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.

Prayer – Carol Ann Duffy

Prayer – Carol Ann Duffy


Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child’s name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer –
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.  


A woman’s role in society and in any relationship has always been seen in certain ways. Those ways have been determined by the nature of the society she has lived in at the time. Thus, a male dominated, patriarchal society of the Victorian era had women subjugated and submissive. Idioms like ‘know you place’ were paramount.

Then came the twentieth century and the rise in modernity and the movement we have known as the Feminist movement. Carol Ann Duffy belongs firmly in that camp of thought about life, about love, about relationships and about expectations.

In this poem, this view is shared in the language that she uses. The collective “we” in line 1 refers to womanhood, all of woman kind, who have been dominated by male authority their whole lives. “Some days,” she says, there are times when life for a woman can still be a problem to live, even though we are supposed to live in a politically correct world where gender stereotypes fail to exist and where women must work harder to get on in life. “Some days,” she says, there is no time even for prayer because the expectations on them are too great. Duffy has always been the one poet I can think of who has subverted the male/female stereotypes and written with style and verve.

“Although we cannot pray,” she claims, “a prayer utters itself” and as this happens, “a woman will lift her head from the sieve of her hands,” staring out into nothingness, at the trees and wondering just when this lifestyle will cease. The metaphor there is a fantastic one; “the sieve of her hands,” comparing how the shape of her hands represents the shape of a sieve, or colander used for cooking purposes and draining vegetables. The image is one of face in hands, or what the modern world calls a “face palm,” that moment when you look down and wonder what is happening around you.

Duffy states that the woman stares out “at the minims sung by a tree,” again a pictorial image being painted in the mind by the writer, of how the leaves, dancing in the breeze, make movement and sound as they go about their normal lifestyle. But is not the woman and the leaves on the tree being compared here? Is the work that a woman does in the home being categorized as pointless and unrewarding? Or is the writer saying the entire opposite? Either way, she sees a moment like this as a “gift” presumably from whatever we define as our “God,” because she has mentioned prayer already, but this is a “sudden gift,” a sudden thing from the Divine that lights up any drab day. Is this then, a love sonnet to God in the same guise as Donne’s “Batter My Heart” poem? Both seem to emphasise the provision from either God or whatever may be in control of this life of ours.

Up until now, this has been looking at daytime thoughts, but now Duffy turns to the night time. In the day time, we can miss what is happening to us and miss the “sudden gift” proffered on us, but in the night time, “although we are faithless,” we can see the truth of life in all its abundance. Just what is Duffy saying here? At these times, perhaps when we are not expecting it, “the truth enters our hearts,” making us see through the error of our choices, our convictions, our very decision making. Suddenly, with truth revealed, we can see more clearly and make the right choices in life and in faith. From someone who has professed no real faith in God, this is an illuminating poem indeed.

She is saying that when we feel that small, “familiar pain,” we too can move on, knowing that we are alive to all things around us, that we are able to see what the truth is about love, about faith, about life. This is a pragmatic love, or pragma love, symbolised by rational thinking and reasoning. This is the moment when we as men or women can “stand stock-still,” thinking things through, working out our problems pragmatically and where a man, in her poem, is seen “hearing his youth in the distant Latin chanting of a train.” The obvious link to the Latin Mass in the Catholic Church is there for all to see but I still see the image of the train and hear the sound that it makes. 

What a beautiful image that really is.

The sound of the train in motion is used to portray life from a young man’s perspective; the to and fro of life as we travel on our journeys. And as we do so, the poet urges us on to prayer, saying, “pray for us now.” There is an urgency in this request, a sense that perhaps, time is running out, that as much as “grade 1 piano scales console the lodger” as he looks out into where he lives, the “dusk” is calling us onwards as “someone calls a child’s name as though they named their loss.”

It is interesting, to me, how she uses night and day as well as a sense of what we have and what we lose in life. This now, is night time, which could reflect the later years of a person’s life and how darkness outside can be a sense of personification meant to represent that darkness in the life of us all as we pray in our given situations. “Darkness outside” followed by the word, “inside” is an obvious oxymoron, but so is life itself. Life, with all its twists and turns, takes us to places where we would maybe not wish to go. Life takes us on a journey of discovery, to a place where we can see the light and the dark at the same time and as the darkness and light merge in their glorious oxymoronic splendour, we sense that there is something else coming from this poet at the end.

The final two lines of the sonnet follow the usual style of a sonnet in terms of structure, but the mention of the “radio’s prayer” is lost on the younger reader or maybe even, the international student, unless they know that the words, “Rockall. Malin. Dogger” and “Finisterre” are fishing weather forecast areas in the oceans around the UK and Duffy is using them to represent something or even someone else.


What I would now urge you to do is look at the rhyme scheme and write it out. Then check where the stresses are and how many in each line. Check how the iambic pentameter of this sonnet, in the Shakespearean sense of the word, works. Look at prayer, stare and Finisterre and see how they rhyme, how the style and structure is quite rigid and how the man, or woman, or indeed anyone in the poem, is able to see dark and light in the life they lead.

For another take on this, please refer to:



Section B – Student Answer

In the 2017 examination [2nd Paper] there was a section B task asking the student to write an article writing for or against the idea that parents are too over protective. What follows is a single student’s effort at this task, which took less than 40 minutes to complete this evening. The task is to provide the words that can be added to a page in a newspaper, or an article for a website, where differing formats exist.


Paranoid Parenting: Why It Is Wrong 

Do you believe that parents are over-protective? Do you think that children are not being able to be adventurous? Is it fair on children that they are not able to be who they want to be?
   If you are a parent that likes to protect your child and do everything for them, then maybe you should rethink your ways of doing things! Maybe you should think about letting your child be more adventurous when they are playing in the garden, because it is important that they learn from any mistakes they make.
   When I was younger, I was allowed to play in the mud, get dirt under my nails and have an amazing time playing without my mum worrying. I would be covered in mud and dirt by the time I had to come back inside and mum would exclaim in shock at how dirty I was. She would never shout at me; she would just give me a bath, get me sparkly clean and then put me in my pyjamas, ready for bed. I know that parents just want to protect their children, but children will be children; they won’t always be clean and they will be muddy at times.
   All you have to do is brush it off and laugh about it!
   When your child was young, did you baby them? Did you do everything for them? Parents do this because they don’t want their children to get hurt. But surely this isn’t good for your child? They need to grow as their own individual and learn things themselves and sure enough, if they hurt themselves, they will soon learn not to do it again. Parents will always tell their children that they won’t do it again, but this is not always the case. But they need to learn from these times of mishap.
   Are you a parent that wants to keep your child a baby forever? Are you someone who doesn’t want them to grow up into mature individuals? If so, is this fair on your child that they can’t be who they want to be? Or is it simply a case that what they are allowed to do depends on whether mummy and daddy say yes?
   It is understandable that parents worry about germs and that their child might get ill, but children’s immune systems get stronger when they get a new illness or germ as their bodies fight away the illness and remember it.
   So, remember these simple tips for the paranoid parent.

  • Try not to be over protective
  • Allow your child to make mistakes
  • Every child gets dirty – it is normal
  • Try not to baby your child – let them be themselves
  • Try to let them grow up in their own way
  • Try not to worry about germs – they will be fine in the end


Batter My Heart – John Donne

Holy Sonnets: Batter my heart, three-person’d God  

John Donne  


Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you  

As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;  

That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend  

Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.  

I, like an usurp’d town to another due,  

Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;  

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,  

But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.  

Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,  

But am betroth’d unto your enemy;  

Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,  

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,  

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,  

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.


This is perhaps, the most famous of all the John Donne sonnets to be mentioned in popular culture in the last fifty years or so, because it has been taken over by evangelical Christians in this world of ours, to be something of a special poem, requesting something equally special from God.

Starting with the opening words, we see the request, presumably from the person who sees themselves as a sinner in need of a loving God, who is asking the Lord to do something more than usually happens in their communicative and prayerful lifestyle and relationship. This is a poem about relationship with God, how we can get close to the Lord our God in such a way as to feel the love that is supposed to exist there.

The poet asks, “Batter my heart,” which is suggestive of the fact that the person cannot get close to his belief of who and what God is, someone whose relationship has not been allowed to flourish yet and seeing as how any relationship is a two way affair of the heart, it is only right to think of a relationship with God in the same way. “Batter” is an interesting verb. It is not a soft dealing with God that he is asking for. It is not a tender thing he is asking for. This is a battering, a sense of destruction, where he is asking the Lord to destroy everything that gets in the way of what keeps him from getting that close to his Lord. He wants his heart battering into submission in such a way as to show that he has been changed from within.


As he is requesting this heart battering, itself the most famous line of this poem, he is also asking that God would “knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend” anything that hurts him, or gets in the way. Christians, you see, need to feel that it is God they are placing first in their lives. The first commandment, to love the Lord your God with all you have [Deuteronomy 5: Bible] is the key commandment. It is a case of God first. Others next. Ourselves last. It always has been and always shall be.

So, give my heart a battering, he is saying, and knock, shine and mend my heart. He is asking this so that he can then rise up from the ashes of his spiritual death he is in now, into the radiance that he believes he can and will find in a true and loving relationship with God. He knows the force which is needed to change him is massive. He knows that these words of strength; “break,” and “burn” are power words, the sort that paint a picture in the head of the reader to bring about a feeling of natural strength used in a supernatural way.

“Make me new,” he adds. He feels like he is a “usurped town,” which is an interesting use of the words and means that he feels like a town that has been captured and is in need of being rescued. He wants it that God is the one who does the rescuing. For this writer, this is the only option. When a Christian believer sees the extent of their wrong doing, or their sin as it is called, they then feel worthless in the sight of a holy God. As much as they “labour to admit” to the God that they love that they have done wrong, it never stops. That is the problem with sin and sinning; it keeps on happening, but here, the poet is asking God to mould him, make him, bend him, break him and bring him into something new, something great for God. It is the Christian’s prayer of confession and supplication all rolled into one, which is why, for a believer like me, this poem is oh so special.

Notice too that he uses reason in his poem as a tool, for change and for the better. “Reason,” he argues, is God’s “viceroy” in him, which should defend all things good. A viceroy is someone who runs a country on behalf of someone else and the country in question is Donne’s bruised and weary spirit. So the metaphor here is of the spirit, that he should really defend with regular, daily bible readings, moments of prayer; communing with God more, but he doesn’t, like so many of us, do it enough, so he feels as if he has to summon God to ask him to force him to his knees in fervent repentance [saying sorry for the things you have done wrong].

But his soul, his spirit, is “captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue” so he cannot control it. St. Paul, in the Bible, adds something to this, when he [and this is my paraphrase] says that there is a good that we should do but we do not do and a bad that we enter into that we should avoid. We have all been there; should I do this even though I know it is wrong? This is Donne’s dilemma and ours, so here is a man who is almost on his knees in fervent prayer, saying to God, “Come God, enter my heart and change me from within.” He is asking for the kind of change that he believes, at the time of writing, when Christian beliefs were more accepted than they are now, is permanent and lasting. As a Christian myself, I know how hard it is to keep to the track you feel is the right way in life. Sometimes, that track is narrow and I use the Robert Frost poem to describe my difficult walk, by saying that there are two paths and one is the one “less travelled by” and the other one not. I usually end up on the wrong one and get into bother. It seems Donne is the same.

This is what Donne is saying in this poem. He is stating the obvious, in a way, that we are all the same, that whatever we do, whether or not we know it is right or wrong, we do it and then we regret it.

He dearly loves the Lord his God. He says that plainly when he utters those words: “Yet dearly I love you and would be lov’d fain,” or loved back. But he also feels as if he is “betroth’d unto [God’s] enemy;” the Devil himself. When you think of the things that you do each day, those bad things, they tend to eat at you. This man clearly has a troubled conscience and he is unable to get rid of the fact that he is so bad, or at least, feels as if he is. So he is now asking God to “divorce” him from, or to “untie or break” the bonds that keep them apart from each other.

This is a love poem to God, from a penitent sinner. “Take me to you, imprison me,” he asks, imploring God to take him and do something with him to make him good once again. What he fails to realise at the time, is that biblically, if he has repented, which is what this poem is, then God has forgiven him, because that is what he does, always, but he cannot feel or believe that yet and that is something that at the time, the church would not let their believers feel with the relative ease of today.

The last two lines or so are, for me, extra special, as a believer myself. He says, “I, except you enthrall me, never shall be free” from the snares of the sinful mind. However he tries to turn away, he cannot break free. If only he can find a way, he is thinking, then he will break free from all this bad stuff in his life. He would even be “chaste,” which is an old word, or archaism, for being sexually inactive. But God, he asks, do something with me. “Ravish me,” even, he asks, which is a sexually provocative word in any age or era and one that brings images of love making to the mind of the reader. He wants the throes of passion that can be had in relationship with and in the presence of the holy God. He wants the passion of faith; real faith. He wants the passion in life, to enjoy life more. He wants what it says in John’s gospel, “life in all its abundance.” (John 10:10)

I wonder whether or not he was in a depressive state when he wrote this poem. As sonnets go, it is up there with Sonnet 18 and Rossetti’s’ lovely poems of love and for a believer, it is the best leveled prayer to God to change a person from within that has ever been written, which is why I love this poem so much.



Different Places, Different Anagrams

For those who have been following this site for some time now, they will be used to being in school or college and having to use something called a PEE chain. For those who are used to this website and know it well, they will be used to PEED, where I argue that to get the higher grades, you need to add a more Developed idea after your explanation.

In other words, you link ideas from your life experience.

Thus, if the poem is about a break-up of a relationship and you have experience of that, as I do, you add in after the PEE bits, how there is usually pain involved in such a relationship ending. It makes your simple PEE chain into something far more detailed and developed and worthy of the higher grades.

Likewise, when students are taught another way to do this, it can get confusing, so here we are again to let you know that you need not worry when this happens. I use an example today given to me by a student of the law, who is in his Foundation year, the year before his degree begins.

He gave me this…


Identify, Analyse, Evaluate.

Now that sounds all too strange, to me, when I am used to PEED, but it is not meant to be confusing. Let’s have a look and see that there is little difference between this and my way of teaching this, how the two can be merged and how you, as a student, can also use either method for writing your essays.

Firstly, Identify means simply that the student using this method for writing has to find something in a piece of literature, or an extract in a Language exam. So, let’s say you are given Sonnet 18 as an unseen poem and you see the words, “the eye of heaven shines….” You have to ask what you can identify in that line. The answer is a metaphor, because “the eye of heaven” refers to the sun, but in a poetic, rather impressive [some would say ‘posh’] way.


So, you begin writing your usual PEE chain, as follows.

The poet is making a point about his love [point] by saying that “the eye of heaven shines,” [evidence] which signifies how beautiful he thinks the love of his life is, comparing her to the beauty and glory of the sun [explain] …

Then, you add the Development bit, by adding to your thought and using something from your life, so you can get this… [I have removed the brackets to show the final effect]

The poet is making a point about his love by saying that “the eye of heaven shines,” which signifies how beautiful he thinks the love of his life is, comparing her to the beauty and glory of the sun which suggests that this is a newly found love. Such love and infatuation is often short lived so it may be that the poet is feeling the pangs of sudden infatuation rather than love itself. 

Can you see what I mean? There is a lot more detail there, even though there is only one comment made in the Development section. I would add two or three comments where possible to add depth to my ideas.

Then, using the method of writing in the picture above, we see the word, “analyse.”

Analysis is all about the language used and the effect it has on the reader. In the example above, from Sonnet 18, there is the beginning of this, but this IAE example goes one step further by suggesting that you write about effects, in their plural sense. This is where phrases like these come into play…

This signifies that,             This implies that,               Such a suggestion means…

When you get to the Development angle in the writing technique, the idea is to say that this means one thing but could also mean something else. If you have three ideas roaming around in your head, then you need to share them, especially in the exam, especially where you are analysing something. You simply need to get every idea down that you can.

Lastly, you see the word, evaluate, which means you can here add in alternative readings of something. For example, for centuries, people who write about literature have thought that Shakespeare was writing Sonnet 18 for a woman, like in the film, Shakespeare In Love, starring Joseph Fiennes, where he creates the poem for Lady Viola de Lessups, his new found muse [the woman he now fancies].

But more modern writers have changed their ways of thinking in this area and have suggested that there is no gender in the poem, so it could equally have been written to a man, either one that he loved, which means he would have been homosexual, or to another writer and poet, perhaps even one by the name of Marlowe. If this is the truth, then his writings can be seen in more than one way, to reflect a love that would no doubt have put him in prison in those days.

So, there you have it.

If in school, you are taught PEE, then add some Development ideas in there. Add detail to your writing. If you do so, especially in the examinations, then you will be able to guarantee one thing; you will never be sat in an exam again, with twenty minutes left, having nothing to do but sit there, twiddling your thumbs. You will improve your scores from an E to a C, or a 2 to a 5, and if you are there already, from a C, or a 5, to a 7 or 8, or a B or A grade.

If that is what you want to happen, this is the suggestion for today.

So, grab a poem from somewhere right this minute, that you have to write about and have a go using IAE, or PEED. The result will be the same.











Section B – Exam Task AQA

In the 2017 examination for paper 1 from AQA, there were two tasks. The first one gave a picture of two people on a bus. Task A was to write a descriptive piece about them using the picture.

The second task, Task B, asked students to write a story about two very different people.

Which one did you do? Which would you do if these were your choices? I would go for the description every time because I can use everything in the picture to help me, but many students, even those who are better at analysis than description, go for the second task.

Why is this an error?

The reason that is a mistake, in my humble opinion, is that unless you know the rules regarding storytelling, you will mess it up somehow. The picture that follows is an example of a plan for any story in any exam.


When you write a story, do so following this drawing.

Describe the characters first, then place them somewhere, in a setting, add some form of conflict, get the action to rise, or increase, like a sense of danger and then, run that to a climax. Finally, resolve the panic in the story with an ending that basically tells what the moral of the story is. Then you have a decent plan for a story.

For those who love logic, this is logic based; A+B=C etc.

What follows is a short story attempt, that took two one hour sessions to complete at home with an English tutor in situe. See if you can follow it and see how she has used, more or less, the plan in the picture.  She has subverted it ever so slightly.


Charles was a thirty-five-year-old, middle class, well-spoken, self-employed engineer who earned £35,000 a year, who had a wife, two children and an extremely expensive Audi. He was such a caring, honest man who was always happy to help and remained calm at all times because he was always one step ahead of everyone else. He was polite, well educated as he left High School with 11 qualifications and had gained a Master’s Degree in Business and Engineering.
   “I’m really excited for our experience on the high ropes” thought Charles. “I have been looking forward to today for weeks!”
   He heard a man near him shouting and being very rude to others, so swiftly turned around to see what all the commotion was about. This was Bob causing a scene with the others.
   “Are we actually going to get on these high ropes or are we all just standing here staring at them?” yelled Bob to the people surrounding him.
   He was a thirty-four-year-old, working class, single man who worked as a bin man who earned £11,000 a year because he only worked part time. The rest of the time he was getting into trouble. He could barely afford a house, had a very basic, rusty old Ford Focus. He was a rude man who was constantly shouting at people and was always getting into trouble with the police as he would say what was on his mind to people without thinking. He left High School with no qualifications, so only had training to be able to be a refuse collector. He did not go to University, so was much less educated than most of the people who were at the High Ropes Adventure Park with him.
   The problem that Bob always had was that he felt he was better than everyone else. He was a lot more confident than others and would always be the first to do things without thinking.
   They both quickly approached the rickety, old swing bridge, with Bob feeling confident that he would cross with ease. However, Charles was feeling anxious and was not so confident in himself. As they stepped out, onto the bridge and began to walk across, Charles started to feel very uneasy about the rickety bridge and decided to slow his pace down a little, whereas Bob was powering along the bridge in front, until he heard a snap!
   The sound came from one of the panels breaking underneath him!

   Charles noticed that something was wrong immediately as he saw Bob’s right leg fall through the panel. The image in front of him was a sight he was not expecting, with Bob’s right leg hanging and dangling like a pendulum on a clock. He rushed over to Bob and asked how he was.

   “Do I look okay to you? I think my leg is broken and I need your help to get me out!” exclaimed Bob.
   “Let me help you,” enquired Charles, hoping that he could be of any use.
   Bob was wriggling and struggling to get his hanging leg out from the hole he had created, shouting and screaming at people as they weren’t helping him at all and that they were not being quick enough in make the decision of what they should do. He soon realised that Charles was the only person nearby who looked as if they had an idea of what to do, so looked up at Charles with a sense of hope in his eyes and sarcasm in his voice.
   “Is there any chance Charles, that you are able to try and help pull me out of this hole?”
“Yes of course, I just have to get myself across to you first.”
   Showing the struggle on his face, Charles slowly but surely crossed the bridge to where Bob was hanging. He reached forward with his left hand to secure himself onto the rope at the side of the bridge. With his other hand, he knelt down and hooked his arm under Bob’s shoulder. He then slowly and safely began to stand up straight. As he did so he said something to Bob.
   “3…2…1” and then he lifted Bob out of the hole.
   Because of this incident, Bob began to realise that he should be more like Charles, because he would not offer to help anyone regardless of who they are. He noticed the calmness in Charles and wished he was more like him. The ironic part was that they both came from the same public secondary school and he began to realise that it just shows that if you put a bit of hard work and effort into what you love, you will go a long way, whereas, if you are not bothered about what you do and could not care less, then you will not get very far.


Well done that student.


How To Be Creative…

How To Be Creative – In One Easy Lesson

Imagine the scene.

You have been writing your way through Section A in the exam and are happy with your progress so far. You like reading an article and writing about it. You feel comfortable doing that because you have been taught how to do it well by your teacher in the classroom. He has done his job well, but when it comes to being creative, your heart freezes, the panic rises, the bile tastes in your mouth and you want to rush for the door.

If that is you, O Not Very Creative One, then panic not!


There is help here for you, if this is you and you find being creative hard to do.

It is not as hard as it sounds, if you think logically, which you have just been doing for an hour or so, on Section A of the exam. So how do you go from being analytical to being ultra creative? Well, the answer is in the fact that in Section A, you are asked to analyse someone’s creative writing, whether it be an article, an advertisement, or anything else.

Someone sat down at a computer and created it, after all.

Section B then, is your chance to show that you can not only write about something creative, but that you can do the same creative thing yourself.

Imagine once more for me, this task, taken from the AQA 2017 paper 1. It asked in Section B for you to look at a picture and write a description. That was the first choice. Most who took the exam opted to not do this task. I think they were wrong to not choose it, but that is just my thinking. Instead, they went for the more creative one, which asked them to write a story about two very different people, [which is what the picture for task 1 showed] or something like that.

Imagine that in front of you.

How do you plan for that in the few seconds you have before you get writing?

If it was me, I would split the page in two, on the first page of Section A, like this.









I would then add in some detail into each section of the chart, to build up the two opposing characters. Being the father of a son aged 26, who is about to take part in his first ever boxing bout, I might add some of that in as well, making it so that they are facing each other in the story. If I then add in some more ideas, I soon end up with something like this.  







Rough, tough, rugged, medium height and build but strong

24 with wiry ginger hair, curly

Working class background

No father figure

Angry, agitated and fast

Quick tempered

Like a volcano going off when angry

Troubled background

Not worked much

A bit of a loner

Has taken drugs before now

Can be dangerous when made angry



Calm, collected personality

Agile, tall and strong

26 with dark brown hair

Middle class background trying to be someone he isn’t

Steady on his feet but not very fast

Thoughtful and respectful

Not very easily angered

Middle class upbringing, Grammar school boy

Life and soul of the party and likes to drink

Everyone likes him

Before too long, after less than 5 minutes, I am left with a chart that details two very different characters and I can begin writing about them, sharing them with my reader, or in this case, marker. 

But there is a pattern to follow.

I would always start by describing place or person when writing a story. Do not go straight for speech. Let that come later. Choose your style of writing, whether in the first person, or in the third person and go for it.

This is the pattern to almost every single story ever written. You need to adopt it too. 


The idea is you begin by describing the characters first. Steve comes first because he is the rougher of the two, so more easy to have fun using words to describe him, using things like similes to describe him, like saying he is as strong as an ox. Then the same for Michael. Likewise, it is easy to think of words for such as him. Once the characters have been fully described, you will have 250 words already and can then add in a setting, if you have not done so already, as well as speech, so this might be a charity boxing bout in aid of Cancer Research [this is what my son is doing now, so I use this here as an example because it is relevant – you do the same from something relevant to you on the day].

Once the setting has been described, you add in a piece of conflict, like a low punch, below the belt, hurting Steve. Michael might have not meant it but Steve does not know that and his anger burns for revenge. Once the conflict is set, it can be built upon. Maybe Michael does it again, this time on purpose? It goes unnoticed by the referee but not by Steve. As you continue the story, you have to get to a climax, whereby something happens that ends the bout, or puts a stop to it, so either a knockout, or a problem where neither wins. This then leads to the resolution of the story [could be a draw and they become firm friends] and a further description of the themes contained within is able to be expanded upon in your final paragraph, a little like stories used to end with and the moral of the story is…..

If you follow that style and that format, as well as planning it well, you end up with a story to dazzle the marker. So long as your spelling and punctuation is good, the grammar should fix itself because words like boxer, bout, gloves, round, referee, blow and knockout are normally used when referring to this event. That is called the good use of the correct Register. 

Now the task asks you to write about two very different people, so you have to make one as different to the next as you can. One is like a derailed train wreck of a man. The other is a skyscraper, tall and elegant. Your description of them both should make the differences so obvious.

Above all though, when you write it, do one thing and one thing only; SHOW OFF YOUR SKILLS.

Happy writing!

Language & Structure Blues

If you, like some, have had your results and are not happy with them, then this is written with you in mind, because at the end of the day, this teacher knows that one of two things killed you off in the two exams you took in June.

The first would be the nerves. Everyone gets them. Even I do and I have been teaching for 21 years now. It is normal. Try to remember that. But remember the second thing that will have happened on exam day [both times]. If the nerves are not bad enough, then a question on language and structure is enough to make a Saint blaspheme. That’s swear to you. I mean, what kind of government twit put that in the exam? We teachers are not told what the likes of AQA and Edexcel want either, so we are flailing in the dark trying to teach you all the skills needed to answer such a question.

Yes, you know what a noun is, can count the length of sentences and know that the long ones hold lots of detail, whereas the short ones are usually for effect. But this is exam day, when you are on hot bricks anyway, so to ask you to write about such things, is, I believe, unfair.

So, I wrote the following piece with you in mind, using the excerpt from the AQA 2013 English exam, back in the day when it was just one language exam. If you find the insert on their website under past papers, give it a read and then read this, it will make sense. It is entitled, Will Turning Vegetarian Save The Planet?

I asked a student of mine to write an answer to the title of this, based solely on that piece. I shall look at her response tomorrow for the first time, but I shall use my hard copy of this to show her the difference between using the old PEE thing as basically as needed and the need to fill the answer with ideas and thoughts from your own heart and mind. If you have read my other blog pieces you will know I am not a fan of PEE but like to know you know how to PEED instead.

Here it is….

Will Turning Vegetarian Save The Planet?

Task: Answer the question, showing how effective you think the article is.

There are several ways to write an answer to this question using the idea of language and structure. This example does not centre on language or structure, as such, but on the overall effect of the article, which is what was asked for.

The simple [Level 2-3] response to the article question

This article tells the reader about how effective a vegetarian diet is on the human body. It begins with information on “greenhouse gas emissions” and states that by going vegetarian, the “9.2 billion” on the planet by 2058 will be much better off. It uses proof from people like Lord Stern, who believes that “meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases.” This is why this article is successful in making someone think that it might be a good idea to go vegetarian.

Do you notice the point, evidence, explanation there? It was very basic, wasn’t it?

The more detailed [Level 4 – 7] response to the question

In order for the world to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases, there are a number of things that either can happen, or need to happen, depending on who you are. Alex Renton believes that the farming of pigs and sheep and cattle is something that “produces more greenhouse gas emissions than every train, truck, car and aeroplane put together.” She is correct in her assumption, according to the rest of the article because she is able to prove her point, using evidence from credible sources. For example, she quotes Lord Stern, a governmental climate change adviser, who believes that, “meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases.” It is these gases that threaten our very way of life. They make it so that we see heatwaves more, flooding when there was smaller amounts of rain in the past and needs to be placed in check, so as to be controlled more. Otherwise, before too long, we as a global community shall be in trouble. If by eating less meat, or indeed going vegetarian, helps the planet to survive past 2058, then this has to be a good thing. In this way, this article is quite successful because it promotes an idea, backs the ideas up with clearly defined evidence and makes the reader think about what they consume on a daily basis. The language of persuasion it uses is therefore, very helpful to its cause.
       The structure of her article is weighted in favour of going vegetarian, until the middle of the article, and the word, “However,” which always suggests that an opposite side to an argument is about to be shared. In order to create this balanced article, not showing any bias anywhere, she makes the point that to create the man made soya products like Quorn, that replace meat on the supermarket shelves, actually uses “more land and resources than their beef or dairy equivalents.” In this way, showing both sides to the argument, she is able to balance out her thoughts, add structure to her writing, for effect, in order so the reader can make an informed judgement. Because of this, this article is able to reflect on the pros and the cons of meat consumption and allows the reader to make up their own mind. The lack of polemic is good because it is not forcing one opinion down the reader’s throat and allows them to decide for themselves. In this way, this is a very effective article. Would it convince me to eat less meat? Quite possibly!

Which has more detail in it?

What of Language and Structure then?

If you wanted to answer this in terms of language and structure, you would simply do one thing first. Then you would do these things, in order…

1. Locate all good words and highlight them.

2. Make a short plan – split the paper down the middle with a line.

3. On the left, place all ideas to do with structure [sentence & paragraph length, variety, complexity]

4. On the right, place all things to do with language [nouns, verbs, adjectives etc]

5. Then use the W, S, T approach! Word Level, Sentence Level, Full Text Level……a paragraph for each!

6. Then state at the end, how effective it is.

Job done! It is not that difficult when you put it onto the paper logically eh?

Extend Your Writing

Okay. So you are sat in a GCSE English exam. Here is your title piece: Write about a time where you or someone you know did something wrong. What would you write about?

Just how do you go about doing something like this?


The answer is not as difficult as you think. This task was in this year’s Edexcel examination as a choice between a blog piece, like this one I am doing and an article. My students went for the article, when this kind of writing is just so easy to do.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, plan the thing. Use the Power of Y planning that exists on this website. You have an idea, say a place where it happened. For me, that would be a camp site. So you put the words CAMP SITE into the middle of the page. Then you draw 4 lines away, one to each corner, but keep them short. Make sure each line is a centimetre long [ish] and ends in the shape of a Y. From that one idea you have to find two more and so on, so camp site gets us WITH MATE and ON Z250s if it was me. Do this for each line going outwards till you exhaust your ideas and suddenly, 4 ideas become 16 things to write about. It is so much easier to write about sixteen things than four!

Then number each area to show which you will do, in order. And then, begin writing. Easy really. But it is easier said than done if you have little confidence in your own abilities. So let me ask you a question.

How much can you talk about something you did that was wrong?

When you latch on to that one time, I bet you could talk the hind leg off a donkey, as we used to say where I come from, about the event. I bet you would have trouble stopping talking, so why not treat writing in the same way? You have the plan, but do not write about number 1 and just write three sentences before going on to number 2 and so on. Doing that will give you sixteen sentences maybe, bringing you an old fashioned F or G [2-3 in new money] score for your task.


Any work you just did in Section A has been wasted because you did not add enough detail into section B. Your exam script that now has to be sent off to be marked is uneven, imbalanced and might as well be half an exam paper that has been filled in.

The exam marker, people like me, love to see these tasks where there are six or seven pages written because we know you have really given it some gusto sharing your ideas when it comes to having a go at writing with style and verve. You have not just written a half of a page and left it at that, for you have decided to grab this task by the throat and give it one hell of a shake.

So, assuming you have gone into detail describing people, places, colours, smells, tastes, actions, reactions and a whole host of other things, your section B task will be a good one. Do not expect a level 4 if you do not do this in Section B.

At the end of the day, your work should be thought out, planned and detailed. That is the secret to success. Here is my example, written off the top of my head [highly inadvisable to do this]


A Time When I did Something Wrong … or 2P Or Not 2P. 

I hate cocky people; those types of individual who enter into your life and make it a damned misery. It has always been a pet peeve of mine to hate such people because I come from a dysfunctional family where my father was abusive and my mother just sat back and let it happen. So when I am out with my friend for a weekend camping, fishing and motorcycling, the last thing I need to do is get some other biker who is older trying to dominate us to the point where he is making our lives a misery.

I could go into extreme detail but suffice to say that within minutes of his arrival, he had Steve and I looking at each other and trying to decide whether to leave the camp site for another or to get our own back in some small way. Eventually, we decided to do the latter and hatched a plan. It was Steve’s idea really. I do not think my young mind, aged about 18, could have hatched such a nasty and devious plan as this, but I went along with it in the end and question, even now, whether or not I regret it.

You see, we decided to get the camping stove out and make a cup of tea. Not much of a plan I hear you thinking. We had one of those little single burners on the top of a gas bottle that is so hard to get balanced on grass and a pan to boil the water in for the enamel cups. We then had tea bags and sugar with powdered milk, for the “brew” as it is called where I come from. All was going well until Steve had the daft idea to get his own back on this goon. He said he would urinate in the water, so it mixed well, and then add it to the pan for us to boil. Gross, I know, when I look back now, but that was just two Doncaster lads out for the weekend on their bikes around Scarborough, being plagued by this idiot on his bigger, much more intricate bike.

I went along with it but there was no way I was going to taste the thing, even though survivalists will tell you there is nothing wrong at all in doing such a thing. Even now, I am not sure I could do it in even the most extreme of cases. So, the thing got boiled and the brews got shared. I chickened out and got a can of Fanta Orange juice to drink and Steve gave this guy a drink of tea. Steve even tasted his and carried on drinking. He was and remains a complete Troglodyte. How he kept his wrinkle free face from turning inwards, I will never know. But the goon loved it and thanked him for making him the brew. I sat there completely confused.

We waited for the splurrrtt as it would come out of his mouth but he must have had so much sugar in the thing as to alter the taste. Nothing happened. No reaction. No punch line to the joke. The gag had backfired and all seemed to have gone wrong. We knew it was not the right thing to do, but we still did it. We knew that there might be a reckoning, but we did it nonetheless. We were to cheeky lads who always held grudges. Did we ever tell him before the weekend was over? Oh no. He was bigger than the both of us put together. But we did enjoy the giggles that it gave us when the following morning, he asked, “fancy a brew lads?” We declined!

Do I regret it now? Partly. I do not regret getting my own back on the man, whoever he was [for I cannot remember his name] but I do think that perhaps, we could have found an even more sinister way to exact that revenge. Boys will be boys and all that, but one thing rings true from this story and that is Steve and Rob were not the sort to be trifled with. On that note, some things never change.


Now can you notice the style of writing there? It is, unfortunately, a true story. Notice each paragraph. Consider the following thoughts.

P1. Starts powerfully and sets up the scene to follow, always wise…

P2. Starts to tell the story, but only slowly – do not jump straight in there

P3. Expands the story, introducing ideas and events in greater detail

P4. It is only by paragraph 4 that the event is actually told – take your time

P5. Details the reaction in some detail, of the event happening and the reaction

P6. Retrospectively looks back and checks whether there is any regret


There is a logical sequence to all this writing. Logic dictates that when we tell a story, we do so by starting at the beginning, working our way through the story and then we come to an ending, which is best left reflective…….was I sorry etc…….so that the reader can make up their own minds about the story, whether true or not, fake news or just daft story telling.

In the end, you can write it off the cuff, like I just did, but you may lose out on detail, which is why it is best to plan it, including numbers of sections which come first etc and then write it, using as much detail as you can remember, even if you have to make it up. When you can do that, you can write an exam masterpiece to enthral the marker into giving you maximum marks.

Happy writing!