Sunday, September 4, 2022


Welcome to the course. To discover more about the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) please use the tabs above - Course Content, For Students, For Parents/Carers - and so on!

If you would like to know about the course contents in a nutshell, please continue reading.

The main aim of this online course is that you can complete a lot of the activities on your own and receive instant feedback about how well you have done. These activities include: 

  • Interactive online lessons - there are currently 14 (the number is increasing all the time) dealing with the different questions faced by learners in the exams.
  • Interactive quizzes - there are currently 22 (again, the number is increasing all the time).
  • Assignments - 12 teacher-marked assignments based on exam questions.
  • Mock exams - a mock exam for each paper, marked by current teachers of GCSE English.
  • Fun badges, automatically awarded when certain activities are completed.
  • A free 50+ page of "core texts" featuring the writing of a diverse set of authors
  • Access to weekly Kahoot Challenges 
  • Regularly updated links to the best blog posts by GCSE English teachers
  • Regularly updated links to the best creative and non-fiction writing published on the internet.

For more information, click on the links or one of the tabs at the top of the page (depending if you are a student, parent and so on).

Below you can find the blog posts associated with the VLE and the GCSE English Language qualification in general.  

This post will always have a recent date on it - we'll try to keep it at the top of the site.

Image Credit

How to do an Online Quiz on Pass GCSE English

Doing a quiz in class is a popular activity among students, particularly when it’s low-stakes (where students are given the chance to try repeatedly, make mistakes and potentially fail and to learn from those mistakes with no academic penalty). That’s what our interactive quizzes are all about.

Our quizzes can be done as many times as learners want. They are all based around the questions they will get in the exams. So, as well as strengthening English skills in general they are designed to increase awareness of the questions and, more importantly even, how to successfully respond to them. We use a Moodle platform, so if you are a GCSE English teacher, have a look at how you can use it to create an engaging learning area for your learners (without the impermanence of whichever VLE your institution has chosen).

There are a number of ways to access the quizzes but perhaps the best is to go to the right-hand sidebar and to click “quizzes” in the “Activities” section. 

This lists all the different activities available on the site and is a really good short-cut to them if you know exactly what you want to do. 

They each have a unique URL too which means that you can email the link directly to students. 

Once you select “Quizzes”, you will then get a list of the quizzes available to you – including the scores that you got on the ones that you previously attempted. 

They are all contained in their correct topic and are clearly named, so you should know what you are letting yourself in for! 

Let’s click onto the first quiz about structure (it's not in the image above as it only shows the quizzes up to Paper 1 Question 2).

As you can see, you get a few instructions before you do the quiz. First of all it will tell you what you have done and what you are to do – so you have viewed the quiz, but you need to receive both a grade and a passing grade. It then tells you the day it was set – that’s the day it was made live on the site, so don’t worry about that. Then there is the orange button that you click when you want to attempt the quiz, with a warning below that it is time-constrained – you only get 30 minutes to do this. Finally, there is the passing grade. This is set quite low on this quiz as it is the first one on the subject of structure. The pass grades will get higher in subsequent quizzes – but we don’t want to put you off to begin with!

If you decide to proceed with the quiz, then you click on the orange “Attempt quiz” button. You will then see this message.

This is to make sure that you are ready. If you are, click the orange “Start Attempt” button. Otherwise, just “Cancel” it.

Now you are in the quiz. In this instance, it is a quiz called “The Gladiator”.

In this quiz you have to read a (very) short story first. This reflects the structure question in the exam, where you can respond to any part of a text. So other quizzes will have shorter texts to read, in general!

Once you have read the text you can start answering the questions. The great thing about quizzes created using Moodle are that they can be multiple choice…

Or you may have to do some ordering…

Or you may have to drag and drop the right words into an example student response.

There are other types of question, too. However, these are the three types you are most likely to see in our quizzes.

While you are doing the quiz, if you come across a question that you can’t answer, you can flag it to come back to it later. If you look at the quiz navigation pane on the right, you will see I have flagged the third question. You can go back to it at any time by clicking on it.

If you finish the quiz before the time is up then you can submit it early. You get a list of the question you have answered, so you can quickly check that you have answered them all.

Then, when you are ready, click the orange "Submit all and finish" button. The software will ask you to confirm this.

You will automatically go into review mode. This will tell you how many you got right (green), how many you got wrong (red) and how many you got partially correct (amber). 

You can end the review at any time by clicking “Finish Review” at the bottom of the quiz navigation, but unless you got everything right, my advice is that you look at the questions you got wrong – review them. 

If you scroll through the quiz, you will get feedback. Here is an example for a multiple-choice question.

Some questions, like the drag and drop ones, will tell you which ones you got right and wrong. This guidance is there so you can work out why you got some of them wrong. Every time you work something like this out you get a few extra brain cells!

Once you click “Finish Review” then you are taken to a final screen which lists when you did the quiz, how many answers you got right and how many attempts you made. 

You can start a new attempt at any time after this point or return to this attempt and review it again - so the quiz is not only good for learning but great for revision, too. 

Alternatively, you can go and watch something on the telly.

Now you have read through this, we hope you will agree that quizzes are really useful when it comes to getting ready for GCSE English. The Moodle platform we use enables us to give you a much greater variety of question types than with most other quizzing software on the internet. You can also return to your quizzes whenever you want without having to bookmark the URL. We regularly release new quizzes, too, which means you can keep on improving your GCSE English knowledge and skills as you work towards the final exams.

If you wish to register and enroll for the course, please go to the tab at the top of the website.

Monday, August 29, 2022

How to do an Online Lesson on Pass GCSE English

Our lessons are created so that you can choose when to do them – and even how many times.  You can identify them from the other activities on the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) as they are always "signposted" in the same way. Above you can see examples - LESSON points out the type of activity and then the smaller text shows the question and subject.

To be honest, if you are fairly adept at using a computer, you will probably be able to work out how to do everything you need on the site. However, like every piece of software it can take a little time to get used to.

This is a quick guide about how to access and complete the lessons on Pass GCSE English.

The lessons are a pivotal part of the course. They will guide you through each question, first with an introductory lesson and then in more depth as you progress.

Once you have logged in, there are a number of ways to access the lessons. Take a look at the screenshot of the home page below. Click on any of the images in this article to make them larger.

So, there are three ways of getting to your lessons:
  • Use the left-hand scroll bar.
  • Scroll down the centre block
  • Use the Activities panel on the right-hand scroll bar.
Here are the options in a little more detail.

Use the left-hand scroll bar.
If you locate a lesson from here, when you click on it, the centre block will show the lesson and your current status. Status means whether you have started, are in progress or have finished a lesson.

Clicking on the lesson in the centre block will start the lesson for you.

Scroll down the centre block

This takes time and isn’t the quickest way for you to do it – but some people do!

Use the Activities panel on the right-hand scroll bar.

If you read down the list of activities you will see that “Lessons” is the fifth on the list. Click on it and you will get all the available lessons in a list..

This is a very useful feature as not only does it list all the lessons, it shows which you have done, the marks you have received for them, plus you can easily see the ones that you haven’t done (in the case of this student there are four with no grade, so they haven't been done). Clicking on to any of these will get you straight into the lesson which will start off looking something like this.

We have embedded quite a few silly animations to cheer you up if you’re finding studying a bit of a chore.

Throughout the lesson you will be asked a number of questions. For example, after a short intro, you will be asked whether you want to continue.

The first lesson about every question is a guide about how to do it. You will get plenty of examples, like this below which shows the parts of a text that could be used for a response. You will also get hints about how to build your answer.

Additionally, you will be shown student responses – and then be asked why it’s good or not!

We haven't done screenshots of the entire lesson, so imagine that you have seen a "first attempt" and have indicated that you think it needs some additional work. You would then get something like this...

The lesson builds up into a complete picture of the question and what is expected of you in the exam. Once you have finished with the lessons you can progress onto the quizzes. New lessons, which continue the learning process, will be added on a regular basis. Every time a new lesson appears on the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) you will receive an email telling you of its availability.

More about quizzes here.

Why We Chose Moodle for the "Pass GCSE English" Course

When we decided to create the Pass GCSE English course, we knew that we would need to find a platform on which it could evolve. Our idea was to create a platform that was driven by the learner, who could choose what to do and when to do it as often as possible. So, we had to find one where we could create a course that learners could join at any point in the year - you can see the result above (click the image to zoom in).

It didn’t take us long to find the right one. Moodle is a platform for online learning. It enables the creation of online courses and fortunately, we had some experience with it in our careers as English teachers. Moodle is a global platform but in the UK it is widely used by universities. The costs to course creators (that’s us!) vary according to the number of students doing a course, so we could start with a fairly inexpensive option in line with our expected startup numbers of learners. Moodle courses can contain many activities, including interactive lessons where students progress at their own pace. There are questions embedded throughout the lessons (automatically marked with instant feedback) to ensure that learners are on the right track.

We already have lessons online for most of the questions in the GCSE English exam – the plan is to have them all up and running by December 2022.

Quizzes are also a big feature of Moodle sites with a variety of different question types – it isn’t just multiple choice by any means. Once a student completes a quiz, it is automatically marked by the system. These can take a long time to set up but once the activities are online, it means that they can be attempted as many times as students wish.

Assignments can also be created so learners can submit work to be marked by us. Feedback can be sent back to the students, detailing how to make their work even better. This is a feature that you probably won’t find elsewhere online unless you employ a personal tutor (which can get very expensive).

There is also a reward system – badges. Course creators can design their own badges and award them when students complete particular activities. Everyone likes to be rewarded, and this is a fun way to do it!

All of the assignments are ready on the site to be attempted by learners. We focused on getting these up as we think this is where a lot of the interest among students will be. There are other activities on the course. We curate the best contemporary fiction and non-fiction texts we find. This means that students don’t have to, for example, search for ages for a great short story to read. We link to websites which contain tips about the exam questions. Then there are the Kahoot challenges (timed low-stakes online quizzes – catnip for learners!) that we make available on a weekly basis.

These are just the core features of Moodle, but the ones that we are currently using the most.

Hopefully this will have answered any questions you have about the software platform we use. Moodle is proving both powerful and versatile – we hope you agree when you sign up for the course.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Creating a Diverse Curriculum for GCSE English – Core Texts

If you ask any English teacher, they will probably say that yes, they do want to expose their learners to as diverse a selection of writers as possible. They may well probably add that it’s easier said than done. Here are some of my thoughts on the process.

One of the things that we are striving to do here at Pass GCSE English (and in my day job as an English teacher) is to expose learners to a diverse array of voices – and we like to think we are succeeding. It might be considered as “decolonizing the curriculum” but this post is more about the process than the politics (my thoughts on that will be in a forthcoming post). 

We decided early on that in order to avoid any potential copyright issues we would restrict ourselves to writers whose work is already in the public domain. Living writers tend not to do that (although we have found some) and so when considering texts to include it was and is important to first consider the year in which the writer slipped off their mortal coil. In the UK, work goes into the public domain 70 years after the death of the author. So, as it’s 2022, the work of writers who died before 1952 is “good to go”. We felt that this was important to avoid potential legal issues but also to prove a point or two. First, that English teachers don't have to make any of those furtive visits to the photocopier and hurriedly reproduce someone else's work, eyes down and with that transparently guilty look on their faces; secondly, that "old" texts can be just as exciting and interesting - and relevant - as something written by a living author.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Natsume Sōseki and Mary Seacole extracts on our VLE

We’ve recently seen a flurry on the activity on the VLE and that means that new authors have been selected and included. Our two latest additions are Natsume Sōseki and Mary Seacole.

Soseki was born in 1967 a time when Japan was becoming both westernised and industrialised and his writing reflects these changes. As well as being a highly successful novelist he became the Professor of English Literature at Tokyo Imperial University. He remains immensely popular in Japan and there has been a global emergence of interest in his works in the 21st century.

Sōseki did spend some time in the UK. Arriving in 1900 he spent just over two years there on a government scholarship. Although this meant he could not afford to study at Cambridge, he went to UCL (University College London). Unfortunately, despite making some friends, he had a miserable time, writing later that “the two years I spent in London were the most unpleasant years in my life. Among English gentlemen I lived in misery, like a poor dog that had strayed among a pack of wolves”. Yet the years he spent in the UK helped him to consolidate his knowledge of English literature and to go on to acquire two prestigious roles teaching English Literature at Japanese universities.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Paper 2 Question 4 – The Neglected Question?

Is it me or is English Language Paper 2 Question 4 a little neglected when it comes to online resources (not to mention student interest)? There are the past papers, of course, but if I attempt to find resources by teachers or even educational companies, there seems to be fewer resources for this question than for any of the others. Not only that, when I ask other English teachers which one question they would like to improve on in terms of delivery, then it is invariably this one – and a lack of good resources is a reason often cited.

There could be a number of reasons for this, which I will discuss later. However, this question can not, should not, must not be overlooked. 16 marks are available for students to gain when answering this question. If I embed maths into this article in the same way I do in my GCSE English lessons (so, uhm, probably badly), then that represents ten percent of the overall qualification. There are 160 marks available over the two papers. Fortunately, 16/160 is an easy enough bit of maths for even my brain to understand.

Ten percent may seem like a lot – or maybe not. That will all depend on your perspective (and definitely more about perspectives later!). Yet to begin, let’s take a look at the most recent set of grade boundaries – for the November 2021 exam.

Students had to get 68 marks for a grade 4. To get a 5, they had to get 79, a difference of 11 marks.

It gets more interesting the higher the grades go.

To get a 5 it is 79 – to get a 6 it is 90. That’s 11 marks.

To get a 6 it is 90 – to get a 7 it is 101. That’s 11 marks too. Pattern?

Then between grades 7 and 8 – and 8 and 9 – there are 10 marks.

Here it is in the form of a chart.

So, none of the numerical differences between the “important” grade boundaries are larger than the number of marks available for Paper 2 Question 4.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Who was Frances Harper?

Frances Harper is the latest addition to the host of writers featured on the VLE.  Hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, Frances was born free in 1825.  She devoted her life not just to writing – although she was a very successful author of poems and novels – but to the abolitionist cause, campaigning to help ensure the eventual emancipation of enslaved people in the USA.

Harper also devoted much of her energy to the cause of women’s suffrage.  To many she was the veritable “double-headed monster” – not just a politicised woman but a politicised black woman into the bargain.  Her gender drew a great deal of criticism when she began to give antislavery lectures, beginning in 1854 - many considered it improper for a woman to speak in public at that point in history, but Harper continued regardless.

Harper included her political opinions in her novels. At one point in her 1869 work Minnie’s Sacrifice, she puts these words into her protagonist’s mouth: “I cannot recognize that the negro man is the only one who has pressing claims at this hour. To-day our government needs woman's conscience as well as man's judgment. And while I would not throw a straw in the way of the colored man, even though I know that he would vote against me as soon as he gets his vote, yet I do think that woman should have some power to defend herself from oppression, and equal laws as if she were a man.”

She certainly wasn’t a dreamer – just a little while later Harper kills off her protagonist, having her fall victim to an act of racial violence.  She knew that the times that she lived in were hard and she expressed this reality in her novels.

The extract we have used for the VLE is from “Trial and Triumph” which addresses an issue that can still provoke highly emotive reactions in some – that of the unmarried mother. Following the fashion of the day it is a little melodramatic but is an elegant and very poignant extract, nonetheless.

Here at Pass GCSE English, we want to ensure that the authors we present are as diverse and as interesting as possible – and Frances Harper is certainly a wonderful “find” for us.  We have created a quiz based on an the extract mentioned above which covers elements of Paper 1 Question 2 - otherwise known as the language question!

You can read more about her on Wikipedia and a number of her novels are also available at Project Gutenberg.

If you know of an author we could include, please let us know!

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

GCSE English: The Structure Question – and How it Can Help Creative Writing

Paper 1 Question 3 asks students to comment on the structure of the text featured in the exam.  In order to prepare for this, they must learn quite a lot of vocabulary centred around structure.  This can be used when planning their own creative writing response later on in the exam.  Sometimes joining the dots between the two questions can take a little time.

As such, why not take a look at the video below which has just been uploaded to YouTube. It’s the first time we have partnered with “Teaching and Learning Resources for Me” to create the content that we need on the VLE.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Quizzes for GCSE English – Are they Important?

When a student walks into that big scary hall to take their GCSE English exam, they won’t have to do a single quiz – unless you count the “true or false” element of Paper 2 which is worth a measly four marks out of the 160 up for grabs across both exams.  So, why on earth use quizzes as a teaching and learning tool in preparation for this incredibly important pair of exams?

That’s a good question – and a simple one too.  My very simple answer would be “because they’re fun” and generally that’s where I would like the questioning to end.  I’ve never seen anything engage students more than a good quiz, especially on a platform like Kahoot. That’s the primary reason there are so many on the VLE, but more about that later.

Friday, July 23, 2021

New Authors Added to Pass GCSE English

We’ve had a flurry of recent activity as we prepare for the launch of the Pass GCSE EnglishVirtual Learning Environment (VLE). 

One of the great things about creating a VLE is the wealth of literature from which we can choose.  We’re not restricted, as the examiners are, by three centuries of literature so we can include writers like Pu Songling who was writing just a few decades after Shakespeare.  Of course, it’s in translation and it may be express cultural behaviour that is different to experience or expectation, but it introduces learners to literature that they may not have encountered before from civilisations they know little about.  It could spark an interest that leads to a lifetime of exploration.  Here’s a little about him.

Building a VLE has also given us an insight in to how hard finding the “right texts” is for this qualification. It isn’t simply a matter of pulling one off a shelf, it has to fit the assessment framework “just so”.  So, for example, for Paper 1 the text must contain enough detail for candidates to not only answer questions about structure and language (in separate questions) but also for a critical response to the text to be generated.  It isn’t every single beautiful piece of literature that fits the bill – finding extracts that “ticks all the boxes” is hard work.  No wonder that in the “proper” exams there is the occasional deft editing of the original for it to be something that candidates can respond to (especially in terms of length)! 

It’s not just finding texts that have the right elements – they have to be in the right order, too.  So, for Paper 1, the first half of a text must have the elements in place for candidates to answer questions 1 and 2.  Question 3 is the structure of the whole piece, but the text must have elements of structure that are fairly straightforward to pinpoint, explain and comment upon. Question 4 is always the second half of the text so again must have enough elements to engender a critical response. Paper 2 is, if anything, worse!  Although contrasting attitudes are usually straightforward enough to find on any given subject, finding something else that both writers mention that can be used to form the summary needed for question 2 is an entirely different kettle of fish!

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Why Planning is important in GCSE English Creative Writing

The great composer Leonard Bernstein once said, “To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.” 
I can’t think of a better way to start this post as that’s exactly how I feel about Paper 1 Question 5 of GCSE English Language!  Planning is vital to success on this question but my goodness, 45 minutes is something of a constraint. “Not quite enough time” is something I hear from my students all the time – but expressed in a manner not quite so polite!

Planning is also the subject of one of the multimedia lessons on the VLE and something I want to expand on a little here in a way I couldn’t in the lesson which is almost purely instructive.  Here I want to scratch my head a little about the psychology of planning – or to put it more precisely, I want to start by wondering out loud why so many of my students begin their GCSE course with me considering planning as inessential to their success in both creative and functional writing, but especially the former.

I work in a FE college. Most of these students are “resits”, which Is a nice way of saying that they didn’t do very well the first time (for any number of reasons, bone-idleness being at the forefront but still one of many reasons why students do poorly in English Language). Those who are new to the qualification are usually those who have been through the ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) pathway and these “newbies” tend to be quite receptive to planning texts.

Just as people do poorly at GCSE English for one of many reasons, there may be just as many explanations why so many students are unreceptive to the idea of planning a piece of creative writing.  However, do you know why I think that students can be less than keen to plan?  It’s because they don’t know how – and they’re just too embarrassed to admit it and ask in front of their peers (being at that peculiar time of life known as "teen").  Somewhere along the line, they didn’t quite get what the point of it was – and again the reasons for this can be many (and is almost leading to a “chicken and the egg” situation here). Regardless of the reason, this lack of knowledge around how to plan can lead to many a student refusing to attempt it.  They know they should know how to plan, they know they don’t – they decide not to bother.

So, it’s often a case of back to the drawing board – and that is exactly what the lesson on the VLE is all about, using the WAGOLL technique.  I’m generally averse to acronyms but What A Good One Looks Like is a favourite as it reminds me that being able to look at the finished product first can often make learning how to make one so much easier.  Before I ask students to write anything creative, I show them how to plan it first.  For GCSE English this involves considering what the examiner is looking for – and that means taking a look at the assessment objectives that cover the writing skills.

This may sound boring but again I am often surprised that students (in whatever previous educational setting) have not retained knowledge of the skills that they need to demonstrate when writing a creative text whether narrative or descriptive.  I hope I don’t sound like I’m pointing a finger, but it is comparable to telling someone to build a house but not letting them know how many rooms you want, what type of rooms you want – and where to put the windows and doors!

So, although it sounds dry as a bone, one of the first things I will show students is a list of the skills needed for both AO5 and A06.  That’s the content of their text and how it’s organised (aka structured) for AO5 and the technical accuracy (spelling, grammar, punctuation) of the text for AO6. This might involve revision or re-evaluation for the learners – you might be surprised how many blank faces I get when I ask for someone to tell me what they think “sentence demarcation” is.  Yet this is essential information.  I’ve heard some say it’s like building a cage for the students; I prefer to think of it as giving them a frame.  Focusing on what is to be assessed is never a constraint on creativity, indeed it can be a spur.

Plus, assessment objectives don’t need to be boring – a good Kahoot on them will get the attention of the class and lead on to a discussion about their importance.  When students know what they are going to be assessed on, they begin to focus on these skills.

The next step is to show students how to plan.  Again, along the lines of WAGOLL, it’s no good just giving a creative writing task and saying “spend five minutes planning before you start writing” if they don’t know what a good plan looks like or even how to plan a story at all.

So, I show them what a good plan looks like and how to plan is built in to this.  I do a little live modelling – not the Naomi Campbell type – starting with a question and then going through the steps I would take to plan it.  I ask for tips from the students as I go along (and encourage them to laugh at as well as with me) but try very much to bring the plan in to a specific format (which you can see on the VLE).  My approach is that I ask my students to think about structure first.  My mantra is “if you have good structure, then good language follows like a puppy wagging its tail.   Structure is the house, language the home furnishings.  Again – and this is an opinion I hold strongly – giving students a format is not a constraint when it is done properly.  Why? Once something (in this case the format of story telling for GCSE English) is acquired then experimentation upon it can begin.  If no format is acquired there will never be any experimentation only floudering.

Creating the structure of a text gives the students a sense of excitement – they have the finished product essentially planned in about eight quick lines.  It’s also great “unconscious revision” for Paper 1 Question 3. Many can’t wait to start writing but I haven’t quite finished. I then ask them to consider the language they could use in each part of their plan.  You can see an example on the left here.  I have used this method for quite a while now – it gives a sense of immediate success, and first attempts can sometimes be startlingly good.

Perhaps give it a try.  The comprehensive version of this method – and how I follow on from the introduction to creative writing – is all on the Pass GCSE English VLE.

Image Credit  

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Remembering Mary E. Jones Parrish

We’re very happy to announce we have content on the Pass GCSE English VLE written by Mary E Jones Parrish.

Never heard of her?  That isn’t unsurprising – for many years she was almost hidden from history.  Here is a little  background information. 

A century ago Tulsa, Oklahoma, was an example of how black Americans could thrive socially and economically.  Although a highly segregated place, the Greenwood area of the city was an oasis for black business people and educators alike who, collectively made the district thrive to such an extent that it was often referred to as “the Black Wall Street”.

All this came to an end on 31 May 1921 when a young black man was arrested on a charge which was later dropped.  A throng of white citizens surrounded the jail where he was being detained and news reached the black community that a lynching was to take place.  A number of black citizens marched to the jail to protect the detainee and from there a single gunshot unleashed a gunfight followed by a all-out attack on the Greenwood area.  In the space of twenty-four hours, hundreds of people had died and most of the prosperous district had been burned to the ground – this event would come to be known as the “Tulsa Race Massacre”.

Mary E Jones Parrish lived and worked in the Greenwood district.  She ran a small business school and had her home directly above it, where she lived with her young daughter Florence May.  She witnessed the full extent of the fury of the mob that descended on Greenwood which, from her account, seems like a full-on (if uncontrolled) military invasion as much as anything else.  After the episode, she decided to stay on in Tulsa and gather witness statements, as well as writing her account of what she had seen during those fateful days.

Her account was published the following year as “Events of the Tulsa Disaster” and serves as a living history of what happened – possibly the worst race riot in the history of the USA.  Afterwards, she went on to become head of the commerce department at a high school in Muskogee, Oklahoma but gradually her book became forgotten by all but historians, family and those who experienced the massacre themselves. Now, however, she is being given the credit she deserves for recording the tragic historic event and giving a voice to those who had been directly impacted by it.

To commemorate the centenary, the New Yorker has just published an article entitled “The Women Who Preserved the Story of the Tulsa Race Massacre” which tells the story of this awful crime by Americans on Americans as well as a lot more detail about Jones Parrish.  It is a fascinating read and a reminder, too, that events we see unfolding around us now are rooted in a past that isn’t that long ago.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

GCSE English Paper 2 Question 1 Resources - Quizzes!


GCSE English Paper 2 Question 1 presents students with a text and they then have to select which four (out of eight) statements about it are true (or false, depending!). This may sound quite straightforward but as many English teachers will tell you, they have a number of students each year who do not get all of them correct – and then go on to miss a grade four by a single mark. So, although it is easy to underestimate the impact that a poor performance on this question may make to some learners.

As it is only worth four marks, however, it is often overlooked in the pursuit of the “big hitters”. By that I mean the questions that are worth more marks. Our VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) aims to put that right with a series of quizzes that can be attempted a number of times. We have tried to make the subject matter as interesting as possible – so while learners can practice their skills on this question, they will also pick up a few thought-provoking history lessons too.

History? What on earth does that have to do with GCSE English? Well, the texts that the students are examined on can date back as far as 1801. Overwhelmingly, the older texts have appeared on Paper 2. So, our aim is to provide some stimulating quizzes that offer a little cultural capital to boot. They give an insight in to how people lived and died in days gone by – and what they did between those two major events too! It also, by default, helps to develop reading skills by exposing learners to texts from a different day and age which they may have to focus on a little more than usual in order to understand their meaning.

The quizzes (and the associated exam question) cover part of AO1 (Assessment Objective 1), specifically the ability to “identify and interpret explicit and implicit information and ideas”. You can sign up for the VLE using the one of the tabs above – depending on whether you are a student, teacher or private tutor.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Sunday, November 29, 2020

External Links to Blogs about How to Pass GCSE English

In order to do well on GCSE English Language, why rely on the skills and knowledge of a single teacher? On first inspection, that statement may seem a little disparaging to your current English teacher. However, there are plenty of English teachers out there who often write about their own methods using a blog as a teaching and learning platform. Some of them are very, very good. So, each section of the VLE has an ‘external links’ section. This are hand-picked blog posts which we feel will be of great use to you as you progress towards your GCSE English exams. Most of them are written by teachers for teachers. However, we only choose the ones that will make sense to learners, too. They can be a challenging read, but you will find that each one has something valuable to pass on to you.

If you do a search for “advice on Paper 1, Question 4” for example, you will get a bewildering amount of search results that may take you an awfully long time to sift through. So, we have done the hard work for you, selecting just the ones that we feel are most appropriate for people (young and older) who are sitting the GCSE English Language exam in the near future. One small “however”: remember that the VLE is based around the AQA curriculum. That means that the advice given is for those exams only.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Earn Badges for GCSE English Language

Badges. They seem rather old fashioned, something of a throwback to Blyton times with class monitors and head girls replete with hockey sticks and a few shillings for the tuck shop. However, they are an excellent way to reward online students for activities they have completed on a GCSE English Language VLE (Virtual Learning Environment). Badges are a great way of celebrating achievement and showing learner progress. There are plenty of things to learn when you study GCSE English so they can also act as a reminder of the ground you have covered so far – and where you need to get to in the future. Badges may be awarded based on a variety of chosen criteria and are displayed on a user's profile so that they can keep track of their successes while doing the online course.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Structural features for GCSE English Language

The structure question is one which can cause all sorts of problems for students approaching GCSE English.  So, there are a number of lessons on our VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) which cover what might come up in the exam – and the approach we take to it may surprise you.  

However, of course, just like the language question, Paper 1 Question 3 (of the AQA exam) demands that you know some terminology so that you can describe the structure of a text while responding to the question.

So, here are some of the structural features that you will see in action on the VLE.  Knowing what to look forward is straightforward enough, so as you can see from the list below, there are a number of important structural features to look at.

Knowing how to take this terminology and put them together to make an exam response is, of course, something altogether different.  We will leave those lessons on the Virtual Learning Environment!

In the meantime, take a look at the structural features below.  They come with a set of graphics that may blind you!

Structural features for GCSE English Language


This is where the time that the story takes place is established (year or month or season etc).  It often sets out where the story is set at the same time and is useful exposition.  Often mentioned “in passing”.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

GCSE English Language: How to get High Marks on Paper 1 Question 2

If you are working towards your GCSE English Language (AQA paper) you will already know that Paper 1 Question 2 is the one where you are asked to read a tiny extract of a text (sometimes just six or seven lines) and then you have to comment on the writer’s use of language.  Often, reading through those lines, a student can feel a little like Oliver Twist begging for food in the Poor House – “Please Sir, can I have some more?”

Paraphrasing one of Dickens’ most popular characters probably isn’t going to do any good here – but if you got the inference that I just made then you are well on you way to doing very well on this questions.

Over on our VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) our section on this question is becoming more extensive.  As well as a number of lessons where we take you through the steps you need to take in order to answer this question successfully (left is a graphic from one of the lessons – you can see an answer in progress), we have quizzes, videos – and of course, the opportunity to earn a badge by being successful in your learning.

It’s easy to write this question off – it’s only worth 8 marks.  However, you must remember that there is another language question worth 12 marks in Paper 2.  That means altogether your knowledge of how to describe how language is used is worth 20/160 marks – in other words 1/8 of the entire exam  As this is easily the difference between one grade and another, the language questions must not be ignored.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

William Wells Brown extract on our VLE

One of the great things about running a VLE like ours is that we aren’t restricted, as the GCSE English curriculum is, to UK authors. That means that the wealth of literature (both fiction and non-fiction) written in the English language by those who were not born in the UK (or there naturalized) can be used.

One author that we can now add to our list is William Wells Brown. You can see a short biography of him in the graphic above. This is just a snapshot of his life – but this man was remarkable. As well as making a living as a writer – hard enough under any circumstances – he overcame huge obstacles in order to realise his potential.  Plus his novel Clotelle has many elements that make it perfect for those studying GCSE English.  I have chosen an amazing extract for inclusion and will be using it in the Paper 1 Question 3 section - that's the one about how writers structure their texts.

Most of us, fortunately, cannot imagine being born into a life of slavery as Wells Brown was. Yet added to this there was betrayal. His father, George W Higgins was the cousin of his owner – a Dr John Young of Kentucky. Higgins acknowledged Wells Brown as his son and exacted a promise from Dr Young that he would never sell William. However, Young broke his promise and William Wells Brown was sold several times before his eventual escape.

Ironically, Higgins was a descendant of Stephen Hopkins, a passenger on the Mayflower, the English ship that transported the first English Puritans, known today as the Pilgrims, from England to the New World in 1620. Yet this new world of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness did not apply to Wells Brown despite his descent on his father’s side to the first pilgrims.