GCSE Secondary English

Improving analysis of writing

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I don’t know about you, but I have found the AQA English Language, Paper 1, Question 3- commenting on the structure of a text- mighty troublesome this year! As much as I try to help students identify shifts in time, character, location, and find interesting patterns, they just can’t do it. Or if they do, they end up with the inevitable: ‘The writer uses …  to make the reader read on.’

We have tried highlighting, colouring in, drawing charts, learning key terms (exploded time, spatial shifts, juxtaposition) to no avail. However, in the last few weeks I have had a break through. Instead of starting with deconstructing other writers’ texts, we have focused on constructing our own texts.

When teaching descriptive writing, I put a big emphasis on HOW we construct our own writing, making students choose the methods they would use to put their texts together. I found the following key questions particularly helpful:

  • Which time frame do you want to use: over an hour, a day, a week, a year?
  • Who will you focus on? One character, a group of characters? Or will you switch between?
  • When do you want your description to take place? Spring, summer, autumn or winter?
  • At what time of day will it happen? Morning, afternoon, evening, night?
  • Where will it be set? Will you change locations?
  • How much detail do you want to go into? Are you going to zoom in for a close up, or sweep across a scene with a panning shot? (I find film analogies very useful!).
  • Which patterns do you want to use? Contrasting times, characters or locations? A cyclical beginning and end? A motif which will link together your sections?

The key to all of these questions is to get students to consider WHY they want to make these choices.

Once students have started to make these choices in their own writing, it becomes so much easier for them to unpack them in other people’s writing. It becomes less about feature spotting because students can now recognise the choices they made themselves in their own writing. 

So finally, this troublesome question is becoming a bit more straightforward and hopefully there we will have an end to those, ‘the reader wants to read on’ comments!


Naomi Hursthouse has been teaching in West Sussex for nine years. She has worked as an Advanced Skills Teacher for four years and is currently Head of English at Westergate Community School. She has worked as an examiner for AQA for nine years and has been writing articles and blogs about teaching for Collins Freedom to Teach since 2009. She was born in Dumbarton, Scotland but moved down to the South Coast of England for some sunshine ten years ago. She has finally found it.

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