Tag Archives: paper one

Paper 1 Checklist

I’ve just been browsing the site, checking that all the links are working and that the index includes all the posts that are relevant to all you poor sods out there who are doing the Leaving Cert. Anyway, it occured to me that the index page has expanded to such an extent that it’s hard to see the wood for the trees now so…

With this in mind here’s a simple checklist with links that you can refer back to whenever you need them. This may sound obvious but I’ll say it anyway – any words that appear in BLUE are clickable and will take you directly to the blog post in question…

So here goes nothing!

1. Comprehensions – begin with the General Advice post, then take a look at the different Types of Comprehensions which appear. You need to get practice in Describing a Personality and exploring the Feelings & Atmosphere created in a text. If you want help Answering Style Questions, once you’ve downloaded the spreadsheet of techniques have a look at this Sample Comprehension Answer which examines common mistakes.

Don’t forget that you must be confident discussing Visual Texts so this Sample Visual Text Answer should come in useful, along with these tips for discussing Book Covers and this wonderful post from my mate Michelle on The Art of Photography.

This is not an exhaustive list. Off the top of my head I know in the past students were asked if they considered a piece of writing funny and had to explain why – not an easy task but this post on Comedy might help.

One year recently students were asked to explore the enduring power of the mysterious in tv, books and film but I haven’t gotten my head around answering that one myself yet (which is weird really because I obsessively read my way through over 50 Agatha Cristie novels when I was 14).

You also need to be able to clearly distinguish between the language of information, language of argument, language of persuasion and the language of narration/description because sometimes they specifically ask you to identify and comment on the features of one type of writing (informative/argumentative/persuasive/descriptive) which are evident in the text. Sometimes this is phrased slightly differently and you are asked to comment on features of speech writing, or travel writing or autobiographical writing or on the journalistic style used in a newspaper/magazine article.

Occasionally students are asked to comment on the Title of the passage, or to suggest an alternative title. You could be asked to select a quote(s) used by the writer and comment on how effective and appropriate it is. You can also be asked to trace the logic employed in a text or to discuss how effectively the writer has constructed their argument to bring you around to their way of thinking.

Ultimately, practice practice practice is what will help you to improve – by all means read these blog posts to your hearts content but then DO SOMETHING with them. Apply the knowledge by practising using past exam papers or whatever speeches, articles, stories, travelogues you want.

If yet more individual written work sounds too hideously boring, sit down with a friend, pick a text (any text), come up with sample questions based on what usually comes up and discuss what you’d put into your answer. This is a really effective way of getting the brain active and bouncing ideas off someone else is always a good study technique.

Perhaps you could draw your own infographics for information, argument, persuasion, narration, description, speeches, articles, short stories, personal essays etc…  We’ve been doing this to some success in class recently, it really forces the brain to clarify things.

2. Question B – begin with the General Advice, then make sure you get clarity around the layout and style required for the following:

and don’t forget Speeches/Radio Talks and Articles which can come up both here and in the extended essay section.  Personally I don’t think you should choose the same Question B and extended essay (ie write two speeches, or two articles) because you can’t really show off your range of skills to the examiner if you do this. Pay close attention to the wording of the question – for example a ‘report’ and a ‘news report’ are not the same thing! One is an informative document compiled from surveys and questionaires on a particular topic, the other is a newspaper article reporting on an event or incident which has just occured.

3. Composing – this is the section that requires you to write an extended essay (in a particular genre) twice as long as the Question B above. It is worth 25% of your overall grade in English.

You may want to begin with the Six Rules of Essay Writing, then check out the type of Essay Topics that come up and some Sample Essay Titles I gave my Leaving Certs for their house exam. Read this blog post if you’re searching for Inspiration.

Then there are the questions: What is an Appropriate Topic? How do you move from Word to Paragraph? How do you achieve Originality vs Cliche? And a discussion of why you really need to Trust Your Voice.

There are four basic genres that recur in this section: Short Stories, Personal Essays, Speeches/Debates and Newspaper/Magazine Articles. Very ccasionally you’ll see a “series of 3 diary entries” or “a descriptive essay” in here too.

Short stories – so you need to be familiar with the Language of Narration/Description and you might want to check out Sample Short Story 1 and Sample Short Story 2.

If you want to buy and read a collection of short stories try the newly released “Silver Threads of Hope“.

Personal Essays – you need to be clear on the difference between a personal essay and a short story but the Language of Description remains central to this genre. You may want to check out Sample Personal Essay 1 and Sample Personal Essay 2.

If you want to buy and read a collection of personal essays try “A Page in the Life”, a collection from the Marian Finucane radio show (they are each only 500 words long however – your personal essay would need to be in the region of at least 1200 words in the exam). Two of my favourite personal essays are available online “I’m still alive and writing is my fighting” and “The five funniest things people said to me when my father died” – even though they were published in a newspaper and a magazine respectively their style falls into the category of the personal essay.

Articles – get reading newspapers and magazines and start paying attention to the style used. You may want to check out this Sample Newspaper Article.

You could also get a giggle a day by regularly visiting www.thepotato.ie an Irish satirical website which proves that you can make something up and still make it sound utterly convincing if you adopt the appropriate journalistic style. Also see our Links page for a longer list of online newspapers.

Speeches / Debates – ensure you understand the difference between them. Debates almost exclusively make use of argumentative techniques whereas speeches combine argument and persuasion. Check out these sample debate topics; better still practice writing one!

Check out this debate “Does God Exist?” on this link – but feel free to skip the first 12 minutes which are just introductions. Of course if you’ve taken part in the Concern Debates, the Mental Health Public Speaking competition or any form of public speaking through your local Dail na nOg or Soroptimists society then you’ve at a real advantage going into the exams.

If you want to buy a book of famous speeches I recommend “Speeches that Changed the World” and “Great Irish Speeches“. Alternatively, just browse speeches on youtube or better still check out www.ted.com for mindblowing talks on every topic imaginable!

If you’d like to try some collaborative writing with your mates you could either use edmodo (see this post on the benefits of online collaboration) or you could just use google docs – all you need is a gmail account, click on “drive”, start a new document and then email the link to the people you want to write the piece with you…

I think that’s it folks! There are so many links in this post it’ll be a miracle if they’re all working so if any of the links lead you to the wrong place please send me a message and I’ll fix it.

Hope this helps,


Seeing Blind

For their house exam, my students have 1hr 30mins to write a work of inspired creative genius. So no pressure then! They’ll have to choose between a speech, a debate, a personal essay, a newspaper article or a descriptive essay and they have no idea what the topics will be… eek! (I’ll post them here on Friday after the exam).

So today, with the exams looming tomorrow, they asked me how the hell they can prepare. As well as revising the stylistic features required of each genre (speech, article, personal essay, descriptive writing) and the six rules of essay writing, here’s what we came up with:

How to prepare when you don’t know what the topic will be…

  • List of personal anecdotes you might use… (remember sights, sounds, smells, taste, touch)
  • List of quotes you might use…
  • List of techniques you will use…
  • List of official organisations (O.E.C.D., E.R.S.I., W.H.O., C.S.O..) & names of Ministers of State (minister for education, minister for children, minister for social affairs etc). When making up quotes and stats from experts give the person a title and attach them to a university or organisation to make them sound believable…
  • Ideas on topical issues (see this list) plus any quirky news stories that catch your eye!
  • Funny jokes! (if you’re writing a more lighthearted piece you might be able to work one in to your essay)

Update: as promised, here are the essay topics my students faced into for their house exams on Friday last:

Write a composition on any ONE of the following:

1. “Write a lighthearted speech, to be delivered to your classmates, on your pet hates in life

2. “Write a newspaper article in which you uncover and expose a scandal

3. “Write an entertaining descriptive essay for a competition under the title “If I ran this school“.

4. “Write a debate speech in which you argue for or against the motion that “The future of publishing is digital” (I got this from a mock paper)

5. “Write a personal essay entitled “I’m weird but that’s OK“.




Celebrity ‘News’?

The time has come for me to confess.

I normally hide behind my ability to quote random chunks of Shakespeare at will but that doesn’t change the fact that – here it comes – I find it hard to resist celebrity magazines. I stand in the supermarket queue and get sucked in by the gossipy headlines strategically placed to tempt me into wasting my money. I’ll find myself secretly pleased that the person ahead of me is taking forever – you know the type, the woman who waits until every single grocery is packed and stashed before rooting around endlessly in her bottomless handbag groping for her purse.

Why? Because this gives me a chance to flick to the contents page and then quickly scan the article relating to the most scandalous cover story, just to prove to myself what I already know internally – it’ all fluff. Hyped up, OTT, manipulative nonsense that’s not worth my time or energy.

So why do I still get sucked in? And why am I so determined to resist?

I got some clarity on the issue this week as my Leaving Certs and I revisited a comprehension from the 2005 exam paper – it was a mock celebrity interview with Irish Rock Diva Eva Maguire written by a former leaving cert student. One of the comprehension questions asked “Do you find the style of writing in this magazine article appealing?” – and discussed how this question requires a much more subtle answer than your bog standard “Identify and comment on four features of the writer’s style“. And before you freak out, you don’t need to go into anything like this detail in the exam – I’m just the kind of person who doesn’t know when to shut up!

So what is my answer? Well, yes and no.

First off the article is extremely well written but crucially the language nonetheless remains accessible, meaning it will appeal to a large target audience. The writer creates a vivid picture of Eva who “is extraordinarily beautiful and astonishingly tough, steely and ambitious. Her golden hair frames features dominated by huge blue eyes. She wears a diamond and sapphire-studded ring on her left hand…” This article offers us a clear picture of the woman and her lifestyle but it requires little cerebral exertion on our part to gain this insight into her life.And let’s face it this style appeals to most people when they pick up a magazine in a train station or a doctor’s surgery – at that moment they probably don’t want to have to grapple with complex vocabulary they may or may not understand (in fact this can be an issue for more highbrow publications like Time Magazine, The Economist and Vanity Fair who attract a very educated and literate readership but don’t sell in the large numbers that celebirty magazines do).

Secondly, sensationalist show and tell stories appeal to the gossip in all of us – like it or not it’s perfectly natural to feel curious about the lives these people lead and perhaps to even fantasise that one day it could be us flying in a private jet to our holiday home in the Bahamas! So when we read that “she has achieved head- spinning, global success, winning international music awards, packing concert venues and seeing her albums topping charts all over the world” we get a powerful reminder of why it is that so many people show up to X-factor auditions and why they are so devastated when they fail to make it past bootcamp or judges houses.

Thirdly the use of hyperbole, and the overuse of emphatic and superlative words adds to our sense that these people are somehow bigger, better and brighter than ordinary plebians like ourselves. Here “in a rare, exclusive and candid interview, the 24 year -old rock superstar reveals where she sees her destiny and for the first time shares with “Celebrity” readers some of the secrets of her forthcoming wedding plans“. If we can’t see through the manipulation inherent in the language itself we can end up falling for the excitement and drama of the writing. Perhaps this goes some way towards explaining the modern obsession with being famous – not talented or successful or exceptional – but famous for the sake of being famous. Because there is after all only one thing worse than being talked about and that’s NOT being talked about!

There was one other element of the writing style which appealed to me. Personally, I don’t think this student was paying homage to celebrity magazines by copying their OTT hyped-up style; I think he or she was completely taking the piss, but in a very low key and subtle way. For me this article isn’t a homage it’s a parody! Look at the way it mocks vacuous female celebrities who buy rare breeds of dog (that surely should never have existed) and carry them around in their handbag – in this article the photo shoot “shows her posing with one of her pet miniature greyhounds“. Too ridiculous to be true but we’re almost convinced because this is after all the way many of celebrities carry on! The notion that money doesn’t buy class is again hinted at when we learn more about their wedding plans and are told to “expect six hundred doves to flock the Italian sky at the moment when the wedding vows are made“. I mean ‘puh-lease’! Give me a break!

And that, my friends, is why I haven’t bought a single celebrity magazine in the past four years. Yes, I’ll flick through them at the checkout, but only to remind myself of how empty, vacuous and pathetic they really are. They promise so much yet so rarely deliver. Like this article they promise exclusive access to the inner sanctuary of the celebrity’s home; they hype up the tell-all secrets only they have managed to goad the interviewee into revealing but when all is said and done you learn little you didn’t already know. Maybe that’s why celebrity reality TV shows like the Kardashians are so popular; because they do actually give you no-holds-barred access to the most intimate details of these people’s lives (like one of them seriously gave birth on camera? Just the thought of it makes me feel queasy. That poor baba did not sign up for that!!!).

Finally although it sounds self-righteous and judgemental, there is no denying that this style of journalism promotes superficiality and excessive materialism. It elevates celebrities to a ridiculous status, pretending that their every move qualifies as ‘news’. Spend an evening in our house and you’ll find both my husband and myself regularly shouting at the telly or the radio (or both) saying that’s not news when yet another story about Brad and Angelina’s latest adoption gets higher billing that a mudslide that’s killed hundreds of people. Perhaps this is the greatest crime of all that the oxymoran ‘celebrity news’ commits.  It tells us that we should view the minute details of their daily lives as somehow more significant and important than wars, murders, natural disasters, fraud and world hunger.

Like ‘clean coal’ ‘military intelligence’ and ‘truthful tabloids’ ‘celebrity news’ doesn’t exist! And ultimately, just because it happens to a ‘celebrity’ shouldn’t mean it qualifies as news!

Teacher of the Year Awards

[youtube_sc url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-gQbttw9Tg&feature=youtu.be]

[youtube_sc url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCV97Rq_Na8]

Here’s audio from my most recent interview: with Miles Dungan on RTE Radio 1

[soundcloud url=”http://soundcloud.com/leavingcertenglishnet/todaywithpatkenny”]

or click directly on this link: http://soundcloud.com/leavingcertenglishnet/todaywithpatkenny

Here’s the audio from my interview on newstalk

[soundcloud url=”http://soundcloud.com/evelynoconnor/evelyn-on-the-right-hook”]

If that doesn’t load properly just click this link instead: http://soundcloud.com/evelynoconnor/evelyn-on-the-right-hook

The article from thejournal.ie that made my acceptance speech go viral http://www.thejournal.ie/teachers-permanent-non-permanent-evelyn-oconnor-teacher-of-the-yea-502993-Jun2012/

Some further food for thought:

So why are we blindly copying the mistakes that were made in the UK and the US instead of following best international practice to improve our education system and make it once again the envy of the entire world? We were the Island of Saints & Scholars. We have become the island of Rote & Regurgitate. We want to be the Island of Dreaming & Doing.

Let’s debate this properly.

Book Covers

I have to admit, until recently I’d never given a huge amount of thought to the process involved in designing a book cover.

I love books, always have, and worked for a couple of years in the best bookshop in Ireland (Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop in Galway for the uninitiated) but I loved the words IN the book more than the pictures ON the book. I’m sure on recollection that a striking cover has often grabbed my attention but it is the opening page that either gets me to spend my money or prompts me to quietly place the book back on the shelf.

A little more recently, after I’d already begun my teaching career, I remember mocking any of my friends who chose one of the ‘adult’ dust jackets when purchasing the Harry Potter books. I thought it somehow foolish or dishonest not to admit that yes, you were reading a kids book, and by the way you were bloody well enjoying it too!

But someone, somewhere, in the marketing devision of a publishing house decided once upon a time that you could get more people to buy the same book – people of varying ages and genders, people with widely differing tastes in literature – if you offered them a choice of book cover that spoke to them or reflected who they felt themselves to be.

And I guess if they’ve kept doing it, then it works!

Perhaps they’re playing to how predictable most of us tend to be. We know what we like, and what we don’t like, we tend not to like change and not to take risks. So if a book looks like science fiction from the cover – and we ‘know’ we don’t like sci-fi, we probably won’t even pick it up. Similarly, if a book is in any way pink – or even worse – pink neon! – I will treat it like it has a highly contagious disease. I have decided, in my wisdom, that if it looks anything like romantic fiction, it’s not for me!

So why my sudden interest in the topic? Well, I have to admit to a fascination with the twists and turns the leaving cert. paper 1 in English throws up on occasion. I like the thought that were I to sit the paper, I’d have to apply my knowledge to something I really know nothing about; the notion that I’d have to “ad-lib… unselfconsciously with overflowing speech” and think on my feet in order to do well. Two years ago one such minor curve ball appeared when one of the comprehension questions asked students to compare two contrasting dust jackets for the same novel, “Fahrenheit 451”. As well as identifying the extent to which they captured the essence of the text visually, you were expected to figure out why one appealed to you more than the other. In the process I guess you were identifying who the target audience was in each case and why you were more attracted to one dust jacket over the other.

Rather than waffle on any further about my own lack of knowledge, I instead want to send you in the direction of people who know infinitely more about this than I do. The first is a blog post in response to an article in the New York Times, the second is a Ted talk  I stumbled upon by accident by the truly eccentric book cover designer Chip Kidd.

p.s. thanks to Julian Girdham’s twitter feed @sccenglish, I also have this link for you http://www.shortlist.com/entertainment/the-50-coolest-book-covers