Masterclass resources for Secondary English

Suggested activities for masterclasses for Victorian High-Ability Program students in the Secondary English course.

Secondary English ice-breaker activities


Students are asked to stand in a circle. The first student must say the beginning of a story out loud that must end in the word ‘suddenly’, for example, “This morning I woke up and ate a piece of toast, suddenly…”. The next student adds another sentence to the story and ends it with the word ‘suddenly’. The story continues until all the students have contributed.

Student Bingo

Students are given a ‘student bingo sheet’ (this can be made or found online). Students must then meet one another by asking each other questions to fill in all of the boxes on their bingo sheet.

Never Have I Ever

Standing up, students respond to a series of statements that begin with “Never have I ever”. Students sit down if they have done the thing in the sentence. High ability practice leaders could write these sentences with common themes of the day in mind. For example, “Never have I ever read the entire Hunger Games series.”

Author visits and documentaries

High ability practice leaders can use their networks and resources to arrange for an author to discuss their writing. This could be online or face-to-face and be followed by an interactive question-and-answer session.

Professional teaching associations as well as universities may be able to provide this service to schools. Schools can also access Booked out, a speaker’s agency for writers, artists and thinkers.

The author of Hive, A.J Betts is based in Western Australia, and often presents talks and workshops for schools and young people online. Visit Betts’ website’s section on speaking in schools to explore this option. 

There are also a number of dystopian films that are referred to but not studied in-depth within the VHAP classes. High ability practice leaders may want to include a film screening and use this to frame activities or discussions for the day. They may also like to consult with English teachers at their schools for extra suggestions and to minimise repetition across year levels. Some suggested films that you may like to show all or part of are:

  • Wall E (2008)
  • Gattaca (1997)
  • Divergent film series (2014-2016)
  • The Hunger Games film series (2012-2015)
  • The Giver (2014)
  • Ready Player One (2018)
  • In Time (2011).

Other masterclass activities

Considering Utopia

During the VHAP classes, students conceptualise their own dystopian world. High ability practice leaders may wish to incorporate team building exercises in which students work together to consider a perfect world. For example:

  • Students can create collages of their perfect worlds using newspaper cut-outs, magazines and other images, including digital images. Students present these collages to the rest of the group, justifying the selections that they have made.
  • High ability practice leaders could read out a range of statements about perfect societies and ask students whether they agree or disagree with them. Working in groups, students prioritise the ideals and are encouraged to use examples from the dystopian literature they have explored in VHAP classes as starting points. Possible statements for discussion include:

“In a perfect world…”:

  • there is no physical pain
  • nature is respected
  • no-one needs to work
  • there is no war
  • there is no crime
  • there is no poverty
  • everyone is happy
  • everyone is equal
  • there is no death.

Follow-up questions may include:

  • What would we need to sacrifice to achieve this?
  • Would these sacrifices be justified?

Socratic discussion

High ability practice leaders may facilitate Socratic circles or seminars for students to discuss extracts from the novel Hive or other pieces of dystopian literature.

Students are given material to read and annotate prior to the session. Students then engage in a Socratic discussion, relying on open-ended questioning in order to delve into the themes and ideas of the text. Students can either be set up in one Socratic circle, or an inner and outer circle (where the inner circle runs the discussion and the outer circle observers the ‘players’.

This task can be adapted into a 1.5- or 2-hour session for an online session. Students may participate in an online Socratic circle using a virtual classroom.  

For more information, see Socratic discussions and Instructional Strategy - Socratic Seminar .

Short story study

Students read the award-winning dystopian short story, A Band Apart by student Jessica Ashton, about the effects of Covid-19 on the education system in the United Kingdom. Students run discussion groups about the story and/or complete creative writing exercises in which they add missing elements of the story or use the story as a springboard to help them write their own story in response. These stories could be made into an anthology and distributed to students after the day.

See the Guardian’s article, ‘Student who wrote story about biased algorithm has results downgraded’ for more information about the story.

For an online option, this task can be adapted into a 1.5- or 2-hour session. Students may read the story and then come together virtually to discuss. Students may be given another writing task relating to Ashton’s work or may use a collaborative online tool such as a Miro board or other software to brainstorm new ideas. 

Adapting creative forms

During their VHAP classes, students will have experimented with a range of forms for their final creative piece; they may have written a play, a newspaper article, a short story or made a podcast. Working in groups, students may use one or more of the ideas of their creative piece to adapt it into a different form, such as:

  • a graphic novel
  • a mural or painting
  • a play
  • a poem
  • an online game
  • a short film
  • an animation.

Acknowledgement, resources and references

The activities, resources and ideas for masterclasses were adapted and developed by the Victorian High-Ability Program teaching staff at Virtual School Victoria .

Additional sample activities and suggestions for masterclasses for Secondary English may be obtained by contacting Virtual School Victoria at

Ashton, J (2020) A Band Apart, The Orwell Youth Prize.

Booked Out: website to find speakers.

Speaking in schools’, AJ Betts (author of Hive).

Instructional Strategy – Socratic Seminar’, Let’s TEACH, YouTube.

Murray, J (2020) ‘Student who wrote story about biased algorithm has results downgraded’, Guardian.

Socratic discussions’, Literacy teaching toolkit, Department of Education, Victoria.