Identity and belonging: the importance of names in The Handmaid’s Tale

Reading Time: 10 minutes   If you’re studying this text for A-Level, you can pretty much write about the significance of names for any topic – gender, class, rebellion, politics, personal identity, relationships – even the use of humour can get a good paragraph on the politics of naming. Names are one of the main ways we signify our identities to other. In The Handmaid’s Tale, like so much other dystopian fiction, characters lose, change or adapt their names as they’re subjugated to the will of others or trying to represent themselves in different ways. Places are renamed too, to fit the new regime …

Compare how poets present romantic relationships in ‘Love’s Philosophy’ and ‘Sonnet 29’

Reading Time: 5 minutes   Percy Shelley uses traditionally Romantic natural imagery to conjure an impression of a world coupled up, blissful in its togetherness, with the final persuasive implication that, therefore, the listener should also want to be a part of this happy pairing. Barrett-Browning’s poem is less happy, more questioning of her lover and determined to convince them that she is always thinking of them, as though answering an unheard accusation of forgetfulness. Shelley’s natural imagery creates a progressive sense of coming together. Verbs like “mingle”, “mix”, “kiss” and “clasp” are all sweet, gentle, even elegant, creating an impression of a caring …

Appropriation of Language in dystopian fiction

Reading Time: 8 minutes As an English teacher – and student, still, I think! – I love novels that engage with the idea of language itself. For me, literature’s how we enter and understand the world, and dystopian novels often bring that to the forefront. They explore communication, memory, story-telling, and the way that language works to soothe, manipulate, warn, and memorialise. In particular, I’ve been studying The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984 with A-Level students, and both novels have some interesting discussions about language’s role in our society. World-building Setting a novel in the future, as many speculative fictions do, language is a good …

Ten tips for A-Level Literature students

Reading Time: 7 minutes Read the set texts Ok, so this is THE most obvious statement. But it’s also the absolutely most important thing. First time through, read it quickly. If it’s a novel, try to get it read in a week or so. Read it as a reader. Then, when you’ve finished, write a quick response to it. Don’t worry about being academic here, but think about what you remember about it, your first impressions on finishing, the characters and ideas of it. Read all the set texts. Get the list in advance and read all of them – a large part of …

Why colour matters: symbolism in literature

Reading Time: 5 minutes Towards the end of the summer term, I was teaching a lesson on “Your Shoes”, leading to monologue writing – it’s a nice one, usually provokes interest and some creative responses. But this time, one girl in particular was very frustrated by the shoe imagery and ended up exclaiming “how am I supposed to know that white means innocence?” It got me thinking about the use of literary symbols – what I’ve started thinking of as a literary shorthand – and the way that I often take for granted that students will see some of them. Not all, of course, …

Planning to teach a poetry cluster: Christina Rossetti

Reading Time: 3 minutes When we’ve been teaching Rossetti this year, we’ve been preparing for the AS-level. We’re not doing that next year (switching to linear now every other spec has caught up and reformed!) but I think it’ll probably take a similar approach: Identify the poems that work well together in comparison and teach them alongside one another (in the new Y12, teaching them at key moments in their comparison text) Each ‘mini-unit’ of poems ends with a written assessment in timed conditions, in the class room. In a single lesson, I use a question/answer format, which usually guides students through a discussion …