Saturday, 29 March 2014

What's the tone of the headline? AQA Question 2

Every so often, I like to blog about a lesson I have taught that week. Not because I think I am amazingly great - I am not: I still have a pile of marking to do and there is always something I haven’t done. But, because I like to share and see what others have done. Writing a blog on a lesson becomes the equivalent of throwing a pebble in the pond. Lots of waves are generated. In the past, I have described a lesson and as a result of that I have had several suggestions of how else that specific lesson could have been done.

In fact, I am one of those sad people that likes looking at schemes of work. I enjoy reading old – very old – text books. It is not for the joy of finding a worksheet full of flared trousered teachers or teenagers with hair that resembles candy floss. It is more about the joy of finding a different approach or a novel way or idea of doing the same thing Plato did teaching all those centuries ago,  than finding a worksheet that will keep a class quiet for five minutes. It is the oh-never-thought-of-doing-it-that-way thing I like. Therefore, I am sharing this lesson. I could, if I wanted to, put all my resources on TES, but I find it frustrating that the website, great as it is, tends to collect resources rather than ideas. I don’t want an instant lesson; I actually love planning. A ready-made resource doesn’t really appeal to me. I want ideas. That’s why I blog. That’s why I read blogs. They help me plan. They feed my inspiration.

Right, the lesson! Well, I am preparing students for the last big push on the AQA Unit 1 exam. Psychologists would have a field day with me, because I am starting to enjoy the exam and the teaching of it. Now, I haven’t gone all ‘Blue-Peter’ and overdosed on positivity; it is just that with all the model answers I have written and all the time I have spent on it, I have gone all ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. I have fallen in love with my captor. If you can’t beat them, join them.

Anyway, this lesson was about question 2. The headline and picture question.

Explain how effective the headline and picture are in the article and how they link to the text.

Step 1:

I explained to students the problems in the last mock.

What were the problems in the last mock exam?

* Not enough language analysis
* People didn't show they understood the tone of the piece of writing
* The picture's symbolise wasn't fully explored
*The links made were pretty poor

Step 2:

 I then gave students a sheet of headlines from a range of different sources. Rather than dive in for the techniques employed, I asked students to identify the tone of the article from the headline. Was the tone shocked, comical, disgusted or something else?

I caught TB from my pet cat: Teenager tells how she was rushed to hospital with severe lung damage

The horrible word in the exam question is ‘effective’. As soon as students see it they hone in on it. Everything becomes about things being effective. But, it is something more subtle that is needed in the exam. Focusing on the tone shows understanding of the text and an awareness of how the headline is used. The headline doesn’t just make you want to read it, but also hints at the emotional impact of the story. I am feeling sad. Oh, look there is a story that sounds a bit funny, so I will read that. Oh, that other one looks depressing. Better not read that.

As we did this, we noticed that the tone of the headline might be more than one thing. Sometimes headlines started with a serious tone and then changed to a comical tone.

 Step 3:

Next, I got students to highlight the language devices employed. While doing this, I reminded them to see if they could link the technique to the tone.

Analyse the headline  - look at the language

Think of...

*punctuation - any form of punctuation

* sounds (harsh / soft /rhyme / alliteration)

*Which word is the most dramatic / effective?

* Techniques (exaggeration/ emotive / puns)

* Facts / numbers / statistics

* First and last words

*Reason for the choice of words

Doctors snapped my unborn baby’s arm in two … to save her life: Maternity ward drama as medics battled to deliver baby so big she got trapped during birth

There’s so much to be said from the headlines in the exam, but student opt for the most obvious ones, which means that they miss the subtle or plainly obvious ones. Like some of these here:

·         Start and end feature something shocking

·         Writer tricks reader into thinking the doctors are evil – they withhold the reason for the snapping for later

·         Ellipsis used for dramatic emphasis   

·         Starts with an emphasis on action – snapped (onomatopoeic word)

·         Alliteration of baby, big and birth

·         Doctor becomes medic

·         Battled has severe connotations

·         Two halves of the sentence have didn’t tones


Step 4:

Then we discussed how things could be linked to the text. Mostly, things in the text prove, support or challenge ideas in the headline.

Link those together -  writer - technique - reader

The writer uses a serious tone by using a fact( ********) in the headline so that reader is shocked by the amount of people that has died.

Link again....

The text reflects the shocking nature of this by referring to the names of these people: '************'. 

Step 5:

After making links, we then focused on the pictures. Now, I have done quite a bit of work with the students, but at this stage I felt that I need to go back to basics.  I discussed with students these set questions:

What does it show?

What does it hint at?

What does it symbolise?

Describe / Suggest / Symbolise

I found that teaching students to analyse pictures like this helped them to step up their interpretations. They were able to build up ideas in detail. Too often students neglect to say what is in the picture and its relevance to the text. Again, when thinking of these things students had to think about the tone of the text. 

Link ideas to - writer - picture -reader


The picture shows the boyfriend smiling and the celebrity wearing animal fur which highlights the writer's anger and the will provoke the reader to feel shocked that he might get away with it, while the badgers are dead.


Link to the text:

This is supported when the text says....


Step 6:

Finally, this is where things get scary. I printed off headlines and pictures from the Daily Mail. (Sorry, to say this but the Daily Mail website is brilliant for resources for this particular question.) I didn’t print anything else off the article, just the headline and picture. Students then proceeded to annotate the sheets and the analysis was great. Each student had a different headline. They had to do all the above in 5 minutes and they did it effectively.

As a plenary, students read out two things about the headline and two things about the picture. I modelled an approach to the question and made students experience the thought processes needed for the exam.

 Next lesson, I will be getting them to write a response the question, yet this text will be about a new article that they haven’t seen. Oh, and I will be writing a response at the same time.  

Feed me, Seymour! Feed me now. I am off to read some more textbooks from the 1970s.

Thanks for reading,



  1. I like how indepth you describe your process.

  2. Totally agree with your point about having a forum to share ideas, not resources or activities. Like you, I love planning and want to be inspired by an idea rather than find something simply to save me time.


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