Tuesday, May 23, 2017

'Hamlet' resources

This post summarises useful resources for our pupils studying Hamlet as their single text in the Leaving Certificate. [updated May 2017]
  1. The whole text of the play: put it on your own computer...
  2. A series of 15 video/audio analyses of moments, using the ShowMe app for iPad.
  3. The whole text of Hamlet as a Wordle (click on the image for a bigger view). \
  4. A recording of the 1993 BBC radio version with Kenneth Branagh.
  5. SCC English revision podcasts are here, on 'The first soliloquy','The first scene', and two ones which gather the 10 Characters series (below).
  6. 10 Characters in Hamlet: our 5-minute podcasts on 'lesser' characters: Fortinbras, Horatio, Laertes, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Polonius, Ophelia, The First Player, Osric, The First Gravedigger.
  7. An excellent resource: the BBC Archive Hamlet.
  8. Miriam Poulton's review of the excellent National Theatre Live production, starring Rory Kinnear.
  9. Radio documentary by 'This American Life' called 'Act V' on a prison production of the play.
  10. Links to six press reviews of the Kinnear Hamlet.
  11. Shakespeare Searched: a 'Google for Shakespeare' - terrific resource for looking up quotations, self-testing and so on.
  12. The Ten Best Hamlets.
  13. The Hamlet Weblog.
  14. Alan Stanford's Hamlet masterclass, on RTE Radio (4 programmes in January 2011).
  15. A quotation auto-test (and below; see the first slides for instructions)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Minds Made for Stories

One of the essential books for English teachers is was Thomas Newkirk's The Art of Slow Reading. Another excellent read is his 2014 book Minds Made for Stories: how we really read informational and persuasive texts. Newkirk's central idea is that all good writing has narrative at its core, and that narrative is not a discrete 'genre' (despite the crude divisions of our English Leaving Certificate course).

He starts 'Our theories are really disguised autobiographies, often rooted in childhood. That is the case with this book', and there are plenty of good stories and interesting references to back up his own theory. His writing, also, is blessedly free of educational jargon.

'We need stories, not simply for aesthetic pleasure, but to reassure ourselves that we live in a comprehensible world'.

'Narrative is not a type of writing. Or not merely a type of writing. It has deeper roots than that. It is a property of mind, an innate and indispensable form of understanding, as instinctive as our fear of falling, as our need for human company.'

There's lots more to explore. English teachers should do so.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Dragon

Emma Hinde from First Form wrote this poem for the Junior Poetry Prize recently:

The Dragon 

The dragon
Coiled like a loaded spring
Preparing to pounce

His till-now dormant energy
Going to hit reality
Ready to jump

His leg muscles relaxing
His tail up for balance
Leaving the ground

His wings spread wide
His eyes ever alert
Up in the air

His mighty mouth open
Revealing huge, toothy jaws
Breathing a flame

His ruby red belly
Now visible to all
While he’s spiralling lazily

O what a majestic beast
To take to the skies

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

There Will be a Time

For the recent Junior Poetry Prize, Aleksandra Murphy wrote this poem:

There Will be a Time

There will be a time
When the earth will be drained
Depleted of fuel, that was yesterday
It will be empty and pained
Leaking from its punctures and hollowing everyday

There will be a time
When there will be nothing left to burn
Gases clog the atmosphere, a major concern
Your permanent footprint
Embedded in the sky forever will exist

There will be a time
When there will be no more green
Where vegetation was once seen
It will be barren and bare
Left in dried despair

There will be a time
When you won't distinguish night from day
There won't be any stalking shadows following your way
None of this worries me, you said
You will be long dead.

Monday, May 08, 2017

The Moment of a Force

This runner-up for the recent Junior Poetry Prize is by Eliza Somerville:
The Moment of a Force

Over the crest of the hill
I came, making steady progress.  
The sun beat down; the air became
A heavy weight upon my shoulders.

I crashed through the heather and bracken
On the hilltop, bright purple and dark green.
The scent of yellow gorse hung in the air,
Making the journey sweeter.

Finally, I reached the highest point;
A heap of stones marked the peak.
I turned to face the valley for the first time
Allowing myself to look back.

On the far side I saw houses, cars driving by.
A small stream snaked down the hillside,
Shining and rippling like a silver ribbon,
But my eyes came to rest on another sight.

There they were, perched atop the furthest mountain,
Wind turbines, gleaming blindingly white in the sun.
Their pointed arms cut through the air,
Steady and constant like the beat of a drum.

As they moved, a swishing noise reached my ears.
Making energy from air; an immense power.
They harness the forces of nature,
Allowing life in the valley to use their energy.

My own energy was depleted from the long climb
But the turbines will never tire.
Turning round and round, their cycle goes on,
As they create power for us all.

A comforting thought, somehow.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017


One of the runners-up in the recent Junior Poetry Prize was Aurora Higgins-Jennings, and here is her poem 'Burnout'.

The light went out
All energy gone.
The life in her eyes,
Lost for far too long.

Impossibly certain
Unnervingly sure
All the commotion -
Too much to endure.

The life heartbeats and energy
Left her existence so suddenly.

How was I not to crack,
If she would not be coming back?

Eyes once flames of fire.
Hers were dead,
Not just tired.

Shakespeare Prize

Congratulations to Harry Oke-Osanyintolu, winner of this year's Willis Memorial Prize for Shakespeare. The exam for this was held last term, and Harry wrote very well on the unseen sonnet, as well as in the general question, using mostly his knowledge from studying Julius Caesar earlier in Transition Year.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Junior Poetry Prize, 2017

Congratulations to Tania Stokes, winner of this year's Junior Poetry Prize. Here is her entry, and other good entries will be posted in coming days.

'Resonance' by Tania Stokes 

I balanced on the strings. 
Light as a tightrope walk: 
Tentative, timid.
The first sound crept

At the draw of the bow 
Like some small creature 
From the dark. 

I missed my mark.
The tone not true,
My arrow flew into 

Nothing. The music played 
Itself in my head. Pure, 
Featherweight. Nimble. 

I composed myself;
I could see it, crystalline, 

The filigree lines.
I fixed my aim.
No stray note would escape. 

I would catch it
And carve it to perfection. 

But I was mistaken
In my reflection.
A cello’s purpose
Is not to take away –
Music grows. Its source?
A spark. Music throws flames 

To the dark, illuminates hearts. 

I reached deep, my arrow
Steeped in power. The melody,
I let it fly and it soared high –
It felt alive. I dived
Into the rising tide, and once inside, 

I let it carry me to shore.
Music is more than perfection.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

William Trevor evening

As part of the College's Arts Week, on Thursday 23rd March we held an event to mark the life and writings of William Trevor, Old Columban.  The guest of honour was the novelist Joseph O'Connor (pictured), who talked about writing in general, and Trevor's writing in particular, after reading beautifully to the audience Trevor's great short story 'Another Christmas'.

This was preceded by a talk by Julian Girdham, Head of the English Department, on Trevor's connections with and writing about the College, which can be read here.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

William Trevor Remembered

Tonight in the Big Schoolroom at 8pm, as part of the College's annual Arts Week, there will be an event to remember the great Old Columban novelist, William Trevor.  The novelist Joseph O'Connor will read one of Trevor's short stories and talk about him, and the Head of the English Department, Julian Girdham, will give an account of Trevor's writings about schools and the College in particular.  The event is open to the public, and there is no charge for entry.

If you haven't been to the College before, here are directions.

Here is Mira Stout's great interview with Trevor in the Paris Review in 1989.

Below, a fascinating interview with William Trevor by Mike Murphy on RTE in 2000.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Reading for Pleasure

Kenny Pieper's Reading for Pleasure in the 'How to Teach' is well-worth reading by all English teachers.  It's a pleasure to read a book so rooted in true commitment. And here is Kenny in an engaging Pivotal Podcast (number 146).

Some jottings:

'I take the act of reading for granted': Kenny's emphasis on those for whom this is not true is just what all (especially experienced?) English teachers need to bear in mind: we have a version of 'the curse of knowledge'.

The notion of what Donalyn Miller calls 'aliteracy', "a generation of kids who can read perfectly well but choose not to" is indeed a real challenge.

Kenny gives 10 minutes at the start of (most of) his classes over to reading. Well worth considering.

Plenty of more good practical ideas: the 'interest inventory', bookmark formats, dialogue journals, book speed-dating and much more, with interesting comments on the balance between e-readers such as the Kindle, and paper books.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

100 Books... from the TES

On World Book Day, here's a list for secondary pupils, courtesy of the TES.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Remembering William Trevor

The most distinguished Old Columban writer, William Trevor, died in November 2016, aged 88. The College will celebrate his achievements in an event during Arts Week which is open to all-comers. We are delighted that the novelist Joseph O'Connor, who is also the Frank McCourt Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Limerick, will read from and comment on Trevor's work. There will also be a short talk by the Head of the English Department and Sub-Warden Julian Girdham on William Trevor's connections with and writings about St Columba's.

All are welcome to attend this event, in the Big Schoolroom on Thursday 23rd March at 8pm, and to join us for a glass of wine afterwards. There is no charge for entry.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Tom McConville

At half-term our Librarian, Tom McConville, leaves the College, and the English Department has particular reason to thank him for all his support over the years. This morning at a reception in the Lower Argyle the Warden thanked Tom for all his work, the Sub-Warden, as a former Librarian, paid tribute to him, and Tom himself gave a characteristically witty and insightful thank you response.

We wish Tom all the best for the future. A good way to see some of his legacy is by checking out so many editions of the excellent Library magazine, 'The Submarine'.

Pictured: the Sub-Warden, Richard Brett (College Librarian), Tom McConville, and the Warden.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

SCC Book Club

The next choice for the pupils' Book Club is Malorie Blackman's Noughts and Crosses, on Tuesday 7th March in the Library at 1.20pm. See Mrs Donnelly with any queries.

And on the topic of Book Clubs, the next choice is William Trevor's Reading Turgenev from Two Lives, for discussion on the evening of Tuesday 28th February (more here on William Trevor before long).

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Articles of the Week

This is an ongoing listing of links to the Articles of the Week used with our Leaving Certificate pupils, from September 2013 onwards.

The idea came from the American teacher and writer Kelly Gallagher, and it fits very well into the Leaving course, getting pupils used to reading interesting articles and thus helping them in both the comprehension and composition sections of their Paper 1, as well as expanding their knowledge base and vocabulary and providing interesting topics for discussion.

Click here for Gallagher's current articles, and read more about the theory behind the scheme in his excellent book Readicide: how schools are killing reading and what you can do about it. Pupils have to mark up the articles with annotations before class discussion.
  1. February 2017: 'Our roads are choked. We're on the verge of carmageddon' by George Monbiot, The Guardian, September 20th 2016 [environment, transport].
  2. January 2017: 'Girls believe brilliance is a male trait' by Nicola Davis, The Guardian, January 27th 2017.
  3. January 2017: 'What do teenagers want? Potted plant parents' by Lisa Damour, New York Times, December 14th 2016 [adolescence, parenting].
  4. November 2016: 'Trump makes it easy to vote for Her' by Carl Hiaasen, Miami Herald, November 6th 2016 [politics, America].
  5. October 2016: 'How being alone may be the key to rest' by Claudia Hammond, BBC, September 27th 2016 [rest, reading, introversion].
  6. September 2016: 'Why Parents are Getting Angrier' by Nicola Skinner, The Guardian, September 3rd 2016 [parenting, psychology, childhood].
  7. September 2016: 'Burkini beach ban: must French Muslim women become invisible?' by Delphine Strauss, The Irish Times, August 22nd 2016 [culture, Islam, France].
  8. May 2016: 'How can Lidl sell jeans for £5.99?' by Gethin Chamberlain, The Guardian, March 13th 2016 [economics, retailing, manufacture].
  9. April 2016: 'Teaching men how to be emotionally honest' by Anrew Reiner, New York Times, April 4th 2016 [gender, adolescence, masculinity].
  10. February 2016: 'Then and now: how things have changed for teenage girls since the 1950s' by Clare Furniss, The Guardian, January 29th 2016 [teenagers, gender, sexism].
  11. January 2016: 'Teenagers risk being defined for life by their social media posts' by Karlin Lilllington, Irish Times, January 14th 2016 [social media, teenagers, identity].
  12. January 2016: 'Welcome to the Anthropocene, a new geological era for the world', The Week, January 8th 2016 [geology, climate change, environment].
  13. November 2015: 'Birth Order Determines ... Almost Nothing' by Jeanne Safer, psychologytoday.com [psychology, parenting, childhood].
  14. November 2015: 'How psychopaths can save your life' by Kevin Dutton, The Observer [psychology].
  15. November 2015: '10 benefits of reading: why you should read every day' by Lana Winter-Hebert, Lifehack.org [reading, entertainment, education].
  16. October 2015: 'How much can you really learn while you're asleep?' by Jordan Gaines Lewis, The Guardian, October 6th 2015 [neuroscience, learning, adolescence].
  17. September 2015: 'Fifth of secondary school pupils wake almost every night to use social media' by Sally Weale, The Guardian, September 15th 2015 [social media, learning, teenagers].

Monday, February 06, 2017

Junior Poetry Prize, 2017

The theme for this year is: e n e r g y

life… power… speed… fossil fuels… electricity… muscle… heart… physics… biology… wind turbines… dynamo… joules…movement... drive...

Any interpretation of the theme ‘energy’ is welcome!

Poems should be fourteen lines or more. Entrants can enter as many poems as they wish. 

Please email your poem(s) to Ms Smith, or hand them to your English teacher by Wednesday 29 March 2017.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

First Form Public Speaking Competition

The annual First Form public speaking competition took place today, and Ms Smith writes:

"We are grateful to Cathy Boobbyer who judged this year's speeches. Eight courageous finalists spoke on topics as various as tropical animals, Syrian refugees, robots, the dangers of gaming, and the importance of failure. 

There were four winners: 4th place went to Peter Taylor with his brave speech about Anxiety. In joint 2nd place were Guy Fitzgibbon and Tom Casey. Guy made an arresting address about robot invasions, and Tom Casey spoke about forms of discrimination in our world. 

First place went to Emma Hinde for her engaging, carefully constructed speech about artificial intelligence (AI). She certainly made us all think. Something robots could be doing very soon... "