and that this affects pupils’ motiva-
tion, inspiration and understanding.
Drama is an inclusive, exciting and immediate way to help students to bring their
understanding to a text, to ‘pry it open’ (ibid., p. 47) or to make sense of a writing task.
Opportunities for doing drama in English classrooms are many and various and we
have only been able to touch on a few indicative examples. You will find that the more
drama you do, the more confident you will become in developing your repertoire of
drama activities, adapted to your purposes with pupils of all ages.


Bennathan, J. (2000) Developing Drama Skills 11–14, London: Heinemann.

This large and comprehensive collection of drama schemes or units, with resource sheets,
includes lessons around texts including Sophocles’ Antigone and Pinter’s Mountain Lan-
guage. The schemes can be adapted for KS4 as well as KS3.

           Drama in teaching and learning English

Hulson, M. (2006) Schemes for Classroom Drama, Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham.

This offers a series of detailed and thought-provoking schemes of work based on myths
and stories, including the myths of Prometheus and Cassandra. The examples demon-
strate how drama can be developed to raise questions and address significant concerns for
young people, from the perspective of different roles in a story.
National Theatre: On Demand. In Schools (

Recordings of National Theatre productions can be streamed into classrooms for free
by teachers in UK schools. The plays are linked to the curriculum and accompanied by
resources that have been designed by teachers and artists.
Neelands, J. and Goode, T. (2015) Structuring Drama Work: 100 Key Conventions for Theatre and
Drama (3rd edn), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

This is a manual of different drama techniques or conventions. Each one is explained with
reference to examples of how you might use it in the structure of a lesson. The earlier
editions are cheaper and also useful.
Winston, J. (2004) Drama and English at the Heart of the Curriculum: Primary and Middle Years,
London: David Fulton Publishers.

This provides a very readable and compelling explanation of a dramatic approach based
on story, to support the teaching of English. The schemes based on The Tempest and Blo-
din the Beast and ideas for use of digital technology and approaching script writing are
particularly relevant to KS3 English teaching.

Bride of Frankenstein Whale, J., US (1935).
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein Branagh, K., US (1994), Digital Theatre Performance.
Frankenstein, adapted by Dear, N., directed by Boyle, D., London: Royal National Theatre (2011).


John Yandell and

Anton Franks

Shakespeare is above all writers, at least above all modern writers, the poet of na-
ture: the poet that holds up to his readers a faithful mirror of manners and of life.
(Samuel Johnson, 1765, p. 11)

A Shakespeare play is a dramatic poem. It uses action, gesture, formal grouping and
symbols, and it relies upon the general conventions governing Elizabethan plays.
But, we cannot too often remind ourselves, its end is to communicate a rich and
controlled experience by means of words . . .
(L. C. Knights, 1933, pp. 7–8)

‘Shakespeare’ is not a fixed entity, but a concept produced in specific political con-
ditions, a powerful cultural token, a site of struggle and change.
(Alan Sinfield, in Dollimore and Sinfield, 1985, p. 188)

The plays of Shakespeare and the King James Bible established the English lan-
guage as the greatest glory of Western civilization.
(Kenneth Baker, 1988, p. 165)

‘What ish my nation?’ What if Shakespeare asked that question now? I would reply
that his has been many nations and can potentially be every nation, and that is why
he matters more than any other writer there has ever been.
(Jonathan Bate, 1997, p. 221)

Shakespeare represents both the most constrained and the most open aspect of the second-
ary English curriculum. The only author whose works have been a compulsory element
in every version of the English National Curriculum – and hence whose works feature in
public examinations throughout the secondary phase – Shakespeare is the fixed point of
a shifting assessment regime. Constrained, too, in that there are canons within canons:


there is an inner circle of tried and tested old favourites (Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet,
Hamlet, Othello and so on), whilst few venture out into the unfamiliar territory of, say,
Titus Andronicus, Pericles or King John.
But there is also an unparalleled freedom. After all, what does it mean to study Shake-
speare? What is the object of study? The texts themselves are products of editorial choice.
In the past four decades, there has been an increasing emphasis on the inevitable instabil-
ity of the Shakespearean text: there is no definitive Shakespeare. Allied to this has been a
trend towards regarding the published plays as mere scripts, gesturing at the possibility of
realisation in performance. Now, once again, ‘The play’s the thing’. Every performance,
every new viewing of an old performance, creates a fresh reading. This is as true in the
classroom as it is in the theatre: pupils do not simply read Shakespeare, they remake
Shakespeare with every new reading.

By the end of this chapter, you should have:

■ considered what pupils bring to the experience of Shakespeare in the

■ explored a range of strategies for teaching Shakespeare;
■ considered the place and role of Shakespeare in the curriculum and in
■ learnt more about the resources that are available to you and to your

Before reading further, undertake Task 11.1.

Task 11.1 Versions and visions of Shakespeare

a. For you to think about, discuss with colleagues, friends and young
Think back to your first experience of Shakespeare in the classroom.
What was it like?
Was it a positive experience? If so, why? If not, why not?
Think back to your first experience of a performance of a Shakespeare play –
on stage or screen.
Was it a positive experience? If so, why? If not, why not?
b. For you to think about and discuss with colleagues:
Look back at the five quotations that preface this chapter.
What does Shakespeare mean to each of these five writers?
Explain why you agree or disagree with each of them – and what would you
want to add?


c. Now think about the pupils you will be teaching:

Why should they study Shakespeare?
(You might want to produce a list of different possible answers, then decide on
your own priorities.)
What experience of Shakespeare do you want them to have?
What should they get out of this experience?


Your pupils will know things about Shakespeare – and this knowledge will be derived
from hugely disparate sources. Streets and pubs bear his name, whilst motorway signs
proclaim the message ‘Welcome to Warwickshire: Shakespeare’s County’. There’s an epi-
sode of The Simpsons devoted to Hamlet – a play that also figures largely in Star Trek VI
(and which has even been published in the original Klingon – see Nicholas and Strader,
2000; Lanier, 2002). Shakespearean characters, lines and scenes are the stuff that adverts
are made on – knowing nods in the direction of elite culture that assure the quality of a
product whilst flattering the consumers’ sense of their own knowledgeability – and script-
writers of EastEnders are said to name some of their storylines after Shakespeare plays.
There is a better than even chance that your pupils will be able to recite, in a flamboyantly
lovelorn manner, ‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?’ (and an equally strong
chance that they will assume that ‘wherefore’ means the same as ‘where’). The first move
for you to make, then, is to find out what your pupils already know – so ask them!
Your pupils will also have a wide variety of conflicting and contradictory attitudes to
Shakespeare. Many welcome the challenge of Shakespeare because difficulty functions as
a marker of their own maturity: Shakespeare means grown-up texts for grown-up readers.
And you also will have an influence on how your pupils feel about approaching Shake-
speare for the first time in the classroom: your confidence and enthusiasm will be infec-
tious. It is very likely, however, that an element of fear will also be present. Ask a random
selection of secondary pupils what makes Shakespeare hard and you will be guaranteed
one answer: the language. So what will you do about this?
Most of the words are in common usage now. One way of demonstrating this to your
pupils is to take a passage from the play you are working on and ask them to count the
number of unfamiliar words: it will be a small percentage of the total (and this percentage
will fall further once your pupils understand that ‘thou’ means ‘you’ and ‘hath’ is another
form of ‘has’). Slightly trickier are the ‘false friends’ – those words that meant something
different to a sixteenth-century audience than they do today. Sometimes, dwelling on
these words can be productive, a way of unpicking important strands of meaning. When
Tybalt says, ‘Romeo, the love I bear thee can afford/No better term than this – thou art
a villain’, it matters that the word ‘villain’ is a grave insult – one that derives its force
from the rigidly hierarchical class society of Verona (and thus needs to be disentangled
from the use of the word in representations of small-time criminality in television police
In fact, difficulty lies not so much in vocabulary as in grammar and prosody – the
organisation and rhythm of the language. As Al Pacino says in Looking for Richard


(1996), ‘it’s hard to get hold of it until your ear gets tuned. You have to tune up’. The
best answer to the problem of Shakespearean language lies in performance – not in
translation activities or long lectures about the complexities of the iambic pentameter.
So it helps to listen to Shakespeare being spoken well. If you are going to read, put the
time into rehearsal – and turn your reading into a performance. If your pupils are keen
to read aloud – and many of them will be – one of the things you should notice is that
they quickly become better at it. With practice, they will begin to adjust to the rhythm of
the verse, and the verse helps them with phrasing and emphasis (for actors, one of the
benefits of the iambic pentameter over prose is that it makes learning the lines easier.
This same quality makes it easier for your pupils to read Shakespearean verse well – the
trickiest parts are often the prose bits).
What matters most is not the meaning of individual words but the sense of the whole
play – the sense that your pupils, with your assistance, will make of it. A good start-
ing-point, then, is one that quickly gives your pupils access to the whole play and owner-
ship over small parts of it. Close analysis becomes much easier when pupils already have
a sense of the bigger picture. Unfamiliar language is easier to cope with if you know what
is going on. It is absolutely vital that your pupils grasp the situation. They need to know
who is doing what to whom, and it is really helpful if they have a sense of physical, social
and emotional context. For example, if you are going to read Othello or The Merchant
of Venice, you will want to give your pupils a sense of the kind of place that Venice – the
Venice of the play – is. What kind of world are these events happening in? What kind of
people might we find in such a place?
Now do Task 11.2.

Task 11.2 Openings

Remind yourself of the opening scene of Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and The
Tempest and how each functions to create a set of expectations in the audience.

■ How would you set the scene for each of these plays?
■ What information would your pupils need?

The very beginning, however, is not always the best place to start. There are real advan-
tages to an approach that first zooms in on a single speech. This might be Lady Macbeth’s
soliloquy when she has just received Macbeth’s letter (Act 1, Scene 3), Juliet’s balcony
speech (Act 2, Scene 2), Friar Francis’s cunning plan (Much Ado, Act 4, Scene 1) or Shy-
lock’s ‘He hath disgraced me . . . and what’s his reason?’ (Merchant, Act 3, Scene 1). An
exploration of any of these speeches enables your pupils to get to the heart of the play
very quickly: it opens the play up to pupils’ questions, speculations, hypotheses – in other
words, it gets them involved.
There are many different ways that you can approach this first speech. You may want
to read it to your pupils, so that they can begin to gain a sense of the rhythm, begin to
‘tune in’ to the text. Figure 11.1 offers one model of how you might begin to explore your
chosen speech with your pupils.


Teacher activity Pupil activity

1. set the scene 1. listen

2. read speech (first time) 2. follow speech (one copy per pupil)

3. lead choral reading (second reading) 3. join in choral reading

4. introduce pointing game 4.1 each pupil chooses a word from the
speech; when someone points at them, they
must say their word, whilst pointing at another
4.2 pointing game (as before) but now the
pupils must perform their word – use voice and
gesture to convey the meaning of their word

5. read speech (third reading) 5. echoing: when their chosen word is reached,
the pupils say it, more or less at the same time
as the teacher

6. introduce new activity – dividing the speech 6. in groups, pupils to decide where the main
into blocks breaks in the speech are and divide it up into

7. plenary: take feedback from the groups 7. each group to report on the decisions they
made (and reasons for these decisions)

■■ Figure 11.1  Working with a speech

The activities outlined in Figure 11.1 enable pupils to gain ownership over the text,
starting at the smallest, most accessible level with their choice of a single word. As an
exercise in close reading, pupils will often choose words drawing attention to key themes
and imagery; at the very least, the activity points to the fact that every word of the text
has been chosen (by Shakespeare, his company or subsequent editors). Simultaneously,
these activities emphasise that the text is to be performed: the pointing exercise does this
by drawing attention, physically, to the presence of an audience at whom the word is to
be addressed; it also manages to suggest something of the reciprocity of performance.


From a single speech, you might want to move out to an activity that is intended to give
your pupils some sense of the play as a whole. What follows is adapted from the Shake-
speare in Schools Project (see Gibson, 1998). Choose ten quotations – the shorter the
better – that tell the whole story. Divide the class into ten groups, allocating one quotation
to each group. Each group has a few minutes to explore their line, devising a performance
of it that must end in a tableau or freeze-frame. The ten groups then perform their lines
in sequence.
This approach works particularly well with histories and tragedies (see Figure 11.2 for
an example from Richard III), where the strong, linear plot and the focus on one or two
central characters lend themselves more readily to retelling in such condensed form; the
often more diffuse social worlds of the comedies make it very challenging to select a mere
ten lines whereby the story can be told.

           Approaching Shakespeare

  1. Act 1, Scene 1   6. Act 3, Scene 1

Simple, plain Clarence! I do love thee so, So wise so young, they say, do never
That I will shortly send thy soul to heaven. live long.
  2. Act 1, Scene 2   7. Act 3, Scene 4
Why dost thou spit at me? Thou art a traitor:
LADY ANNE Off with his head! Now, by Saint Paul
Would it were mortal poison, for thy sake! I swear,
  3. Act 1, Scene 3 I will not dine until I see the same.
MARGARET   8. Act 4, Scene 2
Poor painted queen, vain flourish of my for- RICHARD
Shall I be plain? I wish the bastards dead.
Why strew’st thou sugar on that bottled spi-
der   9. Act 4, Scene 4

Whose deadly web ensnareth thee about? QUEEN MARGARET

  4. Act 1, Scene 3 So, now prosperity begins to mellow

RICHARD And drop into the rotten mouth of death.

Your eyes drop millstones when fools’ eyes 10. Act 5, Scene 4
drop tears RICHARD
  5. Act 2, Scene 2 A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!
Oh, that deceit should steal such gentle
And with a virtuous vizard hide deep vice!

■■ Figure 11.2  Richard III in ten lines

A main purpose of the ‘play in ten lines’ technique is to give some sense, not only of
key lines in the play, but of the shape and development of the play as a whole. You might
have other purposes – to draw attention to key themes or the development of relationships
between characters, for example – for which you can, of course, select fewer or more
lines. Asking pupils to look for and enact lines pertaining to a particular theme or the
development of a character will also help to develop their reading skills of skimming and
scanning, supporting their ability to find ‘evidence from the text’ to support their argu-
ments when they have to write about the plays.

When reading Shakespeare with your pupils, you will want to give them a sense of the
contexts in which the plays were produced. There is both a sound educational reason


for this – it will help them to make sense of the play they are reading – and, often, an
instrumental reason: in public examinations, one of the objectives often foregrounded in
assessing pupils’ understanding of Shakespeare is an awareness of social and historical
context. The danger with this is that it can encourage oversimplifications of a kind that
distort both the context and the text: or, in other words, crass history and crass reading.
Take, for example, Ulysses’ speech in Troilus and Cressida:

The heavens themselves, the planets and this centre

Observe degree, priority and place,
Insisture, course, proportion, season, form,
Office and custom, in all line of order;
And therefore is the glorious planet Sol
In noble eminence enthroned and sphered
Amidst the other; whose medicinable eye
Corrects the ill aspects of planets evil,
And posts, like the commandment of a king,
Sans cheque to good and bad: but when the planets
In evil mixture to disorder wander,
What plagues and what portents! what mutiny!
What raging of the sea! shaking of earth!
Commotion in the winds! frights, changes, horrors,
Divert and crack, rend and deracinate
The unity and married calm of states
Quite from their fixure! O, when degree is shak’d,
Which is the ladder to all high designs,
Then enterprise is sick! How could communities,
Degrees in schools and brotherhoods in cities,
Peaceful commerce from dividable shores,
The primogenitive and due of birth,
Prerogative of age, crowns, sceptres, laurels,
But by degree, stand in authentic place?
Take but degree away, untune that string,
And, hark, what discord follows!
(from Troilus and Cressida, Act 1, Scene 3)

In Tillyard’s hugely influential Elizabethan World Picture (1943), Ulysses’ words

are taken to represent the consensus in early modern England – an unshakeable confi-
dence in order, in hierarchy, with every part of creation both in and knowing its place.
What this interpretation ignores is the fact that Ulysses is a character in a play – and a
pretty slippery, unreliable character at that – who is speaking in order to achieve very
specific, local objectives. He is trying to win a debate, not reminding the audience
of a set of shared beliefs. To extrapolate from this speech to statements about what
Shakespeare believed – let alone what everyone in early modern England believed –
is unwarranted. What we know is that the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centu-
ries were times of intense intellectual debate. One of Shakespeare’s contemporaries,

           Approaching Shakespeare

Christopher Marlowe, is alleged to have made a series of heretical and blasphemous


That the first beginning of Religion was only to keep men in awe.
. . .
That St John the Evangelist was bedfellow to Christ and leaned always in his
bosome, that he vsed him as the sinners of Sodoma.
(Steane, 1964, pp. 363–364)

We know about this because Marlowe was overheard by a government informer,

Richard Baines, who recorded what was said and passed the information on to his supe-
riors. But what does the ‘Baines Note’ tell us? That everyone in London in the 1590s
was an atheist? Or that people in bars sometimes say things they don’t mean? Or that
secret agents have active imaginations? The real point about the ‘Baines Note’ – and
why it is a useful corrective to Ulysses’ speech – is that it indicates something of the
breadth of possible views and beliefs in the society within which Shakespeare lived and
What the plays tell us about the context in which they were produced is never
straightforward, partly because they are plays. Can we read off from The Taming
of the Shrew a set of unquestioned and unquestioning patriarchal assumptions, or
does the play have fun with – and even problematise – the issue of gender relations?
What, more generally, is one to make of the fluidity of gender roles in Shakespearean
comedy – or of the fact that all female roles were played by boys? Was this merely a
convention, or, as the theatres’ most vehement detractors argued, outrageously trans-
gressive of the moral order? And is The Merchant of Venice evidence that Shakespeare
was anti-Semitic, or does it lay bare the vicious anti-Semitism of the Venetian society
represented in the play?
Is the character of Othello a set of racist stereotypes or does Othello represent the expe-
rience of racism? Is The Tempest a monument to imperialism, in which Caliban’s subhuman
status provides justification for the enslavement of any and all non-European peoples, or
does the play dramatise the conflict between coloniser and colonised in ways that are more
troubling, more open-ended? The problem with all of these questions is that the binary
oppositions they provide are too neat, too abstract: the answer is not necessarily one or the
other. But – and this is the really important point – these questions are worth exploring with
your pupils.


Lurking behind these questions is the vexed issue of authorial intention. We tend to
assume that reading Shakespeare is about finding out what Shakespeare intended – what
he meant. But is this either helpful or true?
Language – all language, in all contexts – is multi-accented. The words we speak are
not our own, to the extent that they are already infused with other speakers’ meanings


(Volosinov, 1986; Bakhtin, 1981). If, then, we can never speak or write in our own words,
the relationship between our intentions and our words is already somewhat fraught. To
this difficulty must be added that of our addressee or audience, who will have already
encountered in other contexts the words that we use, and who will, to some extent, make
their own sense of the words that we speak.
In the case of scripted dramatic performance (Shakespeare, for example), the multi-ac-
centual nature of utterance is much more complex. Words written by one person (the
dramatist) are spoken by another (the actor) who is in role as another person (the char-
acter), usually to another person or group (other actors in role as other characters) but
with an awareness of – and indeed for the benefit of – another group of people entirely
(the audience). In most performance media, though, the script is realised in embodied
action. So meaning is made multimodally: how the actors speak the lines (something that
interested Shakespeare, as we can tell from Hamlet’s advice to the players) but also where
they stand, how they move, their use of gaze and gesture, and the clothes they wear, all
contribute to the meaning.
All of this matters in the classroom. If you want your pupils to understand what is hap-
pening in a play – if you want their reading of it to be meaningful – these are good reasons
for getting them out of their seats, using the resources of their bodies and of the physical
space of the classroom to enact the scene that they are reading. If you can add a prop or
two – rulers for swords, a cardboard crown, a piece of cloth for a cloak – you will enrich
the quality of your pupils’ imaginative engagement with the text. And you might want
some of your pupils to take on the role of director, suggesting different ways in which
their peers might interpret the lines.
You might even try asking your pupils to learn lines and enact part of a play or even
a whole scene. The opening scene of Macbeth featuring the witches is particularly fit for
this purpose – it is a short scene with short, rhythmic, half rhyming lines that pupils will
find relatively easy to learn in the space of an hour’s lesson. Again, dividing the class into
groups of four, with one pupil directing and three playing the witches, will work well.
How can your pupils present this scene with its fullest possible impact using few props
or scenic adornments?
Many modern dramatists – Shaw, Miller, Beckett, for example – prescribe in copious
detail how a play should be performed. It is legitimate, therefore, to say that their inten-
tions can be read off from the (published) script. With Shakespeare, though, the relation-
ship between script and performance is a massively different one – not just because stage
directions are few and far between but because Shakespeare worked as a playwright in
an entirely different theatrical context, a context in which, to be blunt, his intentions were
really not very important, in that authority (authorship, as it were) did not lie with the

... the creation of a play was a collaborative process, with the author by no means at
the center of the collaboration. The company commissioned the play, usually stip-
ulated the subject, often provided the plot, often parceled it out, scene by scene,
to several playwrights. The text was thus produced as a working model, which the
company then revised as seemed appropriate. The author had little or no say in these
revisions: the text belonged to the company, and the authority represented by the
text – I am talking now about the performing text – is that of the company, the own-
ers, not that of the playwright, the author. This means that if it is a performing text we


are dealing with, it is a mistake to think that in our editorial work what we are doing
is getting back to an author’s original manuscript: the very notion of ‘the author’s
original manuscript’ is in such cases a figment.
(Orgel, 1991, pp. 83–84)

These twin emphases, on the text as the product of collaboration and on the primacy
not of authorial intention but of performance, have in the past 40 years produced a radical
shift in editorial practice. Where once the assumption had been that the editor’s task was
to produce a version of the text that was as close as possible to Shakespeare’s original
words, now the orientation is much more towards arriving at a version that reflects the text
as it developed in production (Gurr, 2004). In some cases – Hamlet, King Lear and Henry
V, for instance – this has led to the publication of radically different (and generally much
shorter) versions of the play. And this also entails a reframing of Shakespeare: no longer
the poet who, as Ben Jonson claimed, ‘never blotted out line’, but the working playwright
and sharer in The King’s Men, whose words were shaped and cut to meet the needs of a
busy theatre.
And then, of course, there are the practical problems that confront an editor. Take, for
instance, the question of the names of the characters. Should the protagonist of Richard
III appear as ‘Gloucester’ or ‘Richard’? Both titles are used in early printed versions of the
play. Or what about spelling? When Hamlet says, ‘Oh that this too too solid flesh would
melt . . .’ (1.2), the spelling of ‘solid’ follows that of the First Folio (1623). But in the Sec-
ond Quarto edition of Hamlet (1605), the line appears as ‘O that this too too sallied flesh
would melt . . .’. Editors have interpreted ‘sallied’ as ‘sullied’. So, should it be ‘solid’ or
‘sullied’? Or are both meanings present?
Now try Task 11.3.

Task 11.3 Comparing editions

There are many different editions of Shakespeare available. Some, designed with
school pupils in mind, are particularly suitable for use with KS3 and KS4. The
Cambridge and Oxford School Shakespeares are very widely used. Each edition
involves a complex set of choices, assumptions and orientations.

1. Compare different editions of the same play.

■ How is the text displayed?
■ What use is made of images, and what kinds of image are used?
■ What assumptions are made about what might prove difficult?
■ What classroom activities are envisaged or encouraged?
■ How much acknowledgement is given to different interpretations?
■ What kind of reader is assumed (constructed) by the edition?
2. Look at the first published versions of Shakespeare at the British Library website
■ How are these editions different from the ones that you find in school?


3. Talk to teachers in your placement school about the edition they use.
■ What do they like/dislike about it?
■ Which edition would you choose, and why?


Modern editors may attempt to reconstruct the original performance text, but it would
be a mistake to confuse this scholarly (and inevitably somewhat quixotic) effort with any
contemporary experience of Shakespeare. The plays as we encounter them today have
been shaped by the history of the past 400 years. We mean two different things by this.
First, that each new production, each new performance, is not simply a reinterpretation
of the ‘original’ text but rather stands in a relationship to every previous interpretation,
every previous performance. Branagh’s (1995) film of Henry V, to take a very clear exam-
ple, is a re-reading of Olivier’s (1944) film at the same time as it is an interpretation of
Shakespeare’s text. Second, that each performance is an historically situated performance,
a reading that reflects the world in which it is produced. Again, this is obvious in Olivier’s
Henry V, with its opening dedication to the armed forces involved in the (1944) D-Day
landings. But it also applies to interpretations that might appear to attempt a kind of
authenticity, an archaeological reconstruction of the original. When Mark Rylance, as
director of the Globe Theatre, decided to use an all-male cast for Twelfth Night (2002),
this was presented as a return to ‘original’ Elizabethan theatre practices. On the contrary,
we would want to suggest that the decision and the ensuing production need to be seen in
the context of early-twenty-first-century debates about gender and performance (and the
performance of gender).
Here is Jonathan Miller reflecting, 40 years ago, on similar issues:

I thought it was much better to acknowledge the open-ended creativity of any Shake-
speare production, since there is no way of returning to an authentic Globe theatre
version. But we should recognise what Shakespeare had in mind: we should realise
the author’s intention. That in itself of course is a very unstable notion: authors are
usually hard put to say what they meant by their plays. Apart from the prompting
of unconscious motives, a really interesting work contains a richness of meaning, a
variety of allusions, which can be delivered in the form of alternative readings. . . . it
seems to me important to recognise that a play has an afterlife different from the life
conceived for it by its author. There are all sorts of unforeseeable meanings which
might attach to the play, simply by virtue of the fact that it has survived into a period
with which the author was not acquainted, and is therefore able to strike chords in the
imagination of a modern audience which could not have been struck in an audience
when it was first performed. It is inevitable in any great work – in fact it is the mark
of a great work – that it should be capable of delivering these unforeseen, accreted
(Jonathan Miller, in Holderness, ed., 1988, pp. 195–196)

Undertake Task 11.4.


Task 11.4 Images as evidence of production histories

Search the Internet for images of Shakespearean roles – Hamlet, Richard III, Ro-
meo and Juliet, for example. You should be able to find plenty of images derived
from specific productions.

■ What does each image show you about the interpretation of the play and the
■ How might you want to use these images in the classroom?

Think, too, of two very well-known versions of Romeo and Juliet, the 1968 film
directed by Franco Zeffirelli and Baz Luhrmann’s (1996) William Shakespeare’s Romeo
and Juliet. Many of the pupils whom you teach will tend to ascribe authenticity to Zeffire-
lli’s version and not to Luhrmann’s (because the former features swords not guns, men in
tights and ‘period’ music). But both films are products of their time, of twentieth-century
cinematic conventions, genres and directorial decisions. What does authenticity mean in
this context? New digital technologies have transformed what doing Shakespeare means
in practice in the classroom. Where once (not so very long ago) teachers had access to
only one version of the text in performance – the Polanski Macbeth, say, or the Zeffire-
lli Romeo and Juliet – now there are readily accessible, cheap DVDs of many different
versions of a play – and still more versions available online. What this means is that the
issue of interpretation is foregrounded. Your pupils, from the very start of their explora-
tion of Shakespeare, can compare and contrast different versions, and hence are able to
see each as the product of choices, of directors’ interventions and actors’ inflections. And
close analysis is facilitated by the affordances of the new technologies. It is easy to focus
attention on different interpretations of a single scene or even of a moment within that
scene, to juxtapose different performances, to explore the composition of a single frame
as an interpretation of a line, to consider the different intonations and emphases given to
a single line by four or five different actors.
Now consider Task 11.5.

Task 11.5 What counts as a Shakespearean text?

Which of the following counts as reading Romeo and Juliet?

■ Watching West Side Story?

■ Analysing an image from a stage production of the play?
■ Reading the script round the class?
■ Watching Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet?
■ Watching the Zeffirelli version?
■ Watching either with the subtitles on?
■ Reading the Manga version (illustrated by Sonia Leong, 2007)?
■ Reading a plot summary?
■ Reading Arthur Brooke’s narrative poem (the source for Shakespeare’s play)?
■ Sequencing a series of stills from the Luhrmann film?
■ Improvising a scene between Juliet and Lord Capulet?


■ Writing Romeo’s diary after the balcony scene?

■ Improvising a scenario in which two people from opposite sides of a family/
religious/ethnic divide fall in love?
■ Watching Shakespeare in Love?

What might each of these texts add to your pupils’ experience of Shakespeare?
Which of these texts seems most valuable to you – and why? And what counts as
a full reading of the play?

Assessment foci and criteria change – and continue to be contested (see Coles, 1994 and
2003). There are tensions and contradictions between the ways that pupils’ knowledge of,
and response to, Shakespeare is tested. The danger, always, is that what is assessed ends
up being the pupil’s knowledge of someone else’s Shakespeare. Without a sense of Shake-
speare gained through collaborative engagement with the play, your pupils cannot make
Shakespeare their own; without this sense, any test is much ado about nothing.
To finish this chapter, do Task 11.6.

Task 11.6 Assessing pupils’ responses to

Look at Shakespeare papers from recent exams, at the examiners’ reports on
GCSE and A-level work on Shakespeare.

1. How is pupils’ knowledge of and response to Shakespeare being assessed?

2. What kinds of response are valued?
3. Are any kinds of knowledge and response excluded or marginalised by these
assessment practices?

Here is Billy, a Year 9 pupil, as Richard III, writing after the wooing of Anne (Act 1,
Scene 3):

Dear Diary
Arr I love you I feel so sorry for you blah de blah de blah, whatever. At last
my persuasive words have got Anne in the deep palms of my hands. I feel great
everything is going just as I planned. Will I keep her? . . . For the moment I will
because she helps me become more powerful more powerful than I fought.

And this is the response of Kemi, another Year 9 pupil, to the same task:

Hahaha! Was ever woman wooed in this manner? Surely not! I have to admit
I had my doubts about this working, but it worked a charm! The widowed hag
believed my sugared lies about killing her husband out of love for her. I despise
her . . . her husband is still lying there, his body fresh and yet she still takes my


ring. If anything I saved him from this usurper known also as his wife. It doesn’t
matter anyway for I will not keep her long. She will serve her purpose, then be
got rid of. In some ways I love her for being like me – heartless and ambitious.
Hungry for power as I am, she must be . . . or how else could she betray her
husband, the supposed love of her life. Love, as we all know, is for fools.

4 What do these pupils know about the play, about the character?
5 What has this empathetic task enabled them to do?
6 What are the advantages and disadvantages of such tasks?

Deep-seated contradictions lie at the heart of teaching Shakespeare: these provide both
challenges and resources for teachers. The plays are a prescribed element of the English
curriculum and its assessment; yet, for all Shakespeare’s canonical status, every read-
ing and performance does not just reproduce the plays, it invents them anew. Learners
often perceive Shakespearean language as difficult, but once attuned they are capable of
making sense of the text. Difficulty is, moreover, balanced by the challenge set by Shake-
speare and pupils’ awareness of its value in culture.
Allowing pupils to explore images of and references to Shakespeare in contempo-
rary and popular media is a good way of situating its current relevance and exploring its
iconic status. In approaching Shakespearean language, your enthusiasm and willingness
to model active approaches to learning through your own dramatised and rehearsed read-
ing of Shakespeare make a difference to your pupils’ study of the play. Activities that
explore Shakespearean speech as performance, for example giving a sense of the shape
of the whole play through the use of selected lines or using digital resources to open up
interpretations of the text, give pupils routes into the plays. Different film versions of
the plays provide insight into how Shakespeare is adapted and interpreted for each age.
Acknowledging diverse interpretations of the plays is important for three distinct reasons:
because of the dialogic nature of all drama and of Shakespearean drama in particular;
because of the complexity of the social and historical context of the plays’ production;
and because of the continuing remaking of the plays in different times, places and media.
Your teaching should aim to give the learners a sense of the plays as performances, set in
particular social and historical contexts and interpreted in other social and historical con-
texts: this will enable your pupils to study Shakespeare and prepare them for assessment.

Carson, C. and Kirwan, P. (eds) (2014) Shakespeare and the Digital World: Redefining Scholarship
and Practice, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

This collection of essays explores what Shakespeare is, or might be, in the context of the
new potentials for representation and communication, and the implications for Shake-
spearean scholarship, practice and pedagogy.
Gibson, R. (1998) Teaching Shakespeare, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

A product of the Shakespeare in Schools Project of the early 1990s, this is an accessible
guide to practical strategies for teaching Shakespeare in the classroom, underpinned by a
performance-oriented approach to the plays.


Lanier, D. (2002) Shakespeare and Modern Popular Culture, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

This meticulously researched book provides a wealth of examples of the penetration of

Shakespeare within modern culture, and thus provides teachers with a useful corrective
to approaches that locate Shakespeare merely within the context of Renaissance England.
Jowett, J., Montgomery, W., Taylor, G. and Wells, S. (eds) (2005) The Oxford Shakespeare: The
Complete Works, Oxford: The Clarendon Press.

This edition reflects current Shakespearean textual scholarship – so, for example, it
includes two different versions of King Lear, as well as Edward III (now accepted as part
of the canon). The introduction provides a comprehensive guide to the field of Shake-
speare studies, as well as a useful guide to language by David Crystal.
O’Neill, S. (ed) (2018) Broadcast Your Shakespeare: Continuity and Change Across Media, Lon-
don: Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare.

Essays in this volume consider the role of particular media in producing Shakespeare’s
effect on us – as readers, viewers and users.
Stredder, J. (2009) The North Face of Shakespeare, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Stredder builds on the work done by Rex Gibson and his associates, encouraging teachers
to think of their classroom as a stage, with pupils as actors and as audience. The book is
full of useful insights and suggestions for practice.


Local and touring theatres, as well as companies with a national reach such as Royal Shake-
speare Company Education and Shakespeare’s Globe Education provide useful resources
for both teachers and pupils. For teachers of Shakespeare, new and experienced, attending
workshops for teachers or joining teachers’ networks attached to these companies is very
useful in helping to bolster a teacher’s confidence in using various techniques for teaching
Shakespeare. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, too, has many resources including exten-
sive archives and curates many period houses in and around Stratford-upon-Avon.

RSC Education
Teachers’ resources (
RSC Education Research Reports (;
Tracking Arts Learning and Engagement (TALE) and Arts Council England funded
research looking into the effects and outcomes of schools’ engagement with RSC
Education and Tate Learning (

Shakespeare’s Globe Education

           Approaching Shakespeare

Teachers TV (2004) Macbeth in the Classroom (also available on YouTube: www.shakespeares
Macbeth in the Classroom features Sabrina Broadbent, an English teacher at Hornsey
School for Girls in Haringey, London, as she teaches two lessons on the set scenes for
Macbeth to her Year 9 class. We see an experienced teacher use a variety of strategies to
enable her pupils to gain ownership of the text.


Gabrielle Cliff Hodges and

Elizabeth Rawlinson-Mills

Ask a secondary school student what you are supposed to do with a poem, and one of
the first answers you might well get is ‘annotate it’. Pupils are well-drilled; highlighters
at the ready, they can spot a simile at six paces and label alliteration with their eyes shut.
Or perhaps that should say with their ears shut, since in many classrooms this annotation
happens after just one reading of the poem. In 2007, an Ofsted survey of poetry practice
in schools described the following as ‘typical comments’ from Key Stage 4 pupils:

■■ ‘The teacher reads the poem. We all annotate it and then she tells us what it means.’
■■ ‘We do exactly the same thing with every poem.’
■■ ‘The whole class writes one person’s view of the poem.’
(Ofsted, 2007, p. 15)

Joy Alexander describes misunderstandings of poems happening as a result of a ‘rush

to meaning’, where pupils bypass ‘the pure act of reading’ rather than ‘allowing the poet
to speak and the reader to hear and . . . trusting that the poet had provided all that was
required for understanding’ (Alexander, 2008, p. 228). In the classrooms being described
by those Key Stage 4 pupils, however, the experience of poetry seems to involve a ‘rush’
straight past ‘meaning’, to the process of unpicking how the poem operates – like booking
a car for a test-drive, but disassembling the engine to assess its workings before sitting
down behind the wheel, or beginning a delicious meal by inspecting the list of ingredi-
ents, rather than lifting a fork.
Much of this chapter is concerned with what we do with a poem before the highlighters
come out.
Feelings about teaching poetry can vary a great deal. For some, it is the most enjoyable
aspect of teaching English; for others, it is the area about which they are least confident.
There are several possible reasons why poetry teaching should give rise to such diverse
attitudes. Chief among them is the personal experience of being taught poetry at school
or university, and the extent to which poetry is read for pleasure. Those who enjoy it are

           Possibilities with poetry

often those who were taught by poetry enthusiasts, by teachers who were able to excite a
similar enthusiasm in their pupils, developing it through respecting their pupils’ responses
to poetry and by teaching critical awareness. Those who approach the teaching of poetry
with some trepidation may have had less rewarding experiences, finding it difficult, when
asked to read or write poetry at school, to see the pleasure or the point.
Of course, your own enthusiasm for poetry is not enough on its own to ensure that
pupils will similarly appreciate it. On the contrary, if that enthusiasm is not reflected upon
and tempered for the classroom it may have adverse effects. In his poem ‘Them and [uz]’
Tony Harrison recalls a former English teacher who would no doubt have characterised
himself as a poetry enthusiast:

4 words only of mi ’art aches and . . .‘Mine’s broken,

you barbarian, T.W.!’ He was nicely spoken.
‘Can’t have our glorious heritage done to death!’

I played the Drunken Porter in Macbeth.

‘Poetry’s the speech of kings. You’re one of those

Shakespeare gives the comic bits to: prose!’
(Harrison, 1984, p. 122)

Poetry revered as ‘our glorious heritage’ and elevated to the status of ‘the speech of
kings’ is likely to end up making many, if not all, feel excluded. Some strategies for help-
ing students overcome what can be felt as a paralysing reverence before high-status ‘liter-
ature’ – rather than reinforcing it, as the professors in Harrison’s poem do – are discussed
at the end of this chapter.
Another reason for conflicting feelings about poetry is the reading challenges it can
present. Poetic language may be simple and easy to read, and poems that rhyme, which are
funny, which tell a story, are often the kind of literature that pupils most enjoy reading in
school. But the syntax, structure, imagery and allusion that some poets employ often require
different kinds of reading, and until pupils know that time and effort can yield rewarding
pleasures they may not want to persevere. Then their tendency is to dismiss all poetry as
‘boring’, especially when the challenges are exacerbated in poetry from the past with its
sometimes-unfamiliar vocabulary and social, or cultural, references that need explanation.
A third aspect of poetry that can give rise to mixed feelings about teaching is the extent
to which it is remembered that poetry has its roots in the oral tradition, and is aligned
closely with music, dance and drama. If this lineage is forgotten, then poetry, for many
people, can be difficult to bring to life. If, however, a priority is to hear poems read or spo-
ken aloud, their rhythms and rhymes can be appreciated differently, as these dimensions
are brought more clearly into play.
The multi-dimensional quality of poetry is, of course, a central concern and challenge
for the poet as well as for the reader, as pupils who are asked to write as well as read
poems soon discover. Sujata Bhatt, in her poem ‘The Writer’, represents it vividly:

The Writer
The best story, of course,
is the one you can’t write,

Cliff Hodges and Rawlinson-Mills          

you won’t write.

It’s something that can only live
in your heart.
not on paper.

Paper is dry, flat.

Where is the soil
for the roots, and how do I lift out
entire trees, a whole forest
from the earth of the spirit
and transplant it on paper
without disturbing the birds?
And what about the mountain
on which this forest grows?
The waterfalls
making rivers,
rivers with throngs of trees
elbowing each other aside
to have a look
at the fish.

Beneath the fish

there are clouds.
Here the sky ripples,
the river thunders.
How would things move on paper?

Now watch   the way

the tigers’ walking
shreds the paper.
(Bhatt, in Bhinda, 1994, p. 3)

If poetry teaching sounds somewhat daunting, remember: Tony Harrison has become
a popular and widely respected poet; and Sujata Bhatt’s tiger prints are testament to a
writer’s success in the struggle to create.

By the end of this chapter you should:

■■ have begun to develop a rationale for teaching poetry and assessing

pupils’ work on it;
■■ have become more familiar with the range of poetry and resources for
teaching poetry currently available, and more aware of ways in which you
can enhance your own subject expertise;


■ understand the need to justify your selection of poetry, taking into account
factors such as pupils’ previous reading and work on poetry, and their
attitudes towards it;
■ be able to explain how lessons you plan will enhance pupils’ develop-
ment as readers, writers and critics of poetry.

Before you read further, do Task 12.1.

Task 12.1 Poetry memories

Discuss with another beginning teacher or jot down notes on:

■ some of your own most vivid memories of being taught poetry in school;
■ reasons why they are vivid memories;
■ what the balance was between work on poetry through speaking and listening
(e.g. hearing it read aloud, reciting or performing it), poetry reading and poetry
■ a particular teacher whom you remember teaching you poetry;
■ what you think his or her views about teaching poetry were.

In school, find opportunities to:

■ talk with different colleagues about teaching poetry and note how attitudes and
approaches vary;
■ talk with pupils about their views on poetry.

Use your findings to support your teaching of poetry.


As part of the process of developing a rationale you may find it helpful to explore your
own attitudes and possible prejudices concerning the teaching of poetry. One way to do
this is to reflect on your experience of being taught poetry and compare it with teachers’
and pupils’ experiences in school today (as in Task 12.1).
As a beginning teacher embarking on the process of working out your reasons for
teaching poetry, you will also want to acquaint yourselves with a range of theoretical
views that you can use to help you clarify your own ideas and analyse what you observe
and learn in the classroom.

Speaking and listening

To start with you could try to discover when, how and why poems are read aloud or
performed in class. What might be some of the pleasures and benefits to be gained by
pupils who have plenty of opportunities to listen to and perform, as well as read and
write, poetry? It used to be the case that a great deal of oral work on poetry involved

Cliff Hodges and Rawlinson-Mills          

pupils learning poems off by heart and then reciting them aloud, together or individually,
in class, but the rationale for doing so was not always obvious. The practice of learning
poetry by heart is once again popular with many young people but usually with a much
more explicit rationale, as the Poetry By Heart project exemplifies (www.poetrybyheart. Pupils may follow ‘Spoken word’ artists on YouTube, or attend slam and open
mic poetry events and competitions; how far are they encouraged to see this kind of activ-
ity as related to the poetry they read in their English lessons?

There are different views about why and how poetry is read. For example, what views
about teaching poetry, implicit or explicit, emerge from the two extracts below? How far
does either of the following two pieces tie in with your own feelings and opinions?

Clearly there are occasions when a poem needs a comfortable amount of time to be
experienced, but poetry works best when it is wanted, not when the timetable decrees
it . . . The strength and relevance of the experience within it should engage the pupils’
response and thus their willingness to grapple with the language. Some of the best
lessons we saw were those where pupils and teacher were enjoying the exchange of
opinions on points of vocabulary, attitude, atmosphere and metaphor.
(DES, 1975, p. 136)

Unless we look for them, we apprehend formal patterns subconsciously, if at all.

Unless you believe that dissection murders pleasure, some explication of these tacitly
apprehended features will make future apprehension more likely and effective. Poetry
gives a special chance for this with its habitual re-reading. Early reading gives opportuni-
ties to induce the mechanisms; later readings give the chance to recognise them in action
and enjoy the satisfactions of formal patterning.

Within current paradigms of teaching literature, mood and content in poems can
look after themselves. The structures and processes which realise them need teach-
ing. So, while too much teaching and testing suggests that poems are like prose, but
the sound features of poetry are well attended to, the urgent need is to foster reading
of poems as single, time-free, structured experiences – like gazes at paintings.
(Stibbs, 1995, pp. 14–19)

A related question concerns how far the reading of poetry is taken to be ‘a thoroughly
social activity’, as David Constantine argues (2013, p. 2). Constantine posits that the
‘social nature’ of poetry ‘constitutes a large part of its value’; how far does this chime
with your own experiences of reading poetry? What about those of your pupils in school?

Just as there are differing views about poetry reading, so there are various schools of
thought about teaching poetry writing. It is therefore an area of your work where talking
to colleagues and observing them at work in the classroom will prove extremely valuable.
You may find that opinions conflict. Some teachers, for example, may view the writing
of poetry as a very personal (and perhaps rather private) activity and, as a result, may be
reluctant to intervene in the writing process or to assess pupils’ writing with as much
           Possibilities with poetry

precision as they might a piece of non-fiction writing. Others, however, may take the view
that poetry writing is an art, a craft and skill, elements of which can be taught, practised
and refined. These teachers may also hold the view that if pupils’ poetry is given the same
kind of scrutiny and discussed in the same critical terms as published poets’ work, it
can enhance pupils’ opinions of themselves as writers, rather than just readers of poetry.
Where would you place your views within this continuum? Lavinia Greenlaw, a poet writ-
ing in the Times Educational Supplement, suggests that the extremes need to be balanced:

Poetry is made of a tension between sense and sensibility. Poets often seem to be those
who are scalded by the acuteness of their perceptions while retaining a piece of ice in
the heart. Many people find themselves writing poetry for the first time when strug-
gling to articulate some great joy, disturbance or loss. Such poetry can offer cathar-
sis or clarification, and this has been the momentum for many great pieces of work.
But, without the application of craft, this remains a therapeutic exercise, not a literary
one. . . . In keeping with its image, poetry is evocative, allusive, startling and mysteri-
ous. This is achieved not only through imagination and originality but also vigour and
ruthlessness. Every word should count – for meaning as well as its music.
(Greenlaw, 1996, p. 23)

As you work through this chapter and begin the process of forming a rationale for your-
self, you will become aware of the need to make your rationale explicit to others, for exam-
ple, to the Year 9 class who say ‘Why do we have to read poetry? Why can’t we just read
novels and plays?’; to English department colleagues who have to decide between spending
limited resources on a class library of fiction or a class library of poetry; to the parents of
a Year 10 pupil who ask, at a parents’ evening, why their son should be spending time on
poetry in English when his ambition is to work in a bank. If your rationale can encompass the
tension referred to by Greenlaw, it is likely to hold good in a wide range of circumstances.


There are many factors that have to be taken into account when planning poetry lessons.
They include:

■■ formulating learning objectives that are specifically to do with poetry;

■■ considering pupils’ prior knowledge and attainment in relation to reading and writ-
ing poetry;
■■ differentiating between pupils in the same class if necessary;
■■ ensuring that your plans allow for progression in pupils’ knowledge about poetry;
■■ drawing on your subject knowledge to select poetry and poetry-writing activities that
will appeal to, interest and challenge pupils;
■■ drawing on your knowledge of available resources to support your chosen subject
matter and approach;
■■ reflecting on different ways of teaching and learning that will help to achieve the
aims and objectives of the lesson(s);
■■ considering how pupils’ learning about poetry can be assessed effectively in order to
inform future planning and teaching;
■■ relating plans to National Curriculum programmes of study or examination specifi-
cation requirements.

These elements will be explored further in the sections that follow.

Cliff Hodges and Rawlinson-Mills          

Poetry reading resources

Work on poetry is often one of the first things that student teachers are asked to undertake
in the classroom. The class teacher may ask you to work with a group on a particular
poem, or he or she may assume that you would prefer to choose a poem yourself. Explore
the English department’s stock of poetry texts. Allow time for some lengthy browsing.
Look at:

■■ what sets of poetry anthologies the department has, and how far each offers a
good balance of poems by men and women; poems by British writers and interna-
tional poets writing in English; lyric, narrative, political, humorous and dramatic
■■ what collections by individual poets they have;
■■ whether they keep class libraries of poetry books;
■■ how the department organises poetry stock (e.g. for use with different year groups);
■■ what else is used in other media (e.g. DVD, YouTube, poetry posters);
■■ how often teachers access websites like the Poetry Archive.

A visit to the school library and resources centre will enable you to ascertain:

■■ how extensive the poetry stock is;

■■ whether it caters for all ages, tastes and abilities;
■■ which poetry books, according to the librarian, are most popular;
■■ whether the librarian regularly reads reviews of poetry publications (e.g. in The
School Librarian or on the Books for Keeps website);
■■ what use they make of poetry websites.

You could try to find out whether the school publishes pupils’ own poetry. If so, are
copies of school anthologies available in the library? Do pupils’ poems appear on the
school website? Does your department ever organise a poetry slam for pupils to read or
recite what they have written themselves?

Poetry writing resources

Early in your time in the classroom you may find yourself being asked to prepare a poetry
writing activity for a particular class. There are many books written about writing poetry.
It is worth considering by whom they are written and whom they address when deciding
which books, if any, to use. Teachers write many such books for teachers, whilst others
are written by poets for teachers. A number of websites also offer advice, often written
by poets for children.
You may wish to talk to your head of department or subject mentor about poetry writ-
ing in the English department. Ask:

■■ which texts or resources they have found most helpful when planning poetry writing
■■ whether there is any departmental documentation about teaching poetry writing;
■■ whether the department participates in writers-in-schools schemes, encourages
pupils to enter poetry writing events, organises workshops and poetry performances.


Selecting poems
A well-judged selection of poetry is essential to the success of poetry lessons. It is a cru-
cial part of the planning process. You need to be able to justify your choice, to be able to
say more than ‘I think this would be a good poem to do with Year 7’. You need to consider:

■ whether the group as a whole is likely to find the poem interesting, both in terms of
its subject matter and the way it is written;
■ how it relates to previous work they have done, being particularly careful that it does
not simply repeat work done at primary school;
■ what the poem will help to teach the group about poetry;
■ how the poem will reinforce what they already know and develop their understand-
■ whether it will introduce the group to a familiar or a new poet;
■ how your choice affects the balance of poets and whose work they are reading;
■ whether there are resources available to use when working on this poem (e.g. video
or audio recordings; illustrations).

At this stage, read Task 12.2.

Task 12.2 Making an informed choice

Pick up a book of poems by a single poet. This could be one you know well or
someone new to you; a contemporary or classic poet (John Agard; Carol Ann
Duffy; Phillip Gross; John Keats; Hollie McNish; Kai Miller; Christina Rossetti; Wil-
liam Wordsworth; Benjamin Zephaniah .  .  .). From that single collection, select
three poems; one which you might study with a KS3 class, one for a KS4 group,
and one for KS5.
How did you go about deciding which poem might suit each year group? How
might you trace the kind of progression you hope your pupils might make in their
understanding of and engagement with poetry by comparing the three poems you
have selected?
In order to see how fully you are able to justify your choices, ask yourself the
questions in the Selecting poems paragraph above. Can you answer them all, or
do you need to find out more, e.g. about the group and what they have already
done, or about available resources?
Compare your selections and justifications with those of another beginning


The teaching of poetry needs to be as systematic as the teaching of any other area of the
English curriculum. There ought to be both differences and continuity between poetry
work in, for example, Years 7, 9 and 11. But what might some of those differences be?
How is that continuity to be achieved?
One possible framework for thinking about pupils’ development as readers, writers
and critics of poetry across the secondary age range will now be explored. It is based

Cliff Hodges and Rawlinson-Mills          

on a theory of reading outlined by Robert Scholes in Textual Power (1985). Briefly, his
argument is that three interconnected and recursive elements – reading, interpretation and
criticism – need to be actively in play if readers are to realise their full potential. He also
argues that students need to be accorded equal status as writers and readers so that they
experience their full power as both creators and re-creators of texts, positioned alongside
classic and contemporary writers, rather than subordinate to them in status and authority.
Books written on young readers reading picture story books (Meek, 1988; Graham,
1990; Arizpe and Styles, 2003) argue that even the youngest readers not only read for
pleasure, but also, they respond to texts as interpreters and critics. So, the framework
is not so much linear as spiral. It is complex and multi-dimensional (Rosenblatt, 1978;
Scholes, 1989). Nevertheless, there is a sense in which, with poetry especially, young
people will not welcome the effort involved in interpretation and criticism unless they
continue to experience the pleasures of reading.


An important aim for the poetry curriculum in Year 7, therefore, might be to extend
pupils’ enjoyment of reading, writing and performing poetry, at the same time introducing
them to more challenging poems, concepts and activities through which they continue to
develop their creativity and critical competence. So how might you make a start?
First, find out as much as possible about the pupils whom you teach. Take every oppor-
tunity to discover what they know and what interests them. When it comes to poetry you
may find yourself having to follow Polonius’s advice in Hamlet and ‘by indirections find
directions out’. Pupils may not readily inform you that, for example, they are already
confident readers and writers of poetry. They may know more poems off by heart than
they think they do: playground rhymes and chants; song lyrics; advertising jingles; poems
learned in primary school; their own made-up poems. They may have had poems dis-
played, read out, published in anthologies or published online. They are likely to be proud
of this, but they may be reluctant to tell you about it. You must do the finding out.
Whilst you are getting to know your pupils, you will also be extending your knowl-
edge of what works well in the classroom. In Continuity in Secondary English David
Jackson writes about pupils in the early years of secondary school having an ‘irreverent
humour, quick repartee and free-wheeling inventiveness’ often ‘revelling in word play,
jokey banter and jaunty world-views’ (Jackson, 1982, p. 15). There is certainly a great
deal of poetry written and performed by poets such as John Agard, Grace Nichols, Roger
McGough, John Hegley, Michael Rosen, Ian McMillan, Jackie Kay and Valerie Bloom
which seems to suggest that Jackson is right.

Reading poetry for pleasure

A poem such as ‘Don’ Go Ova Dere’ by Valerie Bloom is a good example. Read it,
and then consider the suggestions below as ways of encouraging pupils to enjoy reading
poetry more widely as well as to pay close attention to how it is written.

Don’ Go Ova Dere

Barry madda tell im
But Barry woudn’ hear,
Barry fada warn im

           Possibilities with poetry

But Barry didn’ care.

‘Don’ go ova dere, bwoy,
Don’ go ova dere.’

Barry sista beg im

Barry pull her hair,
Barry brother bet im
‘You can’t go ova dere.’
‘I can go ova dere, bwoy,
I can go ova dere.’

Barry get a big bag,

Barry climb de gate,
Barry granny call im
But Barry couldn’ wait,
Im wan’ get ova dere, bwoy,
Before it get too late.

Barry see de plum tree

Im didn’ see de bull,
Barry thinkin’ bout de plums
‘Gwine get dis big bag full.’
De bull get up an shake, bwoy,
An gi de rope a pull.

De rope slip off de pole

But Barry didn’ see,
De bull begin to stretch im foot dem
Barry climb de tree.
Barry start fe eat, bwoy,
Firs’ one, den two, den three.

Barry nearly full de bag

An den im hear a soun’
Barry hol’ de plum limb tight
An start fe look aroun’
When im see de bull bwoy,
Im nearly tumble down.

Night a come, de bull naw move,

From unda dat plum tree,
Barry madda wondering
Whey Barry coulda be.
Barry getting tired, bwoy,
Of sittin’ in dat tree.

An Barry dis realise

Him neva know before,

Cliff Hodges and Rawlinson-Mills          

Sey de tree did full o’ black ants

But now im know fe sure.
For some begin fe bite im, bwoy,
Den more, an more, an more.

De bull lay down fe wait it out,

Barry mek a jump,
De bag o’ plum drop out de tree
An Barry hear a thump.
By early de nex’ mawnin’, bwoy,
Dat bull gwine have a lump.

De plum so frighten dat po’ bull

Im start fe run too late,
Im gallop afta Barry
But Barry jump de gate.
De bull jus’ stamp im foot, bwoy,
Im yeye dem full o’ hate.

When Barry ketch a im yard,

What a state im in!
Im los’ im bag, im clothes mud up,
An mud deh pon im chin.
An whey de black ants bite im
Feba bull-frog skin.

Barry fada spank im,

Im madda sey im sin,
Barry sista scold im
But Barry only grin,
For Barry brother shake im head
An sey, ‘Barry, yuh win!’
(Bloom, 1986, pp. 38–39)

Pupils will probably enjoy the humour and the narrative. They could be encouraged to
browse through poetry books and seek out other humorous narrative poems as compan-
ions to this one, for example, Michael Rosen’s poem, ‘I share a bedroom with my brother/
and I don’t like it’ (Rosen, 1974, p. 67).
The style of ‘Don’ Go Ova Dere’ provides the teacher with opportunities to study it as
an artefact, not just as a narrative. It has a strong rhythm, rhyme and structure that can be
reflected upon and used to discover the extent of pupils’ understanding of the poet’s craft
and to develop that understanding more explicitly.
Because it is written in dialect and includes some dialogue, the poem has a strong
sense of voice. It demands to be read aloud. You could read it. Or you could read most
of it, with volunteer pupils reading the dialogue of different characters. The poem would
lend itself well to a group performance with different parts allocated to different voices

           Possibilities with poetry

and choric effects for lines such as ‘Firs’ one, den two, den three’ and ‘Den more, an
more, an more’.

Writing poetry for pleasure

It was suggested earlier that an important aim for the poetry curriculum in Year 7 might be to
extend pupils’ enjoyment of writing as well as reading poetry. You may therefore wish to link
pupils’ poetry writing with work on this poem in several ways. One aim could be for them to
experience the pleasures of writing poetry to entertain themselves and others. Another might
be to use the characters and narrative of the poem as a basis for poetry writing in another form.

Writing to entertain
Pupils often want their poems to be humorous and to entertain. It is very important to
take account of this and to provide opportunities for them to read their poetry aloud to
one another for enjoyment and entertainment. In this case, encouraging them to talk about
their own experiences of getting into scrapes like Valerie Bloom’s Barry may give them
plenty of material on which to base the writing of their own poems.
However, it is very hard for pupils to replicate the achievements of experienced poets,
and they may need more support to help them to organise their ideas in ways that satisfy
them. You might wish to focus their attention on the stanza structure, for example, and
how it contributes to the humour; how the division of material between stanzas adds to
the humorous effect of the poem; the extent to which the rhythm and rhyme add to the
way the poem entertains.
You would need to offer a differentiated structure for pupils to work within. The task, for
some pupils, might be to produce a poem written in stanzas of six short lines each. Others
might be able to work within the same structure but also try to achieve a regular rhythm.
Others still might be able to take on all this and try working out a rhyme scheme as well.

Transforming poetry
There will be pupils for whom the above activity may prove too demanding. They may
prefer to write something shorter, more highly structured and not necessarily related struc-
turally or stylistically to the kind of poetry they have just been reading. However, they
could use the content of the poem and try transforming it, representing it in a different
poetic form. Books for teachers such as To Rhyme or not to Rhyme? Teaching Children to
Write Poetry (Brownjohn, 1994) will provide you with various good ideas.
A favourite example of tight poetic structure is the diamante poem. Its diamond shape
is determined by particular types of words being allocated to particular lines:

noun 1
adjective   adjective
-ing   -ing   -ing
synonym 1 synonym 1: synonym 2 synonym 2
-ing   -ing   -ing
adjective   adjective
noun 2

Cliff Hodges and Rawlinson-Mills          

Although this kind of approach may seem restrictive at first, it is surprising how effec-
tive the results can be. The structure lends itself well to oppositions and contrasts. Try it
for yourself, and see:

carefree  fearless
daring   running   climbing
explorer adventurer: watcher waiter
stamping   snorting   running
frightened  angry

You can demonstrate to pupils how a diamante is composed by drafting one on the
whiteboard with contributions from members of the group. It is a good way for them to
see how in drafting you record your changing thought processes, and how poems, as with
other forms of writing, may go through many versions before they are considered to be
There are, furthermore, exciting possibilities for cross-curricular work here. You could
talk, for example, with whoever teaches the group for music, about pupils composing
pieces to accompany their diamante poems. You then have another perspective from
which to discuss the sounds, rhythms and pace that pupils have built into their writing and
which they can replicate in their music.

Assessing work on poetry

Whatever the activity, you need to decide how you are going to assess pupils’ work. This
will depend on the reasons for your assessment. If you do not know the group very well,
your main purpose may be diagnostic assessment; that is, you can find out what pupils
know and can do in relation to poetry and what help they will need from you to rectify
Pupils’ progress, however, is likely to be enhanced if they receive some clear, construc-
tive feedback from you as well (formative assessment). You need to decide what form it
will take. It could be by written comments from you to which the pupils may respond,
verbal feedback to the pupils and written notes for yourself in your mark book, or a form
of assessment specified by the department. Whatever form it takes, you need to be clear
about how assessment relates to learning objectives. Pupils need to be clear, too. The
example in Figure 12.1 shows how that relationship might be formulated.

Linking learning and assessment

1. Learning objective – Pupils to identify some of the differences between reading poetry silently
from the page and a prepared reading of it aloud to an audience.
2. Assessment objectives – Pupils demonstrate:
■■ attention to features of poetry reading such as intonation, rhythm, pace;
■■ ability to suggest ways of speaking different words, phrases, lines;
■■ ability to justify their choices;
■■ preparedness to contribute to group performance and to realise in practice the group’s ideas.

           Possibilities with poetry

Written comments for pupil A:

Your suggestion that your group should speed up and slow down in your reading of the poem ‘Awake
and Asleep’ was taken up by the others because you made your reasons clear (i.e. that it would
bring out the difference between the two states). Although at first you did not want to be in the group
performance, you overcame your reluctance and spoke your lines clearly. Having made such a good
suggestion, it was a pity you did not quite have the confidence to slow down as much as you intended.
It would have added to the contrasts you did achieve in terms of volume: the noisy bustle of the first
part; the whispered quietness of the second. Well done!

■■ Figure 12.1 Linking learning and assessment


In the preceding section we have foregrounded the importance of the pleasures of poetry.
One of the ways in which those pleasures can be extended is by focusing pupils’ atten-
tion more explicitly on the processes of interpretation. Interpretation has, of course, been
involved in the activities described above, but it has been tacit rather than overt. We now
move on to explore how developing pupils’ consciousness of it might offer them greater
understanding and control in their work on poetry without sacrificing the pleasure. From
your growing knowledge of what appeals to and seems appropriate for Year 9 pupils, you
might wish to consider whether or not you agree that this kind of activity is well suited to
them at this stage in their development as readers and writers.

Choosing appropriate texts

‘Interpretation’, writes Scholes, ‘lies on the other side of reading. Its domain is the unsaid’
(Scholes, 1985, p. 32). If we want pupils to engage in the interpretative process, we need
to offer them texts that require it, even force it. A poem by John Mole that begins ‘Some-
one has gone and left the swing . . .’ is just such an example. If it is given to pupils without
its title, as below, it will instantly generate discussion about what it may mean, and pupils
will find themselves involved automatically in the process of interpretation. Some of the
pleasures remembered from solving riddles will be in evidence here, but there will also
be opportunities for explicit talk about metaphor. Try guessing the title yourself before
turning to the end of the chapter to find out what it is.1

Someone has gone and left the swing

Still swinging, slowly,
Slower, slow, and now
It stops, and someone else
Is coming.

Someone has gone and left the chair

Still rocking, slowly,
Slower, slow, and now
It stops, and there is silence
In the room.
(Mole, 1990, p. 13)

Cliff Hodges and Rawlinson-Mills          

Exploring key concepts

Before proceeding any further, think about a concept such as metaphor that now may be
so familiar to you that you take it for granted. Teaching that concept to pupils may prove
tricky, so examine your own ideas first. Consider your immediate response to the question
‘What is metaphor?’ Have you thought how you would define the word ‘metaphor’ if you
were asked to do so by someone, say, in Year 9?
If words such as ‘simile’ and ‘metaphor’ are taught in terms of recognising examples
rather than exploring and analysing effects created by them, then the knowledge acquired is
merely superficial. Pupils need to understand what metaphor can do so that they can judge for
themselves its impact, both in their own and in others’ poetry. They need to be able to appre-
ciate and create what Jerome Bruner (1986, p. 22) calls the ‘atmospheric change’ that results
from using metaphor, to understand and participate in the way in which metaphor can simul-
taneously grasp the familiar and make it strange, to ‘rescue it from obviousness’ (ibid., p. 24).
‘Skills’ by Anne Stevenson is a poem that might be used towards the end of Key Stage
3 to explore the concept of metaphor in greater depth and encourage interpretation.

Like threading a needle by computer, to align
the huge metal-plated tracks of the macadam-spreader
with two frail ramps to the plant-carrier.
Working alone on Sunday overtime,
the driver powers the wheel: forward, reverse, forward
centimetre by centimetre . . . stop!

He leaps from the cab, a carefree Humphrey Bogart,

to check both sides. The digger sits up front
facing backwards at an angle to the flat,
its diplodocus-neck chained to a steel scaffold.
Its head fits neatly in the macadam-spreader’s lap.
Satisfying. All of a piece and tightly wrapped.

Before he slams himself, whistling, into his load,

he eyes all six, twelve, eighteen, twenty-four tyres.
Imagine a plane ascending. Down on the road,
this clever matchbox-toy that takes apart
small, now smaller still and more compact,
a crawling speck on the unfolding map.
(Stevenson, 1993, p. 23)

What follows is a series of ideas for encouraging active reading and interpretation of
the poem. The ideas are intended to provide further concrete examples of some aspects of
the planning process (e.g. formulating learning objectives, applying them in practice and
linking them to assessment).

Progression and learning objectives

In a mixed-attainment Year 9 group, pupils will have varying degrees of understanding of
the concept of metaphor. When planning a lesson or unit of work in which the learning


objective is based upon the study of metaphor, you will need to take into account (as with
any topic) work they have already done and knowledge they have acquired. Your learning
objectives will then be phrased in terms of how you want them to progress.
Task 12.3 is to help you to formulate learning objectives.

Task 12.3 Formulating learning objectives

This task is intended to help you focus on the process of formulating learning
objectives in relation to poetry.
Imagine that you are to use the poem ‘Skills’ with a Year 9 group you know. If
possible, find out from them or from their teacher what they have learned already
about metaphor.
Then use that knowledge to help you formulate up to three learning objectives
for a lesson based on ‘Skills’. Remember that you are trying to articulate what
pupils will learn. You are not, at this point in the planning, describing what they
will do.
Class: Year 9 (mixed attainment)
Length of lesson: 75 minutes
Aim: To read and study Anne Stevenson’s poem ‘Skills’; focusing closely on the
poet’s use of metaphorical language in order to develop pupils’ understanding
of the concept of metaphor.

Learning objectives:

Compare your learning objectives with those of another student teacher who
has completed this task. Can you both see clearly what it is hoped the pupils will
learn? (If not, revise the learning objectives accordingly.)

Turning learning objectives into classroom practice

‘Skills’ is another poem that forces interpretation particularly through the poet’s use of
metaphorical language. However, there are two things you want to try to avoid.
The first is simply asking pupils to spot the similes and metaphors without considering
what effects and responses are being created. It is a largely pointless exercise and proba-
bly fairly devoid of pleasure as well.
The second is taking the idea of interpretation literally and asking pupils to translate
the poetic language into prose. This, too, misses the point of a poetry lesson in that it
should be looking towards, rather than away from, the poetic.
So, what kinds of study activities invite interpretation and enable pupils to remain
firmly engaged with the poem? Here are some suggestions.

Cliff Hodges and Rawlinson-Mills          

Direct Activities Related to Texts (DARTs) is an idea that arose from the Effective Use of
Reading project directed by Lunzer and Gardner (1979), a project whose chief concern
was the use of reading for learning. In their report, Lunzer and Gardner offered a defini-
tion of ‘comprehension’, which they formulated as the pupil’s ability ‘to penetrate beyond
the verbal forms of the text to the underlying ideas’ (ibid., p. 38). A variety of activities
were thus devised to motivate this ability and engender reading for learning. Two exam-
ples of DARTs are cloze procedure and sequencing. Both encourage active exploration
of a text.
Cloze procedure. Pupils are presented with a poem from which certain words have
been deleted. They have to use their understanding of the rest of the text to suggest words
to fill the gaps. Comparing the actual words used by the poet may trigger discussion about
the effects he or she may have wanted to achieve.
Sequencing. A poem is presented to pupils, not in its original form but divided up into
fragments mixed up out of order. The pupils’ task is to reconstruct the poem, trying to find
the sequence of the original. For this activity pupils may need to identify formal features
of the poem such as rhyme or stanza structure. If successful, they will have discovered
particular organising principles of the poem for themselves.
Other strategies. Tasks that make visible the processes involved in reflecting on and
interpreting poetry include: making freeze-frames; annotating; highlighting; illustrating;
drawing diagrams.
The following example of part of a lesson plan illustrates how some of these activities
might work in the context of the particular poem, ‘Skills’.

Learning objective
To enhance pupils’ understanding of how metaphor works by bringing together two ideas
that share similarities and differences.

1. Pupils work in small groups doing a cloze procedure exercise using copies of the
poem from which the words computer (1. 1), Humphrey Bogart (1. 7), diplodocus
(1. 10), matchbox (1. 16) have been deleted.
2. A spokesperson from each group reports on some of their suggestions for words to
fill the gaps.
3. Pupils then look at the words that Anne Stevenson actually wrote and discuss the
different effects and resonances created by her chosen words.
4. Still in small groups, pupils explore how the metaphors used in the poem connect
two ideas that are at the same time similar and different, for example, the diplodo-
cus-neck of the digger (at this point it may help if they highlight words or phrases,
annotate the text or sketch an illustration).

If you are planning to teach poetry writing alongside poetry reading, then you might
like to use the work pupils do on metaphor in Anne Stevenson’s poem as a starting point for
them to write their own poems. In your objectives, be clear about what element of poetry
writing you want them to develop. If, as here, it is their use of metaphorical language, their
ability to take an element of the ordinary or mundane and ‘rescue it from obviousness’,

           Possibilities with poetry

then make that clear and plan your lesson accordingly. A poetry writing activity such as
‘The Furniture Game’ devised by Brownjohn (1994) could be used or adapted to meet
your specific purposes. Requiring pupils, as it does, to think of someone known personally
to them and to describe him or her in terms of a piece of furniture, for example (‘she is an
old, comfy armchair’ or ‘he is a stiff, upright, hardbacked chair’), or a time of day (‘she is
the early hours of a warm summer’s morning’ or ‘he is the dark midnight hour’) can pro-
duce some startling metaphors for pupils then to work into poetic forms.


The third component of the poetry-teaching framework that has been outlined in this
chapter is ‘criticism’. It is, like ‘interpretation’, a process in which most, if not all, readers
engage intuitively from an early stage. The suggestion here, however, is that it might be
timely, at Key Stage 4, to guide pupils towards a more explicit understanding of what the
critical process involves. The challenge for teachers is to maintain the pleasure and build
on the progress made in Key Stage 3 at the same time as making greater demands on
pupils’ knowledge, skills and understanding.
In Years 10 and 11 pupils are likely to find themselves increasingly being taught poetry
with a view to being able to write about it under examination conditions. Think about
ways in which you can continue to incorporate opportunities for more playful engagement
with the sound and rhythms of poetry, and for pupils to write as well as read poems, in
order that this critical work does not come to replace entirely the ways of engaging with
poems with which pupils are already familiar.
Factors such as time pressure or the desire for pupils to achieve the highest possible
grades in the examination may, in some cases, lead to what is known as ‘teaching to the
exam’ and thus to a narrowing down of pupils’ responses. To what extent do you think this
might be the case in the pupil’s work that follows?
Vernon Scannell’s poem, ‘The Fair’, has been taught to a Year 10 class.

The Fair
Music and yellow steam, the fizz
Of spinning lights as roundabouts
Galloping nowhere whirl and whiz
Through fusillades of squeals and shouts;
The night sniffs rich at pungent spice,
Brandysnap and diesel oil;
The stars like scattered beads of rice
Sparsely fleck the sky’s deep soil
Dulled and diminished by these trapped
Melodic meteors below
In whose feigned fever brightly lapped
The innocent excitements flow.
Pocketfuls of simple thrills
Jingle silver, purchasing
A warm and sugared fear that spills
From dizzy car and breathless swing.

Cliff Hodges and Rawlinson-Mills          

So no one hears the honest shriek

From the field beyond the fair,
A single voice becoming weak,
Then dying on the ignorant air.
And not for hours will frightened love
Rise and seek her everywhere,
Then find her, like a fallen glove,
Soiled and crumpled, lying there.
(Scannell, 1971, p. 35)

Pupils have read and discussed the poem in small groups. Their attention has been
drawn to some of the poetic techniques being used by the poet. Pupils have then com-
pleted a written analysis task under exam conditions.
Figure 12.2 shows what one pupil wrote (transcribed exactly as it was written).
As has been noted above, pupils’ development as critics has much to do with making
the processes involved more explicit, so that they engage in critical discussion with delib-
erate awareness of what they are doing and why. To be engaged in the critical process,
readers need, however briefly, to take a step back from the text and to view it through
others’ eyes as well as their own. This is something that teachers in school are well placed
to foster. After all, they are working with 30 or so individuals who may differ greatly in
their outlook and beliefs. Encouraging debate, therefore, is a good way to develop the
critical process. It is important for pupils to know that criticism is not about getting the
right answers or finding the correct meaning of a poem. It is about articulating their inter-
pretation and understanding of the text and justifying it in broader terms than just their
own idiosyncratic opinion.
Now do Task 12.4, based on the above pupil’s writing about ‘The Fair’.

Analyse the poem, commenting on subject matter, poetic techniques and your

personal response.

The poem is about a fair. Vernon Scannal gives us a look at one sad night at a fair. He takes us in as if
we are walking towards it, first hearing the music then the lights and finally the rides. As we go around
the fair we have the fair discribed to us with nice smells of the ‘fast food’, ‘Pungent spice, brandysnap’
then a very bad smell of ‘diesel oil’. He then discribes the night sky with a picture for our minds to
view, ‘scattered beads of rice’, the rice being the stars. The fair as a whole is then discribed as being
‘melodic meteors’ because after we have been looking up we are up in the sky looking down on it and
it would look like spinning rock dancing to the music. We now are brought back down on to the ground
to feel the atmosphere of the fair. People laugh and scream with delight. Vernon Scannell discribes that
the money in the people’s pockets is being used to buy sweet thrills ‘Pocketfulls of simple thrills, Jingle
silver, purchasing a warm and sugared fear that spills. From dizzy car and breathless swing’, also this
part of the poem gives us sights at the fair, and the complete look at the fair. Then the poem discribes
a horrible sound a scream not a warm enjoyable scream but a ‘honest shriek’ a scream for real. A per-
son has wandered from the fair and is in great distress. The scream ends, ‘dying on the ignorant air’.
The atmosphere now has completely reverse the fun and the frill is now cold with horror. Her friends
who are at the fair will not notice that she has gone missing, but when they do they search for a long
time, but when they discover her they see her lying on the ground ‘And not for hours will frightened
love Rise and seek her everywhere then find her, like a fallen glove, soiled and crumpled, lying there’.
The rape gives us a very negative look to a night fair.

■■ Figure 12.2  A student’s analysis of Scannell’s ‘The Fair’


Task 12.4 Developing a critical response to poetry

Initially, you may be slightly distracted by the writer’s misspelling of the word ‘de-
scribe’ or by the occasional omission of a capital letter in the pupil’s response to
the poem. These are points that should be addressed at an appropriate moment.
But it is very important that they should not colour your judgment of the pupil’s
achievements in terms of completing the task set, in this case analysing and com-
menting on the poem.
Using GCSE English Literature grade descriptions for reading, try to decide (as
far as is possible on the basis of a single piece of work) what grade best fits this
pupil’s work.
If you were marking this essay, what comments would you write at the end to
encourage this pupil’s development in responding critically to poetry?
How do you think the pupil has been prepared for writing this task?
Compare your responses with another student teacher and/or your mentor.

The quotations at the beginning of this chapter describe lessons in which the teacher
simply ‘tells us what [the poem] means’, requiring the class to ‘write . . . one person’s
view of the poem’ (Ofsted, 2007, p. 15). Here, in contrast, the pupil has come to their
own understanding of ‘The Fair’, which they explain with reference to key quotations.
In offering feedback, the teacher’s responsibility is not to ‘authorise’ a pupil’s inter-
pretation, telling them whether or not they are ‘correct’, but to hold them accountable
for providing evidence to support their reading, and to challenge them to account for
complexity, nuance and ambiguity in the poet’s use of language and image. How far do
the comments you have drafted in response to Task 12.4 affirm the pupil’s own critical
Different perspectives from which pupils might read and comment on a poem could
include viewing it in comparison with another poem, perhaps related in theme or struc-
ture, or viewing it from different social, cultural, historical and political standpoints. This
may sound demanding; in many respects criticism is more challenging than reading and
interpretation. Nevertheless, even if pupils are required to distance themselves somewhat
from the text in order to be critical, the process of criticism itself can give pleasure, and
the ways of achieving it need not be dry or purely academic. Meanwhile, it’s important to
remember that the three elements of successful poetry reading which Scholes identifies,
described above, need to remain interconnected throughout a pupil’s poetry-reading life:
reading and interpretation are not to be replaced entirely by criticism. How might you
plan sequences of lessons which continue to make space for pupils’ creative and interpre-
tive activity in response to poems studied for examination purposes
By the time pupils reach Key Stage 4 there will be significant differences between
those who grasp critical concepts with relative ease and those for whom they remain diffi-
cult to comprehend. Although the aim of a lesson or unit of work on poetry (for example,
to develop pupils as critics, and the poetry which is to be read) may be common to all
pupils in the class, the teacher’s awareness of their differing needs and her expectation
of their varied levels of achievement will require the actual work to be differentiated.
Here we will look at how two nineteenth-century poems might be used to encourage a
mixed-attainment group of Key Stage 4 pupils to engage in the process of criticism and,


perhaps, to become more consciously aware of what it means to do that. One is by Robert
Browning, the other by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Meeting at Night
The grey sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low;
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed in the slushy sand.
Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three miles to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, thro’ its joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!
(Browning, 1975, p. 214)

Sonnets from the Portuguese

If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love’s sake only. Do not say,
‘I love her for her smile . . . her look . . . her way
Of speaking gently . . . for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day’—
For these things in themselves, Beloved, may
Be changed, or change for thee,— and love, so wrought
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry,—
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
Thou may’st love on, through love’s eternity.
(Barrett Browning, 1988, p. 222)

Now undertake Task 12.5.

Task 12.5 Engaging in the critical process

Look at the following list of activities that are designed to move pupils towards
more explicit critical analysis of poetry. The activities are based on the two poems


The teacher:
1. reads the two poems with the class without saying who they are by or when
they were written (the pronouns in line 3 of ‘If thou must love me . . .’ need to
be deleted before copies are handed out). Pupils discuss in small groups how
they imagine the speaker, or persona, in each poem. They refer closely to each
text to justify their suggestions. Their speculations might include consideration
of gender, historical period, social, cultural and moral issues.
2. explains who wrote them and the relationship between the two poets. Alterna-
tively, pupils could research this information for themselves. They discuss how
this new information affects their rereading of the poems.


1. are challenged to write a third verse for ‘Meeting at Night’. They discuss what
they need to take into account in order to complete this task (e.g. content,
stanza structure, rhyme scheme, type of vocabulary).
2. imagine they are Elizabeth Barrett Browning writing a diary entry describing an
incident that has taken place between herself and her lover, prompting her to
write this poem. She writes about why she has chosen to communicate with
him through poetry (rather than, say, writing a letter).
3. browse through poetry anthologies to find two twentieth-century love poems,
one by a man and one by a woman, which they prefer to these two by the
Brownings. They give reasons for their selection based their reading of all four
texts, not only the two new ones they have chosen.

Consider (perhaps in discussion with others) what readerly, interpretive and criti-
cal processes each activity involves.
Decide how and why the different tasks might be suited to pupils of different


One reason that poetry can cause anxiety in secondary school – for students and begin-
ning teachers alike – is that it can tend to be encountered only in high-stakes scenarios,
particularly as students move towards GCSE and A Level examinations. Well-stocked
libraries, knowledgeable and passionate librarians, and the timetabling of ‘library lessons’
help ensure that pupils always have a ‘for pleasure’ reading book on the go, so that their
study of set text novels happens in the context of a more wide-ranging engagement with
prose fiction of all sorts. English teachers are almost always enthusiastic readers of prose
fiction. In contrast, by Year 10 poetry is often something that pupils only meet in the con-
text of English lessons, and not all English teachers regularly read poetry for pleasure.
Whilst these teachers may be familiar with and enjoy the individual poets or poems that
they themselves studied at school or university, or those that appear on GCSE and A Level
syllabuses and in course anthologies, they have less experience of poetry reading more


generally on which to draw when faced with an unfamiliar text, or when asked by a stu-
dent for recommendations. Small wonder, then, that poetry is so frequently identified as
an area of the subject in which beginning teachers feel they lack confidence and expertise,
however much it formed part of their first degrees.
In the report that described provision for poetry teaching as ‘weaker’ than other
aspects of English (Ofsted, 2007, p. 6) Ofsted’s researchers also describe classrooms in
which poetry thrives. These were often places where teachers took pains to include infor-
mal encounters with poems in addition to well-structured formal poetry teaching, where
teachers and students routinely read poems ‘without the need for constant study or writ-
ten imitation’ (ibid., p. 9). Such ‘low-stakes’ encounters with poetry happen alongside
more formal processes of reading, interpretation and criticism described above, through-
out the school year, providing moments when pupils are invited to engage with a poem
without having to ‘play at being academics’, as Nicholas McGuinn puts it (in Dymoke
et al., 2014, p. 14).
The ability to provide students with opportunities for informal encounters with poems
depends upon teachers’ own subject knowledge. As McGuinn points out, the words of the
Bullock Report, published in 1975, are still apt: ‘one of the “essentials” of any school
resource bank should be “a wide range of poetry gathered through teachers’ first-hand
reading of the work of individual poets”’ (DES, 1975, p. 137, in Dymoke et al., 2014,
p. 10). The process of building up this ‘resource bank’ should be a pleasurable one, of
course, but may involve challenging yourself to encounter material you wouldn’t usually
select. As Dylan Thomas once said,

I read only the poems I like. This means of course that I have to read a lot of poems
I don’t like to find the ones I do, but, when I do then all I can say is ‘Here they are!’
and read them to myself for pleasure. Read the poems you like reading.
(quoted in Dymoke et al., 2013, p. 23)

Task 12.6 makes three suggestions about ways to find some ‘poems you like reading’.

Task 12.6 Three ways to develop your subject

1. Read a book of poems in the same way as you’d read something from the
Booker or Carnegie Prize shortlists during your summer holidays: not slowly
and reverentially; not because these poems are likely to ‘come up’ as unseen
texts in an exam for which you are preparing a class; not because you have to.
Read greedily, refusing to get waylaid by unfamiliar language or references you
don’t fully understand. Try to get into the habit of browsing through an anthol-
ogy or collection, looking for something that catches your eye  – something
that, on re-reading, you might find you come to love. Susanna Steele advises
any teacher ‘who needs a map for the territory’ to seek out ‘an anthology that
hasn’t been tailored to meet limited curriculum requirements, where they can
discover poems that are surprising or challenging alongside those that instantly
strike a chord’ (in Dymoke et al., 2014, p. 24).