Category Archives: Junior Cert


I’m posting yet another brilliant piece of writing from one of my students, this time a junior, but she also wants to remain anonymous! We had discussed descriptive writing & identified the main features of good descriptive writing; then I gave them a series of topics and they chose one… Here’s her vivid childhood memory…

sad girl

My head was over my mother’s shoulder. I snuggled into the nape of her neck, my arms and legs wrapped around her like a sloth on a tree, yet my body felt limp. As I entered the house, the warm burst of air hit my face and the star covered sky suddenly didn’t exist anymore. I could nearly taste the salt lingering in the air as I yawned with exhaustion. As my mother carried me away from the aromas I only ever witnessed once a year, I could feel this morning’s eggs and sausages dance in my stomach.

As we continued down the hall I could see the twinkling lights from the corner of my eye, but I quickly turned my head away, making sure I didn’t see anything I shouldn’t. The swirling increased as we neared the door of my sister’s bedroom. It was a yearly ritual that I slept with my sister as company on this night of supposed excitement but this terrified feeling that never left my stomach over-shadowed the anticipation that should have been enticing me to get to sleep quickly.

My breakfast started to dance around my belly as the thought of HIM entered my mind. Jumping up and down and hopping left to right, just like an Irish dancer was springing around covering the entire area of my stomach in a matter of seconds, leaping as high as they possibly could. My thoughts were as active as my eggs and sausages.

What if he saw me? He wouldn’t like me! He wouldn’t leave any presents!

What if he used his magic to kill me? Because I saw him! He doesn’t want people to see him.

What if I wake up too soon?


All of a sudden my thoughts flowed out of my mouth in the form of ground up eggs and sausages. My body went rigid. The vomit streamed down the back of my mother’s favourite purple and black blouse. Water gushed out of my eye sockets as my mother tried to calm me down by kissing my forehead and saying “it’s ok”.

She slowly lay me down on my sister’s double bed. I could see the light flashing off the computer which seemed to relax me. My weeping started to ease and my breathing slowed to its normal rate. Mother’s smile suddenly gloomed over me. With her old Mayo jersey on she picked me up and changed me into my winnie the pooh pyjamas. She tucked me in beside my sister who wasn’t too happy to share her bed. She was angry enough already that the computer had to be in her room (there’s never room for it in our sitting room when the Christmas tree goes up).

Gradually, my sore red eyes began to close and soon enough I couldn’t even remember the worries that made me feel so anxious because I knew, by the time my eyes opened again, Santa Claus would have already visited.


The Magic of Books

Here’s an essay written by one of my Junior Cert students for her mock on the topic “The Magic & Wonder of Books”. She thinks it makes her sound like a complete nerd but I think it’s lovely. Anyway, she’s actually got quite a bit of cred around here so I won’t oust her and her secret book obsession by naming her…


Reading a book is magical because it allows you to escape to the world of the book and away from the real world. I’m not the usual teenager; I don’t walk around like a zombie glued to the screen of my tablet, phone or iPod. I walk around like a zombie with my head stuck in a book, completely & totally immersed in the world of the book. My family frequently get mad at me for having to repeat themselves as I don’t hear a word anyone says! Except the characters in my book, of course! Their lives become mine. I remember when I read “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” for the first time. I felt like I was there in Narnia following everything that happened as if I was the third daughter of Eve myself. I felt the cold snow and the loud roar of Aslan. That’s why books are so magical and wondrous for me. When I open a book it’s like I have bought an airplane ticket and am about to be flown to a different land.

Books open my mind to different scenarios. In books, anything can happen. Authors like Jacqueline Wilson introduce us to scenarios so many teenage girls face; the death of loved ones, bullying, emmigration – scenarios that wouldn’t cross my mind normally unless I was the victim of these tragedies. Yet when I read about them I feel the upset and the pain of the characters, or their delight and relief, as if it was me and I was dealing with these situations. It’s as if I magically transform into someone different, and live their lives with them as I read. When characters encounter difficulties, I don’t just imagine  what I would do, but I also connect with them as if the characters were my friends.

Books also allow you to see things from the point of view of a person you aren’t and might never be, like a model, princess or millionaire. They take you away from a life where money might be tight to one where it might as well fall from the skies like drops of golden sunshine; they transport you to lives filled with balls, photoshoots and dinner parties, not exams, study, chores and saving money. The magic and wonder of books is extraordinary as you can go from bored and stressed to excited in an instant, losing yourself in a red carpet event with papparazzi shouting your name!

Books can enchant you, educate you and change your opinions and can have as much of an effect on you as a real life experience. Before reading “The Hunger Games“, I didn’t understand the issue of inequality. I knew it wasn’t pleasant but I didn’t understand the extent to which it can destroy lives. Yes, “The Hunger Games” is fictional, yes it is not very realistic in this day and age that 24 people would be put into an arena to fight for their lives. But strip it all back and it comes down to one thing. The “Capital”/Government and the rich having control over the lives of the poor. Surely this is exactly what is happening in our world right now? It only took reading a fictional book to make me understand the inequality that exists in our world today and to change my view of myself, suddenly seeing how privileged I really am. It only took one book to do that. Just one book! And if that doesn’t show the magic and wonder of books then I honestly don’t know what magic is anymore.

I’ve been reading as far back as I can remember. Books were part of my growing up and taught me things that my parents, siblings, friends and teachers couldn’t teach me. They have helped me to escape from tough times to worlds of magic. Yes, not all the books I’ve read have been wonderful and magical but there is still a lesson to be learnt from every one. Books helped me through my beginning years at secondary school when I wanted to have time alone to escape from exams, stress, fights etc. All I had to do was open a book and I would be absorbed into it and forget everything else.

I think every parent should encourage their kids to read from an early age. Reading has so many benefits.  It develops your imagination, increases your vocabulary and allows you to encounter mysteries far beyond your daily experiences. The magic and wonder of books is one of the most powerful forces in my world. Ultimately it comes down to this: I would not be the same person if I had never picked up a book!


Guerrilla Advertising

Wikipedia guerrilla marketing1

I only remembered at lunch time yesterday that WBD was less than 24 hours away! So I was really impressed that it only took 20 minutes sitting on the floor outside my classroom with a couple of my Junior Certs & voilá – we planned a promo ; swore a solemn oath of secrecy; made a shopping list (blue tack, string, balloons, markers, bed sheet) & we were ready! Here’s the video of our escapades from earlier today:

[youtube_sc url=]

This all tied in very neatly with what we’d been covering in class recently:

Media Studies

It also led to me discussing, on a completely impromptu basis (because of the buzz our event created) the basics of guerrilla marketing campaigns with several of my classes today. Here’s what we came up with as a guide to created a successful campaign:


  1. Secrecy – the element of surprise if crucial. Whatever you plan, it’s vital that no-one suspects anything.
  2. Unexpected event – try to do something new & original so people’s curiosity is piqued.
  3. Unexpected location – choose a public location where random madness is rare: a church, a train station, a hospital, a courthouse – but try not to get arrested!
  4. Rapid – keep it short! Those who are there must feel they were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. Those who hear about it afterwards must feel like they missed out!
  5. Planning – if you’re going to appear, do your thang & disappear, all in the space of 7 / 8 minutes, you’d better be sure everything’s ready in advance. As well as our shopping list, we agreed to leave the corridor untouched until after the 10.35 class began, then we transformed it so that when students emerged from neighbouring classrooms at 11.15, their environment had transformed utterly. Our lovely caretaker Mark also brought along a ladder & hung the balloons from the ceiling so we had no health & safety concerns to deal with!
  6. Message – there’s no point in having a memorable event, if nobody remembers what the event was promoting. Sticking the World Book Day vouchers – hundreds of them – on the walls made delivering our message pretty easy. Signs, posters, leaflets or props are a must.
  7. Respect – originally we discussed walking the corridors engrossed in a book & deliberately bumping into people, then wishing them a Happy World Book Day & handing them a voucher! However, we quickly decided against this. You don’t want people avoiding your event, you want them flocking towards it, but this must be a choice they want to make, so invading their personal space is a bad idea…
  8. Film It – the whole idea is to create a novel experience that people want to photograph / film and share on social media. This way you can reach thousands more, not just those who happened to be there! However, the video you create will probably be more professional & cover more camera angles than snippets of videos created by on-lookers so make it your priority to film from a few different angles. I was sorry afterwards we hadn’t gotten better reaction shots as people came in but without a zoom on our flip cams, there wasn’t a lot we could do! I blame our crappy equipment 😉 I was also sorry we hadn’t gotten an establishing shot of the corridor as it is normally so that you had a “before” and “after” effect. The better the video (content, originality, relevance to your life, and particularly if it’s funny!!!) the more likely it will be shared. The more it’s shared the more views it gets and the more successful your campaign has been.

As an aside, guerrilla marketing came up on the 2013 Junior Cert English Paper 1, in the media studies section.

Wikipedia Guerrilla Marketing2


Leaving Cert students were asked to write out the text to accompany an ad for a house as a QB in 2003 so there’s every chance something like this could come up in the exam. Plus, when you’re settled into college next year & you’ve got a part time job in promotions working for the Students Union Ents Crew, this might come in very useful indeed 😉

New Junior Cycle English

I’m still wrapping my head around the New Junior Cycle, as are lots of teachers I’m sure. I had my in-service day today (28/1/14) and I created these at a glance visuals for when we get to plan together as a department. There are six key skills:

Junior Cert key skills


but when you add in literacy and numeracy, I guess you could really say there are eight.

There are 24 statements of learning, 7 of which directly relate to English (I’m sure there’s overlap with some other subjects too):


Once we know what knowledge & skills we want students to develop (key skills across all subjects and statements of learning which relate to English as a subject) we then need to get to grips with the 39 specific learning outcomes for English (God help us!). However, only 22 of these 39 learning outcomes need to be focused on for incoming first years, so because my head kind of hurt with all the jargon, and because we have to start somewhere, I’ve just taken out the 22 learning outcomes that relate to First Year English. Here they are:




Lastly, here are the range and number of texts we’ll be expected to explore with first years:


 I know these graphs are tiny but they warped when I put them in full size. You should be able to click on them and print them off if you want to…

My fear is that, with only 4 classes a week in first year, it will be very difficult to achieve both the breath this spec demands (lots & lots of texts, poems, novels etc…) and also get any kind of depth, which this spec also demands (plan, draft, edit, re-edit… oral presentations). I reckon if I was timetabled for 6 classes a week it might be possible, so if the Minister will just announce that English matters more than pretty much any other subject (which I’ve always suspected anyway) and make 6 classes a week compulsory for first years, it’ll all be grand 😉

More on this anon I’m sure…

In the meantime, click on this wonderful post by Conor Murphy, a lurking smurf on twitter and a brilliant mind in reality, fully aware of the danger these ‘learning outcomes’ represent!

Finally, if you haven’t had your fill, there’s a brilliant analysis here of why English teachers are so frustrated with the current in-service provision



When we started planning for first year using the visuals I’ve posted above, we realised that the numbers on my sheets didn’t match the numbers in the spec. That was grand for now but it might get confusing when we start planning for second and third year so we decided to stick with the numbers in the spec to kind of future proof our planning.

Anyway, here are the updated posters (or ‘graphic organisers’ if you prefer!)

Reading strand

Writing strand

Oral language



Perfect Paragraph Project

Recently I’ve come to the very obvious conclusion that if a student can’t master the art of writing a really good paragraph they’ll never master the art of writing a really good essay.

This is such an obvious statement I’m almost embarrassed to type it publicly.

Anyway, I’ve started the Perfect Paragraph Project with my second and third years in an effort to help them master the art of the perfect paragraph so that they have the tools necessary to write a perfect essay.

Below are the advice and the example I’ve used to help them.

Paragraph = sandwich

Topic sentence = introduce the idea you’ll discuss in this paragraph – this idea must be directly responding to the Q

Body sentences = 6-8 which go into more detail, using relevant quotes & examples to prove your point(s)t & offer your opinion(s).

Final paragraph sentence = connect what you’ve just said back to the question that was asked (but don’t repeat yourself. Think of this sentence as the sentence which shows what you have learnt / what you now understand).

Once we had established the basic rules for writing a perfect paragraph, I asked them to select a question – whatever one they wanted from their Christmas test – and I there and then created the paragraph below, talking through my thought process as I typed.

They could see what I was doing as it was projected up onto the whiteboard but I told them NOT to take it down as I didn’t want them to be distracted from the process. Then I left the sample paragraph on the board and they were then given 15 minutes to then create their own perfect paragraph. As I’m correcting them I’m trying to differentiate for the different difficulties (what a mouthful!) students are having and the hope is that practice will make perfect until everyone in the class is confident that they can write a perfect paragraph! That’s the theory anyway…

 Sample Perfect Paragraph

In many ways I think I would not like to have Romeo as a boyfriend, mostly because he is an obsessive romantic who is in love with the idea of being in love. For example, Romeo maintains that he is love-sick and heartbroken following Rosaline’s rejection. One minute he believes that “love is a smoke made with a fume of sighs” yet the next minute he is proclaiming undying love for Juliet. In my opinion it would be difficult to believe anything he says because he is so fickle. Secondly he’s very superficial – he loves Juliet not for who she is but for how she looks, which is clear in his dramatic pronouncement “Did my heart love til now? forswear it sight, for I ne’er saw true beauty til this night”. This soppy, over the top attitude towards love is not my style – if he were my boyfriend I’d spend my time rolling my eyes at his compliments and wishing he would stop being such a drama queen.


PLANNING YOUR INTRODUCTION = first, brainstorm 4 or 5 ideas. Next, number these ideas in the order in which you intend to discuss them. Now, write your introduction – you basically offer your response to the question asked, then give a brief list of the things your essay will discuss. Basically each idea in your list then forms the basis of each paragraph.

JUNIOR CYCLE ONLY (you need 6 – 8 paragraphs for senior cycle)

Sample Introduction

In many ways I would not like to have Romeo as a boyfriend. He is very dramatic about love, he changes his mind continuously, he can be impulsive and violent and he is a very moody individual. However, there are moments where I do like him, particularly when he risks death to be with Juliet.

NOW I KNOW HOW THIS PERSON WILL STRUCTURE THEIR ESSAY – paragraph one will discuss his attitude to love, paragraph two will discuss his impulsive, violent side, paragraph three will discuss his moodiness & multiple proclamations that he’ll commit suicide if he can’t be with Juliet and paragraph four will attempt to offer some balance by discussing some of his finer qualities, including his bravery and his determination.

Conclusion checklist:

Recap your response to the question (re-phrase – don’t repeat introduction word for word)

Focus on how you felt & what you learnt

Sample Conclusion

Thus, although Romeo is brave and determined, on balance I would not like to go out with him. He is too dramatic, too sincere, too romantic, too moody and too impulsive for my liking and I suppose what I have learnt about myself from answering this question is that I would prefer someone altogether calmer and more grounded as a boyfriend.