I believe there are two fundamental truths in the teaching of GCSE English. One it that we will always be forced to roll with the rapid and head spinning changes in the curriculum. The other is the one constant thing – our students really, really need to know the basics. Due to the ridiculous, content driven pressure which is put upon us year in, year out, it is all too easy to assume that students know their there from their they’re (see what I did there?) Some of us (whisper it) may not even be fully confident in teaching clauses and colons. I’m willing to admit this has been a learning curve for me.
It is no coincidence that the year I saw the biggest jump in my GCSE Language pass rate was the year I started to use a pre-starter SPaG activity in every single lesson. The idea was that this was a simple activity which addressed the basics of the English language in one way or another. It could be a simple five question spelling test, video on punctuation, a proof reading exercise or the class clapping to demonstrate where a full stop should be when I read out a short text. They never lasted very long but the key was that I used them consistently. The students knew what to expect and I saw a massive jump in their technical accuracy as a result. As the year progressed I even started to give them the responsibility for delivering some of the sessions which produced some pretty fabulous results!
I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I am an English teacher who has always preferred the literature side of my subject. The thought of delivering an entire lesson on the use of commas does not set my world on fire. I’m also not good enough to be able to inspire my students to enjoy 60 minutes of this either, I’m sad to say. As a result I have seen that this “little and often” approach to spelling, punctuation and grammar has been one of the most successful classroom strategies I have ever adopted (I’m not, of course, suggesting that I don’t address these issues as an when they arise within the body of the lesson – I’m not that bad!)
With this in mind I have created a couple of videos which can be used for pre-starter activities in the English classroom. So far I’ve done its/it’s, their/there/they’re and practise/practice but there will be far more to come. I hope that you find them useful. If you have any suggestions for future videos do please let me know and I’ll see what I can do!