Saturday, 25 February 2017

AO2: Analysing Texts

Point... Evidence... Writing Analytical Responses

You might have been given a strategy for writing a paragraph in a reading response.

The popular one ten years ago was PEE:

Point - make a point that answers the question

Evidence - include a quote that proves your point

Explain - explain what the quote means in your own words and what it shows the reader

Unfortunately, this doesn't really cut it at GCSE now. There is a huge focus on demonstrating your understanding of how a writer uses language and structure in order to construct setting/theme/character/create influence on the reader. To explain is simply not enough.

My preferred method is PEAL:

Point - make a point that answers the question

Evidence - include a quote that proves your point

Analyse - analyse how the writer has used language and/or structure with terminology and the effects that this creates on the reader/audience

Link - clearly link your analysis back to the question that you are answering


Remember that everything your are reading is a construct: it is your job to pick these constructs apart, seeking out layers of meaning and looking carefully at how language and structure have been used to create effects in the writing. Never fall into the trap of writing about characters like they are real. Keep referring to the author to show the examiner you are crystal clear that this is a text and the writer has used devices to construct this person.

In your analysis, break down your quote and requote words and phrases to illustrate your analytical ideas. This gives your analysis depth.

You must use language and structure terminology: the exam criteria expects it and your examiner will be looking for it in your answers.  So, mention those verbs, adjectives, similes, lists, repetition, metaphors, etc.

Discuss your ideas using tentative language. Nothing is definite in literature, it is all personal interpretation. Write that something might mean, could imply, perhaps shows rather than stating that something DOES mean what you think. This also invites you to try and think of other ways that a text might be interpreted.


Explore how Wilfred Owen presents war in his poem, 'Dulce Et Decorum Est'.

Point: In Dulce Et Decorum Est, Owen shows the consequences of fighting in WW1.

Evidence: "Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,/ But limped on, blood-shod."

Explain: This suggests that the men felt exhausted as they marched and many no longer had boots. Some had bleeding feet. This implies to the audience that the conditions in the war were very harsh.

Okay? Not really.

Point: In Dulce Et Decorum Est, Owen shows the consequences of fighting in WW1.

Evidence: "Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,/ But limped on, blood-shod."

Analyse: Owen uses a metaphor, "men marched asleep", that could imply that the soldiers were exhausted; it might also suggest that their abilities were impaired. The enjambment on "boots/but limped on" extends the line, maybe reflecting that the journey was a difficult and arduous one. Owen's use of the verb "limped" has connotations of injury, the men seem to have been damaged by the war; this is further indicated by the adjective "blood" which creates a grim image of the reality of the war for the reader. This could also signify the bravery of the soldiers, that they continued in their duty in spite of the horrific conditions that they were subjected to.

Link: Overall, Owen is exposing the reality of war for his reader through his presentation of what the soldiers endured.


Tip: look for what you know. You might not know all of the features, but you should know some. If a quote uses a simile and you know it's a simile, say so! You are demonstrating that you understand the writer's/poet's techniques.

Google is your friend. If you feel unsure about key devices in poetry and prose, ask your teacher or, failing that, do some of your own research. There is a wealth of information available online. Take action!

Saturday, 11 February 2017

If you want my help, just ask.

If you would like me to write an article about something you feel you need help with in English, just leave me a comment or send me a message on Facebook.  My page:

Writing narrative: English Language Paper 1, Section B.

The two key exam boards that I work with, AQA and Eduqas, are slightly different in how they ask you to approach this task.

For Eduqas, you are given a choice of four titles, usually things like 'The Rescue' or 'Write about a time you got lost'.  You are expected to write a narrative in response.

For AQA, you are given a picture and a choice of two tasks, one is a descriptive task and one is a narrative.

You can't write a description for Eduqas.  You won't be rewarded on the mark scheme without narrative features.

Narrative writing does require some description, but this needs balancing out with plot and character development too.

When I teach about narrative, I ask my students to remember that they need to get a balance between action and description: the things happening and what it is like to be there.

Start by planning 3 or 4 points that your narrative will move through.  So, if I take the title: 'The Rescue', my plan will be:

  • trapped up a mountain
  • waiting to be rescued
  • friend falls
  • rescue comes

This will make the backbone of my story.  I know I need some description.  Now I've planned what I'm going to write about, I know that my description will be what it's like up the mountain.  

In order to write description effectively, I have to include language features.  I will need simile, metaphor, pathetic fallacy, interesting vocabulary, etc.  You should hopefully understand which features make effective writing to describe.  The very best feature to start with is sensory description as the senses definitely bring the scene to life for your reader.

Back to my plan.  I am going to plan my senses:

  • sights - rocky crags, snow, big drop, rushing waterfall below, green slopes far below
  • sounds - wind, waterfall
  • smells - cold burning nose?
  • taste - dry mouth from fear
  • touch - freezing cold


  • emotions - anxiety, hopelessness, terror

This is enough of a plan: key story movement and some sensory description to get me started.  

Things to remember when writing:

Keep dialogue to a minimum.  A story is told through description and action, not two people talking.  A short story isn't long enough for lots of discussion between characters.  

You are writing a snapshot, not a novel.  You don't need lots of back story about your characters, just go straight into what is happening.  It is sometimes good to include a little flashback to earlier in the day that gives more sense of who your character is, but it isn't essential.

Don't start with someone getting out of bed: go straight to the main action of your story.

Don't start with 'It was a sunny day'.

Avoid writing the word 'as' at the start of lots of sentences to get your story moving.

You need to use structure (paragraphs and sentences) for effect; you need a range of sentence structures; you need a variety of punctuation and you need to try to be accurate with your spelling.

The Rescue

Clinging to the cold rock behind me, I leaned forward and looked over the edge.  The drop was sheer, at least a thousand feet.  Enough to kill a man.  

I pressed myself back again.  My ankle was still throbbing from the pain.  David was next to me, crumpled on the ledge.  The wound on his head was bleeding hard and his eyes were closed.  Carl was sitting beyond him, his head resting back against the rock.  He appeared emotionless, but I knew it was the shock.  We'd never expected to end up here, waiting to be rescued.  

Hoping to be rescued.

The wild beauty of the place was no consolation as we huddled on that ledge, praying that someone below would have reported us missing.  I looked across the open green valley at the bottom of the mountain; it seemed peaceful below, warmer too.  Up here it was freezing cold.  I struggled to feel any sensation in my face as the wind stabbed at my skin.  A waterfall, a couple of hundred feet below, crashed down the craggy mountainside, a constant reminder that the only way was down.

We couldn't leave David with his injury and we couldn't carry him.  The path was too sheer and the risk of falling was too high.  The only option was to wait.

It had been a few hours.  The sun was gradually lowering in the sky, taking the temperature down with it.  I could feel my teeth chattering.

'Enough of this.  We have to move!"  Carl's voice was a sudden shock in the growing darkness.  Insistent.  A little mad.

"No, Carl.  We can't."  I tried to reason with him, but he was on his feet, pulling at David's arm, trying to get him to move.

David moaned.

"Leave him!"  I stood, ready to intervene, to stop him, but it was too late.

In his frenzy, Carl stood back.  His foot went back, off the edge.  

It seemed to happen in slow motion.  

He froze.  He frantically waved his arms, trying to get his balance.  I reached out to him, but he tipped backwards and was gone.

"Carl!"  I screamed his name into the black abyss below.

I felt entirely helpless.  Carl was dead.  David was dying at my side.  They were novice climbers.  They'd relied on me to keep them safe and I failed them both.  I would probably die here too.

Then a light appeared, coming from the distance, like a beacon of hope.  It moved towards us accompanied by the thrum of propellers.  

Mountain rescue!

I pulled my torch from my pack and lit it, waving it in a circle above my head.  David made a sound beneath me.  His eyes were open, a smile spreading across his face.

We were saved.

This is 463 words.  You are advised to do 450-600.

Have a close look at how I've used structure and the features I've included.

Friday, 3 February 2017

English Language Paper 2, Section B: Writing Non-Fiction Tips

Tip: Read Some!

Excellent examples of argument writing can be found in newspapers. If you search papers such as The Independent and The Guardian online, you will find that they have 'Opinion' sections. The Times is brilliant too, but you have to subscribe to access it.

Start to read a variety of these. Think about the key points the writer is making on their chosen topic (summarise what they are saying). Look for language devices that the writer has used to argue their points: can you see any rhetorical questions? Rule of three? Second person address? Consider how they have structured their writing: can you pick out any short sentences or paragraphs that impact on the reader?

The more you read good writing, the better writer you will become yourself. Remember, GCSE English exams will have a non-fiction element. They will expect you to both read and write non-fiction. Therefore, getting into the habit of reading some good quality non-fiction in your own time will put you at an advantage.

Tip: English is about skills, not truth

This statement applies specifically to the non-fiction writing section! I'm not encouraging you to embrace lies and deceit.

Your examiner is expecting to see that you understand how to create and support an effective piece of non-fiction writing.

You will face a question that asks you to tackle something random, like 'Write a letter to your local council arguing that more should be done to tackle rubbish in your area."

You are not expected to know lots about the issue or have plenty of facts about it to hand. You need to MAKE IT UP.

First, plan your points. You will need to come up with about 4-5 points about the issue that will create the structural backbone of your piece of writing.

1. The area looks untidy and ugly.

2. The amount of rubbish is dangerous for children.

3. Residents should be encouraged to recycle.

4. Rubbish harms wildlife.

5. A cleaner local area would attract more people to visit.

Each of my points will become a topic sentence that will then be padded out into a paragraph by my entirely made up supporting evidence. This bit is where you get your features in.

Great language features for arguing:

Rhetorical Questions


Imperative Verbs

Second Person Address

Emotive Language

Rule of Three

Expert Opinions

Public Opinions

Facts and Statistics

Counter Argument

These are just some of the key features that you can include in your writing.

I like this bit. Don't get too silly with it, but have some fun creating your evidence. Do this as you are writing; you won't have time to plan all your features in an exam.

Example of Point 4:

Furthermore, the amount of rubbish in our local area is very harmful for wildlife. Dr Ray Smith from the University of London said, "The population of song birds in this country has fallen by 45% in the last five years. Our studies indicate that this is because they are ingesting rubbish, such as cigarette ends, from our pavements." The results of his research clearly indicate the toxic effects of waste on our birds. Surely these distressing figures will prompt you to take action on reducing the waste dumped on the streets in our community?

Dr Ray and his study are entirely made up. I am trying to prove my point that rubbish harms the local wildlife and I am showing the examiner that I know expert opinions, statistics, emotive language, second person address and rhetorical questions are all devices that help me to argue. I will get ticks for making my writing appropriate to the purpose and audience and for using language devices.

Tip: Start with a scenario

I think a really effective way into an argument, or any non-fiction piece, is to get the reader to imagine a situation that is linked to the topic.

Imagine streets covered in waste. Imagine the stink of refuse as it is warmed by the sun. Imagine the fear you would feel encountering large rats, drawn to our community by the extensive availability of discarded food. If the rubbish in our area is not dealt with soon, this is the situation that all local people will be facing.

You, as our council, need to take action on the refuse!


Thursday, 2 February 2017

The Need for Speed

You need to get fast.

Unless your usual way of working in class is on a computer, you are going to have to write in your exams. Not only that, you will need to be able to write quickly.

This is a very useful skill to develop, especially if you plan to continue to college.

How can you do this?

1. Practise

Ask your teacher for sample questions. Time yourself when you answer them. Do this regularly.

Find other opportunities to write: keep a diary, write letters to people, write a short story. The more you write, the quicker you will get.

Don't worry too much about being neat, just make sure it is legible. The examiner needs to be able to read your ideas otherwise it is a waste of time.

Join up your writing; some students print. This is a slow way of doing it.

2. Plan

Always plan. It is amazing how many times I will tell a class about the genius of planning and they just ignore it and go straight into writing, then wonder why their work lacks structure and coherence. Planning also helps you to make sure you've picked the best task for you, rather than getting part way through your writing and deciding you've chosen to do the wrong thing.

Planning organises your points and helps you to clear up any mental clutter so that when you start writing, you are entirely focused on the question.

Ultimately, any long answer in English revolves around making key points, whether you are doing a reading or writing task. The points become your outline/structure and then you pad each paragraph with either your quotes and analysis (reading) or your reasons and supporting evidence (non fiction writing). Planning these points takes five minutes at the start of your question that could save you a huge amount of pain as it avoids running out of ideas part way through or repeating yourself.

3. Check your grip and make sure you are using the best pen for you

Many people experience discomfort when writing. I know that I get tense when marking and this can hurt my hand, arm and shoulder. Also, I see lots of students trying to write with an old, chewed up biro or asking to borrow a pen because they don't bother to bring one with them. Using a pen that is right for you can make a huge difference to your writing. There are so many on the market now that have been carefully designed to make writing easier.

Try out different pens and find one that feels comfortable to hold and that you don't need to grip too hard. This is really worth a bit of investment as physical pain can make writing in your exams much harder than it needs to be. Remember to buy black ink. 

Try not to press too hard. Joining up helps to make your writing flow better and prevents too much pressure.

Have breaks: stretch and wiggle your fingers. Try rotating your hands at the wrist, both ways.

Once you have picked a brand of pen that suits you, stick with it so you are really used to writing with your pen before you sit your exams. Make sure you buy spares! 

Always resist the urge to write in pencil, even if it is more comfortable. You are not allowed to write in pencil for your exams. Get used to using your pen.