About Robert Johnson

English teacher since 1997. Worked in High Schools in Yorkshire till 2005. From 2012 have worked in FE establishments. From January 2015, worked in Adult workplace training delivering Funky Skills Maths and English.

Neighbours – Gillian Clarke

2017-09-23For readers nowadays to be able to understand this poem takes a reader who is into their world history. For the average reader in a school classroom, assuming they have not looked at Russian or Ukrainian history, such a poem may wash over them.

So, I urge you all now to research the following information. On 26th April, 1986, there was a nuclear disaster in a place called Chernobyl. It is responsible for 31 direct deaths and numerous others because of the nuclear fall out from the explosion there. Find out about it and do some digging on how it happened, why it happened and then look at what the UK was going through at the time, with the likes of the CND movement in this country, fighting something called Trident. No, that is not your work experience but a much more powerful thing indeed.

Go on, do some reading now!

So, you know about Chernobyl in some small way now, so when we come to read this poem, we begin to see how knowledge can help us to understand good, challenging poetry.

Clarke notes that the “Spring was late” in that year, beginning on a sombre tone, something to make the reader think about as they read. Upon a first reading, the reader is thinking okay, what is this about? The real meaning is hidden by the poet as she continues into line 2. She states how people studied weather charts and how “birds were late to pair” and mate with each other, leading the reader to think what has caused this? With the negative start, this makes the reader think something is coming that is bad. It sets that kind of tone as a poem.

The mention of Finland and how the bird population fails in its usual activity makes the reader think that something catastrophic happened in that “spring” but so far, there is no set thing, event or place to link these words to. In essence, the confusion continues for the reader, as they continue on through the poem.

The reference to birds “failing over fjords” is an interesting one, not only for the alliterative feel to it, but one normally associates Finland and the fjords as one of the most clean and healthy places on the planet, so for something to damage that sense of cleanliness must mean a global problem of some kind. But so far, there are only hints as to what. Now how good is your Geography? How well do you know where Finland is and where Russian and the Ukraine are? Is your knowledge up to date? If so, then this is a good thing, because when you realise just how close they are, you have a better chance to catch the sentiment and meaning of this poem as it progresses.

Those birds over the fjords breathe in the air and for each one there is a “sip of gall” because they are breathing in polluted air from somewhere. But then, with reference to “children” and milk being “spilt,” we begin to see that the effects of this event are now having a dangerous reaction in the lives of others, not just in what we know to be Chernobyl, but those nations who live close by. In a sense, there is a sense of globalism here, the belief that when there is a catastrophic event, it impacts people from all over the world, if you like, our neighbours who we live near. Neighbouring countries after Chernobyl suffered immensely with Cancer issues from the nuclear explosion. They still to this day struggle and the place cannot be lived in for some considerable time.

The first half of the poem is about that spring. The second half begins with “this Spring” and says something of what life is like now, thirty one years later. For us, life is tainted by this event. “Now we are all neighbours,” we find that each of us are related to each other because we share the same air, polluted air, air that damages us as we breathe it in. And so, we wait for the time when clean air can be once again taken into our lungs, a time when ideas of openness [Glasnost] can be a good thing.

This poem then is a metaphor for the dangers of nuclear fusion and the nuclear arms race. Was Clarke writing from the point of view of a CND member? Do some more research on her and see if she ever has been linked to the movement. If she has, then that is the driving force. If not, then she could just be making the connection between how we are neighbours and how we need to learn from such an event as Chernobyl. This then, is one very sombre but very effective poem.

 

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PRICE WE PAY FOR THE SUN

PRICE WE PAY FOR THE SUN – GRACE NICHOLS

One of the things I have loved in over twenty years of teaching is teaching poetry from other cultures because English students can fall into that tricky little trap of reading a poem from a writer from another culture and not understanding what is being shared at all. You see, they, like everyone, read any poem based on their background and experience.

Let us say for example, that a typically English student, living in the heart of the English countryside, reads this poem. He or she may not have any understanding of what it is like to live in the Caribbean, unless they see the news recently and all the mention of hurricanes and destruction. What they fail to see or understand is the harshness of normal life for some on islands in the middle of the Atlantic or Pacific. How can they understand what it is like to live there or to scavenge for work there when there isn’t any work at all and then try to understand the poem in front of them?

It is the teacher’s role to cross the boundaries of social and historical background when teaching these poems, just as much as it is for them teaching an Armitage poem and teaching their students about life as Simon Armitage sees it based on his life experience. If they are not doing that, then they are failing their students, in my humble, ageing opinion.

So, when we get to this Grace Nichols poem from her block of writing, we see someone writing about the islands she has lived on in the past. Married to John Agard will no doubt be a fun experience, but their shared love of English and of poetry allows them to write honestly, sometimes harshly and always beautifully.

Let me ask you a question. How much would you pay for the sun?

What does that mean? Can it have more than one meaning? I think this title has more than one meaning in it. After all, when she starts writing, she is doing so using Free Verse, using zero punctuation, making the reader pause at the end of each line, where punctuation should be. Because there is none there, you are supposed to pause. Thus, “These islands” becomes a statement in a way. “These islands” are home; beautiful in every way. But then she goes on to say they are not “picture postcards” that someone has created. No picture can fully bring about the fuller meaning of life on “these islands” and the reader should realise this is what she means from the beginning. She says “these islands real,” missing a word out of what we would call Standard English, using a ‘Creole’ of the English language to communicate. [If you are not sure on Creole, Google it and check please].

There is a reality for her in these islands because they are “more real than flesh and blood.” Now, we see the word “past” and we have to ask, because of the Creole style, whether or not she is saying the word in place of the word “except.” In other words, she is saying, “more real than flesh and blood except “these islands split bone.” Suddenly, there is a sense of harshness about life on these islands, as idyllic as they are. For mere British men and women, this would be a holiday destination, but to the islanders themselves, life here is nasty, brutish and for some, short. The phrase “split bone” is an interesting one, which makes the reader see that life is so tough that one has to be extra strong to survive there. But she is not being critical. She loves those islands. She loves what they stand for and what the culture is that exists there. To her, she is saying that there is no better place; there is no place like home.

In verse two, we see the poet extend those thoughts into a figure that is so central to her life, her mother. We sense closeness as we read how her “mother’s breasts like sleeping volcanoes” would be a source of rest for her when she was a youngster. By this, she is referring to those times when as a youngster, we go to mother for comfort and solace. We are in trouble, or in pain and we go to our mother for rest and peace, usually involving a huge cuddle, if we have that kind of relationship. There is then a reference to how those breasts know about the “Cancer tricking her below” and how the effect of such pain changes her mother and her mother’s outlook on life. The element of trickery is interesting too, for any kind of debilitating illness exists to wear you down until you are unable to fight any more. So, this is the poet looking back on the life [and demise] of her mother and thinking of her again. Read some of her other poems where she mentions mother and you will see her love for her shining from the poem.

But then she mentions her father and how his “tears” have been constantly whipped and turned into “salty hurricanes” showing us an element of real life on these islands. It reminds me of the poem Island Man in a way, but although the man in that poem is in London and dreaming of the Caribbean, this lady is reminiscing on the islands she lives or has lived on and is stating that these places are entrenched in her psyche. Words like “tears” and “salty hurricanes” evoke a certain image in the mind, one of pain and turmoil. This is a poor lifestyle, for certain, but it is a happy one too, for this woman inserts a glorious image at the end, as if to make her final point. She mentions “water mirroring palm” which makes me think of palm trees and the shadows they make on the sand, how the sea can make shapes that can mirror almost anything and how, after all this time away, she can see the true beauty of the place once again. It also makes one think of how nature mirrors our existence at times.

The last three lines are spectacular in their description because then we see the real meaning in her poem. This is almost polemic in its stance, for she is saying, to anyone who will read and listen, that “poverty is the price we pay for the sun.” We have sun here more or less all the time, she is saying, but the price we pay is that we remain poor. The ones with the money are outsiders. Now, the last two words, for me, can lead to confusion. At first, I was unsure how to take them. The words “run come” are oxymoronic yes, but what do they mean? The answer is that the reader is meant to consider that because of the way nature is portrayed as being brutal and that the islanders are seen as part of the land, the best thing to do is run away. There is a “run coming” may be a better way to understand the ending because she, along with her husband, did just that and emigrated from Guyana in the West Indies to a life away from their home. It is the story of so many West Indian people, who left for work and never came back. They sit in their relative luxury of home in which ever country they reside in now and look back to the motherland, their home, their sunshine paradise.

In this sense, this is a poem looking at the way nature is merged with humanity, how the islands are much more than mere images on a postcard or even, in the mind of those who are from there but have not seen home for some time. Because of that, this sits within what used to be called the ‘Poetry from Other Cultures’ section of anthologies, waiting to be read so that people from all over the world can see the reality of life for Caribbean islanders.

Cold Knap Lake – Gillian Clarke

Gillian Clarke poems tend to be a certain style, like most of us when we write, sharing a certain theme, whether that theme be beauty, nature, love, simplicity or any such theme. This one is no different and reminds this reader of a film starring Paul Newman, called Cold Hand Luke. Whether she intends this is not in question for that is only my memory playing tricks on me.

It is the telling of a memory of an event in the life of the person speaking, whether that is the poet’s memory, or her desire to write as if she was someone else for the purposes of this poem [for the latter, you need to remember that we poets tend to see something or read something and assume the person involved when writing].

She writes about how she is in a crowd of people, we assume to be young, who are observing the pulling from the water of a female body, who has the usual green silt trailing from her body because she has been in the water for some time before being found and rescued. We are not told how long at the beginning that she has been there but the words “Blue lipped” share an interesting description, which makes us see the picture of the oxygen starved body, her lips showing the early signs of decay and being under water. It is quite a grim description to set the scene for the reader so they sense that what is to follow will be grim also, or even worse. The reader is not told that she is alive or dead until the second verse when the “heroine” of the poem comes to the young girl’s aid and gives her mouth to mouth treatment in order to resuscitate her back to health. The “heroine” has her “red hair bowed” in this act of assistance and love. We call it the kiss of life in some parts of the world and so, here is this heroine trying to share what in other circumstances would be an act of love.

The word “wartime” sets this for us as being between the years of the second world war [1939-1945] so we are seeing a memory from some time ago, from the mind of a writer who I believe, is being autobiographical. We see that it is her “mother “giving “a stranger’s child her breath” and so we see an adult desperately trying to save a child who has ended up in the water. As she does this, “the crowd” of people stand in silence “drawn by the dread of it” and wondering with grim satisfaction, what will happen next.

Half way through the telling of this tale of woe, the third verse begins and we see the child spring from near death to life. But what happens next to the child is the most shocking thing of all in today’s liberal way of thinking and bringing up children. The child breathes in the air and is then thrashed [beaten] for getting into trouble when she gets home. She is punished for making others worry about her. Instead of a warm hug and a “how are you?” all she gets is a beating. We react negatively nowadays but back in these times, that would have been commonplace here in the UK, the almost expected thing from a parent. I remember times in the 60s when I got into trouble, apologised to the person, went home and got a beating for it, even though I had apologised. Physical violence was a much more accepted form of treatment back then and in some cases, was ignored. We live today in a much more humane world.

Then, in line 15, the poet asks if she was there at the time; in one sense, this is strange but it can be understood. Is it a memory or has she made some of it up over the years? That kind of thing tends to happen as you get older. Memories become muddled with time and usage. She is questioning the reality of it after so many years so this is normal for such an experience. It is a memory of a traumatic episode. But is she asking something else here as well? Was I there” could mean that she is referring to herself as the young girl in the lake, almost like allegory or parable in the telling of this harrowing story. If she means this then it means she is the girl and the mother is a “stranger” to her, suggesting displacement within the family setup. If so, and it is a small ‘if’ then the penultimate verse is one that is reflecting on the event in such a way as to ask, “is that troubled surface something else?” She reflects how “satiny mud blooms in cloudiness” and therefore, is asking if she has the memory right, especially since the brain does some strange things at the point of danger.

Either way, whether she is being autobiographical or not, what we have in the last two lines is a sense of “all lost things” laying at the bottom of the lake, under the water, “in that lake with the poor man’s daughter.” It is then, a poem of harrowing certainty. It is one that shares a story so horrible that the title suddenly comes into play. The words “cold” and “lake” are straightforward enough, but the word “knap” will make the younger reader wonder about what is being meant. It is the name of a lake in Wales where this happened.

But the poet is asking us to consider just how much our memories are useful in relating stories. We always tend to embellish our stories on each telling so that when we have told them a hundred times, it is not the story we began with. This is normal and a sign of passing times and age. Clarke is looking back on a story but looking at the present and asking is the past as accurate as I think? When I look at my life over the past four decades of life since I began work at sixteen, I think back and there is a certain element of truth to my memories but a huge amount of what I tell that is questionable. That is what this poem is asking us to consider in our life.

The Basics at GCSE #2

Last time, we looked at the basics within English language, so now, I want to take a step further and see if you can get your head around this which I am about to type. It covers similar ground, but in places, goes a little further and in some cases, covers new ground, so we could call it Basics #2 if you like. Last time, we looked at the basics within English language, so now, I want to take a step further and see if you can get your head around this which I am about to type. It covers similar ground, but in places, goes a little further and in some cases, covers new ground, so we could call it Basics #2 if you like.

For GCSE purposes, you need to know what each element does and how a writer adopts these things into their work. When you can know this, writing those horrible PEED chains will be oh so easy for you.

Once again, we look at word level, sentence level and then whole text level. Where possible, I shall leave the task in for you.  At other times, it shall be just information.
Enjoy!

Nouns & Possessives

Nouns are names of things. Common things we use every day are called common nouns; table, cloth, pen, pencil etc. Proper nouns have capital letters because they are usually names like James or Sarah. But what about when we think of words like Flamingo? It is a proper noun, yes, but what if we have to use the plural rule. Suddenly, you are tempted to write Flamingos or are you tempted to write Flamingoes?

The answer would be Flamingoes. What then, about the word housewife, which is a common noun used to name someone and the position in life they are in. When we write about more than one, do we write housewifes or housewives? The answer is housewives. It is a little tricky but the more you try to find these things on the likes of Google, the easier it will be.

Then there is something called the singular or plural possessive noun which is where we use a single word or a word to denote more than one. If we write The boy’s jacket then the noun is singular because it is one boy and one jacket. If we add to that and write The boys’ jackets then it becomes plural possessive.

Pronouns

Pronouns are those words we use when we do not want to continue using a name in a piece of writing. For example, if you wrote a story that had Stephen said this. Stephen said that. Stephen did this. Stephen did that, it would soon become boring to read so we use words like he and she, or words like they if writing about more than one person. Words that can be used as pronouns can include: anybody, each, nobody, something or both, few, many and all.

Verbs

Verbs are action words, or words that do something. We write that James walked to the shop and we know that walked is the verb, but to take your understanding a little deeper, there are three types of progressive verb in that there is the past progressive verb, the present progressive verb and the future progressive verb. Now, that sounds very odd, almost like a science doesn’t it? But it is easy to remember.

When you write the actor will be playing Macbeth in tonight’s performance you are using the future progressive verb because it is to be in the future. Likewise, if you write June and her partner are going on holiday today, you are using the present progressive verb. The same would be true if using the past progressive verb if the word used was in the past tense.

Adjectives

Adjectives are describing words. They tell us more about something or someone. In the year 7 unit we considered the black cat sat on the mat and then added words in to describe the cat and the mat. Here, we use another thing entirely, the girl with the flower tattoo. If we want to add in some adjectives, to make the sentence better, we might write the young girl with the small flower tattoo. If we want to go further, we can add words to make it the young, vivacious girl with the small, yellow, flower tattoo. Suddenly, the sentence is better, but be careful, for if you add too many in, it simply becomes too hard to read and understand.

Then there are the comparative and superlative adjectives like larger [comparative] and angrier [superlative – because it goes one step further than angry]. We use them on a daily basis and do not think about them at all. They are so easy to use.

Adverbs

Adverbs are those words that extend meaning to the verb. So, if we write Paul was cycling home as a sentence, we add the word quickly in there to show how fast he was going.

How many adverbs do you know, that end with -ly? Make a list on a piece of paper now.
Now, consider how we use words like quicker or better. We do so using adverbs like this to expand the meaning of a sentence, or a piece of school or college work. The better your writing is, the more accurate it is, the higher the grades you will get when you take a test. That is why knowing this is important.

Correlative Conjunctions

A conjunction is a word that joins two sentences or clauses together. Correlative conjunctions are those that are paired to make sense. Words like neither and nor or either and or are correlative. There is usually a similar length to them and the sentence they are in. An example of this would be we can go to either Greece or Portugal for our holiday. Consider this sentence: Both James and John had the same father in Zebedee. The word Both and the word and are correlative because they balance the sentence out.

Words That Confuse – Homophones

A homophone is an interesting word indeed and one that causes so much trouble wherever it goes and is used. This is because there is sometimes more than one way to spell a word that sounds like another. Consider the words lesson and lessen. They have two very different meanings but sound exactly the same. Such is the problem with the English language at times. Words like there, their and they’re confuse the life out of us and we make mistakes, especially on social media, like Facebook, every day. For an English teacher, there can be no mistake worse than getting the wrong word in there like this, using a homophone.

Other words that can get confused are whose and who’s. On the Department for Education website in the UK was once a list of 100 words that are always spelt wrongly by 16 year old students. Both of these were on that list! That is how easy it is to get them confused. Other examples of words that confuse are your and you’re, as well as are and our. My pet hate is the two words being and been. Such an error is huge in your written work, for the meaning of the sentence is destroyed when you use the wrong one.

Task: Which is the correct use of the word in the 4 sentences below.

1. Which way is it to your/you’re house?

2. It is a long way for us to walk to are/our school.

3. I have being/been to the cinema today to see the latest Pirates movie.

4. “Who’s/Whose the person responsible for this devastation?” asked the teacher.

Commas

Commas are those wonderful things we slip into sentences when we want to take a pause, so we do not run out of puff when trying to get a very long sentence out. If they are used correctly, then they allow us to take a breath and take our time with the sentence. But they are much more than that. They can aid meaning immensely.
Consider this old favourite of English teachers, the sentence that reads:

Let’s eat Grandma.

What does it mean? Does it mean that for dinner tonight, your Grandma is on the menu? Well, unless there is a comma in there, it does! Let’s eat, Grandma is a different thing altogether and the inclusion of one single comma has made it so that we can understand. Likewise, what about this one: The black, slinky, furry cat sat on the old, shaggy, brown, dilapidated mat. Six adjectives are used there to describe cat and mat, but without the commas, to tell you to take your time, the meaning is lost.

So, what do we do when we have to put commas in compound and complex sentences?

Well, whatever the sentence is about, we need to think about where it is best to put them. Try this sentence for size. At once the boy moved forward in his chair to see if the teacher was putting his name on the board.

How many commas should there be in that sentence? One? Two? Or more? The answer is a subjective one because so long as meaning is carried in the sentence, there really is no wrong answer. As soon as a sentence makes sense, because a comma is not used or used wrongly, it becomes difficult to read.

Hence…

At once, the boy moved forward in his chair, to see if the teacher was putting his name on the board.

Two commas, in my thinking, are needed in this sentence but some would argue that there is no need for one after the second word.

What about this sentence?
The burning sensation crept up his arm as the man fought the fire back and seeing the flame developing he decided to leave the building so as to make his escape.

How many commas are needed here? The answer is below.

The burning sensation crept up his arm as the man fought the fire back and seeing the flame developing, he decided to leave the building so as to make his escape.

Some would argue one comma here but others would say there is a need for one to go in after the word and because it is a conjunction, joining together two sentences. This is where different teaching makes English very difficult to understand. I was always taught never put a comma before the word ‘and’ but there has been a change in thinking, as language has changed, about this and there is something now called The Oxford Comma, whereby you are allowed to use it. What you need to understand is that the English language is always changing.

Commas With Direct Address

That sounds rather grand doesn’t it? No, it does not mean where it lives either. But what this refers to is where there may be a name in a sentence. If we were to write There is a bus to the theatre tonight isn’t there Mrs Brown then we would expect to see a comma before Mrs Brown. Possibly, we might even see one before isn’t as well. Have a look at how I have used commas so far in this introduction and see where you should pause when reading. Then try to do the same in your writing.

Colons and Semi Colons

My old Chemistry teacher, Mr Smith, taught me nothing much about Chemistry, because I did not listen, but he did teach me something about the colon and how to use it. Whilst dictating to us, reading out of a book for us to copy, one day, he said “Colon; for the ignorant, two dots, one above the other.” He did it for a bit of fun and in a funny voice, because he was like that and before too long, whenever we had to do this, he would say the word colon and we would all say together the words that followed. It was like a catchphrase.

This is what it looks like [:] and it is used for certain things. The first is to make a list. If we write The boy went to the shops to buy some food: bread, margarine, jam and scones then we are saying what he went to the shops to buy. We can just leave a few words out and make a list, but the best way to do it is to do it this way. The other time these are used is when putting two ideas together. Look at this example taken from the Internet.

Some spiders are able to catch and eat: they’ve been known to overcome fish five times heavier than themselves.

The use of the colon splits up two things which are related in the same way that a semi colon [;] would. The first part of this sentence is about spiders but then the word they’ve is used so it is about the same spiders in the second half of the sentence.

So, how do you know whether to use a colon or a semi colon? My answer to you is simple; make a list with a colon and split sentences with semi colons and you will never get them mixed up. Also, when you use a semi colon do so making sure that there is a balance to the sentence. For example, consider these two sentences.

The girl played the violin so well and she was an expert at the instrument.

You could say they are two sentences on their own and you would be right. But how can we make them into one slightly more complex sentence and by doing so, make our writing better to get better grades]? The answer is to use a semi colon in our writing. Instead of adding in and between the two sentences, we use a semi colon like this.

The girl played the violin so well; she was an expert at the instrument.

There is a sense of balance in this sentence, like two children playing on a see-saw and the see-saw being level on both sides. That is because the semi colon is used correctly. If the sentence however, contains two opposing things, then it gets confusing to understand what is being said.

Apostrophes

As before, we looked at how apostrophes are used in two different ways. One is where something is left out, like couldn’t where the o is left out of the word and possessive, where something or someone owns something else, like Robert’s book.

We also looked at how that little thing called an apostrophe can confuse us when we want to put something like James’s into a sentence. To do so would be wrong for the correct way to do it is James’ bike. If you are wondering why, it is one of the rules of English language, that we do it this way, but as said earlier, language is always changing. Words are being introduced, like Parmo, which is a food stuff in the North East of the UK and sick, which now means something is good. So, if the English language is always changing, as we know, then the use of apostrophes will also change and nowadays, to write St. James’s Hospital on a sign or a letter is not seen as wrong. Teachers of my age will disagree however, for they believe that it should always be the case as it once was.

So, how do you know which is the right way to do this and to use this? Well, as I said in the last unit of work, my advice has always been try not to use them in your writing and in that way, you will write using Standard English, apart from when writing direct speech. But to know how to spot a mistake is essential.

Have a look at this below and try to see the mistakes made, on purpose, for you.

They could’nt believe how they’re luck had changed. It shouldnt have been that way at all, for they’re was’nt a single thing they could do about it all.

Did you spot the 4 mistakes there?

It should read as follows: They couldn’t believe how their luck had changed. It shouldn’t have been that way at all, for there wasn’t a single thing they could do about it all.

Now, I tricked you a little there didn’t I? Sometimes, we use a comma in the word they’re because we are taking a letter out, or omitting something. They’re should be They are and so we can get that wrong if we try to use their or there in its place.

Apostrophes are hard work but in the end, it comes down to you knowing what an apostrophe is and how it is used, but in your own writing, use them sparingly, as little as you can and you will find that your writing will improve.

Dashes

If you think about how and where you pause in a sentence, about where you use a comma for breath, you too can use a dash there for the same, or similar effect. But like most things, it can be over used.

But there is another way a dash can be used to great effect and that is to indicate an interruption when writing direct speech. If you write a story for your teacher, for homework, where there are ghosts and dilapidated mansions, where the story begins with thunder and lightning, then you might have your character, called Gail, say “But – no, you’re wrong!” There would be nothing wrong with that, either in the use of a dash or an apostrophe, but the pause is there for all to see and to read, so that when they read it, they make a dramatic pause, to share the shock of the person being troubled. The same can be true if there was a correction in the middle of a sentence.

Ellipses

Now here we get to an interesting and often misused tool in the English language. In any good novel you will see the use of three dots, one after another, to make a pause in something, or to shorten the sentence down. An example is here below:

The boy thought … that this would bring the story to an end.

The idea is that where the three dots are, the ellipsis, the words are not really needed for full meaning to be given and shared. The words are superfluous and not needed. In other words, a longer version of that sentence could be:

The boy thought about all of these aspects, thinking that this would bring the story to an end.

The meaning is there in both sentences so the use of ellipsis makes for easier reading and sometimes, clearer meaning. The question is, however, whether or not an ellipsis is used correctly. If the sentence is shortened and the meaning is the same or similar, then it is used correctly, but if the meaning is lost, then it is a mistake to use these three dots.

Consider this sentence:

Manufacturing on this level in the food industry, with its processes and needs, is a multi dimensional problem for all food manufacturers.

If we shorten it down and we get Manufacturing on this level in the food industry … is a multi dimensional problem for all food manufacturers then the meaning is slightly different and we begin to lose the plot when trying to understand.

This tool is used a lot to shorten things down, so as to make things more easily understandable, but with any tool used in English, it can be overused or used badly, so be careful.

Hyphens

The hyphen is something that is once again, used wrongly sometimes. In one sense, you could say a hyphen or a dash can do the same thing a comma does. If you write The boy, who could not be named, was found guilty of the offence then you could also write the same thing with hyphens and dashes, like this: The boy – who could not be named – was found guilty of the offence. But there are other instances where you could use such a thing as this. One would be a name, where two people meet and want to get married but the lady does not wish to lose her surname. So, if someone called Jones meets someone called Hamilton then they could have what we call a double barrelled surname of Jones-Hamilton.

Notice the use of the line between the two last names.

Another way we can use hyphens is to link words, or parts of words. We can say we are having a sleep-over at someone’s house. But then we can say that we like the mother-in-law where two hyphens are used showing a relationship between the words.

Capital Letters – Capitalisation

In the Year 7 unit, we looked at how accurate we need to be when using capital letters. If we use a name like James then it has to have a capital letter. If we talk about the capital city of France then we have to use a capital P for Paris. We know for example, that if we use a Proper noun, then it needs a capital letter, but can you tell the difference between words that need one and those that do not?

Task: Which is theincorrect use of the capital letter in the following words…

Paris                    paul                  Table                Michael                  Leeds
doncaster           new testament            the bible            happy new year

Titles

Sometimes, we need to use capital letters when we write a title. Imagine, for a second, if I asked you to write a story about a young boy who overcomes his disability and I asked you to call it The Fighter. You would plan a piece of writing and then give it a title but if you wrote it as the fighter then you would have made two mistakes before you even started writing your story [or poem, or play, or report].

Titles like Your Majesty when referring to royalty, or The Right Honourable if writing about an MP, need to have capital letters. It looks wrong if it is not used and when it comes to GCSE marking, if you make this mistake, then the person marking will not be as generous as if you had done it right.

There is also a format to titles and the use of capital letters, in that a title like The Diary of Anne Frank has capital letters throughout the beginning of each word. But have you noticed the word of in that title? It does not have a capital letter. It is just one of those examples of where the rule does not always apply but the small words are the ones that we allow for this to happen.

Sentence Level

As we move on to thinking of how we use sentences, we do so thinking of how we used things like synonyms, antonyms, prefixes and suffixes. Each one is important to understand, so you can see them in works of literature, or advertising and media things you will look at in your classroom. If you know what these are and how they are used, writing about them [in the text level section] will be so much easier.

Synonyms

A synonym is a word that has the same or similar meaning to another word. Words like beautiful, attractive, pretty, lovely and stunning all mean similar things. As synonyms, they can be used well, to describe something well. How many more can you think of for beautiful? Choosing the right synonym is not that hard. Think of the word funny. How many more words can be used that have the same or similar meaning?

Task: Write a sentence with 3 words of same meaning, using a comma to use them as adjectives to complete the sentence. [eg: The beautiful, attractive, stunning model pranced along the boardwalk.]

Antonyms

Think of the word that means the exact opposite of beautiful and you get the word ugly, or one like it. Ugly is the antonym of beautiful because it is the opposite of the word in meaning. If we are anti something, it means we are usually against it, like if we are anti-war, or anti-rap music. It means we stand against it, or something. Likewise, an antonym is a word that means the exact opposite of another.

Task: Using the following words, write down as many words as you can that are antonyms of the word.

Beautiful                 simple                       perfect                        peaceful

Bright                      shining                      dirty                            sparkling

When we write sentences that have any real meaning it is sometimes good to use synonyms and antonyms where we can to spice up our writing, to make it more enjoyable to read. Next time your teacher asks you to write something creative, like a story, have a go at using these skills to blow the teacher’s mind. You will be surprised how easy it is to do it right.

Prefixes

A prefix is used in a word as a beginning, with either pre or re or sub or mis being used. It can also begin with un, or dis, or non. Examples are prehistoric, rehabilitation, submission, misadventure, understanding, disability and nonsensical.

How many do you know? Write them all down now. Amaze yourself with how many you actually know.

Suffixes

If a prefix is a beginning of a word that is has pre or something like that, we put it at the beginning of a word because it is usually saying something about the word. Prehistoric is about history before history was made. A suffix therefore, is something that exists at the end of a word. Examples are words that end with -ful, -less, -able and -ible. All of these are used at the end of a word like faithful, fruitless, desirable and irresistible.

Words like this brighten up a sentence. They make your work entertaining to read and make for a very happy English teacher willing to give out awards left, right and centre.

The thing is though; how many do you know?

When you learn how to use these kinds of words in your sentences, you will see how much your work will improve. You will begin to be so proud of your progress as well and will begin to have faith in yourself in terms of getting the very highest GCSE grade possible when you are at the end of Year 11.

Sentences make English teachers happy when they are good, solid, quality ones. Yours are improving day by day, so it is now up to you to consider the types of sentence that you write now and how they can be improved upon.

Sentence Types

There are so many types of sentence to think of but we shall just look at four of them. Look at any sentence written and ask if it is a declarative, interrogative, imperative, or exclamatory one. Does it declare something to be the truth? Does it interrogate, or ask a question? Does it state an imperative, that something needs to happen? Or does it exclaim something, usually ending with an exclamation mark? [!]

Now we think of how we can improve those sentences. Have a look at this sentence below.

If, when the time comes, you decide to enter the race, you need to try your hardest, work hard before the race and then, run the best race that you can.

There is a technique there that you can use to improve your writing, but be careful not to over use it. If you add three things into a sentence, broken up by commas and using the word and to join the three things up into a list, then a simple sentence suddenly becomes a complex one and when it comes to English tests, or exams, you will do really well if you can master this skills.

Figurative Language

You might be thinking what is figurative language?

Put simply, it is the use of things like personification or an allusion to bring deeper and better meaning to your sentences. There are more figures of speech we will look at in the Year 9 unit of work but for today, we just look at these two.

Personification

Look at the word personification for a moment and split it up into two. The first part has the word person and then you have the suffix ending. This tells you that this is something about a person, or making something appear like a person. For example, if you write a short story about a cat but you put him in a hat and make him do things that a human would; walk, talk and sing, then you are using a form of personification in your writing.

The definition of personification is this: the attribution of a personal nature or human characteristics to something non-human, or the representation of an abstract quality in human form.

Think for a moment about a chair! Yes, a chair! It has legs. It has a back. Otherwise, it would be a stool. Now think about how you might bring that chair to life, giving it the characteristics of a human, so it thinks and speaks, as it walks on its legs, or lays down on its back. Disney cartoons do this all the time. In writing, when we do this, we use personification.

It is that simple.

Allusion

An allusion can be several things but in writing, we tend to look at three ideas. It is either a passing reference, like a reminder of something, or a a link between one thing and another, like when we say that the Bible is an allusion in art. Or, it is a metaphor, or parable [short earthly story with a heavenly meaning].

A passing reference to something else might be when we write that it is raining so hard that Noah will soon be here with his Ark. The thing you are writing about is the rain, a very British thing to do. But you are linking it with a story in the Bible. As a link between one thing and another the same sentence makes sense, but as a metaphor, or a parable, we can then look at a full text level piece of work and say it is symbolic as a metaphor.

We can say it represents something else entirely. Therefore, the story of Noah in his boat can be an allusion to having faith in God that God will provide for our needs.

When you can write using this, you are doing really well.

Formal And Informal Language

What is the difference between writing formally and informally?

If you write using informal language you are writing a note to someone, or something like a text message, where the rules of English Language do not really matter as long as you get the meaning into the sentence or text.

When you write using formal language, it is when you are writing something like a letter for a job [when that time comes]. Now letters and letter writing, using formal language, is the one thing that tends to appear in a GCSE exam, so between now and the end of Year 11, you will do more than just a few of them, I am sure.

So, what kind of language is used?

See if you can determine whether the sentences below are using formal language, or informal language.

I would like to apply for the post you have on offer and attach my CV for your perusal.

Hey Joe, you coming out tonight to the cinema with the gang?

R u ok

This thing is mint!

The Queen requests your presence at the next Garden Party at Buckingham Palace.

Can you see the formality and the informality? It is as simple as that.

But when you are writing formally, as well as informally, there is a rule that is so vital, it can be missed, or done wrongly, so that you make a huge mistake. It has a technical name as well. It is called the Subject-Verb Agreement.

But what is it and what does that mean?

The definition of this is: Subject verb agreement simply means the subject and verb of a sentence must agree in number. This means both need to be singular or both need to be plural.

Now that sounds a little confusing so look at this and say which one is right and which one is wrong.

Where is our text books?                                  Where are our text books?

Did you get it right? The correct sentence there is where are our text books? This is because of the plural rule we have looked at before now. Do you remember the woman and women bit earlier? If something is singular, then we use the word is in this sentence and if there is a plural word like books, then we use are.

As a rule of thumb as well, there is a simple thing to remember when writing. It is this: read it back to yourself [out loud] because your eyes will not see the mistake, but your ears will.

Text Level Work

Now we begin to look at how texts are put together and the aim is to show you three examples from classic literature including one from a writer recently published.

Charles Dickens: A Tale Of Two Cities [the opening section]

His novel begins like this:

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom. It was the age of foolishness. It was the epoch of belief. It was the epoch of incredulity. It was the season of Light. It was the season of Darkness. It was the spring of hope. It was the winter of despair. We had everything before us. We had nothing before us. We were all going direct to Heaven. We were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
What can you notice in this section of writing?

Can you spot the opposites, the antonyms? Words like best and worst are put there, on purpose, to allow us to think in opposite ways. Can you spot the simple sentences? Sentences of six words in length are used well. Can you spot the use of capital letters? Words like Light and Darkness are use with capital letters. Why is this, do you think? It is not a mistake on Dickens’ part I can assure you. The use of the capital letter is a use of figurative language which we have just covered. Light represents, or links to goodness, or the goodness of God. Darkness is symbolic of, as well as an allusion to the devil and badness in the world. Therefore, the writer is saying that there was a time when goodness was as prevalent as evil in the world.

What else can you see?

Task: Make a list of all the things you see in the section from Dickens. See how many you can get.

Michael Morpurgo: Kensuke’s Kingdom

Morpurgo’s book has this section in it.

I stood there watching the junk until it was nothing but a spot on the horizon, until I could not bear to watch any more. By this time I had already decided how best I could defy him. I was so enraged that consequences didn’t matter to me. Not any more. With Stella beside me I headed along the beach, stopped at the boundary line in the sand and then, very deliberately stepped over it. As I did so, I let him know precisely what I was doing. “Are you watching old man?” I shouted. “Look! I’ve crossed over. I’ve crossed your silly line. And now I’m going to swim. I don’t care what you say. I don’t care if you don’t feed me. You hear me old man?”.

Then I turned and charged down the beach into the sea. I swam furiously, until I was completely exhausted and a long way from the shore. I trod water and thrashed the sea in my fury – making it boil and froth all around me. “It’s my sea as much as yours”, I cried. “And I’ll swim in it when I like”. I saw him then. He appeared suddenly at the edge of the forest. He was shouting something at me, waving his stick.

That was the moment I felt it, a searing, stinging pain in the back of my neck, then my back, and my arms too. A large, translucent white jellyfish was floating right beside me, its tentacles groping at me. I tried to swim away but it came after me, hunting me. I was stung again, in my foot this time. The agony was immediate and excruciating. It permeated my entire body like one continuous electric shock. I felt my muscles going rigid. I kicked for the shore, but I could not do it. My legs seemed paralysed, my arms too. I was sinking, and there was nothing I could do about it. I saw the jellyfish poised for the kill above me now. I screamed, and my mouth filled with water. I was choking. I was going to die, I was going to drown but I did not care. I just wanted the pain to stop. Death I knew would stop it.

Now it is your chance to select the things from this extract.

Task: List all the different things you can see in this extract from Michael Morpurgo. If you get past ten, you are doing well.

And finally, as the news presenters usually say, a piece from someone who has recently been published. He did not publish this but instead, wrote this as an aid for his students who were studying GCSE English in college and who needed to see how certain things were used in a short piece of writing.

How many elements that we have looked at can you locate?

Robert Johnson: Extract based on the film version of the book called Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

The battle had been raging for some time and the castle was now lying in ruins. Gone were the majestic looking turrets that had always stood there, tall and empowering to every student that had ever graced the hallowed halls of the school. And now, even in ruins, it still managed to command awe and majesty to those who considered it their home. This was school. This was home. This was a place of safety and now it had been attacked, assaulted by the one powerful force that everyone knew could prevail over good and defeat everyone once and for all.

The thought this was horrendous to even consider so those who stood on the side of good took their stand with the teachers of the school against the Lord of all evil, Lord Voldemort.  He had made his way inside the castle by this time, Nagini by his side, his trusted snake and was busily fighting with Harry a duel that would ultimately take one of them to their deaths. And even with all the melee going on around them, he strove forward, relentlessly chasing Harry through the corridors of the castle, mocking his inability to stand up to him, toying with his prey like a cat with a mouse.

It was then that the young man, who had risen from the little boy of eleven to the strapping young man of 18 decided that enough was enough and made his move. Screaming a blood curdling shout of anger he attacked Voldemort from a full frontal position and was blasted back thirty feet back into the grounds of the school. The shock wave that hit him knocked him out, momentarily. But this was not the end, not for this man, for he was determined to fulfil one task and nothing was going to stop him. As Harry and Voldemort exchanged blows with each other, sending spells and sparks from their wands into each other, the quiet rebellion began.

Nagini, tracking Harry, slithered and crept down the main staircase towards Hermione, who stood there, transfixed, horror in her eyes. What she did not realise at that time was that her saviour, the one who would save them all, was just emerging from out of the blackness of his unconscious state. Neville rose, looked about him and all the rubble and fixed his eyes on one thing, the sword of Gryffindor. And true to form, the sword was to reveal itself to the one who deserved it the most. And as Harry and Voldemort fought in a tumbling, towering cascade of arms and legs, falling relentlessly to the ground, everything went quiet in the courtyard, until the two wizards exchanged their final attack on each other. #

Suddenly, just as Nagini was beginning to reappear into the courtyard to attack Harry, a tall figure leapt out of the shadows, sword in hand, taking one powerful swing and severing the head of the snake in one blow. As he did so, the last horcrux that Voldemort had made had been destroyed and this left Harry with only one course of action, to finish off Voldemort for good. As their wands exchanged their force, the elder wand flew out of Voldemort’s hands and landed in Harry’s hand and Voldemort disintegrated before Harry’s eyes, never to be able to return to haunt or to destroy.  The deaths of his father and mother had been avenged but it still left a dull feeling of unfinished business. The one person on the other hand, who did feel the best at this point, quite content with his actions on this day, was the hero of the hour, Neville Longbottom. There could only be one to fulfil the prophecy; neither Harry nor Voldemort could kill each other, but there was one who had also tasted death at such a tender age he was to be the one who would ultimately triumph.

What can you see in this one?

Task: Using as many elements as you can that you have studied in this unit of work, write a story, like the Harry Potter one above, based on your favourite film, or TV series. Make each character come to life. Write no more than 400 words. Then, when planned and written, submit it to the Facebook page for this website for publication.

Try to make it as accurate as possible.

Above all, enjoy your writing and try to enter as many competitions as you can where writing is involved. Make it a fun thing to do, rather than just for study.

It’s That Time Of Year

Yes, August is here and we are all waiting for our results, come the third week in August usually, if you are in the UK. I am not sure when they are awarded in other countries. Perhaps you can inform me through the Facebook page.

But we are waiting, wanting with one breath for the 23rd, or whatever date it is this year, to come round and in the next breath thinking hang on, maybe I do not wish to know how badly I did. 

It all depends on our outlook in life doesn’t it?

Which one are you, the cup is half full of milk sort of person, or the cup is half empty?

Well, the answer to that may help you for the future, should you need it, post August 23rd. If you get the 4, or the C as we used to know it since I was a lad, then hurrah for you, but spare a thought for those on the day who will be dismayed.

On my day, back in 1992, as a mature student [30 and doing GCSEs was fun] I bounced down the stairs with three ‘bullets’ in my possession. That’s Yorkshire for Grade A. English language is weird!

I was so elated.

But then, I walked outside and saw a friend crying. He had scored D grade [3 in the new spec] all the way through every subject and he would have to do it all again.

Do not despair if this is you. Do it again. Keep doing it until you master it and get that grade. In the words of the Commander in Galaxy Quest, Never Give Up. Never Surrender!

I truly hope your results day is a good one. Be blessed!

The Basics [Needful at GCSE]

There are a number of people who are asking me to go over the basics of English language again; nouns, verbs, adjectives etc, but it is not that simple really. It is all well and good knowing what each one is but it is how it works, at three levels, that you need to be aware of. 

Recently, I was asked to write a complete text for a website where you register and then do a course of work. I did one for RE and then did one for Year 7 English but I feel that this content  could be useful, if edited well, here, for you all to see and learn, especially if you are learning English as another language. For some of you, it might be your fifth language or so, so here, without further ado, is the abridged version, just giving the facts, not the tasks the website will ask you to do. 

GCSE Basics: English

As with anything, we have to start at the beginning, so this course will be in three parts, looking at Word Level words and how they are used. Then it will develop into Sentence Level work, where we will look at how sentences are formed, using certain things to aid meaning and clarity. Finally, we shall look at full Text Level work, where you will be asked to read certain extracts from stories and answer questions based on those three levels mentioned; word, sentence and text.

Happy studying!

Word Level

At Word Level, we tend to think we know a lot of words in English, so we do not need to know any more apart from a few new words we may learn from each other as we grow. Comments such as “Why do I have to do English?” are heard by me every year in the classroom, but you do need to learn what the different elements are, how they are used and how you can use them to really make your writing [and speaking] shine. The first port of call therefore, has to be the good old noun in all its common and Proper mannerisms.

As you may know, there are two major types of noun, the Common Noun and the Proper Noun. Learning which is which is very easy.

Common Nouns

A common noun is a name of something that we take so much for granted, namely an every day object like a pen, or a pencil, or a table, or a computer. They are common to us so we call them common nouns.

How many common nouns can you think of? Write a list and see if you can get past 30 common nouns. A little tip is this: if you end up putting a capital letter to the word, like a name of a person, then you have done it wrong. Common nouns do not have capital letters, usually.

Proper Nouns

A proper noun is a little bit more special than the mundane things of life because these are things we give names to, like places or people. Hence, we say we are going on hoiliday to France and that we are going with Natalie and James. Each of those three names are proper nouns because they are named things, or people.

On another sheet, make a second list, of all the names of people you know and all the places you have visited. Once again, a little tip is this: if you forget to add a capital letter, you have got it wrong.

Regular Plural Nouns

The word “plural” means more than one. So, when we write the word shoe meaning a single shoe, we add an S on the end to mean two of them. We then write shoes. Similarly, words like knife means one knife, but then we have to add something on to the end of that to signify two or more of that item. But we do not always simply add an S on the end. If a word that ends with fe like knife, then we change it to knives to mean more than one item. There is no such word as knifes. The same is true if we write a word ending with the letter F like leaf. When we write about more than one, we use the word leaves as in the leaves of grass. But what about the word story? I hear you thinking. Well, the same is true to that of words ending with “f” in that we change the ending of the word again. This time, we change story to stories. The addition of the ies at the end is significant. There is no such word as storys and before you think of a big tall buidling with many floors, that is the word storeys. A different word entirely.

Possessive Nouns

A possessive noun is a word that means something or someone belongs to something or someone. That sounds a bit strange I know but when we write the words the professor’s hat fell off his head we are in fact using a singular possessive noun because the professor is one person, a single person, so the noun [either used as a common or proper] is about the one person. If we write that the professors’ hats fell off their head then we are writing about more than one professor and more than one hat doing some falling to the ground.

Does that make sense?

Pronouns – Personal and Antecedents

A pronoun is used when writing and we are always using someone’s name in the writing. If you read a story and it said Sarah did this and then Sarah did that, followed by Sarah was amazing, before too long it would get really boring, so we add words like she and we and he into the writing. An Antecedent is a word that is directly related to the pronoun, such as her if we write the sentence Sarah walked to school with her friend.

Subject and Object Pronouns

What is the difference between her and she? They are words that can be used in a sentence and if they are used wrongly then the sentence will not make sense at all. Consider this sentence for a few seconds:

They all went to the cinema with her.

It makes perfect sense when said or read out, but put the wrong type of pronoun in there and you get “They all went to the cinema with she.” Suddenly, no sense is being made. We know, because of those rules we learnt about in Primary School, that it is a bad sentence.

Subject and object have to match each other too, so it seems, in English language writing. But sometimes, the one that catches people out is the difference between the use of I and me in a sentence. But the Queen, with her perfect English, never says My husband and me does she? This is because she knows how to use those two words correctly.

There is also the idea of compound subjects and objects where pronouns are used. That sounds difficult to grasp, but it is not. Don’t worry. Here is what it means. Think of the difference between using the words they and them. Which would be used where, to make perfect sense? Would you write it was their choice and them made it quickly? No? I did not think so. Again, this is where the right choice of word is important.

Possessive Pronouns

These are words such as our or their or his or hers. They are pronouns used in English to show that something belongs to someone or something. For example, if we write the sentences: These footballs belong to the boys only. They are their footballs, then the word that is a possessive pronoun is their because it shows belonging. How many words can you think of that you can use in contexts like this?

Reflexive Pronouns

A reflexive pronoun is used when the object of a sentence is the same as the subject. Each personal pronoun, such as I, you,he and she, has its own reflexive version, such as I/myself, or You/yourself/yourselves. Do not worry. It is not as hard as it sounds.

Intensive Pronouns

An intensive pronoun is a word that emphasises or intensifies the noun or pronoun. They are used to make an impact to the reader. They can have this effect on any noun or pronoun. For example, when we use a sentence like there was no chance to do this as a team so I did it myself it is the word myself that is emphasising the noun and making the writing more powerful.

That sounds hard but it is not.

Adjectives

An adjective is a word that describes something else. For example, the very simple sentence of The cat sat on the mat does not have any adjectives in it. It has an object, a cat and it is doing something, so there is a verb in there as well as a noun in the words cat and mat. But what kind of cat is it? What colour? What gender? How long is its hair? If you add one adjective in, usually before the noun, you can then get The black cat sat on the mat. If you add another, before the word ‘mat’ then you can write The black cat sat on the brown mat. In this way, you are describing something in extreme detail in your sentence by using one simple word.

Have a go at thinking up as many adjectives that can be used within that one sentence. Add one in each sentence until the sentence becomes far too much. Please remember also, that you need to use a comma [we will cover these later] to split the adjectives up.

Example: The black, furry, ferocious cat sat on the brown, slippery mat

Now you have a go and see what you can do to make it better. If you get to 5 adjectives for cat and 5 for mat then the sentence will be very long, so be careful. Too many adjectives can be a mistake.

Task: Make a list of nouns you can think of [names of things]. Then, create sentences where those nouns are given adjectives to describe them. See of you can get 10 nouns and 10 adjectives.

Verbs

A verb is a word that we might call an action word or as some people say, a doing word. It is the word in a sentence that tells us that something is happening. For example, the following sentence has a verb in it.

The boy walked to the school as fast as he could.

Which word is the verb, or the action word? Is it walked? You got it right! Well done. Verbs tell us more and give us more detail in the context of a sentence. They allow for more detail and for more action.

Verbs can also be considered to be transitive or intransitive. When a verb is transitive, it is followed by a direct object which is the pronoun, noun or noun phrase that receives the action of a verb. To find the direct object, ask “what” or “whom” the verb is acting on. An example of this is below:

Peter stroked the cat.

Peter stroked his cat. What was it that got stroked? His cat? The verb stroked is transitive because there is a direct link between man stroking and cat. When the verb is intransitive, there is not a direct link to an object. See the sentence below:

Kevin walked along the corridor. What, or whom did Kevin walk? No-one. Therefore, the verb walked is intransitive.

Contractions

The word contract means to squeeze in or reduce, so when we think of words that can be squeezed, we call then contractions. These are words such as should’ve and she’ll when we would write should have or she will. Below are some examples of others that can be used.

We’ve: we have Could’ve: could have He’s: he is

They’d: they would Won’t: will not Weren’t: were not

Wasn’t: was not Wouldn’t: would not Shouldn’t: should no

Which is the best way to write clearly? With a contraction, or without? You decide!

Adverbs

An adverb is a word that adds to a verb. It is as simple as that. An adverb adds meaning to a verb. For example, the verb walked can have the word slowly after it to show a little more about how something is being done. A simple trick is to learn and remember as many words that end with -ly like slowly or quickly. There are some exceptions to that rule but largely, these words tell us something more about the action taking place.

Words like faster can also be used in this way, when we say that one boy ran faster than the other. The word ran is the verb and faster acts as an adverb, telling us how this has been done. How many words like this can you think of? Make a list of them somewhere.

Relative Pronouns and Relative Adverbs

As before, one thing has to relate to another in a sentence. Where there are pronouns and adverbs it makeas sense if they match within a sentence. A relative pronoun is used to connect a clause or phrase to a noun or pronoun. You see them used everyday with the most common relative pronouns being: who, whom, which, whoever, whomever, whichever, and that. For example, we can write a sentence that says my car, which sadly broke down, is only two years old. The word car is a noun. The word sadly is an adverb. The word broke is a verb. For the sentence to make sense, all those words have to relate to each other. In the sentence used just now, which words relate to each other?

We use the words who and whom in different ways too. A famous book was once called For Whom The Bell Tolls and was a huge success. The word whom is used to refer to the object of a verb or preposition. When in doubt, try this simple trick: If you can replace the word with “he”’ or “’she,” use who. If you can replace it with “him” or “her,” use whomWho should be used to refer to the subject of a sentence.

Prepositions

Prepositions are words that tell us where something is or where something is happening. An example of this is the sentence The girl put the doll below her desk to hide it from her teacher. The only word in that sentence that tells us where something was put is the word below.

Commas

The comma is the bane of the English teacher, the one thing that is guaranteed to raise the blood pressure when students get them wrong, so it is important to know the basics of what they are, how they are used and how they can be abused.

The first thing to know is that a comma gives you the chance to take a breath when reading. Read the following in one breath and see what I mean.

The way that the driver was driving as dangerously as he was going down the road was a cause for concern for the Police Officer so the officer decided the do something about it and decided to capture and arrest the driver.

Without any commas, it is one long sentence and is very hard to read without taking breath. With commas, in the right places, the meaning is intensified. See below.

The way that the driver was driving, as dangerously as he was going down the road, was a cause for concern for the Police Officer, so the officer decided the do something about it and decided to capture and arrest the driver.

Suddenly, the sentence makes sense and is easier to read and understand. The thing to remember is that these are used to break up a sentence so as to aid meaning. If they are used correctly, then they help us understand what is written more clearly.

Task: Put the commas in the right place in the section below:

As soon as the hammer had fallen the buyer knew he had won the auction for the painting so he raised his hand which had in it a card with a number on it and stated his name so that the auctioneer could take down his name.

One thing to remember is that you should never put a comma before the word and.

Apostrophes

Some people call apostrophes ‘flaoting comas’ because they seem to float above the line you are writing on, but whatever you call them, there are two types to remember and they are the omission and possession ones.

These two types of apostrophe do two different jobs. When you omit something it means you leave it out so when you need to leave a letter out of a word, for example, out of did not you merge the two words together to get wouldnot but then take out the o and add an apostrophe in there in its place, to make the word wouldn’t.

As a GCSE Engolish teacher, I tell my students never to use the apostrophe if they can do it, apart from when writing a story and someone is talking. This is because an apostrophe is an act of brevity, of shortening words down and therefore, not Standard English, or what we might call Queen’s English.

There is a problem though when someone has a name ending with s like James. Modern English users seem to think that you can write St. James’s Street but they would be wrong to think so. It should be St. James’ Street. There is no such thing as a word with s’s as its ending.

So, two types of apostrophe.

Omissive – where something is omitted, or left out

Possessive – where something is owned by someone or something

Apostrophes are important to master, but it is possible to write without them at all. For example, a person might say the following thing:

There wasn’t really a way that we shouldn’t do the thing our manager wanted, but he wasn’t very good at being treated as if his team wasn’t able to take his orders, so we decided that we couldn’t go against his wishes and went with what he wanted in the first place.

If you took out all the apostrophes, what words would you add back in to make it into completely Standard English? Have a go at writing the sentence out, by putting the letters that are missed back in where they belong. Then you are writing using word level knowledge, writing full and detailed sentences in the correct manner.

Remember: If you do not need to use an apostrophe, do not use one!

Dashes

Word processing systems like Microsoft Word, ask us to break two words up sometimes by using a dash [-] so as to make it make sense, to the reader. But the truth of the matter is that dashes are not used very often, but you do need to know how to use them.

Sometimes we write the word email as e-mail. This is because the letter at the beginning stands for the word electronic as in mail. So how do you know how and when to use such a rare thing as this?

Think of a dash being used as the opposite of brackets, which separate something off from the rest of the sentence. The dash emphasises what is coming next. If we used brackets, or parenthesis, as it is called, we might write the following:

The rain in Spain [which is always violent] always falls on the plane.

Now imagine the brackets not there. What else can you use where the brackets are? You can use a comma and you can use a dash. Thus, the sentence might look like this:

The rain in Spain – which is always violent – always falls on the plane.

So always think about the point you can emphasise something and try using a dash instead of a comma. See if it works.

Titles And Capital Letters

Whenever we use a name of someone or some place, we need to use a capital letter. Names like James, Peter, Sarah, Joseph or Steven all need to have a capital letter to make sense. If you write robert or susan, without the capital letter, then you are using bad English. Likewise, we name things like books using capital letters as well. Sacred texts like the Bible need a capital letter, as do place names, like Paris, Rome, London and Athens. To not use them would be wrong. Finally, names of the days of the week, or the months of the year all need capital letters.

Whenever you begin to write a sentence, think about the noun rules again. Are there any Proper nouns in there, that need capital letters? If so, then use them. Use them well and your writing will improve rapidly.

There are more things you could learn on your own, like articles such as a and the and how they are placed into a sentence, but now, we move on to sentence level work. You now know what each word does in a sentence. Now, we look at how we put all of those together.

Sentence Level

Sentence Types

You might think what does the subheading here mean, but the use of the word types. Well, words and what they do are important to know, but how to correctly string them together, so perfect sense is made, is more important than that. I know some French words but I do not know, sometimes, how to put them together in a sentence, mainly because in French, the words are used in opposite order to those in English.

In English, the sentence is the King. A sentence usually begins with a capital letter, contains a few words or a lot of words, some form of punctuation like commas and semi colons and then ends with a full stop. If it does not have a capital letter at the beginning and a full stop at the end, it is not a sentence. Simple as that!

A sentence can be declarative, in that it can declare or say something. It can also be interrogative, in that it can ask something, like a question. It can also be imperative, in that it stresses that something must be done and it can exclaim, usually with a [!] at the end. It is making a statement, forcing a point home.

Tenses – How Important Are They?

When an English teacher mentions tenses he or she is talking about the way something can be talked, or written about in the past, the present or the future. For example, we can say that The boy walked to the shops which would be a past tense sentence because the boy walked. It has already happened so it is in the past. We can also write Superman II is a brilliant movie to watch which would be written in the present tense because we write about film and literature as if it is in the now, the present. Likewise, I go to work to make a living is also a present tense sentence. Future tense sentences are those where we write things like Remember, what I promised to do, I will do for you. When we say we will do something, it usually means it is to happen in the future.

Can Tenses Be Mixed?

The answer to that is yes. Books like Angela’s Ashes do this throughout the text. They use sentences that mix and merge tenses and they are very difficult to read. A simple rule is this: Present tense for writing about literature, books, poems etc. Past tense for telling stories and future tense when talking about the future. Try not to mix them! 

Sentences – Accuracy Is Important

Can a fragment of a sentence be a sentence? In the Bible, there are the words Jesus wept. It is a single sentence and is two words long. So, a very short sentence can be created, usually for effect of some kind. But a sentence usually has a Main Clause and a Subordinate Clause inside it. Being able to locat them is the right tool to have at your disposal.

A main clause is what it says, the main part of the sentence. A subordinate clause is subordinate to the main clause and usually adds detail to it. For example, read the following sentence:

The boy stood on the burning deck!

Which is the main clause? The answer is The boy stood because it tells us what is happening. A boy is standing. But where is he standing? The subordinate clause is the thing that supports the main clause, to add more detail. Thus, on the burning deck is used.

Note how you can use The boy stood and then add a full stop. But you cannot use on the burning deck as a full sentence.

Task: Write 3 sentences, each with a main clause and a subordinate clause in them. Circle the main clause and underline the subordinate clause. The longer, the better.

Simple, Compound Or Complex Sentences

Sentences can also be categorised in three different ways. A simple sentence is what it says. It does what it says. The black cat sat on the mat is a simple sentence. They are usually short and to the point. Compound sentences are those that have more than one object or subject, more than one thing happening. Connective words like whereas or therefore are used to extend the sentence out, to develop its meaning. A complex sentence is then something that contains a number of subordinate clauses in support of the main clause.

If you wish to develop your writing skills, then you need to think about the sort of things you are writing. How much detail can you add into a sentence? How much do you need to add in? Is it really necessary to overload a sentence with adjectives when three will be enough?

Shifts In Verb Tense

Verbs can be very awkward to use in a sentence when they are words like gets or got. Each of these words is a verb even though it does not look that way. They are not words like walked which are easy to see and locate, or even write about in an exam. But nevertheless, they are still verbs, but they can be mixed up. See the sentence below:

The crowd cheered as the girls received their gold medals.

The word received is the verb but you could write got their medals into the end of that sentence as well and it still makes perfect sense. If however, you was to add the word gets in there, then it would be a bad sentence because the sentence would read as: The crowd cheered as the girls gets their gold medals. In an exam situation, this would be a terrible mistake to make.

Text Level

At text level, one has to consider a number of things. These are lexis, semantics, syntax, and graphology [sounds more like A Level, I know]. We need to take each one in turn and consider what they mean at the level you are studying. You will no doubt read, in Year 10, a novel by a modern writer in the English language, like Michael Morpurgo, who has written many stories like Kensuke’s Kingdom. His writing is excellently crafted and in any test, you would be required to write about how the writer has done a specific thing when he has written something down.

In a test, you will be given a short extract, what we call a comprehension activity, whereby you read the text, look at a question and then write an answer to that question. In your later years, in GCSE, you will be taught how to do this, but you will need to look at those three levels again; word level, sentence level and text level [the whole text ot a short extract].

But what are they and how are they used?

Lexis

Lexis, or lexical choice, is the choice of words a writer uses to say something. When Charles Dickens begins his novella A Christmas Carol, he does so with these words: Old Marley was dead, to begin with! He does so to grab the reader’s attention. What kind of sentence is it? Look to the exclamation mark at the end for a clue. How many words does the sentence have? Does that make it a simple, complex or compund sentence? Now you begin to see why knowing about these things is important to you.

Lexical choice extends to you as well, as a writer. Your choice of words in the beginning of a short story about a ghost will be defined by the amount of words you know. That is your Lexicon, your library of words if you like. You would not be expected to use words I know when you do not. Likewise, when you begin to write a poem, the success of the poem may depend on what words you know that rhyme with another word.

On a text level, what you need to do, when writing or when writing about someone else’s writing, is consider the words used and how they are used. Where is the emphasis? Which words stand out more than the rest? What effect do they have on the reader, or on you? That is what is meant by text level understanding of the English language.

Task: Think of three words that are powerful and then create a complex sentence for each one.

Semantics

Semantics is something that is involved in what the meaning is of something or some piece of writing. If we talk in terms of semantics, we do so by saying that the writer of a piece of writing means to say something, or do something, but the trouble with meaning is that it is subjective, in that one person can think one thing and another can think something entirely different, based on reading the same words. Such is the power of the written word. What does the sentence The young lady wished she was not there on the dock of the bay mean? Does it mean that there is a lady who is standing on a dock in a bay but she does not want to be there? Or does it suggest something else entirely? The decision is yours and yours alone.

When Dickens begins a novel with It was the best of times. It was the worst of times does he do so to show that there is good and bad in all things and in all times? Maybe. But we can never be too sure. When you write something, do you know what you are goig to write before you write it? Such is the valley of semantics because anything written can be taken in more than one way by another person.

Task: How many different meanings can there be of this phrase? The boy on the other side of the fence wore striped pyjamas.

Syntax

Syntax is all about sentence structure. How has a writer put something together when he or she has been writing a story, or an essay, or a powerful, political speech? Sentence structure is important, because writers use things like short sentences, for effect, on purpose at times. Writers also use a variety of sentences; simple, complex and compound, to create a paragraph that is good to read, entertaining as well as fulfilling.

Sentence structure is important. One thing I ask my class to do is read the opening of A Christmas Carol. They are asked to count the sentences to see how long, in words, they are. Try it now.

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon `Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.

Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Some of the sentences are really short, whilst some of them are very long, with added detail. Why do you think this is the case? Is it for effect, or to make it easier to read, or to make it so that more detail is given about a person or thing? All of those answers are correct. Dickens starts like this for a reason, to set his story out for the reader. As a student in a test, you will be expected to write about this in detail.

Task: Copy out the best sentence from the text above and then write a few words to say why you think it is the best. Try to mention all these elements looked at so far.

Graphology

The final thing you need to consider at text level is this; graphology, or the use of paragraphs when writing professionally, or even when you are writing a piece of work for your teacher.

Paragraphs aid reading, for anyone and anyone who chooses not to use them, or use them incorrectly, as a student in school or college, is asking for a bad mark in a test or exam. Any professional writer who uses them wrongly is making it difficult for us all to read their work clearly and effectively.

Paragraphs should, usually, be new bits of writing based on two things; a movement in time, or a change of subject. Just think if I asked you to write about your day so far. You might write about waking up in the first paragraph. Then, in the second, you might write about what you had for breakfast. In the third paragraph, you might mention the journey to school or college. Each is a new subject so should be a new paragraph. Likewise, if you began by stating that the time was the morning, when you write about what you did at lunch, it should be a new paragraph.

One way to start a new paragraph is by using something called discourse markers which are words, or phrases, that make us move on as readers. Words like firstly, secondly, furthermore, moreover and subsequently are all used at the beginning of a pragraph and help the reader to understand more of what is being written.

As a reader yourself, you may be asked to read something and then mention how the text is laid out, how it appears in equally [or not] formed paragraphs, each using discourse markers to begin a new part of the text [and so on]. You should be able to mention that any short, single line paragraphs are used for effect by the writer. Likewise, you need to learn how to structure your paragraphs well, to aid meaning and understanding more.

Task 1: Write about what you did yesterday, using 5 paragraphs of 6 lines each [30 lines]

Task 2: Write about your story, stating how the writer [you] have created this piece of work [use as many of the elements we have studied in this unit so far.

Once you have done all these things, you should have a better idea about what goes on in a sentence, how they are structured and how writers, like Dickens and Morpurgo, use language to great effect. 

Now get writing about how they do it! 

Happy reading. 

Monologue – The Wizard of Oz

Someone challenged me today, without knowing it, to help them with a monologue they had to do for a performing arts audition for Level 3 at college next year.

Did I know some good monologues? I came up with a website for her, which had the following monologues contained therein…

Peter Pan – Dramatic Monologue

WENDY

Boy, why are you crying? You say that you are not crying? Oh, yes you are. What is my name? Wendy, Moira, Angela, Darling. What’s yours? Peter Pan, is that all? Oh, it is. In that case, I’m so sorry. Where do you live? The second star to the right and straight ‘till what? What a funny address. I ah mean, is that what they put on your letters? Well if you don’t get letters, you mother must get… You don’t have a mother? Oh, Peter.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Dramatic Monologue

VIOLET BEAUREGARDE

(Chewing ferociously on gum, waving arms excitedly, talking in a rapid manner, from somewhere in audience) I’m a gum-chewer normally, but when I heard about these ticket things of Mr Wonka’s, I laid off the gum and switched to candy bars in the hope of striking it lucky. Now, of course, I’m right back on gum. I just adore gum. I can’t do without it. I munch it all day long except for a few minutes at mealtimes when I take it out and stick it behind my ear for safe-keeping. To tell you the honest truth, I simply wouldn’t feel comfortable if I didn’t have that little wedge of gum to chew on every moment of the day, I really wouldn’t. My mother says it’s not ladylike and it looks ugly to see a girl’s jaws going up and down like mine do all the time, but I don’t agree. And who’s she to criticize, anyway, because if you ask me, I’d say that her jaws are going up and down almost as much as mine are just from yelling at me every minute of the day. And now, it may interest you to know that this piece of gum I’m chewing right at this moment is one I’ve been working on for over three months solid. That’s a record, that is. It’s beaten the record held by my best friend, Miss Cornelia Prinzmetel. And was she ever mad! It’s my most treasured possession now, this piece of gum is. At nights, I just stick it on the end of the bedpost, and it’s as good as ever in the mornings.

ANNE FRANK – Dramatic Monologue

Look, Peter, the sky. (she looks up through the skylight) What a lovely, lovely day! Aren’t the clouds beautiful? You know what I do when it seems as if I couldn’t stand being cooped up for one more minute? I think myself out. I think myself on a walk in the park where I used to go with Pim. Where the jonquils and the crocus and the violets grow down the slopes. You know the most wonderful part about thinking yourself out? You can have it any way you like. You can have roses and violets and chrysanthemums all blooming at the same time! It’s funny. I used to take it all for granted. And now I’ve gone crazy about everything to do with nature. Haven’t you? (softly) I wish you had a religion, Peter. Oh, I don’t mean you have to be Orthodox, or believe in heaven and hell and purgatory and things. I just mean some religion. It doesn’t matter what. Just to believe in something! When I think of all that’s out there. The trees. And flowers. And seagulls. When I think of the dearness of you, Peter. And the goodness of people we know, all risking their lives for us every day. When I think of these good things, I’m not afraid any more. I find myself, and God, and I… We’re not the only people that have had to suffer. There’ve always been people that’ve had to. Sometimes one race, sometimes another, and yet…I know it’s terrible, trying to have any faith when people are doing such horrible things, but you know what I sometimes think? I think the world may be going through a phase, the way I was with Mother. It’ll pass, maybe not for hundreds of years, but someday I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart. Peter, if you’d only look at it as part of a great pattern.

Peter Pan – Dramatic Monologue

CAPTAIN HOOK

How still the night is. Nothing sounds alive. Now is the hour when the children in their homes are a-bed. Their lips bright- browned with the goodnight chocolate, and their tongues drowsily searching for belated crumbs housed insecurely on their shining cheeks. Compare with them the captive children on this boat. Split me infinitives, but ‘tis me hour of Triumph! Peter killed at last and all the boys are about to walk the plank. At last, I’ve reached me peak! All mortals envy me- no little children love me. I’m, told they play at Peter Pan, and that the strongest always chooses to be Peter. They force the baby to be Hook. THE BABY!

http://kidzkonnectionct.org/ages-14/

How would you handle these when delivering them? Would you take a word or two at a time, to really get the emphasis over well? I hope so, because that is what successful delivery of a monologue is all about; dramatic emphasis. Words of power brought to life by your acting!

These were from that website, but then, I became more and more challenged to write one of my own, so I asked her, what is her favourite story, or film. The answer came back as The Wizard of Oz, so I asked her her fave character and she said Dorothy.

So, without further ado, I set to writing a two minute monologue that she could learn, take her time with when delivering and master quite easily. Here it it… see if you can hear Dorothy’s voice, from the film at any point in this selection of words.

Dorothy’s Monologue

There comes a time when we have to learn something, as children and young people and I have just learnt a very important lesson in life. You see, for all the so called friends, who say they will support you and then, when the going gets tough, fail you, there are some people who you cannot do without.

Imagine finding such a friend in a cowardly lion too afraid of his own shadow, or a clanking, clunking rusting tin man, minus a heart, or a brainless scarecrow so intent on trying to be brainy? Well that just happened to me in ways that I would not have thought possible, as we pitched battle against an evil wicked witch intent on killing me, fought off trees that wanted to keep their own juicy, ripe red apples and battled little grey, menacing, monkey creatures that even flew!

Yes, flew! Unbelievable, I know!

But it happened. I can assure you. It was so unreal, like it was part of a strange, weird dream. Like someone had managed to put a dream into my head, against my wishes, where nasty creature after creature challenged me to think of how to get home. I was so stuck you see, thinking I had to get home to Aunt Em and the farm. I had to bring Toto back home. I simply had to!

And the odd thing about it all, the thing that I learnt the most, that I now know to be true, is that there is no place like home. There’s no place, like home! That’s where the love is. That is where truth is. That is where family are! That is the place to be.

There’s no place like home!

Go on, have a go at writing one of your own from your favourite film or story. Add it here, or on the FB page for this website, to share with others. It will be gratefully received I am sure.