Many parents I have met believe that English is about spelling and grammar. Whilst these elements of literacy are important in enabling your child to express ideas, English at secondary level is about a lot of other exciting areas of study.
The key starting to your child’s journey into the secondary English curriculum is – guess what? – reading. This doesn’t have to be a bore, although at the outset you may meet resistance and it may seem like a chore.
- Start by discussing reading with your child and what they like/dislike about it. Has their enjoyment of reading changed over time and why? Simply talking about it will sometimes prompt them to revisit the idea of words on a page.
- Which books have they enjoyed in the past? Revisit these light-heartedly and look at what is engaging about them – the Mr Men books, for example, may be simple but they are well-written.There’s nothing like a rainy afternoon with The Gruffalo! Encourage them to read to younger children you know and witness the magic of their enjoyment as they return to a world they loved and left behind.
- What might they enjoy reading now? There are excellent websites about books which engage teenagers – don’t be afraid to encourage your child to begin reading adult books or Young Adult fiction which they will find more sophisticated and may consider more exciting just because it is for older readers.
- Set aside non-screen time which may well ‘force’ children to read; there is a great deal of evidence now about the value of boredom and how it is only when they are bored that children will begin to use their imaginations and dip into other pastimes such as reading. Don’t say “Turn off the X-box and read.” Just turn off the X-box and wait.
- If your child dislikes fiction, encourage them to read non-fiction, especially autobiographies, biographies, sports writing and travel writing which often use language as effectively and richly as fiction.
Prepare them for the kinds of texts they will encounter in the secondary curriculum:
- Watch good quality film versions of Shakespeare plays – some of these are really entertaining (Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, Kenneth Brannagh’s Much Ado About Nothing’ and the latest Michael Fassbender version of Macbeth – although this is a 15 certificate so watch it first yourself). Don’t set out trying to understand the language – just go with it and they will get used to the language in a way they won’t if they start reading the play. All too often in schools, students read Shakespeare before they watch it and yet the plays were written to be watched, not read. It won’t matter if they have seen it before they study it at school – it will only help. If you can, get to a theatre and see a production.
- Your child will have to study 19th century prose for GCSE and now is the time to help them get used to it. If your child is not a reader of classics, start reading snippets of 19th century fiction with them. Don’t hand them Great Expectations and hope they will make their way through it. Read the opening chapter with them or give them more accessible classics like Treasure Island. To my surprise, my son loved what he called the ‘new harder’ words he had to try to work out.
- Read one or two famous poems and talk about why they have ‘made it’.
Extend vocabulary as much as you can at this stage – find synonyms and antonyms for everyday words and seek out new, exciting words and phrases.
All of the following would ways to encourage your child to write in ways which will be relevant to their secondary English experience:
- Spend an afternoon writing old fashioned letters to friends and family and posting them.
- Spend an hour or two writing to your MP about something which is important to your child.
- Enter competitions such as Radio 2’s 500 words – there are lots of similar competitions out there.
- Keep a travel journal.
- Describe a local attraction and send it your local community website.
- Write an article about something important to you and send it to a website or newspaper.
- Write a detailed review of a product, a service, a game, a film or a book and post it on a relevant website.
Most of all, encourage your child to see that English can be enjoyable and exciting – it is not all about spelling!
Blog contributor Jill Carter is an Advanced Skills Teacher and former Leader of English and has been teaching for over 20 years. She has extensive experience as a subject mentor and whole school mentor for trainee teachers. Jill currently works part-time as an English teacher and GCSE Interventionist, as well as authoring for Oxford University Press.