Subject knowledge and the teacher 2 – Areas of subject knowledge

English across the sectors

The novel

Here is a list of texts which are frequently read in schools:

  • Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck
  • Lord of the Flies William Golding
  • To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
  • Animal Farm George Orwell
  • Great Expectations Charles Dickens
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry – Mildred Taylor
  • The Mayor of Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy
  • Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
  • Far From the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
  • Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
  • Silas Marner – George Eliot
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
  • Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
  • The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  • Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
  • The Go-Between – L.P. Hartley
  • Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  • Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham
  • Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha – Roddy Doyle
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
  • The Village by the Sea – Anita Desai
  • The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
  • Heroes – Robert Cormier
  • I’m the King of the Castle – Susan Hill
  • A Kestrel for a Knave – Barry Hines

A level texts vary but you might like to look at such works as Chatterton and Hawksmore by P. Ackroyd, Lucky Jim by K. Amis, Behind the Scenes at the Museum by K. Atkinson, Cat’s Eye and The Handmaid’s Tale by M. Atwood, Flaubert’s Parrot by J. Barnes, Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner, Possession by A.S. Byatt, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Enduring Love by Ian Mc Ewan, Waterland by Graham Swift, The Color Purple by Alice Walker.

Texts from other cultures and traditions have become an important part of English teaching across all Key Stages. You could familiarize yourself with some authors such as Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, V.S. Naipaul, Nadine Gordimer, James Berry, Farrukh Dhondy. Reading poetry from other cultures written by Grace Nichols, Sujata Bhatt, Tom Leonard, John Agard, Moniza Alvi and Imtiaz Dharker, for example, would also be good preparation.


  • What are the advantages/disadvantages of ‘reading around the class’?
  • Can you think of ways of promoting individual reading for pleasure amongst pupils?
  • What aproaches to teaching the novel worked for you in school contexts?

The list of authors identified in the present national curriculum is given below. Do you have any comment on the list?

‘works of fiction by two major writers published before 1914 selected from the following list: Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, John Bunyan, Wilkie Collins, Joseph Conrad, Daniel Defoe, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, George Eliot, Henry Fielding, Elizabeth Gaskell, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jonathan Swift, Anthony Trollope, H G Wells.

two works of fiction by major writers published after 1914

[Examples of fiction by major writers after 1914: E M Forster, William Golding, Graham Greene, Aldous Huxley, James Joyce, D H Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, George Orwell, Muriel Spark, William Trevor, Evelyn Waugh.]’

  • How would you change the list given above?


  • Make an annotated list of the novels you read when you were in school contexts.
  • Choose any novel you have read recently and work out how you might introduce it to a class of pupils.
  • Complete a ‘reading autobiography’: a brief chronological account of the way your development by describing what you read at different ages.
  • Pupils in school are sometimes asked to keep a ‘reading diary’ to record their reflections on books as they read them. Try this exercise with one of the books you are reading.


Children’s literature

Here is a list of titles of novels widely read at Key Stage 3:

The National Curriculum gives the following examples of non-fiction and non-literary texts at Key Stage 4:

  • After the First Death – Robert Cormier
  • Artemis Fowl – Eoin Colfer
  • Badger on the Barge – Janni Howker
  • Boy – Roald Dahl
  • Buddy – Nigel Hinton
  • Buddy, The Finders – Nigel Hinton
  • Carrie’s War – Nina Bawden
  • Coal House, The – Andrew Taylor
  • Collision Course – Nigel Hinton
  • Face – Benjamin Zephaniah
  • Frankenstein’s Aunt
  • Ghost of Thomas Kempe, The – Penelope Lively
  • Goodnight Mr Tom – Michelle Magorian
  • The Tulip Touch , Goggle Eyes, Flour Babies – Anne Fine
  • The Elephant Chase, Tight Rope – Gillian Cross
  • Witch Child – Celia Rees
  • Two Weeks with the Queen – Morris Gleitzmann
  • Holes – Louis Sachar
  • I Am David – Ann Holm
  • It’s My Life – Robert Leeson
  • Lemony Snicket The Unauthorized Biography – Lemony Snicket
  • Machine Gunners, The – Robert Westall
  • Nature of the Beast, The – Janni Howker
  • Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, The Shadow in the North – Philip Pullman
  • Silver Sword, The – Ian Serrailer
  • Skellig, Kit’s Wilderness, Heaven Eyes – David Almond
  • Stone Cold, Room 13, Smash, Inside the Worm – Robert Swindells
  • True Confession of Charlotte Doyle – Avi
  • Welcome Home Jellybean – Marlene Fanta Shyer
  • Whispers in the Graveyard – Theresa Breslin

‘Personal record and viewpoints on society: Peter Ackroyd, James Baldwin, John Berger, James Boswell, Vera Brittain, Lord Byron, William Cobbett, Gerald Durrell, Robert Graves, Samuel Johnson, Laurie Lee, Samuel Pepys, Flora Thompson, Beatrice Webb, Dorothy Wordsworth.

Travel writing: Jan Morris, Freya Stark, Laurens Van Der Post, Bill Bryson, Michael Palin.

Reportage: James Cameron, Winston Churchill, Alistair Cooke, Dilys Powell.

The natural world: David Attenborough, Rachel Carson, Charles Darwin, Steve Jones.’


  • Browse in a bookshop or the children’s section of a library and familiarise yourself with the sheer range of titles now available.
  • Try to say precisely for what age groups the books you have read are most suitable.
  • Talk to some young children about their reading habits and make a note of their responses.
  • Book stores and publishers (like Waterstones and Puffins) provide guides to children’s literature which are very helpful.
  • Write some short reviews (single paragraph) of the books you read.
  • Select a children’s author (e.g. Westall, Howker) and read (critically) as many works of that writer as you can find.
  • Make a list/collection of non-fiction reading aimed at young people (magazines, newspapers, hobby books etc.)


If your reading of poetry is very limited you might find it useful to familiarise yourself with the poems contained in the publication The Nation’s Favourite Poems published in 1996 by BBC Books which has a good cross-section of periods and style. The titles of the poems in the collection are given here:

Titles of Poems in the collection: The Nation’s Favourite Poems


The Lady of Shallott

The Listeners

Not Waving But Drowning

The Daffodils

To Autumn

The Lake Isle of Inisfree

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Ode to a Nightingale

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven


Elegy Written in A Country Churchyard

Fern Hill


The Highwayman

To His Coy Mistress

Dover Beach

The Tyger

Stop All the Clocks


The Soldier



Upon Westminster Bridge

How Do I Love Thee

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock



The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Ozymandias of Egypt

Stopping by Woods On a Snowy Evening



About Ben Adhem

Everyone Sang

The Windhover

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?

When You Are Old

Naming of Parts

The Darkling Thrush

Please Mrs Butler

Kubla Khan

Home-Thoughts, From Abroad

High Flight

Journey Of The Magi

The Owl and The Pussy-Cat

The Glory Of The Garden

The Road Not Taken

The Way Through The Woods

Anthem For Doomed Youth

Bloody Men

Emmonsail’s Heath in Winter

La Figlia Che Piange

The Whitsun Weddings

The Ballad of Reading Gaol

I Remember, I Remember

This Be The Verse


The Great Lover

A Red, Red Rose

The Sunlight on the Garden

The Old Vicarage, Granchester

Diary of a Church Mouse


Tam O’Shanter

Love’s Philosophy

The Song of Hiawatha

My Last Duchess


The Thought-Fox



The Charge of the Light Brigade

I Am

The Hound of Heaven

The Passionate Shepherd To His Love

The Song of Wandering Aengus

She Walks In Beauty

Loveliest of Tress,The Cherry Now

The Flea


An Arundel Tomb

Let Me Not To The Marriage of True Minds



Let Me Die a Youngman’s Death

The Ruined Maid


God’s Grandeur

Chocolate Cake

Jenny Kissed Me


The Prelude

Warming Her Pearls

Pied Beauty

Prayer Before Birth

Macavity: The Mystery Cat


The Donkey

The Raven


– for how many can you name the author and the period when they lived?

You might like to make sure you are familiar with a range of poetic terms, such as:

Allegory, Alliteration, Anaphora, Anthithesis, Assonance, Bathos, Blank Verse, Caesura, Conceit, Consonance, Couplet, Diction, Dramatic Monologue, Elegy, Empathy, Enjambement, Euphemism, Free Verse, Imagery, Internal Rhyme, Inversion, Litotes , Metaphor, Metre, Ode, Onomatopoeia, Oxymoron, Pathetic Fallacy, Pathos, Personification, Pun, Rhetorical question, Simile, Stanza, Syllable, Tone.


  • Poetry used to be seen as a neglected area of the English curriculum in schools. It is now more prominent. What was your experience of poetry in school contexts?
  • Do you write poetry? If so, what function has it served in your life?
  • We often ask pupils to do all sort of creative writing – should we as teachers be doing the same?
  • The National Curriculum identifies a list of authors as follows. Any comments on the list? With which authors are you familiar?

Poetry by four major poets published before 1914 selected from the following list:

Matthew Arnold, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, William Blake, Emily Bronte, Robert Browning, Robert Burns, Lord Byron, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Clare, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Donne, John Dryden, Thomas Gray, George Herbert, Robert Herrick, Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Keats, Andrew Marvell, John Milton, Alexander Pope, Christina Rossetti, William Shakespeare (sonnets), Percy Bysshe Shelley, Edmund Spenser, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Henry Vaughan, William Wordsworth, Sir Thomas Wyatt.

Poetry by four major poets published after 1914 such as:

W H Auden, Gillian Clarke, Keith Douglas, Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage,

T S Eliot, U A Fanthorpe, Thomas Hardy, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Elizabeth Jennings, Philip Larkin, Wilfred Owen, Sylvia Plath, Stevie Smith, Edward Thomas, R S Thomas, W B Yeats.


  • Select one or two poems which you think you would like to teach and think about why you have made that particular choice and how you go about teaching them.
  • Make a list of about a dozen different poems and try to decide what age group they might best suit.
  • Groups two or three poems by theme as a ‘way in’ to effective teaching
  • Identify poems from other cultures which you think might be appropriate for use in school.



The National Curriculum states that pupils should read:

  1. two plays by Shakespeare, one of which should be studied in key stage 3
  2. drama by major playwrights

(Examples of major playwrights

William Congreve, Oliver Goldsmith, Christopher Marlowe, Sean O’Casey, Harold Pinter, J B Priestley, Peter Shaffer, G B Shaw, R B Sheridan, Oscar Wilde.)

Recent and contemporary drama, written for young people and adults

(Examples of recent drama: Alan Ayckbourn, Samuel Beckett, Alan Bennett, Robert Bolt, Brian Friel, Willis Hall, David Hare, Willie Russell, R C Sherriff, Arnold Wesker.)’

Click here to view a selection of the widely taught drama texts:

  • The Crucible – Arthur Miller
  • An Inspector Calls – J B Priestley
  • Journey’s End – R C Sherriff
  • A View From the Bridge – Arthur Miller
  • Hobson’s Choice – Harold Brighouse
  • A Taste of Honey – Shelagh Delaney
  • A Man for All Seasons – Robert Bolt
  • Blood Brothers, Our Day Out – Willy Russell
  • Gregory’s Girl – B. Forsyth
  • Whose Life Is It Anyway? – Brian Clark
  • The Roses of Eyam – Don Taylor
  • The Importance of Being Ernest – Oscar Wilde
  • Educating Rita – Willy Russell
  • Pygmalion – B, Shaw
  • Talking Heads – A. Bennett


  • What does the term ‘drama’ mean to you?
  • What are the main characteristics which distinguish drama from the novel?
  • How would you set about trying to ensure that pupils respond to drama ‘as drama’?
  • How would you help pupils respond to a play they have attended?


  • Video some clips of television drama which think could be useful for use in school and try to say how you might use them.
  • Do the same with a video version of a play – compare the video version with the original script – would such a task be useful for pupils at secondary level?
  • Do the same with a video/film version and an extract from a novel. In what ways could this material be used to explore with pupils the difference between the two genres?


Shakespeare is now compulsory at Key Stages 3 and 4, and is examined through both the KS3 SATs and GCSE. The teaching of Shakespeare has been revolutionised over the past decade or more, often through the impact of drama-teaching techniques and critical literacy. The emphasis is now much more on seeing the plays as scripts as the basis of active interpretations, and on Shakespeare as a cultural phenomenon worthy of study alongside other such phenomena. Interesting approaches to teaching Shakespeare can be found in Peter Reynolds’Practical Approaches to Teaching Shakespeareand Rex Gibson’sSecondary School Shakespeare. The Cambridge editions of Shakespeare texts for school use embody ideas from the Rex Gibson’s hugely influential Shakespeare in Schools project.


  • Do you agree that study of Shakespeare should be compulsory?
  • What is the difference between studying Shakespeare ‘as literature’ and more specifically ‘as drama’?
  • In what ways were you taught Shakespeare?
  • What do you think active teaching of Shakespeare means?


  • Make a list of any resources you can find which might be helpful in introducing and teaching Shakespeare to a wide range of abilities.
  • Watch videos of Shakespeare plays as the basis of comparative interpretation for teaching.
  • Consider in detail how one small part of any play may encapsulate major themes or issues, and how these could be teased out for teaching purposes.


We are all exposed to a wide range of media so it is not so much a case of extending your reading, listening or viewing but of thinking about the way different media can be taught in the classroom. Some useful texts to get you thinking about the teaching of media are: Goodwyn, A. (1992) English Teaching and Media Education and Bazalgette, C. (1991) Media Education. Also: Dutton Media Studies: An Introduction Longman,Wall and Walker Media Studies for GCSE (Collins) and series ed. Butt Introducing Media Studies (Hodder and Stoughton). However if you do not have easy access to these or other books on the media you can still do much useful work by reflecting on possible approaches in the classroom.


  • The term ‘media’ is very broad – what would you place under that heading?
  • How do you react to the following quotation?

“The view of young people as ‘dupes’ of popular media has a long history, and is regularly espoused by critics of all political persuasions. For many on the Right, the media are often seen as a major cause of moral depravity and violence, while they are routinely condemned by many on the Left for their reinforcement of racism, sexism, consumerism and many other objectionable ideologies. Yet what unites these otherwise very different views is a notion of young people as helpless victims of manipulation, and as extremely vulnerable and impressionable. In this account, the text is seen to be all powerful, while the reader is powerless to step back or resist: ‘reading’ or making sense of media texts is regarded as an automatic process, in which meanings are simply imprinted on passive minds.” (Buckingham and Sefton-Green 1994).


  • Start a collection of any media artefacts which you think might be useful in your teaching (examples: leaflets, junk mail, adverts, newspaper articles, headlines, magazine articles). Try to collect examples of articles with different styles, illustrating bias, using different persuasive techniques etc.
  • Choose one news story on one particular day and note down and/or collect examples of the way it is covered in different newspapers and/or radio and television.
  • Interview a teenager(s) and find out about their response to the media – favourite programmes, reading preferences, attitude to adverts or devise a questionnaire you might use on your teaching placement during the course.
  • Collect your own set of video clips from the television which might be useful in your teaching – adverts, chat shows, introductory sequences from films etc.

Note: Registering with Film Education will provide a useful source of material Many teachers find magazines such as Empire and The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) useful resources.

Knowledge about language

There has been increasing emphasis on knowledge about language in English teaching in recent years (particularly in the light of the National Literacy Strategy (NLS), which has now been transformed into the National Strategy: English strand). Many English teachers lack confidence in this area because it did not figure prominently in their education. One approach would be simply to give some titles of ‘brush up your grammar’ books; there is nothing wrong with that some books are listed below. There is a danger however of implicitly reinforcing all the wrong messages about grammar: it was neglected in schools partly because it was taught so badly in previous years. However, when taught well grammar can be an interesting and engaging aspect of English. Another danger is of reinforcing the view that knowledge about language only embraces grammar. The Kingman report (1989) provides a useful account of what knowledge about language should entail: language forms, communication and comprehension, acquisition, variation amongst other aspects of language. Knowledge of grammar can greatly enhance study of literature and close linguistic analysis of all kinds of texts. The list below includes some books specifically on grammar but you will find that reading any book on the subject of language will be a useful preparation for teaching English.

Carter, R. (1995)Keywords in Language and Literature(Routledge)

Crystal , D. (1988)Rediscover Grammar(Longman)

Crystal, D. (1987)The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language( Cambridge University Press)

Crystal, D. (1995)The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language( Cambridge University Press)

Cullup, M. (1999)Brush Up Your Grammar( Right Way Books)

Pinker, S. (1994)The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and Mind( London: Penguin).

Seely, E. and J. 1990All About English( Oxford University Press).

Text books written for A level language students are also useful.


Look at the following chart showing specialist areas of language study. Which are likely to be more relevant to the teaching of English in secondary schools and in what ways?

Think about the following questions which illustrate some of the tensions involved in this area:


  • How important is explicit knowledge about language as opposed to implicit knowledge?
  • Is it better to talk about ‘correct’ or ‘appropriate’ language – can spoken language ever be described as ‘incorrect’.
  • How should technical terms about language be taught?


  • The National Literacy Strategy framework (primary) contains a glossary of language terms. The meaning of some of them is obvious – the meaning of others is less so. Check that you know the meaning of all of them.
  • Tape record a small amount of spoken language and transcribe it. Make a list of some of the features which distinguish spoken from written English.
  • When you are reading novels/plays/poems keep an eye out for extracts which illustrate some of the following and which could be used in the classroom:

different ways of paragraphing and splitting up texts;

different ways of presenting dialogue, including its punctuation;

varieties of dialect, and even accent;

how characters’ language changes in different contexts;

distinctions between American – and other national forms of – English;

examples of uses of language related to social identity – issues of class, race and gender; examples of archaic uses of language to show how language changes over time.


Some examples of work on language are given below Can you think of any similar language exercises?

As part of work on informal and formal language a class was given 15 questions which had been asked in different contexts, including questions asked at the family breakfast table, in a burger bar, a classroom, a doctor’s surgery. Questionnaire, courtroom, a soliloquy and playground. Pupils classified the question in terms of formality and informality and investigated differences in some of the features of questions such as the verb forms used, word order, choice of vocabulary, the kind of answer or response anticipated and the mode of address.

As part of a sequence of work on persuasive language a class read Mark Anthony’s speech to the crowd after Caesar’s murder and Martin Luther King’s speech ‘I have a dream’. They considered the context, the speakers’ intentions, use of questions, emotive vocabulary, repetition, patterns in the structure of phrases and clauses, exclamation and direct references to audience.