Category Archives: Leaving Cert Paper 1

Paper 1 advice and examplars.

The Old Warrior and Me

Let me tell you a little story.

It’s the story of an earthquake. It’s a story of poetry and justice and community. Oddly, it’s also the story of how I got published in a book in the Philippines.


When an earthquake struck the Bohol province on the 15th October 2013, perhaps I was fleetingly aware. It may have registered briefly in my consciousness even as it registered 7.2 on the richter scale, killing 200 people, displacing 380,000 and leaving 75,000 without homes.

What do you do in the face of such devastation?

If you live far away, untouched, relatively unaware, probably nothing. Perhaps you donate a few euros to Concern or the Red Cross. Perhaps you don’t. The news flits in and out of your consciousness. Another natural disaster takes its place. Occasionally a friend will be fundraising to go build houses somewhere houses need building (India? Africa? the Phillipines?)  and you mindlessly throw ten euros their way. Of course you’ll help. Worthy cause. It costs you nothing in the big scheme of your life. You will not miss the money.

But then one day, you get a message from a retired teacher, Milwida Reys. She grew up in the Phillipines and though she spent most of her adult life teaching English in Sydney, her heart is still at home, at home with the earthquake victims as they struggle to rebuild their lives from the ruins. Her childhood friend, Nestor Pestelos, has been fundraising to build 150 houses for the earthquake victims most in need, families with disabled or elderly members, families who will spend years living in tents if something is not done to help them. Entire communities come together, provide salvaged materials and labour, take the process of rebuilding their homes into their own hands; all, of course, with much needed financial assistance and guidance from the Bohol Quake Assistance fund.


But why is Miwilda emailing an English teacher in Ireland who lives half way across the globe and who she’s never met?

Well, Nestor is not only a leader and visionary in community development. He’s also a poet. His friends and colleagues recognise the beauty of his writing even as they appreciate that many years ago he put his first love, writing, to one side, to focus on his other passions: community and justice. At 72, he is showing no signs of slowing down, despite occasional mumblings about retiring so that he can write more.

Now, these two passions – poetry and community – have come together is an altogether unexpected way. Mrs Corazon Verzosa Lanuza, who attended the same high school as Nestor and is a former student of Milwida’s, has made a significant donation to the Bohol Quake Assistance fund, but she has also made a request. She has requested that some of this money be used to publish a school edition of Nestor’s poetry collection “Old Warrior and other poems” so that the students who now attend their alma mater can read and appreciate the poetry of this man who once roamed the same corridors they now roam; who encountered poetry just as they encounter it now at school.

In fact, the vision for the project grows and expands as other people become involved. What about including some of the poems in translation, so that those students whose English lags behind their native tongues of Tagalog and Visayan, can still access their beauty and their message? What about including a guide to studying poetry, so that reading and appreciating poetry becomes a more accessible, less elite activity? Why not also tell the story of the earthquake and the assistance fund? Couldn’t this book inspire young people to consider development work as a legitimate future, one which is quite different from the usual self-centered pursuit of career and self-fulfillment?

And so, an idea was born. Milwida, living in Australia but desperate to help, was given the task, alongside Nestor, of putting the book together. She had the original book of poems. Nestor could tell the Bohol Quake Assistance story, in between project meetings and fundraising and liasing with volunteers and contributors. Perhaps she could gather some responses to his poetry and some poems in translation? Now she needed a poetry study guide. And when she googled poetic techniques, from all the way across the globe, up popped little old me.

Milwida’s request was characteristically humble:

My main reason for trying to contact you was to ask your permission to reproduce ‘Poetic techniques & terminology’ from Is ‘Poetic techniques & terminology’ for the exclusive use of your students? Is it possible for Filipino students to access it, too? Not many schools in the Philippines are equipped with a computer system similar to that in schools in the West. Students cannot search information online as easily…

I’m helping Nestor Maniebo Pestelos, a friend since high school, promote his self-published book of poems, Old Warrior and Other Poems as a supplementary material to teach high school literature in my home country. The book would be even more invaluable if your ‘Poetic Techniques & Terminology’ could be included as a Study Guide when the Second Edition is printed”.

And that is how I came, one morning not too long ago, to greet the postman as he handed me a package all the way from the Philippines. That is how I came, for only the second time in my life, to hold in my hands a book in which my writing was published, the thrill altogether different to that of publishing online. That is how I came to read Nestor Pestelos’ beautiful poems and the Bohol Quake Assistance story and to feel the earthquake register in my consciousness in a way it never had before.


I don’t know what the moral of this story is.

It may have something to do with the remarkable way in which we are all now connected online in this incredible global village.

It may have something to do with the capacity some remarkable human beings possess to always look beyond the self. For Nestor, ‘Art, relative to life, can always wait’ which is why, rather than retire, he has responded to a summons to work for the next 6 months on a UNICEF project in Samar to assist those hardest hit by last year’s super typhoon.

It may, conversely, have something to do with how difficult it is for a tragedy that does not touch our lives to touch our hearts. This is perhaps the hardest thing of all for me to digest. How, without that random google search leading somehow to me, this earthquake would have remained nothing more than a barely registered event in the myriad of human and natural disasters that rain down on our TV screens night after night. Numbed by over exposure, how do we retain the capacity to care?

For more about the work being done in Bohol, take a look at












Game Based Learning

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent Written Word Supplement on Monday 26th January, 2015. Pat News

It’s all the rage you know! Turn your learning into a game and suddenly it doesn’t seem so tedious anymore. But how can games help develop your language skills, creativity and imagination?

Board Games

Scrabble is the obvious one, but at the risk of being ex-communicated from the English teaching fraternity, I’ll admit that I don’t like it!

So what do I play instead?

Articulate requires quick thinking, accuracy and to do exactly as the Mad Hatter requests in Alice in Wonderland – “say what you mean and mean what you say!

30 seconds is a fun Irish variation with homegrown prompts. You’ve got that much time to get your partner to guess all five words on the card in your hand!

Absolute Balderdash meanwhile asks you to invent the meaning of words, the plot of movies and obscure bizarrre laws. If you can convince your opponents that your answer is the real one (and the real answers are always a case of the truth being stranger than fiction!) you get the points! This game requires wit, wisdom, absurdity and a vivid, if twisted imagination!

Spoof News

There are some fantastic satirical news sites on the web right now, the best of the Irish ones being waterfordwhispersnews and Spoof news articles also make great gifts for loved ones if you’re feeling cheap and cheeky. Above you can see one I made for my Dad when he retired…

Thesaurus Time

My 6 year old recently discovered a pocket sized thesaurus on our bookshelf.

She thought it was the coolest book ever (there is no saving this child!) and instantly invented a game where she’d read out a word and test myself and her Dad on how many of the other words listed we could come up with!

I am completely rubbish at this game. As soon as she calls out a word (“betray” “neutral”) my brain goes blank. But I can see how practice is improving my instant-synonym-generating skills already. And that’s a skill you definitely need in an exam! Meanwhile, in real life? You’ll probably just consult a thesaurus… although that might be a bit awkward in a job interview!

Grammar Games

I hate those ‘which Friends character are you?’ quizzes which clog up my facebook timeline.

But the one quiz I cannot resist is the ‘How good is your grammar?’ quiz. I recently took the same quiz three times until I got ALL of the grammar questions right. 89% just wasn’t good enough. Google grammar quiz when you really have nothing else to do (or desperately want to tick off ‘study English’ from your to do list) and endless results will come up…


I’m not sure if I should admit this in a public forum, much less advocate it, but when I was in school we’d occasionally sit in the assembly area and over-dub the conversations the teachers were having with each other in the distance.

We were convinced they had no lives outside the school gates so we always imagined they were discussing chronically boring topics like the weather and the traffic or else us, the students.

It wasn’t until I saw this over-dubbing being done on comedy quiz shows like X that I realised we’d been engaging in tried and tested improv techniques.

Try it sometime by muting the sound on the telly and filling in the gaps with a mate.

Don’t try this in the cinema. People will hiss at you.

Don’t try this in school. It got us in some trouble as I recall…

Reverse pictionary

Pictionary works on the principle that you draw something and your team-mate guesses what it is. But we’re here to develop descriptive writing skills, so instead, take a random photo, don’t show it to anyone, then write a detailed factual description of what’s in the photo. Not you ask your friend to draw the photo as accurately as they can from just your written description. The more accurate their drawing (and stick men are perfectly acceptable here!) the more detailed and accurate your description. This really helps you to develop your observational skills when it comes to reading and responding to visual images.

Originality – Freshness – Energy – Style

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent Written Word Supplement on Monday 26th January 2015.

FullSizeRender_1 copy 2

You’re sitting in the exam hall. Sigh. You’ve managed not to vomit up your breakfast but you’re beyond caring how English paper 1 goes as long as it’s Gone Girl sometime soon!

At this point, it’s tempting to choose ‘safe’ options when it comes to the functional writing and creative writing elements of the paper – a letter, a report, a leaflet or a newspaper article. I’m not saying don’t do it: it can be calming to select a format and layout that’s familiar and relatively straight-forward. However, I do have a few words of warning.

Simply replicating the conventions of the format you’ve chosen isn’t sufficient if you’re looking for a high grade. It’s a good start but it’s not enough because as well as gaining marks for ‘understanding genre’, ‘creative modelling’ and ‘control of register and shape’, your writing will also be assessed for ‘originality’ ‘freshness’ ‘energy’ and ‘style’.

With this is mind, how do you engage with the set task but also make your writing stand out in a sea of sameness?

My first piece of advice is to internalise the conventions and layout for each format so that you’re not grasping for these elements in the exam. If they flow naturally, then you’ll be able to free up your creative energies to focus on making your writing fresh and original (and believe me, I know that’s not easy under exam conditions!).

My second piece of advice is to jot down as many ideas as you can before you start writing. As a general rule, the first things that spring to mind for you will likely be similar to the first things that spring to mind for everyone else too, so push your brain to go beyond the obvious first few ideas that you scribble down.

Lastly, if you do come up with something quirky and off-beat, make sure it’s still relevant to the set task and that your register (the formality of your tone and of the language you choose) is appropriate to the audience who’ll be reading what you’ve written. Achieving this balance is quite difficult and requires skill so practise, practise, practise as much as you can prior to the exam.

Let’s imagine a QB as follows, with a quote from the text that precedes it and then a writing task for you to complete.

“If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever” ― George Orwell, 1984

Compose a leaflet encouraging people in your community to rally against an injustice you feel must be challenged.

Below, here’s a sample leaflet which achieves a certain freshness and originality, whilst also obeying the expected layout and register. In terms of ‘creative modelling’ it’s borrowing from the movie Chicken Run but it nonetheless uses the formal vocabulary that we associate with the trade union movement.

The Chicken Coup Contract – what it means for YOU

As a chicken, you have certain rights. The right to food. The right to shelter. The right to free movement. Now your owners want to undermine these basic chicken rights.

The Chicken Coup Contract means:

  • A freeze on pay increases:

    Austerity measures mean that your hard work laying eggs won’t be recognised or reimbursed even if your productivity increases.

  • Redeployment:

    The redeployment clause allows for the transfer of chickens across the entire chicken coup network. There is no guarantee that you will be redeployed to the same grade of coup or even within the same county.

  • No strike clause:

    Strikes and other forms of industrial action are precluded in respect of all matters covered in the contract”. So any measures we do not like we will have to take them lying down. But as we all know, chickens do not like lying down!

  • Embargo on recruitment:

    No further chickens can be introduced to a coup; current ratios of chicken to coup per square metre will be rigidly enforced. This will lead to an increasing workload and further pressure to meet egg-laying targets as owners attempt to improve profitability.

  • Productivity:

    Better management and standardisation of family friendly policies, including maternity leave and flexi-place will be necessary”. We may no longer be entitled to our traditional six weeks leave to care for our chicks as this could interfere with egg-laying. Our current system whereby mother hens and their chicks are housed together may be under threat.

  • Slaughterhouse Rules:

    Chickens who fail to meet targets (and who have been working in the coup for less than one year or more than two years) can then be sent to the slaughterhouse. This is a departure from our previous agreement.

  • Force Moulting:

    Starvation practices to re-invigorate egg-production will become legal. This contravenes European directive 214-2007 on the humane treatment of animals.






If you weren’t in an exam, you could do include some fancy graphic design elements, as below, but in an exam it’s not necessary (although, I might vary the size of the heading, sub-heading etc). The writing will speak for itself and the look of it isn’t relevant – you’re not sitting an art exam.

Chicken coup leaflet

Spot the Differences answers

Read this article.

Then read this speech.

Try to spot 7 major differences between them.

Now scroll down…

Here are the answers:

  • No headline
  • Welcome the audience
  • Use informal language and slang
  • Use humour
  • Inclusion of video
  • Include pauses and gestures
  • Thank the audience at the end

Speech vs Feature Article

This speech first appeared in the Irish Independent Written Word Supplement on Monday 26th January 2015

IMG_0303First, I wrote a feature article on mindfulness. Then I looked at how I would need to change the style of writing so that it stopped being a feature article and read like a speech instead. I recommend you read the feature article first [click here].

To help you to appreciate the stylistic difference between the spoken and the written word, I’ve used the same topic, the same structure and the same ideas but I’ve transformed it into a speech. Your task is to spot the differences between them.

There are 7 significant differences as well as lots of subtle rephrasing so that it sounds like spoken language – something to be listened to rather than read off a page.


Speech on Mindfulness

Hi everyone. You’re very welcome. If this is your first time attending a meeting of the Literary and Debating society, please give us your email details on the sheet we’re passing around so we can contact you about future events. In the meantime, it’s my great pleasure to welcome Susan Mullane to the podium. Susan will be speaking to us today about mindfulness.

Hi everyone, I’m Susan as you’ve just heard. I’m studying to be a journalist and I recently wrote a feature on mindfulness that I’m currently trying to get published.

Before we debate the merits of mindfulness I’d like you to experience them, so you can pass judgement actually knowing what it is we’re talking about. So I’d like everyone in the room now to close your eyes. I need everyone to do this so no-one feels silly. Now breathe in. Feel the oxygen flood your core. Feel it flow into your limbs. Cleanse your mind of all thoughts. Now focus your attention, slowly, on each part of your body in turn. Become aware of your feet. Now move your awareness up to your calves… into your thighs… now your abdomen… your hands… arms… chest… shoulders… neck… head… face. Listen to the sounds in the room. The tick of the clock. The breathing of the person beside you. The birds outside the window. Allow your thoughts to wander and as each new thought appears, let it flow away. Focus on the now. Be aware of your body. Become aware of your breadth. Slowly breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. And repeat. In through the nose and out through the mouth. Now when you’re ready, slowly open your eyes.

Ok, how do you feel? (giggles in response)

Can you share with the room? (pointing to someone in the front row). Silly, ok! Anyone else? (taking a show of hands) Yep, in the third row? Relaxed… sleepy. Anyone up the back? Cynical. Ok, so you don’t think this works? Who else is a cynic? (show of hands)

Well, let me assure you you’re not alone. Lots of people, when they hear the term mindfulness, the first thing that springs to mind is hippies in a Volkswagen camper van. It’s all a bit touchy-feely isn’t it? The second major criticism of mindfulness people have is that as it’s entered the mainstream, it’s lost any real connection to its roots in Buddhism. So critics say it’s no longer about the quest to discover what it means to live a moral life and that corporations have just put on a show of caring about how their employees feel but really they just want to get more work out of you. As in, reducing stress via ten minutes of mindfulness a day boosts your employees productivity and that’s a hell of a lot cheaper than hiring extra staff! In fact, critics of the way mindfulness courses have been churned out by consultants to big business have given it a new name and labelled it McMindfulness (click to show image of a cow meditating outside a well-known fast food chain on screen. Pause for laughter)

But the question I want to ask today is does that matter? There is no doubt that mindfulness is a full on craze. It’s been brought into schools and nursing homes and even prisons. But just because something is popular, does not make it worthless. And just because it’s been adapted from its original form does not make it toxic.

So I decided I’d focus instead on answering one basic question: DOES IT WORK?

I’ve going to play you a little video now. It’s full of vox pops from people who reckon it does work:

Video: Direct to camera: ‘Hi I’m Karen Miles. I’m the founder and I’m a big believer in mindfulness. Here are some of the things Irish people who use my site have said about practising mindfulness in their daily lives’.

Quotes accompanied by soothing classical music “I’ve seen it transform my own life” Clare, 52, Mayo. “I am so glad I did this. I find I get a lot less stressed about the small stuff” Annette, 35, Louth. “Feeling calm. Have been following the tips on your site for four months and I don’t know myself” Jennifer, via facebook. “@seanlala Thanks @meinmind Your site helped me to get through the stress of my exams” Sean, 17.

I’m going to stop the video there because it goes on for three more minutes but it’s really just more of the same. Now there is an argument to say that the placebo effect could play a role here. If you try something and you believe it’s going to make you better, then chances are it will have a positive impact on your health. So the next thing I did was look for research studies. There are a lot of studies out there on meditation, but not as many on mindfulness. But I did find a metaanalysis collecting together all of the mindfulness studies that do exist. It was created by the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and they concluded only last year, in 2014, that mindfulness does indeed have an effect. They say, and I quote “Following a mindfulness programme reduces many of the most toxic elements of stress, including anxiety and depression”.

Of course they also include a warning about the limitations of this practice. So there’s no evidence that it alters your eating habits, helps you lose weight or to sleep better. And it’s not better than exercise or behavioural therapies. To which I reply, who cares? Singing daily doesn’t make me better at playing the piano but that does not negate the joy of singing in my life. If I can find something that I can work into my daily practice and build into my life, that makes me less anxious, less stressed and less likely to become depressed, then hallelujah, bring it on.

So having debated the pros and cons my conclusion is this. If you can afford behavioural therapies, by all means do that too. Eating healthily and getting exercise remain important, but this isn’t an either or scenario. Do it all if it makes you feel better.

My mother used to say ‘Everything that helps, helps‘. When I was a teenager, there was one day I was prowling the house, completely stressed out about the Leaving Cert, and I guess I was annoying her because she suddenly went to the press, hauled out a stack of old plates and said ‘would you ever go and smash those. It might calm you down’. So I did. And it was wonderful. I wish I had a whole stack of plates I could give you right now so we could go outside and have a plate smashing festival. I’ll never forget the liberating joy of wilful destruction I experienced that day. I was aware of my body, I was aware of my surroundings, I was caught up in the present moment and I felt a hell of a lot better afterwards. It didn’t last forever, that feeling, but it did last for a couple of days.

So those are the conclusions I came to, which is that it won’t do you any harm and chances are it will do you a lot of good! Now I need to ask you to show a thumbs up or a thumbs down for mindfulness, and then we can all launch into a more detailed debate, but before we do that there is one more argument in favour of mindfulness that I haven’t mentioned. I think here in Ireland it’s something we need. I think we’ve been severely challenged these last couple of years by austerity, and by high unemployment and by emigration. And I think embracing mindfulness has not been about pretending everything is fine. I think its popularity is a sign that we know everything’s not fine and we’re trying to do something about it and find coping mechanisms that’ll help us to get through it.

So before we vote, will everyone again please close your eyes. Breathe in. Feel the oxygen flood your body, feel it flow into your limbs. Focus your mind on your feet… calves… thighs… abdomen… hands… arms… chest… shoulders… neck… head… face. Listen to the sounds in the room. And now you can open your eyes. Thanks for your attention.

I think you’re ready to vote!

*For the list of the most significant differences between the article and the speech, click here.