GCSE English Language Revision Postcard 26: Language Feature Analysis – Foundation Paper

This is a short revision task for question 3 on the foundation paper, requiring students to read a source article and analyse it for language used (go straight to the images on the bottom of the page if you just wish to see the revision task).

It’s true that sometimes, some students have benefitted from learning and using the mnemonic, AFOREST, or DAFOREST, as an aid to help them remember what features of language they can look for. The only problem with this is, and it’s not insignificant, what if, when the student opens the source and they struggle to find alliteration, facts, rhetorical questions, and so forth? Unless students are aware of and have at their disposal a range of parts of speech or features of language to draw from, they may well come unstuck. For example, in DAFOREST, where is the reminder for similes, metaphors, personification? Or verbs, adjectives, adverbs and nouns? It’s my feeling that their job is made much easier if they have a bigger box of tools.

My thoughts are these: students should be able, in an ideal world, to read through said source and highlight the main points made in reference to the question being asked, and then they should be able to look at the sentence they have chosen, and pick out the main word(s) or phrases they want to work with, and then state the technical name of the language used, quote it, and then state the effect on the reader.

But, wait, what light in yon classroom breaks? Is it on the interactive whiteboard that has written on it, “thou shalt not use empty phrases?” There was a great image circulated on Twitter by @MissJLud a while ago (see below), where she reminded students to stop using empty phrases, such as “The writer uses language to emphasise,” “This makes the reader want to read on,” “The language is effective,” “This creates an image in the reader’s mind,” “The headline is in bold to grab the reader’s attention,” or, “The writer uses a technique to have an effect on the reader.” @MissJLud is spot on. Left to their own devices, many students do struggle to know what to say when it comes to stating an effect on the reader.

This is important because in question 3 on the AQA English language paper there are 12 marks: 1 given for each language feature identified along with a quote, and one for stating the effect on the reader. So students have to find 6 language features and state 6 effects. It’s easy to see where the student might go for quick, cheap wins and think they can race through this one fairly thoughtlessly. The mock exam does tend to iron out such issues though. It allows you to see what students are struggling on. It’s usually their lack of knowledge on technical names for features of language, and they do sometimes forget to quote how it is used in the text. However, they can also fall down in not actually saying anything at all when it comes to stating the effect on the reader, even though they think they have. So what is needed?

@MissJLud gives some pithy and useful advice with the examples in her image (again, see below). Students need to already be empowered with the skill to explain their ideas. This requires more consistent and in depth teaching throughout the school year and not just in the last five minutes before the exam, because, as you will see, the phrases require thoughtful adaptation and assumes the student has read and understood the text properly. And therein lies a problem. If the student can’t be bothered, is looking for quick wins, or gets in a flap because they think they don’t have time to give a few minutes to getting the real gist of the source the question is based on, they will revert back to empty phrases: “The effect on the reader is, the alliteration used emphasises the thing being said and makes the reader want to read on”. A student may resort to saying such stuff, or slight variations, repeatedly. It can be cringe worthy.

There is no pill a student can take to magic a solution to this problem. The answer is simply longer term, repeated teaching and learning opportunities to help the student make progress throughout the year. I hope and pray that my students this year are more empowered with a greater range of parts of speech and features of language to draw from – I’ve certainly been drip feeding the basics on verbs, adjectives, adverbs and nouns more. And I hope they have made some progress on finding ways to give more meat to the bones of stating the effect on the reader – I’ve reiterated these points many times and given feedback in homework and essay preparation where possible.

But at the end of the day we can’t beat ourselves up for it as teachers too much. If, like me, you teach a 9 month resit class in FE, for example, it’s all fairly rushed. I get students who have already had 11 years in school to try and improve and make progress on these issues. It’s great if they make any progress at all in the context of delivery of the retake GCSE.

So good luck to you and your students, wherever and whoever you and they may be.

I added a third image to my task today from “Key Stage 3 English Booster” (2001), part of the “Last Minute Revision” series. I included it because, for both the adjective/adverb and alliteration examples it describes, the final few sentences of each section can be used as examples for how to learn to explain the effect on the reader more effectively. As you will see, they are far from empty phrases.

And finally, thanks to @MissJLud on Twitter for sharing this, which I have also adapted into a poster for the wall in my baseroom at college.

2016-04-09 07.56.53

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