Hip Hop and ‘Relevance’: Introducing Kate Tempest’s Wasted to the classroom

Dr. Katie Beswick is a Senior Lecturer in Drama at9781350094925 the University of Exeter. She has edited and written the introduction to the new Methuen Drama Student Edition of Kate Tempest’s Wasted.

Here she explains how the use of hip hop and the term ‘relevance’ are important when thinking about how to bring ideas to life in the classroom. She offers questions for further study that you can download and use with students.


In 2018, the rapper and grime artist Stormzy used his platform at the Brit Awards to highlight the lack of government action after the horrific 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, in which 72 people died as a result of poor building practices. Stormzy’s call to politicians (‘Yo Teresa May, where’s the money for Grenfell?’) powerfully demonstrated the role that popular entertainment forms can play in the political process. As a result of his performance and subsequent Twitter posts, over 100,000 people signed a petition encouraging then-prime minister Teresa May to take action over Grenfell. Similarly, when a number of grime MCs endorsed the Labour party in the 2017 General Election, under the banner ‘Grime 4 Corbyn’, they showed how hip hop and related cultures can bring social and political debates to audiences who might feel alienated from the discussions happening in the media and elsewhere. These examples show how hip hop, as a diffuse cultural form deeply entwined with histories of social and political injustice, can serve as a way to make ideas relevant to those who might not otherwise be interested in them.

The term ‘relevance’ has recently been given renewed cache.

Arts Council England’s latest ten-year strategy, ‘Let’s Create’, published in January of this year, positions ‘relevance’ as a key word — set to drive funding agendas over the next decade. Recognising the importance of creating relevant content in order to open up publically funded cultural venues to a range of audiences is, at least on the surface, a positive step in acknowledging the diversity of the British population, and the way that the canon of ‘high’ culture can exclude individuals and groups who don’t understand the relevance of, for example opera, classical music, or Shakesperian drama, to their lives — or who don’t see themselves represented in the country’s major arts institutions.

Relevance is also an important term when thinking about how to bring ideas to life in the classroom.

Bringing subject matter alive is, as most teachers know, an important means of enabling students to connect with ideas and feel ownership over their learning. In other words, when students feel what they are studying is meaningful to them, they enjoy lessons and learn more.

Hip hop might therefore allow students who are new to or under-confident in dramatic and literary analysis to feel a sense of ownership and connection to material.

In the student edition of Kate Tempest’s Wasted, which I have edited and written the introduction to, I use hip hop as a concept to frame the study of the play — a means of making social, cultural, historical, political and literary ideas ‘relevant’ to students who might engage with the text in school, college or at university. This is not because I believe all students are necessarily hip hop fans, but because the prominence of hip hop in terms of its ubiquity in popular culture, from high profile celebrities, to fashion, music, film and even politics (as Grime 4 Corbyn shows), as well as its on-going association with youth culture, makes it a form that students are likely to have some prior knowledge of. As Darren McGarvey argues in his book Poverty Safari, hip hop’s tradition of using local vernacular and telling stories of everyday experiences can appeal to those who feel alienated from high cultural forms, because it ‘reveals the richness of their own experience.’ Hip hop might therefore allow students who are new to or under-confident in dramatic and literary analysis to feel a sense of ownership and connection to material.

My decision to focus on hip hop is of course driven by the context and content of the play itself, as well as by Kate Tempest’s wider canon of work as a rapper and performer.

In an interview I conducted with Tempest in the preparation of the volume, she spoke about the way that hip hop served as a means of survival and expression during her teenage years, in which she felt alienated from the education system, and the world around her. When studying Wasted, Tempest’s sensibility for hip hop offers a means of thinking about the lineage between contemporary and classical verse forms (such as Greek Chorus and iambic pentameter). In the introduction, I draw attention to the work of Akala, a rapper, poet and political activist who has lectured on the similarities between hip hop and Shakespeare. I also pinpoint the way that hip hop has developed as a cultural form throughout recent history — connecting its evolution to issues such as gentrification and the class struggle, which are themes that run through Tempest’s play.


For those thinking about using Wasted 9781350094925in the classroom, I encourage you to consider how you might use hip hop culture to inspire students and teach recent historical events. I offer a set of questions, which might serve as a stimulus for lessons and activities.

Download the Questions for Further Study here

Learn more and request your inspection copy of Methuen Drama Student Edition of Kate Tempest’s Wasted.

Teach Yourself and Train Others: Designing a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Programme

We all know that when teachers are exposed to high-quality training, their teaching improves and they are able to have a greater impact on student attainment. Continuing professional development (CPD) programmes are therefore essential in all schools to raise the standard of teaching and learning, and to help close the achievement gap. However, with the majority of maintained schools in the UK currently facing extreme budgetary pressures, there is often little cash available to send teachers on courses run by external CPD providers.

Schools are increasingly choosing to cover CPD in-house, with individual teachers, middle leaders and senior leaders organising training sessions for their staff. Aside from saving money, in-house CPD has many benefits, including:

  • Those running the training will be aware of the specific school context and the
    day-to-day issues the school faces, and will be able to tailor the training accordingly.
  • In-house CPD can unify staff behind a common school improvement goal, helping teachers to work together more effectively and to feel less isolated in their own classrooms.
  • Providing individual staff members with the opportunity to run sessions in their chosen specialism can empower them, give them a sense of autonomy over their own practice and help them to develop key leadership skills.

Nevertheless, designing a CPD programme can be daunting. Whether teachers are looking to better their own practice or coach their colleagues, it can be hard to know where to start.

Bloomsbury CPD Library

CDP_Superpage_banner_978x243_V5

The Bloomsbury CPD Library is a series of books written by teachers for teachers with guidance, advice and strategies that are designed to be practical, relevant, adaptable, informed and affordable. It provides primary and secondary teachers with comprehensive and accessible ‘do-it-yourself’ CPD. It is perfect for individual teachers, middle leaders and those looking to introduce whole-school training programmes.

Books in the Bloomsbury CPD Library cover marking and feedback, special educational needs and disabilities, secondary curriculum design and assessment, becoming a middle leader, stretch and challenge, mentoring and coaching, using technology in the classroom and independent learning. And this is just the beginning!

The books are split into two halves: Part 1: Teach yourself and Part 2: Train others. In Part 1: Teach yourself, readers are encouraged to assess, improve, evaluate and excel in their own practice, while Part 2: Train others offers guidance on how to lead successful in-house CPD sessions.

Part 1: Teach yourself

In each book in the Bloomsbury CPD Library, Part 1: Teach yourself takes readers through a four-stage process that will help them to improve their own practice in the specific area covered in the book.

In Bloomsbury CPD Library: Research-Informed Practice, 9781472961532for example, this four-stage process is as follows:

Stage 1: Assess introduces the concept of research in education and what it means to be research informed in education.

Stage 2: Improve moves on to exploring the key sources readers should engage with, enabling them to keep up with new research ideas and findings.

Stage 3: Evaluate focuses on evaluating what steps readers have taken to develop their approach to research-informed practice and identifying further needs and requirements.

Stage 4: Excel looks at how readers can create an action research question that will encourage them to use research-informed knowledge to find solutions to their issues or problems.

At the end of each chapter you will find teaching tips, recommendations for sharing ideas and practice, a reading recommendation or title for discussion at a CPD reading group, a link to useful blog posts, and a ‘to do’ list to help your planning.

Part 2: Train Others

This section of the books in the Bloomsbury CPD Library looks at how teachers can develop practice more widely across their school to benefit both staff and students.

Whether readers would like to start things off with one whole-school session, or would like to run a series of training sessions for a specific group of staff, this section provides the training plans and resources to set up in-house CPD with the minimum of fuss. The section includes:

  • advice on how to run effective CPD
  • training plans for whole-school and small group sessions aimed at different audiences
  • a complete set of PowerPoint presentations to match the training plans, which are ready to use straightaway.

Online Resources

There are a wealth of online resources accompanying the books in the Bloomsbury CPD Library, including templates, questionnaires and PowerPoint presentations. These free electronic resources can be downloaded and adapted for CPD sessions – a big time saver!

Praise for the Bloomsbury CPD Library

On Bloomsbury CPD Library: Research-Informed Practice

‘Like the other titles in this brilliant Bloomsbury CPD Library series, Jennifer Ludgate’s Research-Informed Practice is immensely practical in nature and bursting with advice if your intention is to become more research-informed but you are not sure where to start.’
– Hélène Galdin O-Shea, ResearchED organiser and Research Advocate at Park High School

On Bloomsbury CPD Library: Research-Informed Practice

‘This book is useful for keen teachers and conscientious school leaders seeking research evidence that can helpfully inform their practice in the classroom.’
– Alex Quigley, National Content Manager at the Education Endowment Foundation and former English teacher, @HuntingEnglish

9781472928412On Bloomsbury CPD Library: Stretch and Challenge

‘This is an invaluable and comprehensive book for both classroom teachers and CPD leaders. Debbie Light’s book will definitely be my “go to read” for clarity, innovation and a common sense approach to this topic.’
– Debbie Ferrer, Associate Assistant Head, Bentley Wood High School

On Bloomsbury CPD Library: Middle Leadership

‘The “must have” reflective toolkit for every ambitious teacher on their journey towards middle leadership.’
– Jon Tait, Deputy Headteacher, Acklam Grange School9781472928092

On Bloomsbury CPD Library: Supporting Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities 

‘…a comprehensive guide that will increase your knowledge about children with SEND, support you in improving your classroom practice, and help you train your colleagues as well. This book is simply indispensable.’
– Sue Cowley, Teacher Trainer

Why Devise Theatre? By Tashi Gore and Jess Thorpe

Many theatre productions begin life as a Devising Theatreplay, a story involving characters following a journey that has already been written down by a playwright. In this case it is our job as directors and actors to bring this story to life through the creative ways that we choose to present it to an audience. But what happens if when we start we have no script, no characters and no plot? What happens if we are starting with a blank page?

To devise theatre is to make performance from scratch. This usually (although not always) occurs as a process of collaborative creation where a group of individuals come together to share thinking, experiment with ideas and invent a new piece of work together.

The power of devising is in its infinite possibility and the opportunity it offers theatre-makers to make something unique, something which is entirely their own and expresses their own ideas and experience of the world as they find it. Some of the most exciting new theatre and performance made today stems from this practice. Companies working in this way readily experiment with ideas of content, form, structure, staging and styles of performance in order to create new and exciting theatre.


To Devise:
to plan or invent (a complex procedure, system, or mechanism) by careful thought.
Oxford Dictionary


Devising can be an exciting prospect for a young artist as you begin to apply your developing toolkit to the process of making your own creative decisions and exploring new theatrical possibilities. In many ways, devising is a little like that moment as a child when you are given a blank piece of paper and a box of colours. It is completely up to you to decide how you choose to fill it; whether you will write or draw, recreate an image you have seen before or imagine something completely new. There are so many creative options open to you and it is really not possible to get it ‘wrong’.

One of the things that is most exciting about this type of creative process is that everyone can bring their own individual skills to the mix. You might be a person who finds reading big chunks of text difficult but loves to dance or move on stage. Maybe you express yourself visually and spend hours experimenting with objects and materials or through music and can lose a whole day playing your guitar or harmonica or harp. Devising works on the basis that everyone has something to offer and has their own unique creative potential. The trick is really just to figure out how best to use it.

Another key feature of the devising process is that you do not need to worry about the size of your cast. Whether you have 1, 10 or 100 people it is equally possible to make something brilliant. It also does not matter who is in your group; whatever age, gender, background or ability there is a space for everyone. You can imagine as many roles as there are people to play them.  Devising theatre need not be reliant on the idea of having a ‘main part’ but instead relies on the fundamental idea that everyone involved is equally important and can contribute to the overall creative process in all sorts of ways.

For the young people we have worked with, the most valuable thing about devising performance has always been the opportunity it has offered to them to use their own voice and have a say about the world as they find it. Making shows and sharing them with audiences has provided a platform to share some of their ideas, experiences, perspectives and questions with others. It has allowed them to challenge preconceived notions of who can be an artist and who is qualified to make performance and shift focus away from the ‘professional’ adults. In this way it has enabled them to share the power and creativity inherent in young people and energise the conversation around what theatre and performance can look like.

As we consider the potential of devising performance it is also important to consider what the function of art is in the first place. It is a mistake to imagine that it is not all just about ‘entertainment’. Art has always been the way that human beings make sense of the world that we live in. Right back when the Greeks were making the first shows in Athens (the origins of western theatre) they were using theatre as a tool to communicate what they felt and believed about the society they lived in and to engage with their wider community in the larger questions they had about life and existence. This remains true of art to this day; every song, every painting, every poem, every play that you can think of has been born out of human creativity. They are all the result of our need to share our thoughts and feelings and in doing so encourage others to think and feel too. When we consider it this way, we soon come to realise just how very powerful theatre and performance is and the potential it holds for all of us.

Tashi Gore and Jess Thorpe are Co-Artistic Directors of Glass Performance, an international award-winning theatre company. Their latest book A Beginner’s Guide to Devising Theatre is now available!

A Phonics Q&A with Sally and Sarah Featherstone

How do you integrate phonics practice into your daily teaching and learning routine, making sure children maximise phonics practice in a fun and engaging atmosphere? I.e. not lecture style or monotone.

Sally: It’s important children understand that phonics is relevant so I agree that it is fundamental to integrate it into the day’s learning. Try to put a phonics activity in the provision which, if possible, practises the sounds you’ve learned that week (sound sorting, magnetic letters and phoneme frames etc.) You could choose books for story time which feature the sound you’ve looked at that day. Plan phonics based activities for your teacher led sessions so that you can refer back to the phonics session, and ALWAYS send the children off from phonics or literacy teaching saying: ‘Today we have been learning about xxxx. See if you can find xxx in our classroom today and bring me what you find!’ At the end of the day make time to look at the phonics table as see what they’ve found.

Sarah: “I think this all depends on what kind of teacher you are. Nowhere does it say that children have to sit down for phonics, or write in a phonics lesson!

The Letters and Sounds scheme works by using a daily discrete 25 minute phonics session. This works because it is a little and often. This stops working if the children see it as ‘phonics time’ and don’t carry their learning through to all other areas of learning, so I have mixed feelings about it!

I try wherever possible to teach phonics through games. I teach the children how to play seven different phonics games – the best ones are the games where the rules and what you do remain the same, and the items you use vary according to the sound. This means you can ask children at the end of the phonics lesson ‘What game shall we play tomorrow?’ and they can choose – all you have to do is adapt it to the sound you are teaching the next day. Sometimes you can’t avoid having children write or sit down, but wherever possible I try to plan so that children don’t do either of these.

The fantastic thing about teaching children the games is that you can put the equipment in the provision and they know what to do and can revisit and consolidate. There are lots of great ideas for games in the Bloomsbury Early Years site, and in the range of Little Books.”

How do you ensure parents understand progression in teaching phonics so that they can use similar strategies at home to those used in school?

Sally: I think the best answer is to be open, give them the information, preferably in small amounts, about what exactly you are teaching each week and just one or two ideas of how they can help – perhaps something on the school website, or even on your classroom door?

Sarah: “I agree with Sally. Using the classroom door or notice board is a great way to keep parents informed – or pointing out your letter of the day display so parents can check as they drop children off.

Phonics is tricky for parents because, in order to best help, you need to make sure they are using pure sounds, which is hard! So, over time, I have made the decision to do the following with my parents:

  • I always invite them in once a half term for a phonics morning. I put out activities and games, and I invite them to watch me teach a phonics lesson. After that our phonics lead runs a workshop with parents that want to stay which teaches them how best to help with phonics at home. They can then ask questions they may have or ask for advice.
  • I always find that there is never enough time to practise High Frequency Words so I give parents a sheet at around the autumn half term that gives them fun games to play to help learn sight reading of HFWs (pairs, using the words as passwords on doors around the house, etc.) I then send home the next set of words regularly with children. You can also do this with phoneme grapheme correspondence by sending home letter cards each week (print them on a sheet they can cut out at home) or asking parents to practise letter names and capitals (which they often feel happier about doing).”

What has been your most magical Phonics learning moment?

Sally: Seeing children independently use and apply something you have taught them is why we all teach isn’t it! When I was in the classroom there was much more space in the curriculum for the emergent writing phase to develop. Seeing that writing feature more and more sounds they have learned until there are whole words you can read is magical. I also love the phonetic attempts children make in trying to spell unknown words – often they make more sense than the conventional spelling!

Sarah: “There are too many to mention really – I won’t tell you about the time I asked my Y1 class if they could think of any words that rhyme with anchor…!

It’s so rewarding when they respond to what you have put out for them – when children run up to you with a clipboard full of things they’ve found outside with the letter ‘s’ in for example. I love when the light bulb comes on and children realise they can read! I have a bell in my classroom that we ring when someone has a light bulb moment, and the surprise on their faces when they realise they’ve read a word and heard the word in the sounds they’ve made, then the pleasure on their face when you ring the bell and the whole class stops and cheers them. There’s nothing like it!”

What activities do you use to help children who struggle with blending and segmenting?

Sarah: You don’t say whether this is aural blending or reading that they are finding tricky. These strategies will work with both. Often, we are encouraged to start blending and segmenting with CVC words. If a child is very good at hearing sounds, this might not be a problem for them, but don’t forget the magic of the two letter blend. Teaching a CV or VC word like ‘at’ is a good place to start and this can be done with a whole class, small group, or one to one. Once children have the knack of blending two letter words confidently (it, on, up, in, an, is) then you can introduce a new initial letter and it is easier for the children to blend as they can say c-at, b-at, m-at etc. If the child is ready for reading and this is the blending they are struggling with, then I would use a phoneme frame with the two letter blend in one box as if it were a digraph and the initial sound in the first box. This will encourage the children to recognise the known chunk of the word and this makes it easier for them to blend. A great tool for this is to use magnetic letters. You can then tape or glue gun together the two letter words and encourage the children to choose a letter to be the initial letter, and blend the word they have made. They can be real or nonsense words and this activity, once they are familiar with it, can go in the provision for them to practise.

What things can I observe and notice that will help me to know whether children are learning and engaged with their phonics?

Sally: If they are noticing print in the environment or choosing to look at books, then they are aware of the printed word, and you can then observe to see if they are using any of the strategies you have taught. If they are, then they are learning!

Sarah: You can assess them – that’s the easiest way to tell! You will see the sounds you are teaching appearing in their writing, or when you talk to them or observe them at play.

What do you observe and notice about children who are ready to move on to grapheme phoneme correspondence?

Sarah: Once children are noticing print in the environment and can write their name, understanding the link between the squiggles they are writing and the fact this represents their name, they are ready to start phase 2 of letters and sounds. HOWEVER, teachers often start this before children can confidently aurally blend. This is like giving someone a handful of screws, but no screwdriver! Children should be coming into Reception able to confidently aurally blend. Make sure you communicate with staff from your nursery providers to make sure they understand this expectation. Then if children can’t blend, you can put extra measures in place, but at least most of your class will already have that skill.

Question 7: Have you ever used or seen a really successful provocation that has had strong links to phonics? What made it engaging?

Sally: I have seen ‘phonic baskets’ used effectively. These are baskets of objects which share the same initial sound or digraph. There are lots of ideas for items to include in the Little Book of Phonics.

Sarah: “Ohhh! Lots!

  • A fishing game using magnetic fishing rods and letters with paper clips on. The children fish for a sound and if they can identify it, they get to keep it. The one with most wins.
  • Racing to get to a letter or word.
  • Writing a message to the mermaid – a tray of sand and shells with letters written on. The children wrote words using the letters and left them for the mermaid to read – she left them a message to read the next morning.
  • Cut out paper always works a treat. If your small world is a zoo, then animal shapes to write on and practise writing the animal names, bats to write on in the superhero small world, leaves to write on in the outdoors, etc. Always leave a provocation that gives children a reason to write – e.g. put an alien toy in the zoo and leave the provocation ‘Can you label the animals in the zoo so the alien knows what they are?’”

Have you observed any brilliant moments where children have taken their phonics learning and incorporated it into their Child Initiated learning? What did you use to support that happening?

Sally: I think the key is to have writing opportunities everywhere in the classroom. Clipboards are great for outside and sending children on sound hunts is great. It’s important to make sure that when they feel the will to write, the equipment is there and is inviting! Then the key is to put things in the environment that engage and excite them. Children will often naturally want to write about things they are interested in.

Sarah: I remember being really disappointed when I was told that a child, who was finally making progress, was going on holiday for three weeks in the spring term. I chatted to her about her holiday and what she would be doing and said, ‘You could really help Mum and Dad by writing a list of what you want to take with you…’ thinking to myself that she probably wouldn’t. She spent the whole afternoon writing an A4 page long list of all the things she would take (swimn coshtyum). I asked if I could photocopy it, but she was so proud of it, she didn’t want to let it out of her sight, so she wrote me one I could keep! Without copying! That demonstrates what a difference context, relevance and the child’s interests can make to motivation!

How do you incorporate your phonics into your classroom areas (outdoor and indoor – displays and areas)?

Sally: “Try having a phonics table so that children can display things they can hear that sound in. You can change the sound each day or have the same one for a few days. Make the area attractive and ask children to make a label to go with their object, and at the end of the day, review what’s on there, read labels and reward with stickers (or whatever your reward system is). If children get recognition for their efforts, they will respond and their confidence will grow.

  • Try interactive displays using magnetic letters, matching HF or CVC words, or sounds.
  • Use your listening station for games like identifying animal sounds or read along stories.
  • Display the children’s writing!
  • Leave whatever resources you have used in that day’s phonics lessons in the provision for the children to use.”

Sarah: “My number one tip with writing in the environment is to not undervalue drawing. Children draw what matters to them. Encouraging and valuing their pictures and modelling drawing a story is powerful. As the children realise (especially boys) that drawing a story is as valid as writing one, and that you will scribe the story that goes with their drawings, they get more confident about making marks on paper and themselves having a relevance (agency). From that it is a short step to labelling their drawings, and then a hop to captions. Before you know it, they will write their story and illustrate it rather than the other way round!

My other top tip is to remember how powerful their name is. It is important to them and has relevance. It is the first word they will learn to read and write. Once they can read and write their name, they will know all those sounds without you having tried! They will be motivated to read and write their friend’s names, and then they can use them to write cards, and invitations, to label drawings, to hand out letters etc. Names are hugely powerful and I would have their names on display EVERYWHERE! Blue tack them to walls wherever you have a space, then they will be able to go and get their name (or their friend’s) to help them write on their work, write to others etc. They will then start to spot those letters in other words. It’s like magic!”

How do you differentiate phonics to make them accessible for students of all abilities?

Sarah: “I have taught in schools where phonics is streamed and the children split into smaller groups working on the same phase, and in schools where there is whole class phonics. I think there are advantages and disadvantages to both. I would argue though, that with whichever method you have taught in schools where phonics is streamed and the children split into smaller groups working on the same phase, and in schools where there is whole class phonics. I think there are advantages and disadvantages to both. I would argue though, that with whichever method your school uses, you will still have to differentiate within the group you are teaching. Here are some ideas:

  • Use games, particularly ones where you can ask lots of questions of the children. Then think before-hand about how you can ask questions that challenge the ones that have ‘got it’ and some simpler questions that get the less confident children to have a go, to tell you what they know and to feel successful. You can vary the amount of assistance you give them in answering, and in equipment you might give them to support them.
  • Make sure the lower ability children are nearer to you and feel supported by you.
  • If you are teaching whole class, make sure that independent groups are doing something they know how to do, so that they feel confident.
  • Give more time to less able children to answer, write, read, respond, and extend your more able children by asking supplementary questions.
  • Always ask yourself before any lesson ‘what will I do if they find this too easy, what will I do if they find this too hard’ – Your answers are your differentiation
  • Always support EAL children with visuals, and where possible, real things to support their language. If you are sounding out shell, show them a real shell, not a picture.
  • Try not to use the interactive whiteboard if you can – it allows children to zone out too easily and you will be looking at the board, and not at them.”

How often should you practise phonics for maximum benefit?

Sarah: “Teaching phonics  – I would teach daily, and religiously! Try not to sacrifice it to assemblies, play practise, dress up or charity days – the only exception I would allow is for trips. Even if you squash it into your story time, try to make phonics opportunities every day.

Practising phonics – I would try to grab any opportunity you can to use phonics throughout the day. Here are some ideas:

  • Let them go to get their coats one at a time by sounding out their names.
  • When you are reading anything to them, sound out words in sentences for them to blend or point out high frequency words.
  • When you are shared reading, make sure you make mistakes, or get stuck so that they can help you.
  • When you spot the sound you have learned that day – in a book or in the classroom – stop everyone and point it out – encourage children to bring you any example they find (and reward them! Stop everyone and big them up!)
  • Same as you would with number, shape, anything, use every opportunity to expose them to phonics.”

How would you advise we keep up the phonics momentum in years 3/4?

Sarah: “The screening check is a nightmare really because lots of schools think once it is done, there is no need for further phonics, and this causes so many problems for the children who aren’t fluent readers, or confident in their strategies.

  • I would make an area in your classroom that is devoted to SPAG and phonics. Get the children involved in making it exciting and contributing to it. Have word games in it for children to play (Yes! Play!)
  • Have competitions for any new words you come across in books – how would you spell it? Use post it notes and get them to try. Stick them on the wall and praise their strategies and confidence to have a go.
  • Use segmenting and blending in routines so they are still exposed to hearing harder words segmented. Sound their names out as they line up, go to wash hands, come and fetch their work, etc.
  • Play with words – make up some nonsense words and use them in some nonsense poems. They will enjoy it and their confidence will grow.
  • Make sure you share reading something on the board or in a big book every day – use this as a teaching opportunity and spot challenging phonics or spellings that they are consistently finding difficult.

Most important of all, I would say that any child who has not passed the screening check in year two is probably one of the children for whom synthetic phonics isn’t working. I could read before I started school, but I didn’t learn using phonics – I learned by reading whole words, and by recognising chunks in words – root words. By years three and four, it is appropriate to try some alternative strategies and you can teach these to all children as they will help with unfamiliar words.”

Sally and Sarah Featherstone have worked together on several fantastic books. Discover them all on our website.

The Little Book of Maths Songs & Games The Little Book of Writing The Little Book of Phonics

Q&A with the playwright Martin Travers

Martin is a dramatist based at9781350140523 Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre where he is Producer for Citizens Learning. The Citizens Learning team are committed to enhancing the lives of all kinds and ages of people in Glasgow and beyond; producing theatre for children and young people, community productions and delivering a pioneering range of creative participatory projects for varied communities and in the education sector.

We talk to him about his latest play, The Kids Are Alt Right, what his inspiration was and about the themes that the play explores.

Q. What was your inspiration for writing The Kids Are Alt Right?

A. I was asked to write The Kids Are Alt Right in light of the rise in all forms of damaging far-right social media and the threat this poses to young people in particular. When I was growing up it was easy to identify this kind of hate propaganda but now it’s more sophisticated, candy coated and sometimes deviously subtle. It was important to me to show this in the play. That’s what inspired me to create The Pretty Sisters and the Tartan Rebel. These characters push the same far-right agenda online but in markedly different ways. We live in a world that seems to be swinging to the far-right faster than global temperatures are rising. Recent lone wolf atrocities are a tangible example of this. I hope the play is a good tool for teachers (and parents) to discuss the divisive ideologies at work in the play openly with young people and to explore what they feel about similar social media posts or videos they have seen in their own lives.

My inspiration for the main characters came from lots of conversations with teenagers about the alt right and what they understood it to be. I also spoke to them about loyalty and friendship. What would they do to help a friend who was off the rails and what it would take to make them walk away from a friendship. It really hit home to me how loyal teenagers are to their friends. So I knew that dramatically it was important to have elements of betrayal and feelings of betrayal in the story.

Q. How do the characters’ relationships with their parents affect their behaviour in the play?

A. The parents in the play are powerless in many ways. It was important for me that the audience sees this. Its core to what the play is about. If adults don’t engage with young people and their lives in a meaningful and understanding way there’s no hope of being a positive influence in their lives. Young human beings are genetically programmed to rebel. It’s part of their journey to independence, independent thought and self-sufficiency as adults. The divisive ideologies on the net prey on this natural and healthy rebellion young people have to go through. The play has been written to be enjoyable and gripping to see or read but it’s also been written to be discussed. What could have Britney’s mum or her teacher Miss Blaine have done differently to stop the awful chain of events at the end of the play?

Q. How does social media and the internet impact the students?

A. It sends them into a spiral of events that tears the girls’ friendship apart beyond repair and deeply damages the future of four characters. A good question to discuss with students that read the play is who is guilty in the story and who is a victim. Is it the online instigators of Britney and Quinn’s actions? Are Britney and Quinn also victims as well as perpetrators?

Q. What are the other key influences on the characters’ actions?

A. The Pretty Sisters and the Tartan Rebel are the key influences on the characters wrong actions and bad decisions – the play’s been written to focus in on this so it’s really clear that these social media figures are the strongest influences in Britney and Quinn’s lives. The good actions and kind actions (however misplaced) in the story come from loyalty and a sense of care.

There are two knives in the play. Neither of these knives are carried to deliberately harm anyone but the carrying of these knives ultimately hurts everyone. Young people live in a world now where carrying a knife is seen as normal. I wanted the play to shine a spotlight on this horrible phenomenon. This attitude towards knives needs to be discussed openly and safely in class – I hope this play helps teachers and students to broach the subject without it feeling like a stale lecture.

Q. Was Quinn a victim of his surroundings?

A. It’s fair to say Quinn’s life and understanding of the world has been stunted by his family’s circumstances. Poverty is a terrible and curable affliction in twenty-first century Britain. Britain is a rich country – with some small changes in the way it’s administered we could provide more hope and opportunities for young people like Quinn. He’s misguided and easily influenced but he’s morally good at his core – I hope everyone sees that when they read the play. Young men like Quinn are the key target of the alt right.

Q. How do feel this play will relate with young people?

A. As the play is based on research with young people, I’m pretty sure other young people across the county will connect with the characters and the story. I’ve consciously used humour throughout the play as it helps all young people engage with a story. Lots of the name calling and slagging off that happens between the characters comes directly from discussions I had with young people. I hadn’t heard of “donkey fungus” before I spoke to some pupils of Lanark Grammar in South Lanarkshire!

Q. What themes do you think the play covers that teachers could use in the classroom?

A. The play covers big themes:
– Action and consequence
– Racism and hate crime
– Knife crime
– Dangerous online influences and fake facts
– Friendship and betrayal
– Citizenship and what that means in our everyday lives
– Empathy and lack of it

Q. What are some of the discussion points you feel the play could raise amongst students?

A. I’ve covered most of these above but the one discussion point that really lit up every conversation I had with young people when researching the play was when we discussed what friendship meant to them. What they were willing to do to protect a friend who has done something wrong. This was a great way into the other potential discussion points listed in the themes in question seven.

Q. Tell us more about Citizen’s Theatre and the work they do?

A. It’s great to be part of the Learning Team at the Citizens Theatre. We work with thousands of people every year. Many of them come from socially or culturally excluded groups. We do a lot of work in prisons and with ex-offenders. The character Quinn in the play draws on some of the men we have worked with who didn’t have a great start in life and who have made bad decisions that they really regret.

Q. What’s one thing we should know about you?

A. I’m really interested in language. How we use language to be cruel, to be kind, to get what we want or avoid what we don’t want. Plays are powerful because they are spoken. Words made the human race and unfortunately might be what brings us to our knees.

The Kids R Alt Right is part of the Methuen Drama Plays for Young People series. Find out more and purchase your copy here.

The Importance of Arts in Primary Education, by Ghislaine Kenyon

I’ve recently been spending time with opera singers – not as a punter in some fancy opera house, but as external evaluator for the Learning and Participation programme of Garsington Opera. Garsington does indeed have a ‘house’, a light-filled structure set in the gentle hills of the Wormsley estate in Buckinghamshire. And the people who attend operas on this main stage do dress up and picnic on the lawns; the audio is of clinking champagne glasses and refined chit-chat – ‘country-house opera’ in every sense.

But now imagine a day when the sounds echoing across those same lawns are those of primary age children playing, chasing, cartwheeling, taking over the space in a way that children offered such green expanses just do. It’s the interval of the OperaFirst performance of Fantasio – a comic fairy-tale romp by the 19th century composer Jacques Offenbach. And at the final curtain call the cast are greeted with Glasto-style whooping from the audience of 600 school children with their teachers. Parents waiting outside on pick-up duty can scarcely believe that this deafeningly enthusiastic response is to an opera – an art-form considered by so many to be elite and exclusive.

Let’s reel back a bit – this OperaFirst performance was much more than some worthy ‘take children to culture’ exercise of the kind that most publicly-funded arts organisations are obliged to offer.  (I’m not being critical here – an actual experience is better than none!) Instead it was the culmination of a serious bit of work by Garsington’s L&P department in local state primary, secondary and special schools: Fantasio was explored creatively in two intense days of workshops involving singing, stagecraft, composition and shared performance. As a former teacher observing these workshops, it’s clear that to me there’s a straight line leading from the skills of the creative teams working in classrooms to that rapture in the opera-house a few weeks later.  It starts with Karen Gillingham, Garsington’s  talented and charismatic creative director of L&P, who brings together a small and well-matched group of professionals for each school: a singer, a music director a stage director, and a vitally important L&P producer, who sorts out every practical detail from school liaison to sourcing a singer’s favourite lunchtime sandwich.

At Stokenchurch Primary School stage director Hazel Gould gets groups of Year 5 children to freeze- frame the emotional moments of the opera: ‘show me Princess Elsbeth upset at the death of her friend the jester, which happens on her wedding day to a man she’s being forced to marry by her father the king’  the creative and disciplined working situation has been so well set up by this time that the children speedily tackle this complex situation. At Milbrook Primary School, singer Charmian Bedford kneels on the floor and addresses one of the songs from the opera directly to the children sitting two metres away. It’s about that unwanted wedding day that she’s so dreading. One or two children giggle (as they put it, ‘singing really high, not like normal singing’) but most are open-mouthed, admiring, surprised. Music-director/composer John Barber helps children compose their own songs on this theme: ’we’re going to compose a song giving the princess some advice. Imagine you’re the princess’s maid and you know she’s making a big mistake agreeing to this wedding’.  A boy pipes up ‘My lady, I know that you want to keep the peace, but this prince might not be what you think he is’. This is how children (or anyone) can learn about the key elements of opera which are, very simply, story-telling through acting and singing. The OperaFirst does educate children about opera, of course, but, as I witnessed it, it also demonstrates more generally the power of an arts-rich curriculum in primary schools. The arts reach us because they address us 9781472961051emotionally. There’s nothing more motivating than that and it’s the reason why I, having worked both in schools and in the cultural sector wanted to, no, needed to write The Arts in Primary Education. By showcasing projects  such as OperaFirst and many other exemplary arts-based curricula in schools across the country I’m hoping that schools leaders who often for understandable reasons have left the arts as box-ticking, fringe activities, will find reasons to embrace them wholeheartedly.

Ghislaine Kenyon worked formerly as Deputy Head of Education at the National Gallery and then Head of Learning at Somerset House. She has curated several exhibitions, including Tell Me a Picture in 2000 with Quentin Blake. Her latest book The Arts in Primary Education is out now!

Explore the theme of migration with these Drama exercises for secondary students

With the subject of Migration Migration Playsbecoming more pressing and relevant in twenty-first century Britain, it is vital that we are able to have an informed debate about it, particularly with young people. Drama and performance can become a vehicle for those debates and feelings that we all have around migration.

Fin Kennedy’s new book, Migration Plays explores the theme of migration through four new plays. He explains the background to the book in his introduction here:

“Migration Stories was a Tamasha schools project delivered by playwrights and directors working in several different secondary schools in London and Derby. The format involved twenty-five Drama students from Years 7 to 10 coming off-timetable for a day and participating in exercises designed to unpack their thoughts and feelings on the topic of migration, and encourage them to respond creatively to what they were learning. These sessions were facilitated by the director, with the playwright taking notes. Each playwright then went away and worked up the ideas generated into a twenty-minute script for performance, with parts for the whole class.”

Migration Plays shares these plays along with director notes that you can use with your Drama class. This is then followed by a section of drama games and more involved exercises to generate characters and stories.


Two exercises to try today

Section 1: Exercises to unpack the theme of migration

Exercise: What’s in a name?

Set-up: Participants sit in a circle on chairs or the floor. This is usually the first activity of the workshop.

Teacher instructions: Invite everybody in the circle, one by one, to say their name. It can be their first name, their middle name or their surname. Then go round again and ask each student to share with the group one thing about their name. It could be one of the following:

  • What your name means.
  • Which language or culture is associated with your name.
  • Do you like your name?
  • Who gave you your name?
  • If you were a boy/girl what would you have been called instead?
  • What would you prefer to be called if you weren’t given your name?

Notes: Pupils generally respond very positively to this activity, especially if it is used as the first activity of the workshop. Most people like sharing something about themselves, but of course people can be given the option to ‘pass’. The teacher must be ready to positively respond to each name and to keep this activity flowing. We find that this activity inevitably brings up some migration references, and then these can be explored further in the subsequent activities.

Section 3: Improvisation exercises

Exercise: Creating obstacles and conflict

Set-up: Drama studio or cleared classroom. Whiteboard needed.

Teacher instructions: As a class, make a list of obstacles relating to migration, which might cause some kind of conflict for the migrant. Explain that obstacles and conflict are an important part of drama, because watching characters struggle to get what they want is how they learn and change. The best obstacles are often another character. Write their examples on the whiteboard. The list might include:

  • Assembling what they need for a long journey.
  • Applying for a visa.
  • Booking a boat ticket.
  • Saying goodbye to someone they love.
  • Finding suitable food.
  • Running out of money.
  • Preparing for an interview at the border.
  • Looking for work.
  • Finding somewhere to stay.
  • Meeting the locals.
  • Communicating with home.

In threes or fours, choose one obstacle and rehearse a short improvisation in which A and B are migrants engaged in this activity. C and/or D stands in their way and could either help them or block them depending on how the scene goes. The dialogue is about A and B trying to persuade C and/or D to give them what they want. Give the group five minutes’ rehearsal time, then watch a few.

After each scene, ask the audience:

  • What clues are in the scene about what the nature of the relationship is between the migrant characters?
  • What tactics do they use to try to get what they want?
  • How are they changed by the experience of dealing with this obstacle?
  • What might they try next?

Migration Plays is a Methuen Drama title and was published in August. Purchase your copy or request an inspection copy for your school here.

Ideas for Writing Original Material for Performance

Devising TheatreFor us, the theme or subject of the theatre we are devising always comes from an idea or question we have a direct relationship to or interest in. As a result the process of  material often requires us to draw from our own lives and experience and discuss our own opinions and personal points of view. In this way we also call it autobiographical. Devising autobiographical theatre in a collaborative way has led us to develop a number of different approaches to making original material. These are:

  • Writing Text
  • Movement and Choreography
  • Performance Images
  • Action
  • Music

When we are creating a new show we find that working in these different ways can help us to better understand our inquiry question from a variety of angles as well as allowing us to build a dynamic and diverse bank of performance material from which to choose. We also find that having a series of distinct ways to approach making material means that members of the group are able to work to their own strengths and area of interest. This allows each performer to utilize their individual learning style and find a form of creative expression that allows them a level of autonomy and ownership and the freedom to best communicate themselves and their point of view. In the past we have enjoyed watching young performers develop in new and unexpected directions as they experiment with different ways to create meaning and present themselves on stage.

Here are two new ways to use with your students when writing text for performance

Questions

Questions are our most favourite way to write text for performance. We love the act of asking questions because it feels so integral to who we are as human beings and our process of trying to understand the world around us. As theatre makers we are definitely more interested in questions than answers. Questions are possibilities. They open up our view of things and ask us to re-examine the way things are and the way they might be. Questions are action and dialogue and grappling with the complexity of things. It is actually impossible to find a show that we have made which does not contain at least one set of questions. They are knitted into the fabric of everything we do and everything we care about.

There are also multiple creative options as to how to place questions in a performance. You can ask questions to another performer, to one audience member or the whole audience in general or to yourself rhetorically. You can look for answers or leave the questions open as a text in themselves. The choices are endless.

Ideas for generating text from questions

  • Write a set of questions you have for someone in charge
  • Write a set of questions you have never asked
  • Write a set of questions you don’t know the answers to
  • Write a set of questions about big ideas
  • Write a set of questions about a subject you know very well
  • Write a set of questions you have about love
  • Write a set of questions for a friend
  • Write a set of questions for your family about you
  • Write a quiz on a specialist subject
  • Write a test for your teacher
  • Write a set of questions that do not have answers to

Letters

Letters can be an effective way to focus your ideas and explore your starting point from a particular perspective or point of view.  Letters also provide a creative way to bring something of the outside world into the performance. They can allow you to touch on the wider socio-political context of things or a lens with which to view a memory of a different time and place.

Letters can be found or sourced and brought into the rehearsal room; like a letter from a historical figure or a childhood pen-friend. They can also be written as part of the making process to allow you to explore the central inquiry form a different angle.

Ideas for generating text from letters

  • Write a letter to yourself when you were 5
  • Write a letter to yourself when you are older
  • Bring in a letter you received in the last month (bills/junk mail included)
  • Bring in a letter you have always kept
  • Write a letter you will never send
  • Write a letter to a celebrity
  • Write a letter to a stranger
  • Write a love letter
  • Write a chain letter
  • Write a letter to someone who can change things
  • Write a letter you wish you’d received

This was an extract taken from A Beginner’s Guide to Devising Theatre by Jess Thorpe and Tashi Gore. You can order your copy here.

Playing Shops: How Abie Longstaff wrote Cavegirl

There are six children in my family. I was the oldest and the bossiest, so I coordinated endless games to amuse my younger sisters. We stole Mum and Dads’ clothes for dress-ups; we pulled all the cushions off the sofa to make a gymnastics team; we even used the old wooden hostess trolley to sail away to sea.

sisters
Abbie and her sisters

One of our favourite styles of game was shops! There’s something about buying and selling that really appeals to children. I think it’s because it’s a basic form of transaction; one that’s easy to understand. Someone has an object to sell, the other offers to buy it. So as children, my sisters and I made pretend shops that sold sweets, or books or toys to one another. I saw this game continue in my own children – they loved making yard sales: setting up a little stall on the street to sell old toys or DVDs for pennies, helping at the school fair with second uniform or biscuit sales.

With my first books, The Fairytale Hairdresser series, I created a world of shops, where the Big Bad Wolf is an optician (‘all the better to see you with’), Little Bo Peep has a wool shop; and the Tooth Fairy is a dentist. My main character, Kittie Lacey, has a salon. The books celebrate entrepreneurship and creativity. This theme is evidently close to my heart because my chapter books, The Magic Potions Shop, also feature a shop! It’s funny how the things you loved as a child are brought out in the stories you write. On school visits I often tell children that the games they play, and the books they read will influence the kind of writer they’ll become, and I guess I’m proof of that.

With this new book, Cavegirl, I’ve taken the idea of buying and selling back to Neolithic times – the late Stone Age. The Neolithic period (very roughly 8000 to 3000 BC) was an era of change. Societies had begun to develop; communities living in fixed shelters, farming crops and keeping livestock.  Clothing was made of animal skins, and stone was fashioned into tools or weapons. Settling in one place allowed time for creativity, in the form of pottery, cave paintings and jewellery. On a trip to the UAE to see schools, I was lucky enough to visit the Mleiha Archaeological Centre, which displays ancient artefacts from the Stone and Bronze ages, including arrowheads, axes, tools and fireplaces excavated in the surrounding area. Some of the region used to be underwater, and I was even taken to see ancient seashells embedded in the Desert Mountains.

ancient sea
Ancient shells in the desert rock

The trip really inspired me to set a story in this period.

In those days, a barter system was in operation; goods such as weapons, pottery and copper were traded. Trade is the most basic form of commerce – one that children practise every time they swap a sticker or a trading card.

In Cavegirl, I wanted to play with the game of buy and sell in its purest form, but I wanted to add in entrepreneurship and creativity. I wanted my character to adapt the object she swaps, enhancing its value each time. In this way she moves up the ladder of trade, aiming to purchase the perfect birthday present for Mum. Only – it doesn’t all go to plan.Cavegirl

Abie Longstaff is the eldest of six children and grew up in Australia, Hong Kong and France. She knows all about squabbling, chaos and bossing younger sisters around so she logically began her career as a barrister. She started writing when her children were born and lives in Hove with her family. Abie writes for children from picture books to older fiction and is best known for the Fairytale Hairdresser series. Her latest book Cavegirl is out now!

Unicorns, Centaurs and Pegasus: why are we still fascinated by magical horses?

For much of recent human history, horses were a vital part of our daily lives: essential on farms, for transport and communication, and in battle.

But for most of us, nowadays, horses are almost irrelevant economically and horse-riding is a hobby for a small number of people. Most of us will go days, weeks, even months – especially if we live in a city – without seeing a horse. Yet horses are still a vital and passionately beloved element of our stories and culture.

Many 21st century children will never ride a pony, most will never groom or muck out a horse, but they still love stories about them, and particularly stories about magical and mythical horses.

I know this because when I ask classes of kids about their favourite magical creatures, unicorns almost always top the list, usually followed by winged horses and centaurs (and kelpies, if I’m in a Scottish school) mixed in with dragons and werewolves.

Why is that? Why do horses still appear so regularly in our stories and our imaginations and why do horses lend themselves so well to being given magical attributes?

Is it because of their beauty? Their size, strength and speed? Is it because of their mix of gentleness (a horse’s lips taking an apple off your palm) and potential danger (you don’t want a horse standing on your foot, and you really don’t want a startled horse to kick you)?

Is it that they can plausibly play such a wide variety of roles in stories – wise guide, essential transport, symbol of wealth and power, friend and companion or threat galloping towards you – because they have played so many roles in our history.

Is it because the horse’s importance in many cultures, for much of our history, means they have starring roles in a vast variety of folktales, myths and legends from all over the world? (I tell horse stories from Persia, Ukraine, Gambia, Russia, Australia, Tibet, Greece … and sometimes even Scotland.)

Is it all the vivid ways that storytellers in the past have added little bits of memorable magic to horses: the horn of a unicorn, the wings of Pegasus, the shapeshifting mystery of a kelpie? Are we all dazzled by the amazing and lasting pictures those magical additions leave in our imaginations?

Is it because of the unique relationship between rider and horse, and their dependence on each other? (In many of the ‘horse and hero’ legends I tell, the way the rider treats the horse reveals their character and whether they really are a hero or a bully.)

Is it because a horse, magical or not, can plausibly be a genuine and multi-faceted character in a story, not just a plot point or a magical MacGuffin? (My favourite magical horses as a child were Bree and Hwin in The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis – talking horses who aren’t just modes of transport, weapons or possessions, but characters with goals, moments of heroism, and distinct voices. Those Narnian horses are the protagonists in the story just as much as the two human children.)

Is it that horses are a powerful symbol of freedom, of escape, of traveling the world? We might use buses or bikes now, but the horse’s four fast powerful legs still carry that promise of adventure and freedom.

Despite all the research I’ve done into horse lore and mythology, and all the time I’ve spent discussing magical horses with children, I still don’t have a definitive answer to why we love magical horses. Perhaps they mean something different to each of us…

But I am sure that I’ll be discussing fiery, winged, shapeshifting, horned, talking and ghostly horses with kids again next term. Because whenever I say ‘magical animal’, the horse, in all its mythical and folklore forms, is the animal that leaps straight into their imaginations.

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I’m also sure that no matter how many wonderful magical horses there are in traditional tales, a class full of 10 year olds can always come up with a few new ideas to invent their own 21st century story-horses (laser eyes? snake’s tail? cat’s paws? time-travelling?) and to imagine their own unique adventures.

And I’m sure that even though real horses are no longer part of many of our daily lives, magical horses will star in our stories for generations.

 

Lari Don is a Scottish children’s author and storyteller. Her book, Horse of Fire, gathers her favourite ‘magical horse’ folktales myths and legends from all over the world, and is out in paperback now.