Ethos: There is no doubt that English is the most important subject in any preparatory school. Without the necessary grasp of our shared language – both spoken and written – a pupil will struggle in almost every other area of academic life and beyond.
Preparing children for exams is important; however, our main aim is to provide pupils with the tools and shared enthusiasm to become fluent listeners, speakers, readers and writers, young people who are creative, inventive, imaginative, articulate and independent thinkers. Every English lesson should provide pupils with opportunities to expand or enhance their linguistic skills. While great emphasis is placed on the creative sides to the subject, it is equally important that the basic language skills are in place; if this is not the case, we will be constructing the proverbial house built on sand.
Our schemes of work and medium term plans have been reworked to take on board fresh ideas from both the National Curriculum and the new Independent
Curriculum, while placing our unique Poem of the Week textbook at the core. Throughout the department and, in particular, in the years leading up to Common Entrance and Scholarship examinations (Years 6-8), we have tried to pull all the strands of English teaching together. For example, by concentrating on specific topics – e.g. the Home Front in WW2 or Life in the Trenches in WW1 – it is possible to use literary texts (both fictional prose and poetry) as flexible, free-flowing patchwork quilts: as comprehension passages, discussion forums, vocabulary extension and springboards for personal writing. This allows English lessons to become interlinked, cross-curricular and organic, rather than seemingly separate strands of learning.
Pupils are encouraged to:
- Listen carefully
- Respond clearly, concisely and constructively
- Ask relevant questions
- Read widely
- Extract and interpret information from texts
- Find implicit (as well as explicit) meanings
- Write accurately, descriptively, interestingly and persuasively
- Expand personal vocabulary
Poem of the Week: English teaching at Key Stages 2 and 3 can become ‘bitty’ or compartmentalised, unlike more topic-driven subjects such as History, Geography or Science. The basic idea is to offer a central focal point which can bind the week’s teaching together and then take the class in a number of different directions. The poem can provide a lively starting point for a general class discussion, be used as the text for a comprehension, or as the launching pad for a piece of creative writing. Our unique Poem of the Week textbook – updated on an annual basis – provides teachers with a means to teach organically, rather than offering separate strands of learning.
To see a recent poem of the week please click here.
There will be some factual questions which involve the extraction of information (the ‘Who?’ ‘When?’ ‘What?’ type questions). However, as they move into
Year 6 and beyond, students will be asked to find implicit meanings in texts as well as being challenged by questions requiring deductive reasoning and
imaginative responses; there will also be vocabulary-based questions (requiring contextualisation and ability to provide synonyms), and sometimes the need to reuse and transfer material into a different form, e.g. creating a letter, diary extract or short play.
Often – though by no means always – directly linked to the weekly poem or theme being studied. As the children get older more emphasis is placed on writing
realistic, detailed, descriptive stories. Stories may be influenced by personal experience; however, they will usually evolve from a subject discussed in class,
e.g. bullying, WW2 evacuation, life in the WW1 trenches, homelessness. Pupils are encouraged to PDRP: plan, draft, revise/edit, proof-read their stories (or poems etc.) on scrap paper, before producing a final version in their exercise book; they may then be asked to present (i.e. read it aloud) and discuss it. Like any ideas, creative writing needs to be developed. Our aim – with both creative prose and poetry – is for it to grow organically from material studied in class.
Spelling, Vocabulary and Grammar
Our weekly spelling lists/tests also require pupils to be aware of the meaning of any word which they have been asked to spell. Vocabulary expansion is seen as being as important – if not more so – than the ability to spell accurately. Work on synonyms – as vocabulary expansion – takes place on a regular basis and
this should involve quite complex words. Pupils compile their own personal dictionaries, adding new words to them independently across the curriculum.
Work on idioms – to colour pupils’ own writing – also takes place on a regular basis. Grammar and punctuation lessons are part of the schemes of work up to
Year 5. By Year 6, pupils should have a good understanding of parts of speech and a confidence both to recognise and employ the full range of punctuation marks. However, this can never be taken for granted and these will be incorporated into English lessons in general, with one-to-one reminders (reinforcement) of rules as part of the feedback offered by teacher to pupil.
These are chosen to fit in organically with the topics and themes being explored in class and will often include play versions of novels to animate the text during ‘shared reading’ in the classroom. Currently, Year 6 begin with Carrie’s War (play version as class reader, the novel as private reading) as part of our exploration of the Home Front in WW2; Year 7 look at Lord of the Flies (once again, play version as class reader, the novel as private reading) and Journey’s End, as part of our examination of war and its social/human impact; Year 8 read Stone Cold and Kes (play version as class reader, the novel as private reading) as part of our exploration of social unrest and dysfunctional family life. The advantages of this approach is that these drama scripts bring a genuine ‘shared approach’ to the classroom, while private reading of the novels allows pupils to be aware of the importance of descriptive detail, narrative voice etc.
The OFTSED report in 2007 highlighted the importance of language and literature competitions in order to enrich the syllabus and stimulate pupils. We
have a number of English-related competitions throughout the academic year in which all Year 4 to 8 pupils compete: since 2010 these competitions have included recipe poems, haiku, mini-sagas, photograph poems and a poetry recital.
The department has strong links with the drama department, organising theatre trips and a Year 8 leavers’ drama workshop (in 2011 dramatising extracts from school-related plays). The use of drama scripts in the classroom offers links to the pupils’ weekly drama lessons. ICT is incorporated into a number of our activities, including displays, topic and debate research etc. Social History plays a key role in the choice of our knowledge strands.
In addition, it is very much part of our plans to forge stronger links with both the Music and Art departments in order to create exciting new multi-curricular projects.
Dr Rodney Marshall
Head of English