Saturday, September 05, 2015

For Starters (part 1)

With the new term starting and new A and AS levels being taught for the first time, I thought it might be handy to think of ways to get classes starting to think about the kinds of things they'll be doing as the course goes on.

I'm sure lots of teachers already have plenty of starters and ice-breakers up their sleeves, but it might be worth thinking about tasks that link to some of the newer areas of the specification. For example, for the first time in ages, we'll be teaching accent, dialect and sociolect to AS/1st year A level students, so why not look at a couple of things connected to that? Here are two ideas based on Language Diversity and another on Textual Variation.

Language fingerprints: ask each student to think about what characteristics make up their own unique language identity. 

  • Where were they born? 
  • Where else have they lived? 
  • Which other languages or dialects have they spoken?
  • Where were their parents from?
  • Do they work part-time or do volunteering? 
  • Do they spend a lot of time doing certain activities: football, online gaming, going to gigs/festivals, writing, looking after younger children?


If each student maps out these ideas, they'll build up a bigger picture of the influences that affect their language. You can introduce social, ethnic and gender/sexuality influences too, if that seems appropriate, or at least flag those up as aspects for students to think about themselves. Each area can then be mapped to the course they are about to start.

Proper English: use some of the links on these posts to find relevant articles about slang bans and school policy on "proper English". 


  • Ask students to have a look at the lists of banned words/expressions that feature in many of these stories. 
  • What's "wrong" with these terms?
  • Why might they be used?
  • What alternatives are there and why might the schools see these as better?
  • Is it right to ban these terms and how can that be achieved?
  • What are the problems with trying to change people's language behaviour?
  • Is there such a thing as "proper" English and how might that be defined?


This can lead into discussion of attitudes to Language Diversity (on Paper 2 of the new AS and A levels) and Language Discourses (same).

Found texts: following on from ideas like this one, you might want to ask small groups of students to spend 10 minutes gathering "texts" from around the classroom or form their own pockets and bags before selecting 6 per group to start analysing in a fairly simple way:


  • Who is it by?
  • Who's it aimed at?
  • Why is it written in that way? 
  • How can you characterise the style?
  • What do you notice about language patterns?
  • What do you notice about visual design? 


Examples of texts might be:


  • a film poster on the wall of the classroom
  • a college diary with the code of conduct
  • a letter hone about book deposits
  • a book blurb
  • the writing on a packet of Wotsits
  • the writing on a tube of hand gel/chapstick/tin of vaseline


You can decide if you want to include electronic and spoken texts. At this stage, getting phones out and starting to read texts, Tweets, Snapchat messages and the like might not be the best starter in an early lesson, but you can play it by ear.