Year 8 on Macbeth

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Y8 Lady Macbeth.png

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These are some paragraphs of Year 8 pupils writing about ‘Macbeth’, on the witches, Lady Macbeth, and an essay conclusion comparing Macbeth to the play they studied in Year 7, ‘Julius Caesar’.

Snapping and sharing pupil paragraphs is a good opportunity for us to reflect on what is working well about our English teaching and what we want to help pupils improve.


Strengths: Vocabulary and Connections

One strength of pupils in English at Michaela is the vocabulary we have developed in them. Pupils are using ambitious words like ‘eponymous’, ‘pejorative’, ‘despotic’, ‘ambivalent’, ‘susceptible’, ‘diabolical’ ‘paradoxical’, ‘contradictory’ ‘asymmetric’, ‘tyrannical’, ‘protagonist’, ‘conspiracy’ and ‘patriarchy’, and largely using them accurately. They are using technical vocabulary, such as ‘soliloquy’, ‘antithesis’, ‘pathetic fallacy’ and ‘chiasmus’, and largely using it accurately. Sometimes, though, they are misspelled, as in ‘purnicious’, and sometimes, they make mistakes, such as seeing an oxymoron where none exists!

Pupils are beginning to make some striking connections between, for instance, the context and the play: for instance, on the regicidal 1605 Gunpowder Plot, or James I’s 1603 accession and his belief that he was descended from Banquo. Contextual connections are a real strength of our knowledge-led approach to the curriculum. They annotate and improve their own paragraphs, as you can see in green and blue pen.


Improvements: Le Mot Juste, and Perceptive Insight

At this stage, I find pupils struggle to find ‘le mot juste’. One has written: ‘This emphasises the witches’ cloudy, disturbed and tempestuous mindset, bleeding into Macbeth’s mindset.’ I’m not sure ‘cloudy’ is the best adjective this pupil could have chosen! Another has written in a contrast between Macbeth and Caesar: ‘we cannot make these characters equal, however, because Caesar was a victim of conspiracy and assassination, Macbeth was part of conspiracies and murders.’ I find the phrasing of ‘make these characters equal’ a little clumsy, and the sentence is missing a ‘whereas’. Articulate, sophisticated syntax is an area for improvement.

Increasingly, what I’d like to improve about our teaching is this: sharing concrete examples of perceptive insight – moments in their analysis that make the reader of the essay see the play in a different light. I will try to do so in another blogpost.

By the time our pupils finish Year 9, they will have studied five Shakespeare plays. Year 10 begins with a synoptic Shakespeare unit where they compare villains and stagecraft, themes and plots from Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice and Othello, before they start on The Tempest, Shakespeare’s last play, for their GCSE course. By then, their intertextual connections, comparisons and contrasts should be increasingly insightful. It is an exciting prospect!







About Joe Kirby

School leader, education writer, Director of Education and co-founder, Athena Learning Trust, Deputy head and co-founder, Michaela Community School, English teacher
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7 Responses to Year 8 on Macbeth

  1. John McKellar says:

    Mmmm. Being equipped with the linguistic tools to critically comment on Shakespeare is well and good though I hope being drilled in the use of such is not at the expense of the enjoyment and appreciation of the plays as creative, poetic, entertainment? I’m minded of my first Y7 class skilled in the terminologies promoted via the Literacy Strategy whose knowledge of the figures of speech was highly impressive, whose coached use dramatic devices in opening paragraphs in their creative writing was obviously rehearsed, and whose development of imaginative, personal creativity had obviously been stilted due to the over- emphasis of structure, form, etc. Year 8? Plenty of time for the analytical skills to be assimilated – I’d be more concerned with their personal enjoyment and engagement with literature at that age.

  2. Lovely work!

  3. Emma Wynne-Jones says:

    The connections made in these pieces are sophisticated and often insightful – how do you begin with Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in Year 7? Do you read the play in its entirety or pick specific moments/speeches? I’m intrigued as I can’t seem to get through Romeo and Juliet with my Year 10 class, and am having to simply focus on individual scenes only!

  4. Fantastic work Joe. Your analysis of the pieces is spot on too. I like the idea of all English departments sharing these as a way of improving teaching. I’ll look into us doing that.
    I guess my questions would be around the context of these paragraphs? Why not put on a whole essay? What were these pupils capable of writing before they were taught? What set are they in? Are there pupils who were not capable of writing like this?
    Otherwise difficult to judge the impact of teaching rather than simply the strength of the work (which is great). I know a lot of this has come from your department’s teaching, so it would be good to have a wider context to understand this.

  5. Mrs E says:

    What a pleasure to read these Joe. The level of sophistication is staggering.
    How do you go about your initial teaching of essay writing?
    I have a feeling that I read somewhere you use questions to build analytical paragraphs – is that correct?
    Is the green / blue marking – self or peer assessment?
    Sorry – you have sparked so many thoughts…

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