True Stories for Context Studies

It can be difficult to find relevant, short, interesting, contemporary additional texts to accompany the study of your central texts for this Area of Study, especially when your time is limited. But sometimes allowing students to explore how a range of writers explore the ideas embedded in your Context study can help them to find their own authentic voice too. Perhaps, for the last ride around the Contexts carousel, you might be looking for some new inspiration to keep things fresh? If so, dip into SBS’s podcast series ‘True Stories’. Suitable for Year 12.

Are there really grammar ‘rules’?

This week, the Insight blog suggests some class activities using the popular and practical blog/podcast Grammar Girl’s ‘Quick and Dirty Tips’, by Mignon Fogarty. Grammar Girl discusses grammar conundrums, usage dilemmas and the fascinating ways that the English language is evolving. She also includes a lot of fun posts that are great for engaging younger students in language and inspiring classroom activities such as ‘Which celebrities have the best grammar?’ The podcast and blog are both suitable for Years 7–12, but the activities this week focus on national (and Victorian) curriculum outcomes for Years 7–10.

‘We have survived – and now we must thrive’ Dr Chris Sarra (NAIDOC Person of the Year, 2016)

This week’s post celebrates the start of a new term with a powerful and inspiring speech delivered by Dr Chris Sarra. Last Friday night, 8 July, Dr Sarra was named the 2016 NAIDOC Person of the Year. He is the founder and Chairman of the Stronger Smarter Institute, an organisation dedicated to improving educational outcomes for Indigenous students in Australia. His acceptance speech called for all Indigenous Australians to embrace the truth that ‘We are stronger than we believe. And smarter than we know.’ The piece is perfect for launching back into argument and persuasive language analysis for either Year 11 or Year 12 (Dr Sarra uses a range of persuasive techniques clearly and effectively), or to begin your Unit 4 Context ‘Exploring Issues of Identity and Belonging’. Beyond being a good classroom resource, it’s also a powerful, important speech. Suitable for Years 11 and 12.

Encouraging authentic voices

Each year, as US universities graduate another class of students, the internet starts to buzz with the big-name guests who are invited to share their wisdom at commencement ceremonies. The commencement season has always been a great source for inspiring, sometimes surprising, and always interesting speeches to use as in-class aural texts. But for me this year, I think my commencement prize goes to Donovan Livingston, a student speaker at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education Convocation Exercises. His speech, largely delivered in spoken word poetry, is a call to action, a call to study and a call to rise above apathy for students, and a timely mid-year reminder of the impact one teacher can have on the life and direction of a student.

Analysing the language of elections

There was nothing I loved more as an English teacher than persuasive language and argument analysis during an election period. All I had to do was go near a shopping strip on a Saturday morning and people would hand me piles of persuasive texts that were perfect for my students to analyse – for free! This week’s post looks at the language of elections and the way that candidates appeal to and position their audiences. Targeted at Years 9–11, but potentially suitable for Years 7–12.

Delivering a great presentation

It’s a commonly quoted ‘fact’ that public speaking ranks as one of many people’s greatest fears, second only to death. Whether or not this is true, any teacher will tell you that the approaching spectre of an oral presentation is enough to induce significant anxiety in some students. This week’s activities and questions are inspired by a recently posted talk from Chris Anderson, the TED Curator, ‘TED’s Secret to Great Public Speaking’. Suitable for Years 7–12.

Slang in schools? … Whatevs

Do you or should you correct students’ use of slang or colloquial phrases in class? Is standardising the English language leading to a loss of its history, colour and variety in expression? This week’s post explores the place of regional dialects, code-switching, slang and colloquial language in schools. Is enforcing a standardised form of English a means to social mobility for the disenfranchised, or is it helping to further marginalise those who already feel silenced and disempowered? Suitable for Years 7–12.

Language variation: what’s the kerfuffle about ‘queue’?

Last week, during his visit to the UK, Barack Obama shook hands with a dressing-gown-clad Prince George, was driven about by the 94-year-old Duke of Edinburgh and sent Brexiters into a frenzy by using one simple word: queue. This week’s resources and activities explore the idea of Englishes, inspired by the ‘queue kerfuffle’, and open discussion about how different language use can reveal social attitudes and conventions. The focus is on exploring the ‘Language variation and change’ sub-strand of the Australian Curriculum, but sharing some of the discussion with students will give more context for persuasive language and argument analysis too . Suitable for Years 7–12.

Celebrating 400+ years of Shakespeare

Tomorrow, Saturday 23 April, will mark the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death and, according to some historians, the 452nd anniversary of his birth. This week’s post is a little different. Instead of providing you with guided activities and questions, we’re directing you to some of the brilliant resources already available for schools that have been prepared specifically for that 400th anniversary. Suitable for Years 7 to 12.

Talk to me: developing discussion skills

Discussion skills are embedded in the VCE English Study Design and the Australian Curriculum: students are required to take turns, actively listen, check for understanding and ‘apply the conventions of discussion’. But what are the conventions of discussion? If media interviews, YouTube videos and online conversations are any guide, ‘blurt, blather and bombard’ seem to be widely accepted discussion techniques. This week’s blog features American journalist and radio broadcaster Celeste Headlee’s TED talk from May 2015, ‘10 ways to have a better conversation’, a clear and concise exploration of the lessons she has learnt about good discussions. This talk could be the central focus of a very practical class or unit designed to build speaking and listening skills. Headlee’s simple rules are suitable for Years 7 to 12.