Category Archives: exam techniques

Setting in Veronica: Adewale Maja-Pierce

A short powerpoint to engage specifically in setting in this short story from Part 2 of the IGCSE anthology for Edexcel.


and my original ppt from 2012…


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Filed under EDEXCEL CERTIFICATE, EDEXCEL IGCSE, Edexcel IGCSE from 2016, exam techniques, prose, Uncategorized

Macbeth – beginning to write using PEARL

As with the war lit post earlier today – I know there are many ways of doing this.  My current group need some guidelines…:  pearling-macbeth

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Year 9 PEE to PEARL: War Lit

There is much discussion on Twitter about the best way to teach students to analyse.  The mighty @FKRitson is currently collating many ideas form a range of schools and i have sent my ha’p’orth on PEARL.  I know that instilling too rigid a structure can create rather mechanical responses, but I like this one – it works and the students can learn to move away from it over the next 3 years, as their confidence grows.


We are looking at a War Poetry selection.  This is to support their first writing.


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Filed under EDEXCEL CERTIFICATE, EDEXCEL IGCSE, Edexcel IGCSE from 2016, exam techniques, poetry, Uncategorized

Using a visual stimulus for creative writing

I got this material after attending a session at NATE 2016. The original can be found on the brilliant Manchester art Gallery web site. The teaching notes are here: Teachersnote

My attempt to derive a teaching resource – you will need big paper and pens and can dip in rather than use this as a coherent lesson model:

writing from image

I hope I have done this justice…

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Filed under EDEXCEL IGCSE, exam techniques, GCSE support, writing skills

Screencast: Approaching a short writing task

A screencast to assist students studying Edexcel IGCSE with the short (20 minute) writing task.  Applicable to all and linked to material found here: short task blog post

The screencast is to be found on the department You Tube 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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Edexcel IGCSE new specification (from 2016)

Try as I might, I simply cannot find teaching room for the new Spec IGCSE in English Language and English Literature within yrs 10 & 11. I take it as read that my students will read the whole of the texts designated as coursework, as though they were engaged in the examinations. With this in mind, the addition of an extra play in the drama section really does mean a year 9 start. And so it is that I am engaged with Of Mice and Men, not as a class reader but as a future exam text. This is tricky given that the whole thing is still in draft form. Still, what ho!

Welcome back to IGCSE – the area that still offers OMAM and TKAM, should you wish to teach them!

So what else does the new Spec have to offer those of us still teaching it?


Paper 1 is still focused around the anthology, but there are significant changes for the better. The current paper is worth 70% of the whole and the time spent teaching Anthology A is rewarded with a short analysis question worth a mere 10 marks and taking around 20 minutes to complete. Hardly value for the teaching-time. In the new paper there are sensible alterations: the weighting is now 60% and the Anthology is now central to the paper, being paired with an unseen non-fiction passage for close analysis and comparative writing. That’s more like it! And it gets better: the passages no longer look like a dog’s breakfast of colourful leaflets and Geography text books. What’s more, there are speeches – a TED Talk no less. This might be fun! The unseen ensures that skills are taught and the longer focus on the passage rewards diligent study and teaching properly. The rest of the paper is now designated as Transactional writing, with hopefully a clearer focus on the transactional nature of the writing, currently a little vague. It is also good to see a choice of question. For too long Creative writing in exams has been anything but. This seems to me to be a step in the right direction, which is continued into Paper 2. The two sections carry the same mark, making the Transactional writing a significant contribution to the whole: 30% of the oIGCSE mark on 1 question.The marking introduces a new AO, imaginatively called AO5 which can assess the quality of SPAG up to 12/30. Much clearer than the current allowance of “one third of the marks”

In paper 2, students are tested on the poetry/short story section of the anthology and more writing. I still find the poetry/short story idea rather clumsy and wonder what 3 of the 5 current stories did to deserve being thrown out! It is hard to complain about Tony Harrison (The bright lights of Sarajevo) and Maya Angelou (Still I rise) being included, though I wonder how many students will have already prepared the Susan Hill- maybe that’s the point. It still seems clumsy though, and I will offer the classes the exam rather than the coursework, if only to ensure broad coverage of the booklet. With no means of testing which passages have been read, the coursework option really does seem to dumb down the process of study in this paper.
The Creative section (Imaginative) is vastly improved. Not only a choice of three questions, but a picture stimulus too. The paper is now worth 40% of the whole – value for learning!

I do not understand the logic of removing Speaking and Listening from the IGCSE and the bolt on Presentation assessment seems useful, but carries no weight in terms of results. We now need to record a sample and ensure records are kept relating to that sample – 30 students form the cohort, with 10 each of pass, merit and distinction submitted. It all adds to the admin and to the time these things take.

Language Draft specification: International_GCSE_English_Language_A_draft_specification

Language Draft Sample assessment materials: International_GCSE_English_Language_A_draft_SAM

Language and Literature Draft Anthology: International_GCSE_Anthology_English_Language_A_and_English_Literature

English Literature:

Paper 1: Here things change. The 16 poems of anthology C, which always seemed to be a good advertisement for coursework, though “The Beast” – the 6 poem coursework task was ever unwieldly and complex, has now become the centre piece of paper 1 and cannot be relegated to coursework. Good. Not only that, but the poems will need to read as vehicles for comparison and there is a question based on an unseen poem. This is harder, yes, but so much more satisfactory if we wish students to become scholars of the genre, rather than the anthology group.
The paper links poetry with modern prose. OMAM is there, as is TKAM – I will opt for OMAM because it is short, yes, and needs to be taught in year 9 to begin with. But I will opt for OMAM because it is such a good text at this level. I have blogged about it often for this reason ( OMAM posts ) and still love teaching a text which so engages the hearts and minds of teenagers. The other texts are:
To Kill a Mockingbird: Harper Lee
Of Mice and Men”: John Steinbeck
The Whale Rider: Witi Ihimaera
The Joy Luck Club: Amy Tan and
Things Fall Apart: Chinua Achebe

In Paper 2 we have a choice between exam and coursework. Here I may well opt for the latter: I do think that the skills learned in terms of drafting and editing work are valuable and would be sorry to offer no coursework across the whole syllabus – it still exists at A level and the skill needs to be learned at some stage. This paper is Modern Drama and Literary Heritage. The latter sees a mix of drama and prose, though I am someone who feels that Shakespeare should be read at this stage, if only to allow a student to leave English having touched this greatest of all great writers in our language. The choice is nice, though hardly daring: Macbeth and R&J and the prose options – Austen (Pride), Dickens (Expectations) and The Scarlett Letter reflect a lack of imagination – a new syllabus should be a chance to explore the new rather than to recycle everything! The GCSE exam boards promoted Carol to GCSE level – daft. This board has simply taken the path of least discomfort by keeping Expectations. Pray God for Copperfield or Nickleby! ( Though I really want Hardy).
The modern drama is much more fun though:A View from the Bridge Arthur Miller
An Inspector Calls: J B Priestley
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night:-time Simon Stephens
Kindertransport: Diane Samuels
Death and the King’s Horseman: Wole Soyinka
This year it will be Priestley – because it is brilliant and it is never too early to make students think about our society and to become a little more aware of social responsibility. ( Inspector resources ) Who knows though. I fancy Kindertransport and once the new A levels have settled down…

Lit specification draft: International_GCSE_English_Literature_specification

Lit sample assessments: International_GCSE_English_Literature_SAM

So, all told, I think this has improved a course of which I was fond anyway. I wish there was more imagination in some areas and still heartily dislike the poetry/short story link. But much has improved, especially in Language paper 1 and Lit paper 1 now ensures due weight be given to the study of poetry. Yes.

I like this.

Oh, nearly forgot – it’s 1-9 grading, so no issues there….


Filed under EDEXCEL IGCSE, exam techniques, IGCSE support, Paedagogy, teacher training

Edexcel IGCSE: draft short writing task

I am trying to get my y11s to deliberately plan a short task for the short writing question.  Too many plan to write and simply write until the time runs out.  My idea is to consciously plan for no more than 4 paragraphs to try and help them, structure their work.


This powerpoint and draft is designed to help students understand an approach to the writing which should deliver results.


I wrote alongside them, and post my offering here:  marks out of 10?  I did my best….

possible short task  Simply my sample draft


possible-short-task-full-ppt     possible-short-task full ppt  The draft with discussion and explanation.

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Unseens for examinations

As many exams now require students to look at unseen text, I have been thinking of ways to address the issue of establishing understanding of a text, whether prose or verse. I attach a powerpoint which might be useful – the flow chart is a bit of an eye-ful, but might be used to provoke discussion.

unseen writing

I hope I have stressed the need ot be aware of anomalies – those moments which stand out from the “ordinary”, that is the norm for whatever text is in front of the reader. I am always surprised when students miss out the unusual “because it is hard” – that’s the point. The unusual may well be the element the writer considered and redrafted for hours before settling on the right form of langauge – that is why it matters!

In the powerpoint I use Pride and Prejudice, Sonnet 116 and Blessing (Imtiaz Dharker) as three texts to review in brief. I have used the Dharker before to illustrate my ideas:

The Sonnet is one of the current Edexcel IGCSE set texts.

A group of posts on unseen writing can be found under this tag:

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Independent research in Year 12?

I have been mulling over my various groups’ recent As and A2 results. Bright boys, some are highly motivated, yet the road to a good set of results was something of a struggle in the sense that they seemed very reluctant to really engage in wider reading and research until the Spring – when it became obvious that they were going to have to engage.

So far, my practice has been to constantly remind the boys of the need to widen their reading and to undertake their own research using the journals in the Library and any other material they can find. Homeworks have been set to collate thoughts and ideas shared in class.

I think in Year 12 this is asking too much. The poor souls have just emerged from GCSE, which in anyone’s world can mean listening, copying and mugging up with little real individual input. Are we expecting too much of them to turn into proto-undergraduates in the Summer holiday?

This year I have written two booklets – one for each year, to cope with the new syllabus, in which I outline a timetable for completion of some independent-research-type tasks and suggest others. Much of this document was created by the wonderful Lisa Healy at my old school in Slough, where she is the peerless Head of 6th Form and a new mother to boot. Chapeau to Lisa.

I would welcome feedback and stress that this is the draft version of the booklet. Students will be given this in a folder in September and it will be explained that the independent work is a vital part of their course and is not the same as “homework” – it is part of the extra hours of work expected from all students in all subjects.

In short, there is a deadline at roughly fortnightly intervals at which point one or other of the class teachers will take in the booklet and check that the work is being done. Students are free to do tasks whenever they like, as long as the regular deadline task is hit.

I hope that this rather hands-on approach will bear fruit and that in time the booklet will only be needed in Year 12, as the upper 6th respond to what is needed with rather less prompting.

Who knows?
yr12 independent study log 2015-16

y13 independant study booklet 2015

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Filed under exam techniques, OCR English Literature, OCR NEW English Literature, Paedagogy