In Praise of Complex Terminology

Disclaimer – nothing in this blog is new or original! Just my own musings… as usual.

Like many other English teachers before me, I read Mark Forsyth’s ‘Elements of Eloquence’ in my training year. ( At the beginning of last term, I reread it. As a trainee, I was utterly convinced that teaching English was skills, skills, skills. Nothing but skills. This wasn’t anyone’s fault – I just got it into my head. So, despite being amused by Forsyth’s book the first time around, I didn’t fully appreciate the importance of knowing these elaborate and complex terms, and what relevance it was of to my day job. In fact, I rather snootily condemned the teaching of such terms as being indicative of educational peacocking; I’m ashamed to admit that I judged the use of them as a means to avoid the necessity to helping students learn those darn ‘skills’. How wrong I was!

So anyway, up there with joining Twitter, rereading Forsyth’s text turned out to be one of my (unknowingly) finest career choices. If you haven’t read it already, do! It’s full of wonderful and majestic literary terminology; some obscure, some we unknowingly use all of the time. You will quiver in awe as you encounter terms such as ‘epiplexis’. Each chapter unpicks a new device using a humourous tone and giving lots of examples of how, when and why it is used.

Following on from Forsyth’s brilliance, here are my top three reasons why I think complex subject terminology is one of the greatest things you can bring into your English classroom:

One – It’s satisfying. Delectable, in fact. It gives lower ability pupils something tangible to take from that lesson. Most pupils will be able to understand the meaning of a term, and then be able to identify the technique in a piece of writing. If a student doesn’t make enough ‘progress’ in the lesson, at least they can be sure that they have taken something new away from the lesson. Feel good factor.

Two – It forces pupils to consider the precise impact/effect of a writer’s technique. For example, I introduced a class to the four types of rhetorical question (epiplexis, anacoenosis, hypophora and anthypophora) because I wanted to guide them away from generic responses such as ‘the use of rhetorical question makes the reader feel like they are being spoken to directly‘. After learning the four variations (functions), pupils were providing much more detailed and specific comments about the use of rhetorical questions e.g. ‘The speaker’s rhetorical question functions as a call and response with their audience, which can feel empowering due to the feeling of being united with one another.’ Pupils were able to provide much clearer insights because understanding that there are four varieties, with four different purposes, showed them that the same generic response to the writer’s use of a rhetorical question is not really appropriate. Even if students do not remember the names of techniques, learning them helped them to understand that ther are a range of possible functions/effects and will make them more likely to carefully consider specific effects in the future and/or in an exam.

Three – Teaching such techniques improves outcomes in reading and writing. For example, I have found that teaching techniques such as anaphora and epistrophe during the study of poetry has had the most profound impact on students’ writing. Along with AFOREST techniques, I see my students adding in anaphora, epistrophe, isocolon etc. in their planning, which is wonderful. Use of such techniques adds a layer of sophistication, and conscious crafting, to their work. Structure seems to be something students struggle with a little more in their creative writing, and understanding techniques such as anaphora and epistrophe helps them to begin to structure their writing for effect. Glorious to see indeed!

I’ve attached some loosely planned lessons here that I often dip in and out of, as the occasion arises.

Please credit!

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