Category Archives: Personal Writing
This introduction provided the class with an excellent understanding of repetition and it enabled students to comment on its usage in all texts (poems included!). It also proved to be a good foundation for students when they were drafting their own speeches and elevated them to a level where they were thinking critically about how emphasise their points and how their speech would best engage their audience.
Students were given a copy of the below extract and I asked students what they knew about Martin Luther King Jr. Most of the students had a lot of information about him, so they introduced him and gave us plenty of context for the speech – even more detailed then what I had planned to say!
Before I played the audio clip, I asked them to write an ‘R’ in the margins whenever they hear any words or phrases that are repeated. I used this to prompt students to think about the use of repetition in speeches:
Why someone would repeat something during a speech?
What effect does it have?
Once we discussed this, we listened to the speech a second time – this time we underlined whenever Martin Luther King directly addresses the audience – i.e. using words such as ‘you’, ‘our’ and ‘we’. As with repetition, we discussed how and why this featured in speech writing (help the speaker connect with the audience, keeps the audience engaged, etc.).
Extract from ‘I Have a Dream’ speech
Address to civil rights marchers by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 28, 1963
I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
Go back to Mississippi. Go back to Alabama. Go back to South Carolina. Go back to Georgia. Go back to Louisiana. Go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.
Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
The next lesson followed a similar format. I asked what the students know about Obama, we recapped on the uses of repetition and directly addressing the audience, and continued like the previous lesson from there.
In Obama’s speech, I paused it just before “And tonight, I think about all that she’s seen…” to assess students’ understanding of anecdotes as we had previously covered this (an explanation and examples of course, not just a one-sentence definition). The pause also offered them a breather!
Extract from Barack Obama’s victory (“Yes we can”) speech in Chicago on November 4th, 2008.
If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.
It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.
It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled – Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.
It’s the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.
It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.
The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America – I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you – we as a people will get there.
There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won’t agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can’t solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it’s been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years – block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.
For that is the true genius of America – that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.
This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that’s on my mind tonight is about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She’s a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing – Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.
She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons – because she was a woman and because of the colour of her skin.
And tonight, I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America – the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.
At a time when women’s voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.
When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs and a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.
When the bombs fell on our harbour and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.
She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that “We Shall Overcome.” Yes we can.
A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change. Yes we can.
America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves – if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?
This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time – to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth – that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:
Yes We Can. Thank you, God bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.
Possible follow-up tasks might include:
asking students to pin-point themes or points which were discussed in each speech and then draw comparisons.
a break-down of how each speech progresses (i.e. the structure of the speech).
Plan and practice.
Finding which genre (short story, argumentative speech, personal essay, etc.) in the ‘Composition’/’Personal Writing’ part of the exam works best for you takes time and a lot of practice. When you have found which one you are most comfortable with, work on it.
If you choose the short story question in the exam, make sure you’ve written many of them until you’ve found a ‘pattern’ that works best for you.
Remember: short stories do not ‘tell’ us what is happening. They ‘show’ us.
It can be useful to keep a record of good descriptive phrases and descriptions that you like and have used, as well as some ‘connecting’ or ‘transition’ words and phrases that you have practices – remember, your story must flow naturally!
Imagine your story in stages – again, just ensure that the plot flows naturally. Be sure that you understand your characters and their world before you begin planning.
If you ‘hit a wall’ in the plot, ask yourself “What if…?” to explore some possibilities. Don’t be afraid to draw inspiration from the texts in the exam paper, or from something in the news or in a book, a short story, film, TV series, fairy tale, etc. – never copy it, get inspiration from it!
Always draw/write plan in your answer booklet. Some may also find it useful to make a short list of ‘techniques’ to use.
In your plan and in your answer, make sure you are answering the question. Do not ignore the details of the task you are being set.
You’ll find that if you have written a few very good stories you can adapt them to suit almost any question. This will take practice!
Capture the reader’s attention from the first sentence, and keep them in suspense.
You want to get the reader’s attention straight away and make them eager to continue reading.
Start the story in ‘the middle’ of a specific event/situation and keep the reader guessing about what is happening; instead of starting with what happened just before the ‘big moment’, start with the big moment or just after it.
Opening paragraph may be started with a detailed description – a vivid image of a place, thing or person (e.g. “A battered black bowler hat sat snugly above the stout man’s large ears and unkempt beard as he paced restlessly by the windows – gnarled hands clasped tightly behind his back.”).
Instead, you might start with a series of short sentences, rhetorical questions, dialogue or a shocking/abrupt statement to create tension or an air of mystery, (e.g. “She dropped the gun. He was dead. The silence was deafening.”).
Economise: one setting, one event, one/two characters.
Create an appropriate mood and atmosphere. This can be achieved by appealing to the senses – what is heard/seen/felt/smelt?
By keeping the number of characters to one or two, you can focus on revealing more about them and the situation they are in. These details are revealed through actions, thoughts, dialogue, physical appearance, and interaction with others’ and their surroundings. Don’t reveal it all in one paragraph – that’s overkill. Tease it out so that the reader becomes gradually familiar with the character.
The ‘middle’ or ‘development’ part of the story should draw the reader in – arouse their curiosity and draw them in closer to the story. The development may involve a challenge/complication for the character.
Be specific when using detailed descriptions and vivid imagery to help the reader visualise – show don’t tell, and vary your vocabulary!
Keep the reader guessing.
Delay revealing an important detail, such as the setting, who the character is, what is happening, etc.
End with a bang: leave the story on a cliffhanger and the reader in suspense. For example, you may revisit where the story started – raise or answer a question which emerged, reveal an important detail, have your character (about to) make a difficult decision or experience a revelation, etc.
Alternatively, you may reach a ‘resolution’ and ‘tie up the knots’ to the story. This does not mean you summarise everything that happens next!
Endings can be tricky to do well (avoid the expected!), so try out a few ways. Just remember that a short story is a brief insight to a person/situation – not the character’s life story or the complete story to an event.
Always ask your teacher for feedback on short story questions that you answer.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a bit more detail or ideas on how to develop/improve your story – we’re here to help!
Collection of stories (PDF or online)
Forty Two Stories: New Writing from Harper Perennial
- Forty stories are available here from the excellent site, Fifty-Two Stories (click here for direct link to PDF)
Arthur C. Clarke
- The Haunted Space Suit (adapted)
- A Study in Emerald (alternative link: A Study in Emerald)
- Bitter Grounds
- Down to the Sunless Sea
- How To Talk To Girls At Parties
- I Cthulhu
- The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds
- The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains
Gabriel García Márquez
Edgar Allen Poe
‘Create A Character’ worksheet version 1 (PDF) – worksheet includes space for students to draw their character in a scene (or help them visualise, take notes, etc.).
‘Create A Character’ worksheet version 2 (PDF) – worksheet includes sample check lists to reference when writing their short story.
Next step: write a short story featuring the character you created! The collage can act as a visual prompt to get students thinking about elements of their story.