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.


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.

Impressing Footballers With Beautiful Tweets

Half the time, students simply don’t spend any real time on what they write. They write in order just to get the job done. Little time is spent thinking about why they are writing, who they are writing for and what effect they are trying to achieve. 

This lesson aims to change that. 

Starter: Examine a number of famous footballers tweets. Discuss what makes them effective, funny, interesting, profound, boring, drivel etc.

Main: Explain to students that they are going to attempt to get ‘retweeted’ by  a famous footballer. A list of footballer twitter handles can be found here: 

Ensure that you discuss with students (or even better, that students discuss with one another) what type of tweet is most likely to get re-tweeted by a famous footballer. That is, tweets that are personal but not abusive; funny but not suggestive of insanity; well worded and easy to read; relevant but also a little bit different. It’s not an easy task. By the way, they’re going to need their phones for this lesson. Some students may not have twitter; get them working with someone that does or set up a class twitter account on their behalf from which all tweets can be sent. 

Then, get students to craft their tweet. Stress the need for students to take their time over this; they only have 140 characters and one chance to get this done. They should be drafting and re-drafting and re-drafting again until the 140 characters they have in front of them are absolutely perfect. Words should be changed, different lines of rhetoric explored, and research on the footballer conducted. 

Plenary: Once students have constructed their tweets get them sent  (once you’ve checked them) and then students should feedback to the rest of the group about the tweet construction process. 

Obviously, this lesson can be used as a ‘hook’ for further lessons on considering GAP (Genre, Audience, Purpose) when writing. 

Like it? Try it? Let me know how it goes. 




Teachers, I’ve recently tried to hone GCSE students’ persuasive writing skills by getting them to write a letter to dear Mr Gove. 

If you’ve got a group of unruly boys who think that learning to write persuasively is pointless then tell them they’re right. However,  if they’re going to get the coveted ‘C grade or above’ in GCSE English then they need to know to be able to write persuasively in order to one day earn lots and lots of money which can, in turn, then be used to persuade absolutely anybody absolutely anything. Just ask Emanuel Adebayor. 

Right, so I expect most of you will be familiar with the ‘A F O R E S T’ acronym which is useful to consider when writing persuasively. Students, in order to write persuasively, need to be able to use a mixture of Anecdote, Fact, Opinion, Rhetorical Questioning, Emotive Language, Statistics and Rule of Three. (Don’t believe me? Well, did you know that 98% of people who don’t believe me tend to fail at absolutely everything they attempt to complete in the endless void which they have so termed a life. Honestly. Honestly. Honestly. That’s what I think. Fact.) 

Now, here’s the exciting bit. Rather than the usual ‘persuade-a-councillor-not-to-knock-down-another-bloody-leisure-centre’ drivel that we tend to opt for, why not get your unruly boys and girls to write a letter to their favourite footballer asking them to come down to the school for a kick about? The first student to get a response wins a prize of your choosing. A response, by the way, doesn’t have to be in the positive. Even a polite note of decline from a players agent counts as a response. 

Even got a starter for this lesson: Who’s the kindest footballer on the planet? Discuss with a partner and prepare to feedback with an explanation for your answer. You might argue that this lacks any real development of any English skill. To which I’d reply in either one of two ways: 1) Speaking and Listening. Just because Gove doesn’t like it doesn’t mean its not still important. 2) Who cares? It’s fun. 

Do let me know if you try this. Always keen to hear how things go. 


Reading Football Commentary

A great activity which asks students to read (yes, listening to footballing commentary still counts as reading; they are digesting the ‘text’ for information) and, if they are able, to recognise a number of figurative language devices.

Show students the clip and ask them to note down any metaphors or similes they recognise. More able students may be able to recognise a bit of personification. Ask lower ability students to listen out for alliteration.

I found the following:

“Wembley welcomes…” (Alliteration, Personification.)

“Roaldhino has had fun and games with penalties over the years” (Metaphor.)

“…poorer penalty…” (Alliteration.)

“..a springboard for England…” (Metaphor.)

“…suicidal moment for England…” (Metaphor.)

“…a disease that spread for England…” (Metaphor.)


Afterwards, see if students recognise any other metaphors or similes from the world of Football and/or sport. Are there recurring cliches? What’s the effect (if any) of these?

Happy teaching.