Category Archives: Leaving Cert Paper 1

Paper 1 advice and examplars.

Question B trends

Just to satisfy my own curiosity, I made a list of the formats that have appeared as QB’s over the years. Here’s the breakdown:

2014 = news report, talk, letter

2013 = talk, introduction to a book, opinion piece.

2012 = letter, proposal, article for school website

2011 = feature article, talk, 2 diary entries

2010 = interview, letter, radio talk

2009 = script of a scene in dialogue form, speech, letter

2008 = letter, 2 diary entries, article

2007 = election leaflet, radio presentation, letter

2006 = diary entry, letter, report

2005 = 3 diary entries, letter, proposal/memo

2004 = talk, report, letter

2003 = letter, radio talk, 3 diary entries

2002 = letter, text of an ad, radio or TV talk

2001 = talk, article, presentation


Once you highlight the ones which occur repeatedly – news report/article; talk/speech, letter, diary entries, report – you can see that the following have appeared only once or twice:

  1. introduction to a book
  2. proposal
  3. interview
  4. script / dialogue
  5. leaflet
  6. text of an ad

However, you’re not selecting which QB you’ll do by format, you’re also selecting a topic that you’re interested in and that sparks your imagination. A format that seems ‘easy’ may prove very difficult because of the topic you’ve been given to write about or because it needs to be based closely on the text that precedes it; or because of the target audience it’s aimed at. Furthermore, if loads of people pick this option, it’ll be harder to make yours stand out as fresh and original and impressive.

So remember, the things to consider when selecting a QB are:

Topic – do you have something to say about this issue? Can you make your content fresh and original? And really, really important, can you make it up entirely or does it have to be based on the text? It is REALLY IMPORTANT that you read the question carefully to figure this out.

Audience – who will be reading what you write? How formal/informal should it be? Can you write in this register?

Genre / Format – as long as you’re fairly familiar with the general layout, there’s usually no ‘one right way’ to approach a given format. Try not to let a less common format put you off.

Style – what’s appropriate here? Description? Logical argument backed up by statistics and examples? Emotional confessional first person narration? Informative bullet points? Or a combination of many of these elements? Your style must match your task and genre…


/two roads diverged…

Something about the new year has me feeling philosophical.

In truth, 2014 was rough and I’m glad to say goodbye to it. Despite all the good it contained, ‘fuck you 2014′ is all my gut produces when I look back on it.

Yes there were highs…

photo 1 photo 2

blog awards trophy

…re-connecting with my ADE buddies at BETT in Jan; being asked to write for The Independent Written Word supplement in March; keynoting the ICTedu conference in Tipperary in May and that very day being invited by then Junior Minister for Education Ciaran Cannon to keynote at the Excited conference three weeks later; being accepted to attend ADE global institute in San Diego (even though for personal reasons, in the end, I didn’t go); biting the bullet in June and applying for an English Advisor job with JCT and then actually getting the job!(I didn’t apply in 2013 as it was Hazel’s first year at school); finally moving into our home for life (the house John’s Dad grew up in) after months of hard physical labour and tedious trips to hardware shops and tiling showrooms; and then unexpectedly winning Best Education Blog at the Blog Awards in October.

But to say all of this was overshadowed by the brief illness and completely unexpected death of my mother-in-law Mary is to use the wrong verb. I would say rather that anxiety and then grief infiltrated everything else in my life.

In early May, I broke down in tears in front of my students. We were reading “Valediction” by Seamus Heaney and with the lines “You’re gone, I am at sea, until you return, self is in mutiny” I found myself attacked by an involuntary image of John’s Dad, after 40 years of marriage, wandering his now empty house alone. There was no future tense to speak of now. No ‘until you return‘. How the hell would he cope? And without fully realising it was happening or being able to do anything about it, suddenly tears were streaming down my face in a flood I feared would never abate. I excused myself. Went outside the door. Composed myself. Returned. Apologised. I needn’t have bothered. My students got it. They understood. Never mentioned it again except to ask me if I was ok as they left the room and again later when they met me in the corridor. 

It keeps happening, those unexpected moments where I’m driving my car and a discussion on the radio or a random floating thought will grab me by the throat and suddenly grief lurches to the surface and there they are again, lurking tears I didn’t know were waiting to emerge. It’s an odd silent kind of crying; not the racking sobs that convulsed my body in the week of her death but rather an overwhelming sadness that makes me an observer in my own body, completely unable to do anything except wait for the tears to stop flowing.

When my own mother got sick in October I thought we were the butt of some cosmic joke. Same symptoms, same doctor, same transfer to Galway Clinic, same consultant but thanks be to every God I don’t believe in, a different diagnosis. There was still a serious surgery, a frightening ten days in hospital and a difficult recovery that’s on-going, but she didn’t die. She didn’t die.

I’m not sad all the time. I’m not broken. I understand in a way that I never did before how blessed I am; how privileged the life I lead, the house I live in, the marriage I belong to, the daughter I love…

photo 3

But it feels like this year two roads diverged. In a parallel universe the person I used to be exists, happily oblivious to all that unfolded. Meanwhile, I keep looking back at her, envious yet achingly aware that, from now on, I’m on a new path. And knowing how way leads on to way, I doubt that I shall ever come back…

Embracing the Now

I’ve always been passionate about the idea that English is NOW. It’s in the articles we read, the ads we watch, the stories we tell.

But without critical thought, these things can wash over us like a sea of velvet and nails, at turns soothing and upsetting. One moment they’re there, but then, in an instant, they’re gone, as we move on to the next soundbite pop culture moment that appears in our feed.

Take, for example, the recent Sainsbury’s Christmas ad.

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The sheer beauty of the story seduces and the message it communicates about the human desire to make love not war creates a warm fuzzy glow. As we witness the bravery and triumph of ordinary men who lay aside hatred and politics and difference to celebrate their shared humanity we are swept up on a poignant feel good wave of love for our fellow man.

And then the Sainsbury’s logo pops up and we’re like WTF?

For me, the combination – or clash – of history, film-making and advertising left me simultaneously seduced and unsettled but, like most of us, I watched and then kind of just moved on with my day.

That was until this morning when I read this thought provoking critique of the ad in The Guardian:

It made me long to be back in the classroom.

Not to promote a Guardian view of the universe – I wouldn’t for a second simplify all of this down to the message ‘the ad is bad; the article is good’. But rather to provoke the kind of discussions that are not planned or pre-determined; that do not come with a pre-prepared worksheet but that emerge from rich texts speaking to each other in a way that fires the brain off on all cylinders.

By sheer co-incidence, as I wandered into our bedroom this morning, having just read the guardian article, I overheard my husband listening to this harrowing story of a soldier in Iraq whose entire squadron were killed when their vehicle exploded.

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It really hit home for me why the Sainsbury’s ad made me uncomfortable. It’s not only that the ad sanitises the brutal reality of war; it’s also my awareness that war is NOW, not just a fact of history that we remember. Perhaps in our determination to remember those who sacrificed their lives in the past we forget those who sacrifice their lives in the present. We forgot too, perhaps, that the never-ending cycle of conflict and war is proof of how little we have learnt from the mistakes of the past.

My brain didn’t stop there. It jumped to a tome by Robert Fisk that sits on our bookshelf “The Great War for Civilisation” and the cultural and geographical bias we’re barely aware of most of the time which offers us one view of conflicts; one side of every war.


It is in these rich texts talking to each other that we find opportunities for depth that do not exist when we only skim the surface.

From the ad, to the article, to the viral video and back to the bookshelf!

What a rich rabbit hole to fall down.

But now that I am Alice Through the Looking Glass, I can only gaze back in envy as I imagine in my minds eye the wonderful teaching moments these texts are generating in classrooms everywhere…



Facial Expressions

Facial expressions

I stumbled upon this clever little quiz which asks you to match the facial expression to the emotion

and it got me thinking.

One of the things writers can do really well is evoke an emotion by describing a facial expression and/or some body language, without ever mentioning the associated word. In doing this they embody the idea of “show don’t tell” in their writing, offering hints and clues but allowing – expecting – the reader to decode the meaning for themselves.

So it might be a good idea to :

a. Take the quiz! See if you’re observant…


b. Pick one of the images. Turn the image into words. Describe what the face is doing without mentioning the emotion it captures.

And finally

c. Give the description to someone. Ask them to name the emotion you’ve captured in your description.

If they can’t get it ask yourself: are they the problem (they don’t get it!) or am I? Is my writing not specific/accurate enough to evoke that emotion in the reader?

If you’re not sure if it’s them or you, ask one or two more people if they can identify the emotion from your description.

If they can’t, chances are your writing is the problem!!!

If they can, yey you! Your writing rocks!


Hot Toddy

I entered this in the Irish Times / Powers short story competition back in April 2012 and have just come across it in my drafts! Not sure why I never published it. Perhaps because I always felt that the bits where I mentioned Powers were a bit clunky / fawning / overly deliberate / lick-arsy!

Anyway, here it is for better or worse… At the time I showed it to my Leaving Certs on the overhead projector and got some feedback from them about what was working and what wasn’t working. I think it’s always a good idea to reassure students that writing is often a struggle – that very few people can produce a fully formed quality piece of writing first go. Writing is a process – more a marathon than a sprint – and exposing that we also struggle to write (to write well!) can’t be a bad thing…

Hot Toddy

The night before I go back to work, I make a hot whiskey to settle my nerves. Stir in the cloves; add a dash of red lemonade like Mam always does.

Next morning, Susan’s the first to bounce over, grab my face, smack a kiss on my forehead and holler ‘welcome back!’ As she disappears to her cubicle, I plonk onto my swingy chair, email clients, skim press releases and generally re-insert myself back into the office. For tea-break I skulk to the unisex toilets and strain to quietly overcome a bout of nervous constipation. Then I check my phone for maybe the sixteenth time. There are no messages. Everything is fine.

By lunchtime I’m too hungry for news to wait any longer. Ben lifts the phone after two rings.

Yep, Mikey’s fine, drank his bottle no bother…

Did he have tummy time? How’s Mam?” I splutter

She’s grand. Hanging out clothes

That’s not her job Ben“. “Blah blah blah”. I splutter some more.

We’re grand! I’ve to go, conference call. Oh, she gave him prune juice earlier, he’d a massive poo so don’t bother with the chemists. Bye love

OK, bye” and I’m left looking at the phone, bewildered and feeling vaguely jealous of my son’s empty bowels.

By the time I barrel in the door, Ben’s just lifting Mikey out of the bath. I take over, inhaling his softness, patting every fold and crevice dry, easing on his babygro, singing as I feed him to sleep.

Downstairs, Ben’s on the couch watching a titanic documentary; Mam’s in the kitchen. I need to hear all about their day. Having me young delivered one big advantage; we’re more like sisters than mother / daughter.

She takes one look at me.

You could do with a drink love“.

Kettle on, cloves out, red lemonade open, she roots in the drinks press.

Why does it always taste better when you make it?” I ask.

She looks up, shakes her head, then strides out the door. Within minutes she’s back, bottle of Powers in hand.

You can’t use any old whiskey” she scolds.

Soon my hands embrace the warm nectar she’s been soothing me with for years. Delicious.

You’re not having one?” I ask, then notice her foot tapping, her slightly sweating hairline.

I’ve a bit of news love…”

After she leaves, I log on to do my grocery shopping, remember to add a bottle of Powers Gold Label to my virtual basket and smile. I’ll be drinking my hot toddy’s alone for the next while. I hope it’s a boy. Mikey will love having a playmate. And besides…

I’ve always wanted a brother.