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Essay practice
Yr 1 IGCSE prep

Poetry and prose of England:  ‘Prose and Poetry of England’ by J.Maline and J. Divine, published by Singer in 1955 as part of the St. Thomas More Series.
1. Shakespeare: Macbeth – click for scene by scene questions)
2. Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
3. Romanticism, the Victorian era, the Twentieth Century


Age 13-14
Revise paragraph writing if needed (notes available here on paragraphs)
Study conventions of essay writing (notes available here). 
Use Warriner or any equivalent text for essay writing topics.


Grammar and punctuation

Age 13+
By the time your child has completed a grammar book to this level, there is unlikely to be any more need to teach grammar and punctuation as a separate subject. Only note and correct errors as and when they arise, revising points as and when needed.
If you do want to continue the formal study further, or simply re-inforce, revise and practice, try something like Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition, a Complete Course. This is an American text which means it is not entirely suitable for a British pupil, but it is extremely thorough and worth picking up if you can find it cheaply as, aside from the grammar and punctuation exercises it also has plenty of ideas for composition together with numerous exercises in vocabulary and spelling, all at ‘high school’ level.


Comprehension to 14 by Geoff Barton


For the study of poetry in particular, the book Developing Poetry Skills by Geoff Barton is aimed at the 11-14 age range (though once your child has been taught these poetry analysis skills, there isn’t much to add to take him up to 14+/ GCSE level so this might be the only book you need).


Composition 13+

Essay writing
The final link in the chain for composition is essay writing, which is essentially the combining of several paragraphs framed by an introduction and conclusion. Writing essays effectively is essential not only for English but for literature, history and most other humanities subjects and it is a skill worth really working on. There are plenty of books available which will help your child to write better essays but in a sense the basic structure of any essay is quite simple to grasp and then it is just a question of getting plenty of practice.

Interestingly, my own sons, who are all bright and write English perfectly well, have disliked English Language lessons. To them, writing is something one should do for pleasure and only when one actually has something to say about a subject. It can be a torture to be told you must write a 500 word essay on ‘The town in which I live’ or ‘What we did on our holidays’, or to be asked to write a sonnet about trees (how would we like to do it, and how well would we do?). Unfortunately the subjects offered for GCSE practice are often not much more inspiring than this. However, as in earlier stages of the curriculum, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t set essays which have more personal interest for your child – as long as he realises that for a few hours in the exam he’ll just have to knuckle down and write whatever is required, inspiring or not!

If you do want a basic study guide for essay writing, you could do worse than this one which, like all the CPG books is very reasonably priced: GCSE English Writing Skills Study Guide by CPG.

Click here to find some basic information on structuring essays, with example titles and plans which could be used for practice.


More formal literature study, 12-13 onwards

At somewhere around age 12 or 13, you might want to set out on a broad sweep of English Literature, starting with our great Anglo-Saxon heritage and moving on over the next few years through the ages to the twentieth century. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, most children at this age love the older stories such as Beowulf and Sir Gawain (especially if they are already familiar with them from their earlier reading). At this age you can really begin to look at (albeit in a very simple way) the historical and literary background of such stories, their style, their authorship – in a word, what it is that makes them just what they are, and makes them classics. Secondly, many students’ knowledge of literature is confined to whatever texts are set for (I) GCSE – usually, a Shakespeare play, a modern play, some poetry and a novel from the 19th or 20th centuries. With my eldest son I found myself suddenly having to teach him from scratch about Shakespeare and 19th century Romanticism and Gothic literature (and how to analyse poetry) –  all in the year before his English Lit exam. It was not the best approach!

By covering a broad sweep of literature starting at about age 12, by 15 you will already have studied a Shakespeare play, learned how to analyse poetry, read a range of novels, and be able to put the 19th century (be it Austen, Dickens, Stevenson or Poe) firmly in its historical context. This provides a connectedness and contextualisation which is often lacking in a school approach to literature study.

One other consideration is that in our English schools, literature seems to begin with Shakespeare: this misses out on a wealth of English and European literature in the Catholic tradition which we don’t want our children to forego (The Dream of the Rood, The Song of Roland, and Dante’s Divine Comedy spring to mind).