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A Level English Language Starters: Frameworks & Analysis

Beth Kemp | Monday March 11, 2013

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  • A Level English Language Starters: Accent & Dialect
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  • A Level English Language Starters: Language & Power

Many of these suggestions can work as interesting ways to introduce a concept, with the actual name or ‘label’ of the idea brought in afterwards as a follow-up; or they can be effective starters to recap and consolidate terms learnt in a previous session.

All-purpose terminology revision starter: students have a fixed amount of time, e.g. one minute, to note down as many terms as they can recall within a particular linguistic ‘framework’ category. A level of challenge can be added by having students mark their own or each others’ lists, with marks deducted for ‘out of place’ terms [this is best achieved by providing a base list to mark from, covering all relevant terms taught so far - any additional ones students come up with are then discussed and assessed by the whole class. This allows for relevant terms learnt previously or elsewhere, and also addresses any shared misunderstandings.]

All-purpose terminology self-evaluation starter: students are reminded of the terms learnt so far, either with a total list or for a specific framework. Names of frameworks can also be used. They then rate them according to how confident they feel with them. This might be using traffic light colours or symbols such as ‘smiley’ and ‘sad faces’ or ticks, crosses and question marks, or for more challenge they can rank them, either in a strictly linear way or into a set number of levels of confidence.  [Note: this technique works for theoretical concepts and research studies too].

Recapping and consolidating terms can be accomplished as a starter activity in several different ways. These will work well to take on a single framework as a whole, or to revise terminology en masse, and most are also minimal in terms of preparation:

  • students can rank terms in order of how useful, interesting or important they think they are.  This can be followed up with a discussion, with students arguing for the relevance of different terms, or something more structured like a ‘balloon’ debate for terminology. These rankings can also be compared to mark schemes across a range of papers, to help students see how terms can gain them marks across the bands (either to make a point about the relative value of different terms, or to emphasise that different terms would have been helpful for different papers).
  • terms bingo is ever popular - offer a choice of 10-15 terms (students choose 6-10 of them) and provide definitions or examples. Students cross off or highlight a term when they hear its definition or example. There are prettier and more structured ways of playing bingo, but this is a simple no-prep version (although a quickly-produced list of terms and definitions to refer to is helpful.). The winning student(s) must call out their terms for checking.
  • anagrams of terms can be a nice quick starter, and can be turned into a race to capitalise on the competitive instincts, or a quick burst of hangman using key terms can be a good entrance activity.
  • asking students to create revision quizzes can be an effective way of checking what they learnt last time, or across a topic. These can be produced in groups and then swapped around for completion.
  • producing diagrams of framework terms can kick-start revision nicely and support visual learners. Students could produce flowcharts, mind maps, Venn diagrams or family tree-type diagrams as they see fit.

Organising terms by framework can be a useful consolidation starter. This can be accomplished with cards with terms on them, which students sort into groups, or students can each be given a term and asked to organise themselves into clusters by framework. See Samples & Proformas at the end of this resource.

A ‘Jabberwocky’ Discussion is a great way of introducing some broad and important questions about the nature of language. Suitable questions for thought and discussion include:

  • Is this poem written in English?
  • Will you find all of the words in an English dictionary?
  • Could the made up words be English?
  • Could the word ‘YNYSDDU’ be English?
  • How did Caroll make the nonsense words sound English?
  • Explain how Carroll uses onomatopoeia to help readers understand his poem
  • Replace the nonsense words in the first two lines with real words – what word categories (noun, verb or adjective) did you use? Why?
  • For each of the following examples, explain the difference in the function of the word ‘brillig’:
    • Look at that brillig?
    • I brillig every day.
    • Your cat is brillig.

Starters for Language: Grammar

What is grammar? This is a good one for the start of a grammar teaching block, or the beginning of the AS course. Students, in pairs, have one minute to explain everything they already know or believe about grammar. This might include definitions of it, or terms that they think will be relevant in discussing grammar or applying grammatical analysis to texts. This is effective in helping dispel the idea that grammar means only punctuation!

An alternative ‘what is grammar’ starter asks students to rank statements about grammar according to how true they believe them to be - more subtle than a simple true / false assessment. Statements I’ve successfully used to open an A2 lesson on dialect grammar are:

  • Grammar is a fixed set of rules for using language correctly.
  • Educated people speak more grammatically than uneducated people.
  • Grammar is another word for punctuation.
  • Ungrammatical language is hard to understand.
  • Grammar changes more slowly than other aspects of language.

What difference does ‘address’ make? Students are given two short extracts, which are identical except for the pronouns they use, and are asked to comment on what the difference is and what its effect is. See Samples & Proformas for an example.

Adverb re-positioning is an interesting starter, in which students are given a small set of words on cards and asked to arrange them into a sentence. They are then asked to rearrange them: which word(s) can move? where else in the sentence can they go? what is the impact on meaning? Alternatively, students are given the base sentence and an adverb to try out in as many different positions as possible. Suitable sentences include:

  • It didn’t break straight away. (luckily)
  • I like fish and chips. (actually)
  • He doesn’t like her. (really)

Harry Potter and the -ly Adverbs asks students to rewrite some sentences by removing adverbs and improving the verb. See Samples & Proformas for the handhout.

Playing with modals: students rewrite a sentence from a school report, changing the modal verb. They should note the changing connotations and the effect on the second verb (it may change tense). As a starting point, I use the sentence: Dave will achieve a good grade this summer, if he starts working harder now.

Another modals-based starter activity asks students to construct fortune teller-style predictions for their friends, or to write horoscopes. They can be asked to produce between three and five predictions, each using a different modal, and to then rank them from most tentative to most definite.

Which word class? Write or project a sentence onto the board and ask students to identify as many words in terms of word class as they possibly can. You could also extend it to ‘as much grammatical detail as possible’ and include things like phrases, clauses and clause elements. The opening sentence (or a key sentence) from a text you’ll be looking at in the lesson works well, or try a classic opening line from a literary text:

  • As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous verminous insect. (Kafka, Metamorphosis)
  • All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. (Tolstoy, Anna Karenina)
  • It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. (Austen, Pride and Prejudice)
  • If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. (Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye)
  • It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen (Orwell, 1984)

This activity can be used to make the point that not being able to identify grammatically every word, phrase or clause in a sentence doesn’t mean you have nothing to say about it.

Which word class? (more complex version): Write (or project) the following sentences on the board:

  • He is a well-travelled man.
  • I love travelling!
  • Are you a frequent traveller?
  • Sailing is a lovely way to travel.
  • Have you travelled far to get here?
  • I’m off on my travels next week.
  • The travelling circus is in town.
  • Are you travelling together?

Then, ask students to identify the ‘word classes’ of the various forms of the word ‘travel’, ideally providing some explanation for their designations. Any early finishers can be challenged to come up with a similar set based around another word. (If you want to vary it, terror / terrify / terrifying / terrified works well too, as does, love / lover / loving / loved).

It’s also possible to have the labelling activity as individual, and then ask students to pair up to discuss and explain their labelling. An alternative version provides all students with the list of phrases but asks each student (or pair, or group) to take responsibility for a specific phrase to explain to the class (this last version is better if you plan to go into lots of detail, while the first is best for a quick recap of word class).

Suggested answers (but with more detail than necessary):

  • He is a well-travelled man.
    • past participle or (more modern) perfective aspect operating as adjective here (compound adjective, due to being hyphenated together with the adverb ‘well’
  • I love travelling!
    • present participle or (more modern) progressive aspect used as a noun here (also known as a gerund)
  • Are you a frequent traveller?
    • noun formed by adding -er suffix (designating someone carrying out an action) to the base form of the verb (like teacher, driver, baker); note the doubled consonant required in SE
  • Sailing is a lovely way to travel.
    • infinitive form of the verb (combined with ‘to’)
  • Have you travelled far to get here?
    • past participle or (more modern) perfective aspect used to create present perfective
  • I’m off on my travels next week.
    • noun (clear from the plural suffix and possessive determiner)
  • The travelling circus is in town.
    • present participle or (more modern) progressive aspect used as an adjective here
  • Are you travelling together?
    • present participle or (more modern) progressive aspect used to create present progressive (note that meaning could be present or future)

This activity often leads to interesting discussions, and helps to underline the fact that many words don’t belong to a single fixed word class (‘form’) for all time, but that their context within the clause or sentence is what matters, that is, their grammatical function. This can also help reassure those who feared they had to learn the word class for each and every possible word! Ways of checking word classes such as ‘frames’ (e.g. common nouns can follow a/an) or substitutions (e.g. replace potential adjectives with a colour) are a natural discussion topic following this. This starter also works well with a lesson on morphology, with lots of opportunities to talk about derivation and inflections.

Word families: students are shown a collection of related words and asked to identify their word classes (e.g. love - abstract noun and verb, lover - concrete noun, lovely - adjective). This can be extended by either:

  • asking students to stretch the family further (e.g. they might form comparative and superlative of the adjective, offer different verb forms, add further...

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