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English #WACE conversations

November 21, 2015

Last Tuesday’s visit to Shenton College – a teacher development school – meant opportunities to share practices. Resources mainly related to new WACE courses, including tasks, visible thinking tools and composing with composure presented by Ian Reid.


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Texts worth sharing

WANT coming of age connections?

Stand By Me linked to Jasper Jones at one school.

Lay that Trumpet in Our Hands was well received by students who also studied Mississippi Burning (and savoured the scent of orange blossom brought in to class, according to their teacher). A downloadable teacher guide can be accessed here.

  • Bite of the Mango explores survival and the individual’s refusal to be seen as a victim;
  • the SBS documentary Change My Race tackles body image and Australia’s perceived intolerance of multiculturalism;
  • racism and illegal immigration  are themes in TC Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain;
  • the unlikely combination of a Holocaust tale in graphic novel form encapsulates Maus: A Survivor’s Tale – this study guide is available, too.
  • Perhaps it could be considered in relation to Shaun Tan’s The Arrival.


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The lyrical beauty of Gail Jones’ novel Sorry was hailed both for capable students and as a poignant illustration of Keating’s Sorry speech.

Documentary? The Tall Man.

TV crime?

Composing with composure

…the difficult after lunch session – here come my notes:

Relevant guidelines

  • create a range of texts; versatility
  • Make innovative & imaginative use of language features

 Don’t be daunted

  • Regular writing exercise will lower anxiety
  • Develop confidence & yield fluency
  • Good writing is fundamentally akin to other forms (persuasive, expository). No waffling!
  • Insights can come from the study of literary texts
  • Pay close attention to reading


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The Making of Literature – Ian Reid – recommended resource for WA English teachers.

  • best words in the best order. Literature is made; luminary <——–> students in classes. Observant reading is a necessary first premise. Intricate interrelationship. Foster this in students.
  • Pay note. Encourage observation.
  • Integrate what they write with what they read.


Francine Prose

Reading like a writer: a guide for people who love books and for those who want to write them.

Comment about paying attention to the language – actual words and sentences that a writer had used.

I began to change the way I taught. No more general discussions of this character or that plot turn…[instead I adopted the method of] lingering over every word, every phrase, every image…

  • pay close attention to details to build confidence



Classroom activity

  • take a short story and read 75%. Stop – what possible ways of getting to the destination can they infer? Conjecture. Compare their own creative thinking with what the author chose.

You have to learn to read with close attention.

How do they develop their skills in basketball/ dance/ riding?



You need an editor in your head (not fussing, but before you move on)

Editing during the process – editor is there on the shoulder as the creative. Pick up mistakes eg conflicting details. Avoid derailing. Structure needs attention by having a sense of where they are going.

Pause for critical reflection…

 3 things:

content, structure & texture of writing.

 Editing suggestions

  • Beginning, middle & end? Yes, but not necessarily in that order.
  • Have you maintained the tension? Need tighter knit? Filtering though another consciousness? Any superfluities?
  •  Texture – nuance, language features, style, rhythm of prose or verse. Avoided cliches & verbosity? Phrasing repetitive? Enliven descriptive passages?

 Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass – Chekhov.

Writing well is arduous. There is no point in pretending otherwise. Hard for even the more accomplished writer. Demanding of your own writing like the editor in the head. Success = do not be too easily satisfied.

 Exam practice:

write a narrative from the perspective of one of the characters from the image below.

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Where are they? What is going on here? Woman as the focus. Consider undeclared inner resentment of distant persona. Impersonate! Invent a voice to put on the page. Inner monologue. Write with energy & invest her with emotional intensity. Encourage uninhibited exploration of possibility.

Pose questions: is a distinct voice emerging? Could something become a credible portrait? Could development occur? Something unexpected? Could the mood be dispelled?

Tip: displace their resentment into a fictional character. Explore resentment & revenge. Does not have to be human. Cat?


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 Work with point of view

Not the technicality. Impersonate a voice. Imagine that attitude. Differences are possible, but also possibilities are closed off by making choices such as first person/ third. Consider the potential. What does commitment shut down? Exploring immediacy – present tense. Try second person.

Find interesting examples; ask students what they find interesting, but rewrite first paragraph from a different point of view. What becomes possible? What is closed off?

Question on advising students in relation to prompts – develop? Sustain?  Need to be nimble & respond to opportunities. Practice! Attempt short bursts. How to grow confidence? Range of different short writing activities. Preferably in relation to their reading.


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 What is best for them in an exam situation? Is it a good choice to draw from the same well? Adopt an unusual angle. The real aim is to arrest the attention & gain the confidence of the person reading. Take care to avoid stock, familiar material. Write for a purpose – impress! Sustain attention. Do they know how to vary according to the genre?

Develop a repertoire. Journals!

  • What might be possible?
  • Practice within a constrained timeframe – deal with stress.
  • Make your story 100 words.
  • Aim for concise writing. Use word limits: this will stand you in good stead for the exam.
  • Get practiced in the art of concision. Flash fiction.


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