English - Road to perdition

4th May 2012 at 01:00
Getting to the plenary in time can be a real pilgrimage

If there's one writer who understood a teacher's struggles, it's John Bunyan. Not many people know that he wrote The Pilgrim's Progress as an allegory for the trials and tribulations of the average English lesson. In the story, the hero experiences the heights of ecstasy and the pain of failure on his journey, navigating danger, threat and the Valley of the Shadow of Ofsted Expectations until he reaches his journey's end. His goal is the Celestial City - a clever metaphor used by Bunyan for that pinnacle of pedagogical perfection, the plenary.

I plan a plenary for my lessons. I honestly do. The problem is that, a decade into my teaching career, I still haven't cracked time management. So, five minutes before the bell, we're very likely to be mired deep in the Slough of Descriptive Features when we should have been ascending the slopes of the Celestial Plenary, radiance and joy on our upturned faces.

Despite having planned my plenary, I often find myself nowhere near a celestial slope and in need of a way to end the lesson that tests whether the pupils have met their objective - or at least the half of it I managed to deliver. This is why I have, in my head, a few options. Just in case.

A favourite is "What to say at teatime". This plenary involves pupils deciding what to say to those at home who might ask: "What did you learn in English today?" It's the most annoying question in the world when you're unprepared. They can role-play this in pairs, one being the Irritating Parent and the other being the Smugly Prepared Child, and then swap over.

Another is asking how the world would be different if what we studied today had never happened. So, if we'd never learned about Shakespeare, what difference would it make to us? If we got rid of apostrophes, would the world survive? If paragraphs were banned by a totalitarian regime, would anyone suffer?

Oh, how they love to Test the Teacher, and if it turns into Humiliate the Teacher, so much the better. Sometimes I ask pupils to confer and plan a question on the day's learning on which they can test me. Or, more interestingly, they give me an answer - for example, "because he had a fatal flaw" - and I have to come up with the question that matches it.

The one-word-per-person plenary is popular, too. The sentence begins, "Today we learned that.", and everyone has to contribute a word to the rest of the sentence, which isn't allowed to end until the last person finishes it off.

I'm keen on getting pupils packed up and standing behind their chairs for plenaries, making their quick exit dependent on their performance. It focuses their minds. Of course, this is presuming I have dragged them out of the Slough in time.

Fran Hill teaches English in a Warwickshire secondary school and is a freelance writer and performer. Her e-book Being Miss is available to download from Amazon

What else?

Stuck for starter or plenary ideas? Try some of the hundreds shared by mikegershon.

Alternatively, check out youyouyou's compendium of ideas on starting and finishing with a bang.

In the forums

Join a discussion on ideas for a plenary at the end of an interview lesson.

Or check out English teachers' favourite Of Mice and Men plenaries.

Find all links and resources at www.tes.co.ukresources033.


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