Tag Archives: junior cert

Media for J.C.

We recently had a discussion in class of the advantages and disadvantages of various different media: Newspapers – Radio – Television – Internet. We decided we needed to compare & contrast – to think about what they have in common and about what makes them unique. Here are some of the ideas we came up with – the list is in no way exhaustive and of course is open to dispute!!!

ALL of these media:

  • convey information
  • deal with significant news stories
  • try to engage their target audience
  •  include advertisements
  • entertain / shock / provoke / discuss / challenge
  • may have a hidden bias – may favour a political viewpoint or a religious or cultural set of beliefs so we have to ask ourselves if the writer/broadcaster/presenter has an agenda (something they want to convince us of or achieve).

Differences between them – some ideas:


  • Is the target audience generally a more traditional, older audience? Lots of people now prefer to get their news online.
  • The news they report on will be at least twelve hours old. This makes them less ‘cutting edge’, less up-to-date BUT the advantage is they have checked their sources, done more research and taken time to carefully consider their response.
  • Are newspapers more likely to get to the real truth? to offer a more balanced view of events AND to be reliable as a source of information? For a lot of people, this is why newspapers are still relevant and important.
  • Interestingly, almost all newspapers are now available online which allows them to combine quality journalism with the public demand for easily accessible news. They can also keep their content more up to date and deal with breaking news online – but not all traditional newspapers do this.



  • breaking news delivered.
  • Listen on the go – multi-task
  • Add your comments/opinions via text, email or by ringing in (interactive)
  • Competitions
  • Add sound bytes (snippets from interviews)
  • Prank calls (Is this a benefit or something to discourage?)
  • Local radio keeps you up to date on a daily basis (death and funeral notices) whereas local newspapers are printed weekly
  • Podcasts available if you miss a programme


  • News bulletins don’t have as much information.
  • Have to wait to hear upcoming items (this is a clever way to keep us listening!)
  • May have reception problems (but if you have a good internet connection or an internet radio you can now stream radio stations live from all over the world)
  • Depends who the DJ is what view of events you are given (do they have a particular viewpoint or agenda?).
  • DJ may not be able to say what they really think (eg. Ray D’arcy recently got in trouble for cursing the Catholic Church on his morning show)



  • Powerful – visual medium (a picture is worth a thousand words)
  • Breaking news & variety of news channels/programmes – “kids” news on RTE 2, news at 5.30 (TV3), 6 (RTE 1), 9 and 11, rolling news
  • Programmes for every taste/age/hobby – comedy, drama, music, (true) crime, movies, kids, sport, documentaries, religion, current affairs…
  • Advertising is more effective on TV (???)
  • Educational – documentaries, nature programmes etc…
  • Influences our behaviour – positive role models and values.


  • Influences our behaviour negatively – violence, attitudes towards drugs, sex, violence, crime etc…
  • Obesity – most TV is passive and involves sitting on the couch.
  • Encourages you not to think for yourself.
  • Can negatively effect your attention span.



  • Interactive – can post comments, ask questions.
  • Informative – all of human knowledge is available to all people.
  • Up-to-date and instant (available anywhere, anytime if you have a reliable connection.).
  • Cheap way of keeping in contact (skype) with loved ones abroad.
  • Can improve literacy and creativity.
  • Online shopping convenient, cheaper.
  • Access to people, cultures and events worldwide.


  • Addictive – possibility of spending too much time online.
  • Anti-social – despite the presence of ‘social media’, these sites can make us less likely to go out and socialise in the real world and lack of practice can make us more awkward when we do.
  • Can be dangerous (strangers, trolls, stalkers)
  • Sources might not be reliable.
  • Anonymous
  • Connection poor in rural areas.


Spelling be tricky…

Here are a few links to force your brain into thinking about the least fascinating aspect of becoming good at English. Spelling correctly.






Improve your grammar!

I’ve just come across this website which helps you to practice almost every error I come across in students’ writing. It’s particularly useful because it will give you immediate feedback and an explanation if you get something wrong.

Pay particular attention to fused sentences and sentence fragments. These mistakes will cost you dearly so sort it out!Also the classic error with apostrophes is to just leave them out because you’re not sure whether or not to use them, so it’s probably a good idea to sort that out too while you’re at it!


Here’s another site that gets you to play a fun game so you can identify the parts of a sentence:



Personal Essay – Practice

This post is really for other teachers but if you’re a student and your mates are up for it, by all means read on and give this a go! One challenge we all face is to get the difference between short stories and personal essays absolutely clear in our heads. Of course there are often similarities – use of descriptive writing, opportunity to draw on personal experiences for inspiration, first person narration. However the fundamental differences are really important too.

  • A short story is fictional.
  • The narrator of the story can be anyone – a homeless person, a world leader, God, Hitler or a sheep.
  • You can use first person OR third person narration.
  • There is a plot, a setting, characters, a limited timescale (the tighter the better in my experience) and oftentimes a twist (again, having one is generally better than not having one in my experience!).

  • By contrast a personal essay is based on reality (but feel free to exaggerate & even make things up as long as they sound believable – here if you want to include a talking sheep you’ll also have to mention the drugs you were on when this happened!!!).
  • The speaker is YOU – you are writing as yourself, a teenager who lives in Ireland. You cannot be a sheep for a personal essay 😉
  • You will (and should) use descriptive writing but you will also use quotes from your favourite bands and anecdotes from your childhood or family and offer your thoughts and opinions and attitudes and beliefs and feelings. You may use rhetorical questions and lists and statistics. In other words, every technique available to you.
  • You are not limited to a fixed timescale – a short story is a slice of life whilst a personal essay can be a montage of various events from past to present to future, from you, to your family and friends, to other people and cultures, from local to national to global.

In order to make this REAL for my students, I recently did this experiment in class. Everyone wrote a mini personal essay of between 200 and 300 words (including me). As a prompt we began with the words “My name is ___________. Let me tell you a little bit about the kind of person I am”. Each of us was allowed to give ‘clues’ to our identity but we made it a rule that you couldn’t make it too obvious. The reason I joined in was  because they bullied me into it!!! Ok, I’m being facetious. But in reality I think it made them feel less self-conscious about ‘revealing’ themselves, laying themselves bare to each other as it were (the essence of being a good writer if you ask me!). They also insisted that I write in the persona of me as a teenage girl. Again this made absolute sense – if I started referring to my husband and child I’d really have given the game away 😉

After creating a first draft, we all typed them up, same font and font size, I checked for spelling and grammatical errors (God help me this was time consuming) and then I printed them off. The first two girls who finished (thanks Lauren and Cathy) sat down with the list of names of people in the class and five sticky notes and created groups which were a genuine mixture of personalities and which kept close friends apart. This meant they were facing a real challenge guessing who the writer was and more importantly they were getting a true insight into people in the class they might not know very well. Each group of five was given six mini-essays (all bundles included my one but no group got a bundle including any of their own). Their job was to figure out who the writer was, a variation on the game of guess who where you have a post it note stuck to your forehead and you have to figure out what famous person’s name is written on it.

All of this took place over four 40 minute classes and not rushing things was definitely the key to success. My students were also pretty brave in finding the courage to reveal themselves publicly in front of their peers. Getting me to join in led to some pretty funny moments – any student in their right mind would be mortified to be mixed up with their teacher (the one person it is absolutely NOT COOL to be similar to in any way!). We did this immediately after a week of working on and creating short stories so the contrast helped in embedding the distinction between short stories and personal essays in their brains (at least I hope so). Finally, teachers, if you grade this EVERYONE GETS AN A. You cannot and must not give someone’s personality anything less, nor did I want to – this class are a great bunch of women and I’m lucky to be their teacher. In a few weeks time we’ll come back to them and analyse them from a writing point of view – what works, what doesn’t, which bits keep the reader most engaged and entertained but in the meantime I think they’ve learned a lot about personal essays and about each other (as have I) .

Below I’ve included my effort if you want a template to work off!!!

Who am I?

I guess it really depends who you ask. My mother says I’m a ‘flibbertigibbert’, flitting from one thing to the next, never sitting still long enough to eat a decent dinner – or wash up afterwards! My father says I’m a nutcase – well actually, he sings a song “you’re a nut, beep, beep” and grabs my nose and twists it for the “beep beep” bit (funny man!) My sister tells me repeatedly that I’m ‘the adopted one’. I am a bit odd I suppose, but refusing to recognise that we’re even related is a bit harsh don’t you think?

My boyfriend says I’m pretty and smart. Far too pretty and smart to be going out with him. He’s wrong but I guess it’s nice to have someone who thinks you’re special. Special in a good way, not special in a ‘not the shapest tool in the box’ kind of way. Although on occasion I have done things that might cause people to label me a complete and utter spanner!

And me? I’m not sure how I feel about myself. Some days I think I’m just your average teenager, trying to figure it all out and not do too much homework along the way. Some days I think I’m a supersonic bolt of electric lightening sent to save the world from spinning out of control. And some days I wish, with all the power in every fibre of my being that I could just be somebody else. Just for a little while. And then those days pass and I get back to the business of just being me. It’s a tough job baby, but somebody’s gotta do it!

Openings & Endings

“Oh wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?”

It’s happened to us all. You cosy up on the couch to watch a movie but despite the massive bowl of popcorn, industrial size bag of malteesers, pint glass of coke and a surround sound system that could shake the dead in their shrouds, after twenty minutes you’re squirming, fidgeting and generally feeling vaguely frustrated. You channel surf in the hope of finding something better – or you stick it out to the bitter end but wander off to bed lamenting the fact that you’ll never get those wasted two hours of your life back again. So what is it that draws you into a story and then leaves you feeling deeply satisfied at the end???

I’ve recently been looking at how writers begin and end their stories. One question that frequently appears on the Junior Cert asks you to examine whether the opening and/or closing scene of the novel/play/short story you have studied impressed you. For the Leaving Cert you need a firm grasp of how your single and comparative texts begin and end.  Regardless of genre – film, novel, play or short story – as a reader/viewer you have certain expectations & if these are not fulfilled you may just walk out of the theatre or throw aside the book! However you may find it difficult to verbalise exactly what it is that left you feeling frustrated & disappointed so here’s a list:

The opening chapter or scene should do most or all of the following:

  1. Introduce the setting – where and when the story takes place.
  2. Grab your attention – make the reader curious by holding back info. & creating some unanswered questions in our minds.
  3. Introduce main characters AND make sure they are in some way likable/sympathetic.
  4. Something should happen – the plot should begin.
  5. You might want to introduce the central theme(s).
  6. Style of writing or mise en scene must be descriptive/cinematic.

What you do NOT want:

  1. Too much background info which slows down the pace of the action & can make it boring.
  2. Too many characters introduced all at once which can be confusing.
  3. If you find the language or plot too difficult it can be off-putting – but this might be ‘your’ problem so be wary of writing off a novel or film for this reason.

However a novel/play or film can have a perfectly decent opening scene but still leave you with a sour taste in your mouth. We’ve all had the experience of coming out of the cinema feeling vaguely harassed and bewildered because the end just didn’t make sense. Or it was totally predictable and cliched. Or it was cheap – some kind of deus ex machina because the writer couldn’t think of any other way to end things. So here’s a list of elegant endings…

The end of a film/play/novel should do most or all of the following:

  1. Writer must give us closure – an air of finality. We need the writer to tie up most loose ends (generally speaking to be left thinking is good, to be left wondering is annoying).
  2. You want a twist – an ending which is unexpected makes us feel shocked & energised. A predictable ending (one which is clichéd & expected) is boring & disappointing for the audience.
  3. The end must make the audience FEEL something – it doesn’t matter whether it’s happy or sad or frightening or a mixture of loads of conflicting emotions. The important thing is that you made the audience care about the characters & the ending produced an emotional response in them.
  4. The end should leave you feeling that you’ve learnt something, it should leave you thinking about the themes & characters and should somehow capture a profound truth about life. The best stories change you as a person and offer you a new way of looking at the world.

What you do NOT want:

  1. Sudden ending – we’re left with no film idea of what happened to the main characters.
  2. Predictable ending – no twist, nothing unexpected. A story-by-numbers which follows genre rules so closely that we know exactly what to expect.
  3. Lots of loose ends left dangling. Challenging us to decide for ourselves what the ending means is fine but don’t just ‘forget’ to resolve things.
  4. Tacked on / far-fetched / sudden ending – one that doesn’t ‘fit’ in with the rest of the plot or one that isn’t credible.
  5. An ending which kills someone off for no good reason – or worse a story with such lacklustre characters that you don’t care if they live or die!

My students also suggested that you don’t want an ending where good is punished and evil rewarded. I don’t really agree with this. Of course bad things happening to good people is upsetting but it’s also true to life. Sadly.