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Enlivening and informing tenagers! by Charis Furness
What will wake them up? What will grab their interest? How do I inspire discussion and facilitate genuine debate, effective collaboration, enthusiastic participation? I have surveyed the shelves in the English office with despair, sagging under the weight of under-used/never opened resources; I have perused the stimulus material in our textbooks with erratic success (besides, I could already hear the groans engendered by the mere sight of a text book). So here are a few ideas focused on these principles: make it current, make it relevant, make it good quality, make it multi-modal!
Having spent years using either specifically adult, or specifically child orientated news websites for current affairs information, I was concious of the fact that these were often either too difficult or too babyish for the teenagers I teach. However, The Day school newspaper (see theday.co.uk/info/the-day-explained) delivers daily news stories which bridge this gap and also provides good quality journalism. The icing on the cake for me though, is that alongisde each story, a collection of links to relevant multi-modal resources takes all the hard work out of researching a topic.
Should dolphins be granted human rights?
After watching a highly entertaining short documentary clip and reading an article, outlining the developments in dolphin studies whcih suggest they are just as complex and intelligent as humans - packed with compellingly cute dolphins doing amazing things - my Year 7s were so enthused, it took every trick in the book to momentarily restrain their discussion! After their debate, I was left with an abiding memory of one pupil, whose literacy skills are among the weakest in the school, able to sensitively refute the views of another pupil, his precocious opposite. Should dolphins be granted human rights? 'Yes, they should because if we don't, it's a bit like saying that people from France shouldn't have the same rights, just because they speak a different language. Dolphins have their own language and even have teachers and pupils, so they should be protected.'
Nowhere do current affairs resources come in more handy than in the speaking and listening element of the GCSE courses. Of course, much rests on the choice of topic; here are a few of my most successful:
Is football the last bastion of homophobia?
This led to several fascinating group discussions of the relative merits of football, as compared to other sports, in terms of how players are treated, how the media represents the game and the compexities of 'coming out' if you are a celebrity role model.
Facebook's plan to map entire lives
This proved to be a great one for the girls: the discussion highlighted the pros and cons of social networking; described how such sites both develop and hinder social skills; pondered the effect on teenage relationships and the potential impact on their futures and proposed some really rather philosophical points regarding privacy laws. I was surprised by the negative strength of feeling among these teens (I had presupposed they would all be in favour of Facebook).
Ill Manors and the London riots
Having come across Plan B's fascinating protest song Ill Manors, a bitterly ironic tirade against the use of the 'chav' stereotype in the world of politics and the media, I decided this would go down a storm with my year 11s, exam fatigued and increasingly restive as the are! The task: 'Explore the issues surrounding the represetnation of the young people in the media' was supplemented by the official video to Ill Manors; the Radio 1 Mistajam interview with Plan B (or Ben Drew); a BBC feature on the London riots; and an article from The Day on the legal aftermath of the riots. Suffice to say: it certainly got them talking!
Head of English, Great Torrington School, Devon