Saturday, 12 October 2013

Vagueness: AQA English Language Unit 1 Exam

I am not going to apologise for the blog this week, but I am going to be very specific; I’m going to write about one question from English Language exam. The problem with books on teaching English is that they are so vague. In fact, they are vaguer than Mr Vague Vagueness from Vague Street in the county of Vagueshire in the United States of Vagueness on the planet Vague. When you are planning a lesson on a particular question or thing, you don’t want some guff (sorry – I haven’t used that word in a while, but I liked it in that sentence) about what non-fiction means to society. You also don’t want a ‘funny’ quote from Dickens about how non-fiction can topple governments. What you want is some ideas to spark the germ of an idea. Hopefully, this will inspire you and I may even go through the other questions at a later date.

If books about English teaching are vague, then mark schemes for English exams are even vaguer. Step forward question one on the reading and producing non-fiction texts.  

The Question:  What do we learn/understand  about  …..?  

What do students have to show evidence of in their answer?

·         Quotes  or evidence woven into ideas

·         Subtext or what is suggested or implied in the writing

·         Summarising of points rather than repeating points

·         Key points of the article

·         Understanding the article

Now that is one level of answering the question. These are the standard 'bread 'n' butter' for teaching non-fiction. Do all of those things and you are not guaranteed an 8 out of 8? No, you need perceptive comments and engagement.  How do you show engagement in a text? Look Mr Examiner, when they read this article, they did a little dance. Surely, that is lively engagement and not just engagement. 

Perceptive Engagement

This is where we need to be precise with teaching skills. These are some of the things I would expect to see. Warning: they do not make a student get an automatic 7 or 8. These are some of the qualities I have seen in my students’ work.   

·         Facts and opinions

·         Awareness of various perspectives

·         Following how an argument changes in a text

·         Exploring different sides of an argument presented

·         Contradictions and inconsistencies

·         Expressing our opinion to things

·         The reader’s reaction to the text

·         Explore the relevance of the article

·         Explore what needs further explanation


There are probably more things that I have forgotten about but most of the time these things form my arsenal for preparing students for this question.

What activities do I do for this perceptive engagement?

Thankfully, hate is free in this country and one newspaper publishes its articles without charging people and these make great articles for use with this question.

Facts and opinions

·         Highlight an article for head (fact) and heart (opinion) phrases.

·         Work out the ratio of fact to opinion and then explore the reliability of this article based on that ratio.

·         Pick out facts and opinions and get students to categorise them.

·         Find facts and opinions blended in sentences and identify the words that create the opinions.



·         Drama: get students to role play being the writer and the reader. The writer explains what they are trying to do. The reader explains how they felt.

·         Explore how different readers would react to the text. How do men or women react to the text differently?

·         Describe the supposed reader of the text. What kind of reader would read this text?

Following how an argument changes in a text / Exploring different sides of an argument presented

·         Number the different points or reasons in the text. Then, rank the effectiveness or significance of each one.

·         Cut up an article into the different sides.

Contradictions and inconsistencies

·         Take a paragraph and look for what doesn’t add up. What doesn’t make sense?

·         Get students to think of questions that need answering for you to be fully convinced by the text.

·         Take a pen and draw arrows linking different parts of the text. Look to see how ideas are threaded through a text. The more connections they make, the more likely they will see the contradictions. It says here and here that this is true but in the last paragraph they say the opposites.

·         Take a pen and draw arrows and look for opposite ideas.

·         Put this article on trial. Create a team for prosecution and a team for defence.  The writer is going to be charged for libel. The class defend or prosecute the article. 


Expressing our opinions to things / Reader’s reaction to a text

·         Annotate a text with emoticons (if trendy) or emotions (if traditional). Discuss how we / the reader felt when reading the whole article.

·         Explore how our feelings are different at the end of the first paragraph and at the end of the last paragraph.

·         Drama: get students to role-play being the reader and explain how they felt when reading the article. At first I was afraid, I was petrified- I kept thinking he….

·         Teach students to use adverbs or adjectives in the analysis - Shockingly, the writer shows us how English books can be quite vague. 


I did try finding a funny quote by Dickens about non-fiction, but it was a little vague.  If you need more inspiration for Unit 1 stuff check this great blog out.


Thanks for reading  



  1. I think getting them to 'interrogate' the text in this way is so helpful. Thanks.

  2. Thanks for sharing information it is very useful for study

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