Comprehension Texts and Writing Tasks for Young Teenage Pupils

Testing KS English: Skills and Practice, Year 8 contains six test papers based on the themes of Work, Science fiction, Prejudice, Families, Wolves and Dancing. Within each test paper are three reading passages, each followed by questions, and two writing assignments, one major and one minor. The first reading passage in each paper is a shortish one, the second requires ‘more complex skills’ to be used, and the third is intended to provide an opportunity for more independent work by the pupil. All except two of the reading passages have a coloured drawing accompanying them, which would encourage a visual learner or a less confident reader.

Year 8 in England and Wales is the second year of secondary school, when pupils are aged between twelve and a half and thirteen and a half. By now they should be used to their school and have begun to develop a more independent way of working. There are, however, children at that age who still struggle with reading and also with organizing their writing assignments, whether in terms of ideas, paragraphs or sentence structure. This book can help with building confidence, developing skills and giving practice in the types of questions they will encounter at the end of Year 9, just before they embark on their GCSE courses.

In each test paper, one of the three reading passages is a poem, and in most cases there is one fiction and one non-fiction piece. On the whole, the poems are modern, such as Ted Hughes’ ‘Amulet’ and Wole Soyinka’s ‘Telephone Conversation’, although the latter involves a public telephone box from several decades ago with A and B buttons that take a little explaining. Fiction passages range from extracts from George Orwell’s ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ and Jack London’s ‘White Fang’ to Jan Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’. As for non-fiction, Gertrude Williams’ ‘Economics of Everyday Life’ explains how several hundred years ago small communities used to grow or make everything they needed whereas nowadays workers are paid for specialist jobs and buy what they need. Patrick Moore’s ‘Space in the Sixties’ contains a lot of facts and figures alongside speculation about what could or could not be possible in terms of interstellar travel.

Some of the passages are obviously easier than others for thirteen-year-olds to relate to. Their imagination can be captured by the extract from ‘Space, Time and Nathaniel’ by Brian Aldiss in which we meet Rick Sheridan returning home in his helic to his wife and child in their tiny apartment, where two walls are filled by wall-screens that provide entertainment twenty-four hours a day and are never switched off; Rick’s ambition is to have four such screens by the end of the following year. In the final question on that passage, several points have to be addressed, such as why Rick feels he has nothing to do and whether or not this science fiction world is appealing.

There are usually about six or seven questions following each reading passage, some of which involve finding and copying a particular piece of information whilst others require a sentence or a short paragraph to be written. Each question is followed by advice on how to go about answering it, such as ‘Does the writer use examples with which the reader can associate?’ for a question concerning idioms.

The minor writing tasks are intended to take about twenty-five minutes and focus on topics that relate to the theme of the particular test paper, for example writing a job description for the headteacher of a school for the test paper on Work. The major writing tasks should have about forty minutes devoted to them and feature topics such as writing a science fiction story or writing the diary of a teenager, commenting on other family members, both of which allow plenty of scope.

I do not personally use these as timed tests, but for private tuition on a one-to-one basis where I would concentrate on just one reading passage or one writing task per session rather than rush through and pressurize the pupil. Children who are more confident, however, may appreciate the challenge of completing the tests within a specific time frame and thus having an idea of what they can achieve in an examination at school.

I would definitely recommend this book as a resource for private tuition as well as for parents who are willing and able to give their children extra practice with reading and writing at home. I often find that parents complain at around this stage in their child’s education that not enough homework is being given, whereas younger children sometimes seem to be overloaded with it! Less able children may also suffer a lack of progress during long school vacations, and this is a book that could be valuable to keep up reading practice as well as offer ideas for writing stories and essays. Used during the summer vacation at the end of Year 8, it should give a child an excellent opportunity to develop reading and writing skills and therefore not feel so anxious about the impending tests towards the end of Year 9, at the age of fourteen.

Testing KS3 English
Skills and Practice Year 8
by Ray Barker and Christine Moorcroft
Published by Nelson Thornes 2003
Paperback, 96 pages
ISBN 0-7487-7135-2
Price GBP7.50

A teacher’s resource to accompany the book is also available, price GBP56.75 (GBP53.91 on Amazon)
ISBN 0-7487-7139-5