How can I improve my Creative Piece?

Creative tips for students  (eg. The Island)

So your teacher liked your piece. It’s around a B. What now?

Q: Typical questions: How should I develop my creative piece further?

  1. Identify the best part /half of your piece and discard the rest.  (Less is more in English!).
  2. Make sure you have a good flow / a clear narrative sequence.
  3. Creative strategies:   The closer you are to the story (ie a character or moment in the text) the easier it is to draw upon the author’s ideas, but often the harder it is to be “original”, fresh and different. The more removed (displacing the time frame or characters etc.) the easier it is to be “fresh”, but often the harder it is to make sure you reflect the author’s views, values, narrative intentions/message.

Statement of intention: self-reflection

  • Write a few sentences/paragraph outlining your intentions. Which views and values of the author are you reflecting in your piece?  Do some quick annotations.


Unless you are getting A+, there are parts of your piece that are or may be well-written; parts are average and over-written.

You will not achieve top marks by just tweaking a few words/phrases and improving some descriptions, here and there and changing words with the thesaurus.

You must improve your overall structure: ie the flow, the tension and the suspense in order to arrive at a more original and insightful point/message.

  • Identify and isolate your best paragraphs and rebuild your piece around these paragraphs.
  • Ask your teacher to help you identify your best parts of the text.
  • I will also point out your strengths (and weaknesses)

You must have conflict or a threat!

Work out some conflict /threat without which you have not got a story! It might be a contrast between two characters, places and their attitudes/views and values; it might be conflict within the narrator’s mind (a dilemma) or it might be a specific threat.

What is your (story) thread?  

  • For example, the narrator must choose between two difficult options knowing that he/she will win/lose either way.  (Good writers have a knack of making the simple quite profound – so remember;  a short well-written piece will treat a simple creative line as simple but also deep. )
  • Watch the flow  – underline your pronoun references and make sure it is clear to whom you are referring.
  • You must have a character who is ambivalent: or has double-feelings/meanings/or expresses contradictions/or is in a dilemma —  in order to achieve some depth.
  • You may wish to think about a character/narrator who is in-between or caught up in a dilemma – the choices are difficult and will have an unenviable consequence.

Show not tell

At first the tendency is to over-write so start by cutting your story by at least half.  As you develop your characters and their attitudes, you will be able to stand back, and point, suggest and hint at feelings, and let readers make up their own minds.

  • Use some dialogue ; this often helps as a short-cut to their thoughts/feelings without over-explaining.
  • Condense/collapse the first half of the essay (3-4 paragraphs) into 2 paragraphs.

Descriptions/word- level 

Your descriptions, images, metaphors etc. must have a purpose.  (For this reason, do the above character contrasts/attitudes/viewpoints first.)

After you have developed contrasts, interest, suspense, a thread, then think about how you can be more evocative, suggestive and fresh with regards to your characters, their thoughts, their feelings, and their relationship with place.

  • For example, with regards to Island, as your teachers will point out, Alistair Macleod’s prose is very rhythmic and evocative. But this is not necessarily your starting point. It is the polish! (Work out a simple (but complex) structure first.
  • Think about variation in sentence structures and parallel constructions.

Think about the range of narrative strategies authors may use.

Posted in For Parents, For Students, For Teachers, For Tutors, Uncategorized

Persuasive Language: arguments and techniques

You can improve your English skills by studying the reasoning and persuasive strategies that authors use in a variety of texts. You will need to expand your analytical vocabulary to do this well. I run a variety of classes in this areas, and the Language of Persuasion Series is an excellent resource. There is considerable online support for all articles in these workbooks, so that students can improve rapidly. These exercises help students apply the analytical vocabulary, terms and phrases modelled in the workbooks.

  1. See: Persuasive Language Tips
  2. See how to “become an expert”
Posted in Essay writing skills, For Parents, For Students, For Teachers, For Tutors, Persuasive Language: arguments and techniques, Uncategorized

VCE Preparation

To English Works Students and Parents

Step 1

The first step in our journey is to rapidly improve our analytical vocabulary, write more polished sentences and think more insightfully.

I use our Language Analysis Series (three workbooks) to make a real difference.

See: VCE Preparation Step 1


Step 2

This year I am encouraging all students who have a done a lot of  Language Analysis to choose “Book Pairs” from the Year 12 list and do some extra, intensive study. This will make a real difference. (To improve our English, we must read more widely, and just relying on a limited number of books on a school list (usually just 3!) is not sufficient.)  The books on the Year 12 list are very accessible and are typically studied from Year 9 to Year 12 on school lists.)

See VCE Preparation Step 2

Posted in For Parents, For Students, For Teachers, For Tutors, VCE preparation

Using our Lang Analysis Series

Language Analysis Workbooks

In order to improve your analyse of texts (whether it be of novels or of opinion-based articles), you need a sound analytical vocabulary. Firstly, we will use my Language Analysis Series (3 workbooks) to rapidly expand your analytical vocabulary so that you can write more and insightful polished discussions.

I use these workbooks as a vehicle to rapidly expand your vocabulary and to improve your written expression and to check your sentence structures.

Each week, I would like you to write short paragraph responses on the variety of articles in the workbooks, improving and expanding our responses as your analytical knowledge and vocabulary improve.  I will get you started in class, and then please send me at least a paragraph each week.

As your expression improves, you will also notice a difference in all areas of English.

I have a wealth of support material. Its purpose is to give you confidence to use the words/phrases that will earn you better marks in English. The best links for these activities will be:

  1. See Now turn to exercises in the Red Workbook: based on the Techniques of Persuasion
  2. See Now turn to exercises in the Green Workbook based on the Language of Persuasion: become an expert


See Step 2: Book analysis

Posted in Persuasive Language: arguments and techniques, VCE preparation

Step 2: Early-bird VCE Ext. class

For Students and Parents  (VCE Preparation Extension Classes)

For long term students of English Works, I encourage you to choose a block of classes on Year 12 books. (Do some extra vital reading, some intensive work, with mini-breaks here and there. We have done plenty of language analysis (and we’ll continue to improve these skills and perfect our metalanguage/expression). An excellent way to improve is to choose 1 to 2  extra texts and study these with my Year 12 students.

(Pls also check my Classes Tab for updates.)

In Term 1 : I will probably run a 5-week intensive Year 12 lang analysis class: 11.15 – 12.15. If that suits pls let me know.

Options for extension text / essay-writing and analysis:

  • I’ll be running a series of Text Analysis classes on Medea. (It’s nice, short and accessible and great for text response essay-practice.)
  • Thursday class (7-8 pm): Medea, Stasiland and 1984

Term 2 (most popular texts):

  • Saturday 12.30 – 1.30 pm: Medea, Ransom and Invictus
  • Saturday 2.00 – 3.00 pm: Medea, Crucible (play/Miller)and Year of Wonders (Brooks)
  • Sunday 12.30 – 1.30 pm:  Burial Rites, Ransom and Invictus
  • Sunday 4.30 – 5.30 pm: Burial Rites, Year of Wonders/Crucible

Other classes TBA



Posted in Uncategorized

Parents: links to a range of support

Dear Parents and Students,

Key areas we are working on are:  quality of writing (writing better sentences); quality of ideas (reasoning and persuasive strategies and thoughts); structure of essays.

I have notice a big improvement in the work of students who have been bringing me regular work – even a paragraph is very much appreciated!  So well done!

Students – Remember, to pls send me sentences/paragraphs. I am collecting sentences so that we can analyse grammatical pitfalls and make sure we avoid them. It is hard to get good marks in English if there are grammatical errors.

I have a lot of support material to help students improve, and I’ll keep a summary of the most important links, so that it is accessible.

A lot of the content we cover in the lessons, but these links should help you to keep a track of work and progress.

Levels differ in English as students tend to progress at their own pace, depending upon their interest, their aptitude and wide-reading tasks.

Many of these tasks can be done by all students at different levels, the difference being that the older students should be writing more sophisticated responses.

I have been updating this page for students: Please see, bring to every class.

  1. For files relating to (tone) E book 2 Using better wordsfile  vocabulary building, and tone tests/exercises, please click here.
  2. For tone tests, please click here.
  3. Building a tone word vocabulary, please click here.
  4. Character analysis tasks, please click here. and Two of Us
  5. Please see How can I improve my expression.
  6. Please return to Our Classes page
  7. Please see some slideshows regarding essay writing.

This slideshow gives an overview of our progress.

Posted in Uncategorized, VCE preparation

Our New Essay writing Super Book

We are pleased to announce our newest publication, “Better Essays and Persuasive Techniques” (2016) is now available.

It is perfect for all those who are seeking a solid foundation in essay writing skills.

For teachers and students, we have systematic plans that show you how to get the best out of our resources.

Also See our Slideshows.

Of particular benefit, for many is our slideshow on transferable skills, which shows you specifically how this new publication (also called our Super Book) will help you gain an excellent foundation in essay-writing for all aspects of the English curriculum.

See Our New Super Book information.


Posted in Essay writing skills, For Parents, For Students, For Teachers, For Tutors

Practice your analysis: Read “Two of Us” (Good Weekend)

Creative writing and thematic analysis (identity/conflict)/whose reality): based on people stories: Two of Us

The Age writer and social commentator Hugh Mackay believes that “we are defined more by our interdependence than our independence”. This statement alludes to the fact that the groups to which we belong have a big impact upon our quality of life and our sense of self. Evidently if we enjoy positive and supportive relationships, then these relationships help us develop emotionally and intellectually.

Conversely, relationships can also stifle our personal development and cause unhappiness. Accordingly, how we negotiate our differences with others will have a big impact upon our sense of identity.

As Andrew Solomon (author of Far from the Tree) notes, the way parents negotiate differences is critical to family relationships, and “even if they’re very diverse differences, that negotiation of differences is a central part of how parents and children develop a relationship to each other.”

Referring to the following stories as featured in Two of Us, comment on how each individual negotiates their differences and the impact of this process on their personal growth.

Judy and Tim Sharp (Two of Us, The Good Weekend, 9/11/13)

  • Analyse Judy and Tim’s relationship. Include reference to:
  • Judy’s reaction to the doctor’s advice
  • Judy’s support for Tim’s artistic pursuits
  • the fact that Tim’s autistic world view is apparent in his paintings; how has he used this to advantage?

Brad and Pam Connolly (Two of us by Robyn Doreian (14/2/15)

  • Brad’s reaction to his tragedy and his encounter with death
    the choices he makes and why
  • how he copes with his altered body image; his relationship with his family
  • what he sees as advantages and disadvantages

Click here to see a typical analysis

Posted in For Parents, For Students

How can I improve my expression?

Jim asks: I am often marked down in English because my teacher says that my expression is often unclear or clumsy. I thought ideas were the thing that mattered.

Jim, there is a link between good expression and good ideas/clear thought processes.

If you are consistently losing marks in English, it is often because you have awkward phrases/expression. If the entire essay consists of clumsy, clunky grammar, it is hard to achieve an A.

Tim’s paragraph:

By referring to her personal experience, the author criticises Kyle Sandiland’s comment and emphasis the affect of bullying (1). She highlights that it is “much worse than the problems associated with her disability”. (2) The author expects reader to feel frustrated towards Kyle Sandiland, because he is acting as irresponsible role model (3). Furthermore, using her personal experience (4), it increases the public’s awareness towards the issue of bullying, because it has a such terrifying affects on individual.

  1. The subject of the verb “emphasis”  is “the author”: it should be in the singular/present tense/ “emphasises”. Note the conjunction “and” joins together two predicates/verbs: “criticises” and “emphasises”.
  2. The verb “highlights” is a transitive verb, which means that it needs a grammatical object, ie. “She highlights the point that it is ….”
  3. You are referring to a specific role model so you must include the indefinite article, “an”.
  4. Be careful with non-finite or “ing” verbs; they do not have a direct grammatical subject and this can lead to grammatical errors. In this case, the grammatical subject “it” does not directly relate to “using her personal experience”.

Be precise: some points to keep in mind:

  • Underline the pronouns: do they clearly relate to a preceding noun?
  • Underline the verbs: if they are non-finite verbs (‘ing) do they have a clear subject in the following or preceding clause.
  • Underline the verbs: is the tense consistent?
  • Underline “and”: if there are two or more items/ objects/ things connected are they the same part of speech? Ie nouns/ adjectives/ verbal phrases?
  • Underline singular and plural nouns: do they clearly relate to singular/plural verbs?
  • Underline a lengthy clause: is it better to use a noun phrase (see nominalisation)
  • Long sentences: underline the clauses – is there a clear independent clause?

Return to Grammar Page

See other tasks to help you improve

Return to : what to bring to every lesson


Posted in Uncategorized

Please bring to every class …

Dear Students and Parents

Preparing for the new VCE Study Design: 2016-2020:

1. Text response: You are required to write text response essays on a variety of texts showing an in-depth knowledge of narrative devices, characters, themes and issues.  Each week, please do a paragraph on a text you are studying in class, or on one of the passages we are working on in the group. In the paragraph, you must identity /analyse the big picture concept and refer to the passage for quotes. We are working on a logical flow of ideas throughout the paragraph. For example:

  • Ransom – dealing with grief, loss (anecdotal account of Somax, beauty and the loss of son)
  • Twelve Angry Men – the ways that people suffer by being stereotyped – how discrimination / racial prejudice can interfere with the rule of law
  • Crucible – how people are ruled by fear – contagious spread of unproven assumptions and views of others
  • And Shakespeare’s plays.

2. Creative response: In the new VCE Study Design 2016-2020, you are required to do more creative writing. It is therefore important to read (long and short) stories, and also character profiles/ stories, for eg. in the Good Weekend. We need to explore the character’s thoughts, feelings and behaviour in as much depth as possible. See Typical analysis of Two of Us : creative writing; people analysis

3. Comparative Analysis: In the new VCE Study Design: 2016-200, you are required to compare and contrast two books: characters, issues and themes. Using a variety of text passages, and characters from above, we will work on the skill of comparison. We must have a good grasp of concepts and then compare similarities and differences in thoughts, actions, experiences and behaviour.

4. Language Analysis (Structure and techniques): We have done and will continue to do, a lot of work on persuasive and reasoning techniques. Please choose a short persuasive text, an article or letter to the editor, and write a  short paragraph on language analysis and structure. We will continue to improve these skills.

5. We will continue to improve our analytical vocabulary so that good words become a normal part of our writing. We will also study examples of good quality writing. You must weave through your paragraph, good words, and nice sentence constructions. You must incorporate quotes in a sophisticated manner.

6. Also See Below.

How you can accelerate your improvement in English and get the best out of good guidance.

As a minimum, please bring to every lesson at least one to two paragraphs so that I can monitor your expression. We will start off each lesson with these pieces. (You can also send them to me prior to the lesson.)

  • This will give me an opportunity to point out common/obvious grammatical errors.  (See sample.)
  • I can also check to see how well you are using our new words/phrases (i.e the words that are modelled in our workbooks).  (See sample.)


1 paragraph analysing an author’s language: choose an (short) article from one of my workbooks, or from a letter to the editor and comment on the author’s viewpoint, their most important techniques and their purpose/impact. See Sample. (Also see the Turn to Exercises for each workbook on this website.)  Green Workbook. Orange Workbook.

1 paragraph analysing a “people” story that we have discussed/circulated from the newspaper (such as from Two of Us/Good Weekend). I have also prepared a “concept” list so that we can analyse the story from a psychological/ethical/moral point of view. It is important to identity key concepts so that we can also compare and contrast people stories. (Also themes such as identity/conflict/power/perspectives)

Some concepts for different perspectives: “concept” (Also see this post: every day tasks)


1 paragraph based on a character in a novel and the relevant concepts.

Useful Forms for Classes

  1. Please click : See Checklist for Technique Identification.
  2. Please click here for “tone test” practice: learn some extra metalanguage:
    Tone Test One
    Tone Test Four
  3. Please click here for the Techniques Checklist/Summary Page
Posted in For Parents, For Students