Sunday, 21 May 2017

AQA Paper 1 Exam Hacks - focusing on effect

More exam hacks. This time I am looking at the language papers and paper 1.

I have written numerous sample answers, so I have sat scratching my head, working out what is needed. Until a cohort has sat a paper, I believe a lot of these ideas are experimental. So, take them with a ‘pinch of salt’. Some might be effective. Some might not be.  (That’s my disclaimer, folks)   

Two major structural hacks are for Question 2 / Question 3.

Question 2  


Paragraph 1: Analyse two words

Paragraph 2: Analyse two techniques

Paragraph 3: Analyse one thing about the use of sentences

Question 3

Paragraph 1: Explore narrative perspective by exploring the statement describing the text

Paragraph 2: Explore a structural change (mood /perspective) in the text

Paragraph 3: Explore the ending and how it links or contrasts to the start    

Paper 1: Reading Section Exam Hacks

1: Make sure you write one whole sentence in each point explaining the effect.

 We automatically sympathise and identify with him.

We as readers become clear about the cause of the noise.

2: Use one of these four things when talking about the effect.

Mood                    Atmosphere                      a sense of ….                      A feeling of

3: Mention the word ‘writer’ at least three times and the word ‘reader’ four times in questions 2, 3 and 4.

4: Use the royal ‘we’ (or ‘us’) when explaining when explaining the reader and the impact of the choices.

       We automatically sympathise and identify with him

       makes us trust his judgment even more.

       We’d be less likely to believe

       We as readers become clear

       We are in the same position as the start

5:  Think about what verb to use to describe the reader’s reaction

The reader sympathises / empathises / identifies / experiences   

6: The effect can also be a question.

What is behind the door?

What is making that noise?

Why is the narrator so interested in the letter?

7: Where does the writer position the reader? Is the writer trying to connect or repel the reader to events?

The writer puts the reader in the position of helpless (or active)  observer / confidant / participant / witness   

8:  What is the reader’s relationship with the character /narrator? Does the writer want you to like / dislike / hate the character? Or, does he want you to be suspicious?

The writer wants the reader to be suspicious about the man’s motives and so presents as a kind character who acts strangely.

9: Never forget power. The effect of a technique can often be linked to power. It can be used to make things seem inferior / superior or equal.

The violent verbs make the storm superior to the house and the people in it.

10: Readers have expectations too.

Readers will be expecting to see …

Readers expect ….

Readers will believe ….

11: Think about perspective and the effect of the perspective. Which perspective do you trust?  

       1st person – closer – understanding – relationship – connection

       3rd person – distant – mystery- revealing – helpless

Or tense:

Past – fixed – inevitable - predictable – helpless

Present – changeable – unpredictable- involved

12: Think about what is the normal way of presenting this kind of story.

Normally a writer would…

It is common for writers to…

Usually writers start by ….

A typical way to introduce a setting is to…  

13: The writer’s grand design! Address the idea that there is a masterplan under all the writing.

The writer intended … so

The writer designed it so ….

The writer planned for us to …. so  

The writer wanted the reader to …. so

14: If you are not convinced by the writer’s grand design, then say he/she is trying.

The writer is trying to make the reader curious about what is happening.

The writer is trying to make the reader sympathise with the narrator.

The writer is trying to make us feel like we are there.

15: Adverbs are your friends when writing question 4. They can go at the start or within a sentence.  

Typically, …. Realistically,…. Stereotypically, … Effectively, … Unusually, … Unrealistically, … Surprisingly, … Unsurprising, …

16: Explore alternative choices. If…, then….

If the narrator was a child, we’d be less likely to believe that there is something wrong going on.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Poetry Exam Hacks

I love quick simple hacks or cheats. The closer I get to the exam , the more I look for short simple strategies to get students to upscale their work. One such one is this one below.

The often get students to look at emotion / perspective / message as three separate entities. Students usually start sentences with - the reader feels / the poem's perspective is / the message of the poem is.
Getting students to think of three words, as revision,  for the poems helps them to be precise with their vocabulary. One word for emotion. One word for perspective. One word for the message.
It looks a bit like this:
Shelley’s sad, bleak and defeatist poem ‘Ozymandias’ attacks….

As a starting point, I gave students a quick list like this:

One word about the emotion – positive / angry / gentle / romantic / aggressive

One word about the perspective – distant / close / optimistic / pessimistic / male / female

One word about the message – anti-war / propaganda / biased / patriotic 

Obviously, there are many more words, but the combination is important.

More examples:
Blake's melancholy, distant, political poem 'London' challenges...
Tennyson's proud, public, propaganda 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' highlights....

Here are some more hacks. I am posting now, because of the time. There is no point saving it for the weekend, as time is running out.


15 Quick tips to improve your poetry analysis

1.       Use but or yet when explaining complex ideas.

The poem conveys how the experience is painful, yet important to the mother.

2.       Develop your interpretations by building up meaning with shows / suggests / symbolises.

The poem shows us a mother reflecting on a child going to war, which suggests how much this has had an impact on here. The poem symbolises the struggle families have in war.

3.       Use adverbs at the start of sentences – Literally…. Figuratively…. Symbolically….

Literally, the poem is about a mother’s loss. Symbolically, the poem is about how soldiers’ lives are ignored and taken for granted.
*Thanks to Caroline Spalding for this one.
4.       More adverbs – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritual, psychologically

Use these adverbs to help explain ideas in the poems.

‘Exposure’ explores how war affects people physically and mentally, but ‘Poppies’ focuses on how it affects people spiritually and psychologically.

5.       Lists are your friends. List emotions / techniques / ideas / phrases.

The poet challenges, explores and develop his fear, anger and frustration of war with lists and  rhetorical questions.

6.       Think about the verbs you use to describe what the poet is doing – challenges / reflects / embodies / attacks. The verb you use helps you explain how the poet is presenting his / her message.

The poet attacks the leaders of war – the poet is aggressive and angry

The poet reflects the loss a parent faces in war – the poet is calm

7.       Use adverbs to evaluate the poem – stereotypical / unusually / typically / realistically / unconventionally / surprisingly / convincingly / unconvincingly

8.       Combine techniques together – use ‘and’ and link word /techniques together

The poet uses lists and exaggeration to highlight how bad things were.

The poet uses the adjectives ‘small’ and ‘tiny’ to make the reader feel superior.

9.       Think about power. So use the words – inferior, superior, equal, inequality

My Last Duchess highlights male superiority and gender inequality in society.

10.   Put an adjective before a technical term 

The writer uses violent verbs and physical adjectives to ….

11.   Think about using one of these words to sum up the structure of the poem – a journey / a discovery / a realisation – then add some adverbs /adjectives 

The poem is a mental journey

The poem is an emotional realisation

12.    Use the phrase – it could also- to add another interpretation.

It could also be a study of the complexity of war.

13.   Use tentative statements – perhaps / maybe / possibly

Perhaps, the writer intends the reader to …

14.   Use lots of one word quotes

The writer uses ‘pain’ and ‘torture’ to highlight the endless ‘suffering’ experienced by the men.

15.   Show off with your emotions – avoid using simple emotions like happy, sad, angry. Use emotions like frustration, envy, dismay and many more.  

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Precision in writing – the Show Sentence  

This week I found a student standing outside one of the English classrooms. I asked my usual question: Why are you standing outside? The student, unfortunately for them, used the word ‘apparently’ in their response. I then proceeded to explain that one word ‘signified’ their guilt in the wrongdoing.  Most teachers know that ‘apparently’ used in story is often used to deflect blame and responsibility, by questioning the teacher. Apparently, I…..

The precise use of words is important and cannot be stressed to students enough, but that precision in writing can be quite hard. Recently,I have been using the Michaela ‘Show Sentence’. The principle is quite straightforward: you build a sentence by exploring synonyms and building it up in stages. See here for more details and examples. From a teaching point of view, I like it because it provides a great backbone to textual analysis.

The playwright unites alliteration, emotive language and a simile to underline the urgency of the matter.

The playwright blends anaphora, contrasts and an extended metaphor to suggest the complexity of the subject.

Now, the ‘Show Sentence’ has quite a lot of uses in the new GCSE. I have found it incredibly helpful in preparing students for Question 2, Paper 1 (AQA). Students have to identify a technique and comment on its effect. The show sentence is very helpful for working on this structure. But, it has been much more useful than that to me. There I was happily teaching the sentence and working with it when I came to the techniques and started thinking.  

The writer fuses the adjective ‘_______’  with the verb ‘_____’  to…

I then got students to think of adjectives to describe the adjective and the verb.

The writer fuses the unsettling adjective ‘_________’ with the violent verb ‘______’ to ….

This led to phrases like:

The playwright merges the subtly violent verb ‘drugg’d’…

The playwright combines the harsh verb ‘drugg’d’…

The playwright combines the insulting verb ‘mock’…

The playwright integrates the demanding verb ‘Hark’…

The playwright unites the unsettling noun ‘death’ and the peaceful noun ‘nature’…

What impressed me most with this, is that one little adjective, before the term, added so much meaning and precision to the analysis. Sometimes we are just happy for them to spot the technique. What if we made more of the type of technique used by the writer? We are forever looking at techniques and literary devices, but we don’t often explore 'the what' more. We are quick to move to the writer’s purpose and the reader’s feelings before we analyse the choice made.  

What kind of verb is used?

What kind of adjective is used?

What type of simile is used?

What type of contrast is used?

Students obsess on the identification and the translating of a device: the writer uses a smile of a cat to make us see he is sneaky. Students rarely classify the technique. In fact, in my experience, it is usually the most able students who do it and that is usually a natural thing.

Therefore, can we classify a simile?

The writer uses an animal simile

The writer uses an exaggerated simile

The writer uses an inappropriate simile

The writer uses a clichéd simile

The adjectives alone show a precise understanding of the simile used.

Animal – the content of the simile    

Exaggerated – effect of the simile

Inappropriate- effect of the simile

Clichéd - evaluating the choice of simile

One little word can add so much more meaning to the analysis. You don’t need the big guns of explores, suggests and implies to get to some meaningful and effective points of analysis.

Then there are the possible alternatives:

Animal / Landscape / Mechanical

Exaggerated / Subtle

Inappropriate / Relevant / Personal / Impersonal

Clichéd / Realistic / Powerful / Predictable / Unique / Unusual   

The great thing about this is that I didn’t spend ages making PowerPoints of loads of different words students could use; I simply tell students to put an adjective before the term. This is a list of words I got from my most recent lesson:

strong, deadly, soft, powerful, demanding, subtle, extreme, aggressive, indirect, violent, vague, possessive, unsettling, insulting, peaceful, harsh.

It will come as no surprise that the students were analysing the language of Lady Macbeth. One simple adjective can add so much more meaning to the analysis. The next stage would be to develop the adjectives and combine or link them creating longer noun phrases, but that’s probably another lesson.

So, when that student used that vague, tactical and predictable adverb ‘apparently’ they had little understanding of the significance it would have that week…apparently.  

Thanks for reading,