English is an inescapable subject. English skills are needed if we're aiming to sit English exams in order to receive a qualification, but we also need reading and writing skills in order to learn all other subjects, particularly at higher levels - even Maths requires us to read questions carefully in order to come to a correct answer. As we know, English is important in the 'real world' too - teens who have good foundational skills in English will become adults who can read and write emails, do reports and presentations for their jobs if necessary, and communicate effectively with those around them.
I've been teaching children and teens in the subject of English for over ten years now, building them up towards either NCEA or Cambridge syllabuses, and preparing them to communicate clearly to the world around them. (Feel free to email me with queries about Skype or group tuition: firstname.lastname@example.org or check out my website for details: http://paperlamp.weebly.com/)
These are the foundational areas of English that students aged 11-14 years generally need to be equipped in or building towards:
1. Literature studies
Literatures studies are a very significant element of both NCEA and Cambridge International syllabuses for English. More importantly, studying literature can help us to learn about human nature, world views and emotional IQ. A literature study will involve reading (or watching) a literature 'text'. A literature text could be a good quality novel, short story, film, drama (play) or poem. To study the text, the first step is to read or watch it carefully. Next, students need to be taken to deeper levels of study where they can discuss the characters (behaviour, personalities, motivations, decision making), setting, plot, themes and style of the text in detail, where applicable.
2. Language Features
In my opinion, it's ideal if students start learning about language features at around the age of 11-14 years so that they can analyse the way that good writers use language and improve their own powers of expression. Language features include similes, metaphors, personification, and a whole host of other terms. It's great if students can learn to recognise these features in a sentence, and at higher levels they can learn to explain and analyse the effect of such features in writing, connecting the use of particular features with the author's overall purpose. They will also learn to incorporate more interesting, varied and creative language into their own writing by becoming more aware of language features.
3. Reading Comprehension
Reading comprehension is something that children usually begin to grasp from a young age. It's important that we continue to develop these skills as children get older. It's helpful to read a range of written material for meaning e.g. stories, articles, letters or emails, encyclopaedia entries. We need to teach students to read not only on a surface level to obtain facts, but on a deeper level, thinking about the underlying message of the piece or the association that a particular phrase has. It's here that students learn to identify the attitude of the writer, and perhaps the mood that is being created in the written piece. Consequently, they can think about their own response to this.
4. Writing in a variety of forms
When students reach 11-14 years, it's crucial that they begin to write a variety of text types, reinforcing the idea that each piece of writing has a different purpose, therefore it has a different form and possibly different language features that are appropriate. Creative writing, reviews, letters, information reports, speeches, articles and essays each have a different purpose and form. During the process of writing, students need to learn to self-edit (looking in particular at correct usage of punctuation, spelling and grammar) in order to communicate their ideas clearly. At this age, it's great if students can learn the basics of argument (persuasive) essay writing as this will set them up well for further study and also in life - they will learn how to present their unique opinion on a wide range of issues clearly and confidently.
The end result of learning these skills is never just seeing great exam results in English, although that is definitely valid and I encourage all of my students who are sitting exams to aim high. But ultimately, I'd love to see a generation who grow up with the ability to be aware of the messages behind whatever they are reading; to express themselves well in speech and writing; to write emails to friends, family, or even Ministers of government; to be successful in their chosen field; to be aware that the power of language is not to be taken lightly; they will know when someone corrupt is trying to manipulate them with slick words, able to speak up for themselves, able to speak up for others, able to make their way in the world.