Author logo The AQA Anthology for English and English Literature - poetry

Introduction
What is the English Anthology?
English and English literature
What's in the Anthology?
Section 1: English
Section 2: English literature - poetry
Section 3: English Literature - prose
Taking exams
How many poems should you study?
Annotating your Anthology
Writing about poetry
Can you replace your Anthology?
How to answer the exam questions
Putting the poems together
Tables to compare the poems
Learning about the texts in the Anthology
Some classrooms are more equal
Connecting the learning
Presenting the content
Active listening and reading
Learning activities
Showing how to do it
Reviewing and recall
Visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning
Poems from Different Cultures
Poems by Seamus Heaney
Poems by Gillian Clarke
Poems by Carol Ann Duffy
Poems by Simon Armitage
Pre-1914 Poetry Bank
Introduction to prose Fiction
Printing and copying this guide

Introduction

This guide is written for students and teachers who are preparing for GCSE exams in English and English literature. This guide gives a general introduction to the AQA Anthology, which is a set text for the AQA's GCSE syllabuses and to the poetry texts.

On this page I use red type for emphasis. Brown type is used where italics would appear in print (in this screen font, italic looks like this, and is unkind on most readers). Headings have their own hierarchical logic, too:

Main section headings look like this

Sub-section headings look like this
Minor headings within sub-sections look like this

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What is the English Anthology?

The English Anthology is a collection of poems and short prose fiction. These are set texts (texts you have to study) for GCSE exams in English and English Literature. If you are a student preparing for these exams, then - for some parts of each exam - you will write about some of these texts. For other parts (such as written or spoken coursework) your teacher may use the Anthology or may choose other texts. There is more than one Anthology - as different exam boards have their own. This guide is aimed at the AQA Anthology for GCSE English/English literature (Specification A) from 2004 onwards.

Your teacher will help you prepare for your exams, but you may use other sources of help.

Your Anthology is a very important book. Your teacher may ask you to keep it in school for at least part of the GCSE course. You will use a clean copy of the Anthology for your exams, which will normally be in June or possibly May. (Most students take a two-year course and are assessed at the end of Year 11, but it is possible to take either exam in an earlier year. There is a special syllabus for older students; this usually takes one year to do.)

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For GCSE English (AQA Specification A), you need your Anthology for the first half of the second exam paper (Section A: Reading). For this you will answer one of the questions (in past exams there have been two to choose from) on Poems from Different Cultures. You will normally write about poems in one or other of the two clusters - but you can mix poems from both clusters. The two clusters belong to a single coherent collection of texts. The only significance of the clusters is the requirement to name a poem - there will be two questions and one will have a named poem from cluster 1 whilst the other names a poem from cluster 2. And candidates are free to choose a second poem from either cluster.

Answering your chosen question should take you about half an hour. If you go over this time, you may have to rush the second half of the paper (Section B: Writing). This is not a good idea generally. However your teacher may advise you to spend a little more time in a given section if he or she knows that you can pick up extra marks at one point without too much risk of losing lots of marks elsewhere. Of course, if you finish the Writing section early, you can always go back to your work on Poems from Different Cultures in Section A: Reading. Below you will find guidance on how to use your answer booklet to leave space for this.

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For GCSE English Literature, use of the Anthology is optional for the first part of the paper (you may use it but you don't have to) but compulsory for the second part. In the end-of-course exam (for which there is only one paper) you have to write on set texts. These are divided into two sections:

  • post 1914 Prose (Section A) and
  • pre- and post-1914 Poetry (Section B)

Section A - the prose texts in the Anthology are mostly shorter than the other set texts. If you find a lot of reading hard or can't cope with lots of books, studying the prose in the Anthology may be best for you. This section is worth 30% of the total marks for literature.

Section B - there will be a choice of three questions and you will answer one of these. Each question names a particular poem. This could be a poem by one of the four named poets, or a pre-1914 poem. The essay question will always ask you to compare one poem by each of two authors (either Seamus Heaney and Gillian Clarke as one pair or Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage as an alternative pair), and two pre-1914 poems - one of these four poems must be the one that the examiners have named. The four poems will have a common theme or subject or some shared feature of approach, style or structure - for example, poems spoken by a character as monologues. So pupils need to study a broad range of the poems including those by the pair of modern poets they have chosen to study. This section is worth 40% of the total marks for literature. You may find it hard to know which are the poems to write about - you will find examples and tables below that show this more clearly.

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English and English Literature

You may be studying both of these or just English. (English is a core subject of the National Curriculum. Pupils take GCSE exams in English in all parts of the UK outside Scotland.) When you are examined in English, the examiners are looking for particular skills. When you are examined in English literature, the skills required are rather different, but there is a lot of overlap. This should not frighten you. It may help you if you know what the examiners are looking for. You will find guidance about this below. This means that you may use the Anthology in very different ways for each subject.

English is generally considered more important than most other subjects. This is because it is (like maths and science) a core subject of the National Curriculum. If you wish to apply to university some time in the future, you will be required (normally) to have GCSE passes in both English and maths at grade C or above. For some courses, such as teacher training, the required grade may be higher.

English literature is an optional subject. You don't have to take it by law, although it may be compulsory in your school. In many schools pupils will do this by studying English and English literature together.

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What's in the Anthology?

The AQA Anthology is clearly divided into three parts or sections, one (Section 1) for English and two (Sections 2 and 3) for English literature. These are the three sections:

Section 1 - English

This section contains Poems from Different Cultures divided into two clusters:

Cluster 1
  • Edward Kamau Brathwaite: Limbo
  • Tatamkhulu Afrika: Nothing's Changed
  • Grace Nichols: Island Man
  • Imtiaz Dharker: Blessing
  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti: Two Scavengers in a Truck
  • Nissim Ezekiel: Night of the Scorpion
  • Chinua Achebe: Vultures
  • Denise Levertov: What Were They Like?
Cluster 2
  • Sujata Bhatt: from Search For My Tongue
  • Tom Leonard: from Unrelated Incidents
  • John Agard: Half-Caste
  • Derek Walcott: Love After Love
  • Imtiaz Dharker: This Room
  • Niyi Osundare: Not My Business
  • Moniza Alvi: Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan
  • Grace Nichols: Hurricane Hits England

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Section 2 - English literature - poetry

There are groups of eight poems by each of four poets (so 32 poems in all) whose work is from after 1914. (In fact, the first published work by any of them appeared in 1966.) They are Seamus Heaney, Gillian Clarke, Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage. These are the poems:

Seamus Heaney
  • Storm on the Island
  • Perch
  • Blackberry-Picking
  • Death of a Naturalist
  • Digging
  • Mid-Term Break
  • Follower
  • At a Potato Digging

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Gillian Clarke
  • Catrin
  • Baby-sitting
  • Mali
  • A Difficult Birth, Easter 1998
  • The Field Mouse
  • October
  • On The Train
  • Cold Knap Lake

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Carol Ann Duffy
  • Havisham
  • Elvis's Twin Sister
  • Anne Hathaway
  • Salome
  • Before You Were Mine
  • We Remember Your Childhood Well
  • Education for Leisure
  • Stealing

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Simon Armitage
  • from Book of Matches, “Mother, any distance greater than a single span”
  • from Book of Matches, “My father thought it...”
  • Homecoming
  • November
  • Kid
  • from Book of Matches, “Those bastards in their mansions”
  • from Book of Matches, “I've made out a will; I'm leaving myself”
  • Hitcher

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Pre-1914 Poetry Bank

There is also a collection (or “bank”) of poems from before 1914 - some that go back to the 16th century, and others from more recent times. These are the poems:

  • Ben Jonson: On my first Sonne
  • William Butler Yeats: The Song of the Old Mother
  • William Wordsworth: The Affliction of Margaret
  • William Blake: The Little Boy Lost and The Little Boy Found
  • Chidiock Tichborne: Tichborne's Elegy
  • Thomas Hardy: The Man He Killed
  • Walt Whitman: Patrolling Barnegat
  • William Shakespeare: Sonnet 130 - “My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun”
  • Robert Browning: My Last Duchess
  • Robert Browning: The Laboratory
  • Alfred Tennyson: Ulysses
  • Oliver Goldsmith: The Village Schoolmaster
  • Alfred Tennyson: The Eagle
  • Gerard Manley Hopkins: Inversnaid
  • John Clare: Sonnet - “I love to see the summer...”

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Section 3: English Literature - prose

This section contains the complete text of seven short stories:

  • Doris Lessing: Flight
  • Sylvia Plath: Superman and Paula Brown's New Snowsuit
  • Michèle Roberts: Your Shoes
  • Joyce Cary: Growing Up
  • Ernest Hemingway: The End of Something
  • Graham Swift: Chemistry
  • Leslie Norris: Snowdrops

Below you will find detailed guidance on how to answer questions about the poetry. You will also find information about other places where you can find help - whether in print, broadcast or online.

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Taking exams

Most teachers will ensure that you have lots of practice, so you get it right on the day. At the moment you normally have to take exams at the end of the course. For GCSE exams the maximum amount of marks for coursework is 40% in English and 30% in English literature. All the rest of the marks come from the terminal exam. For AQA Specification A there are two papers for English and one for English literature. If you want to know more about how the different parts of the exam are assessed, then ask your teacher, or visit the exam board's Web site at www.aqa.org.uk

You should provide your own writing implement. Amazingly many students use pens that make it hard for them to write clearly and harder for examiners to read it. Please make sure you have a good supply of suitable pens before the exam - keep one or more spares handy.

Being easy to read is more important than being neat. Exam boards do not penalize you (give less marks) for crossing stuff out - just put a line through it (like this), and keep writing. Do not use correction fluid. Don't write in red or green - examiners use these colours to mark your work. Keep to blue, dark blue or black. Ballpoint pens are allowed, but don't use too fine a point or a faint colour (hard to read when the examiner marks your work late at night) or a pen that smudges ink on the examiner's hand. Rolling ball pens and gel pens are OK, too. So are traditional fountain pens (what you call ink-pens), if you can write at speed.

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Speed is more important than neatness. You may need to change your handwriting from the beautiful style you develop for coursework - a large, round open hand is best. A fast writer can easily cover four to six pages of an answer booklet per hour. But don't write too much - especially in the Writing sections of the English exams.

The exam board gives you an answer book. Sadly this is a book in which you write - not one with the answers already in. There are sections where you fill in details about yourself and the questions you have answered. Whoever is supervising the exam should tell you how to do this. The Centre Name is the name of your school, college, pupil referral unit or other place where you take the exam - it is not your own middle name. Most of the book is for you to write your answers in. Expect to have a book of 8 or 12 pages. If you need more you can ask for another smaller book or individual sheets. If you use extra sheets or a second book, attach it with string or a tag - but don't do it too tightly. The examiner needs to be able to turn the pages.

It's your book - don't try to save paper. Start each answer on a new page - always leave room for more at the end of an answer. If you finish your last question and want to go back to expand an earlier one, this is allowed. In the Writing section (for English), you may complete a task in such a way that you should not add to it. But this won't be the case with the Reading section or with the whole English literature paper - here you may think of extra points to make about a text you have studied.

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Always write the question number (and letter if there are alternatives). Normally you will do this at the front of the answer book, and at the point where you begin your answer. You don't have to write out the question: the examiner knows what it is. This may comfort you but just consumes time. Of course, if you have nothing to say, you may have plenty of time to use up.

Write a plan. This should take a few minutes at the most - the plan should remind you of the things you want to write about. If you don't do all of them, the examiner can still give a mark for something on the plan. If you think of things to add to it, you may do. You can show that this IS a plan, rather than the real answer by ruling a diagonal line through it, or simply writing “PLAN” at the top, or even over the text. Use paragraphs and spaces to show the structure of your work (or create an impression of structure even if there is none).

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How many poems should you study?

There is no set number of poems that you must prepare. The absolute minimum number you will have to write on will be two for any question in English (Poems from Different Cultures) and four for English literature (two post-1914 and two pre-1914 poems). If you prepare more poems you have more chance of including those that will help you answer the exam questions.

For English, there are eight poems in each cluster for Poems from Different Cultures. You should prepare one cluster - there will be questions on both. Rather than do all eight superficially (and badly), it is better, perhaps, to prepare some of them (five or six) very well - it is likely that at least one question will be fairly open and allow you to choose the poems about which you write.

For English literature you will need to study most of the poems by one pair of modern poets and those in the Pre-1914 section. Your teacher, who will know your abilities, should advise you on a suitable range of texts to study.

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Annotating your Anthology

On the very first page of the Anthology is a warning, which tells you what you may and may not do - read this and do as it says. This rule is changing.

  • For one year only (2004), students will be allowed to write key words in the margin, underline, highlight and add symbols.
  • From 2005, you will not be allowed to take any text into the exam in which notes have been made - you will have a clean copy to use in the exam.

This will give you and your teacher some problems - while you are preparing, you will of course want to make notes. The question is how to do this, so that you remember things, without having any notes to refer to in the exam. You need to “write” them in your head.

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Writing about poetry for GCSE English and English literature

Below you will find more detailed comment on particular texts. This part of the guidance will help you write about poetry generally.

Poems do not write themselves: be aware of the poet.

  • Don't write: “It says that...”
  • Do write: “The poet writes/claims/argues/states that...” Refer to “the poet” or “the author” or identify him or her by name (but check spelling of this).

If the poem is about a person, decide if this person is meant to be:

  • the poet (literally or autobiographically),
  • someone a bit like him or her, or
  • someone wholly different.

Avoid writing pronouns like “he” or “her” as these are confusing - the examiner may not know whom you mean. Instead write “the man in the poem” or “the poet's friend” or whoever.

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You should also understand about grammatical person. This refers to pronouns:

  • First person: singular = I/me; plural = we/us
  • Second person: singular = you [and old fashioned or regional thou/thee]; plural = you
  • Third person: singular = he,/she,it/him,her; plural = they/them

A text may be written in the first person if the author writes “I” and “me”. In this case, decide if the “I” is really the poet or some other person. If the words “I” or “me” are within speech marks, the whole poem may not be in the first person, just the speech which is quoted.

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A text may be written in the second person. This may seem odd, but many poets do this when writing as if speaking to someone. Love poems and religious poems (and prayers) often speak to the beloved (the one who gets the love) or to God in the words “you” or “thou”. Carol Ann Duffy's Before You Were Mine is partly written in the second person, but mostly has a first person view. Simon Armitage's Homecoming is mostly written in the second person.

A text may be written in the third person if the author refers to someone by a name or description or a third-person pronoun such as “she” or “them”. This is quite common. Sometimes, though it may seem odd, a writer will write about himself or herself in the third person - usually this has a distancing effect.

When you write about your chosen poems you are quite likely to find that the poet's use of first, second or third person is important in creating a particular effect. Thinking about this may also help you not to confuse the poet with the people he or she writes about.

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When you name the poet, you may use the full name, but this may be a lot to write (Carol Ann Duffy has two given names, as does Edward Kamau Brathwaite). It is quite acceptable (and saves you time) to use the surname only (in some cultures this is the first name). Do not use a given name (like Simon or Grace) on its own, unless you are a personal friend of the poet. This is unlikely but possible - someone has to live next door to Simon Armitage, and it isn't me. Maybe it is you. (If it is, you might ask for some tips about his poems!)

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You may find these basic questions helpful:

  • What is a poem? Is it the same as verse?
  • What is poetic language? Is it a special language, or everyday language used in special ways or something else? Is it the same in all times and cultures?
  • How is a poem different from prose? Is there always a clear difference?
  • What is a poem for? Why might the poet write it? Do poets have different purposes?
  • What is the nature of the poet's craft? Are there techniques that all poets need? How does this show in a particular poem?
  • How does a poem work? How does the reader respond? How many times should we read a poem to appreciate it?
  • What has poetry to do with other things in the reader's and writer's background, like culture, age, sex and personality?
  • Does good poetry go out of date?

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You may have pretty good ideas of your own about these things, and have gone way beyond these questions. You will find some more advanced and sophisticated guidance below, on how to explore and reflect on poetry. Here are some ideas suggested by experienced examiners. Teachers should:

  • teach poetry quickly
  • let students make open responses - pupils should know the teacher is not looking for some particular predetermined “right” answer
  • give frameworks or step-by-step procedures for exploring poems - especially for less confident or less able pupils
  • break up big poems into manageable chunks - get pupils to look at words or phrases before studying the whole poem from which they come
  • make posters to interpret the poems - take them down as students move on to other poems, but keep them and put them back during revision periods

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Can you replace your Anthology?

Teachers sometimes get messages from students and occasionally parents, who want to know where they can buy a replacement for the Anthology. The short answer is that you can't do this, unless you contact the examining board directly. The book is not offered for sale to the general public, because of the copyright restrictions on the many texts it contains - in UK and US law, material prepared for examinations is exempt from (not covered by) many parts of copyright. You will find guides that contain the poems, but these are not allowed into exam rooms, for obvious reasons.

In the first place, this means you should look after your Anthology - don't lose it and don't write notes all over it. (If you are a parent, think how to help your son or daughter to look after it.) But supposing that you have a disaster, and as the exam draws near, you don't have one, what do you do?

Speak to your teacher or head of English (the person who is responsible for the subject) - or any English teacher at a school or college that enters students for the exam. Many teachers will keep used copies from previous years - of course, this won't be helpful in the first year of the new exam. Alternatively get photocopies of the pages you need to revise. For the exam itself, you should be given a clean Anthology to use. However, there are new procedures for both English and English literature exams. And any guidance may change as exam boards and teachers find problems and solutions. The only way to be sure you have the latest information is to take advice from the teachers responsible for the course at the exam centre where you are registered (your school or college) - these will usually be the head of English and the examinations officer.

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How to answer the exam questions

In the English exam you will probably be asked to write about two (or “at least two”) Poems from Different Cultures for any question you are set. You will have about half an hour in which to do this (you have 1½ hours for the whole paper), so each poem (if you do two) has fifteen minutes, and if you do three, only ten - you must make this time count. Here is an example of a question:

Example question for English - Poems from Different Cultures
Choose two poems which have interested you.

Write about:
  • how the poets bring out the culture they are writing about
  • how the language affects you
  • what you found interesting about the structure of the poem

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In the English literature exam you may be asked to write about four poems - one of which will be specified by name. You will choose the other poems, but you need to make sure they fit the task you have been set. To make things even more complicated, you have to study poems by Seamus Heaney and Gillian Clarke (that is, both of them) or poems by Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage. In your exam task, you will write about one poem by each of these two and two poems from the Pre-1914 section. Confused? You ought to be - but an example may make this clearer. Here is a question of the kind you might get in the exam. There will be three questions - but you do only one of them:

Example question for English literature - Poetry
How do the poets in the Anthology look at nature? Write about Seamus Heaney's Death of a Naturalist, one poem by Gillian Clarke and two poems from the pre-1914 poetry bank.

Write about:
  • what the poems describe
  • the poets' attitudes to nature
  • how the poets use language, structure and other effects to bring out what they are saying

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If you were answering this question you would have to choose one suitable poem by Gillian Clarke and two from the pre-1914 poetry bank. Good choices would be:

  • Gillian Clarke: A Difficult Birth, Easter 1998, The Field Mouse or October.
  • Pre-1914 poetry bank: two of Walt Whitman - Patrolling Barnegat, Alfred Tennyson - The Eagle; Gerard Manley Hopkins - Inversnaid, John Clare - Sonnet: “I love to see ...”

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For each poem, make sure that you comment on the particular features that the examiners ask for (such as the poet's attitude to love, or to time and change). Start by stating what the poem is about both obviously or on the surface and at a deeper level:

“This poem (Stealing) seems on the surface to be about a man who has stolen a snowman. Carol Ann Duffy explores the difference between law-abiding ordinary people like herself (and her readers) and the anti-social criminal depicted in the poem...”

Make sure you refer to interesting or relevant points of detail - very general answers are unlikely to get a mark higher than that which corresponds to grade E. It is not enough to point things out and “translate” them - make sure you explain how they work.

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Where possible, make comparisons within and between poems. For example, show how the end contrasts with what goes before it, or show how a similar theme receives different treatment in two poems. Do not waste time on pointing out the very obvious (such as that poems are different because one is spoken by a woman who came to England from Pakistan while the other is a funny version of a news broadcast in a Glaswegian accent - this would earn some marks, but would not be suitable for a Higher Tier or even strong Foundation Tier candidate).

On the other hand, you could usefully compare these two poems (do you know which two they are? Click here to find out) by stating that they each explore ideas of nationality and identity. And you could contrast them by showing how one poet looks at ways in which people want to be more like the English while the other challenges the idea that Englishness is right or normal.

Always end with a brief statement about whether you like each poem and why. Often (but not always) the examiners will invite you to do this anyway. A clear personal response earns some marks for you.

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Quote briefly - use a single word or phrase - to support your comments. You may refer to a whole stanza or longer section but should not copy this out: there are no marks for copying the text in the Anthology. Show you are quoting by using inverted commas (speech marks or quotation marks - you may call them “quotes” or 66s and 99s). If you quote a whole line or more (if you really must) you should start on a new line, and indent. Whenever you quote, always explain in your own words what the quotation means (unless it is really self-evident) and comment on its effect. Merely repeating the poet's words is no use, as you have not shown the examiner that you have understood.

A good pattern or model to use (in this case based on Tatamkhulu Afrika's Nothing's Changed) might be as follows:

  • Make a statement: Tatamkhulu Afrika thinks that nothing has changed for the better in his country.
  • Quote evidence: He describes the experience of pressing his nose to the glass of the “whites only inn”, knowing in advance what he will see. And he contrasts the luxury of the linen tablecloth and the rose on the table with the working man's café where people take their food out, or eat off a plastic table top, and have nowhere even to wash their hands.
  • Explain this evidence: The glass pane becomes a symbol of the way the black working people are still shut out from sharing in the wealth of South Africa.
  • Comment on its effect: The reader sympathises with, and maybe even shares, the writer's wish to “shiver down the glass” - that is, to bring about a real change.

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Putting the poems together

As you study the poems, you will see how they have certain things in common - perhaps the same subject, or theme, or maybe something less obvious like their interesting use of language and some features of form or structure. It is important to see as many such connections as possible, so that you can choose suitable poems on which to write in an exam. The examiners may ask you to write about poems with a quite specific link (such as poems about parents and children) or something much more general (such as poems which show strong feelings). This guide lists some connections, but the number is potentially vast. You cannot guess in advance all the things the examiners might ask about. Prepare a range of poems, then pick the question that lets you write on those you know best.

For English it is quite easy - if you prepare all eight (or even most of them) in either cluster, then you should be able to answer any question. For English literature it is quite a lot harder, as you will have to find three poems that go well with the poem the examiners have named in the question. You can expect them to set at least one very open question, therefore, to give you a fair chance of responding. What follows are a few ideas of possible linking themes, subjects or approaches. The examiners might use one of these to set a question. But even if they do, they are quite likely to use other words for it. You must read the questions closely, as the best one for you may not be obvious. Use these examples to start your own lists but add to them - with your teacher's help - throughout the GCSE course.

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English - Poems from Different Cultures: Cluster 1
  • Discrimination and victims of violence: Limbo, Nothing's Changed, Vultures
  • Rich and poor: Nothing's Changed, Blessing, Two Scavengers, Night of the Scorpion
  • Animals: Night of the Scorpion, Vultures
  • Different places: Island Man, Blessing, Night of the Scorpion, What Were They Like?
English - Poems from Different Cultures: Cluster 2
  • Language: from Search for my Tongue, from Unrelated Incidents
  • Personal identity: from Search for My Tongue, from Unrelated Incidents, Half-Caste, Love After Love, This Room, Not My Business, Presents from My Aunts in Pakistan
  • Different places and cultures: from Search for My Tongue, Not My Business, Presents from My Aunts in Pakistan, Hurricane Hits England

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English Literature - Seamus Heaney and Gillian Clarke
  • Nature: Storm on the Island, Perch, Death of a Naturalist; A Difficult Birth, The Field Mouse
  • Family and relationships: Digging, Mid-Term Break, Follower; Catrin, Mali, On the Train, Cold Knap Lake
  • Past and present: Digging, Follower, At a Potato Digging; Catrin, Cold Knap Lake
  • Growing up: Blackberry Picking, Death of a Naturalist, Digging, Follower; Catrin
  • History and politics: At a Potato Digging; A Difficult Birth, The Field Mouse
  • Death: Mid Term Break; October

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English Literature - Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage
  • Interesting characters: Havisham; Elvis's Twin Sister; Salome; Education for Leisure, Stealing; Kid, “Those bastards in their mansions”
  • Violence and crime: Salome, Education for Leisure, Stealing; “Those bastards in their mansions”, Hitcher
  • Death: Salome, Education for Leisure; November
  • Independence/growing up: Havisham, Salome, Before You Were Mine; “Mother any distance greater than a single span”, “My father thought it bloody queer...”, Homecoming, Kid
  • Love: Anne Hathaway; Homecoming
  • Parents and children: Before You Were Mine, We Remember Your Childhood Well; “Mother, any distance greater than a single span”, “My father thought it...”, Homecoming, November
  • Monologues: Havisham, Elvis's Twin Sister, Anne Hathaway, Salome, Education for Leisure, Stealing; Kid, “Those bastards in their mansions”, Hitcher

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English Literature - Pre-1914 poetry bank
  • Parents and children: On My First Sonne, The Song of the Old Mother, The Affliction of Margaret, The Little Boy Lost and The Little Boy Found
  • Death: On My First Sonne, Tichborne's Elegy, The Man He Killed
  • Love and relationships: The Affliction of Margaret, Shakespeare's Sonnet 130, My Last Duchess, The Laboratory
  • Nature: Patrolling Barnegat, The Eagle, Inversnaid, Clare's Sonnet
  • Monologues: The Song of the Old Mother, The Affliction of Margaret, The Man He Killed, My Last Duchess, The Laboratory
  • Interesting characters: The Affliction of Margaret, My Last Duchess, The Laboratory, Ulysses, The Village Schoolmaster

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These should be enough to get you started. But as you study the poems you will discover many more links. You can learn some of the more obvious ones (poems about parents and children or childhood, monologues) but you need to be ready to cope with any surprises in the real exam. The best way to do this is to know the poems well, so that whatever the examiners' idea for linking them, you can find examples from the other poems you have studied.

Below you will find examples of tables for comparing the poems when you study them - these may help you organize your ideas as you prepare for exams. But they are only examples and you should feel free to alter them - adapt and customize them.

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Tables to help you compare the poems

Comparing the poems for English | Comparing the poems for English literature | Example table for English literature

It can help, if you use a table and fill in your own comments or notes about the poems. Here are some examples:

  • The first is a table for comparing poems in the English assessment.
  • The second is a table for comparing poems in the English literature assessment.
  • The third is also a table for comparing poems in the English literature assessment - but this one is filled in, as an example.

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Comparing poems for English

Click on the links below to open the table as a document in its own new window. Alternatively, you can use a right mouse click and save the file to a local data drive for your own use. The table is available as a rich text document (.rtf) or a Microsoft Word (.doc) file.

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Comparing poems for English literature

Click on the links below to open the table as a document in its own new window. Alternatively, you can use a right mouse click and save the file to a local data drive for your own use. The table is available as a rich text document (.rtf) or a Microsoft Word (.doc) file.

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Example table for English literature

Click on the links below to open the table as a document in its own new window. Alternatively, you can use a right mouse click and save the file to a local data drive for your own use. The table is available as a rich text document (.rtf) or a Microsoft Word (.doc) file.

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Learning about the texts in the Anthology

This section is aimed at teachers. If you are a student, you may find this section boring and not very helpful - but if you want to know how teachers think, it may be useful after all.

As a teacher, you will have your own ideas about the best ways to do this - but it may be almost impossible to find approaches that

  • help all pupils equally,
  • are interesting and yet
  • also make efficient use of the teacher's and students' time.

Preparing for exams can be a way to make students take things seriously and study texts closely - but no-one would recommend an exam as the best way to make you have a lifelong passion for poetry. Your pupils may have noticed that most grown-ups do not take exams for pleasure. When adults read poems for enjoyment, they rarely ask to sit an exam paper to complete the experience.

Below are some general suggestions for you. These things may help students learn more efficiently and take a more positive attitude to what they do.

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Some classrooms are more equal than others

This may be a counsel of perfection - and things will happen that upset your plans. But as a teacher you can make an immediate difference by looking after the physical surroundings in which you teach - maybe displaying things that reinforce some of the ideas you want pupils to learn. More importantly, you should try, as far as possible, to help students want to learn. Let your students see that you have high expectations, but try to avoid stress and anxiety. Your head teacher and school managers should support you in this - if they want to see pupils become more positive, and improve the numbers achieving particular targets.

In a school, many students will be influenced by whatever they did in the previous lesson, registration time or lunch break. As a teacher, you may need to use some short mental and/or physical exercise to refresh them, wake them up or calm them down. You may need to help them with physical comfort - or insist that they have a cold drink and visit the toilet before the lesson.

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Connecting the learning

Try to connect the work for a given lesson or series of lessons with the wider aims of the subject. Show how it relates to what they did previously or will do in the future. Explain, briefly, the learning outcomes and the questions they will be able to answer when they have done the work. Give them a series of keywords.

Give a short outline of the lesson content. In the case of poetry this may be about themes and ideas, and about how the poems may touch on the readers' personal experience. As teachers, we may be tempted to give too much detail at this point - so this is one thing we may need to practise, or where we should keep to a script.

At this point teachers should be quite explicit about what we expect students to achieve - allowing for the most and least able. It is also important to break the content down into manageable chunks - this may be as simple as putting a list of bullet points on a whiteboard, worksheet or electronic document.

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Presenting the content

When we are studying poetry we are dealing with words - if the poem is any good, then this should make our job all the easier. Unless the poem is very literal and the students very perceptive, then we can expect that they will not get much from hearing and reading for the first time. There is no single right way of presenting all poems - and a lot depends on the teacher's ability to present a live reading.

Even if you are a talented oral performer, you may wish to vary the listeners' experiences - for example, by:

  • asking another teacher or suitable adult to read a poem (useful if you need a regional accent that your colleague has and you cannot produce authentically; helpful if you want someone of a different age or class; essential if you think the poem needs a reader of another sex)
  • playing audio or video tapes in which an actor or the original poet reads the poem
  • giving talented students (individually, in pairs, in groups) time to prepare a reading for the class - they may use props, costume, music and sound FX to do this. This need not be high-tech - they could use a simple percussion instrument (like a fist on a desktop) to reinforce rhythm. They may get help from teachers of drama, dance, art and music. You could record these performances and use them for revision or with other groups.

Given the number of times you will expect students to look at some texts, you may want to do all of these things on different occasions.

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Active listening and reading

Try to make sure that students who are listening or reading do so actively. How? Ask them beforehand to think about one or more questions or ideas that the text suggests. Tell them that, when the reading ends, they will have one minute in which to write down five words to summarize it. Give them, that is, a reason to listen and read attentively.

Give them time to look at the text more reflectively - perhaps by trying to answer a specific question (for example, Does the poet like the character she presents in this poem?)

Given that everyone studies English, then many of the learners will have preferred learning styles that differ from the teacher's - and we should let them use these wherever this helps. Don't make your students always do it your way. Give them opportunities, for example,

  • to draw diagrams, illustrations, symbols and other visual representations of the poem or a part of it (if you do this on a big scale, or use information technology to display or print, then these may become useful for review and recall later).
  • to prepare short talks, jingles, adverts, raps or chants based on the text
  • to learn through physical movement - this may simply be gesture to accompany speech, a mime or tableau or any kind of repeated action that refreshes the student and triggers a memory
  • to make their own mnemonics and explore other ways of learning

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Learning activities

Try to develop activities (other than “write an essay to answer this practice exam question...”) that help students focus on the content - with poems this might be to transform the original into a different kind of text (a news report, a short animated film, a scene from a TV play) or to challenge them to produce their own study aids and revision guides in a range of media.

In an exam, students will be using primarily verbal intelligence, though their ideas of the poems may also come from other kinds of intelligence. But in learning before an exam, the student is not limited in this way. In designing activities, you should allow for all learning styles - and allow students to favour those that work best for them.

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Sometimes you will want students to work alone (in which case you may need to be very firm in preventing distractions). At other times, you will want students to work collaboratively - in pairs, small groups or even larger groupings. You may need to devise these groups, rather than leave it to students' own preferences. Try to avoid strategies that consistently favour one sex - some boys may find working in pairs much less natural and comfortable than female students seem to do. Exploit the groupings intelligently - for example, give each individual or group one or more texts or authors on which to be experts (and use this later in hot-seating activities).

One can overdo introspection - and the students' perceptions of their own progress will eventually be challenged by the examiners' judgement - but some time for reflection on what the students have learned can be useful. It can be especially helpful, if the teacher is open about the learning styles he or she uses, and invites the students to help him or her to fine-tune these. This cannot work unless the teachers and students have a healthy relationship and common goals.

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Showing how to do it

This does not mean photocopying the brilliant essay of your most able pupil - he or she won't thank you for being labelled a swot (and may even go in for some spoiling tactics). And, anyway, writing like the most able is clearly not an option for all students.

It does mean that the teacher provides simple examples or models that show understanding, and ask students to do the same - bulleted lists, spidergrams, posters, booklets, short talks and so on.

Most of these things allow the teacher (and other students) to give immediate responses - sharing and building on what others have done.

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Reviewing and recall

A few learners have naturally retentive memories - most do not, but can learn anything by repetition (as the writers of advertising slogans know). In studying texts in the Anthology, you should not expect students to learn large chunks of text by rote - but they do need to be able to find things quickly. You should not make them learn detailed points of interpretation in a given sequence (examiners will see this as the prepared essay, and award low marks). But you should, perhaps, expect them to learn short lists of themes and images - so long as they still try to answer the question the examiners have set them.

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Visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning

Here are a few ideas for using these different learning styles

Visual input
  • Use posters around the classroom - with short texts and images.
  • Show keywords.
  • Use memory maps, flowcharts and storyboards.
  • Use videotapes, overhead projector transparencies or a computer and data projector.

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Auditory input
  • Give spoken presentations (but time them and structure them).
  • Discuss in groups of various sizes.
  • Make individual presentations.
  • Play (appropriate) music for some periods - in the case of poetry you would choose a wide range of musical styles and genres.
  • Make raps, rhymes, chants and dramatic readings.

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Kinaesthetic input
  • Make physical (3D) models - could this help students learn about literature?
  • Go on visits and study trips.
  • Design mimes and tableaux.
  • Avoid negative effects - as a teacher you can decide how much of any lesson students will spend sitting in the same place. You can allow some exercise and movement - or lots of it. If you have the same kind of chair as the students, you may have a realistic sense of how much they can take.

It is possible to do two or all of these at once - as would happen, if students were to perform a dramatic interpretation of a poem, with music, lighting and sound FX. In a well-planned lesson it is very easy to use all three at some point. They are especially useful for the kind of shallow learning - say, recalling a slogan - that advertisers favour. In the case of poetry and stories, however, teachers may want, some of the time, to encourage rather deeper reflection on timeless truths and more serious questions.

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Can I print this guide and photocopy it?

This guide is free for individual users - for example, teachers or students working from home - in any part of the world. You can print out the guide, but it is not ideal for printing and photocopying, and may run to many more pages than you expect.

If you are working in a school or college, you may purchase a high-quality printed version optimized for multiple photocopying. The cost of the printed version includes permission for unlimited reproduction within your institution - if you expect to make multiple copies, this will probably save on your bulk photocopying and printing costs. To obtain the printed guide, contact:

  • ZigZag Education and Computing Centre Publications
  • Greenway Business Centre
  • Doncaster Road
  • Bristol
  • BS10 5PY
  • Tel: +44 (0)117 950 3199

Click on the link to go to the ZigZag Education Web site:

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