As the end of this academic year draws ever nearer, our GCSE pupils may be in need of a little guidance in preparation for their forthcoming English exams. I can remember being unsure how best to revise for English when I was at school. It is not always as simple as learning facts and regurgitating them in order. Once you know that poem or that story, what do you do with that information? Once you have the names of all of the writing types and their language features under your belt, what do you do with them? Having spent the last year teaching pupils how to use SOLO effectively, I am now using SOLO as a tool to help them revise. I will share as many ideas as possible over the next few days including: reading, writing, contemporary texts, poetry and finally some in class, last minute revision ideas. I hope you find it useful.
During the AQA English Language exam, the pupils will be expected to produce two writing responses one demonstrating their ability to inform, explain or describe, the other to persuade or argue. I am going to provide them with a simple to follow preparation structure that can be used to create any written response. The idea is that they plan using this structure every time they practice writing (I will also provide them with a list of potential questions). Planning in this way should soon become second nature to them and so they will be able to quickly form a plan in their writing exam, avoiding the age old problem of “I just don’t know how to start.”
I call it the three point plan as it has three main actions to put into practice: identify what, preparing all necessary elements and linking work as a whole. I demonstrated this earlier in my ‘using SOLO in writing tasks’ blog. However, in exam conditions, pupils have far less time and therefore need to adapt the plan to be brief while still using it effectively to create a well constructed response.
STEP ONE UNISTRUCTURAL
Pupils write the question as the centre of their plan to remind themselves that this is at the heart of everything that they do. They must then quickly identify the GAP and LIST (genre, audience, purpose, language, information, style and tone). It is important that I provide them with a range of potential exam questions to practice their unistructural responses to ensure they are not surprised by anything they are faced with in the exam. This step should be quick and simple. I am writing an G -article for A - Teenagers to P- Inform them how to be polite. If they feel confident in completing this first step, they will have broken that frightening barrier of putting pen to paper and they will be on their way to success.
STAGE TWO MULTI STRUCTURAL
Next, pupils need to think of clear paragraph topics, ensure that they plan to use appropriate language features for the writing type specified and ensure sentence structures and punctuation are factored in too. I always see the multi structural phase as being the most important as this part is where the vital details are added. If this phase is skipped, paragraphs tend to be less well formed and the over all direction of the writing is less clear. If you get the multistructural step right, you are planning for perfection. I ask pupils to identify specific language devices that they will use and list them; they also list punctuation to remind them to use a full range. A few ideas about content are added to each paragraph so that they know what they will be writing about and how they can fit it all together. No longer than five minutes should be spent on planning so a brief idea of each paragraph is all that is necessary.
STAGE THREE RELATIONAL
As pupils are creating their paragraph topics during the multistructural step, they will automatically be creating links between paragraphs: “This one comes first, then I will say this and finally I will say this.” However, well linked paragraphs say more than just “firstly, secondly, thirdly, fourthly…” Although linking like this does lead you through the paragraphs, it is forced and boring. Pupils should be looking at how the topic of each paragraph leads into the next and how their last and first sentences could work together to create cohesion. This can be added to the plan as an arrow between paragraphs and the link that will tie them together identified. Linking the first and last paragraphs in some way can also help to create a nicely developed piece of writing and this should be tackled during this stage too.
In twenty five minutes, it is going to be difficult for many pupils to have an absolutely original idea that will blow the examiner away. However, as part of the revision process, I am asking pupils to end their plan by reviewing it for originality and perfection. They should spend a moment asking themselves, is this bog standard and boring? Could I add any extra flair? Of course, extended abstract is about being an expert on a topic and as experts, pupils should be able to identify if the writing type requires that extra flair of originality such as adding an extended metaphor or looking from an entirely different perspective or, if it is a more functional piece of writing, they should recognise that perfect precision is actually enough.
…tomorrow…the reading exam