Lectures for schools

 Our collection



A trio of school English teachers are building a collection of lectures by academics for use with GCSE (15-16 year olds) classes, and have approached CLiE for help with the language topics. CLiE sees this as a very worthwhile project which we would very much like to help with, so we urge colleagues in HE to consider contributing a lecture.

Here’s more information about the project:

How does linguistics fit in?

Here are the two relevant topics listed in the flier:

  • Getting under the skin of sentences through syntax analysis.
  • What’s in a word? Parsing and the importance of words. [NB ‘Parsing’ means the analysis of single words, in contrast with syntax; this follows the school tradition but not modern computational linguistics.]

You’ll notice that the remaining thirteen topics are about literature, but

  • we’re assured that the balance between language and literature in the classroom is much more equal.
  • whereas there may not be room for more than one lecture on each literary topic, we can clearly provide numerous lectures on the linguistic topics.
  • they were enthusiastic about our first offering, of very short videos by Jeanette Sakel, which are now in the teachers’ GCSE collection.

The GCSE collection

Linguists are good at thinking creatively about their teaching, so don’t hesitate to think outside the box!

Language in the curriculum

The GCSE year is normally Year 11, which is the end of ‘Key Stage 4’ (KS4). To see the National Curriculum for English at KS4, click here. The relevant bits are highlighted in yellow, and show that:

  • grammar and vocabulary are both important, and nothing depends on keeping them separate.
  • lexico-grammatical analysis is to be applied to texts (literary and non-literary) with a view to explaining their ‘effects’ – how the text ‘works’, why it is successful (or unsuccessful).
  • standard grammatical terminology is to be used, including the terminology of the KS2 (primary) national curriculum.

The GCSE syllabus is based on the National Curriculum, but divides English into two separate exams (each offered by five examination boards):

  • English Language, for which students have to analyse unseen texts at word, sentence, and whole text level, as well as producing their own literary and non-fiction texts.
  • English Literature, where linguistic analsis is also relevant.

The English Language paper includes literary texts, but in this case the questions invite comment on their language. Here’s a summary of the syllabus as defined by the largest exam board, AQA, courtesy of Caroline Spalding:

  • Paper 1 – Literary fiction (1 x 20th century unseen extract)
    • Q1 – List 4 things you learn (select and retrieve information)
    • Q2 – Analyse language
    • Q3 – Analyse structure (here meaning narrative methods, but for other boards meaning just syntax – one of many points of confusion!)
    • Q4 – Evaluate effectiveness
    • Q5 – A choice of descriptive or narrative writing based on a picture or written prompt
  •  Paper 2 – Literary non-fiction (19th century) and non-fiction (21st century)
    • Q1 – True or false statements
    • Q2 – Compare ideas only
    • Q3 – Analyse language in one text
    • Q4 – Compare AND analyse
    • Q5 – Writing to show a viewpoint

The lectures

The remit is:

  • 15-30mins only.
  • both the content and style will feel more University than school-based i.e. don’t worry too much about the ‘exciting’ bit – they’re hoping it’s the challenging ideas that will engage the students!
  • covering analysis at ‘word, sentence or full text level’. This is standard terminology for morphology and lexical relations; syntax; pragmatics and discourse analysis. Since students are expected to cover all levels, the suggestions below do the same.

We list some suggested topics below, so:

  • If you decide to produce a lecture on one of these topics, please tell us so that we can avoid duplication.
  • If you want to cover a topic not on the list, please check with us first to avoid wasted time.
  • If you want to suggest more topics, please do.

Suggested topics, each focusing on one or two examples. (Two examples is good because it allows comparison.)

  • tense (past/present): morphology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics of tense choice in two contrasting texts.
  • aspect (perfect, progressive): probably best kept separate from tense.
  • person
  • definiteness
  • information structure
  • nominalisation
  • adverbial clauses (including participles and infinitives – a growth point in school language)
  • modality
  • relative clauses (including participles and infinitives)
  • coordination (including complex coordination – a growth point in school language)

The audience

The target audience is the whole class, but it’s obviously important to include teachers. Unfortunately, most secondary English teachers have had very little formal training in language structure (in contrast with literature, where a degree in English will have given them some expertise and confidence), so lectures can assume intelligence and enthusiasm but not much technical knowledge in the teacher.


The flier encourages lecturers to use the simple technology of a smart-phone to record the lecture, but language topics generally need visual displays, so here are some suggestions for more advanced technology:



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