On the Weekly Writing Challenge

Year 7 example

If you’re an English teacher on Twitter you will have found it hard to have missed the 200 Word Challenge idea which was the brain child of Chris Curtis (see this post). It’s taken off and lots of English teachers around the country have taken his lead. We decided, after Easter, to join the 200 Word Challenge revolution; we’ve not looked back.

Every week, every student in KS3 has a Weekly Writing Challenge lesson. It has evolved a little over the weeks so that the ingredients we want students to include has moved more towards slow writing ingredients and we’ve just added a 5-a-Day retrieval practice (self mark) starter for the ambitious vocabulary we expect KS3 students to learn as part of their homework. I expect it will evolve further.

We will review the Weekly Writing Challenge properly at the end of the year (a post to follow) including getting some student feedback. However, I thought I might share our Weekly Challenge resources in case you fancy joining the #200wordchallengerevolution.

wEEKLY writing challenge example

Here’s a dropbox link: here.





On matchstick lamp posts

narrative question

Every so often, a student writes something which moves me. Last week my year 10s completed their final mock papers ahead of their English Language exam this Summer and one piece of writing in particular caught my attention.

With my student’s permission, I’m sharing the story she crafted in exam conditions. I’m not sharing it as an example representative of a particular mark, it’s not perfect, but I’m sharing it because I think it’s lovely. I’m sharing it because it shows how imaginatively  a student can respond to a task in exam conditions. I’m sharing it because it shows how our work on vocabulary and narrative structure is having a real impact on how our students are crafting their narrative writing. I’m sharing it because I think you might quite enjoy it too.


planning image megan
My student’s planning using the Narrative Arc


Lamp posts begin to flicker on, like struck matchsticks, as the suburban street is cloaked in darkness. A cat made from midnight slinks down the granite pavement rubbing its bottle brush tail against them.

Turning into a darkened alley, the ebony cat noticed a moving lump under a thick ragged blanket and immediately launched at it. The lump revealed itself to be a small boy as he jumped up hastily. Trying to mollify the hissing cat, he reached out to stroke it but the cat tore off into the darkness.

The boy shot off after it, ensnared by the idea of keeping the cat as a companion. The lamp posts pointed the boy in the right direction by showing the cat cowering beneath a bench. The boy industriously made tutting noises and rubbed his finger and thumb together as he endeavoured to beckon the cat. Eventually, the cat strutted over and entwined its tail around the boy’s legs.

It then slinked off again, the boy close at is heels as if he were being charmed by the Pied Piper. He followed the cat through a plethora of darkened streets even as raindrops danced through the night sky and as a gust of wind stole his hat.

Eventually, they stopped outside of a Victorian building which the boy knew was an orphanage.

‘What are we doing here?’ the boy asked.

In reply the cat stared transfixed at the door of the aging building. The boy waited and waited for what felt like a decade with the midnight sky changing from orange to pink and finally to blue.

The boy went to sleep again the next night, not under a ragged blanket in a dark alley but underneath a soft duvet in his new home. As sleep took over his dreams were filled with a cat made of midnight and matchstick lamp posts.

On curating 5-a-Day starters

IMG_2050One on my most popular ever posts was this one on my use of 5-a-Day starters for retrieval practice at the start of lessons; it has been wonderful to see the idea spread into other teachers’ classrooms. Encouraged by Grainne Hallahan (@heymrshallahan), I’m now creating a bank of these starters created by different teachers across the country for a number of different Lit texts. Grainne is going to be my curator buddy – nobody wants to have sole responsibility for a collection!

Hopefully you’ll find some questions, or whole 5-a-Day starters, that you can take back to your classroom and save yourself some time!

You can find the 5-a-Day DropBox here: 5-a-Day DropBox

So far we have contributions from Grainne Hallahan (@heymrshallahan), Amy Forrester (@amforrester1), Millie Frost (@MissMFost), Becky (@shadylady222), Chloe Jones (@chloedjones), Jenny Anderson (@HeyMissAEng), Karen Dunn (@wren79), Matthew Lynch (@Mathew_Lynch44), Laura McQueen (@queenl88), Daniel Smith (@teach_smith), MCHayes (@MChayesmc) and myself.

If you have some 5-a-Day starters you wouldn’t mind sharing please send them to Five-a-DayStarters@outlook.com. You will be credited in the blog.

On my 2nd blogoversary

blog is 2

Exactly two years ago today I wrote my first blog post for ‘The Learning Profession’. It was just a few days before #GE2015 and I wouldn’t have anticipated I’d be sitting here two years later in the countdown to another general. Having said that, I wouldn’t have anticipated a lot of what has happened to me between then and now (let alone the global political landscape). Since May 2015 I have: changed schools three times (both for promotion and due to moving back home); become a Ms.; suffered personal loss; made a concerted effort to get fit; lost my appendix and given people second chances.

It has also been a transformative period of time in terms of my own professional development. I joined the world of Edu-Twitter in May 2015 primarily to drive traffic to my blog. What I didn’t realise was that I would suddenly become connected to a vibrant web of supportive and inspirational colleagues. Thanks to Twitter I have read a wealth of blogs, articles and research which has challenged and reshaped my thinking about teaching and learning (thank you to people like Carl Hendrick, James Theobald and David Didau). Thanks to Twitter I’ve got into one or two debates which has encouraged me to think about things more deeply and I’ve also had had the privilege of attending great quality CPD events such as #TLT, TeachMeets and ResearchED. I can honestly say that the process of reflecting on my practice and networking with other teachers through Twitter has made me a better practitioner.

I would also like to make special mention of finding #teamenglish who are a positive beacon of light in what can sometimes be a dark and fractious Twitter sphere (especially as teachers approach the end of the term and we’re all a bit on edge). #teamenglish are a hugely supportive bunch of inspirational English teachers who share generously and offer genuine support and good humour. A great number of them blog and share high quality resources for free because of the love of the job and because sharing is caring. I can’t mention them all by name but I’d like to say a big thank you to: Caroline Spalding (@MrsSpalding), Freya Odell (@fod3), Chris Curtis (@Xris32), Becky (@shadylady222), Grainne Hallahan (@heymrshallahan), Fiona Ritson (@FKRitson), Mark Roberts (@mr_englishteach), Amy Forrester (@amforrester1), Sarah Barker (@ladybarkbark), Kate McCabe (@evenbetterif), Lyndsey Dyer (@RealGingerella), Natalie Masala (@MasalaNatalie), Matt (@Positivteacha), Sana (@MsMaster13), Nikki (@NooPuddles) and Charlie Pearson (@CornishWelsh). Thanks for being inspirational, supportive and generally wonderful.

Here’s my top 5 posts from the past 2 years:

  1. On Paper 1 Section A (3 is the magic number)
  2. 5-a-Day Starter
  3. On Paper 2 Section A
  4. On how we’re marking PPEs (mocks to you and me)
  5. On speed-planning essays

Thank you to every one who has read my blog and has made me feel like I have something worth sharing. You have @thatboycanteach to blame for the more regular postings of 2017 (and his idea of #weeklyblogchallenge17) which I hope to continue.