The Basic Ideas behind Literary Analysis: A Guide for Newbie English Teachers

AKA: Why the Curtains are Blue.

Presented at the SAETA State Conference, May 7th 2018 at Immanuel College, Novar Gardens.

I love this meme. I think of it often when I’m in class attempting to make bored teenagers believe me when I say ‘Shrek is not about an ogre who abandons a swamp’ or ‘Cars is not about cars’ or ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not about ‘spying’.’ As a new teacher to English, I knew that the message of the meme was wrong, that the curtains could represent his ‘immense depression and lack of will to carry on’. But I couldn’t explain how. Like many newbies to English teaching, I felt I didn’t really understand the basic ideas behind analysing literature or texts.

My presentation at the SAETA State Conference was a basic intro into the key ideas behind our discipline. It’s kind of like a ‘Philosophy of English Education 101’. It’s the session I wish I’d attended in my first year out. If you’re a newbie to teaching English, or you’ve ever wondered why we do what we do in English teaching in Australia, this is the blog post for you!

Presentation Resources:

First up, here’s the PowerPoint and other resources from the presentation.

Plus: I’m currently doing my Masters (parttime, of course), and I’m looking to specialise in Middle School literacy … any feedback or ideas on this topic would be greatly appreciated! Have I got something wrong? Tell me! duffystirling@gmail.com

What makes an accomplished English student?

esides literacy (of course), to be successful in Literary Analysis, our students need:

  1. Strong understanding of language features, elements, techniques, textual concepts
  2. ‘Worldliness’
  3. An understanding of constructivist, post modernist ways of understanding meaning

The first is covered well by most English teachers from primary school onwards. Newbie teachers who are still not sure should check out English Textual Concepts website and Insight Publications. There’s a whole website covering them here: http://literary-devices.com/.

The second we are all trying to do by exposing our students to current events and unfamiliar ideas in our text choices. But it’s the students who are widely read and interested in the ideas of the world that do well in literary analysis.

The third is what this post is all about: getting our students (and ourselves) to understand how texts are constructed.

Constructivism

If you did your pre-service training in the last twenty years, you have probably been trained in  the constructivist approach to education, whether you know the terms or not. If the names Vygotsky and Piaget mean anything to you, then you probably have.

Constructivism is a philosophy of mind, centred on the idea that our ‘reality’ is ‘constructed’, and influenced by our perceptions, experiences, culture and worldview. The central idea is that our ‘truth’ is relative and influenced by our experiences.

Constructivist education posits that:

  • Knowledge is constructed, not transmitted.
  • Learning is influenced by experience, perception, culture and worldview.
  • Learning is assimilated and accommodated in existing understandings.
  • Building useful knowledge structures requires effortful and purposeful activity.

Prior theories of learning assumed that knowledge is transmitted from teacher to student; and arrived in the same state in the mind of the student. Constructivists believe that learning is influenced by experience, perception, culture and worldview. Learning something that is close to what you already know is easier than learning something completely different. There’s also a massive emphasis on students being active learners, in that they gain knowledge through exploration and active learning. Most of our ‘best practice’ principles, such as student-centred learning, project based and inquiry based learning etc. come from the constructivist model of education.

Texts are Constructed

In terms of teaching English, understand that modern English teaching in Australia is constructivist. The key points are:

  • Authors make deliberate choices when assembling their texts.

The idea that authors make deliberate choices when constructing texts is sometimes hard for students to get their head around. After all, a lot of kids when they write their texts just ramble along until they’ve met the word count. A great assignment for students is to write a text, then do a literary analysis on their own work: did they use first or third person, and why. Did they write informally or formally, and why. After a while they can come to understand that they did make choices; and that in future they should plan their writing so they’re making better ones!

Another way for them to get the idea that authors make deliberate choices is to look at texts where the author is documented clearly stating their intentions. For example George Orwell has been pretty clear about his intentions in 1984 and Animal Farm; Steve McQueen also clearly states what his intentions were for 12 Years a Slave, in multiple interviews.

  • They draw upon a selection of textual elements to assemble (construct) their texts. 
    These elements include techniques, conventions, features, language choices, structure and so on.

You can use the metaphor of a house being constructed (e.g. the foundation, the studs, the bricks) to show how different choices in elements leads to different styles of house.

  • Those textual elements are influenced by cultural conventions.
    Over time our culture has developed conventions regarding communication. So every text is heavily influenced by those that come before it.

You can talk about cultural conventions through assignments which explore archetypes; e.g. look at archetypical characters (the hero, the mentor, and so on), or archetypical narrative structures like the Hero’s journey. Website TvTropes.org tries to track these cultural conventions, especially as used in popular culture (consider the ‘token black guy’ convention in teen movies, or the ‘Matthew McConaughey leaning’ convention in romantic comedies).

The concept of Intertextuality comes in here. Philosopher Julie Kristeva proposed that “any text is the absorption and transformation of another.” Basically, intertextuality is the idea that, because all texts are so heavily influenced by what came before, they are effectively re-assemblies of previous texts. Sarah Chamber’s 2017 presentation on Intertextuality was a great place to start for teaching this concept – a handout can be found here: https://www.aate.org.au/documents/item/1315

Purpose, and Creating Meaning

  • Authors assemble texts, making deliberate choices between cultural textual elements, to create meaning, and to achieve a purpose.

English education is all about examining literature and texts to identify how they make meaning. For Example, the purpose could be:

  • To entertain, persuade or inform.
  • To influence a particular audience
  • To explore ideas, values or issues.
  • To create an emotional response.

Different types of texts intend to achieve different purposes; for example narratives are usually written to entertain or explore ideas; advertisements are usually created to influence an audience.

Subtext

Often texts achieve meaning in a subversive way: the meaning is ‘suggested’ or ‘hidden’.

The ‘hidden meaning’ is called subtext. The idea of subtext is popularly compared to icebergs: on the surface a text might appear to be silly and superficial; but the meanings are extensive and hidden underneath.

Literary analysis involves looking ‘beyond the text’ to see the hidden meanings. 

Theme

The easiest way I’ve found to start students on the idea of subtext is to talk about themes. Now, I found it really hard at first to get a solid, concrete definition of ‘theme’; it seemed everyone online had a slightly different understanding. This is the definition of theme I’ve ended up with:

  • Themes are the big ideas of a text.
  • Themes are about the universal shared experiences of being human.
    love, death, pain, loss, envy, revenge, conflict, friendship, struggle, resilience …

The key point here is that themes are the big ideas about what it means to ‘be’. I treat the short phrase (e.g. ‘growing up’ ‘resilience’) as the ‘theme’. Other educators see this as the ‘topic’ or ‘subject’, with a short statement which establishes a point of view as being the ‘theme’ of a novel. Instead, I treat that ‘short statement’ as a ‘message’ or ‘lesson’, or ‘moral’:

  • THEME: growing up
  • MESSAGE / MORAL / LESSON / CONTENTION: growing up is painful, but necessary

Napthine and Tulloh’s explanation of this in Insight Publication’s Year 12 English skills is particularly good (I believe this text isn’t available anymore, but I’m sure it’s reflected in some of the other Insight texts). Here are a few examples from this book:

THEME CONTENTION / MESSAGE
Gender roles Women are limited by their roles in marriage
Family Family is the basis of your happiness
War War is horrific; stop war; war harms only innocents
Self Acceptance You cannot love others until you love yourself

Each time I have students read or view a text, I make sure they suggest the theme and contention.

 

Reader Response Theory

Louise Rosenblatt is the godmother of modern English teaching. In her 1938 book ‘Literature as Exploration’, she posited the idea that a reader creates meaning every time they read a book; that a reader (an audience) is essential to the creation of meaning. She is immensely quotable:

and

“A reader makes a poem as he reads. He does not see an unalterable meaning that lies within the text. He creates meaning from the confrontation.”

and

‘Each individual reader, in essence, creates the work anew each time it is read. Reader’s engage with a text as a transaction. The reading of a text is an EVENT in which the reader gives the text life. Each reader has an individual experience with a text.’

Traditionally in English, teachers would train students to regurgitate the traditionally established interpretations of a text. After Rosenblatt’s Reader Response Theory (also called Transactional Theory), the importance of the reader in the creation of meaning was established. Instead of teaching an established meaning, or what the author intended, teachers should foster students’ trust in their own interpretation.

Rosenblatt’s work is absolutely fascinating, and I’ve got a copy of the book on order. Find more here:

Death of the Author

Well, Rosenblatt started something. By the 60s, the idea of authors as the true holders of their text’s meaning ended up, well, assassinated:

Roland Barthes’ 1967 essay ‘La mort de l’auteur’ (The Death of the Author) firmly moved the authority of meaning out of the hands of a text’s author:

“To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing […] [However] by refusing to assign a ‘secret,’ an ultimate meaning, to the text … liberates  [us, because] to refuse to fix meaning is, in the end, to refuse God and his hypostases–reason, science, law.”
Roland Barthes

Basically, he was arguing that examining a text by considering the author’s historical context, their political views, their psychology and so on, was pointless. Like Rosenblatt he put the burden of meaning in the reader. “To give a text an author” and assign a single, corresponding interpretation to it “is to impose a limit on that text”. Barthes didn’t like the idea that once a text is finished by an author, it is ‘done’ or ‘fixed’.

This is one of my favourite concepts in philosophy. It’s worth reading up on. It’s also worth exposing students to this concept.

Additional Readings for Death of the Author:

Plausible Interpretation

So for literary analysis, Reader Response Theory and the Death of the Author mean one thing:

  • A reader’s interpretation of the meaning of the text is as valid as the author’s intended meaning, and the traditionally accepted meanings; provided it is plausible.

So, yeah kids, what you think the text means is as real as what the author meant. But don’t get too excited. Your interpretation must be plausible:

 

In other words, students have to prove their interpretation. I usually tell them that their opinion doesn’t matter; their informed opinion does. Avoid the fart in the wind tunnel:

 

For more on combatting the ‘I’m entitled to my opinion’ logical fallacy, check out Wikipedia’s page on it.

Literary Criticism

These philosophical approaches promote the idea of the reader as creator of meaning. That’s led to literary criticism, whereby texts can be viewed through ‘lenses’ to examine how power and oppression is created and perpetuated through texts; e.g. through a ‘feminist’ lens or a ‘Marxist’ (class systems) lens.

The new SACE has critical perspectives in Stage 2 Literary Studies. I’m hoping to work some into my future Year 11 or 12 classes but as yet my knowledge is a bit thin.

But anyway, Tim Gillespie’s book Doing Literary Criticism is the bible: it’s written specifically for high school English teachers. He discusses the same literary theories on this page in the intro.

The Curtains are Blue

So I had the answer to why the blue curtains DO represent his immense depression and lack of will to carry on, even if the author didn’t intend it to do so. I teach my senior students about Death of the Author and the blue curtains, and I’m proud to say they get it.

More on why the Curtains are Blue:

Deconstruction

So, what are we doing when we do analysis?

Analysis is when we pull something apart and look at how the separate pieces fit together to understand how something works.

This is true in science, in maths, and anywhere ‘analysis’ is used.

Literary Analysis is when we deconstruct texts and look at how textual elements are used to create meaning.

When a student or a literary professor is writing a response to a text, they are arguing to prove their interpretation is plausible. They do this by providing textual elements, and the way they are assembled, i.e. the deliberate choices made by the author, as evidence. In this way, Literary analysis is really pretty much a persuasive text.

I’ve been working on various ways of getting students to do this. I’ve got to do some thinking around how I’ve been approaching it (the ‘TIEE’ approach I mentioned at the presentation), so there’ll be a future blog post on it.

Finally:

The takeaway points, dear newbie English teachers, are these:

  • Texts are deliberately constructed from culturally available textual elements and conventions for a purpose / to make meaning.
  • Your interpretation of a text is as valid as the authors, and your teachers, as long as you have the evidence.
  • Analysis involves deconstructing texts and arguing your interpretation of the meaning made.

SO GO MY DEAR ENGLISH TEACHERS, INTERPRET WELL!

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Improving Academic Literacy in Our Senior Students

Notes and links from the SAETA State Conference session, June 3rd 2017.

Hope you enjoy the presentation!

Downloads

Register

Functional Grammar – Field, Tenor & Mode

Register Continuum

Handouts / Factsheets

Vocabulary

Germanic vs Latinate

Nominalisation

Clarity and Conciseness

Readability Statistics

Other

  • University of Alberta’s fact sheet on Science Writing:  http://www.crystaloutreach.ualberta.ca/en/ScienceReasoningText/ScientificLanguage.aspx
  • The DECD Literacy Secretariat had some excellent resources which are now mostly available on the DECD Intranet. One that was particularly useful is available via DECD intranet > Educating >  Numeracy and Literacy > Literacy resources > Engaging and Exploring writing in the secondary years. Sorry Non-DECD schools, these are only available for DECD employees.
  • If you haven’t already, every English teacher in Australia really really needs to check out the English Textual Concepts website developed by the English Teachers Association of NSW. It is basically a catalogue of the content we need to teach. Our primarily skills based subject can sometimes feel content-lite, especially to new teachers. Go here if you want to know what it is we actually need to teach and when. This is a brilliant achievement. http://englishtextualconcepts.nsw.edu.au/
  • If you can get someone to pay for you, I recommend the How Language Works course. If you have to pay the $4000+ fee for yourself, give it a miss. Literacy for Learning is How Language Works lite; I don’t recommend it. More details here: http://www.unlockingtheworld.com/programs/how-language-works

 

September 11 Introduction Worksheets

Today is the 10th Anniversary of September 11; it’s a cliche to say it but man I can’t believe it’s been 10 years already.

When I first started teaching, September 11 was relatively recent and my students knew enough to discuss it in depth. Now most of my students were only four or five when it happened (and soon they wouldn’t have even been born) and 2001 is almost ancient history to them. Kind of like when I was a kid learning about the fall of the Berlin Wall.

With my year 10s this year I did an English unit with a War on Terror theme. September 11 may be a long time ago for these kids but the War in Afghanistan is very real and recent (Christ, just had a thought: this means the War in Afghanistan has been going on for 9-10 years too. Bugger.) Anyway, I developed these worksheets as an introduction to 9/11. When I’ve put it together, I’ll post that unit of work as well.

Also this year I have been reading Tomorrow When The War Began with my year 9’s. Being a story about an invasion of Australia, there is a link to September 11, Pearl Harbor and the Bombing of Darwin as these are all incursions on First World countries that otherwise go unharmed.

What is it?

A crossword with vocabulary related to the War on Terror.

Two articles explaining the basics of September 11 in common kid-friendly language. One is from a News Limited article (circa when Osama Bin Laden was caught and killed) and a Behind The News transcript (a kid-orientated news service run by the Australian Broadcasting Corp.) Take your pick.

Note: the Behind The News article video may be available to stream through Iview if you are in Australia at this address:

There is also a notetaking form; I suggest you update the comprehension questions in the bottom box.

How to use it:

Instruct students to read through and circle unfamiliar words; or at least words they don’t understand. They copy these into the first table.

Students then read through and highlight the key words and phrases. They copy these into the second table and explain them.

Then students answer the comprehension questions. These do need updating and I suggest you change them.

Download:

2011 307 September 11 Worksheets DOC

2011 307 September 11 Worksheets PDF

Update:

I also adapted the same articles for my year 8s as a cloze rather than a notetaking activity.

2011 308 September 11 Cloze DOC

2011 308 September 11 Cloze PDF

The plan is to stream the BTN news story so they can get the answers.

http://www.abc.net.au/btn/story/s3307593.htm

Update 2016

I found this excellent free TPT task from a fellow Teacher Author that is quite useful for being a quick introduction to the events of September 11:

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/September-11-Terrorist-Attacks-on-America-Text-and-Exercise-Sheets-948492

Australian Curriculum Year 10 English Unit / Lesson Plan / Resources: Divergent, The Giver and The Hunger Games

I love the plethora of BAD ASS ladies in teenage media these days.
I love the plethora of BAD ASS ladies in teenage media these days.

Nothing is more engaging for fifteen year olds than watching bad-ass teenagers kicking authoritarian butt. I have two Year 10 English classes this year and both feature die-hard Hunger Games fans, so I decided to target teen dystopian texts for our novel and film studies. I’d been trying to figure out how I could hit the content descriptors in the Australian Year 10 English curriculum which focus on ‘value systems’, ‘social, moral and ethical positions,’ and ‘beliefs and assumptions’; dystopian texts seemed a good entry point. Also I am trying to up-skill our socio-economically-disadvantaged students in good-ol-academic skills, like literature analysis, essay writing and referencing.

Overall, this has been one of the most successful units I’ve ever completed with Year 10s. Some of the conversations we had regarding what ‘values’ are inherent in our society, and how they’re reflected in the texts we read and view, were brilliant. I wanted to share what worked well and share the resources I found useful in case there’s another Year 10 English teacher out there looking for Aussie Curric. ideas.

The Downloads …

More information about each of these below.

The Hunger Games: Life Lessons

What can we learn about ourselves and our world from this novel?

In the first unit of work, each class read The Hunger Games and completed work with a focus on the ‘life lessons’ the novel has for teenagers. The key question throughout was ‘what can this story teach us about the real world?’

Before Reading

Reality TV is DESTROYING OUR SOULS! Go to my right if you agree!
Reality TV is DESTROYING OUR SOULS! Go to my right if you agree!

We covered a few concepts first:

  • ‘desentisation’ to violence by TV and video games
  • Developed vs. Developing countries (and the terms ‘First World’ and ‘Third World’)
  • the good and bad of Reality TV.
  • social justice and economic inequality.

My opening to discussing these issues was a standard ‘Agree / Disagree / Depends’ strategy. Label one side of the class as ‘Agree’, the middle as ‘depends’ and the other as ‘Disagree’; once the teacher reads a controversial statement (Reality TV is destroying our souls!), students move to the area which represents their view. They then may be selected to explain their decision; students can move if they change their mind. When this strategy goes well, you have students running the class on their own. It’s always handy to have one or two highly opinionated students as was the case in one of my classes: we spent an entire lesson discussing these ideas.

The statements I posed were:

  • Reality TV is TERRIBLE: It represents the worst of society; it’s bad for us!
  • Watching violent movies and playing violent video games encourages teenagers to be more aggressive
  • It is the responsibility of wealthy countries, like Australia, to help support developing nations: we shouldn’t waste our money on giving them aid.
  • Every person in our society has the opportunity to be successful … if they just work hard enough!

I was quite sneaky because that last one is particularly salient for the students I work with: rural kids from a low-socio-economic background. I think a lot of Australians believe deep down that those who are in poverty somehow deserve to be in poverty, so most of the class hopped over to ‘Agree’ on that. However, I also have multiple students who come from a background of generational poverty and – given the class is quite cohesive and emotionally comfortable with each other – they stood up and said, ‘Well actually, working hard isn’t always enough.’ The next step was to make a connection between the poverty in Australia and poverty in developing nations: what opportunities for success do sweat shop workers in Bangladesh have? Later, I would make a connection between this and the situation in the Districts in The Hunger Games.

I gave students the following worksheets to consolidate and record their ideas:

Reading the Novel

Tears to the eyes ...
Tears in the eyes …

To tell you the truth, The Hunger Games novel is not the greatest of classroom texts. While Katniss is a well formed character, there’s some clever use of language, and there are some brilliant concepts leading to good teaching moments (black market trading, poverty, ‘salutes’ and silent protests), the pacing is clunky, the chapters are uneven (with important plot points and dramatic moments sandwiching dull descriptions of food, sulking, Avoxes and makeovers). An editor needed to cut a good proportion of the beginning to get to the much better written Part II (where Katniss competes in the Hunger Games itself). While covering Part I, I tried to read aloud those sections which were critical to the story (‘I volunteer as tribute!’, ‘the girl on fire!’, ‘Thank you for your consideration!’ and ‘she came here with me’) while setting the remainder as (effectively optional) homework reading. Part II was mostly read aloud in class: it’s marvelous seeing the most disengaged boys in the class begging to be allowed to keep reading.

When it came to basic comprehension (vocabulary, journal questions etc.) the majority of the resources I used are easily found online. I bought Tracee Orman’s ridiculously comprehensive Hunger Games package on Teachers Pay Teachers, and hand picked the ‘journal questions’ we completed as we read. I didn’t spend too much time on ‘comprehension’ type activities because the focus was on the general gist of the ideas represented.

We did complete a standard ‘Themes’ based activity at the end, just to get them thinking:

After Reading

With the final assessment I wanted the students to discuss the ideas, beliefs and assumptions they had developed over the course of reading the novel. I formed these as ‘life lessons’ based on several blog entries I found. I encouraged the students to brainstorm ideas, and then we read studied some of the blog articles. The final assignment asks students to argue whether the novel should be taught next year given how valuable the ‘life lessons’ are for Australian teenagers.

Brainstorm worksheet: What life lessons does The Hunger Games have for teenagers activity DOCX

Google ‘Life Lessons Hunger Games’ and you’ll find dozens of blog entries. Most are for the film adaptation, however, so you may need to adapt. The three I used are:

Students could self-select the text which matches their literacy level to read: we use a ‘black, grey, white’ differentiation strategy in our school where black tasks target above average students, grey average and white below average. The texts were leveled using a readability analyser like Readability Score

Finally, students completed the final assignment: a persuasive writing task where they argued whether the life lessons in the novel make it worthy of being taught as a class text:

Of course, I would do any necessary scaffolding depending on the class, such as showing how to structure paragraphs in a literary essay, how to use quotations etc. I almost always go back to Read Write Think’s Persuasion Map to get some low literacy kids through the planning stages (yes, it’s still good for fifteen year olds).

The Giver and Divergent Comparison / Intertextuality (Connected Text) Study

We don’t have class sets of either Divergent or The Giver, and with the low levels of literacy in the class, struggling through one novel per year is enough, so I chose the film versions of both.

The Giver (2014)

Is this some old movie, Miss? Why is it in black and white. Hang on, isn't that the guy from Home and Away?
Is this some old movie, Miss? Why is it in black and white. Hang on, isn’t that the guy from Home and Away?

80’s standby The Giver has hundreds of study guides available for the novel, but few for the film. I found most are pretty useful, except in that the film emphasises the role of the Chief Elder much more, creating a stronger villain.

A Perfect World Ms Roberts answer
An English teacher’s view of a perfect world … free schools and universities. And eco houses and non-stop produce markets.

I started out with questions regarding what makes our world imperfect (PDF), which then moved into worksheets (PDF, DOCX) adapted from this very comprehensive Giver pre-reading activity. We discussed the answers as a class.

At this point I led a discussion regarding dystopia vs utopia, in case they were not all dystopian-obsessed teen readers and were unaware of what the terms meant. Aris Dufree’s Prezi on Dystopias is useful for this.

After viewing the film (Is this some old movie, Miss? Why is it in black and white? Hey, that’s Stu from Home and Away. That’s Taylor Swift. No it’s not! Yes it is!) we did a character comprehension check:

… before brainstorming the differences between ‘The Community’ and our society:

In instructed students to leave the Divergent column empty. This was an important step in the assignment ahead as it helped clarify some of the more obscure rules of the Community.

Divergent (2014)

Another badass chick!
Another BAD ASS chick! I love teenage dystopias!

Before watching Divergent, I briefly explained the whole ‘Faction system’ concept and had students complete a faction aptitude test to ‘sort’ into a Faction. There are literally dozens of these tests online but I found the most interesting was the official movie page aptitude test. As this was, of course, blocked by our school’s nanny-software, I ended up using a printed version of this great one on a Divergent fan site. This site also has very good visual descriptions of each faction. Another colleague also teaching the film at the same time as I then did an activity where students could brainstorm adjectives which described the personality characteristics of each faction (sanguine! temperant!). If a student scored highly in two or more factions I told them that they were ‘divergent’ and must not let anyone know.

divergent badges
Print, laminate, stick a pin to their back and you have yourself some faction badges. From Living Locurto.

I also printed out badges from Living Locurto’s Divergent Party Printables. After laminating, I stuck a small safety pin to the back and gave them out. I did it as a bit of fun, but I had toyed with the idea of doing some kind of creative game activity. I found the majority of my class ended up in Dauntless with sporadic Amitys and Candors.

We watched the film, completed a character comprehension check, and then filled in that final column in the comparison chart.

Values, Assumptions and Beliefs

Because of the copious amounts of Aust. Curric. links regarding ‘values, assumptions and beliefs’, I then had the students consider the films in terms of what ‘values’ each society represented. Part of this involved leading students through the process of writing a comparative text analysis essay, a frequent feature of Year 11 and 12 Senior English.

I first had students determine what they believed their values to be, using various tools I found such as Mindtool’s step by step questions. It worked out best to give them a list of values – as can be seen in Step 4 of that page –  and to ask them what they believed was important.

What are our values
A worthwhile task was plotting the students’ preferred values in a spreadsheet.

The next step was to ask the students what they thought their community valued:

Our beliefs regarding the values of our small regional community ... sport rules all.
Our beliefs regarding the values of our small regional community … sport rules all.

It led to the one of the most interesting conversations I’d ever had in my teaching career, regarding the disparity between what they felt they valued and what they felt our small regional community valued: my students felt the pressure to play sport, play sport, play sport (in Australian rural areas it’s common for life to revolve around local football and netball clubs). I suspect Friday Night Lights (2004)  might be an interesting text to cover for this class in the future.

Another interesting aspect was the lack of ‘education’ or ‘good grades’ or similar in either list (except where I added it for myself). This is very typical of Australian students in general (In my experience, I’ve found education is not as highly prized as it is in other countries) but it is particularly the case in small rural communities where getting an education is not seen as all that important (but getting a job, or working hard, is). When I do this unit of work again, I will probably head more in this direction, perhaps having the students do a creative writing task which involves imagining what happens when a value is taken to its extreme; or doing a think piece whereby students theorise which values should be more valued in our community.

I moved students through to considering what values are implied in both The Community of The Giver and the Faction System of Divergent. From there it was pretty straight forward for students to argue which of the systems represented their values the closest to complete the final assessment piece: a comparative exposition:

So there we are. I hope there are some ideas in here somewhere which you wonderful AC English educators out there can use!

Australian Curriculum Links

These assignments targeted:

Values

  • Understand that people’s evaluations of texts are influenced by their value systems, the context and the purpose and mode of communication (ACELA1565)
  • Evaluate the social, moral and ethical positions represented in texts (ACELT1812)
  • Identify and analyse implicit or explicit values, beliefs and assumptions in texts and how these are influenced by purposes and likely audiences (ACELY1752)

Literature Analysis

  • Use comprehension strategies to compare and contrast information within and between texts, identifying and analysing embedded perspectives, and evaluating supporting evidence (ACELY1754)
  • Analyse and evaluate text structures and language features of literary texts and make relevant thematic and intertextual connections with other texts (ACELT1774)
  • Analyse and evaluate how people, cultures, places, events, objects and concepts are represented in texts, including media texts, through language, structural and/or visual choices (ACELY1749)
  • Evaluate the impact on audiences of different choices in the representation of still and moving images (ACELA1572),

Parsnips in ELT: Stepping out of the Comfort Zone

Love the PARSNIPS acronym. Will never look at root vegetables without thinking about those ‘whale’ lessons we avoided teaching in Japan.

teflgeek

most requested ebooks

The concept of Parsnips in ELT has always intrigued me.  These are the things that you’re not supposed to talk about with your classes, the taboo topics that might get you into trouble or which your students might protest at.  These are the topics that mainstream coursebooks leave out.

And for a very good reason – coursebooks are market dependent and they rely on economies of scale to make a profit.  A coursebook that cannot be used in an entire region of the world because it touches on political issues that might offend ruling regimes means potentially losing money in sales.  But this leads to some interesting omissions and to a one size fits all policy that essentially has us teaching to the lowest common cultural denominator. And to what someone once described as “in-flight magazines for the grammatically challenged” (Scott Thornbury I think…?).

Personally, I see no problem in…

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Medieval Identity Task – Year 8 History (Australian Curriculum)

MedievalIdentity1

This task is essentially the framework which I use to complete depth studies into Medieval Europe and The Black Death in Year 8 History.

Each year at the beginning of our Year 8 History course, I ask students to create a medieval identity. The identity is referred to across our depth studies on Medieval Europe and The Black Death. Students use the identity to answer questions, complete tasks, and as a basis for the major assignments.

This has been useful for engagement and critical thinking as students are encouraged to make connections between their worlds and the world we are studying.

This idea was inspired by the Society for Creative Anachronism (the SCA): a roleplaying society who are obsessive in creating historically accurate identities. If you’re curious, check out their website: http://www.sca.org/ and their links to research on the Middle Ages: http://www.sca.org/links/misc.html

Note: I limit the research students do to 14th century England purely so their identity could be a victim of the Black Death!

Download all of the files in a single zip file over at Teachers Pay Teachers (WordPress isn’t keen on zip files these days)

Teaching Notes:

1. Within the first week I introduce the concept of feudalism :
The PowerPoint I use is very popular and available here:
http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Feudalism-Pyramid-Manorialism-Middle-Ages-PowerPoint-Posters-and-Worksheet-834762

2. Then I invite students to pull a ‘rank’ out of a hat (Medieval Identity Rank Cards).
There is only one royal and a limited amount of clergy (monk/nun), nobility and knights. This provides a talking point about how approximately 5% of the population were the ‘ruling classes’ while the remainder were workers.

3. Students then do the research to find the profile information (Medieval Identity Profile and Medieval Identity Research Links):
a. An appropriate name for a 14th century Englishman or women of that rank.
b. An occupation
c. A family motto
d. A family crest or shield
e. Everyday life including clothing, housing, occupation, free time etc.

4. Students create an A4 (Letter) sized poster showing their information.
In the past I have given students a template, just to keep the posters uniform (Medieval Identity Poster Template) though in the future I might encourage students to design their own.
An example of the Profile Poster:
The posters are then arranged on a pinboard in the Feudal Pyramid, to match the diagram from the Feudalism PowerPoint: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Feudalism-Hierachy-Pyramid-of-Power-PowerPoint-and-Poster-834750

6. At the end of our depth study on Medieval Europe, students complete a major assignment: Medieval Identity Comparison.

7. We then commence the depth study on the Black Death. I have been busy upgrading this unit of work to put up on TPT.
My Black Death depth study can be found starting here: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/What-is-the-Black-Death-Depth-Study-Introduction-ACARA-1456263

8. At the end of our depth study on the Black Death, students complete another major task: Black Death Diary Assignment, whereby they write a diary from the perspective of their medieval identity. Students enjoy this as it is creative and I encourage students to ‘coffee stain’ their paper to get a medieval effect.

Printable: Narrative Vocabulary – Vivid Verbs and Personality words

I spent a few hours researching and playing with Wordle to create these ‘vivid’ verbs and personality words posters for our Year 9 narrative unit of work which focuses on imagery, figurative language and description. These posters include up to 800 or 1500 words.

The worksheet and poster double as a word bank for when the students start their short story writing. vividverbs3
personalitywordswordle-colour How I use these resources:

I have printed some of the 800 word posters (tiled on 6 A3 sheets) to put up in the class to act as a reminder. The personality words worksheet contains a 150 word Wordle. I gave the students the worksheet and asked them to highlight 10 words they were unfamiliar with. They could then ask friends, use Google or use a dictionary to find out the meaning of them. Then I asked them to highlight 10 words which describe themselves. You could suggest that students have their friends suggest which to highlight (I have a great class this year and they quickly started running around and ‘volunteering’ to highlight lovely words for each other!) This activity was a hit and a lot of fun. Students then worked on decorating a book cover with the words which describe them. The next task is to introduce photos of characters as a prompt and ask students to assign ‘personality words’ to each. Following that, I will introduce ‘vivid verbs’, ‘emotional words’ and ‘vivid adjectives’ which students will match with the personality of their character. The vivid verbs worksheet involves students highlighting words which they show movement, thoughts and speech. The worksheet is then glued into their exercise books and is the basis for further activities such as having students write a list of words in their books which they could use instead of ‘said’ and ‘walk’ and ‘think’ etc. A suggestion with the worksheet: print on large paper (A3) and set as a group activity. If you want to scale the activity down for younger age levels, I’ve included posters with less words. And I’ve included the original word list so you can make your own Wordles!

Download

Download individually or, if you want a short cut, download combined in ZIP files via Teachers Pay Teachers: Vivid Verbs and Personality Words (WordPress won’t let me host ZIP files anymore).

Worksheet: Punctuation Crossword Puzzle Freebie

One of those ideas I had one day …

Crossword puzzle where the clues are punctuation symbols. Why? Plenty of my students frequently ask me ‘what’s an a-poss-troff?’ Includes answer key.

punctuationcrossword

PunctuationCrossword

PDF File: PunctuationCrossword

Images were sourced via Openclipart.org.

If you want the original DOCX file (free), visit my TeachersPayTeachers store (you’ll need a login to download it).

Identifying Text Types activity

New product posted to my Teachers Pay Teachers site.

Every Australian English teacher can use this resource to help their students gain awareness of different text types!

A set of eight authentic web texts around one common topic (‘cats’) to be used to help students learn to identify the differences between text types. Also includes a handout describing different text types, an analysis sheet for determining which text type a particular text is, an abbreviated version of each source for a lower students. All documents are provided in PDF for easy printing and Word formats for easy editing.

Essentially I run this activity at the beginning of the year with my year 8-12 students. I give groups of students a copy of each source and tell them to identify which is which text type.

I’ve also used a similar activity when conducting training sessions for the teachers in my school as part of a literacy program. Getting to know text types is as important for teachers in Science and Woodwork as it is for English teachers.

Text types covered: Information Report, Narrative, Recount, Exposition (One sided persuasive), Discussion (two sided persuasive), Review/Response, News Report and Procedure. I chose a news report over the standard explanation/description because I use it more often at secondary level.

I’ve also included answers and a list of further resources on Text Types.

See the product here: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Identifying-Text-Types-activity-for-Middle-and-Secondary-Australian-Curriculum-1114797

16 Fancy Literary Techniques explained by Disney

I took Adam Moerder’s brilliant Buzzfeed article about literary techniques explained via Disney movies and turned it into a series of simple posters. The images and text are taken directly from the blog article, bar a few vocab changes. They’re headed for my classroom wall. I highly recommend checking out the original blog: see it here http://www.buzzfeed.com/moerder/fancy-literary-techniques-explained-by-disney

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Download PDF: Language Techniques as explained by Disney