Appropriation of Language in dystopian fiction

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

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

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

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 …

5 tips for the week before the Hamlet/Rossetti exam (OCR)

There’s no doubt about it – revising can be stressful. But there’s some crucial things to do in the week before the exam. School-run revision sessions can be helpful but think: why are you really going? Many students turn up to mine for reassurance – nice to have, but not the best use of their time. If there’s a question you really need answering, is it possible to get an email or message without adding the journey time? think about how you’re spending your time at this crucial stage. Here’s my suggestions for a top revision week: Monday: Re-read your past essays. …

Revising poetry collections: comparison

I always prefer to have ideas-based comparisons for my analytical work. Trying to get a very features-driven comparison only, in my experience, leads to muddled answers. Either you’re trying to force a comparison and identify a technique that’s not really of any use, or you end up trying to say more about it than you actually can.  It’s far, far more effective to have a comparison based on what the writer is trying to do. So when it comes to poetry revision for GCSE and A-Level, isolating some lines and really focusing on the ideas behind them is what we’e …