How to Teach: English

Novels, non-fiction and their artful navigation

By: Chris Curtis


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Products specifications
Attribute name Attribute value
Size: 222 x 182mm
Pages : 256
ISBN : 9781781353127
Format: Paperback
Published: July 2019

Written by Chris Curtis, How to Teach: English: Novels, non-fiction and their artful navigation is jam-packed with enlivening ideas to help teachers make the subject of English more intellectually challenging for students ' and to make it fun too!

Never underestimate your duty and power as a teacher of English. English teachers help students to think and feel. They prompt them to reflect on their actions. They hold a mirror to society and inspire students to see how they can make it better.

What other subject does that?

This insightful interpretation of what makes excellent secondary school English teaching is the work of a man whose humility fails to hide his brilliance and provides educators with a sophisticated yet simple framework upon which to hook their lessons. Covering poetry, grammar, Shakespeare and how to teach writing, Chris Curtis has furnished every page of this book with exciting ideas that can be put into practice immediately.

Each chapter presents a store of practical strategies to help students in key areas – providing apposite examples, teaching sequences and the rationale behind them – and has been accessibly laid out so that teachers can pinpoint the solutions they need without having to spend an age wading through academic theory and pontification.

The book explores the wealth of learning opportunities that can be derived from both classic and more contemporary literature and offers expert guidance on how teachers can exploit their own chosen texts to best effect with their students. Furthermore, it is replete with ready-to-use approaches that will help teachers upgrade their lesson planning, enhance their classroom practice and ensure that the content they cover sticks in their students' heads for months and years afterwards.

Suitable for all English teachers of students aged 11–18.

Chris Curtis has written a fantastic article for Creative Teaching and Learning magazine titled 'From Superficiality to Well-Reasoned Arguments: Learning to Explain' – you can read the full article here.

Picture for author Chris Curtis

Chris Curtis

Chris Curtis is an English teacher and head of department with over a decade's experience in education. Chris is forever reflecting on which aspects of his teaching work best for his students and, as an avid reader and blogger, is a big believer in sharing practical ways to tackle difficult problems in the classroom.

Click here to read Chris Curtis' blog.


  1. How to Teach: English is an incredible resource: innovative, cleverly and clearly structured, and written with the genuine aim of helping practitioners in the classroom, regardless of how long they have been teaching.

    The text itself is a huge support, offering simple yet hugely effective strategies to aid teachers in delivering difficult and dense curriculum content in a way which is both manageable and clear. Not only this, but the methods explored by Chris are suitable for all year groups, meaning teachers can establish routines with their classes that extend through multiple academic years in terms of how knowledge and skills are approached in lessons.

    Chris explores the everyday issues of the English teacher and makes the complex, simple. For example, the -˜Words, words, words' method for exploring a writer's use of language has been hugely beneficial in helping my weaker students consider and develop alternative viewpoints and include multiple interpretations in a critical essay. This is not an easy achievement for some - and yet by using this strategy, the impact on students' learning, evidenced by the marks they are now earning in their exams, has been quite staggering. This, of course, has been followed by a huge increase in confidence amongst students. Not only this, but the methods and resources contained within the book are unique: they offer an extremely appealing alternative to ideas that are revisited year in, year out. Curtis' -˜decluttered analysis', for example, allows students to deal with the important parts of a literature text easily whilst ensuring they do not receive a -˜diminished diet' of knowledge in their English lessons.-¯ 

    How to Teach: English has saved me copious amounts of time. With the increased rigour of the new GCSE specification, English teachers are faced with the challenge of delivering demanding content in a way which students can pick up quickly and easily. As a result, planning time has increased dramatically, but this book supports teachers in finding the solution. Presented with chapters on teaching Shakespeare, writing, poetry, novels and non-fiction, English practitioners have something at their fingertips which is quite powerful: a compendium of ideas that allow them to navigate the challenges of the curriculum. Not only has this supported me in delivering content to my classes regardless of their ability, but also feel imbued with much more confidence and feel that I deliver strong lessons, benefitting pupils to become better students of English. The methods in How to Teach: English are adaptable for different contexts and as a department; we really feel as if our lessons are enhanced because of the approaches we have adopted from the book.

    It is no exaggeration to say that the vast majority of my lessons now contain at least one method from How to Teach: English. It is a book that has supported my planning and the planning of my department - and, as a result, it's a title that has invigorated my students through how I'm teaching the content. I've experienced increased -˜buy in' from more reluctant students and from those who struggle.

    It is, put simply, my -˜English teacher bible'. No fads. No gimmicks. A wonderful resource and something that will influence my teaching practice for years to come.
  2. A book that cries out to be devoured whilst simultaneously offering ideas to last the full academic year and beyond, How to Teach: English is a bible of English teaching. With a shift in education that has moved us away from -˜doing' and towards -˜learning', Chris' book offers practical advice on every page, handily categorised into key areas of the English classroom. It becomes a go-to book when designing the larger aspects of English teaching, such as the curriculum itself, but also the minute details of sentence construction. No book that I have read does this so successfully, posing larger questions about the concepts of English teaching and offering a plethora of activities which will accelerate student progress. 

    The impact of Chris' book goes beyond my own classroom. Throughout our department we have used the 200-word writing challenge to engage our learners in writing, build their writing speed, and develop their creative responses. The breakdown of analytical writing, and discussion over use of adverbs, has also been implemented across our department, with a focus on analytical adverbs for students ready to begin essay writing - and ensuring that written responses become more sophisticated and precise. Finally, Chris' approaches to Shakespeare in particular have enhanced my own teaching of Macbeth, a text I feel knowledgeable about, but with his varied strategies I have ensured students of all abilities can engage with the text. By breaking down Shakespeare's language, structural and thematic choices using Chris' -˜one simple PowerPoint' concept, I have been able to repeatedly engage students in methods in an accessible and appropriate way.  

    As a teacher of eight years, I found myself nodding at every page, but also asking myself -˜Why hadn't I thought of that?' I have recommended the book to everyone in my department, because I believe it is something that any teacher can gain ideas from - for trainees, NQTs, and well-established and experienced teachers. Chris' humour and honesty is also offered on every page; you can sense trial and error in each activity, and honest reflection on why each idea works. This is what makes it a bible of teaching, written by someone who loves their profession and the intricacies of teaching in the English classroom.
  3. The book in question is aimed an English teachers who teach English at secondary level (ages 11-18) to native learners. What the author wants to achieve is bring intellectual challenge and fun into teaching literature and into teaching about literature. He wants to make his students think, appreciate language and ideas, experience, feel and react. He wants the students to learn to look critically at the society and to look at ways how they can make the surrounding world better. The texts that are used in the sample activities range from classical to modern ones. The 10 chapters in the book look art areas like appreciating poetry, teaching writing and critical thinking, teaching grammar and writing. The learners have to think about opposites, conflicts, sequencing, understanding the rationale behind actions, and logic or cause and effect underlying events. The book is very practical, refreshing and very inspiring, especially for teachers of English as a foreign language who have a different view of language, language teaching and the role of literature in language learning. A great resource for CLIL teachers, -‹
  4. How to Teach: English is a free-flowing text full of practical approaches to English teaching that will motivate, engage and enthuse pupils of all abilities more effectively. -‹

    Drawing on his repertoire of strategies gained from his many years as a classroom teacher, Chris Curtis engages the reader with his practical advice on the basics, such as achieving a healthy work-life balance and treating mistakes as opportunities to learn. A common-sense author with realistic priorities!-‹

    Readers will gain access to a wide range of skills and strategies in the sections on poetry, writing, novels, essay writing and how to teach grammar. Chris shares a superb range of practical tips, in particular on developing creative writing, marking for development, the rules of punctuation, the 200-word challenge, and the importance of the teacher promoting skills as a -˜model writer'. -‹

    Overall, this is an outstanding text, rich in practical strategies to enhance the teaching of English. -‹
  5. “Chris Curtis is already known to many as an English teacher, head of department and author of the long-standing blog Learning from My Mistakes.

    Fans of the ideas and resources published freely on his blog, such as his 200-word writing challenges, will no doubt be keen to read How to Teach English, published as part of Phil Beadle's How to Teach series.

    Refreshingly, at a time when discussions around teaching can often become polarised ideologically and politically, Curtis' ideas are pitched as usable in the classroom “without having to buy into some grand ideology”.

    Seasoned teachers may wryly recognise Curtis' image of the “highly paid consultant [writing] from a gold chair perched on the lifeless bodies of former colleagues”, and appreciate the practicality of a book written by a practising teacher who is “going back into the classroom tomorrow”.
    The only danger of the “I'm just a bloke standing in front of a class” approach is not achieving the balance of humility and authority required: the proof needs to be in the content.

    Just a bloke in front of a class

    Luckily, Curtis has a relatable, personable and avuncular writing style, which avoids the pitfalls of humblebrag. He admits his mistakes, recognises that we are all works in progress, relishes the challenges of never reaching teaching perfection and clearly enjoys the process: “The joy of teaching is that it is never finished.”

    The book is intended to be a quick and easy pick-up-and-play guide, a tried-and-tested “collection of practical approaches you can use in your classroom”, to be dipped in and out of as needed.

    The book is broken down into “How to-¦” sections, including poetry, writing, novels, essay-writing, non-fiction, Shakespeare, analysing texts, accuracy and grammar. So you can either read it as a whole or choose an area you want to focus on or revisit. It's one of those books that will acquire lots of little Post-Its on the pages you like while you're reading it.
    If books were people, this one would be the trusted, kindly mentor you turn to for guidance and ideas when planning or reviewing a scheme of learning and needing a nudge in the right direction.

    Tips for teaching English

    A common thread running throughout the book is the need to start with feelings and emotions: “Students need to understand that a poem is an emotional journey.”

    Curtis focuses throughout on engaging with the text first, making that personal, emotional or intellectual connection and finding true relevance (not in a down-with-the-kids, linking-it-to-Stormzy way), before launching into technical aspects or close analysis.

    Curtis unpicks how to scaffold the emotional approach to a poem with students. If a poem is “a feeling, bottled”, it is the teacher's role to help with the unbottling, for which Curtis offers explicit strategies.

    In an education landscape at times dominated by the sometimes unforgiving rhetoric around mastery, knowledge and the technical, it is a useful reminder of the essential purpose of literature. For me, the evident enjoyment Curtis takes in employing creative yet purposeful approaches, and his acceptance of different approaches to texts, was a timely reminder not to throw out the baby with the bathwater when using knowledge-based approaches.

    One issue with some of Curtis' advice could be that some experienced teachers will think “I do that already” or “what's so special about that?”

    I've been teaching for eight years now, and found that I appreciated the reassurance of recognition in some of the chapters. I nodded along, thinking: “Yes, I do that, too,” while also finding plenty of new ideas and approaches.
    You may disagree with some of the ideas and content - and I'm sure Curtis would be fine with that. For example, I would not always want to tell students the plot before reading a text, as I want them to enjoy the process of reading it for the first time themselves. (Everybody hates the person who writes “George kills Lennie” in the front of Of Mice and Men.)

    Reading for pleasure

    Ultimately, Curtis' aim is for English teachers to change or improve one thing in the classroom as a result of this book. From this, I infer that he would not expect us to adopt his methods wholesale, in a Life of Brian-style act of worship. Rather, we should use our own experience to discern and select which ideas and approaches we can most purposefully incorporate into our own practice.”

    Click here to read the review on the TES website.
  6. Recent figures show that nine million adults in the UK are functionally illiterate, and one in four British five-year-olds struggles with a basic vocabulary. According to the Department for Education, one in five children left primary school in 2018 unable to read or write properly. So, why is writing so difficult for so many? We could go into many reasons as to why students struggle with English (as a subject) as they enter secondary school, but English teachers are met with a wide range of skills, ability and enthusiasm about the literacy-based subject. Yet, so many English teachers are so passionate about their subject - it is their speciality, passion and enjoy language intricacies - but can be faced with students who claim that they don't like to read, write or be bothered with grammar rules.

    In his new book, Chris Curtis tackles the challenges raised above face on. His book provides colleagues with a sophisticated (yet simple) framework upon which to hook English lessons. Covering the regular genres covered in the English secondary curriculum - poetry, novels, non-fiction, Shakespeare - Chris also explores how to teach accuracy and grammar, offering fantastic ideas on how to implement improvements in key areas. For example, the -˜Three Choices' spelling approach is genius, whereas the -˜Draft in Threes' process is - well - just sensible.

    This isn't a book about bells and whistles of teaching English. It's just plain simple, common-sense and manageable teaching that is not surrounded with a plethora of downloadable or complicated resources, but ready-to-use approaches that will help teachers upgrade their lesson planning, enhancing their classroom practice. Chris concludes by sharing his seven underpinning principles that should help structure engaging English lessons throughout the secondary school or college.


    - Considers all aspects of genre involved when teaching the English curriculum.

    - A great focus, throughout, on encouraging and teaching writing skills.

    - Explores how students can be shown to understand the purpose of their writing.

    - Great, simple ideas and activities that can be easily used with a range of different text offered throughout the book.

    - A great chapter on grammar giving tips on how to help students understand and use correctly.

    Click here to read the review comments on UKEdChat-˜s website.
  7. Chris Curtis is the ideal teacher-writer, and in How to Teach: English he effortlessly manages the artful balance of packing in sage insights alongside a range of very practical approaches.

    Funny, wise and imminently useful, this is a book from which every teacher of English - from nervous newbies to seasoned veterans - can plunder a wealth of ideas. So, no matter if you are perennially busy: put down your pile of marking and gift yourself this readable gem.
  8. Chris' book is an excellent manual for new and experienced teachers alike. His mixture of wisdom and experience blends together to provide teachers of English with a number of ideas that they can use in the classroom. It is a timely text, one which encourages practitioners to love what they teach - and is ideal for dipping in and out of, allowing readers to turn their attention to the chapters which cover their teaching focus at the time of reading. It is also packed full of signposts to interesting works of literature, which are perfect for the busy English teacher looking for some inspiration with the texts and topics they're using in a lesson or during a unit of learning.
  9. Curtis' smart and shrewd guide to English teaching is a welcome reminder of the potent, and too often untapped, wisdom and expertise of those at the chalkface who have learned through many years of careful and thoughtful trial and error.

    For me, the greatest strength of this book lies in its central message: that English teaching is about the communication, sharing and generation of ideas, and that what matters most is the quality of thinking that happens within an English classroom. To top it off, Curtis gifts us a dazzling array of simple approaches that will guide all English teachers - from the fresh-faced newcomer to the grizzled staffroom-cynic - towards nurturing and getting the very best out of their students.

    How to Teach: English really is a fabulous read. I cannot remember the last time I took so many notes when reading an education book. Needless to say, I recommend it to all teachers of English.
  10. Why, you might wonder, should I invest in yet another book on the teaching of English? This is a relatively crowded marketplace - and although there are many excellent books aimed at English teachers, none are so rooted in the subject as this one. Chris Curtis communicates not only his years of experience but also his infectious enthusiasm for a subject and an occupation he so clearly loves.

    How to Teach: English is studded with an astonishing array of practical ways into the study, and the teaching, of all forms of literature as well as the nuts and bolts of language. Every page is illuminated by the gentle, guiding hand of someone who has been there, made all the mistakes you have made and survived to pass on the distilled wisdom and warmth of a true aficionado.

    This is my new favourite book on English teaching - it will enhance the practice of any teacher of English, no matter what stage they are at in their career.
  11. How to Teach: English is clever, wise and highly practical. Awash with creative prompts and pragmatic advice, it is an accessible and entertaining read which deserves its place on the creaking bookshelves of any English teacher.

    Dipping in, you'll find the kinds of ideas that make you think, -˜I wish I'd thought of that.' At the same time, Chris' obsession with self-improvement shines through. Full of humility, honesty and mischievous humour, this is a book about getting better by - to paraphrase the title of Chris' hugely influential blog - learning from mistakes.

    It includes an ambitious and comprehensive list of chapters - focusing on key areas such as writing, grammar, Shakespeare and poetry - and illustrates the necessity of building knowledge and questioning our assumptions about our students' prior learning. With his approach, Chris places a relentless focus on the writer's craft and the power of words, advocating a sensible balance of high challenge, accessibility and creativity.

    Quite simply, How to Teach: English is a guide to what excellent English teaching looks like - so whether you're a trainee teacher or a battle-hardened veteran, this is an indispensable resource.
  12. This is a magnificent book that really gets to the bones of teaching English. It manages the remarkable feat of scoping the panorama of the subject: its magic, its power and its potential to take students to other worlds. And set against the big picture are commentaries on, and brilliant examples of, how to bring English lessons to life in the classroom.

    How to: Teach English should be essential reading for all engaged in teaching, not just  of English but of other subjects too - everyone will take something from the precision, the wit and the humanity of this terrific book.
  13. How to Teach: English is packed full of practical ideas for the English classroom. Chris' knowledge and experience shine through in his writing, as he shares what he demonstrably knows will work in practice and provides really sound advice for trickier areas of the curriculum.

    This is a timely book - schools wanting a renewed focus on the application of the curriculum would do well to start here for their English faculties.

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