Tag Archives: edexcel english literature

Visualiser annotation

In John Tomsett’s new book This much I know… there is a lovely example of modelling annotation for a class, using a visualiser. I ran this today with my Year 10 class – a set who do not find poetry analysis or discussion easy – and I post the result.


This is a great way to help students who are not necessarily ready to move to annotation or discussion of a text without support. The PDF shows a page from the Edexcel IGCSE anthology which we worked on under the visualiser. When I felt I wished to annotate, they were told to copy and I explained why I was writing what I wrote. Yes this is copying, but it is much more. The discussion element broadens and deepens the understanding and the modeled annotation enables them to confidently annotate their own work. For the first time the discussion was ended by the end of the lesson with much more to say.

We discussed the poem in terms of God/Satan, symmetry of good and evil, metaphors of fire and hell, the power and omnipotence of a God who could create the Tyger, the distinction between God and Satan,. the figurative idea of the heavens watered by tears, the alliteration and the rhythmic patterns, the idea of Innocence and Experience…

So much more was covered than in many lessons.  I like this, I had forgotten it and it works.

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Filed under EDEXCEL CERTIFICATE, IGCSE support, KS4, poetry, Uncategorized

Blessing : Imtiaz Dharker

This is a well-known poem to teachers of KS4 over the years. It is back on the IGCSE syllabus for Edexcel, as part of the English Lit Anthology collection. Since the new IGCSE makes the poetry part of the exam and removes it from the optional coursework, I thought I would link my “Blessing” posts here.

Some time ago I set some Year 11s this well known and much examined poem as an unseen. I was rather unsettled by the lack of structure in their responses and felt the need to take time to recap SLIME and SCASI to help them to tackle the task… For those unused to the mnemonics: Subject/Style, Language, Imagery, Meaning, Effect and Setting, Character, Action, Style, Ideas. I prefer the second one which I first came across as a teacher of the IBDP where it was recommended to me when approaching unseens in their mammoth two hour unseen paper.

I thought of using this poem when exploring techniques for discussing unseen poems: https://jwpblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/28/unseens-for-examinations/

One of my students then emailed me and asked for a model response!

So, here goes (written in a single sitting with no more than 25 minutes allowed for either essay to mimic the examination):

“How does Dharker create a sense of wonder in the poem?”
Focus on the language used in the poem, the use of images and literary effects, any other relevant feature of the poem.

‘Blessing’ by Imtiaz Dharker

The skin cracks like a pod.
There never is enough water.

Imagine the drip of it,
the small splash, echo
in a tin mug,
the voice of a kindly god.

Sometimes, the sudden rush
of fortune. The municipal pipe bursts,
silver crashes to the ground
and the flow has found
a roar of tongues. From the huts,
a congregation : every man woman
child for streets around
butts in, with pots,
brass, copper, aluminium,
plastic buckets,
frantic hands,

and naked children
screaming in the liquid sun,
their highlights polished to perfection,
flashing light,
as the blessing sings
over their small bones.

SLIME: This poem, written in free-verse is set in a hot and dry part of the world where water is scarce and where any appearance of it is a cause for excitement and rejoicing. The free-verse form enables Dharker to organise the poem around ideas with a freedom to draw attention to specific words or phrases without consideration of rhyme or rhythmic pattern. An example of this comes at the end of the third stanza where the list of utensils gradually decreases in status whilst increasing in urgency until the line “frantic hands” in which the adjective conveys both a sense of despair and of excitement. The sentence does not end at the end of the stanza, however and the fourth stanza opens after the enjambement with the ambivalent image of “naked children/screaming…” Here the image manages to once again convey the double emotion – the verb offering suggestions of pain to the same extent as it offers suggestions of enjoyment.

The stanzas of the poem follow an approach to the issue of water in their content. At the opening of the poem the pair of single line sentences, with their clear present tense outlining of the situation – “there is never enough water” present the context for the poem clearly. This is then countered by the imperatives in the second stanza which urge the reader to engage fully with the poet: “imagine…” The imperative verbs and the use of onomatopoeia on “drip” and “splash” help to convey the scarcity of this much sought after commodity.

It is in stanza three that Dharker uses imagery to convey the thrill of the water leak and to establish a link with the poem’s title. Already she has introduced the idea of a “blessing” at the end of the second stanza by describing the water as the “voice of a kindly God” (though we might wonder how “kindly’ a god is that keeps his people in such a state of need). As the third stanza develops she develops the idea. The water is variously described as “the sudden rush of fortune” and as “silver”. Both images create a sense of great value and worth on a materialistic scale. In the next stanza, however the “congregation” worshipping around the pipe are treated to the image of water as “liquid sun”. This is a clear metaphor which puts water on the same level as the sun as a life-giver and a provider of Goodness. No wonder it is seen as a blessing and is viewed with wonder, even when it is an imaginary event.

Despite this Blessing there is a single disquieting thought at the end of the poem: The first line and the last line form a couplet of their own with the unsettling message that “the skin cracks like a pod /over their small bones”. In the final stanza, Dharker clearly focuses on the children and using the euphemisitic phrase “their highlights polished…” draws attention to this fact. Her euphemism allows their stark thinness to be seen in a positive light and thus confirms the sense of wonder found elsewhere in the poem.

SCASI: The poem is set in a hot, dry part of the world, where water is seen as a scarce commodity to be valued highly. The setting is clearly described in the opening line of the poem in which one of the possible readings suggests that the very “skin” of the Earth itself is cracking “like a pod”.

In this harsh environment, the children and the locals living around a burst water main gather to collect water. The action is “frantic” and Dharker uses the third stanza to highlight this. Using enjambement to help to suggest the tumult, she combines metaphors of sound “roar of tongues” and a long list of ever more mundane utensils to suggest the possible aggression and the urgency with which the villagers contend with one another for water. Ultimately it is revealed that even “frantic hands” are used, so desperate is the need to gather this life-giving liquid.

Within the crowd, the children are singled out for attention. At first the imagery is ambivalent – the “naked children/screaming…” carries an unmistakable suggestion of pain as well as one of sheer enjoyment. The sense of wonder is stronger, however, due to the euphemistic description of the bodies: rather than emaciated and unhealthy, these children have “highlights polished to perfection”. It is as though the Blessing of the water has cured all illness and brought nothing but joy.

This is Dharker’s intention, since the poem is a clear presentation of the view of God providing all for his followers. The “congregation” are literally blessed by “liquid sun” as the life-giving water pours forth. To these worshippers, the water is more than this and its high material worth is suggested by references to “silver” and to a “rush of fortune”. Fortune also connotes luck, and it is possible that Dharker is being ironic in her title. After all, the God who provides so little in the normal scheme of events, as suggested by the empty onomatopoeia of “splash” and “drip”into the low status “tin cup” of the second stanza, does not seem as one who might be likely to provide such bounty as is here unleashed.

The poem uses the freedom of its free-verse structure to ensure that readers are led to the positive view of the leaking pipe. After opening with the dramatic couplet which sets the context in two single sentence lines, Dharker introduces a sense of wonder in the second stanza with the imperative “imagine” which allows the reader to summon up the mental image, assisted by the imagery of sound referred to earlier. In the third stanza, the listing and particularly the enjambment across the space to the fourth stanza help to increase this sense of wonder as the momentum of the poem is increased allowing it to gather speed and power towards the end.

Dharker seems all too aware of the naivety of the villagers who worship at the poor workmanship of the “municipal pipeline”. However, in her telling of the event, it is the sense of wonder which is presented clearly to the reader. There is, however an important message concealed in the structure of the poem which is seen by reading the first and last lines as a couplet with no punctuation: The skin cracks like a pod/over their small bones. Using “small” to present a human dimension to the poem and presenting the harsh reality of the event in this way allows Dharker to show clearly that all the wonder created by the incident will do nothing to alleviate the underlying issues.

I hope that these are some use to my readers. They are not perfect and are not meant to be. I want you to be able to see how I have applied the framework of either structure to ensure that my writing has a purpose and a flow which is more effective than a linear reading of the poem. Feel free to send comments or to mark my writing!

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Filed under EDEXCEL IGCSE, Edexcel IGCSE from 2016, poetry, teacher training

Edexcel IGCSE English Literature Coursework

The rationale for this post has been explored here .  My intention is to provide an outline and resources to help students in Year 10/11 approach “the Beast” – the 6 poem coursework extravaganza that gives 40% of their IGCSE marks…

The task requires careful planning and is the nearest i get to a scaffold at this level.  I try to encourage clear planning of each paragraph, let alone the essay as a whole and I am working on a model of roughly 3 paragraphs for each “major” essay with the “minor”poems being used as links between the majors – roughly a single paragraph for each.

Here is the teaching outline: coursework 2015


I also referred in the original post to John Thomsett’s excellent post on Janus Sentences: janus sentences


This booklet was prepared by a colleague: Jade Boyle.  It is a cracking piece of work.

Y10 Lit coursework booklet

I attach a set of EDEXCEL sample essays for information and recommend that all students look at these.  It is brilliant to write in a manner which is a consistent comparison, but Edexcel are clear that direct comparison is not needed and I recommend the 3-1-3-1-1-3 outline as a good starting point.

Examples High Mark Courseworkf

Exemplar Materials 4ET0 03 June 2014

Folder E

Folder F

Folder G

Folder H

Folder C

Folder D

Folder A

Folder B



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Filed under coursework, EDEXCEL IGCSE, poetry, Uncategorized

Approaching a “character” question in an exam.

This post has come about after marking a series of mock IGCSE English Literature papers.  For many of the boys I teach and work with, there is a reluctance to really engage with the question and the writing is really as sequence of events from the play or novel which do not consider the nature of the choices made by writers when putting a character onto the page.

My checklist would be:

  • No word is an accident and every situation has been set out for a purpose in a particular way.
  • The question will expect you to address the purpose the author has in mind when writing the character
  • You must not treat the character as a real person
  • Consider how the character in question links to the key themes of the text being studied
  • Ensure my quotations are relevant and focused on the requirements of the question.
  • 10 minutes planning.

In this case the question, from an Edexcel IGCSE paper was:  What is the significance of the characters Calpurnia and Tom Robinson in TKAM?

For many, this was an excuse to spend a deal of time explaining who they were and digressing by listing both things they do during the novel and also expressing Scout’s feelings as though these are all real people.

I would argue that the first question you need to ask is : “what was Lee trying to achieve at certain points when she wrote this character?”  After this, I would begin to outline the moments in the book I wish to use in my writing and then ensure that I have the thematic ideas covered.  At this point, the (obvious) realization that both are from the Black community in the book should enable me to make a clear thematic link between the pair.

I continue this plan in the powerpoint below:

10 min plan character

Obviously, there are as many possible ways of answering this question as there are students ready to answer it.  However, I hope that whatever examples you choose to use, or whatever specific question you are answering on any text, you will take my advice to heart and present an essay which is focused on exploring the writer’s intentions when they created the character.  Essays which are glorified summaries of the text and the plot will not attain high marks.  It is as simple as that.  English Literature is about the exploration of what you believe the writer intended when choosing specific words or situations in the text.  It is not about the regurgitation of memorized plot-lines or unexplored quotations.


Filed under KS4, Paedagogy

Year 10 Edexcel IGCSE examination give back: literature

A give back powerpoint for reference.  The exam paper is the May 2013 Literature paper.  The texts covered are Much Ado and Mockingbird.

Literature feedback


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Filed under EDEXCEL IGCSE, Harper Lee, Shakespeare

SCASI: My Last Duchess

A quick SCASI teaching idea for the poem My Last Duchess by Robert Browning:

duchess y10 scasi approach

I have blogged a few other teaching ideas for this poem:



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His Last Duchess: more revision mats

Year 10, please find your revision mats and save the files… plenty of strong thinking, though you will need more evidence!
last duchess mats y 10

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Unseen poetry for IGCSE

The next revision class in the series is on approaches to unseen poetry and includes a powerpoint of ideas for approaching Heaney’s Mid-term break as an unseen. The lesson focuses on the approach and the unseen is an optional writing task. I love Heaney’s poetry and miss teaching it – I am taking a chance to slip one into my unsuspecting “sheep” group.

Screencast of PPt:

screencast of Heaney: Mid term break…

unseen poetry

heaney ideas for unseen-midterm

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An inspector calls revision class

A podcast and powerpoint to support the 30 minute class on Inspector given to assist students approaching Edexcel IGCSE/Certificate.

inspector revision


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LAst Duchess revision mats Year 11

Year 11: Please download and save your mats from today’s lesson…

new doc20130301120953037

Then look again at the SGSENGLISDEPT screencasts on you tube. http://www.youtube.com/user/SGSEnglish


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