Friday, April 30, 2010

King Lear revision podcast 2: 'All's cheerless, dark and deadly'

Our 19th podcast is the second in a series of revision talks on King Lear, prior to the Leaving Certificate in early June. The first one examined Act I scene i. This second podcast looks at the extreme bleakness of Shakespeare's vision in the play, especially through its treatment of religion and the gods. The gods are often invoked in King Lear, and on the surface ancient Britain seems to be a highly religious society. But in fact there is no stage at which heaven seems to be active or effective. The play disabuses its audience of the notion that there is any benevolent power above which will protect us from ourselves.

Listen to the podcast via the player below:-

You can also listen to our podcasts via the 'widget' on the sidebar to the right, or by visiting our podcast page here (if you have iTunes on your computer you can also subscribe by clicking here, and so download our episodes to your MP3 player, or by searching for 'SCC English' in the iTunes Store).

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Junior Poetry Prize 2010

Congratulations to Mark Russell, winner of the 2010 Junior Poetry Prize, for his collection of poems on the set theme 'Creatures'. Alexandra Boyd Crotty and Rishi Manuel also receive book tokens for their fine entries.

Here's the first of Mark's poems. More from him and other entrants next week, after we return from Exodus.

'The Eye of the Tiger' by Mark Russell

The eye of the tiger,
Alight with passion.
The stripes of the tiger,
Vibrant with life.
The paws of the tiger,
Heavy and strong.
All hanging limply,
On a dimly lit wall.

On this day...

  • A big group from the Shakespeare Society is heading for Macbeth at the Abbey Theatre this evening (review in due course).
  • Anyone interested in contributing to another edition of 'Second Bell' magazine should go to Kennedy classroom at 1.30pm today.
  • We've been nominated in the Top 100 Language Blogs 2010; more next month.
  • And many thanks to the Art Department, who are encouraging artists to produce illustrations for our forthcoming book, successor to Going Places, due out late next month.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

'78 rpm'

Our 63rd Poem of the Week is '78 rpm' by the Tennessee-born poet Jeff Daniel Marion and can be read here. The poet's touching memories of his parents are prompted by discovering old records 'in the back of the junkhouse.'

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Shapiro's 'Contested Will'

Our former colleague, and former head of our Shakespeare Society, John Fanagan, has been reading James Shapiro's new book Contested Will: who wrote Shakespeare? and has kindly sent us this recommendation:-

What do the following have in common: Henry James, Mark Twain, Charlie Chaplin, Sigmund Freud and Malcolm X? They all believed that William Shakespeare did not write the plays attributed to him.

On the eve of Shakespeare's birthday last week I attended a talk given in London by James Shapiro, author of 1599 : A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare. He was talking about his latest book, Contested Will which I have just finished. Like 1599, it is very scholarly and very readable. Shapiro is very easy to listen to as well. In the book he deals with the two main claimants to Shakespeare's works: Francis Bacon and the Earl of Oxford. The latter still has a large following, despite the fact that he died in 1604, before some of Shakespeare's greatest plays were written.

The main reason for supporters of Oxford and Bacon (and others) to doubt Shakespeare's authorship was that, as well-travelled aristocrats, they would have had the experiences that Shakespeare never had which informed the plays. In the last section of the book, when Shapiro very convincingly shows that Shakespeare
did write the plays using his wonderful imagination, he quotes from an anonymous poet in 1593:
A man may write of love, and not be in love, as well as of husbandry, and not go to plough, or of witches and be none'. It's as apt a description of the author of Shakespeare's Sonnets, As You Like It, and Macbeth as any I know.

The book is full of interesting information about the authorship controversy. I especially liked Shapiro's account of the 'trial' held in the United States in 1987 before three judges of the Supreme Court to decide whether Shakespeare or Oxford had written the plays. They decided in favour of Shakespeare, stating that the Oxfordians had not made their case. One of the three, the present Chief Justice John Paul Stevens, has reportedly said more recently, that if he 'had to pick a candidate today, I'd say it definitely was Oxford.' So the debate goes on, fuelled, Shapiro says, by the internet. He dreads the release of the film Anonymous which will push the 'Prince Tudor' theory: that Queen Elizabeth and Oxford were lovers whose son was the Earl of Southampton...

Shapiro says he's glad he's finished the book so that he can get back to the plays themselves. He mentioned in passing that he's thinking of writing a new book on 1606, along the lines of 1599. I hope he does. In the meantime, read Contested Will.

[Read Booker-winner Hilary Mantel's review on the Guardian site here (followed by lots of comments and debate), and Ben Crystal's in the Independent here. James Shapiro's own site is here, and he was interviewed on Radio 4's 'Front Row' here.]

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Beast at the Window

Ms Smith's Primary class were in Adare classroom just before lunch. Outside, a large and extremely noisy cement mixer working on cricket pavilion path renovations. Inside, a group of distracted junior pupils. Answer, obviously: write a poem. So this is Katie Stewart's response, bearing in mind this year's Junior Poetry theme, 'Creatures':

The big metal creature,
hulky, white and vivid red,
makes noises
churning and grumbling.
Its belly spins like an angry
metal monster.

It turns and turns
'til everything is liquid.

As the stones digest
I sit, listen and worry.

INOTE conference

We'll be well-represented in the attendance at the first ('sold-out') conference of the Irish National Organisation for Teachers of English, at the Kilkenny Education Centre on Saturday 8th May.

The programme is now out, and will feature:-
  • an opening address by Kevin McDermott, national co-ordinator for the language subjects,
  • Chris Warren from Teachit and NATE on 'enhancing and extending English with ICT',
  • Our neighbour Niall McMonagle from Wesley College on Wordsworth,
  • Frances Rocks on Junior Certificate English.
Full details on the INOTE website, and more here after the conference itself.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

1000 Posts on SCC English

Almost four years ago, in July 2006, this blog started as an experiment with a post (in the holidays) reporting on some English-related events in the previous term. Today, amazingly, we arrive at our 1000th post.

We were going to produce a count of all the writing, especially by pupils, that has been on SCC English since then, as we've done on other landmarks, but at this stage it would take a very long time: suffice it to say that we've featured hundreds of pieces of writing by about 400 pupils, and by the six English teachers.

The blog has also become the hub of our Department activity (linking to a staff site and a wiki), and has led to podcasts, our Twitter feed, a series of nominations for various web awards (including winning the 2008 Edublog Award for Best Group Blog), features in a series of publications (such as the Irish Independent, 'Teaching English' magazine, 'Conference and Common Room', PC Live and more) as well as conferences and in-service training. And it's put us in touch with tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world.

It also led to a most pleasing off-shoot, our first book, Going Places, in May 2008, and we're looking forward to publishing our second one later this term, a selection of writing from the blog since 2008.

SCC English was started to celebrate literature and language. This is what it does, and what it will continue to do. Thanks to all who have contributed and supported (especially our scientific friends over on the Frog Blog). Looking forward to the next 'millennium'...

Friday, April 23, 2010

25 Shakespeare Tweets

Today being Shakespeare's birthday (and 'death'-day too), we've been tweeting on the Bard, and here's a selection, with links to lots of interesting resources, books, articles and more...

  1. 7 Podcasts on 'Macbeth':
  2. Visualizations of the text of King Lear:
  3. RT @FolgerLibrary: Five Geeky Ways to Celebrate Shakespeare's Birthday.
  4. All #Shakespeare's sonnets via #Wordle:
  5. Fascinating: the Hamlet Quartos site:
  6. Multimedia 'Romeo and Juliet' from Shakespeare in Bits:
  7. More tweets on the Bard's birthday ... Recommending the Shakespeare iPhone App :
  8. RT @boulderbooks: In his writings, #Shakespeare used 31,534 words. Estimates indicate he knew 66,500. The average person?
  9. Shakespeare #ff for the day that's in it: @ShakespeareGeek
  10. Shakespeare #ffs for day that's in it: Shakespeare: @TheRSC, @shakespeareinb, @MadShakespeare, @BritShakespeare, @The_Globe, @FolgerLibrary
  11. Terrific and fascinating resource: Shakespeare word frequency lists -
  12. Brilliant collection of Shakespeare production design links -
  13. Thou spleeny onion-eyed clack-dish! [Fun : the Shakespeare Insulter Machine -]
  14. Macbeth resource notes from @abbeytheatre:
  15. On Shakespeare's birthday, each play via #Wordle:
  16. Happy birthday, Shakespeare! Here's our Student Crossword for the occasion: RT @NYTimesLearning
  17. On Shakespeare's birthday, our first King Lear revision podcast for Leaving Cert:
  18. Excellent! RT @EditorMark: List of the day: Shakespearean insults, including swag-bellied, toad-spotted, and whey-face:
  19. A brilliant critic - great that essays now all in one book. RT @RhysTranter: Prefaces to Shakespeare:
  20. Shakespeare comments on the internet: "The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together" (from 'All's Well...')
  21. The Bardweb resource site: lots of great #Shakespeare links:
  22. The Hamlet blog:
  23. Recommended: the brilliant Shakespeare Clusty Search Engine - fabulous resource.
  24. Shakespeare was born on April 23rd (we think) 1564 and died on April 23rd 1616: lots of Bard tweets today and a summary later.
  25. Find more Shakespeare-inspired fun for kids on Folger's Shakespeare in American Life website.

King Lear revision podcast 1: the opening scene

Happy 446th birthday to Mr W. Shakespeare ...

Our 18th podcast is the first in a series of weekly revision talks on Shakespeare's King Lear, leading up to the Leaving Certificate in early June. Like last year's Macbeth revision podcasts, these are designed to freshen up thinking. Each lasts about 10-15 minutes.

The first King Lear talk examines the explosive and crucial opening scene, during which the King sets in train the disastrous train of events which leads to personal and public catastrophe.

Listen to the podcast via the player below:-

You can also listen to our podcasts via the 'widget' on the sidebar to the right, or by visiting our podcast page here (if you have iTunes on your computer you can also subscribe by clicking here, and so download our episodes to your MP3 player, or by searching for 'SCC English' in the iTunes Store).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

English Teachers Talking

A bonus to the recent Spring 2010 edition of 'Teaching English' magazine (read it here online via Issuu): the English Support Service has added audio tracks by 11 English teachers on their experience of a First Year project for reading and writing.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

'Silver Lining' by Carol Ann Duffy

It seems appropriate that our 62nd Poem of the Week should be 'Silver Lining' by the British poet Carol Ann Duffy, written just a couple of days ago, which starts: 'Five miles up the hush and shush of ash / Yet the sky is as clean as a white slate...' We await the return of many pupils and some staff scattered around the continent...

Read the poem on the Guardian site here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


The Campaign for the Removal of English Errors in Public was driving along the Lower Churchtown Road the other day, minding its (sic) business, when this sight appeared through the windscreen. No spelling to inaccurate, it seems...

Holiday Tweets

A selection of interesting tweets from the holidays (with a nice tweetless and IT-unplugged week in the middle)-

  1. One in 3 teens send 100-plus texts a day, survey finds (OMG!)
  2. The iPhone app that puts poetry at your fingertips
  3. Carol Ann Duffy reads Silver Lining - a poem on the disruption caused by the volcanic ash cloud
  4. re Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy - The joy of getting lost in a book
  5. Handy, and a good self-test... list of phrases coined by, or associated with, Shakespeare:
  6. Highly recommended essay by Diana Athill: 'Why I moved into an old people's home' - moving, graceful, inspiring:
  7. BBC radio 4 essay on a world without planes:
  8. Create any size wall posters from any size images
  9. "Massive amounts of cash heading our way from Iceland." eh?
  10. CREEP 5: - from the London 'Independent': singular subject takes singular verb -
  11. 11 ideas for learning and teaching in the 1st year English classroom (p29 of 'Teaching English' mag):
  12. 10 film choices for English teachers of 12/13/14 year-olds (p.21 of Teaching English mag):
  13. 8 pages of book recommendations for 12/13/14 year-olds (pp8-13):
  14. Recommended: Helen Dunmore's 'The Malarkey' -
  15. Ryanair's new inspiration: RT @TheOnion: In Focus: American Airlines Now Charging Fees To Non-Passengers
  16. Portraits of Samuel Beckett in Paris by John Minihan - exhibition starts today (to June 25), Dublin Alliance Francaise:
  17. Such Tweet Sorrow - Romeo and Juliet for the 21st Century - has launched today. Visit or follow @such_tweet.
  18. Abbey Theatre downloadable Resource Notes on Macbeth:
  19. Profile today in Times of Hans Fallada, author of 'Alone in Berlin' (half way through it):
  20. e-Textbooks - the tipping point?
  21. Elizabeth Bishop and the New Yorker: letters on 'Crusoe in England':
  22. 17 novels set in boarding schools (update):

Monday, April 19, 2010

Start of Term

Boarders return tonight (Eyjafjallajokull allowing), and classes start tomorrow. As always, in English this is a busy term - the Leaving and Junior Cert exams of course, but also:- results of the Poetry Prizes, the Shakespeare Prize, theatre visits (starting with Macbeth at the Abbey on Wednesday evening), the Transition Year English Evening (IV formers will be starting term with plenty of essay writing for their Work Portfolio), more reviews of iPhone apps useful for English, the Actiontrack showbuild week, the Voices of Poetry evening and much more. As ever, we'll be posting lots of pupil work. And our Twitter feed tweets away, highlighting interesting sites and work on the web and much more: thanks to the 229 followers we currently have. Join the conversation...

Coming shortly, too, King Lear revision podcasts on the line of last year's well-received Macbeth podcasts for the Leaving Cert.

Finally, perhaps the biggest and most exciting thing for the site this term will be the publication of our second book, selecting highlights from SCC English from 2008 to 2010, following Going Places which we published two years ago. Plenty more in due course.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Lives like Loaded Guns

Our former colleague John Fanagan has just finished reading Lyndall Gordon's new biography Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and her Family's Feuds, and writes:

Emily Dickinson died in 1886 and only about 1% of her 1775 known poems were published in her lifetime. Today she is recognised as one of the most original poets who ever wrote in English and her work is enormously popular, not least among generations of Leaving Certificate pupils.

Lyndall Gordon's Lives Like Loaded Guns, is a marvellous book. Its title is taken from one of her first lines:

My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun

This is not only about Dickinson's life. It is about her family, notably her niece Martha, her father Austin and his mistress Mabel Loomis Todd. After the poet's death, Mabel and Martha ('Mattie') battled for years over ownership of her poems. Mattie was the legal heir, but Mabel had been the first person to collate and edit many of the poems. That battle lasted well into the twentieth century.

The book is beautifully written. Gordon knows the poems intimately and presents a fascinating, persuasive reason for Dickinson's reclusive adult life. She thinks that the poet was probably subject to epileptic attacks: a loaded gun inside her own brain. She supports this by detailed reference to the history of epilepsy in the Dickinson family, as well as medical records of the poet's medication.

The book is not only an impressive literary biography (Gordon refers liberally to great authors like Shakespeare, Dickens and James), but a great read too. The Dickinson family and their appendages come alive and the reader is always engaged by the unfolding drama. I strongly recommend it.

[Read other reviews in the New Statesman (by Sarah Churchwell), the Irish Independent (by Brian Lynch) and the Guardian (by Elaine Showalter) by clicking on the links].

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


The Campaign for the Removal of English Errors in Public has its beady eye for the second time on London's 'Independent' newspaper, where standards are clearly in decline (it was recently sold for £1). Pictured, from yesterday's paper, an article about Arsenal Football Club ... singular subject takes single verb...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Teaching English magazine, Spring 2010

The spring 2010 issue of the English Support Service's excellent 'Teaching English' magazine has just been published, and can be read online via Issuu above. It's a special edition dedicated to 'Approaches to Learning and Teaching in the First Year Classroom', giving us time to think about planning courses starting in September. Scroll through via the arrows, click on a page to open it up, and a second time to see it in close-up.

Among the articles are:-
  • Larry Cotter and Frances Cotter leading with what works and doesn't for first years,
  • a comprehensive fiction reading list for first and second years,
  • Catherine Sullivan and Una Smith from Virginia College, Cavan on their SLSS-supported project (including poetry, drama and film), and also Niamh Martin and Martin O'Neill from Kilkenny analysing their own year's teaching,
  • Alicia McGivern from the Irish Film Institute : 'Ten Film Choices for First Year and Junior Cycle' (mostly recent ones, including Osama and Bend it Like Beckham),
  • Frances Cotter and Joan Colbert from Kilkenny on debating skills and 'the reading factor'
  • '14 ideas for working on a class novel',
  • '11 ideas for teaching first year English'.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Dictionary App

No 4 in a series of reviews of iPhone/iPod Touch apps useful for English literature and language learning and teaching.

A pretty obvious reference facility for any device is a dictionary, and's free app is highly recommended. It's extremely comprehensive (over 500,000 words), with a pronunication guide (for which you need to be online), reliable definitions from the Random House Dictionary, etymology, encyclopedia references, a thesaurus and a recent searches list. It won the "2009 Best App Ever Award for Primary and Middle School Kids." All very impressive, and for no outlay!

Download it here from iTunes (free).

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Dropbox App

No 3 in a series of reviews of iPhone/iPod Touch apps useful for English literature and language learning and teaching.

Dropbox is a clever service that seamlessly links files on your iPhone, computer and the web. It's easy to use, and the app has lots of possibilities for pupils and teachers: write notes for your exam, and keep mobile copies on your device ... and an easy way for teachers to refer to files in class without using a computer. It's impressively slick.

Of course, as with many of these reviews, this would be useful for lots of other subjects, too. Full list of features here, including sharing folders.
The app can be downloaded for free via the link here.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Spot the Brand

And the April winner of the Most Inappropriate Name for a Men's Fashion Line is...

(from Liberty's, Regent Street, London)