Thursday, 29 October 2015

5 Key Elements of a Gothic Story.

As Halloween rapidly approaches and the desire for all things ‘spooky’ rises, we are going to look at the lure of Gothic stories. At this time of year we see the popular images of what we take to represent scary and fearful things eg ghosts, witches, vampires and the odd zombie thrown in for good measure. All of these can be traced back to the genre of Gothic Literature.

A Gothic story is a type of fiction that combines elements of horror, death and romanticism. It is a very stylized type of horror story. It generally contains these key elements:

  1. Creepy setting- usually a castle, old house, forest or somewhere remote.
  2. Weather- this is usually a storm or at the least heavy rain.
  3. Supernatural threat- in the form of a Vampire, ghost, witch, ancient curse etc.
  4. Isolated person or group- very often young or female in danger.
  5. The location is cut off from the outside world, and so help is difficult to get.

When did they become popular?
Gothic stories first became popular in the 18th century. The first ‘Gothic’ story is generally thought to be ‘The Castle of Otranto’ published in 1764, by Horace Walpole.

How did they cross over into Horror films?
With the growth of cinema in the early 20th century, Gothic stories gradually became adapted and made into Horror stories. Most horror stories conform to Gothic story standards. This and the fact that people like to be scared.

What would be a good Gothic story to read this Halloween (or any time?)

  1. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  2. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  3. The Turn of the Screw by M. R. James
  4. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  5. Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice
  6. My Sword hand is Singing by Marcus Sedgewick
  7. Twilight by William Gay*
  8. Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
  9. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
  10. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

*This has nothing to do with teenage Vampires! It is a ‘southern’ Gothic story set in 1950s Tennessee and about a very creepy undertaker.

For more information about any of our online KS2, KS3 & IGCSE English courses, please contact us at: or visit our website:

Friday, 2 October 2015

4 Great Ways To Connect Through Storytelling.

I really love stories. And they are way more powerful than we realise. Our children’s ability to talk about the past and future is linked to success in school, learning to read & write, and to social success. And we all love a good story, right?

Last night I read The Little Red Hen to my four year old daughter for the first time. I picked it because I remember loving it as child myself & it really is a great story for imparting values around work ethic & consequences. Stories have many purposes: to entertain, to teach, to transmit values, to show ourselves in a good light. You don’t have to confine yourself to story books either. Here are some ideas for weaving stories into the fabric of your everyday life:

#1 Tell your children stories from when you were little.
They really love this! Telling your own stories is such a wonderful way of connecting with your children and showing them your understanding of the challenges of childhood. It’s such a relief to hear it happened to someone else too- no matter what age you are!

On a train one day, I overheard a mother tell her son a story of something embarrassing that happened to her as a child- she was at the swimming pool from school & needed to go to the toilet but was too shy to tell the teacher, so she went to the toilet in the pool and the whole place had to be evacuated! I loved her for sharing this publicly and it worked a treat to diffuse her son’s upset when the picture he was colouring in did not go his way. You should have seen the attention he paid her- he was hooked on every word. Don't panic, your stories don’t have to be this dramatic- see # 4 below.

#2 Write a letter
We live about 3 hours away from my parents by car & they aren’t online. I feel sad about the impact the distance has on their relationship with my little girl. One day, I decided to write to my father & ask him to send her stories from when he was a child. I also put in a stamped addressed envelope to make it even easier. A few days later, a letter arrived for her with a story called Grandad Bernard’s Trip to Tipp to Sell the Geese – it was so vivid and lovely and a precious keepsake for her. 

#3 Make it up as you go along…
I came across a lovely idea in a Donna Leon detective novel recently where at dinner time, one of the family threw out a storyline & the others took it in turn to run with it. You could have great fun with this especially for older children & have wild imaginings over dinner.

Here’s an example from The Golden Egg by Donna Leon: …. Chiara set her water glass down with a thump & said, ‘They all lived happily ever after’. ‘Clorinda’s eyes met Giuseppe’s, & together they gazed happily down at the baby’, Paola said immediately in a voice she pumped full of emotion.  I love the way Chiara begins the story with what we would think of as an ending. You’ll have to read the book to find out where they take the story- it’s worth finding out!

#4 It’s not about what you get, it’s about what you give
‘So, how was school today?’ Fine. What happened? Not much/nothing.’ Sound familiar? Try this. To get a story, you need to tell a story. So instead of asking questions tell your own story first & leave the door open for them to participate or share if they want. So, as I said above in #3, your story doesn’t have to have major drama.  It just needs to relate an event that stood out because it was reportable; something unusual that happened.

For example, one day when my little girl was two & a half, I went to the library on my way home from work & witnessed an incident where a boy called Bernard threw an egg at the inside of the library door. I told her about it when I came home. Well, I must have told that story 20 times over the following weeks. Every now & again, for many months, she’d say ‘Tell me about Bernard and the egg’. So a little really can go a long way!

So how can you weave more stories into your life? What happened to you today that you could tell your children to get a conversation going?

If you would like to learn more about Mary Pat's work visit: .

Dr. Mary-Pat O Malley-Keighran is a lecturer, author, researcher, speech & language therapist, and lover of all things to do with speech, language, and communication. She has over 20 years’ experience of working with families & 14 years of teaching speech & language students.

This post was written by our guest blogger Mary Pat O'Malley, speech and language therapist, lecturer and author.


Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Why Study KS3 History Online ?

‘It’s all about the past!’
‘Why do we have to learn about dead people?’
‘Can’t we learn about the future?’

These are just a few of the questions I’ve been asked over the years when teaching a history group for the first time.

The correct way to respond I suppose is to shoot back with a snappy defence of my subject. I’ve seen other teachers do this with a text book, prescribed response:

‘In order to understand the present, we need to know about the past’.

This is an admirable response, but I don’t use it.

I respond with ‘It’s a great subject. And you’ll find out why this year’.

I attach a personal link to it and also throw down the hint of goodies to be had in the future. Some students will continue to moan, whilst others will then ask what we’re going to be looking at. Very often this has been a project on their local town or city. Family and local connections are powerful ways to start a child thinking about the past, their identity and how they fit into the ‘big’ picture.

But what if you were born abroad (or moved at an early stage) and are British? How do you learn about your cultural heritage and develop cultural reference points? This is where we hope Blackhen Education’s new history courses will help.
Obviously a student can find out in a variety of ways, be it on the internet, TV documentaries or good old fashioned books. But where do you start and what do you cover?

Our new online History courses hope to answer these questions, for both parent and child alike. Just as keeping up their native language requires work for the ex-pat, bilingual student, cultural identity or just knowledge of their ‘home’ country does as well.

The key question for most students, even if unasked, is how did we get to where we are today? Why is it that we vote? Why don’t we execute people anymore? Why is Shakespeare so popular around the World? How did Britain become such a powerful country? Why isn’t it still?  Why did my great grandfather fight in the war? Can bad events bring about positive things?

At Blackhen Education we hope that our history courses will firstly help create an overview of key historical events in British history. This will then provide a framework for cultural knowledge and awareness.

If a student chooses, at the end of Key Stage 3 they can then start an IGCSE course in History. This is something that can definitely help if they are interested in studying at post-18 back in the UK.

Finally, by studying history the ex-pat student can also at the same time support their English language skills, both in reading and writing. As is so often the case in Education, the study of English and History overlap and complement one another.

This post was written by Andy Mackay - IGCSE English and KS3 History tutor at Blackhen Education.

For more details about our new KS3 (11-14yrs)History courses or English courses, please contact us at:

Thursday, 19 February 2015

'Witch Child' - KS3 (12-13yrs) English course.

This month our 12-13 year old students have been working on a unit of work based on the book 'Witch Child' by Celia Rees. It tells the story of the world of Mary Newbury, whose grandmother is accused and murdered for being a witch. Her story is told in the style of a diary.

One of the tasks was to create a poster, warning people in 17th century England of witches. The students came up with some wonderful ideas and here are a few of their designs.

 Angus's poster.

Elena's poster.

Jake's poster.

For another lesson they had to write a diary entry, as if they were someone or knew someone who had been accused of witchcraft.

 Angus's diary entry.

Jake's diary entry.

Elena's diary entry.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Valentine's Day

Each year we have a Valentine's Day competition for our students and for any expat children living abroad.

This year we asked the students to design a Valentine's day card or create a special meal for a loved one.

Have a look at these great designs!

                                    This is the winning entry designed by Elena

Cards designed by Erin and Shay

Valentine's day card designed by Lucie

                                                      Pop -up card designed by Nell

                                                         Card designed by Grace

This was Thomas's special Valentine's Day created for his mum & dad.

All winners are given a book token to encourage their reading and maintaining their English skills.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Blackhen Education's Top 5 Children's books about the Holocaust


January 27th marks Holocaust Memorial Day. On this day we remember the millions of Jews that were murdered in the concentration camps by the Nazis during World War II. It is very important that each generation of children learn about the Holocaust and the atrocities that occurred.

At Blackhen Education we believe that one of the best ways for a child to learn about the Holocaust is through reading about the subject, whether it be autobiographical books (Anne Frank's Diary) or fiction (The Book Thief).

There are lots of resources to help children research this subject; be it books, films, online, documentaries etc. Due to the nature of this topic, parents do need to exercise some discretion and guidance for their children when finding out about this shocking episode in history. We would probably suggest that 13 years plus is probably the best age for children to first approach this subject. This is in line with most schools in the UK. 

We have complied a list of 5 books for teenagers and young adults to learn about the Holocaust and the issues raised by it.

Number the Stars - Lois Lowry

'It is 1943 and for ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen life in Copenhagen is a complicated mix of home and school life, food shortages and the constant presence of Nazi soldiers. She knows about bravery from the stories of the dragon-slaying knights that she reads to her younger sister. But Anniemarie's best frien Ellen is a Jew. As the German troops begin their campaign to eradicate all the Jews of Denmark, Annemarie is called upon for courage and a very real-life feat of bravery'. Amazon books.

Milkweed - Jerry Spinelli.

'The book is about a boy in Warsaw, Poland in the years of World War II during the Holocaust. Over time he is taken in by a Jewish group of orphans and he must avoid the German troops (or "Jackboots") while living on the streets with other orphans'. Wikipedia

The Holocaust - Susanna Davidson

'Under the cover of the Second World War, the Nazis set out to kill every Jewish person in Europe, in what is now known as the Holocaust. This book looks at the events leading up to it and describes what happened, using historical fact and survivors' stories to give a moving and sensitive account'. - Google books.

The Earth is Singing - Vanessa Curtis

My name is Hanna Michelson. I am fifteen. I am Latvian. I live with my mother and grandmother. My father is missing - taken by the Russians. I have a boyfriend. When he holds my hand,everything feels perfect. I'm training to be a dancer. But none of that matters now. Because the Nazi have arrived and I am a Jew. And as far as they are concerned, that is all that matters.
This is my story' - Usbourne books
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - John Boyne

'This book follows a 9-year-old boy named Bruno growing up during World War II in Berlin, Germany. He lives in a huge house with his parents, his 12-year-old sister Gretel and servants, one of whom is called Maria. After a visit by Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun, Bruno's father is promoted to Commandant, and the family has to move to "Out-With" because of the orders of "The Fury".- Wikipedia

Details of all our English courses can be found on our website: or contact us at:

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Education and Freedom of Speech

'Freedom of speech is the concept of the inherent human right to voice one's opinion publicly without fear of censorship or punishment'.

The attack last week on the staff of Charlie Hebdo and the ensuing violence poses many questions for us, but a key one must be how do we address the notion of free speech with our children. In France it has been long established that students learn the underlying values of the Republic: ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’. Now that very democratic value is under the spotlight.

At Blackhen Education we feel that education is one of the most important ways to ensure that young people view the acquisition of knowledge and skills as a way to develop an open mind and one that seeks to question. In addition, we must teach them that listening to the views of others is important but also how we react to them.

In one of our units we look at the ‘Cult of Celebrity’ and ask them to rank a series of famous female faces in order of importance. Consistently the person that is ranked first is the Pakistani schoolgirl and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. This is deeply heartening that she is perceived by our students as being more ‘important’ than a host of film stars, singers and clothes designers. For a symbol of bravery and defiance, Malala is hard to beat. Despite being shot merely for wishing to go to school, she continues to campaign for everyone, regardless of creed, colour or nationality, to have the right to a full education. In addition, she talks of peace as a response to violence and has even gone so far as to publicly forgive her attackers.

Too often in life prejudice can masquerade as something ‘to be respected’ or ‘to be accepted’ because that is the way it has always been done. Having a forum to speak openly and to challenge is a fundamental cornerstone of what democracies should stand for. Even if we disagree with what someone says, they should have the right to say it.

In another one of our units (Refugee Boy) we pose the question ‘What does freedom mean to you?’ It is a question that we should all be asking at this moment, as well as what we will do to ensure that these freedoms to speak and express ourselves continue. Education isn’t merely about learning to read and write, it goes much deeper. It is the first step in learning to think and to question. A society is only as free as the values it is run on and the people tasked with defending these. The next generation of guardians are waiting in the wings and watching.

This post was written by Andy Mackay ( KS3 and IGCSE tutor at Blackhen Education).

Thursday, 8 January 2015

6 ways to read your way to a healthier 2015!

January is here again!
Once again we will all be looking to become better people. Be it slimmer, smoke-free, alcohol refraining, multi-lingual, kinder or less-stressed. The list goes on. For many, these admirable aims will fall by the way side within a few weeks. However, one area you can succeed in, and improve your life immeasurably is by making a list of literary resolutions. You may not have a slimmer waist line nor win the Nobel Peace Prize, but these are resolutions that you can keep. And they’re fun!

Read More
For many, life seems to get in the way of a good book. However, they are a great way to unwind and escape the pressures of the day. Try to read at least 30 minutes a day. Why not switch off the TV or computer and grab a book (or tablet) before going to sleep? In addition, you might want to set yourself a goal to read a book a month, or two, or more? Why not draw up a list of books that you feel you should read? Or just ones that interest you?
Read New
Whilst buying a second hand book is a cheap way to stay well-stocked with reading material, it doesn’t help the author. They only receive payment once. Why not buy a new book for every three second-hand books you read.

Read Debut
Change can be a frightening thing. However, it can also reap rich rewards. Every now and then why not plunge into the sea of new writers out there. If you have a favourite writer, investigate who they like and recommend. Established writers often champion those new in print. Find out who they recommend.
Read Local
For many would-be book buyers the first thing they will do is type ‘Amazon’ on their keyboard. However, why not wander down to your local bookshop (or even find out where it is). Many local bookshops are fighting a losing battle at the moment to online retailers. Where you spend your money is a personal choice and deciding to help a local business, especially an independent  bookshop, can mean the difference between them staying afloat or disappearing to the stockroom in the sky.
Read Different
Even if you love sports autobiographies or gritty crime novels, why not break out into a different genre? If you have a subject that has always interested you but you’ve never got round to reading about it, do it this year! Or maybe something you’ve just heard about or read and want to know more. Go on, pick up that book and read it.

Read and Recommend
If you’ve read a great book, don’t keep it to yourself. Let friends and family know about it. Why not donate the books you’ve enjoyed reading to a charity and slip a note into each one saying how great it is? This way, the author’s work gets passed along and you’ve helped out a good cause. Plus you’ll have book space for all of your new purchases for 2015.

Finally remember that sometimes the fun things in life can get forgotten about in the mad rush of family life and work. Even if you only do one of the above, you will have a great 2015. 

This post was written by Andy Mackay ( KS3 & IGCSE Tutor at Blackhen Education).

Contact us at: for one of our recommended reading lists for children.