English Literature » GCSE

How to Tutor English Literature GCSE

Posted 4 days ago by Alice Farrell

Tutoring English Literature GCSE is an opportunity to share your interest in the subject with your students. With your guidance, your tutees will start to appreciate how writers communicate their ideas about the world and the extent of their impact over the years. It can also be used as a chance to share your own favourite texts - you might broaden your own knowledge whilst you’re at it!

Preparing for your first tutorial

Before you begin tutoring a new student, you should ascertain what texts they are studying. If you are familiar with them there’s no problem, but if you’re not then you should take the time to familiarise yourself with them. It’s important that you’re one step ahead of your students, not in the same place as them! Even if you have already read the relevant texts, it might be useful to refresh your memory by skimming the text or reading an online summary.

It’s important that you’re one step ahead of your students, not in the same place as them! Even if you have already read the relevant texts, it might be useful to refresh your memory by skimming the text or reading an online summary.

You should also determine which exam board your student is on; this will help you prepare your students appropriately for their exam. Read the specification for their exam board and look through relevant specimen papers to get a more detailed picture of what your students will be asked to do. The specimen papers also come with mark schemes and ‘indicative content’ which summarise what students should include in their answers to score top marks. These resources can be found on the exam boards’ websites, which are linked to below.

Specifications and past papers can also be used to produce your own ‘model’ answers which can be shown to students to indicate how to structure ideas to achieve the best possible marks. You can also take the opportunity to step into your students’ shoes and understand the types of difficulties they might face, which you can then help them to avoid.

When you have a strong understanding of the exams your students will be sitting and have familiarised yourself with the texts they are studying, you are ready to start planning your tutorials. Identify what your student wants from the tutorials: are they struggling with the content or do they want help with essay writing technique? You can use this information to plan your sessions accordingly. All exam boards include both essay questions and extract-based questions. Therefore, a good place to start is to create your own exam-style questions to use with students. Pick out key moments from across each text to explore as passages, and use the specimen paper to write a series of essay titles appropriate for the exam board’s requirements. This will help you build up a bank of material which can be used throughout your tutorials.

Resources

The texts themselves will be invaluable: make sure you have your own copies or borrow them from a library. All exam boards produce a specific anthology for the poetry section, but this will be tricky for you to track down. A better approach is to locate the list of included poems which the exam board publishes and find the poems yourself. Many poems are available online, or you could use an anthology such as The Oxford Book of English Verse, edited by Christopher Ricks, which contains many of those selected by the exam boards.

All exam boards produce a specific anthology for the poetry section, but this will be tricky for you to track down. A better approach is to locate the list of included poems which the exam board publishes and find the poems yourself.

There are a huge range of resources to help with the Shakespeare section of the exam. Websites such as Sparknotes’ No Fear Shakespeare provide modern translations alongside the original texts to help with comprehension, and The Royal Shakespeare Company and Shakespeare’s Globe have a range of resources on their websites for all of the set plays which can help students visualise scenes and consider stagecraft.

You could also utilise film and TV adaptations, along with illustrations or art work inspired by the texts. This provides an engaging and accessible opening to a text which helps lower ability students who are struggling to understand the plot, while more able students can evaluate it as a ‘take’ on the text. 

Finally, if you are looking for unseen poems to prepare your students for this element of the exam, it’s useful to purchase or borrow an anthology of poetry. I would recommend Poem for the Day edited by Wendy Cope as a wide-ranging collection of appropriate poetry.

FAQs

What should I do if my student doesn’t follow the narrative of a text?

Point out film and TV adaptations which students can watch to improve their understanding of the overarching storyline of the text. Next, help them break down the plot: make mind maps of the different characters and how they relate to each other, or draw a symbol to summarise each chapter. Another useful strategy is to pin-point five key moments from across the text that make up the main plot. If they know these moments well, they will be able to answer whatever question they are faced with in the exam.

My student wants to know why they have to study Shakespeare. How do I answer them?

This is a big question, so take a moment to consider your own line on this. When answering, flag up Shakespeare’s relevance – the fact that he considers key human concepts such as love, death and power. There are few writers whose work is still being constantly reinvented 400 years after their death!

What can I do if my student doesn’t engage with poetry at all?

Lots of students struggle with poetry. Help them to appreciate it by reminding them that song lyrics are a type of poem. Analyse the lyrics of their favourite song together, then move onto poems. Alternatively, play them some videos of live poetry performances from YouTube to try and get them on side.

How can I help my student remember lots of quotations?

They don’t need to remember them all! All exam boards have said they will credit specific, textual references as well as quotations, so if your student can’t remember Lady Macbeth’s exact line, analysing how she keeps washing her hands and seeing blood on them will do. However, if they can remember quotations, they should be strategic. Help your student to pick out several quotations that apply to a broad range of themes and that they can write about at length. They don’t need to be long either – just one or two words is fantastic.

All exam boards have said they will credit specific, textual references as well as quotations, so if your student can’t remember Lady Macbeth’s exact line, analysing how she keeps washing her hands and seeing blood on them will do.

Overview of key changes to English Literature GCSE

In 2015, a series of changes to GCSEs was announced. Firstly, some subject specifications were altered. English Literature exam specifications have been updated and students will be tested on this new syllabus for the first time this summer (June 2017). While most the skills that students need to demonstrate in their English Literature exams remain the same, the material they are asked to analyse has become more challenging. Begin by checking out the description of the new syllabus for your students’ exam boards below, and then read the precise specifications for yourself.

Secondly, the way in which the exam boards award grades has changed. Starting from June 2017, English and Maths GCSEs will no longer be graded using the letters A* - G but will be assessed using the new 9-1 system (where 9 is the highest). They don’t translate exactly (so A* does not equal a 9), but a low C (the old ‘good’ pass mark) will be now be a 4 and a high C is equivalent to a 5.

Find out more about the changes to GCSEs here

There is no longer any coursework for English Literature GCSE and exams cannot be sat as modules. Additionally, there is no more ‘tiering’, where students are entered for different versions of the same GCSE, based on their ability. This means that students’ grades will be determined entirely by the exams that students sit at the end of year 11, making them even more crucial for students.

Content-wise, there is a new emphasis on the English canon. You might have heard about this in the media, when the press reported that the popular American novel Of Mice and Men was being dropped from specifications, along with To Kill a Mockingbird. Instead, the prescribed texts are examples of specifically English, and not world, literature. Additionally, texts reflect the whole breadth of English literature: students are now required to read an entire 19th century novel. Exam boards do not offer a collection of short stories as an option for this element of the course, as they have previously. Similarly, the poetry studied must include examples from 1789, including texts by the Romantic poets. Due to this focus on the canon of English literature, students will not be asked to analyse multimedia texts in the exam.

Finally, the style of the exam has been altered so that it’s closed-book – that is, students will not have access to texts in the exam, other than the extracts and whole poems printed on the exam paper.

Assessment objectives

AO1: Read, understand, and respond to texts. Students should: maintain a critical style and develop an informed personal response; and use textual references, including quotations, to support and illustrate interpretations. (Overall weighting 37.5%).

AO2: Analyse the language, form and structure used by a writer to create meanings and effects, using relevant subject terminology where appropriate. (Overall weighting 42.5%).

AO3: Show understanding of the relationships between texts and the contexts in which they were written. (Overall weighting 15%).

AO4: Use a range of vocabulary and sentence structures for clarity, purpose and effect, with accurate spelling and punctuation. (Overall weighting 5%).

Ofqual has required that 20-25% of marks for AO1, AO2 and AO3 are for comparing texts, which must in some way relate to two unseen texts.

Paper 1: Shakespeare and the 19th Century Novel (40%) – 1 hour 45 mins

A: Shakespeare: first part of question focuses on extract; second on whole play

B: 19th Century Novel: as above

Paper 2: Post-1914 Drama/Novel and Post-1789 Poetry (60%) – 2 hours 15 mins

A: Post-1914 Drama/Novel: one essay, two choices

B: Post-1789 Poetry: comparison of one printed poem from cluster with another poem of own choice from anthology

C: Unseen Poetry: first question on analysis of unseen printed poem; second question is a comparison with another unseen poem

You can find the AQA specification here, and specimen papers and mark schemes here.

There is no longer any coursework for English Literature GCSE and exams cannot be sat as modules. Additionally, there is no more ‘tiering’, where students are entered for different versions of the same GCSE, based on their ability. This means that students’ grades will be determined entirely by the exams that students sit at the end of year 11, making them even more crucial for students.

Content-wise, there is a new emphasis on the English canon. You might have heard about this in the media, when the press reported that the popular American novel Of Mice and Men was being dropped from specifications, along with To Kill a Mockingbird. Instead, the prescribed texts are examples of specifically English, and not world, literature. Additionally, texts reflect the whole breadth of English literature: students are now required to read an entire 19th century novel. Exam boards do not offer a collection of short stories as an option for this element of the course, as they have previously. Similarly, the poetry studied must include examples from 1789, including texts by the Romantic poets. Due to this focus on the canon of English literature, students will not be asked to analyse multimedia texts in the exam.

Finally, the style of the exam has been altered so that it’s closed-book – that is, students will not have access to texts in the exam, other than the extracts and whole poems printed on the exam paper.

Assessment objectives

AO1: Read, understand and respond to texts. Students should: maintain a critical style and develop an informed personal response; and use textual references, including quotations, to support and illustrate interpretations. (Overall weighting 40%).

AO2: Analyse the language, form and structure used by a writer to create meanings and effects, using relevant subject terminology where appropriate. (Overall weighting 40%).

AO3: Show understanding of the relationships between texts and the contexts in which they were written. (Overall weighting 15%).

AO4: Use a range of vocabulary and sentence structures for clarity, purpose and effect, with accurate spelling and punctuation. (Overall weighting 5%).

Ofqual has required that 20-25% of marks for AO1, AO2 and AO3 are for comparing texts, which must in some way relate to two unseen texts.

Paper 1: Post-1914 Drama/Novel and 19th Century Novel (50%) – 2 hours

A: Post-1914 Drama/Novel, including Unseen: comparison of two printed extracts (unseen and from studied text); second question is essay

B: 19th Century Novel: choice between extract-based and essay tasks

Paper 2: Shakespeare and Post-1789 Poetry (50%) – 2 hours

A: Post-1789 Poetry, including Unseen: comparison of two printed poems, from cluster and unseen; second question on own choice of poem from cluster

B: Shakespeare: choice between extract-based and essay tasks

You can find the OCR specification here, and specimen papers and mark schemes here and here.

There is no longer any coursework for English Literature GCSE and exams cannot be sat as modules. Additionally, there is no more ‘tiering’, where students are entered for different versions of the same GCSE, based on their ability. This means that students’ grades will be determined entirely by the exams that students sit at the end of year 11, making them even more crucial for students.

Content-wise, there is a new emphasis on the English canon. You might have heard about this in the media, when the press reported that the popular American novel Of Mice and Men was being dropped from specifications, along with To Kill a Mockingbird. Instead, the prescribed texts are examples of specifically English, and not world, literature. Additionally, texts reflect the whole breadth of English literature: students are now required to read an entire 19th century novel. Exam boards do not offer a collection of short stories as an option for this element of the course, as they have previously. Similarly, the poetry studied must include examples from 1789, including texts by the Romantic poets. Due to this focus on the canon of English literature, students will not be asked to analyse multimedia texts in the exam.

Finally, the style of the exam has been altered so that it’s closed-book – that is, students will not have access to texts in the exam, other than the extracts and whole poems printed on the exam paper.

Assessment objectives

AO1: Read, understand and respond to texts. Students should: maintain a critical style and develop an informed personal response; and use textual references, including quotations, to support and illustrate interpretations. (Overall weighting 37%).

AO2: Analyse the language, form and structure used by a writer to create meanings and effects, using relevant subject terminology where appropriate. (Overall weighting 42%).

AO3: Show understanding of the relationships between texts and the contexts in which they were written. (Overall weighting 16%).

AO4: Use a range of vocabulary and sentence structures for clarity, purpose and effect, with accurate spelling and punctuation. (Overall weighting 5%).

Ofqual has required that 20-25% of marks for AO1, AO2 and AO3 are for comparing texts, which must in some way relate to two unseen texts.

Paper 1: Shakespeare and Post-1914 Drama/Novel (50%) – 1 hour 45 mins

A: Shakespeare: first question on extract; second on whole play

B: Post-1914 Drama/Novel: choice of essay tasks

Paper 2: 19th Century Novel and Post-1789 Poetry (50%) – 2 hours 15 mins

A: 19th Century Novel: first question on extract; second on whole novel

B: Post-1789 Poetry, including Unseen: comparison of printed poem from anthology with another poem of own choice from anthology; comparison of two unseen contemporary poems

You can find the Edexcel specification here, and the specimen papers and mark schemes here.

Written by - Laura Clash

Laura Clash studied English Language and Literature, followed by a Masters in Medieval English Literature, at Oxford University. She gained her PGCE in English at Bristol University and is now an English teacher in Cambridgeshire.

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