In fact, looking at power in question 2 and question 3 is very important, I feel, to getting students to engage with a text. I thank a colleague for putting this idea into my head. If students look at the power situation in a picture, for example, they then understand the complex symbolism of a picture.
Are the people / objects in the picture looking superior or inferior? Or simply put: strong or weak?
Looking at this picture from the Daily Mail website today. You can see that the drug mules are looking weak. They have their head down and their hands behind their backs. They look weak. As readers, we feel superior. They did something bad and we feel that they are being punished. Furthermore, they look sorry for what they have done. We might feel a bit of sympathy for them, but that is because they are presented as weak. Or, we might also feel sorry for them because ‘the mean people’ in another country have been mean to these two women.
Therefore, when looking at pictures, I think it is very helpful if students think of the power in the picture.
Does the reader feel superior? Do they feel better than the things in the picture?
Does the reader feel inferior? Do they feel helpless in comparison to the things in the picture?
If you look at recent exam papers, you can easily apply this. The teenager eating a burger with her eyes closed is ‘dripping’ with power.
1: The teenager holds the power as they are holding the burger.
2: The teenager has her eyes closed suggesting that she isn’t making choices based on sight.
3: The teenage years is when people start having more power in a family.
4: The reader is helpless as they (presumably the parents) cannot control the child.
5: The reader is helpless as they probably know only one teenager and so cannot do anything about the other teenagers affected by this phenomenon.
6: The reader is helpless as the teenager doesn’t want to listen to them – their eyes are closed.
I have found that as soon as you introduce power, or even the words superior and inferior, students make more meaningful comments than before. When we explore symbolism of a picture, it is so difficult to pinpoint the exact intended symbolism of a picture. Looking for symbols of power highlights the relationship between the reader and the writer.
Make your reader feel superior and they feel righteous, angry, smug and happy.
Make your reader feel inferior and they feel worried, scared and sad.
This also applies, handily, to question 3. The question about what the writer thinks and feels in a piece of travel writing. Again, ascertaining where the writer, this time, feels superior or inferior helps students to understand what is really going on. Students can fire off emotions like a machine gun fires bullets, but it is the interpretation of these emotions that gets the marks. Add power and you start interpreting. The writer feels inferior because everyone is an expert and he isn’t. Therefore, he feels embarrassed and stupid.
In fact, tracking the power in the situation helps students understand the text better. When does the writer feel inferior? When does the writer feel superior? When does the writer change from being inferior to being superior? [Now, don’t go asking those questions, as you read this blog.]
Thanks for reading,
P.S. If like me you are struggling for articles to use for practice past papers, then the following might help.
Questions 1: BBC News webpage / Guardian webpage
Question 2: Daily Mail webpage
Question 3: Travel blogs
I tell students to look at these daily for practising the skills needed for the paper.