Blog Archives

Adjective! – LSRW Activities and 350+ Definitions

The 350+ adjectives in the PDFs and slideshow below are compiled to help students expand their vocabulary, in particular when answering questions such as:

“Describe the character of…”

“What sort of person do you think…?”

“What do you learn about the personality of…?”

“What impression do you form of…?”

Any additions or updates to the lists will be announced on Facebook and Twitter.


Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing Activities

I’ve detailed collaborative writing, improvisation and story chain activities, as well as a game called ‘Homonym!’, on the ‘Homonym!’ post which can be adapted for use with the adjectives below.


Cards (PDF)

See the captions below each image for details of the PDF.

List of Adjectives Table of adjectives with definitions


2 pages


8 pages

‘Advective!’ Alphabetical ‘Adjective!’ Random


45 pages (8 cards/words per sheet)


45 pages (8 cards/words per sheet)

‘Adjective!’ Blank ‘Adjective!’ Score Sheet


1 page (8 blank cards)


Sample table for sentences and points



Online Cards

The cards will appear in a random order in the slideshow below. Press the pause button to stop the auto-play and use the arrows to navigate between cards.

Useful alternative to printing out the cards, especially if students have their own devices.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Note: JavaScript required to view slideshow.


Encouraging Reading for Pleasure

In June The Guardian published some tips from teachers, including me, on how to encourage students to read for pleasure.

Below are my tips from the article, as well as a few other points which were raised when corresponding with Martin Williams, the journalist who wrote the article. Many of these points complement what I previously wrote about literacy in a live chat on The Guardian.


Classroom Environment

I think having a regularly-updated print-rich environment is important to have in the classroom. The surroundings should encourage reading in all its forms and support their choices of reading material. It may even spark interest in reading.

I don’t simply mean putting up a poster which tries to promote reading because it’s ‘cool’/etc. – I think they’re totally ineffective. A poster with a list of reasons why reading is ‘cool’ won’t convince anybody to pick up a book, particularly when considering the ages of students in secondary school.

Instead, students (and teachers!) could share the name of the book that they’re reading at the moment, and offer a sentence about the book. It’s a good example of how to encourage and support reading in the physical classroom environment, and a great way to share recommendations from student to student, teacher to student, and even student to teacher.


Drop Everything And Read

In terms of embedding a reading habit at school, I think reading time is important, for example through Drop Everything And Read. DEAR needs to be grounded in reading for pleasure rather than a task to be done at school (‘reading because we have to’), and book choice and availability is therefore crucial to this. It’s a great way to encourage reading for pleasure, particularly when there may not be strong encouragement at home or good access to books outside of school.

Time in the local and/or school library can also be beneficial. In the library as with DEAR, students need time to explore what’s on offer, find books they may like, and, of course, change the book if it isn’t appealing to them; forcing them to stay with a book they don’t like can do more harm than good.


Reluctant Readers

From my experiences there can be a reluctance among students to read.

However, there’s something to consider when making such a statement: is this a reluctance to ‘read’ or a reluctance to ‘read books’? To a certain extent I think there may be an inclination to only consider and favour books and discount the other facets of what reading is.

A 200-300 page book may seem short to some, but these can be intimidating to reluctant readers. Audiobooks, comics, e-books, short stories, online articles and reviews, magazines about their interests – these shouldn’t be ignored.

Based on my own experiences in teaching, the hesitancy of the majority of the ‘reluctant readers’ dissipates when they find something they like and want to read – the material and medium which ‘suits’ and appeals to them.

Reading is a personal, individualised experience; freedom to choose what to read is key to their enjoyment of reading.


Anything Goes

Introduce students to a wide variety of texts, mediums and genres – they may surprise themselves once they have faced preconceived ideas about what they consider enjoyable and embrace a diversity in what they read.

World Book Day and World Book Night have great potential which can be harnessed in the classroom. For instance, I was a WBN Book Giver this year and I made a Padlet for recipients of the books to access in order to strengthen the encouragement to read. Among other things, the Padlet contained websites for reviews and recommendations, books I recommend, and details of the local library.

Of course, other book and reading activities/events can also help promote reading for pleasure but, like WBD and WBN, they still have to engage with each student involved in order to have a meaningful impact.


Home Support

As I’ve mentioned previously, it’s crucial to bear in mind what the student wants to read. Having this control shouldn’t be undervalued, and I think they should be allowed to venture from one type of book to another. Reading is reading, no matter what kind of book/etc. it is.

I consider encouragement from parents to be quite an important factor: it can difficult to instil a reading habit if it only happens at school.

Access to books and other reading material is just as important. I recognise that the school setting for some students may be the only place access to books may be possible, and, whether or not encouragement is in abundance outside of the school setting, we must do our best to encourage students’ reading and textual choices.



Related Post:

Literacy: Reading Skills, Comments and Thoughts from a Live Chat

World Book Night 2014

World Book Night

This was my second year as a Book Giver for WBN – a fantastic celebration of books and reading which is held on April 23rd, the same day as the UNESCO World Book and Copyright Day (and Shakespeare’s birthday!).

More information about World Book Night can be found on their website.


In 2013 I gave copies of The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde and was delighted with the response.



This year I gave copies of After the Funeral by Agatha Christie, and I made bookmarks and a Padlet accessible only to recipients of the books (post-primary students who aren’t regular readers or who have trouble accessing books). Like last year, feedback on this has been great so far!



Below are some of the posts I included in their Padlet. Suggestions for book recommendations and websites to add are welcome!



There are some websites such as and that might be able to help you decide what to read next.

A long list of recommended reads can be found on (as well as book reviews), but, of course, the best place to look for your next book is in the library or a book store!

The books section of The Guardian website is updated regularly with book reviews, interviews, extracts and news. Recently The Guardian has also put together a list of websites to look at for book recommendations.

The collections of 20 World Book Night books (from 2011 to 2014) include some excellent reads.

In addition to those, here is a list of some other books you may like:

Skellig – David Almond

Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher

Tuck Everlasting – Nicole Babbitt

Noughts and Crosses – Malorie Blackman

The Dare – John Boyne

The Real Rebecca – Anna Carey

My Antonia – Willa Cather

Artemis Fowl – Eoin Colfer

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

The Book of Lost Things – John Connolly

The Weight of Water – Sarah Crossan

Series of Unfortunate Events – Roald Dahl

Room – Emma Donoghue

Coraline – Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

Once – Morris Gleitzman

Lord of the Flies – William Golding

The Fault in Our Stars – John Green

Theodore Boone series – John Grisham

Marley and Me – John Grogan

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon

Girl Stolen – April Henry

The Outsiders – S.E. Hinton

Alex Rider – Anthony Horowitz

Shadows on our Skin – Jennifer Johnston

Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Jeff Kinney

Into the Grey – Celine Kiernan

Skulduggery Pleasant – Derek Landy

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis

Girl, Missing – Sophie McKenzie

Chalkline – Jane Mitchell

Private Peaceful – Michael Morpurgo

Trash – Andy Mulligan

The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness

The Wind Singer – William Nicholson

Animal Farm – George Orwell

Wonder – R.J. Palacio

Nightjohn – Gary Paulsen

True Grit – Charles Portis

Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

The Scarecrow and his Servant – Philip Pullman

His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman

Confessions of Georgia Nicolson – Louise Rennison

Percy Jackson and the Olympians – Rick Riordan

Divergent – Veronica Roth

Harry Potter – J.K. Rowling

Holes – Louis Sachar

The Boy Who Lost His Face – Louis Sachar

The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer

Zom-B – Darren Shan

The Saga of Darren Shan – Darren Shan

The Demonata – Darren Shan

Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

Vampire Diaries – L.J. Smith

Stone Cold – Robert Swindells

The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien

Tales from the Perilous Realm – J.R.R. Tolkien

Machine Gunners – Robert Westall

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak


Free eBooks

You can borrow books from your local library, and some of libraries even offer an eBook service (for example, Cork City Libraries).

Here is a list of websites where you can either freely read books online or download them as eBooks:

Books listed on these sites are free to read/download legally because either the copyright on the books has expired or the authors allowed it to be freely available.

If you need help finding a specific book, selecting something that might like, or help with how to download/read your eBook, just ask!


Free eBook from WBN USA

This year, World Book Night in the US put together a free eBook for everyone to download. It’s a collection of stories and essays by booksellers, librarians and authors.

To download it in EPUB or PDF format, scroll to the bottom of this page and enter your email address. You will be emailed a download link.


Letters Live

One of the events held as part of WBN was ‘Letters Live’, a dynamic performance event which celebrates the enduring power of literacy correspondence.

It was held at the Southbank Centre in London, featuring readings from Russell Brand, Stephen Fry, Caitlin Moran, Clarke Peters, Andrew Motion and Morgana Robinson.

The readings can be watched online by clicking this link to the Canongate website, or by playing the videos below.


Russell Brand reading a letter from Mick Jagger to Andy Warhol.


Stephen Fry reading a letter from Mark Twain.


Caitlin Moran reads a letter to her daughter.


Clarke Peters reads a letter from Louis Armstrong to a fan.


Andrew Motion reads a letter from Ted Hughes to his son.


Morgana Robinson reads a letter from Elizabeth II to President Eisenhower.

Extracts and Analysis: My Examiner’s Report – JC English 2013 (Ordinary Level)

Following the publication of the Chief Examiner’s Report for LC English 2013 (4th April) I looked over the report I submitted for JC English (Ordinary Level) 2013 after correcting a batch of just over 300 scripts last year.

Below are extracts from my JC Examiner report, followed by a brief analysis. The questions from the exam are quoted below, and the materials for the exam can be accessed here: 2013 Exam PaperSource Paper (‘Paper X’), Marking Scheme.




Analysis of Questions

Section 1

A (5 marks each)

1. What was Mr Perutka’s job?

2. Where was the tea house?

3. Where did the author go to swim and to fish?

4. Why was it impossible to travel by bus or car during the winter?


B (10 marks)

In paragraphs 2 and 3, what evidence is there that the author enjoyed the summer in his home village?


C (10 marks)

Explain any TWO of the following in your own words:

1. “… he folded iron like it was pastry… ”

2. “… making me realise … what a paradise surrounded me.”

3. “… excitedly ambushing my mother at the door…”

4. “… the snow served as a sort of muffler against noise…”


D (10 marks)

Based on what the writer says in paragraph 4, would you like to visit his village in the winter? Give reasons for your answer.


E (10 marks)

What impression do you get of the young boy in this passage? Give reasons for your answer.

  • Many students achieved high marks. Some lost out on marks by only giving one reason or piece of evidence in their answers.
  • 1A and 1B were answered with little difficulty, with many attaining maximum marks. However, some candidates wrote quite long passages for each part of 1A, and there was evidence later in these papers that the candidate ran out of time.
  • In 1C, “ambushing” seems to have been misunderstood by many of those who selected number 3 to explain.
  • 1E proved difficult for some: candidates seemed uncertain as to how to write their “impression” of the character in the text.


Section 2

Write a composition on ONE of the following topics (60 marks):

A. A Face in the Crowd

B. The Old Photograph

C. “It was the worst time ever to have no credit on my phone!”  Write a story which at some point includes the above sentence.

D. A Blanket of Snow

E. A Person I Admire

F. It was a good lesson to learn

G. How I like to spend my spare time

H. Look at the photograph on Page 4 of Paper X. Write a composition based on this photograph.

  • Every title was attempted.
  • “It was the worst time ever to have no credit on my phone” was the most popular choice and prompted some good compositions. A ‘kidnapping’ or ‘being lost’ scenario was used by most.
  • 2H was the least popular selection, and the majority of these answers were not compositions but rather a description of the photograph. They perhaps didn’t recognise that the image was to act as a stimulus or prompt.
  • 2A, 2B, 2D and 2E were also popular.
  • Candidates who planned in their booklets tended to write more coherently and with a better structure. Many answers in section 2 were commendable for their imaginative and engaging narratives.


Section 3

Answer EITHER A OR B (60 marks)

A. Your friend is coming to stay with you this summer. Write an informal letter to your friend suggesting some of the activities the two of you might do during his or her visit.

In your letter you should:

– Describe some of the activities that you have planned

– Explain why you think that your friend might like these activities.


B. You have been asked to give a talk to first year students, welcoming them to your school.

In your talk you should:

– Describe some of the things that will be new to them in secondary school

– Give the first year students some tips to help them to settle in.

  • Reasonably well answered. However, many did not engage with both parts of their chosen task (letter or speech).
  • Majority of students had an appropriate layout for letter. The register was perhaps too formal in some letters and speeches.
  • Standard of writing and the length of answers varied greatly.


Section 4

A (5 marks each)

1. What was the weather like on the day Mary met the woman?

2. Where did Mary think the woman had been standing?


B (10 marks)

At first Mary thinks the woman she meets is old. Why does Mary think this?


C (10 marks)

Which one of the following words best describes the woman Mary meets?

– mysterious

– friendly

– lonely

Give reasons for your answer.


D (10 marks)

Why do you think Mary isn’t more frightened of this unusual woman?


E (20 marks)

Name a NOVEL or a SHORT STORY you have studied where something unexpected

– Describe what happens.

– Did the unexpected event make the story more interesting? Explain your answer.

  • 4A and 4B were answered particularly well and with little difficulty. In 4C and 4D many candidates only gave one reason for their answer (lack of development).
  • 4D was misinterpreted by some to mean “why is Mary frightened of this unusual woman?”.
  • In part 4E, some candidates answered on a play (e.g. The Field) rather than a novel, while many others did not convey how the “unexpected event made the story more interesting.” Those who engaged with all parts of the question did very well. The Outsiders, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Kes and Holes were popular texts.


Section 5

A (5 marks each)

1. What used to be in the plastic bag?

2. Where was the plastic bag lying?


B (10 marks)

Describe two of the things the wind does in Stanza 2.


C (10 marks)

In Stanza 3, which one of the following descriptions do you prefer? Give reasons for your answer.

“It felt its way inside the bag

Like a hand inside a glove”


“And like a puppet waking up

The plastic bag began to move.”


D (5 marks each)

1 In Stanza 1, describe the mood of the bag in the playground.

2. In Stanza 5, describe the mood of the bag in the sky.


E (20 marks)

Choose a poem you have read which is either happy or sad.

– Name the poem and the poet.

– Describe what happens in the poem.

– Pick one detail from the poem which shows that it is either happy or sad.  Explain your choice.

  • 5A earned the majority of candidates full marks. In 5B, the majority of the candidates transcribed the quote from the text but did not explain/elaborate or “describe” what the wind does as per the question.
  • Candidates struggled with explaining their preference in 5C, and some had difficulty in identifying and describing a particular mood in question 5D.
  • 5E was answered quite well, with ‘Mid-Term Break’ being the most popular choice by far. ‘Tich Miller’ was also quite popular.


Section 6

A (10 marks)

From your reading of this scene, what kind of person is Mrs Johnstone? Quote from the scene in support of your answer.


B (10 marks)

Based on the above scene, write the diary entry Edward might make after this conversation with Mrs Johnstone.


C (10 marks)

If you were directing the beginning of this scene, what instructions would you give to the actor playing Mrs Johnstone about tone of voice and body language when she says: “Now listen, Eddie, I told you not to come around here again.”?


D (10 marks)

If you were directing the end of this scene, what instructions would you give to the actor playing Mrs Johnstone about tone of voice and body language when she says: “Yeh. But keep it a secret, eh, Eddie? Just our secret, between you and me.”?


E (20 marks)

Name a PLAY or FILM you have studied in which there is a friendship between two characters.

– Name both of the characters.

– Which of the two characters did you prefer? Give reasons for your answer.

– Do you think it is a good friendship? Give reasons for your answer.

  • 6A was answered very well by most. Many diary entries were rewarded with full marks. Some candidates found 6C and 6D very demanding, with some evidence shown that they were not familiar with or had very little experience with writing instructions to actors.
  • Our Day Out and Romeo and Juliet were the most popular choices in 6E, but some candidates selected a poem or novel to answer 6E.


Section 7

A (5 marks each)

Look closely at Page 2 of Paper X.

1. What is the new website address of Fota Wildlife Park?

2. Name one other way Fota Wildlife Park uses the internet to let people know  about the park.


B (10 marks)

Do you like the way that the brochure uses images on Page 2 of Paper X? Give reasons for your answer.


C (10 marks)

Look at the slogan at the top of Page 2 of Paper X. ‘A Wild Day Out’ Do you think it is a good slogan for a wildlife park? Give reasons for your answer.


D (10 marks)

Look at the text and the pictures on Page 2 and Page 3 of Paper X. Who do you think this brochure is aimed at? Give reasons for your answer.


E (20 marks)

You have been asked to design a poster to advertise a popular tourist attraction. You may not use Fota Wildlife Park in your answer.

– Name the tourist attraction (the attraction can be real or imaginary).

– Describe one image you would include on the poster and explain your choice.

– Write a slogan to use on the poster for the tourist attraction.

– Explain why this would be a good slogan.

  • Answers to 7A largely achieved high marks. Answers to 7B clearly stated whether they liked or disliked the brochure’s use of images, but failed to give more than one reason for their answer. Likewise in 7C which was answered quite poorly.
  • In 7D, some did not identify who the brochure was aimed at, with some stating that it was aimed at the animals.
  • Many struggled with the describing and explaining in 7E and a number of students actually drew their poster and wrote one or two sentences under it rather than describing the image they would use and explaining why their chosen slogan “would be a good slogan”.  Few achieved more than 14 marks for 7E. The most popular tourist attractions were zoo and waterparks.


Recommendations to Teachers and Students

  • Teachers should ensure that students are familiar with both the format of the exam and what is expected in answers relative to the attainable marks.
  • Teachers should ensure that students are familiar with answering a broad range of questions, particularly giving instructions to actors and describing images.
  • Sufficient time should be spent with candidates practising exam techniques, timing, and a broad range of questions, particularly instructions to actors, terms used in media studies, identifying the intended audience, using the appropriate register, and how to both read and “describe” images.
  • Candidates should be aware of timing and, should they have spare time at the end, they should re-visit or add to answers already written rather than attempt an extra section.
  • Candidates should read questions very carefully and be aware that they must engage with all parts to a question they choose to answer. Ignoring one part of a question severely limits the marks which can be rewarded.
  • Candidates should be aware of how marks are rewarded. The development of answers, giving more than one reason, etc. when asked for “reasons” or “evidence” or if they are asked to “explain” their choice/preference/reason is key to attaining high marks.
  • Candidates should be encouraged to plan in their exam booklets – particularly for for Sections 2 and 3. Evidence from the booklets shows that it helps students to create a coherent and structured piece of writing.
  • Candidates should also take care with syntax and paragraphing, in particular throughout Sections 2 and 3.



Brief Analysis

A lot of what is mentioned in the extracts above will undoubtedly be familiar. Nevertheless, there are a few things which I would like to address in a bit more detail.


When answering the questions

Something that we so often explain and justify is worth spelling out again – and not for the last time: ANSWER THE QUESTION.

Even if it was the only thing buzzing around in their heads before starting the exam, they still have to know how to implement this mantra. Careful attention should be given to how a question in phrased: What exactly is it asking? How many things need to be addressed in my answer? Does the question have more than one part? Did I engage with all parts of the question (“describe… and explain…”)?

The number of MARKS available for each question is also very important when you ANSWER THE QUESTION.




There is evidence in the report above and in Chief Examiners’ Reports that some level of planning for an answer before writing (both at JC and LC) pays off (and yes, we do read everything you write so we can give you the best mark possible!). For example:

JC 2006 Report:

“Examiners commented that candidates who displayed evidence of essay planning (webs, skeleton plans etc.) wrote more coherent essays and scored significantly higher marks.”

LC 2005 Report:

“It is advisable to encourage candidates to spend a little time thinking before writing. It is important that candidates try to form an approach to a set task before immersing themselves in it totally. This is not to suggest long and elaborate plans. A brief reflection on the terms of the question is often sufficient to alert the candidate to the full implications of that question.”

JC 2000 Report:

“Examiners found that those candidates whose work showed evidence of essay planning (brainstorming webs, skeleton plans etc) tended to score significantly higher than their counterparts who wrote without a plan.”

The most recent LC Chief Examiner’s Report clearly encourages the adoption of “a process approach to writing, whereby students learn to research, plan, draft, re-draft and edit their writing” in class. The skills they hone through such practice can help them plan an answer more effectively in an exam.


Instructions to Actors

My advice: don’t just read the text aloud in class – set the scene, act it out!


Letters and Diaries

I feel that letter and diary writing have great potential for authenticity in writing. However, unlike the traditional formats and mediums the state exams seem so eager to push without a second thought, when I say ‘letter’ and ‘diary’ I mean all their forms – to use two basic examples, emails and blogs.

I’ve heard it said that there is nothing like receiving a handwritten letter in the post. I don’t doubt it. But the most recent memory I have of seeing a newly-posted handwritten letter is from when I was about 6, which was in the ’90s.

(Aside: Saying “the ’90s” like that makes me sound much much older than I am…)

With that in mind, let’s look at the 2013 Chief Examiner’s Report for Leaving Cert English:

“In future examinations where candidates are required to write letters in answer to questions greater attention will be paid to the rubrics appropriate to the task (e.g. return address, date, salutation and closing signature). Any standard formatting of these rubrics will be acceptable.”

In response to that, one might say: “Ok, the basic structure/format of a letter. We can work with students on that.” I feel that such a reading misses the glaring point: letter writing is scarcely used today.

Let’s apply this point to the question asked of JC 2013 Ordinary Level students in Section 3:

Your friend is coming to stay with you this summer. Write an informal letter to your friend suggesting some of the activities the two of you might do during his or her visit. In your letter you should:

– Describe some of the activities that you have planned

– Explain why you think that your friend might like these activities.

I have no doubt in my mind that if the question asked “Write an email…” or “Write a facebook message…” students would have scored noticeably better.

The diary entry question (6B) was very well written, but I’d again suggest modernising it (let’s pause for a moment: who are sitting these exams? Think of them as the intended/target audience.):  replace “diary entries” with “blog posts”.

Teaching letter and diary writing. Teaching email and blog writing. Which of these options would more beneficial to students?


Visual Texts

Pick up any of my schemes of lessons at random, and I can guarantee you that some form of visual texts will make an appearance.

I noted above that 2H was the least popular selection, and of those who selected the question, the majority only offered a short description of what was happening in photograph.

JC English (Ordinary) 2013: Paper X, Page 4.

JC English (Ordinary) 2013: Paper X, Page 4.

It would be easy to over-analyse the fact that it was the least popular option in the scripts I marked, but given the variety of options students had in Section 2 which may have suited them better (option 2C, I’m looking at you) it might be a fruitless task.

However, the Media Studies section is a different ball game. Any argument I could have posed regarding 2H is given more substance in this section.

Of the scripts I had, only a few achieved higher than 40-45 marks out of 60 in this section. Don’t get me wrong, 45 out of 60 is a good mark. What I’m concerned about is the lack of familiarity and, perhaps, the lack of confidence, displayed when approaching visual texts.

LC 2013 Report:

Higher and Ordinary Level: “The Leaving Certificate English Syllabus envisages the subject ‘English’ as ‘not limited to the written word’ (Leaving Certificate Syllabus, English, para. 2.6) and it identifies the importance of visual literacy. At both levels, examiners noted that close ‘reading’ of visual images was not always strongly evident. Candidates taking the examination in 2013 were variously required to draw inferences [OL Paper 1, Text 3 Question (iii)], consider the effectiveness of visual images in developing understanding [HL Paper 1, Text 1, Question (ii)] and engage with the imagery [HL Paper 1, Text 3 Question (ii)]. Candidates would benefit from a greater acquaintance with the concepts and terminology of visual literacy, including those associated with films.”

“Candidates would benefit from a greater acquaintance with the concepts and terminology of visual literacy, including those associated with films.”

LC 2008 Report:

Ordinary Level: “There was some improvement noted in dealing with visual literacy i.e. Text 3, but it remained the least frequently answered. Responses to the set tasks for Text 3 tended to be less accomplished than those in the other two text options”

JC 2006 Report:

Foundation Level: “Examiners reported that [Media Studies] was a very well answered section of this year’s paper and that candidates engaged well with the visuals on Paper X which generated a greater level of response than in previous years… Question E seemed to be poorly answered by candidates. As in previous years, candidates tended to respond only in terms of like or dislike. Some of the higher performing candidates attempted an analysis of colour, background etc. However, the majority of candidates appeared unable to articulate such a response.”

Ordinary Level: “[Media Studies] was the least favoured and most poorly answered of the optional sections on the paper. In general, the standard of answering was disappointing in this section.”

LC 2005 Report:

Ordinary Level: “While candidates often dealt effectively with individual texts, they did not seem to have developed their skills of critical and evaluative reading of a wide variety of texts – especially visual texts: and writing equally well in a wide variety of forms and language registers.”

Ordinary Level: “Reading and writing about visual texts are important capacities in the increasingly image-saturated nature of contemporary society. Candidates would benefit from a greater development of these capacities.”

Ordinary Level: “A number of priority areas are being recommended for close attention in the context of  learning and teaching in preparation for the examination. These are – the focused acquisition and development-through-use of a range of language management skills to include those skills that pertain to the development of visual literacy…”

JC 2003 Report:

Foundation Level: “Candidates should have experience of a wide range of advertisements and practice written analysis. Candidates appear to have most difficulty in trying to articulate and find the correct terminology to describe the image they see.”

LC (Ordinary) Report 2001:

“while candidates often dealt effectively with individual texts, they did not seem to have developed their skills of critical and evaluative reading of a wide variety of texts – especially visual texts.”

“The majority of candidates had great difficulty in reading the visual images at the level, and with the focus required. In general, candidates seemed much less sure of how to approach the tasks in this visual section than in the more conventional printed Text 1 and Text 2.”

“Candidates had the choice of imaginatively engaging with one of six visual images of Text 3. As in the Comprehending Section, not many candidates chose to deal closely with the visual texts. Those, however, who based their writing on an individual interpretation of the chosen visual text and shaped it so as to integrate the key elements of story – time, place, action, critical event, etc.,- produced by far the more effective responses… A basic technical vocabulary would assist candidates in responses which include reference to film in the Comparative Section and to visual stimuli in the Comprehending Section.”

Little mention is given to candidates’ performance in relation to visual texts at Higher Level in comparison to Ordinary and Foundation Levels:

JC 2006 Report:

[Media Studies]

“Too often opinion is baldly stated without the grounds for that opinion being demonstrated by reference to the relevant elements of the text under discussion.”

“The picture prompt [Question A] showed the furrowed brow of an elderly farmer beneath the peak of a tweed cap. While most candidates correctly identified it as such some were inspired to extraordinary and surreal interpretations of the image. All answers giving a clear and well-supported interpretation of the picture were accepted.”

“[Question B) proved to be a good discriminator between candidates. At lower levels of performance unsupported statements of opinion typified answers. At higher levels answers showed awareness of the techniques of advertising which were correctly identified in the text and appropriately commented upon.”

LC 2005 Report:

[General Vision and Viewpoint: 2(a)]

“While many candidates were clear as to the general vision and viewpoint of the text some found it more difficult to deal with ‘how’ the vision was communicated. The majority, however, were able to demonstrate the ‘how’ and some examiners noted fine responses here when candidates were dealing with techniques used in film and drama.”

JC 2003 Report:

[Media Studies]

“As noted in other sections, candidates were prone to several broad weaknesses. Many answers were no more than cut and paste extracts from the pictures and words given on the Paper X. The supplied text was generally inadequately exploited for quotation and / or reference.”

“[Question 1] Parody is a difficult concept which presumes an understanding of the chosen form to be parodied. The terms ‘spoof’ and ‘parody’ appeared to puzzle many candidates, even those who demonstrated ability and competence elsewhere in this section in their answering. Nevertheless, many answers did engage with the idea of the advertisement as ridiculous or ‘over the top’.”

“[Question 2] proved an effective discriminator in identifying candidates who had been well taught and who understood the technicalities of advertising in general and of this advertisement in particular. Better answers included clear statements of points with well-chosen examples from the text.”

LC 2001 Report:

[Section 1: Text 4, Question A]

“[Part (i)] was a popular option with the better responses focusing clearly on the ‘overall’ sense of Irishness portrayed in the images. Ireland’s uniqueness and its ability to embrace the new while treasuring the traditional featured strongly. Some responses suffered from a tendency to give an account of each of the images in turn.”

“Images 2 and 5 were generally favoured [for part (ii)] and candidates had little difficulty in justifying their choices.”

“Images 4 and 6 were generally deemed to be least suitable [in part (iii) and, again, answering was focused and energetic.”

JC 2000 Report:

“The Media Studies question featured a page from a teenage magazine. The stimulus provided was bright, attractive, and accessible. Most candidates were able to respond to the contents page in a personal way, and to articulate an opinion on the “usefulness” of teenage magazines. The questions that asked candidates to critically analyse and to compose editorials were the ones that proved most challenging. The conventions and register appropriate to writing an editorial seemed to present difficulty for some candidates. In writing their own editorial statements, some candidates employed creative modelling of the stimulus piece to good effect.”

The fewer number of mentions in comparison to Ordinary and Foundation Levels is likely due to the nature of the questions at LC and JC. This might raise another question, a question which I’ve been prompted with in several ways both during and since my teacher training: is there a perception that visual texts are as being ‘better suited’ to these levels than at Higher Level? I hope not. If there are those who think this, I hope the number is small; the opportunities which visual texts present for both students and teachers are countless.

Posters, cartoons, films, print advertisements, TV adverts, photographs, sketches, statues, signs, greeting cards, the covers of books/DVDs/Blu-Rays/games/albums, your Facebook and Twitter profile pictures and cover photos, the background on your phone and computer, the wrapper designs of  bars of chocolate – in one way or another, these are visual texts and it’s nigh impossible to escape them in our day-to-day lives.

Answering questions based on visual texts shouldn’t be a daunting task for students. The challenge is to get students to notice images. To think about them. To offer their own reading of a text with confidence. And they don’t need to become pretentious to achieve this.

From there, with a little guidance and practice they can learn how to ‘read’ images, how to describe them, how to convey the impact it has, explain why they are drawn to it, talk about their opinions on it…

To me, these are very important skills. Do we allow students enough opportunities to develop these skills? I think learning about ‘function’ of advertisements, using terminology such as ‘target audience’, and so on, should stem from developing their skills rather than dictating or shaping how students reach an understanding and appreciation of visual texts. Likewise with how students understand and comment on imagery in poetry at all levels, for instance.

‘Homonym!’ – LSRW Activities


The cards I created for these activities are inspired by a TV game show called Homonym! featured on 30 Rock in which a contestant must define the homonym of a word spoken by the host (played by Steve Higgins).

The activities featured below won’t be as unfair as that!

But first, let’s get the pedantry out of the way:

The strictest definition of a ‘homonym’ would tell you that a homonym is a group of words which have the same spelling (homograph) and the same pronunciation (homophone) but with different meanings.

However, in the more ‘looser’ sense ‘homonym’ is defined as having the same spelling or pronunciation but with different meanings.

So, strictly speaking, the 400 words on cards I have at the end of this post are homophones. But, in light of the aforementioned inspiration, I chose to keep the titles on the cards as ‘Homonym!’. (Plus, ‘homonym’ is a lovely word to say.)



Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing Activities

This is by no means an exhaustive list; these are written specifically with the ‘Homonym!’ cards in mind and can easily be adapted to suit using any bank of words.


Collaborative Writing

Students compose a piece of text (story, scene, dialogue between two characters, film script, etc.) in groups and present it to the class.

  • The class is divided into groups. Each member of the group is assigned a role for the activity. Each group is given a random selection of the cards. Each of these words are to be used in their text.
  • Teacher assigns roles to the members of each group. Depending on the size of your group, roles may include:

Facilitator (ensures group understands the task; ensures participation from everyone in the group, and a consensus on ideas and what is being written; keeps track of what words have left to be mentioned in their text)

Prioritiser (keeps the group aware of time constraints; ensures the group stays on task and isn’t caught-up on particular points)

Scribe (writes what the group agrees to say; acts as the primary ‘devil’s advocate’ who is to constructively argue details of the written piece)

Spokesperson/Reporter (answers questions from teacher checking on the group’s progress and conveys response from teacher to the rest of the group; introduces what the group wrote; reads out the finished piece; answers questions from the class and teacher after presenting the piece)

In addition to their specified roles, everyone in the group should contribute ideas.

  • Teacher provides each group with a short list of what they can choose to write (with an opening line for each item on the list). From the list, the group decides on which one they will create.

The list is to act as a prompt. Some groups may wish to select something not on the list.

  • Teacher monitors the groups’ progress. After a few minutes, teacher asks for a spoken progress report from the Spokesperson/Reporter of one group. Teacher then asks for a report from the next group.
  • Once each group has finished writing the piece, they must work together to write a very brief introduction.
  • Each group’s Spokesperson then presents their written piece and answer questions from the class.

Depending on the text, students may wish to act out their piece or voice different characters.

If students chose an entry on the list which involves comedy, the cards students were given can inspire them:

“I saw the prints today and -” / “Prince?! What prince?”

“Oh, give me patience.” / “Doctor, they’re in the waiting room.”



For this, students need to be familiar with their homonyms/homophones!

  • Teacher is the ‘host’, students are the ‘contestants’.
  • Teacher selects a card at random and speaks the word on the card.
  • Students note as many homonyms/homophones that they can think of (e.g. way/weigh; rain/reign/rein), and then put them in a single sentence exactly as they are (e.g. “The heirs had airs.” / “As an idol, he was idle.”).

Students should be aware that the word endings should stay the same in their sentence.

  • Teacher selects another card and students repeat their task.

Alternatively, students can be asked to try and write a story, sentence by sentence.

  • Teacher then selects two words.
  • Students list the possible homonyms/homophones for each word and write two sentences incorporating each variation.
  • Once the teacher has finished calling out the words, students swap what they have wrote.
  • Students get one point for each homonym/homophone and two points for each correct usage of the words in their sentences.

A sample table for students’ sentences and points can be found below under ‘Cards’.



Version 1

Similar to the story chain, this focuses on oral skills.

Students are in pairs and must improvise a conversation between two characters.

  • Students are given a random selection of cards and are asked to go in pairs for the timed activity.

Teacher may ask students to show or hide the words on the cards from each other. Choosing to show the cards can act as an aid; they will try and steer the conversation so certain words are used. Choosing to not show the words on the cards can make it a bit more challenging and perhaps create a  more ‘natural’ conversation.

  • Each pair is assigned a scenario (e.g. “Two friends trapped in an elevator.” / “Hiring a private detective.” / “A weird job interview.” / “Leonardo da Vinci painting the woman of The Mona Lisa.”).

While the teacher is doing this, students should be familiarising themselves with their cards and deciding who will speak first. Regardless of whether they show their cards to each other or not, they have to follow their scenario!

  • Teacher starts the timer and students begin their conversation. Once a student says a word on their card, they can put it down.
  • Once the time is up, students should have used all of the words they have.

Version 2

This time, each pair is asked to improvise the conversation while the rest of the class observes and notes any homophones.

  • Students are asked to go in pairs. Each pair is given a selection of cards.
  • Teacher selects a pair and quietly tells them their scenario, how much time they have, and who speaks first.
  • While these two students act out the scene, the other pairs who are observing must guess the scenario they were given and note any words they identified as homophones.
  • Once the time is up, the pair should have used all the words they were given.
  • Teacher asks the observing pairs what they thought the scenario was.
  • The students who improvised then reveal the words on their cards and the scenario they were given.

This can also be done in small groups of 3-4 students.


Story Chain

This is an example of a ‘story chain’.

Focusing on receptive (listening) and expressive (speaking) skills, the aim is to orally create a structured and coherent short story. (See Short Story Tips.)

Displaying a collage of images for all students to see can act as an effective visual prompt for ideas. Alternatively, students could be asked to create a story from the images (with this, the students create the theme instead of the teacher).

In this activity, students create the setting, plot, characters, dialogue, and so on.

  • Each student selects a card at random. Teacher sets a theme for the story (e.g. a murder mystery).
  • The first student forms a sentence with the word on their card.

Teacher takes the card and student selects another card at random.

  • The next student adds their own sentence which includes the word on their card.

Teacher again replaces the card.

  • This continues until the class agrees that the story has reached a natural conclusion.

Alternatively, the teacher can stop the story at an interesting moment and ask students to write their own ending.

An optional addition to this is to ask students to repeat the sentence last spoken before sharing their sentence with the class.



Cards (PDF)

In selecting the homonyms/homophones, I eliminated those which that are primarily dependent on dialect.

See the captions below each image for details of the PDF.

Alphabetical Random


50 pages (8 cards/words per sheet)


50 pages (8 cards/words per sheet)

Blank Score Sheet


1 page (8 blank cards)


Sample table for sentences and points



Online Cards

The cards will appear in a random order in the slideshow below. Press the pause button to stop the auto-play and use the arrows to navigate between cards.

Useful alternative to printing out the cards, especially if students have their own devices. For instance, if playing the ‘Homonym!’ game outlined above the students can use the slideshow to get their words, and they can type their entries in a spreadsheet/table/etc.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Note: JavaScript required to view slideshow.

Literacy: Reading Skills, Comments and Thoughts from a Live Chat

Two weeks ago I was a panellist in a two hour live Q&A about ‘boosting literacy’ on the Teacher Network section of The Guardian website. 

As it was the same week as World Book Day, many of the comments tended to focus on reading (and reluctant readers) and writing. In preparation, I gathered some of my thoughts on the more practical side to literacy in the classroom so that I would be better able to keep up with the number of comments.

I was asked in a Twitter DM for some approaches to developing reading skills. Below is my (edited) response, as well as some of my other comments from the Q&A.


Approaches I’ve used to develop reading skills

1. Physical Environment

As I mentioned in a comment asking about strategies to implement in a History class, I think having a visually (and textually) rich environment which is regularly updated is important to have in the classroom. It gives students the opportunity to get creative: word walls, maps and illustrations, a themed wall (e.g. portraits of poets and their important works accompanied with a few sentences about each, or images/articles focusing on a particular theme such as ‘identity’ – get the students to create it!), and cut-outs from magazines/newspapers relevant to a particular topic the class has learned about.

a.) Promote voluntary student reading by discussing book choices in class to support their choices of reading material, and celebrate students’ reading accomplishments (e.g. give students a ‘reading log/journal’ or have a ‘reading wall’ in class).

The reading wall can have small coloured pieces of card pinned on it showing the name of the student/teacher, what they’re reading at the moment, and a sentence about the book. They change their entries once they have finished reading the book. If the book was available in the school library or local library, this can also be mentioned on the card. For extra visual impact, add print outs of the book covers around the board. This will create a positive, supportive classroom environment in which students are encouraged to read and they are in charge of their own reading and choices of books – something which I think is very important.

b.) Add some colour! Regularly update the walls with students’ own creations or printed posters. I’ve seen a few classrooms in which students created prints of poetry (an illustration of ‘Wandered lonely…’ spanned a few A3 sheets) or important quotes from plays/novels (the quote plus a related image). Great way to reduce the number of old materials on walls and corridors!

c.) Use keyword and KWL/KWLA charts. Students identify key words (e.g. important words or new/difficult words) in the studied topic/lesson. Students keep a record of the words used on the keyword chart, thus consolidating their vocabulary. A strategy which can be used to expand/apply this vocabulary is by using cloze or crazy cloze sheets. The JCSP website has some printables to use for KWL and a variety of other strategies.


2. Model approaches in selecting and retrieving information from texts

For example, highlighting important passages/events/ideas, underlining key words/concepts/quotations.


3. Comprehension skills

a.) Tapping into prior knowledge via prediction activities with questions such as ‘what do you think happens next?’

b.) Read for meaning by decoding and understanding main points of information in a text by skimming. Re-reading is also helpful for this. Combined, these should encourage students to continue reading if they encounter a word they do not understand.

c.) Using graphic organisers. I’m keeping a list of some which I find useful here.

d.) Deduce/infer/interpret information in texts by using ‘Who/What/Where am I?’ activities. Inferring from visual images is also very useful (e.g. a man with an umbrella = it is raining). Pair/group work works particularly well for this.

e.) Creating images using information presented in a text (students could create their own images by elaborating on a description in a text).


4. Fluency – role-play/improvisation

Students read out loud a text in different ways to demonstrate expression/intonation. The expressions can be influenced by punctuation and phrasing. This needs to go a step further in a role-play/improv scenario: how a character has felt earlier in a scene or their body language, for example, can influence this.

Acting out texts will also illustrate the effects of punctuation: for example, the effect of full-stop vs an exclamation mark when speaking/reading (change the punctuation to yield some humorous results!).

I use this role-play/improvisation to develop students’ awareness of how dialogue is spoken when they are reading individually/silently. Looking back on my own practice, I’ve found that it is has also proven useful for word decoding. I think role-play/improv can also be incredibly useful (and fun) in building conversational/oral skills.



Some of my other comments from the Q&A

Strategies to implement in History class

Definitely agree that History can be quite text-based. Something I would suggest is to try and give students a digital space for students to contribute to in class or at home, e.g. creating a History Wiki using Wikipaces or creating blogs for students.

I think having a visually (and textually) rich environment which is regularly updated is also important to have in the classroom, and it also gives students the opportunity to get creative: word walls, maps and illustrations from periods in History (e.g. the Hereford map, map of Europe during WWI), a themed wall (e.g. portraits of artists and their important works accompanied with a few sentences about each – get the students to create it!), and cut-outs from magazines/newspapers relevant to a particular topic the class has learned about.

In relation to whole school strategies, I’ve found the Drop Everything And Read (DEAR) initiative to be particularly good. There’s a danger to avoid here: students viewing DEAR as another task to be done in school. Book choice is important to prevent that; ask students what topics they are interested in, what authors they like (if any!), and then start accumulating books. A reading log/journal or a printable ‘book review’ may benefit some – something for them to reflect on and evaluate what they have read! Once it’s based in reading for pleasure rather than ‘reading because we have to’, it should work excellently.

Using key-word charts and KWL/KWLA reinforces student vocabulary across the whole school. Students keeping note of key words is sometimes overlooked. JCSP and PDST have some excellent printables to use for KWL and a variety of other strategies.

Cross-curricular linking is valuable as part of a whole-school literacy strategy too. Involves a bit of teacher co-operation to match-up what is being done in multiple subjects.


Mixing LSRW (Listening, Speaking, Reading, Writing) in lessons

From my experience, speaking/listening often get put to the side when approaching literacy. Like reading and writing, they’re essential life skills.

Some find it challenging to incorporate a mixture of LSRW in lessons and whole-school strategies, but I think it’s essential that we hit all four bases with our students.

Here are a few I’ve used in the past:
– Listening tasks: reading aloud & asking students to re-tell it; improvisation activity in which students must continue a story.
– Building conversational/oral skills tasks: I’ve found role-play/improv to be incredibly useful (and fun).
– Auditory memory tasks: a quick ‘Chinese Whisper’ relevant to the learning (this obviously comes with a warning!).


Approach to Grammar/Punctuation

As jcatton mentioned, it needs to be “seen in context.” I think having some ‘seize the moment’ activities in lessons is a nice way of doing this. Switching the order of punctuation marks or the form of a word can illustrate why they were in a certain form and order. Likewise in simply reading a poem, unchanged, which has many commas or run-on lines: students can better grasp how to read the text when it is read aloud using the ‘brief pause’ of a comma etc. Chain writing and human sentence line can work well with the younger groups of secondary schools, particularly for developing vocabulary and spelling. Latc22’s comment earlier in the chat about the ‘mantle of the expert’ is definitely worth looking at. A problem-solving or ‘correcting’ approach might also be worth considering (students receive a piece of text and they have to identify what is wrong with it).

I should add that the English syllabi stress that “language skills” (listening, speaking, reading, writing) are not themselves schemes of work – they should be integrated into each syllabus unit as part of an “organic wholeness of experience in the living context” (JC English Draft Syllabus for Consultation (Rebalanced Syllabus)p. 1). In other words, language skills are to be developed in a meaningful context – not in the abstract. This point is also valid when discussing the development of literacy skills (e.g. oral language in the integrated language process, and likewise with reading, writing, digital literacy, etc.), and I think it is best achieved through active learning.


Some questions about the relationship between literacy and ICT

Do some teachers find the use of technology in the classroom a barrier or an aid in boosting literacy? I’ve found its usage to be very beneficial for students in promoting LSRW skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing).

And what about the students’ use of technology? Do you think we can improve literacy levels by ‘exploiting’ their access to this? From my experience, some students who are reluctant to read a (physical) book cite the “length” of the book, and they are actually more willing to read it in e-book format on a smartphone or tablet. They may be reading in shorter bursts, but they’re still reading.


Literacy plans incorporating more than reading and writing?

Anyone here teaching in a school with a literacy plan which incorporates more than reading and writing – what about the promotion of listening/speaking skills and “visual” and “digital” literacy?



Post-Q&A Thoughts

Approaches for both primary and post-primary students were in abundance, but establishing some continuity between primary and post-primary was something which I thought wasn’t stressed enough. I think being familiar with and continuing the literacy strategies the students encountered at primary level is an excellent way to inform your own literacy practices in a post-primary classroom (e.g. drafting/re-drafting – a valuable skill to build upon).

English Language Teacher Guidelines (the curriculum can be viewed here).

The English curriculum page on the PDST site is also very useful.


As I previously mentioned, the Q&A tended to focus on reading and writing. Of course, we know that ‘literacy’ encompasses much more than that. What about oral skills for instance? Some comments in the Q&A mentioned this, but reading and writing clearly took prominence.

A concept in the current Junior Certificate English syllabus is the fostering of a “growth in listening, speaking, reading and writing” (JC English Draft Syllabus for Consultation (Rebalanced Syllabus)p. 1, my emphasis) – and this is carried forward to the Leaving Certificate syllabus: “students should engage with the domains of comprehending and composing in oral, written and, where possible, visual contexts… They will come to see acts of speaking, listening, reading and writing not just as instrumental skills but as interpretive, creative activities through which specific meanings can be placed on experience” (LC Syllabus, p. 14, my emphasis).

Effective questioning in the classroom is the most common way we try to develop these skills – it’s an everyday occurrence. Walking debates and fishbowl conversations are excellent methods to use to focus primarily on oral skills and they can be used as interventions (or “seizing the moment” activities) in any lesson – during a poetry revision activity, an introduction to repetition in speech writing, etc.

However, the Literacy and Numeracy for Learning and Life reported that “the opportunity provided by the syllabus to engage students with a range of literary and non-literary texts and develop their literacy skills, including their oral language skills, is not fully exploited in classrooms due to a focus on teaching to the examination and an overuse of textbooks which largely promote lower-order thinking skills” ( p. 51, my emphasis). We know that steps have been made in response to this under the new Junior Cycle English Specification, in which communication skills form some of the learning outcomes, and oral communication will actually be assessed and form 15% of the subject (60 marks out of 400).

In light of the findings of the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy (as well as my own experience): are oral skills being accounted for in whole-school literacy approaches? Are listening and speaking skills currently “put to the side” in other teachers’ experiences?


I use a lot of visual materials in class to develop a skills such as comprehension skills (TV Adverts and Film Posters, for example), create projects which prompt students to research online and encourage students to read extra materials which I put online for them. In the Q&A, Latc22 offered an anecdote about putting materials online for students.

Much more so than oral skills, there is a great emphasis on students (and teachers) using technology in the classroom. Despite this, “visual” and “digital” literacy were almost wholly absent from the discussion. I again wonder to what extent these are being accounted for in schools’ literacy plans.



Useful Links

Literacy and English presentation (PDST)

Literacy Link Teacher Day 2 presentation (with supporting materials) (PDST)



Update (8/5/14)

An article on The Guardian website, ‘Ten ways to improve student literacy’, features two of my comments from the live chat: reading walls and using role-play/improvisation.


Related Post:

Encouraging Reading for Pleasure