The English Department's Blog

GCSE Archive

Mar 12

A little while back, Jose Picardo blogged about jux, a newish site that offers a free blogging service based around pictures rather than text. It is pretty slick, quite easy to use and makes an admirable alternative to PowerPoint, especially if you want students to look at one another’s work. I used it recently with my Year 10 class to explore poems in their GCSE English Literature anthology, asking them to find pictures that they felt expressed lines or images from the poems.  This has led to a piece of written work in which they have to explain and justify their choices, and also critique the work of another student.

Jux does have its limitations: posts are added in strictly chronological order, so, unless you want to spend time at the end changing the date stamp on each one, you have to work backwards, and each user can only have one jux, so if I wanted to use the site again with that class, I might have to ask them to delete the work they’ve already done.  Lastly, its inbuilt flickr search is a bit clunky: you’re better off getting students to search flickr directly and find images which allow you to use the direct link code from the image.

Grabbing an image link on flickr


Lastly, this is a good way to teach students how to search well.  Often on an exercise such as this they will simply use the words from the poem, which may yield unsatisfactory results.  Teaching them how to phrase searches in such a way as to pull out interesting images is a good way, too, of getting them to engage with the poem: what are they really seeing when they imagine the ‘great broken rings’ of The Wild Swans at Coole?

Here is a selection of good examples:

Yeats’ The Wild Swans at Coole –

Simon Armitage’s The Vision –

Wordsworth’s The Prelude –


Feb 17

Nottingham High School English Department has just started using Amplify It!, a fantastic service for clipping interesting bits of writing from a website. Here I’ve pulled out some good phrases and sentences from a fascinating article on H1N1 in the Atlanta Magazine.

Feb 10

In today’s high impact session, Mr Ruff talked about keeping a scrapbook of interesting bits of writing, as a way of preparing for GCSE English exams.  Now I’m the sort of chap who wasn’t allowed to use the proper scissors at school, and generally ended up eating more of the glue than ended up on the paper, so I like digital solutions to these problems.

A good general solution is to use delicious, which allows you to save the url of any website you like, and tag it for finding later.  I make extensive use of it: there’s an excellent Android app, and I use tags such as ‘Arguepersuadeadvise‘ to group different types of article together.

Similar, but aimed more at reading, is the Instapaper service, which allows you to mark articles for reading later on.  All too often we find something interesting online, skim read it, click a few links and then it’s gone, and we can’t be bothered to trawl through our browser history to find it again.  I’ve only just started using this, (in conjunction with the Chrome Amplify extension) but it looks like a great companion to longform, a service where people tweet links to ‘longform’ articles (their twitter – longformorg is a great way to receive the links.)

And lastly, Clipmarks is a great little tool if you’re interested in gathering little nuggets of webpages, rather than the whole thing.  Install the extension into your browser and, when you find text, images or even video that you like, use the button to save and recall bits of text.  A brilliant way to grab new vocabulary or interesting ways of expressing yourself.

One last thing: reading on-screen can be a tiring business.  I recently installed the F.lux application on my home and work computers, which adapts your screen’s brightness to the time of day and lighting conditions (i.e. brighter in the daytime, warmer and darker at night).  It’s worked wonders for reducing eyestrain, and makes working and reading at the computer a totally different experience.

Feb 01

Just posted to the NHS English Scribd account is a fantastic example of writing to Argue, Persuade and Advise.  Have a read of it here.

For starters, here’s a little flavour…

Rule one: the school is a jungle. Keep with the herd; don¶t draw attention to yourself; at the watering hole, sit with who you know. The teachers are the top predators; they are also the key to your survival. If you make a good impression, they will guide you through the fortnight;however, if you make a bad impression they have the ability to make your life very miserable.

Jan 27

This week sees the first of our ‘high impact’ sessions, in which we bring together all of Year 11 to look in detail at one question, focusing on what the examiners are looking for, and how to to really well in the summer examinations.
English is a diverse subject, where students are required not only to know several set texts in detail, but also to master a wide range of skills in different forms of writing. Therefore it’s vital that they approach the examination with a really focused understanding of what each question demands, and and how they can demonstrate those skills to the examiner. Just as important is that boys practice these skills over the coming weeks and months, both for homework and in their own revision sessions.

To support these sessions we have set up an area on the school’s website – the ‘High Impact Sessions‘ – where we will publish resources, advice and revision tips. We hope you find it useful!

Jan 21

It’s options season yet again. On Monday we entertain prospective A-level students who will be doing the round of all manner of courses, each trying to capture their imaginations and convince them that two years spent studying that subject will guarantee them entry to an elite university and then glittering success in a lucrative career.

Why bother, then, with English? Well, if you love reading, then it’s a chance to study something which is important to you, to explore books and ideas that have resonated with countless readers for hundreds of years.

Yet not everyone who studies English Literature at A-level would count themselves bookworms. Many study it because of the freedom it offers, especially in choosing and developing your own coursework tasks. At A-level, we even let you choose the books you write about! In lessons we challenge you to think for yourself, and our high expectations lead to outstanding results.

Where will it take you? Anywhere, really? Your communication skills will be first-rate, and you’ll be able to respond to a problem creatively and effectively. Just read this article by Dr David White, formerly head of the Graduate Entry Medical School and you’ll see why professionals from a wide range of fields value what you learn as part of your English A-level.

If you’ve any questions, come and have a chat.  We’d love to see you start the course in September.

Sep 14

This September sees the English Department looking forward to a challenging, yet exciting academic year, in which we hope to build on last year’s many successes.  We were delighted in August to achieve some excellent GCSE results, and congratulate all the boys who worked so hard.  Our two A-level sets both did themselves proud, with four boys achieving A* grades, and Richard Hill going on to Merton College, Oxford to read English.  We wish him all the best for the future.

This year we are looking forward to even greater efforts from our GCSE classes to go achieve another set of record grades.  Keep an eye on the ‘High Impact Sessions’ section of the Nottingham High School website for useful revision tips and materials.  The most important point is that all boys need to work hard over the course of the whole year, as it isn’t possible to cram the study of a novel, a play, a set of short stories and a poetry anthology into the few short weeks of Leave of Absence!

The new GCSE syllabus begins this year for boys in Year 10, who will have the new challenges of controlled conditions coursework to overcome.  It is particularly important that boys attend all their English lessons this year, and avoid missing them at all costs.  The timetable to get all the work completed is very tight, and we want all our boys to do the very best they can.

In the Lower School we have made some large-scale changes to our programmes of study, and introduced a whole new system of assessment to help boys make progress towards success at GCSE.  All boys have been issued with a handbook which sets out in detail the assessment objectives for their year, and we expect them to make use of these as the year goes on, targeting areas for improvement with each piece of homework.  Your son should have brought home a copy for you to keep; if he’s failed to do so, please do encourage him to get you a copy.

And lastly, we are delighted to welcome new, yet very familiar colleagues into the Department.  Mrs Smith and Mrs Wheeler will take over from Miss Green and Miss Salmon with immediate effect.  We wish them every success in their careers at Nottingam High School.