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The department offers a range of taster sessions which cover different aspects of English Language, Literature and Creative Writing.

Sessions can be delivered at our Exton Park learning site in Chester, in schools and online (the delivery options for each session are included in the session descriptions).

For further information, or to book a session email: english.outreach@chester.ac.uk

English Language Tasters

The English Language: Its Origin and Development

Where did English come from? How has it changed? Why isn’t the word busy spelt bisy? These are just some of the questions we will explore in this session. We will look at examples of written English from a number of periods, identifying key similarities and differences. We will explore how other languages have had an important influence on English, examining the contribution of Latin, French, Old Norse and others. Finally, we will look at how English has spread throughout the world by comparing some of its current varieties, tracing the language’s development from its earliest origins to its current global status.

Delivery: On Campus/Online

The English Lexicon: A Monster of a Language!

In this 45-minute session, students will be introduced to some of the ways in which linguists study the words (lexis) of the English language, using the Oxford English Dictionary online. Using the word monster as a starting point, the session investigates the etymology (origins) of words, and the grammaticalisation of the –STER suffix, which was originally a morpheme referring to a woman who performs an action (spinster; webster). We will also introduce students to the concept of semantic change and semantic shift, and the difference between denotational and connotational meaning. The word monster comes from a Latin root meaning ‘warn’, and has shifted in meaning over time from a supernatural creature to a pejorative term for a human, and now even has positive connotations in phrases such as ‘a monster guitar player’. This is a fun, engaging session in which students will begin to get a taste for what studying English Language at degree level is like.

Delivery: On Campus/Online

A Tour of English Word Classes

This session introduces students to the main word classes (parts of speech) in English: nouns, verbs, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, determiners and conjunctions. We will discuss how we distinguish between different parts of speech. More specifically, we will explore how words are assigned into word classes based on their meaning (semantic criteria), their internal structure (morphological criteria), and the environment in which they occur in a sentence (syntactic criteria). We will also consider the questions of why we need the knowledge of word classes and how it can be used to study different areas of linguistics. The session will be supplemented with activities that students will be asked to complete during the lecture.

Delivery: On Campus/Online

Place-names, Surnames and the English Language

An interactive session which explores the history of the English language through the names of people and places. We will look at the different languages that have contributed towards place-names in England, and show how an understanding of these can enhance our knowledge of the development of the English language. A brief history of the linguistic development of surnames in England will also be presented, before a discussion of some of the students' surnames and what they tell us about family history. This is an interdisciplinary session which will demonstrate the important connection between history, culture and the English language.

Delivery: On Campus/Online

Language and Magic

A taught session which looks at how the historical development of the English language has left us with particular attitudes to different languages. Latin and French are usually associated with prestige and intelligence, while Old English, a Germanic language, is typically associated with the common man, authenticity and everyday life. With links to concepts of lexical register and etymology, this interactive session provides some historical context to these issues, and looks at how JK Rowling takes advantage of the relationship between English and Latin to create a linguistically engaging magical world for her characters in the Harry Potter books/ films.

Delivery: On Campus/Online

Debating Linguistic Prescriptivism and Other Language Controversies Using Interactive Online Blogs

This interactive seminar introduces students to some of the conflicts and controversies in the public and academic domains of English Language and linguistics and gives them the opportunity to contribute to a related interactive on-line blog. Students can make their own minds up whether football pundit Jamie Redknapp is ‘butchering’ English or being creative when he make claims such as “he literally chopped him in half in that challenge”. They can debate whether being tested on grammar at school (e.g. knowing what a ‘subjunctive’ is) will make them better writers. They can reflect on why English is a global language and whether native English speakers need to learn another language. And they can investigate whether ‘political correctness’ (e.g. substituting ‘fireman’ for ‘firefighter’) is sensible language regulation to avoid offence or erosion of freedom of speech. Students can prepare for the seminar by visiting the Language Debates blog site at: https://languagedebates.wordpress.com/.

Delivery: On Campus/Online

Alex Turner’s Vocals in Arctic Monkeys Songs: What do They Tell Us About Language, Dialect and Identity?

This interactive session looks at the relationship between language use and identity through the medium of the songs of Sheffield-based indie-rock band the Arctic Monkeys. Alex Turner was well-known for his use of his local Yorkshire accent and dialect in the band’s early albums, which include the fastest selling debut album ever by a British band. Over time though, his vocals have changed, moving away from his local accent and towards a more Americanised performance. This session explores how and why this happened, and how we study it as linguists.

Delivery: On Campus/Online

Snowflake Kids Get Lessons in Chilling”: Negative Labels and Stereotyping in the News Media

This interactive session encourages students to consider the influence of the news media in driving language change and also in perpetuating negative stereotypes. The focus is on the use of the word ‘snowflake’ and its rapid semantic shift from an ice crystal to “a person mockingly characterised as overly sensitive or easily offended” (OED). As members of ‘generation snowflake’ (i.e. allegedly anyone born after 2000 AD) students will consider why the Daily Star newspaper considers it newsworthy to regularly construct front page headlines such as “Don’t call us snowflakes or we’ll cry” and “Elf and safety snowflakes ban Xmas”, and to what extent that label sits comfortably with their own experiences. The session will also consider how and why certain words broaden their meanings and in whose power it is to spread them.

Delivery: On Campus/Online

“We Children Are Doing This to Wake the Adults Up” (Greta Thunberg): Waking Up to the Power of Inspirational Speech-making

This interactive session introduces students to the power of speeches to challenge what its speakers perceive as injustices such as climate change, racism and gender inequalities. It familiarises students with basic linguistic elements of rhetoric, such as the three-part list, antithesis (use of contrasts), metaphor and use of pronouns to connect with the audience. It uses clips from non-politicians, such as climate activist Greta Thunberg’s address to the Houses of Parliament, Emma Watson’s gender equality speech to the United Nations and Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I have a dream’ speech, to show how a skilful delivery of spoken oratory in the right circumstances can have a major impact on world affairs.

Delivery: On Campus/Online

English Literature Tasters

Atonement and the Significance of Intertextuality

This seminar uses Ian McEwan’s Atonement to introduce students to intertextuality. Students will explore why those intertextualities exist, and consider the meaning of intertextuality as a whole. We will look at extracts from the novel, the novels which Atonement echoes, and the film adaptation. The session aims to expand the students’ knowledge of intertextuality, enhance their close analysis skills and broaden their understanding of the role of literature.

Delivery: On Campus/Online

Heredity and Character in Wuthering Heights

A session on how Victorian ideas about race, heredity, and the supernatural influenced Emily Brontë’s creation of Heathcliff – arguably one of the most monstrous and alluring characters in English Literature. This includes a short discussion of a late-Victorian critic who tried to impose racist ideologies onto Wuthering Heights.

Delivery: On Campus/Online

Historic Newspaper Databases: America (1789-1924)

This activity requires internet access and introduces students to the Library of Congress’ free online database of historic newspapers (Chronicling America), and to other free databases in specific states. Students will be sent a worksheet in advance with tips about research methods and possible topics and keywords. Students may then come prepared with keywords and topics they want to try. The workshop can be tailored to suit groups with a specific interest (for example, slavery, or the Frontier), and provides guidance on how to adjust research methods to improve our results, how to interpret our findings – and, above all, an opportunity to reflect upon our research process. Suitable for students of American Literature, Culture, or History 1789-1924.

Delivery: On Campus/Online

How My Research Went Wrong/ Researching Influences

This session introduces students to the challenges of HE research – where making mistakes is the best way to discover new things! I introduce students to two research tasks where I began with completely mistaken assumptions about how poets Keats and Wordsworth changed aspects of British culture, and then show how I turned these mistakes into far more exciting new projects. This session includes a short discussion on research methods for investigating how a specific historical or cultural event can change the world.

Delivery: On Campus/Online

"If you really want to hear about it":  Storytelling and The Catcher In The Rye

In this seminar we will use Jerome David Salinger's famous novel as a focus for a discussion of different ways of storytelling.  Holden Caulfield informs us that he will not tell us his 'whole goddam autobiography or anything', but we do learn quite a lot about him as he 'talks' to us.  How reliable or trustworthy is he as a narrator though? And what is our response, as readers of his story?

Delivery: On Campus/Online

Jane Austen and Material Culture

This seminar will enable students to analyse the role of material culture in the novels of Jane Austen (specifically Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park). Students will consider aspects of the texts such as dress, objects, and cultural identity through focused analysis of these materials in specific extracts – including screen adaptations of the texts. This session will enhance close analysis skills and allow learners to develop their cultural and contextual understanding of Austen’s works.

Delivery: On Campus/Online

Miss Marple’s Murder Mystery: "The Witness for the Prosecution"

This session will focus on the function of crime narratives in the Golden Age. Students will read an extract of a short Agatha Christie story, watch clips from the recent BBC adaptation, and decide who they think the real murderer is. Each group of students will be given a character to defend, and they will be expected to use evidence from the text. In our courtroom session, each character will stand on trial: it is the responsibility of the students to defend their chosen characters against the opinions and accusations of the other students. This session aims to create a passion for literature and encourage the construction of an effective argument, focused points and analysis, and dealing with textual evidence in a critical way. 

Delivery: On Campus/Online

Monsters of the Nineteenth Century

This session provides a way into thinking about the complex social changes of the nineteenth century through the motif of The Monster. Looking at literary monsters and the monsters created by huge societal change, this session considers some of the key ideas and thinkers of this period using this most interesting of lenses. No preparation on the part of the students is required.

Delivery: On Campus/Online

Poetry in Action: Romeo and Juliet, Hands and Lips

How does Shakespeare dramatise the first meeting of his most famous lovers? This session will explore the ways in which rich poetic language combines with action to create a memorable encounter. What would be your choice of words if you were trying to interest somebody you felt an attraction to? And what might you do?  Here we will be thinking about words and their power and the way we can play with them, but we will also consider the many non-verbal ways we communicate with, and interact with, others.

Delivery: On Campus/Online

Rewriting History in Addams Family Values: the First Thanksgiving

This seminar allows students to analyse a clip from a family comedy film in which children at summer camp are forced to act out a play about the Pilgrim Fathers and Native Americans. The session encourages students to ask who controls representations of history, the distortion or silencing of minority experiences in popular culture, and how audiences respond to texts that reinforce or challenge their world view. This fun seminar is also an introduction to some of the key theoretical approaches students will use at university.

Delivery: On Campus/Online

Satan, Rebellion, and Protest in Romanticism

A lively short session about the influence of Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost on Romantic poets like Blake, Byron, and Shelley, and the significance of the rebellious Byronic hero in Western culture. This session includes a group discussion of Byron’s 1812 speech in the House of Lords, where he attacked the rich and powerful and sought justice for workers damaged by the Industrial Revolution. A section of Byron’s speech can be supplied on paper but, ideally, accessing it online via Parliament’s Hansard database during the session will give students an opportunity to explore freely available online research resources.

Delivery: On Campus/Online

Sherlock Holmes and City Space: Understanding Influence

This seminar will focus on the influence of city space over the thinking and detection methods used by Sherlock Holmes. We will consider the role played by the Victorian city and highlight its influence on nineteenth-century literature. Using the BBC adaptation, we will uncover how the way the adaptation deals with city space reflects the way the city space functions in the short stories. This session will be combined with Dr Paul Flanagan’s exploration of the use of language in both the original text and the screen adaptation. 

Delivery: On Campus/Online

"A symbol to the nation. A hero to the world": Superheroes Fighting Propaganda in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

This seminar explores the potential for political critique not only of, but within superhero movies. We begin with a short talk on representations of warfare in literature (from Homer, to the World Wars, to the present day). The rest of the seminar focuses on group analysis and discussion of two clips from a mainstream superhero movie where the hero reflects upon his personal wartime experience – and on the ways his experience has been exploited by his country. The seminar enables students to practice critical thinking and analysis of film techniques and literature, and to make connections to civic values and world history.

Delivery: On Campus/Online

Creative Writing Tasters

An Introduction to Creative Writing

This workshop will introduce students to the process of creative writing. It will discuss the relationship between reading and writing, inspiration and practice, and drafting and refining. The tutor will use some of his own writing as an example. The session will be interactive and students will be encouraged to try writing their own drafts during the session though a series of fun exercises. Dr Ian Seed is the Programme Leader for the BA Combined Honours Degree in Creative Writing. His books have been featured on BBC Radio 3, and his collection of prose poems and flash fiction, New York Hotel was a Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year.

Delivery: On Campus/Online

The Empty Room and The Character Box

Through two writing exercises you will be encouraged to develop a mini-drama and a three-dimensional character during this interactive session. All you need to bring along is something to write with, something to write on, and your creative imagination. I will provide the necessary prompts to help you to complete these enjoyable and stimulating exercises. You will leave with your own short play and your very own character box.

Delivery: On Campus/Online

Making Monsters: A Creative Session

In this creative writing workshop, we will start by looking at some famous monsters from literature, including Grendel and his mother, Shakespeare's Iago, Lady Macbeth and Caliban, Milton's Satan, and Frankenstein's monster. Participants will then have the chance to create their own monster through some writing exercises.  This session is bound to be hideous fun as we engage with the darker side of the human imagination.

Flash Fiction Tasters

Reading Flash Fiction: An English Literature taster seminar

This seminar introduces students to reading flash fiction (short stories of up to 360 words), and to the seminar experience that is a key part of English Literature degrees. Students will analyse interesting flashes, with close attention to language, theme, and literary form, and will be encouraged to participate in group discussion. This is an engaging, interactive session that gives students the opportunity to experience the seminar environment and to develop their skills of literary analysis. Seminars last one hour. Two groups of up to 15 students can be offered simultaneously.

The flash fiction seminars are led by Drs Peter Blair and Ashley Chantler, co-editors of Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine (www.chester.ac.uk/flash.magazine). Peter and Ashley are also co-directors of the International Flash Fiction Association (IFFA) and run the National Flash Fiction Youth Competition. For further information, visit the IFFA website (www.chester.ac.uk/flash.fiction), where you can also find ‘Flash Schools: Talks and Resources’.

Writing Flash Fiction: A Creative Writing Taster Workshop

This workshop introduces students to writing flash fiction (short stories of up to 360 words), and to the workshop process that is a key part of Creative Writing degrees. Students will discuss good examples of very short stories, which they will then use as prompts for writing their own flash fiction. This is a fun, interactive session that gives students the opportunity to experience the writing-workshop process and to come away having written, or at least begun, an original story. Workshops last one hour. Two groups of up to 15 students can be offered simultaneously.

The workshops are led by Drs Peter Blair and Ashley Chantler, co-editors of Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazinewww.chester.ac.uk/flash.magazine. Peter and Ashley are also co-directors of the International Flash Fiction Association (IFFA) and run the National Flash Fiction Youth Competition. For further information, visit the IFFA website (www.chester.ac.uk/flash.fiction), where you can also find ‘Flash Schools: Talks and Resources’.

Delivery: On Campus/Online