Lessons on one word – Macbeth and ‘Hands’

Reading Time: 7 minutes At the beginning of the play, “Hands” is a word used to refer to Macbeth’s brutal – but legitimate – killing of the Thane of Cawdor who “‘ne’er shook hands” (1.1), symbolic of his lack of gentlemanly behaviour and loyalty in participating in rebellion – a theme of ‘hands’ throughout the play.

Developing context in the pre-1900 question – Rossetti and A Doll’s House

Reading Time: 5 minutes Sometimes my students probably think I’m either a sadistic, a bit loopy, or both. I LOVE this question from the OCR comparative pre-1900 paper: Endings are always, in some sense, artificial.’ In the light of this view, consider ways in which writers conclude their work. And the reason I love it is because it’s SO GOOD for teaching them how to address the balance of assessment objectives. It’s so easy with this question to ignore the fact that it’s 50% context. There’s an OCR blog that explores what context actually is in more detail, including some examples and this nifty …

Beauty and ugliness in Jekyll and Hyde

Reading Time: 7 minutes If it is a book of anything, Jekyll and Hyde is a book of appearance versus reality, and one of Stevenson’s key methods is to explore beauty, ugliness, and the Victorian belief that the soul is reflected on the outside. This isn’t just a Victorian belief, either: think of the sheer volume of characters whose inner beauty is reflected in their golden shiny hair, fit bodies, muscular physiques or tall statures. And think of the villains – often deformed or disabled, physically twisted to match their inner state. Think Shakespeare’s Richard III’s (fictional) hunchback, Chaucer’s pilgrims’ noses and chins. It’s …

An extract to whole text question – a quick guide

Reading Time: 2 minutes Introduction: What’s the writer’s message or purpose? End with a sentence linking the extract to the major theme of the question. E.g Through the character of Macbeth, Shakespeare explores the corrupting nature of power. In the extract, we see him at a crucial moment as he decides whether to be virtuous – or fulfil his ambition.  Paragraphs: 3-4 depending on time and length Use a writer – technique – theme/purpose structure to stay focused. E.g. Shakespeare uses the motif of seeing to represent the way Macbeth changes across the play. Or Shakespeare shows us Lady Macbeth’s thoughts to explore the way …

How to read a dystopian extract – what to look for

Reading Time: 3 minutes For a while now I’ve used the SCATI approach to dystopian wider reading, which I first read about here: https://jwpblog.com. Like most teaching approaches, I’ve evolved it a bit since then, and have also started to use it as a way to structure the GCSE question 4. As a revision exercise, I created a series of further points of ‘things to look for’ in dystopian fiction. Yes, it’s a checklist, but quite a large and varied one, or at least I think so. Given that close language analysis / writers’ methods is the dominant objective for this question, I think this kind …

What makes good writing? Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

Reading Time: 4 minutes In this series, I look at just a few sentences to get under the nuts and bolts of writing.

This post, it’s Frances Hardinge’s Skinful of Shadows*, which I’ve just finished.

When a creature dies, its spirit can go looking for somewhere to hide. Some people have space inside them, perfect for hiding. Makepeace, a courageous girl with a mysterious past, defends herself nightly from the ghosts which try to possess her. Then a dreadful event causes her to drop her guard for a moment. And now there’s a ghost inside her. The spirit is wild, brutish and strong, but it may be her only defence in a time of dark suspicion and fear. As the English Civil War erupts, Makepeace must decide which is worse: possession – or death.