World Cup Literacy Club: Session One as I see it.

It’s fair-and accurate- to say that many of the ideas I post on here aren’t necessarily suitable for your average English class of 33 students of whom some are male and some are female. Sorry but it’s the truth.

So, I’ve decided I’m going to run a World Cup Literacy Club during the 6 weeks prior, during and after the World Cup in Brazil this June. (15 days to go.) This club, I decided, was to be by invite only and will be aimed at improving the reading attitudes of a number of that most obstreperous of creatures: Boys. In fact, I thought, why not really let yourself in for something? Year 9 boys.

And so, with nothing but a rabid desire to impress, I ventured onto the Year 9 playground last week and found the boys I was looking for. I’m not going to go into too much detail about the boys and the type of students they are, or are perceived to be, for obvious reasons but let’s just say that each of the boys I spoke to wanted to come to my club so they can, and I quote, “show everyone what they can do when they have a go.” As if that wasn’t enough to put a mile-wide grin on my face, the boys asked that the club be held on a Monday, “so they have something to look forward to.” 

So, here’s what’s going to happen, as I see it, on Monday 9th June, 3 days before the World Cup kicks off.


Welcome the boys in, ask them to sign the team sheet and get them to fill out a quick survey on attitudes towards reading. I’ll use this later to see if I’ve had any positive impact on the boys’ approach to reading; 6 weeks is, in my opinion, to short a time frame to measure a change in attainment but an improvement in attitudes towards reading would have huge implications: all research suggests improved attitudes to reading result in improved attainment in reading and writing over time. 


Paper Talk. I’m going to give each of the boys (there’s ten of them by the way) a present: a copy of The Sun newspaper minus the third page.

(Just a thought – could I say at this point: “Any of you boys Liverpool supporters?” as I hold the copies of The Sun hesitantly in my hands. “No? Okay just thought I’d check because of the whole Hillsborough thing…” This could then lead onto a discussion of the tragedy and an exploration of the poem, The Ballad of Hillsborough at a later date…Just a thought.)

Anyways, I’m going to give each of the boys a copy of the paper and ask them to read any article(s) they so wish from the Sports section so long as it is football related. What I will also ask them to do is to highlight anything that is a ‘Nailed It’ or a ‘Head’s Gone.’

Nailed It: an opinion from a journalist or the actions of an individual player/manager/agent that the student thinks is absolutely brilliant. For example, a journalist writes that Mauricio Pocchetino needs to work on improving Roberto Soldado’s goal tally – Nailed It!


Head’s Gone: an opinion from a journalist or the actions of an individual player/manager/agent that the student thinks is absolutely barmy. For example, the student reads that Yaya Toure is threatening to leave Manchester City because the club officials didn’t buy him a birthday cake – Head’s Gone!



After a discussion of the Paper Talk I’m then going to show students a number of phrases: 

It’s lashing with rain and thunderstorms are rumbling in the distance.


Hacked down


Dangerous Position


  Stirring counterattack


Charged upfield


Ferocious counterattack


Slicing them open


Tearing them apart with every attack


…trudge forward in the rain…


I’ll ask the boys what they make of the phrases and hopefully we’ll get onto the fact that the phrases use imagery you’d commonly associate with war. I’ll then explain to the boys that phrases come from Sean Ingle’s report of the Spain vs Russia World Cup Qualifier from the Guardian website. I’ll ask the boys why they think football journalists would choose to use such imagery and maybe we’ll do a bit on metaphors and similes.

And that’s it.


Wordy Uppies: A Literacy Activity

Feel like sticking it to the health and safety brigade this week? Then try this…

Grab a football. Then, in a classroom with very high ceilings and minimal windows, or in a playground, do as many ‘keepy uppies’ as you can do. How many did you manage? Five? If so, then the pupil you’re challenging has to come up with at least five words that rhyme. Or five adverbs. Or five figurative techniques. Whatever – it’s up to you!

The great thing about this is, if you’re relatively skilled at keepy uppies then you can differentiate accordingly by ‘accidently’ messing up. If you’re not skilled at keepy uppies then find a teacher or a pupil who is or, even better, get practising! It’s good for you and them!

I need to try this. So do you. Let me know how it goes.


World Cup Wall Display – Love Football: Love Reading.

This photo shows a World Cup Wall Display that I knocked up in just 40 minutes at school today:



Eight different English Teachers, upon seeing my finished display, declared it to resemble: a sheep-cow, a pyramid head (don’t know either) or ‘perspectively flawed.’ Charming.

Needless to say I was very pleased to see, upon my return to my classroom at the end of a busy Friday, that two of my colleagues had taken it upon themselves to do me a goal that doesn’t look like a grazing animal. With real netting! Here it is:


My decision to create a World Cup wall display was fully inspired by the amazing World Cup Toolkit released this week by the National Literacy Trust. The link to this wonderful-and free- resource, aimed at encouraging children to read using football, or more specifically, the world cup as a ‘way in’ (sound familiar?), can be found by clicking on the link below. My only regret is that I didn’t think of any of the amazing ideas within it, myself!

Right, so here’s how my World Cup display is going to work:

The Goal Posts: Pupils will be encouraged to give me mini reviews, which they will write onto paper footballs, about a book (doesn’t have to be football related) that they have read. If it’s a good book their ‘review football’ goes in the goal; if it’s a book which inspires neither love nor hate then their ‘review football’ is whacked on the cross bar; finally, if the book is the literary equivalent to Jordan’s love life then that ‘review football’ is flyin’ wide. Well wide. 

World Cup Reading Selfies: In the middle of my display, i’ll be encouraging pupils to read newspaper articles, web articles, comics, books or magazines relating to this year’s World Cup and taking a photo of themselves doing so. They do this, their selfie goes on the wall.

Football Metaphors, Cliches and Similes: On the far right of my board I will be encouraging students (this is where KS4 comes in) to find footballing Metaphors, Cliches or Similes in magazine or newspaper match reports. Students that find the best, get their name and the (offending) metaphor, cliche or simile on the wall. Also, students will also be encouraged to listen out for interesting metaphors or similes during match commentary. Again, the ones I like will go on the wall.

Hope you’re inspired. If you’re not, here’s the link again. Try it


Premier League Reading Stars

Premier League Reading Stars is a reading intervention scheme jointly developed by The National Literacy Trust and the Premier League, aimed at improving reading attainment in ensuring that pupils in Years 5 and 6 meet expected KS2 targets. The scheme can also be used with pupils in Years 7 and 8 that haven’t yet met KS2 targets.

Like LastMinutePen, Premier League Reading Stars aims to foster and develop a love of reading in pupils via the world of football. A teacher pack is available which provides resources for a 10 week course for 32 pupils. The project claims that the following improvements have been found in just 10 weeks of students’ undergoing the project:

  • 3 out of 4 children made at least 6 months’ progress in just 10 weeks. 1 child in 3 made a year’s progress, or more
  • The number of children who enjoy reading ‘very much’ tripled as a result of taking part
  • The number of children who read every day doubled
  • 7 out of 10 say that they are now proud to be readers
  • Nearly half joined their public library
  • 2 out of 3 say that as a result of taking part they now have a favourite author
  • Nearly 9 out of 10 participants said that seeing Premier League footballers read has made them want to read more
  • Those who took part were 10 times more likely to progress in reading than similar children who didn’t  take part 


The teacher’s pack comes at a cost of £150 and I have not yet had the opportunity to test it out. Certainly, the information on the scheme’s website seems as though it is more geared towards a KS2 audience which means I don’t anticipate that I’d be able to use it in my own practice. We’ll see. 

Teacher’s pack aside, the project’s site also contains an ‘Online Challenges’ section in which anybody can access a number of reading challenges, each set by a different Premier League Footballer (meaning student’s can ‘collect’ the challenges as they would football stickers) which aim to improve students’ comprehension skills. These challenges cost nothing. Furthermore, they are also differentiated according to difficulty (you can choose from Professional, Word Class, or Legendary just like you can on the Fifa football games) which means students can opt for the challenge that suits them best and then work their way up to the highest level. 

So what about the challenges? Excellent. Upon reaching the challenge homepage ( students are met with the smiling faces of 20 different players (one from each different premier league club) each of whom has 3 challenges for students to take part in. By clicking on a player you are asked to choose one of the challenges. I clicked on Jan Vertonghen’s  challenge page (because he’s Mighty Spurs of course) and selected the easiest challenge: Professional Level. Upon clicking the challenge I was then shown a video in which a slightly wooden (okay, positively mahogany) Jan read aloud an extract from Andros Townsend’s (another Spurs star) player profile page from the team website. Once I’d listened to Jan’s reading I then had to answer three questions based on the extract. So far, so good. But I haven’t read anything yet right? Correct. However, question 3 can only be answered once you’ve read the extract that Jan was reading, yourself. So, scrolling down to the bottom of the page I found the extract, read it, and answered question 3. Goal! (That means I got it right.)

As you click on through the harder challenges the extracts become increasingly more difficult. And the extracts are not always football based. Jan Vertonghen’s ‘Legendary’ challenge asked me to listen/read an extract from Dareen Shan’s Zom-B. Whoever came up with the texts, know what students want. This is good stuff.

I’m going to email National Literacy Trust and see if they can send me a £150 resource pack for free and I can let you know what it’s like. In the meantime however, do check out the Online Challenge section of the website with some of your struggling pupils. You never know, it may well do exactly what it claims to do on the tin!

Here’s the link again:



The Vital 3 Points: A summary of the weekend’s football news in 3 bullet points

Right, here goes:


  • Spectacularly, Chelsea (2nd in the league) lost to Sunderland (bottom of the league) meaning that Chelsea look increasingly less likely to snatch the title out of Liverpool’s grasp. Do say: “What a season it’s been. Chelsea losing to Sunderland! You just never know do you?”
  • This loss led Chelsea’s manager, Jose Mourinho to provide a typically churlish post match interview in which he sarcastically congratulated Mike Riley (Premier League Referee Boss) on being ‘Absolutely Fantastic’ in making the premier league exciting this year. Do say: “Although Sunderland did win an unfair penalty, Chelsea have won a few too! West Brom anyone?” 

Watch the full interview here: 



  • Tottenham Manager Tim Sherwood reacted angrily to questions from the BBC about leaving Brazillian Midfielder, Sandro, out of his squad. Sherwood has previously stated that Sandro was injured. However, prior to the game against Fulham (which Spurs won 3-1), Sandro tweeted the world to announce that the manager was lying; he wasn’t injured. Sherwood, upon hearing this news, explained in no unclear terms that Sandro wasn’t good enough to get into the squad. Sandro later tweeted, ‘LOL!!!’ Do say: “Players need to stay away from Twitter. Joey Barton is proof enough of that fact!”

Watch the Sherwood interview here:






Starter: Guess the Pun

A quick little starter you can play on a regular basis with students, just to get them thinking.

What football story is the following newspaper pun about?


‘Bale-Force Wind’ (The Guardian, 17.04.14)


The answer is Gareth Bale’s wonder goal against Barcelona which meant that his side, Real Madrid, won the Copa del Rey. See it here:

Ensure that in your discussion, you speak with students about the value of puns. Why do newspapers use them? What does this pun suggest about Gareth Bale? (That he’s fast, surprising, strong etc.)

Have fun.

The Ballad of Hillsborough

Many students will have heard of the Hillsborough disaster but few will have had any real emotional awareness of the event. i used the poem, ‘ The Ballad of Hillsborough’ in a lesson with some Year 9 students who were studying the Ballad form of poetry.

You have to watch how you play this one; at times I had to prevent myself from being florid in my description of the disaster. Sometimes, when you see the kids in front of you are genuinely interested in what you’re saying, it can be hard not to get carried away.  But, there’s nothing worse than people who exploit death for any sort of gain so just watch it. 

Anyway, here’s the poem. Use it in what way you will:



The Liverpool supporters
Were given the smaller end;
Crammed behnd the goalmouth,
The fans were tightly penned – 

Penned, penned in their thousands,
Penned in under the sky
No one there had reckoned
That ninety-five would die.

The barriers all buckled,
They couldn’t take the strain
The cheers of jubilation
Turned into cries of pain.

And when at last they noticed,
The police unlocked a gate,
But the exit was too narrow,
And they’d opened it too late

The nation watched in horror,
Stunned with disbelief
As the shadows from the goalmouth
Stained a football pitch with grief.

An inquiry has been opened
To find out who’s to blame,
But for those who lost their dear ones
Nothing will be the same.

For nothing brings the dead back,
Post mortems, flowers or prayers,
It’s like reaching the top of the stairwell
And finding there are no stairs.

That drop into the darkness
Goes down and down and down;
And grief’s black water well there,
Inviting you to drown.

Never to see your loved ones,
Or hear them on the phone – 
It’s hard to believe when it happens
That you’ll never walk alone.

But down at the Kop at Anfield,
The goalmouth shows it’s true:
The scarves around the crossbar
Are knotted red and blue.

Despite divided loyalties
Liverpool loved its own,
And every tribute there proclaims:
You’ll never walk alone – 

Not by the banks of the Mersey
Nor down the terraced streets;
Beneath the great cathedrals
A city’s warm heart beats.

And now in the cold spring sunset,
The Liver Bird’s aflame
The Phoenix rose from the ashes;
A city can do the same.

Simon Rae


I focused largely on the the rhyme scheme when I studied the poem. It was interesting to see student opinion on why a poem which describes such a tragic disaster would have such a ‘sing song’ feel to it, as created by the rhyme in the ballad. If this is an avenue that you’d like to pursue then do consider:

  • The Ballad form as an oral form of poetry and the fact that rhyme would make an oratory performance easier to remember. 
  • The frequent references to You’ll Never Walk Alone, another song which Liverpool fans have adapted as their own. Can singing provide a sense of catharsis? Show students this clip of Liverpool fans singing the song on the 25th anniversary match of the tragedy and you’ll probably agree that it certainly does:
  • If a poem rhymes does it not reach a wider audience that includes young people whom otherwise might find textual insights to the tragedy inaccessible? After all, we’re not studying newspaper articles on the tragedy are we? No, we’re studying the poem.
  • What’s the effect of the Juxtaposition between the ‘sing song’ tone of the poem and the tragic content? Does it make the tragedy seem all the more shocking? Perhaps, perhaps not. 

Of course, there’s a plethora of other things you could use this poem for. What’s important is that if you use this poem, you use it sensitively. Good luck and let me know what you come up with.