Preparing for close analysis at KS5

A video to discuss approaches to close analysis for the New OCR A level:

A link to the department you tube channel: video


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Setting at IGCSE: MAAN and TKAM


A screencast to look at the approach to an essay about setting at IGCSE

The youtube link to the department channel:

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Writing a character essay at KS4

This post considers a technique for writing about character at KS4 for IGCSE or GCSE.  It takes a straightforward question: “How is the character of ….. represented?” and applies a 10 minute plan to produce an essay.

The video screencast is on the department YouTube channel here

The powerpoint I will use to teach this in class is here:

character 10 min plan

I hope it is useful.  The focus is on Benedick in MAAN but the technique is widely applicable.


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Loyalty in Lear: notes and jottings

Following a discussion this morning, I have some bullet points to provoke discussion as the exams approach.

  • The theme of loyalty requires some identification of the message that Shakespeare might have been trying to get across rather than a list of loyal and disloyal characters or moments.  Context is useful here when one considers the quantity of shifts in loyalty required of the populace in the 16 and 17th centuries, from the fall of Richard 2 onwards and all documented by Shakespeare.  In recent time the loyalty of all to their God was challenged whether by Marian or Elisabethan puritanism and all would have been used to identifying these two strands of personal loyalty.
  • The play can be said to work on family/royal and cosmic levels.You might wish to explore the different levels with regards to loyalty.
  • Most “loyal” characters come to a bad end and there seems to be little to distinguish the loyal from the disloyal in terms of outcome.  Why might this be?  Does it link to the idea of speaking what one ought to say?  If loyalty is forced upon the subject, then their feelings and freedoms are denied by the very act of loyalty which is required.
  • Considering Act 1, the ambivalence is clear.  Which of the sisters is the most loyal?  I would argue certainly not “good” Cordelia who lets her King and father down at a public display of loyalty.  She is not lying,unlike her sisters, but this is a flagrant act of disloyalty in public at both family and royal levels.  Her subsequent banishment will allow her to reveal her deep loyalty in the inverted world which follows, yet she returns at the head of an army, loyal to Lear, which is in turn defeated.  It seems there is scant reward for loyalty.
  • Gloucester’s loyalty to Lear is similarly destructive.  His allegiance should have shifted once the abdication had taken place.  It did not transfer to Cornwall and his doom is sealed.  Again,.misplaced loyalty is punished.
  • The sisters show little loyalty to their father after Act 1.1, being left on stage in that scene to discuss how best to respond to the perceived threat of Lear/father.  Yet they also suffer within this framework.  Disloyal to their husbands, they pursue Edmund and die in a poison-fest of their own creation.
  • Edmund: why should he be loyal to anyone other than himself? Banished by his father  for 9 years and due to removed again, Edmund shows loyalty only to himself and is the mater of his own success and downfall.  His loyalty towards the new regime is amply rewarded, though based on a totally amoral world view.  His death in the duel seems like divine retribution, yet what code has he broken?  he is loyal to the rightful King once Lear has abdicated and owes no filial allegiance to his father.
  • This leaves Kent and Edgar as examples of loyalty.  Both show unbroken loyalty to their “master/father” and both suffer for it.  Yet both have the chance of survival.  Edgar may well become the ruler of the kingdom, but Kent chooses suicide and the continuation of loyalty beyond the grave.  What message is there here?  Should one be prepared to die rather than to change one’s allegiance?

Maybe the point is that in the utterly fractured 17th Century with a Kingdom riven with religious intolerance and now ruled by a foreign King to whom the English Lords must swear allegiance and who might be considering the division of the Kingdom himself, Shakespeare is musing on the purpose and significance of loyalty.  Only Kent seems genuinely loyal to the end.  Edgar’s final words might be used to suggest that “what we feel” could usher in an era devoid of blind loyalty and acceptance of the status quo.  It is clear that in this world, loyalty confers no favours over and above the disloyal.  A King, therefore, cannot expect and obtain loyalty simply because of his position-  the subjects get nothing from this.  Also if a King breaks the bond of loyalty to his subjects, he can expect no loyalty in return.

It’s all a little strange!


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Setting in TKAM and MAAN

A short revision lesson on the two set texts for the Year 10 exams later this summer.

setting in TKAM

other setting links can be found here:

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Close Reading

This Powerpoint can also be found in my post on teaching close reading to Year 12/13 as part of the New OCR Literature syllabus.

A powerpoint, using the ideas from Doug Lemov’s Reading Reconsidered for teaching close reading.  (Source text:  Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth).

close reading ideas

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Close analysis coursework at A level: New OCR

close reading ideas with direct reference to Reading Reconsidered by Doug Lemov et al.

I have never got on with recreative tasks – probably my fault, but there it is….  I am about to prepare year 12 for their close analysis/recreative coursework element as part of the new OCR A level in English Literature.

Students will be be focused on Jerusalem (Butterworth) for this task.  This post gives some ideas for approach to the tasks as well as the OCR materials relevant to this study.

It is clear that 3 or 4 pages are needed and I wanted to tie in with straightforward questions regarding either Writer’s craft per se, or characterization in this task.  The final choice of passages and questions should be made by the students themselves, but my current thinking identifies good sections as follows:

Act 1: pp5-9 (top): the prologue and opening

Act 2: pp47-51 (top) opening of the act to “departure of Lee”

Act 2: pp78-82 Johnny/Troy confrontation

Act 3: pp100-104 Phaedra and Johnny

Act 3: pp106-109 Marky/Johnny/conclusion.

There are many more…

Questions will take the following form:

How does Butterworth use language to create and develop character?

How do the dramatic methods used by Butterworth shape the ending of the play?

How do the dramatic methods used by Butterworth create an effective opening to the play?

Students will be reminded of the word limit:  3000 across 2 pieces of work, requiring this piece to hit as near as possible 1000 words.  The structure is necessarily tight:  a short opening to place the extract in context and to focus the thesis. Then close critical analysis of the extract with clear regard to the fact that only AO1 and AO2 are assessed in this piece of work.

OCR have published the following document to assist teachers:







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2 lessons: planning round table

Sound files of two lessons with year 11 discussing aspects of TKAM and MAAN.

courage in MAAN, suffering in TKAM, Boo Radley, friendship in MAAN…


A few boys missed these lessons and these are for them to catch up from as study leave begins… help yourselves and feel free to use the reply thread to begin a conversation.

Lesson 1:

Lesson 2: 

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Suffering: a theme in TKAM

A response to the 2016 January Edexcel IGCSE exam.  NOT a model essay: Find your own quotations – I have tried to point out the way!

Suffering covers a wide range of ideas and I would begin here by identifying my key thought areas:

  • Suffering due to abject poverty
  • Suffering due to prejudice
  • Physical suffering
  • Mental suffering

Once this is done, we can look more closely at each area.

Poverty drives this novel from the very opening and the firsr few chapters, focused on early school days are a good source for this.  Another area I would use is the description of the Ewell home which is found during the trial in chapter 18.  The depression has hit the South hard as it was struggling to cope with the after-effects of the civil war.  Southerners took great pride in their heritage , but even now the energy is running out – “Maycomb … was a tired old town”.  The description of the town – the courthouse with the roof which “sagged” and the dirt street which turn to thick mud suggest a town on its last legs.  even the mules are”bony”.  At school the poverty is thrown into sharp contrast with Miss Caroline’s dress (which represents the Stripes of the Stars and Stripes – then still seen as the flag of the North).  Individuals are singled out for attention – Walter with no food but the pride and dignity to refuse the loan to buy some since he can’t repay it.  There is nothing without suffering in a society in which food is used as payment for actions – however picturesque or heartwarming it might be.  This is a world in which poverty has removed dignity from so many and created alarming levels of suffering which the young Scout does not really see.  The Cunninghams are dignified in their suffering.  The Ewells are not.  Burris hurls abuse at his “slut” of a teacher and leaves school on day 1 each year – presumably to do nothing since the description of the home does not suggest a need to help on the family farm.   The Ewell household is suffering at the very bottom of society and seemingly is incapable or unwilling to do anything about it.

Their home by the dump has no running water, no panes in the windows and a general air of poverty that would rival that seen by Mrs Merryweather’s beloved Mrunas. Bob is in receipt of financial help from the state but chooses to drink it all away and leaves the care of the children to Mayella.  She is helpless – she tries to make the place more beautiful with geraniums, but is helpless.  The food is scavenged and the atmosphere threatening.  Poverty has reduced this family to a level of suffering which is painful to behold.  Sadly, the theme of racist bigotry is so strong in this house that we do not see the suffering as clearly as we should – it does not excuse any of the actions of Mayella, but it explains why she longs for the company of Tom, even if her moral compass is rendered non-existant by the threats and abuse of her father. We should notice that the suffering caused by her father with its implied sexual abuse causes her to behave as she does and any suffering she feels as she lies on the witness stand derives neatly from this same source. This suffering shows neatly the hypocrisy rife in the town, where even Atticus can refer to the Ewells as white trash and all suggest that they occupy a lower social level than the Blacks.  In that society, suffering is all too clear, but it is interesting to note that one of the purposes of the scene in the church is to highlight a community pulling together to help each other out of the suffering caused by poverty and bigotry.

Such prejudicial suffering must be highlighted by the treatment of Tom.  He and his family suffer for racist prejudice.  It is clear he is innocent of the crime, yet he is convicted.  Atticus knows this is to be the case and all with an understanding of the racial attitudes of the deep South know it too.  As a first person narrator, Scout cannot know what took place in the jail prior to his escape bid (if such it was), and this is not touched upon.  We assume that there was no let up there.  His family suffer the grief of his death and the continued harassment of Bob “chunking” on Helen. Link Deas performs a small act of Heroism to save her from this suffering, but no amount of slightly description of the black homes with their “pale smoke rising from the chimneys and doorways glowing amber from the fires inside” and the “delicious smells” coming from them can hide the level of suffering of this community – ignored by the town women who fret about the Mrunas while allowing such abject conditions to exist within their own town.

Physical suffering is used, as much else in this text, as an educative process for the children and is best shown through Mrs Dubose.  Her suffering -in a sense futile since it will not alleviate death – is used to teach Jem true courage.  The description of her home and her physical features -a beautifully written Gothic interlude- show her as a grotesque and terrifying old woman – “the corners of her mouth glistened with wet, which inched like a glacier down the deep grooves enclosing her chin” – but one in much pain from her attempt to clean her body prior to death.  Again, Scout is such an unreliable narrator that the reader is fixed on her cruelty and her unkind mouth, rather than on her suffering.  Once the section is complete, the reader learns, along with the children, what this was about.  “Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand”, says Atticus, “it’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway”.  The suffering of Mrs Dubose is an apt illustration of this and concludes part one of the book.  The same message will be stressed in part two through the medium of Tom’s trial.

My final section might consider the mental torment suffered by Boo and you can look at another post to flesh out ideas for this: Hey Boo!


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Thoughts: Hey, Boo!

A few thoughts about the presentation of Boo Radley as a result of an email from an absent student….

How is Boo Radley presented?

1: Establish appearance and reality.  IN a novel where so much is recounted through the eyes of a highly subjective and unreliable narrator, it is important to separate the known unknowns from the unknown knowns and the known knowns…

What are we told that may not be true – the known unknowns

  • Boo is a wild man chained to a bed eating squirrels – all a figment of Jem’s overactive Gothic imagination.  A diet of ghost stories has left Jem with ample time to develop his imaginary world.
  • This is casually referred to inChapter 4 with Walter who adds his own little piece of gossip – the “pizened” pecans
  • The story of the stabbing and subsequent incarceration as told by Stephanie Crawford is another unsubstantiated slur.  As a result of some unexplained misdeed it is possible that  Boo was locked in the basement of the jail for an indeterminate time   – enough to thoroughly frighten a sensitive character and to make it increasingly likely that they would wish to stay indoors….
  • He becomes the central figure of all the children’s games, with Dill particularly intrigued by him.  He is central to the cliffhanger which ends chapter 4 when “someone inside was laughing” following Scout’s arrival inside the tyre.  This is meant to be chilling.

So if the children and Miss Stephanie create an image of Boo to chill the blood, what are the unknown knowns and the known knowns?

  • Boo was in trouble as a youth and was not sent away to the industrial and so missed out on the “best secondary education in the state”.  The trouble owed more to being a teenager than being a criminal but broke some of the unwritten “codes of society”.
  • His father seems cruel and unthinking in relation to his treatment of Boo.
  • Nobody has seen him for many years, yet Atticus seems utterly unfazed at the end of the novel- possibly he is not too much of a stranger after all to the older generation.
  • When the children break into the Radley garden it is Boo’s hand which mends the jeans sewed up “all crooked”.
  • It must be Boo who provides Scout with a blanket during the fire
  • It must be Boo who provides the gifts in the knot hole, and Mr Radley fills it to spite him, not the children.
  • Boo saves the children’s lives and richly deserves Atticus’ thanks
  • He is subject to discrimination in all the tales told by the likes of Miss Stephanie and allows Atticus to show his innate fairness.

So much, so good…

Boo is very much a key part of the action in the early part of the novel – when the children are at their most impressionable, and reemerges at the end, though he is not part  of the plot around the trial and the injustice given to Tom Robinson.  This seems right because he lies completely outside society and has a different function. He is a victim of prejudice, just a certainly as Tom, but not because of colour, rather due to the hypocritical actions of the gossips around town who stringently enforce their “codes” – the ones that Mayella will break, and do not tolerate variance from the norm.  He has paid the penalty for breaking societies codes, but this has not made him into a bad person.  Everything he does is to benefit society – in the form of what Lee refers to as “his children” when she finally gets to stand on his porch in the wonderful coda of the book when the narrative slips into an omniscient third person description of the story from Boo’s perspective.

Despite the initial appearances drawn up by Jem and the others, he is a figure of good – a real “mockingbird” untouched by the hypocrisies of “polite” society.  He is fearless in defence of right and lives to care for the children.  Whether it is stretching things to see him as a second Atticus as a result of this, I am not sure, but thought his actions and motives are different, he certainly embodies many of Atticus’ most pungent character traits:

It is a sin to  kill a mockingbird.  It is also wrong, as Jem points out to torture a defenceless bug.  Boo is both of these things. A real force for good who goes unobserved at the centre of society without being part of society.  His taunting by the children may well have been cruel, as Atticus points out, but it helped him to develop a relationship with the children which would ultimately save their lives.  Boo flits ghost- like through the book and his final description as he stands in the bedroom: “his face was as white as his hands…is grey eyes were so colourless, I thought he was blind…His hair was dead an thin… feathery on top of his head” is a far cry from Jem’s image of blooodstained hands and other savagery.  It is fitting that Scout walks him home – he does not seem to be of the same world as the rest of the characters of the book.  Indeed, the book that Atticus reads Scout at the end of the novel could be his autobiography – The Grey Ghost.

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