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100 Terms a-Teaching John Fanagan of St. Columba’s College


Putting the English department on the World Wide Web. Julian Girdham


Reading List. 3rd Year Junior Certificate Novels


In Praise of the School Library Breege O’Brien of Scoil Damhnait, Achill


2007 Teaching English Write a Poem Competition. Call for Entries


Creative Writing in the English Classroom Anton Floyd on his approach to creative writing


Looking at English: Teaching and Learning English in Post-Primary Schools


English Matters European Comenius/Grundtvig In-Service Programme 2007


Teaching English Magazine Crossword


Preview of Autumn Teaching English Magazine

Cover image: Mt. Fuji and Flowers 1972, David Hockney


100 TERMS A-TEACHING The Teaching English magazine went to St Columba’s College to meet the Head of English, John Fanagan. John Fanagan comes from a well-known Dublin family and is the oldest of nine children. He was educated in St Mary’s in Rathmines, where his father and uncle had gone before him, and he attended the school from the age of seven to eighteen. Of St Mary’s John says simply, “I loved it: it was a great school”. The school is run by the Holy Ghost fathers and in John’s time the majority of teachers were priests, whom he describes as “humane, intelligent and inspiring”. He has a vivid recollection of his English teacher, Father Maiben, reading the whole of The Tempest, putting on accents for the different parts, while John sat “absolutely entranced by it.” It is his earliest memory of Shakespeare. To the young fourteen-year-old, it was astounding that a teacher could sit there, “with his little book” and transform himself into Caliban and Prospero. He dates his love of Shakespeare from that moment. Later there was the study of The Merchant of Venice and Hamlet and John appeared as Olivia in the school’s production of Twelfth Night, in 1964. John makes the aside that while co-education is a “brilliant system” he regrets that boys no longer have the fun or the challenge of dressing up to play the female roles in Shakespeare.

her interest in literature and theatre persisted all her life. It was his mother who brought him to see Michael MacLiammoir in The Importance of Being Oscar a show which “just bowled me over” and it was with his mother that he also saw a memorable production of Arthur Miller’s After the Fall. Of his younger self, John says, “I didn’t need too much encouragement as I loved it (reading and theatre) all myself.” John was considered “the intellectual one” in the family and, with five brothers and three sisters, there was never any real pressure on him to enter the family’s undertaking business. Nor was there any pressure in “those pre-points days” to pursue medicine or law, though he remembers the dismissive attitude of the Dean of Studies when John announced his intention to do an Arts degree. In regard to career choices, John believes in following your heart and it is the advice he offers to his own students: “Do what you really want to do and then see what happens.” In 1968 John entered UCD, located at that time in Earlsfort Terrace. The Drama Society (Dramsoc) played a large part in his life in college. His friends in Dramsoc included Eamonn Lawlor and Jeananne Crowley. John says that the calibre of teaching in the college was outstanding and he lists an impressive line-up of tutors: Seamus Deane, Jim Mays, Terry Dolan, Alan Bliss and Nuala O Faolain. After first year, John was one of four students who took ‘pure English’.

John also remembers “the legendary Father Barry” and goes into acting mode to catch his teacher’s way of promoting literature: “Oh I have here, boys, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyamanyone like to have a look?” John volunteered and loved it so Father Barry tossed another book in his direction, declaring, “Well now, read Browning’s ‘Rabbi Ben Ezra.’” And in that way, John was introduced to the adventure of reading.

John’s particular love was Old and Middle English and, after a stint in the National Westminster Bank in London, following his graduation, he returned to UCD to do an MA. Alan Bliss he remembers as a particularly fine teacher who became a good friend, as did Terry Dolan, the current Head of Old & Middle English in UCD.

His love of books also came from his parents and there were always books in the family home in Rathgar. John’s mother gave up her study of English in UCD to get married, though


After the MA there was the prospect of a job in UCD but by that time he had applied for a teaching position in St Columba’s and he knew “within one week that I had made the right decision.” There was nothing like the response of the students, the classroom interaction and the “fizz” of teaching in the tutoring John had done in UCD.

and stimulating … it’s not filling a bucket, it’s setting a fire, as Yeats said.” John is aware that teaching in St Columba’s has meant he has taught in an ideal environment, with classes averaging fifteen students or so. As regards discipline John remembers that it was a difficulty in his early days, due to his own naivety. At this stage in his career, he doesn’t believe in punishment. Head of English though he may be, and thirty-three years in the college, John says he is not entitled to any respect from the students, unless he respects them. When mutual respect exists, “the expectations that you have of pupils and your own disappointment is usually enough incentive for the students to perform well.” From the start of his career in St Columba’s, John got involved in producing plays, coaching basketball and, as was the tradition with new teachers, coaching the second eleven cricket team. After six years he moved off campus and has turned down the opportunity to become a House Master because as he explains “you feel the need to get away from it even if it is at the end of a very long day.” (And days in St Columba’s are long, with the teaching week finishing at 1pm on Saturdays and there are schools events on Saturday and Sunday evenings.)

Before joining the teaching staff at St Columba’s, John knew next-to-nothing about the college. Then, on a Sunday afternoon’s motoring in the Dublin Mountains he drove into the grounds and his friend mentioned that this was the setting for Michael Campbell’s roman a clef, Lord Dismiss Us. When an advertisement appeared for a teacher of English and French for a year, he applied out of curiosity and was called for an interview. To his surprise he was offered the job and accepted it. That was 1973 and 100 terms later John is still teaching in the school, a Church of Ireland Coed Boarding school with 300 students. For the first six years John lived on campus in staff accommodation and became “fully, completely and absolutely immersed in the school.” In 1973 there were seventeen full-time staff and 200 students and he was the youngest and the only Catholic on the teaching staff, though he felt right at home from day one. “The great thing about the school was the relationship between the staff and the students and even though they were conducted within formal structures – wearing gowns and so on – they were very easy, informal, relaxed and very close.” What he had not expected was how exhausting the job was, but he quickly got into the rhythm of teaching and found he loved it.

Apart from teaching Shakespeare, John says he loves taking his cricket team more than anything else, though when he came to St Columba’s he knew nothing about the sport. In fact being asked to coach the second eleven was a joke played on new members of staff. What John lacked in knowledge and experience of the game, he made up for in enthusiasm and he insists, that “enthusiasm is more valuable than coaching skills” a sentiment that might warm the heart of Steve Staunton. John also brought enthusiasm to the task of directing plays in the college. His first production was Noel Coward’s Hay Fever. Most years he has directed a senior play and every second year, for the last decade or so, he has directed a “big Shakespeare production”. Year-by-year the school has added to its facilities for staging plays but John says that the essential skills of directing, “communicating enthusiasm for a part and understanding a part” remain the same.”

Looking back John regards falling into teaching, almost by accident, as “fate”. The accidental discovery of teaching and the accident of being in a place which was a close-knit community “where your colleagues were intelligent, stimulating, different, and often eccentric” makes him feel “very, very lucky” and he could not imagine “having done anything better.” He says that teaching is like being an actor with the advantage of a regular income and he gleefully quotes Wilde on “the influence of a permanent income upon thought”. John’s nature is open and optimistic and these qualities have obviously stood him in good stead in teaching. He also says it “helps to be an actor”. “Teaching is performance and the children deserve that … learning should be fun, enjoyable

As an English teacher, John loves teaching Shakespeare because “it’s so much better than anything else and you only know how good something is in literature when you teach it.”


John Fanagan on: The New Leaving Certificate Course John “thoroughly approves” of the new Leaving Certificate. “Shakespeare is there and there are good new poets.” He regrets the fact that Keats has not featured for the last few years, but he had been pleased to teach Eavan Boland, Derek Mahon and Michael Longley, among others. Junior Certificate & TY In first year there is an emphasis on encouraging and training the students how to read, and the emphasis on independent reading is maintained throughout the Junior and Senior Cycle. Plays currently studied by all students in the Junior Cycle include: Terence Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy; Arthur Miller’s All My Sons and The Merchant of Venice. In third year, each student must read and write a book report on three novels from a list supplied by the English Department. (All the titles on the list are kept in the school library.) After the students have completed this assignment, each class reads a class novel and students are then encouraged to choose the novel they wish to write about in their Junior Certificate examination.

He knows that teaching Shakespeare is something he will really miss when he retires. He gives the example of Macbeth which he says gets better and better every time he teaches it. In contrast he cites T.S. Eliot, whose work he now thinks of as cold and unfeeling. Hamlet is now his favourite play, though it used to be The Tempest. Macbeth he considers impossible to produce as so much of the action takes place inside Macbeth’s head. He thinks of Macbeth as a poem rather than a play. John brings an optimism to his teaching. He tries to see the good in every student. He doesn’t believe in streaming as he believes “that everyone can contribute something in an English class.”

In TY students are encouraged to write an extended essay on three texts under one theme, such as war or childhood. This year, one student chose to write on ‘The American Outsider’. Students also compile a portfolio of their own work and there is an end-of-year evening on which nominated students read their work before an audience of fellow-students and invited guests.

Like Isabel Archer in The Portrait of a Lady, he tries to see the potential in the person and the relationship, on every occasion he meets someone new, inside or outside the classroom. “Every student,” he says, “has the potential to be a star.” What gives John most satisfaction as a teacher is when a light goes on in a student’s head and the student comes to love literature. It is also a source of immense satisfaction that Julian Girdham and Liam Canning, two of his former students, are now his colleagues in the English Department in St Columba’s. In some ways teaching in St Columba’s has been like a marriage and John now has to start preparing for life after it. John is aware of the joy he has in teaching and says he is determined to retire while he is still enthusiastic and loves the job. He jokes, “I only have to stay enthusiastic for eighteen more months and I think I’ll manage that!” After his retirement, he hopes to apply his enthusiasm elsewhere. He is qualified to act as a UN Election Monitor and plans to give more time to this work. He also looks forward to doing more cricket umpiring.

Students’ Writing. John believes in reading aloud in class the good work that students have produced. For John, the most important thing for an English teacher is to believe that the subject really matters so that when students produce a good piece of writing their fellow-students will admire and respect it as something significant and important. As someone who has never been able to write poetry himself, John is in awe of those students who can. John is proud of the success of an idea he introduced to the school: The Voices of Poetry. Students from all years in the school come together to read their own poetry, in their own languages. “We might have as many as fourteen different languages, from Yoruba to Swahili, to Russian as well as the more common European languages.”


What moves John is the quality of attention and respect the students bring to listening to their fellow-students, some of whom are as young as twelve years of age. The night takes place at the end of the year when the students know each other. In hearing someone recite in Russian, Swahili or Japanese, the students are seeing that person in their own right and in their own nationality as if for the first time. “It is a mindbroadening experience for the whole school.”

teaches English and music. The Department is close-knit and, in the Leaving Certificate year, students move between teachers. John explains that Liam, for example, loves teaching Sylvia Plath and will take John’s class while he teaches Liam’s class Hopkins. John has been Head of English in St Columba’s for more than twenty years. The three male members of the Department have known each other a very long time and, with their newest colleague, Deirdre, share the conviction that what they do is very important and must be done well. There are three or four formal meeting a year but there is constant ticktacking every day and, at Senior Cycle, all the members of the department teach the same course. There is strong negotiation about the choice of texts for the Comparative Study. Part of the intention is to encourage the students to exchange their own views and to discuss the different approaches taken by their teachers. The system also has the advantage that the teachers can take each other’s classes. In the last term, the LC students choose by topic rather than by teacher and move between one teacher and another.

His Own Writing John says that he was ruined as a writer by having to write political speeches when he worked as an advisor for his friend, Garret Fitzgerald. He adds, “I am genuinely fearful, having read so much good literature over the years of trying it myself. But, if I ever decide to have a go, it will be fiction.” Politics & Teaching John was very involved for about 20 years in politics, working closely with Garret FitzGerald, whom he greatly admires and of whom he is very fond. He took a break from teaching to work as a political advisor at the time of the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985) and was secretary of the Fine Gael delegation to the New Ireland Forum in 1983. John recalls this as a fascinating period in his life and he remembers many people said, “Oh you’ll never go back to teaching after this” but John insists, despite his abiding interest in current affairs, that “Teaching is much more important than politics” and he adds mischievously that he found more self-absorption and childishness in politics than he has ever found in teaching.

Homework Junior Certificate classes get frequent homework but only work which is short and relevant. Leaving Certificate classes get one major piece of writing per week. “Marking,” says John “is the great tyranny of being an English teacher. However, it has to be done and done properly but it is so time-coming.”

English Department

What his students might say about him.

The English Department in St Columba’s is small and numbers four teachers: John, Julian Girdham and Liam Canning (both former students of John’s) and Deirdre Gannon, who

“I hope the students might say I’m someone who loves my food and my cricket and I’m someone whose classes are fun.”


PUTTING THE ENGLISH DEPARTMENT ON THE WORLD WIDE WEB Ever thought about setting up a website for English, in your school? Kevin Mc Dermott of the Teaching English Magazine spoke to Julian Girdham of St Columba’s College about the website he has developed for the English Department in the school.

KMcD What are the benefits of the site? JG One benefit concerns the image of the Department. We feel we have a successful and coherent English Department at St Columba’s, and the blog reinforces this image within the school. It’s easy to make a smart-looking and professional site, and it makes a very public statement of our principles, our enthusiasms, our standards. Vitally, the pupils’ work is showcased, and it’s a fine discipline for them to have to shape their writing for public consumption.

KMcD What is the St Columba’s English Department site? JG is, like many blogs, a kind of diary (‘web-log’), but also a showcase for pupils’ work, and a resource centre for our Department, with useful and interesting links, department documents and so on. The school has its own website,, but we wanted to be independent (though there are links between the two).

KMcD What are the main uses of the site so far? JG We’ve posted lots of book recommendations. From pupils of course, but it’s also important that teachers’ enthusiasms are shared (I have to admit I hadn’t read any Tim Winton until this summer, and was able to recommend his terrific story collection The Turning). There are also reviews of school events such as our house speaking competition, of our major drama production Twelfth Night, of plays visited in Dublin (The Importance of Being Earnest, The Year of the Hiker), news of a creative writing course, encouragement to enter a poetry competition, links to interesting articles elsewhere on the web (by Paul Auster, for instance), and more. Pupils can always easily access various department documents, such as the Transition Year course, our Junior Cert reading list, and so on. Every May we have a Voices of Poetry evening, when about 30 pupils each read a poem to the school; many of these are in other languages, and it would be good to post poetry in French, Spanish, Yoruba …

KMcD Why did you set up the site? JG Out of a spirit of experimentation. And because it was easy to set up (and free). Of course, pupils spend a lot of time on the Web nowadays, and there are now a lot of good resources out there we can direct them to. It’s also a form of the traditional school magazine, I suppose, but far more flexible and powerful. English is also particularly wellsuited to a blog, and to showcasing children’s work, but I can imagine inventive versions from history, science, art departments and so on. St Columba’s is a (mostly) boarding school, and there’s a huge level of extracurricular and weekend activity, and much of this can be covered by our blog. Last year, for instance, there were 13 drama productions, ranging from a major musical, Grease, to less elaborate junior plays.

We’re very positive about the kind of work that can be done in Transition Year, particularly in developing different forms of writing, and our TY course features strongly on the blog. The TY students have recently done major Extended Essays on literary topics, and in the summer term will complete a Work Portfolio of shorter essays, personal writing and stories.

The initial ‘audience’ was internal – our own pupils, staff and parents – but our ‘SiteMeter’ tells us that we have plenty of other visitors – almost 1000 in our first term. 60% come from Ireland, with substantial numbers from the UK, USA and Germany, but after that they’re spread all over the world. The other day someone from the North of Sweden spent five minutes on the site – intriguing!


KMcD Who decides what is published on the site?

information on the play. If you’re studying Elizabeth Bishop, have a look at McSweeney’s Sestinas, and encourage your pupils to produce their own work in that extraordinary form. Arts and Letters Daily is one of the best things on the Web – brainfood for jaded teachers! The Shakespeare Search Engine, Clusty, can offer you lots of interesting ways to approach the plays, and can be used by pupils learning quotations and hunting for ideas. English teachers should have a look at the late Andrew Moore’s site, The Universal Teacher (written from a UK perspective, but full of good things for teachers here too). And Poetry 180 – a poem a day for the school year put together by the American poet Billy Collins. There are also some links to sites on language, such as Professor Terry Dolan’s Hiberno-English site.

JG We take in pupils’ work via email, which allows us to exercise quality control. They can’t post directly themselves, but you can easily set up a blog which allows all the teachers in a department to post directly. KMcD How do you think the site will develop in the future? JG Who knows? We couldn’t have guessed even five years ago that we could have done something like this so easily (and at no cost!). We’re still discovering how it can be used, as the school year progresses. For instance, we held a poster competition in the school for our Shakespeare Society production of Twelfth Night in November, and we wanted the artists to be inspired by the work of the great early French photographer Jacques-Henri Lartigue. So we then realised we could put an ‘album’ of his pictures on Yahoo Photos, and add a link from the blog. Then when the winner was announced, we put her poster on the site. Links to other applications can be very powerful tools. So, for instance, instead of putting a long story on the main page, you can link to an online word processor such as Writely or ZohoWriter.

They’re not all ferociously intellectual or serious. The Onion is consistently full of brilliant and funny writing. Have a look at the Automatic Shakespeare Insulter Machine, or the Broken Poem Generator, or the Home for Abused Apostrophes. KMcD What are the technicalities involved in setting up a blog? JG Recent Web developments have made it extraordinarily easy. We use the most common service, (owned by Google), but there are others too. You need very little technical expertise – in fact, anyone reasonably familiar with the internet will be able to set up a site within five minutes (I promise). Just choose a password, username and title for your site and there it is. If you want to dress it up a little more, then it’s easy enough to learn – I did.

We have various ‘categories’ on the site, and one I particularly want to develop is Creative Writing – so that the site becomes an archive of excellent poetry, short stories and so on. We hope before long to have more work from the youngest pupils in the school. Last year the poet Louise Callaghan took some poetry workshops with them, and in future we’ll be able to publicise the work produced by such events.

If any readers want to ask me questions, there’s an email link on our site, so feel free to get in touch. Finally, I’d like to say that though it’s been interesting and enjoyable to set up this blog, and that the Web now provides us with exciting opportunities, for me, everything comes back to books … we want our pupils to read and write, and to love literature, and our site is one more tool to help them do that.

KMcD Can you recommend some good websites? JG The Links section (on the right-hand sidebar) is a list of websites we think are useful, interesting, amusing … Recently we’ve been studying The Crucible, and it’s handy to direct our pupils via our own blog to a couple of excellent sites which gather



3rd Year Junior Certificate Novels. St. Columba’s College Your Friend, Rebecca 154 pages by Linda Hoy After her mother’s death, Rebecca is isolated and depressed. She has no real friends at school, feels picked on by the teachers and has no emotional support from her drink-sodden father. One wet lunch-time, just for something to do, she goes to the drama group. It is there that she begins to develop the strength to regain control of her life and to rebuild the relationship with her father.

In third year students in St Columba’s College are invited to write an essay on three novels from this list. The English Department of St Columba’s has kindly allowed the Teaching English Magazine to reproduce the list. (See also Breege O’ Brien’s recommendations for 2nd year English on page 17) YOUNG PEOPLE’S STRUGGLES

Stone Cold 100 pages by Robert Swindells Homeless on the streets of London, 14-year-old Link feels he has become an invisible outcast. When he meets streetwise Ginger life becomes more bearable and he learns the tricks of survival. When Ginger goes missing, Link is anxious but his enquiries don’t lead anywhere. Then other homeless kids disappear… Winner of the Carnegie Medal.

Z for Zachariah 192 pages by Robert C. O’Brien A powerful story of a 16 year-old girl living alone in the aftermath of the Atomic War until the arrival of another survivor. Her initial joy is replaced by fear and an instinct to survive – how can she be sure he will be friendly, in a world where everything has changed? The Wave 121 pages by Morton Rhue When Ben Ross shows his pupils a film about Nazi Germany and the persecution of the Jews they can’t believe it could happen again. So Ben experiments with a new disciplinary system in an attempt to show how powerful group pressure can be. To his surprise his pupils respond to his orders with uncharacteristic enthusiasm and before long ‘The Wave’ sweeps through the entire school.

Whispers in the Graveyard 148 pages by Theresa Breslin Solomon escapes to the graveyard when he gets picked on at school for struggling with reading and writing because he’s dyslexic. Home isn’t much better since his Dad started drinking and his Mum left. The graveyard is his only hideout. Then the District Council starts to demolish his hiding place and, at the same time, uncover an ancient, sinister evil which only Solomon knows about … Winner of the Carnegie Medal.

Bring in the Spring 156 pages by Hannah Cole Sarah is severely physically disabled, dependent on other people for her every requirement. Because she is unable to communicate she has been cast aside by others and given no chance in life. Then Bel enters Sarah’s life and suddenly Sarah has someone to believe in her.

Flowers for Algernon 218 pages by Daniel Keyes Charlie Gordon, a “retarded” adult, undergoes a brain operation which dramatically increases his intelligence. Charlie becomes a genius. But can he cope emotionally? Can he develop relationships? And how do the psychiatrists and psychologists view Charlie – as a man or as the subject of an experiment like the mouse, Algernon?

Red Sky in the Morning 186 pages by Elizabeth Laird When Anna’s brother Ben is born disabled her family’s joy at the birth is touched with sadness. Although Anna loves Ben she is afraid of what her friends will say at school and tries to hide him from the outside world. But it is Ben’s bubbly love of life which gives her strength not only to face up to his disability but also to deal with her own teenage concerns at home and school.


The Adventures of Tom Sawyer 243 pages by Mark Twain Bought up by his long-suffering Aunt Polly in a small American town, Tom Sawyer is full of mischief. He scrapes through a succession of unforgettable escapades in and out of home, school, the town, and the River Mississippi. One of his companions – to his aunt’s dismay – is the rough boy after whom Mark Twain named the second famous book in this series, which is:-

most of the wells in David Logan’s part of Mississippi have gone dry. Only the Logan family still have water and they share it with black and white neighbours alike. Then white teenager Charlie Simms starts causing trouble…

To Kill a Mockingbird 287 pages by Harper Lee “They won’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” Scout and her brother Jem can understand that idea of sin, but in the small American town where they live, evil comes in many shapes and they have to learn to recognise it, and understand how people behave. Their father’s unpopularity when he fights for a black man in trouble reveals other mockingbirds.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 312 pages by Mark Twain “You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of The adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mr Mark Twain.” In this way Tom Sawyer’s friend, Huck Finn, begins his account of their continued adventures on or by the Mississippi river. Lola Rose 288 pages by Jacqueline Wilson Lola Rose is typical Wilson – a story of family strife, situations and feelings with an uplifting ending.

Yankee Girl by Mary Ann Rodman Set in the Deep South in the 1960s, Yankee Girl still has strong resonances today. Alice Anne Moxley moves to Mississippi from Chicago with her family. The ‘Yankee Girl’ is taunted by the other girls at school, although she soon discovers the other new girl – the school’s first black student – endures worse suffering. Alice is disturbed by what goes on, but knows she will remain an outsider if she defends Valerie. It takes a tragedy for her to realise what is really important and find the courage to act.


Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry 205 pages by Mildred D. Taylor Told by ten year-old Cassie, this is a powerful and moving story of a black family’s struggle against racism and poverty in Mississippi during the Depression. The Friendship 90 pages by Mildred D. Taylor In these three short stories about the characters from Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry, Mildred Taylor vividly evokes the violent prejudice and danger facing black families in Mississippi.

Divided City by Teresa Breshin A young man lies bleeding in the street. It could be any street, in any city. But it’s not. It’s Glasgow. And it’s May – the marching season. The Orange marches have begun. Graham doesn’t want to be involved. He just wants to play football with his new mate, Joe. But when he witnesses a shocking moment of violence, suddenly he and Joe are involved – with Catholics and Protestants, a young Muslim asylum-seeker and his girlfriend. This is a gripping tale about two boys, who must find their own answers – and their own way forward – in a world divided by differences.

The Road to Memphis 231 pages by Mildred D. Taylor This is Mildred Taylor’s third novel about the Logan family in Mississippi. It is an uncompromising portrait of the difficulties seventeen year-old Cassie and her brothers face as they grow into adulthood surrounded by immense racial provocation. The Well by Mildred D. Taylor It’s a long, hot summer in the early 1900s and


Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman Sephy and Callum have been best friends since childhood, and now they are older and they realise they want more from each other. But the harsh realities of lives lived in a segregated society are beginning to take their toll: Callum is a nought, a second-class citizen in a world dominated by the Crosses, and Sephy is a Cross, the daughter of one of the most powerful men in the country. The barriers that separate them threaten not only their friendship but their lives. A powerful novel that packs a punch.

The Day I Shot my Dad 149 pages by John Branfield An unusual title for an unusual book of short stories – always surprising, always vivid. The New Windmill Book of Stories from Other Times 184 pages Ghost stories, Sherlock Holmes, a story by Dickens ... this collection is a series of great stories by great writers. The New Windmill Book of Stories Then and Now 268 pages This anthology offers a rich selection of the best short stories by major authors from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; they are arranged into themes including Ghost Stories, Fear, Men and Women, Murder Mysteries and Sacrifice.


The Best of Bernard MacLaverty 113 pages by Bernard MacLaverty A boy plays truant and sees something he wishes he hadn’t. A family find themselves in the middle of an unexpected farce when they try to get rid of a rat. A boy is acutely embarrassed when his father gets his homework wrong. Humorous, compassionate and moving, these stories are strikingly perceptive.

The New Windmill Book of Haunting Tales 152 pages A collection of mysterious and haunting tales to chill your spine and make you wonder … Versions of War and Conflict

Nineteen Eighty-Four 230 pages by George Orwell Big Brother, Thought Police, Newspeak, the Ministry of Love – the party controls every aspect of life. But Winston still remembers a time before the revolution – a time when men and women lived by instincts and loved with passion. He knows he is alone in his thought-crimes, but then he meets Julia ...

Badge on the Barge 201 pages by Janni Howker Five stories which focus on encounters between young and old. Janni Howker writes directly and vividly and creates some memorable characters. The New Windmill Book of Short Stories by Women 174 pages This is a wonderfully rich collection of stories by some of the best women authors including Katherine Mansfield, Doris Lessing, Jane Gardam and Penelope Lively. The stories span the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Plague 99 150 pages by Jean Ure How can three teenagers, Fran, Harriet and Shahid, survive a plague that has killed their parents and left London a ghost town? Jean Ure’s harrowing picture of life after the plague is realistically and sympathetically portrayed in a compelling story of survival, friendship and loyalty.

The Illustrated Man 198 pages by Ray Bradbury The Illustrated Man is covered with tiny illustrations which quiver and come to life in the dark. Each illustration becomes one short story and each story gives us a vivid picture of the future and a disturbing glimpse into the minds of those who live there. Ray Bradbury’s writing is intense and vivid.

The Moon is Down 123 pages by John Steinbeck This compelling, moving novel was inspired by and based upon the Nazi invasion of neutral Norway in the war. Set in an imaginary European country, it shows what happens when a ruthless totalitarian power is up against an occupied democracy with an overwhelming desire to be free.


We All Fall Down 168 pages by Robert Cormier It is just a normal evening but then, suddenly, the home of Karen and Jane Jerome and their family is invaded. In just 49 minutes the cottage is completely trashed, and Karen is left unconscious on the cellar floor. When Jane meets Buddy Walker the feeling of contamination that has lingered since the trashing finally starts to lift. But Buddy harbours a secret which leads to deceit and betrayal.

Except that she doesn’t die. Cassina survives, living in the minds of humans, knowing their thoughts but powerless to change them. At various times she inhabits the mind of: her mum; her dad; a mad old lady; a bigot; and, most scarily of all, the man who murdered her. This tense, gripping novel could hardly be more topical, raising questions of faith, loyalty and responsibility.

I am David 143 pages by Anne Holm When ‘the man’ helps David to escape from the prison camp where he has lived all his life David can’t quite believe it. Everything in the world outside is strange and wonderful – the brilliant, vivid colours of the sea and mountains, the taste of fruit, people laughing and smiling. But as he travels alone across Europe, David is tense and watchful, knowing that at any moment ‘they’ might catch up with him.

The Diary of Anne Frank 221 pages When Anne Frank was given a diary for her thirteenth birthday it became her best friend. Through her personal records we learn of her life of hiding from the Nazis in the sealed-off back rooms of an Amsterdam office building. We learn of strained family relationships, of the problems Anne faced growing into womanhood in such a confined space, of her falling in love, of the constant fear.


I Know why the Caged Bird Sings 244 pages by Maya Angelou Marguerite Johnson is a victim of her colour and sex. 1930s America teaches her that black is ugly; that the sexual abuse she suffers is her fault. It is only in her teens that Marguerite emerges from the private world of muteness into which she has withdrawn and confronts the prejudice around her. She is no longer a victim but a champion of her own identity.

Friedrich 149 pages by Hans Peter Richter When Friedrich Schneider was eight years old Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany. Some Germans welcomed the new leader, but not Friedrich or his father and mother – because the Schneiders were Jews. This is a stark and tragic story showing how the Nazis in Germany stripped the Jews of their rights and then destroyed them.

Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane 233 pages A highly acclaimed autobiographical novel set in Derry: “Claustrophobic but lyrically charged, breathtakingly sad but vibrant and unforgettable, this is one of the finest books about growing up – in Ireland or anywhere – that has ever been written.”

Gulf 85 pages by Robert Westall The last thing Figgis’s Dad expects is his own teenage son’s involvement in the Gulf War, especially not on the Iraqi side. Figgis has an uncanny power – he feels things, things that are happening thousands of miles away to people he has never met. When the Gulf crisis starts Latif, a young Iraqi soldier, enters Figgis’s life. As the crisis in the Middle East develops Tom watches his brother’s identity disappearing as Latif takes over …

My Oedipus complex, and Other Stories by Frank O’Connor 250 pages The themes of childhood, love, marriage and community in Ireland run throughout the finest of Frank O’Connor’s famous short stories. Skilfully constructed, they are infused with all the humour and insight which have become hallmarks of O’Connor’s work.

The Innocent’s Story 217 pages by Nicky Singer When Cassina is blown-up by a bomb in a station in England, life as she knows it is over.



heroine addicts and eventually become addicts themselves. A compelling and disturbing read.

How I Live Now 224 pages by Meg Rosoff Meg Rosoff’s novel for young adults is the winner of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize 2004. Heralded by some as the next best adult crossover novel since Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The book has a raw, unfinished feel about it which adds to the experience of reading it.

Survival Game by Tom Wynne Jones Burl can’t take any more bruises from his bullying father, so one day he runs away with just a penknife and a fishing lure in his pocket. Despite his survival skills, Burl knows he won’t last long in the frozen Canadian wilderness, so he is filled with hope when he stumbles across Ghost Lake, and a secret that could save him. But his father is after him and Burl is dragged back into his dangerous games...

Paralysed by Sherry Ashworth It was just like any other Saturday morning for Simon – a rugby match at school, with his girlfriend Emma in the crowd. But then an accident changes everything; leaving Simon paralysed, Emma devastated and Simon’s best mate Danny stricken with guilt. An honest look at the effects of disability on three teenagers – none of who will ever be the same again.

Hanging on to Max 151 pages by Margaret Bechard This is the story of a 17-year-old who wants to raise his baby son when the mother says she will give the baby up for adoption. The Serious Kiss 250 pages by Mary Hogan The Serious Kiss is more than a story about a girl’s quest for true love and the ultimate kiss; it is the story of a girl who finally comes to terms with who she really is. This, the author’s first novel, is a great read.

The White Darkness 264 pages by Geraldine McCaughrean Geraldine McCaughrean has won numerous awards , including the Carnegie Medal, the Whitbread Children’s Book Award and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award. The White Darkness is a dazzling, pitiless story about Antarctica. McCaughrean’s imagination is fierce, tireless, unpredictable.


Wenny has Wings 232 pages by Janet Lee Carty After the accident, something extraordinary happened to Will North. When the truck hit him and his sister Wenny, they found themselves flying through the most beautiful place they’d ever seen. And the only person he can talk to about it is Wenny. But she isn’t here – she didn’t come back. The doctor says that Will died for 10 minutes after the accident and that he’s lucky to have survived. Written as a collection of letters to his sister, this is a beautifully crafted, deeply moving and ultimately uplifting novel.

I’m Not Scared 225 pages by Niccolo Ammaniti The hottest summer of the twentieth century. A tiny community of five houses in the middle of wheat fields. While the adults shelter indoors, six children venture out on their bikes across the scorched, deserted countryside. In the midst of that sea of golden wheat, nine year-old Michele Amitrano discovers a secret so momentous, so terrible, that he daren’t tell anyone about it. The reader witnesses a dual story: the one that is seen through Michele’s eyes, and the tragedy involving the adults of this isolated hamlet.

Something Invisible 182 pages by Siobhan Parkinson Jake likes thinking, talking, football and encyclopaedias. And fish. But he’s not so sure about everything else – especially girls, or little sisters, or stepdads. And most of all, he’s not sure if he really likes himself. Then Jake meets a girl called Stella and old Mrs Kennedy next door, and he begins to find that he likes a lot more things than he thought.

Junk 389 pages by Melvin Burgess A teenage girl, Gemma, living in England in the ‘80s is bored with her life and hates her parents so she decides to run away with her boyfriend to the city of Bristol. They befriend two


Millions 250 pages by Frank Cottrell Boyce “Written with charm and humour, this is a touching, absorbing oddity of a book about love, grief, avarice and generosity.”

and four-dimensional authority as our own, created with invention, clarity and intelligence.”

Lirael by Garth Nix The sequel to Sabriel in which Lirael is charged with the task of saving the Old Kingdom. Lirael has never felt like a true daughter of the Clayr. Abandoned by her mother and ignorant of her father’s identity, Lirael resembles no one else in her large, extended family living in the Clayr’s Glacier. She doesn’t even have the Sight (the ability to see into the present and possible futures) that is the very birthright of the Clayr. Nonetheless, it is Lirael in whose hands the fate of the Old Kingdom lies. Garth Nix weaves a tale of discovery, destiny and danger.

Lobster Boy 178 pages by Rodman Philbrick An inspirational and action packed tale. Certainly a small classic, funny-sad, pageturning and eminently memorable. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas 216 pages by John Boyne Irish writer John Boyne’s fourth novel is the first he has written for children. Set in a concentration camp during the Second World War, this is the fictional tale of two young boys caught up in events entirely beyond their control.

Abhorsen by Garth Nix A fitting conclusion to the trilogy. Nix’s worlds are complex and rich and his characters many and varied.


Airborn by Ken Oppel An exciting adventure story set in the air and on the high seas – complete with feisty hero and heroine, pirates, tropical islands, highspeed chases, narrow escapes and much more … ‘Brilliantly done ... Airborn’s contained world is totally absorbing, cleverly plotted, a terrific read.’ The Irish Times

Boy Kills Man 160 pages by Matt Whyman Shorty and Alberto are best friends. They live in the poor district of Medellin, where music, money and soccer are the three things they worship. It’s also an area where guns speak louder than words. Slowly the boys are drawn into a dark world of threats, kidnaps and hits – both of drugs and guns. ‘Bold, chilling and beautifully written’, ‘Stunning...’ ‘Excellent...’ A story about violence rather than a violent story, this is a fine achievement. FANTASY ADVENTURE

Sabriel by Garth Nix A tale of good versus evil, with a likeable central character to take us through it all. Nix’s writing is convincing and rounded. Philip Pullman “Here is a world with the same solidity

The Teaching English Magazine would love to publish more recommended reading for English. We are particularly interested in compiling a list of novels for Ordinary Level Leaving Certificate English, which we will pass on to the NCCA for consideration for future lists of prescribed LC texts.


IN PRAISE OF THE SCHOOL LIBRARY Breege O’ Brien of Scoil Damhnait, Achill talks to the Teaching English Magazine about the value of a school library.

However, what really ignited her love of books was a year spent in an American high school. Breege’s grandparents met in the United States and her father was born there. The family returned to live in Ireland, around the time of the Korean War. In 1977, Breege’s parents considered emigrating, and her Dad brought Breege and her sister to America for a trial run, which lasted a year before the decision was taken to return to Ireland. In the Catholic High School she attended in Pennsylvania, Breege had access to a well-resourced Library for English. The standards set in the Mercy School in Castlerea ensured there was little academic pressure on her as a student in America. This gave Breege time to work most days in the English Resource/Library Centre. There she learned the rudiments of librarianship and read to her heart’s content.

Breege O’ Brien teaches in Scoil Damhnait, on Achill Island, County Mayo. The school is a voluntary secondary school which was established by a local man, Padraic Sweeney, in 1948 in a bid to counter the emigration and seasonal migration which decimated the population of the island, as young men and women set off for Scotland to work as farmhands or “tattie-hokers” and live in the infamous bothies. A native of Achill, Padraic Sweeney received a scholarship to attend St Enda’s in Rathfarnham, the school established by Padraig Pearse, and a further scholarship to attend UCG. Although there was no secondary school on Achill, Sweeney received little help from the state in his attempts to establish a comprehensive-type school. Moreover, his plans were looked upon with suspicion by the Bishop of Tuam, who was opposed to the coeducational status of the proposed school. Nonetheless, the school went ahead, sited in a disused railway warehouse before local fundraising and fundraising among Achill’s emigrants, in addition to a grant from Roinn na Gaeltachta, allowed for the building of the current premises.

After secondary school, Breege went to UCG when she studied French and German with English. In 1982 she took her first job as a secondary teacher in Scoil Damhnait and has been there ever since. There was no grand plan to settle on Achill, but, by degrees, she fell in love with the landscape and with the sea. A few years ago Breege took study leave to do a Masters in Children’s Literature in St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra in Dublin and while she loved the course, she hated living in the city and longed to be back in Achill.

The principal of the school, Maire Sweeney, is a daughter of the founder and Scoil Damhnait has 130 students and 14 teachers, fulltime and part-time.

Breege’s involvement in the school library began when she started teaching Leaving Certificate English in 1982. She wanted her students to read beyond the syllabus, but there was no library locally (a new public library opened on the island in 2003) and no bookshop in the immediate vicinity, so Breege put together a set of novels. From there she took over a small room in the school which eventually became the library. The room is not ideal, being long and narrow and books are shelved from floor to ceiling, the antithesis, Breege says, of best practice, but the library is testament to optimism and resourcefulness.

Breege comes from Roscommon and attended the Mercy Secondary school in Castlerea. She remembers with fondness her English teacher, Mrs Maughan (“a lovely, kind lady”). Mrs Maughan held weekly reading classes, with stock supplied by the local public library, and encouraged her students to read widely. During primary school, Breege remembers the weekly comics which brightened her week, Bunty and Mandy, and the novels of Enid Blyton.


In 1988, on the fortieth anniversary of the school, past pupils established a fund to honour the school’s founder, Padraic Sweeney, and part of the fund was allocated to the provision of library resources. This grant laid the foundation for the present library, which has approximately 8,000 items consisting of: books, DVDs, information packs, dictionaries, periodicals – the whole range of items found in a good library. Because reading space is limited, reference material is leant to borrowers.

graduate qualification for teacher-librarians in the state. Breege regrets the absence of any official recognition of the work of the many teacher-librarians throughout the country. Breege is a committee member of SLARI, the school library association (e-mail She is passionate in her advocacy of the school library and believes it is the right of every student to have access to a library to support the development of good reading habits and to fulfil the requirements of self-directed learning. Breege says that she is not really a text-based teacher. She likes the idea of the classroom extending out to the wider community and the wider community coming to the classroom. Her teaching is organised around some of the following events: l




A library works when books are catalogued and a lending scheme is in place. For this to happen, the library needs to have dedicated staff. Over the years, library staff in Scoil Damhnait have come from community-based employment schemes. The principal of the school, Marie Sweeney, recognises the importance of the library and its central place in school life, and Celia McLoughlin, a member of the administrative team of the school, looks after the day-to-day running of the library. Breege describes herself as a “teacher-librarian.” She refers to the excellent courses on school librarianship, run in the past by Valerie Coughlan, of the Church of Ireland College of Education in Rathmines. While there are professional qualifications for librarians, there is no post-

The annual Readathon in October/November. ( The writing and photography competitions sponsored by the American photojournalist, Chris Martin, who has a strong attachment to the island and comes every year to present the prizes. Children’s Books Ireland/ Bisto Awards Book Shadowing Activity ( The students read the short-listed books for the annual CBI/Bisto awards and “shadow” the judging of the awards. This helps the students to distinguish between objective criteria and personal taste. Visiting Writers in association with the Achill Heinrich Böll Association.

The Nobel Prize laureate had a cottage on Achill during the 1950s and the Achill Heinrich Böll Association now offers residencies in the cottage to visiting writers and these writers often give workshops in the school. The Association also sponsors an annual essaywriting competition which gives students a focus for developing the language of argument. For five years Breege was also the co-editor and co-publisher of Muintir Acla, a really impressive local journal, which provided a writing outlet for many of the students of the school. Organising the library and being involved in writing and community-based events help, in Breege’s words, “to renew and sustain you as a teacher.”


The Teaching English Magazine asked Breege to recommend 20 books for Second Year English. “This is my selection for a second–year Book Box. I always find it difficult choosing for this age level as there can be such diversity in maturity, ability, interests. This is for a mixed gender group.” Blackwood, Gary

The Shakespeare Stealer

Briggs, Raymond

Fungus the Bogeyman

Cole, Gerard

Gregory’s Girl

Cormier, Robert

The Chocolate War I am the Cheese

Cruise O’ Brien, Kate

The Homesick Garden

Fine, Anne

Flour Babies The Tulip Touch

Flegg, Aubrey

Wings Over Delft The Cinnamon Tree

Gebler, Carlo

Caught on a Train (Local Interest)

Le Guin, Ursula

A Wizard of Earthsea

Morpurgo, Michael

The Ghost of Grania O’Malley (Local Interest)

O’ Brien, Robert C

Z for Zachariah

Parkinson, Siobhan

Breaking the Wishbone The Love Bean

Patterson, Katherine

Jacob Have I Loved

Spiegelman, Art

Maus: My Father Bleeds History

Thompson, Kate

Annan Waters

Westall, Robert


“This list does not include titles by others authors equally worth looking at: For example, Paul Jennings (for reluctant/slow readers), Joan Lingard, Martin Waddell/Catherine Sefton, Eilis Dillon, Margret Mahy.”

The Teaching English Magazine would love to publish more recommended reading for English. We are particularly interested in compiling a list of novels for Ordinary Level Leaving Certificate English, which we will pass on to the NCCA for consideration for future lists of prescribed LC texts.



WRITE A POEM COMPETITION 2007 CALLING ALL POETS Last Year, the Teaching English Magazine Poetry Competition attracted over 800 entries. This year the Teaching English Magazine is again inviting students to Write a Poem. There are two categories: Junior Cycle and Senior Cycle. We hope that the competition will encourage young writers to compose poetry and encourage teachers to support the writing of poetry. To mark the launch of the poetry competition, this issue of the Teaching English Magazine has a special feature on poetry in the classroom by Anton Floyd of Aston School, Cork.

Prizes will be presented at an award ceremony organised in association with Laois Education Centre.

Rules of the Competition.

· · · · ·

Each entrant may submit one poem Each entry must be typed or written clearly in legible handwriting Each entry must contain: - The Title of the Poem - The Name of the Entrant - The Name and Address of the School - The Category Each entry must be stamped by the school or signed by an English Teacher. Where an entry is modelled on, or written in response to, a poem, the name of the poem and the poet must be clearly stated on the entry. For the Teachers The teacher of the winning entrant, in each section, will receive a copy of Pat Boran’s The Portable Creative Writing Workshop (Dublin: New Island, 2005)

All entries must be sent to Esther Herlihy, English Administrator, SLSS, Navan Education Centre, Athlumney, Navan, Co. Meath. Please note that entrants should keep a copy of their poems, as no poems will be returned.

For the Schools The school of the winning poets in each section will be invited to participate in Poetry Ireland’s Writer-in-Residence Scheme.

Prizes For the Writers The winning poets in each section will receive a cash prize, a commemorative plaque and their poem will be printed in the Winter 2007 issue of the Teaching English Magazine.


Closing date for receipt of entries is Friday, 20th April, 2007.




1st Place Senior 2006 Births, Deaths and Marriages


The coughing and spluttering That was her one companion Came frothing from her mouth, Tinged with blood and mucous And fell into a silver pail that had seen As many loaves of bread made as children sick.

Once this was a blank wall Painted whitish–brown A clean, new easel For the artists of the town. A group of giggling schoolgirls Walking by the pier, One spies the wall and writes ‘Sophie was here’

The angelus tolled on Radio Eireann As she whispered and muttered under her breath The words that came as habitually as a child’s need for her mother. Her broad shoulders that had been used to so much labour Heaved with the coughing, Her ninety-year-old lungs groaned and wheezed with effort.

A love-struck admirer, Passion in his bones, ‘Chris loves Amy’ Is scribbled on the stones. A gang of college students, Loaded full of beer Fill the wall with lots of words I won’t repeat here.

Visitors came and outstayed their welcome As her family served them tea and wiped her brow. Mutters of “she lived a long life” were commonplace. But what should it matter if she lived nine or ninety years? Was that meant to comfort?

Young politicians nail a poster to the wall, Soon passers-by are told to ‘Vote Fianna Fáil’. An eight-year-old schoolboy (Much to be feared) Decorates the poster – Bertie grew a beard!

The candle of hope burned brightly in the hearts of the young While the adults exchanged knowing glances. The children took turns in brushing the thin, grey hair As she slept, while others sang songs. Her skin, so white, was stretched across the bone And the nails, worn down with work, like feathers.

The wall is now a work of art, A vision to behold, And behind each coloured word. A story can be told. A worker for the council, With a heavy frown Covers up the artwork with A shade of whitish–brown.

And the last few words through fits of sleep – “Is my tart still in the oven” – Weighed heavily upon my heart. The coffin stayed closed, the cakes were eaten And the last dregs of tea were drunk.

Laura Reaney Schull Community College Schull West Cork

The top of the newspaper page read: “Births, Deaths and Marriages” (Times New Roman) More births than marriages, I thought. Ninety years in five short sentences or forty lines. Until one day I said to myself, “She did live a long life.” And the stars did not stop spinning. Éithne O’ Connor Loreto Secondary School Spawell Road Wexford




CREATIVE WRITING IN THE ENGLISH CLASSROOM Introduction These are a few of the strategies that I find useful in helping students overcome the blocks they sometimes bring to the task of creative composition. In my approach I try to help students exploit the possibilities for creative writing that arise out of the texts and topics they encounter in the English syllabus, though I include some other devices and techniques that help to get the pen scratching!

of writing – drafting and revising until a satisfying sense of form emerges. For me, as teacher, it means having homework deadlines which are fluid and extendable. I think it is also important to encourage a free exchange of ideas. This can be achieved by students reading or performing their poems, and reading their compositions aloud. Sometimes the students share just a line of poetry or a paragraph from a composition. Reading aloud gives a feel for voice and audience and, ultimately, a more attuned critical sense. There is nothing more affirming for students than to have their work applauded by their fellow students.

D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Thought’ (itself a model for practice) sets out his manifesto in an uncompromising way and I sometimes use it to remind myself of the objectives of encouraging the students to write and think creatively.

PATTERNS Of course, as we all know, there is no single formula for success or no guarantee that any one technique will always work with all students. However, some poetic forms and structures, with instantly recognisable patterns, lend themselves to creative imitation and creative practice. For example, Robert Graves’ ‘Amergin’s Charm’ offers a good model to students

Thought Thought, I love thought, But not the jiggling and twisting of already existent ideas. I despise that self-important game. Thought is the welling up of unknown life into consciousness, Thought is the testing of statements on the touchstone of the conscience, Thought is gazing on the face of life, and reading what can be read. Thought is pondering over experience, and coming to a conclusion. Thought is not a trick, or an exercise, a set of dodges. Thought is a man in his wholeness wholly attending.

Amergin’s Charm I am a stag: of seven tines, I am a flood: across a plain, I am a wind: on a deep lake, I am a tear: the Sun lets fall, I am a hawk: above the cliff, I am a thorn: beneath the nail, I am a wonder: among flowers, I am a wizard: who but I Sets the cool head aflame with smoke?

We encounter this kind of thinking every time we open any of our prescribed texts, don’t we?

I am a spear: that roars for blood, I am a salmon: in a pool. I am a lure: from paradise, I am a hill: where poet’s walk, I am a boar: renowned and red, I am a breaker: threatening doom I am a tide: that drags to death, I am an infant: who but I Peeps from the unhewn dolmen arch?

I don’t believe there is an instant prescription for creativity. For everyone involved, the process requires patience, openness, generosity and the realisation that what starts in the classroom may well come to fruition a lifetime later! That said, the important thing is to make a start.

I am the womb: of every holt, I am the blaze: on every hill, I am the queen: of every hive, I am the shield: for every head, I am the grave: of every hope.

For me, it is vital, from the outset, to create a receptive environment in which the creative process might flourish. For the students, this means getting used to the fragmentary nature


Having read Graves’ poem, the students might be invited to create a correspondence poem, say for colours beginning: I am the rainbow: …

A poem is not a Xylophone but can make funny sounds. A poem is not a Yoyo but can be stringy. A poem is not a Zoo but can be noisy. Amy Schiller

I am the colour red: of every rage I am the colour blue: of the holy mantle I am the colour …

After a successful period of writing I like to encourage my young writers to record their poems on cassette or CD and I also try to have a selection of student work on display on the classroom walls.

The pattern can be varied – two, three, or as many as six lines of one colour could form a stanza. Preparation could include a spider diagram of associations – colours and feeling; moods or feelings with objects, memories etc. This kind of preparatory work (‘messy’ work) lays the basis for creating something more structured and tidy.

Getting a poem to fit a particular pattern is tough for even the most accomplished of poets. Older students enjoy Billy Collins, joke poem, ‘Paradelle for Susan’, in which the poet struggles to meet the requirements of a spurious poetic form of his own devising. The poem fails in a humorously spectacular way (though it does achieve some lines of extraordinary poignancy.) The poem alerts young writers to the dangers of adhering to form in a slavish way and grants them licence to experiment!

Another pattern poem which I have found works well with younger writers is a version of the Alphabet poem. This can awaken some pupils to the possibilities of poetry. I don’t know how it works but it connects, in a seemingly effortless way, to the students’ innate sense of image and metaphor. It also helps develop the students’ inductive reasoning! Here is an example composed by a first year student. A Poem Is A poem is not an Apple but it can be quite crunchy. A poem is not Barney but it can be very colourful. A poem is not a Cat but it can be quite curious. A poem is not a Daffodil but it can be quite cheery. A poem is not an Elephant but it can make a big impression. A poem is not a Fiddle but it can be musical. A poem is not a Garage but it can be a bit messy. A poem is not a Haggis but can sometimes be disgusting. A poem is not an Infant but can be kind of cute. A poem is not a Joust but can be dangerous. A poem is not a Kangaroo but can be bouncy. A poem is not a Leopard but can be fast. A poem is not a Marigold but it can be beautiful. A poem is not a Nephew but it could be related to you. A poem is not an Orange but it can be bitter. A poem is not a Parrot but it can be talkative. A poem is not a Queen but can be posh. A poem is not a Rat but can be scary. A poem is not a Swan but it can be graceful. A poem is not a Tree but can be leafy. A poem is not an Umbrella but can be opened. A poem is not a Vase but can be prettied-up. A poem is not a Witch but can be creepy.

Paradelle for Susan I remember the quick, nervous bird of your love. I remember the quick, nervous bird of your love. Always perched on the thinnest, highest branch. Always perched on the thinnest, highest branch. Thinnest love, remember the quick branch. Always nervous, I perched on your highest bird the. It is time for me to cross the mountain. It is time for me to cross the mountain. And find another shore to darken with my pain. And find another shore to darken with my pain. Another pain for me to darken the mountain. And find the time, cross my shore, to with it is to.


The weather warm, the handwriting familiar. The weather warm, the handwriting familiar. Your letter flies from my hand into the waters below. Your letter flies from my hand into the waters below. The familiar waters below my warm hand. Into handwriting your weather flies you letter the from the. I always cross the highest letter, the thinnest bird. Below the waters of my warm familiar pain, Another hand to remember your handwriting. The weather perched for me on the shore. Quick, your nervous branch flew from love. Darken the mountain, time and find was my into it was with to to.

NOTE:The paradelle is one of the more demanding French fixed forms, first appearing in the langue d’oc love poetry of the eleventh century. It is a poem of four six-line stanzas in which the first and second lines, as well as the third and fourth lines of the first three stanzas, must be identical. The fifth and sixth lines, which traditionally resolve these stanzas, must use all the words from the preceding lines and only those words. Similarly, the final stanza must use every word from all the preceding stanzas and only those words. ‘Japan’ is another poem by Billy Collins that works well in class.

and whisper it into each of his long white ears. It’s the one about the one-ton temple bell with the moth sleeping on its surface,

Japan Today I pass the time reading a favourite haiku, saying the few words over and over.

and every time I say it, I feel the excruciating pressure of the moth on the surface of the iron bell.

It feels like eating the same small, perfect grape again and again.

When I say it at the window, the bell is the world And I am the moth resting there.

I walk through the house reciting it and leave its letters falling through the air of every room.

When I say it into the mirror, I am the heavy bell and the moth is life with its papery wings.

I stand by the big silence of the piano and say it. I say it in front of a painting of the sea. I tap out its rhythm on an empty shelf.

And later, when I say it to you in the dark, you are the bell, and I am the tongue of the bell, ringing you,

I listen to myself saying it, then I say it without listening, then I hear it without saying it.

and the moth has flown from its line and moves like a hinge in the air above our bed.

And when the dog looks up at me, I kneel down on the floor

Billy Collins


I use this poem to help students prepare for answering questions on the Unseen Poem, but it also generates some simple, creative writing. In ‘Japan’, Collins makes many references to a haiku which has been in his head all day, without quoting it directly. Having read the poem, I like to invite the students to compose the haiku, explaining the rules of the form, though I don’t demand strict adherence to the seventeen syllable rule, that is, lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables respectively, balancing first and third lines with opposing qualities, as long as students keep the general Haiku shape and strike an appropriate note, as in the example composed by a sixth year student:

Charity And love – to walk the world And bless it. Of every tear, that sorrowing mortals shed On such green graves Some good is born Some gentler nature comes. One of the texts I read with my students for the Comparative Section of the Leaving Certificate course was Seamus Deane’s Reading in the Dark. It is novel that perfectly exemplifies the notion of a poetic prose. With the idea of the found poem in mind, I invited my fifth year class to discover a poem in the prose. The invitation had the effect of getting students to reread entire sections of the novel with an eye for the poetic turn of phrase.

Haiku On the one-ton temple bell A moon moth, folded into sleep Sits still.

One student selected a small passage from the chapter Roses July 1952:

Alison Brosnan

I hunched down for a moment to watch a sleeve of greenfly tighten on a rose stem. I .counted the black spots on the leaves, fingering the shiny stubs of the thorns that sharpened to so fine a point that only a prick of blood on my finger told me exactly where the sharpness ended. The heat was like a nausea. I pulled away a diseased leaf, and rose petals came out into the air with the tug. I shook the rose bush, and more petals fluttered down. I crushed some in my hand and sniffed the satiny scraps of colour, but they had no aroma. Yet, growing, they gave off this powerful odour that felt to me like dread, a hot radar signal.

FOUND POEMS Some poems are simply ‘found’ poems. They work because the division between poetry and prose can sometimes blur, as in Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop. Oh! it is hard to take to heart the lesson that such deaths will teach, but let no man reject it, for it is one that all must learn and is a mighty, universal Truth. When Death strikes down the innocent and young, for every fragile form from which he lets the panting spirit free a hundred virtues rise – in shapes of mercy, charity and love – to walk the world, and bless it. Of every tear that sorrowing mortals shed on such green graves, some good is born, some gentler nature comes. Asking students to re-arrange this passage heightens their awareness of poetic form. They can explore how presenting words in different forms changes the emphasis and meaning of those words. The Lesson Death Will Teach When death strikes down the innocent and young, For every fragile form From which he lets the panting spirit free A hundred virtues rise In shapes of mercy,


With some minor editing this is the remarkable poem she produced:

suggested by the facilitator, Della Meade, that it can be useful to read a poem aloud a few times to the students as a way of enticing them into a creative engagement with it. The students are invited to record words and phrases that strike them in some way, as they listen to the poem. They are then asked to rearrange these selections into any form of a poem that they consider appropriate and give their poem a title. I tried this with my current 6th Years. The poem I chose was Yeats’ ‘Sailing to Byzantium’. I was curious to see what would emerge. Imagine my surprise and delight when a student read out the following poem after some thirty minutes of arranging and rearranging:

Roses The heat was like a nausea I reach out, feeling the shiny stubs of thorns between my fingers, their sharpness leaving only a prick of blood; blood like the red of the rose which I hold in the palm of my hand Hunched down, I watch for a moment a sleeve of greenfly tighten on a rose stem. One tug and the petals come out into the air, falling delicately to the ground. I crush the satiny scraps in my hand, feeling the dread surround, like a powerful odour. Jessie Falvey

Byzantium It is not known what it is, A holy city perhaps, its spirit un-ageing, An eternal image of magnificence Shaped by the goldsmiths of the gods, There is no old here, no dying generations, Only those full of its holy fire. They seem eternal in their youth Healing the tattered coat of mortality With their intellectual music. Emma Buckley

READING A POEM ALOUD I was introduced to a new strategy at a recent English Support Service modular course. It was


in every baggage space. So he did. After about ten minutes he was ready to start his day’s work and sat into his seat at the front of the bus. He turned the key in the ignition and set off. His first stop was a few minutes down the road. He turned on the radio to listen to the morning news. He left the doors of the bus open to let some fresh air circulate.

FROM POEM TO STORY Just as prose can serve the composing of poetry, so poetry can serve the composing of stories. Many poems are, in fact, compact narratives and an extension of the reading of a poem is to ask students to tell the story fully. One sixth year student revisited Michael Longley’s poem Wounds and wrote the following:

He pulled up outside the courthouse at about eleven. The October sunshine created a glare on his windscreen. He covered his eyes with his hand and tried to make out the traffic lights. Before they turned green someone ran out in front of the bus, followed by two policemen. The man foolishly turned around the front comer of the bus. Seeing this the conductor pressed the door release button. The automatic doors closed. The man, collided face first with the toughened glass. He staggered back, dazed, into the arms of the police. The lights turned green. The bus pulled away.

Wounds The sunlight glinted on his buttons as he left his house, shutting the green door behind him. He looked smart in his navy uniform, with brass buttons and the emblem of the Ulster Bus Company stitched into his shoulder pads. His black hair ruffled in the early morning breeze as

He finished work at six o’clock and began to walk home. He manoeuvred his way through the tides of workers making their daily pilgrimage from work to the pub. He arrived at his green door and opened it without the key. The door was always unlocked if anyone was home. He pulled off his heavy work boots and slipped into a pair of pale blue carpet slippers. He greeted his wife and two children with a kiss apiece, before he settled down to supper. He drank red wine and ate white bread.

he turned towards the street. Keeping the road on his left he set off for the depot. His stride was long and rhythmic, a reminder of his time in the Army. He served with the British Expeditionary Force for three years, but never saw combat.

After supper he relaxed with his family in front of the television. His stockinged feet balanced precariously on the coffee table, slippers discarded on the floor. He heard the door open and close. He rose in welcome. He expected his sister-in-law and was obviously surprised by the sight that greeted him. Through the hall came a shivering boy. Startled he stepped towards the boy. The boy pulled a pistol and shot him in the head. He collapsed beside his carpet slippers. The boy turned to leave. To the children, to a bewildered wife I think, ‘Sorry Missus,’ was what he said. Mark Eagner

His hazel brown eyes scanned the depot for the number 44. Finally they rested on a red doubledecker. He walked briskly towards the bus and nodded at the other conductors as he passed. Liam in the 41 gave him a wink. He let out a knowing laugh, remembering the events of the previous night. Before boarding his bus, he conducted the usual inspection for bombs or devices of a suspicious nature. This was company policy. Having found nothing he proceeded to check the interior. He was required, by law, to check under every seat and


Most poems on the course lend themselves to this kind of interactive exercise.

seem to listen. He is hoarse but word-perfect. Outside the daffodils are still as wax, a thousand, ten thousand, their syllables unspoken, their creams and yellows still.

MIRACLE ON ST DAVID’S DAY Gillian Clarke’s ‘Miracle on St David’s Day’ is a poem you may wish to try with your students in this way. It has had a profound effect on many of the students I have read it with – usually, but not exclusively, Transition Years. Not least because it is a true story. Getting students to write about the event of the day from the point of view of the one of the nurses who witnessed it has produced noteworthy narratives. For the more ambitious writer one can suggest writing the story from the perspective of one of the other patients.

Forty years ago, in a Valleys school, the class recited poetry by rote. Since the dumbness of misery fell he has remembered there was a music of speech and that once he had something to say. When he’s done, before the applause, we observe the flowers’ silence. A thrush sings and the daffodils are flame. Gillian Clarke

Miracle on St David’s Day They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude’ ‘The Daffodils’ by W. Wordsworth An afternoon yellow and open-mouthed with daffodils. The sun treads the path among cedars and enormous oaks. It might be a country house, guests strolling, the rumps of gardeners between nursery shrubs. I am reading poetry to the insane. An old woman, interrupting, offers as many buckets of coal as I need. A beautiful chestnut-haired boy listens entirely absorbed. A schizophrenic on a good day, they tell me later. In a cage of first March sun a woman sits not listening, not seeing, not feeling. In her neat clothes the woman is absent. A big, mild man is tenderly led

Here is the poet’s account of the background to the poem:

It’s a true story, and I told it many times before I found a way to write the poem. The occupational therapist of a mental hospital invited me to read poems to the patients on the first of March, St David’s Day. It was a beautiful spring afternoon, and daffodils lit the lawns about the occupational therapy centre, which stood among trees apart from the main building.

to his chair. He has never spoken. His labourer’s hands on his knees, he rocks gently to the rhythms of the poems. I read to their presences, absences, to the big, dumb labouring man as he rocks. He is suddenly standing, silently, huge and mild, but I feel afraid. Like slow movement of spring water or the first bird of the year in the breaking darkness, the labourer’s voice recites ‘The Daffodils’. The nurses are frozen, alert; the patients

There were about fifteen patients present. Some listened alertly, others were so blank and still that I could sense the silence behind their eyes, and a few interrupted me, thinking they were somewhere else.


Walter, the dumb man, was a Council workman suffering from a depression so profound that he had lost the power of speech, though there was nothing physically wrong with him.

‘Miracle on St David’s Day’ tells a story but there are things that the poet doesn’t tell us in the poem: Whether she has been here before; why she is doing this; What the inside of the hospital looks like; How she felt when she saw the patients; What she saw when she looked around her; What she thought when the old woman interrupted her; How she felt about the audience as she was reading; Why she felt afraid when the man stood up; What she did while the man was reciting; What happened afterwards; What she and the nurses talked about after the reading was finished; W h a t difference the whole experience made to her.

Long ago, when he was a child in one of the coal-mining valleys of South Wales, where education was very highly regarded, he and his class-mates had learned poems by heart, as they had learned their tables and many other things. He was suddenly reminded of Wordsworth’s poem, and his silence was unlocked. The poem is about the power of language, especially poetry. Our minds are full of voices, and our bodies – tongues, ears, hands, feet – love sound and rhythm. Poetry is easier to memorise than prose, and its works of art are free and can be carried anywhere and turned to in the loneliest moments – in hospital, in prison, in exile.

Invite the students to consider the ways in which their stories could supply the gaps left by the poem. And finally…

At first I tried to write a poem about voices speaking out of silence – silent daffodils, silent patients, a thrush singing, a dumb man speaking. The poem failed, draft after draft. At last I just told the story, setting the scene with three sentences of description. I chose every word carefully – the ‘openmouthed’ afternoon, the sun ‘treading’ the path, the people ‘observing’ the silence of the flowers. ‘Observing’ has at least two meanings here. The woman ‘in a cage’ sat where the gridpattern of sunlight fell, but her cage is also her illness.

There is no way of anticipating precisely how students will respond to any of these strategies. As teachers all we can do is try to be creative and patient. Who knows there may be a ‘Walter’ in all of us. And, finally, e.e. cummings take on a mixed ability class: Steve is almost i




e r t h e n .

David talks GoodSense. Jane is often v e r y v a g u e

Indoors the people were ‘frozen’ and silent. Outside the natural world was singing and dancing like ‘flame’. We see, think and speak. We take this for granted, and the words within us meet the world outside and express our relationship with it. These ill people suffered from a disconnection between thought and language. The abyss within was more real to them than the beautiful world just outside their window.

Lucy. VERYDENSE. Catty Cora’s fffffull of sssspite. O D D.

Dick is rather A n Liz is quite an

To succeed, a poem needs a writer and a reader, a speaker and a listener. For one miraculous moment Walter listened, and he spoke. Language had done its healing work, and what was inside him, and the real, outside world of spring sunlight, daffodils, thrushes, lawnmowers and people walking in the gardens, were reconnected through a poem.

l e G, but

Alan thinks he’s GOD.

Anton Floyd is Head of English in Ashton School, Cork.



Teaching and Learning English in Post-Primary Schools Kevin Mc Dermott, Co-ordinator of English, Second Level Support Service, gives his thoughts on Looking at English: Teaching and Learning in Post-Primary Schools, a composite report on English subject inspections, published by the Department of Education & Science.

they using creative modelling to lead students toward more accomplished writing? Are teachers using assessment as a basis for student learning?

First things first. It is terrific that the English Inspectors have published Looking at English so quickly and I hope that this kind of report will become an annual or a bi-annual publication. The report follows the template laid down for subject inspections and, accordingly, is structured around: Provision and Whole-school Support for English; Planning & Preparation; Teaching and Learning; and Assessment & Achievement. Many of the assumptions, in Looking at English, are based on statements in the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate syllabi and, if nothing, else, the report should encourage teachers to consult these documents, which are available on the DES website and on the English Support Service site ( For those teachers who have not yet had a subject inspection, Looking at English gives a good idea of what to expect. The report, which is written in a clear and lucid style, has the potential to set the agenda for English teachers and English Departments in every school in the country, for the foreseeable future. It also has the potential to promote vigorous debate among English teachers. Indeed, one of the stated purposes of the publication is “to inform and encourage professional dialogue.” The report will also challenge English teachers. An interesting exercise might be for the members of an English Department to review their work in light of the observations and recommend-ations made in the sections on Teaching and Learning and Assessment and Achievement. Are teachers, for example, integrating the teaching of language and literature? Are


It is clear from Looking at English that the Inspectors are advocates for the subject. For example, the report states that the “optimal situation is for students to have an English lesson on each of the five days of the week.” The Inspectors also advocate the facilitation of four or five formal meetings per year of the English Department and the availability of a well-resourced school library. These recommendations might well be used by teachers, and their representative organisations, to seek an increase in the official planning time available to schools, and an increase in the level of funding for the purchase of books and other library items. The Inspectors recognition of the importance of libraries might also encourage the Department of Education and Science to promote the development of post-graduate courses in school librarianship for teachers. In keeping with recent trends across the education sector, the report places an emphasis on “the acquisition and development of skills” and links this emphasis to the importance of skills in the relevant syllabus documents. This in itself is worthy of note and should encourage debate and dialogue among teachers and between the statutory agencies, such as the NCCA, the State Examinations Commission and the Department of Education & Science. What, for example, is the balance to be struck between the acquisition of skills, the achievement of insight, the cultivation of taste and the development of the imagination? Given this excellent start, I hope that future publications will address different aspects of Learning and Teaching, such as Poetry in the English Classroom, The Student as Writer and Developing Critical Literacy.

Hopefully, too, future publications will include the voices of teachers in all their individuality and uniqueness. The absence of the voice of teachers robs the document of the passion and commitment many English teachers have for the subject. In this regard, the teacher organisations’ insistence on preserving the anonymity of teachers, whose teaching has been inspected, has contributed to the somewhat bland version of English which emerges from Looking at English. The anonymity of teachers is matched by the anonymity of the inspectors. We are told the report is based on visits to 483 classes taught by 426 teachers. “Six inspectors of English were involved in carrying out the inspections.”

Without the voice of teachers, and without the voice of the individual inspectors, we get little sense of the vision and passion which animates English teaching and which is a source of inspiration to students. And we need that passion and, indeed, the inspectors have seen many examples of it in schools all over the country. Had Martin Luther King addressed the crowds from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, on August, 1963 with the words, “I have a strategic plan”, I doubt if his speech would have been remembered. We need planning and co-ordination but we also need vision and passion.


ENGLISH MATTERS EUROPEAN COMENIUS/GRUNDTVIG IN-SERVICE PROGRAMME carried out in various parts of the city. The course leader is expected to help participants to carry out their research; encourage and guide discussions on what the participants learn from this research; and facilitate the sharing of ideas among the group.

Eduardo Marin, Programme Co-ordinator of English Matters a European Comenius / Grundtvig in-service programme has been in touch with the Teaching English magazine with a view to contacting teachers who might be interested in working as course leaders for the programme, which will take place in Dublin in Summer 2007.

A course leader is not expected to give lectures (unless he/she would like to do so, on subjects of his/her choice.) The ideal course leader would be someone with teaching experience, who knows Dublin and who likes the prospect of some summer work with a multi-cultural flavour.

Eduardo writes: Our programme is based on cultural perspectives on Ireland and our participants look for insights into everyday life, visual and performing arts, economic life, community organisations, etc. The programme has been organised in Ireland since 1992, first in Derry and then, in association with Mary Immaculate College, in Limerick. The 2007 programme is organised into two Courses. Course 1 Monday July 23rd – Saturday August 4th. Course 2 Monday August 6th – Saturday August 18th.

Further information can be obtained from: Eduardo Marin, Programme Co-ordinator, English Matters, Spain.

The course leader will be primarily responsible for facilitating and encouraging communication among participants. Although there are lecturers and classroom-based activities, a significant part of the programme consists of project work

Tel.: 0034 677 565 600. Email: Web: Site












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TEACHING ENGLISH MAGAZINE Autumn 2007 Preview Review and Discussion of Revised English LC syllabus Special feature on Film in the English Classroom with contributions from Alicia McGivern, Sean Conlan and Vinny Murphy Tony Magner’s Comparative choices Philip Campion on After Easter Brief Guide to the Prescribed Texts for LC 2008 The winners of the Teaching English magazine Write a Poem Competition An interview with poet Julie O’ Callaghan Meet the team behind the English Support Service And more…

The Teaching English magazine is published by the Second Level Support Service. Co-ordinator of English: Dr Kevin Mc Dermott Navan Education Centre, Athlumney, Navan, Co. Meath. Phone: Fax: Mobile: Email:

046 907 8382 046 907 8385 087 293 7302

Administrative Officer: Esther Herlihy SLSS Regional Development Officers: Della Meade Mobile: 087 293 7311 Pauline Kelly Mobile: 087 293 7293

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Teaching English magazine  

Spring 2007 edition

Teaching English magazine  

Spring 2007 edition