Wednesday, 29 June 2016

New, free A Level text-guide on The Taming of the Shrew

Shakespeare’s early ‘comedy’, The Taming of the Shrew, has posed a number of problems in production since its original performances from 1593 onwards.

A play of its times?

The play reflects three cultural strands of the late Elizabethan era, which Shakespeare weaves into a narrative that can be played in a variety of ways:

  • Since medieval times, there existed a rich seam of misogynistic stereotyping about women who defied the culturally desirable norm of female gentleness and obedience. Such women were branded ‘shrews’ or harridans
  • Arriving from Europe, the Commedia dell’Arte stock plots and characters influenced the English theatrical world and resulted in farcical comedies where young lovers sought to thwart self-deluding and/or authoritarian old men
  • Echoing late Elizabethan court life, upwardly-mobile young men dressed to impress so as to acquire status via marriage (or the personal attention of Elizabeth I). To succeed, elaborate versification and skillful social maneuvering were required.
Whilst drawing on this background, Shakespeare also challenges it. In The Taming of the Shrew:

  • The ‘shrew’ becomes the most desirable wife
  • The man seeking advancement is deliberately offensive in his wooing
  • The knockabout farce places the innocent in genuine jeopardy and discredits the lovers.

Launched today

Now students have got an invaluable free guide to the play, accompanied by an online text: The Taming of the Shrew text guide. Targeting the many A Level English Lit. students who are studying The Taming of the Shrew (which appears on the AQA and Edexcel specifications), the new text-guide provides everything a student needs to help them enjoy the play and answer confidently when it comes to assessment.

As you might expect, it contains:

  • Handy synopses and commentaries on every scene
  • Character studies
  • An exploration of the play’s language and the impact of its structure
  • Summaries of the themes and recurring imagery of the play.

There are also sections detailing contextual aspects such as sport and marriage in Shakespeare’s era, the prevailing patriarchal culture and how critics have responded to the play – all vital to understand for success at A Level.

Make up your own mind

The Taming of the Shrew is regarded as one of Shakespeare’s most problematic dramas. As well as studying the text, why not try and see a live performance to help you make up your mind about how to interpret it? There’s still time to catch the current production of The Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London, running until 6 August (020 7401 9919).

For an entertaining cultural spin-off, devised in the twentieth century, you might also check out the Welsh National Opera Company’s musical, Kiss Me Kate, which is touring from September 29th until December 10th 2016 (see for details).

Will you want to laugh or cry?

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

The Color Purple: Lesson ideas for A Level Eng. Lit. teachers

A fortnight ago launched a comprehensive new guide for A Level Eng. Lit. students examining Alice Walker’s classic text, The Color Purple.

Now there is help for teachers.

As from today, the text-guide is accompanied by two sets of freely downloadable worksheets:

  • Investigate The Color Purple handouts pose exploratory questions on each letter of the novel, helping students build up a valuable bank of notes. Collated from the textguide in three handy worksheets, these are invaluable for helping students revise, catch up missed work or simply to set for homework.
  • Exploring aspects of the novel and its world in greater depth and breadth, there are six new collections of lesson ideas on the following areas:
    • Celie’s narrative voice, the way it develops and is depicted through the novel
    • The presentation of abuse in the text, through its various aspects
    • How effectively the ending of the narrative embodies the resolution of the plot and reconciliation of the characters
    • The way Walker’s characters defy gender roles and expectations
    • An examination of the significant female bonds through the story
    • An exploration of the impact of patriarchy and religion on the main characters and their culture.

Most are accompanied by easily photocopiable student handouts, saving teachers valuable time.

Text-guide links

Each worksheet suggests where students can find handy information to help them deepen their knowledge by linking back to relevant pages within the new text-guide on The Color Purple. From there they can follow other links or simply roam through the wealth of material provided.

As a teacher you can be assured that all material is written by UK A Level English teachers, examiners and academics – writers who want to open up the riches of literature, whilst understanding what the syllabus requires of students.

We also know how much pressure teachers are under. Here’s hoping that the resources offered here will make your life just that bit easier!

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

New, free text-guide on Alice Walker’s The Color Purple

Launched today is a comprehensive new guide on Alice Walker’s classic text, The Color Purple. Spanning the first half of the twentieth century, the novel details two sisters’ experience of culture, racism and gender relations in the American South and in Africa. The stories of Celie and Nettie are powerful and raw, reaching out to readers of all ages.

The Color Purple features on the specifications of AQA, Edexcel and WJEC exam boards. As ever, 25% of marks awarded to students are based on their comprehension of the world the novel refers to and within which Walker was writing.

Context made clear

For readers in the UK, it may be hard to grasp the ramifications of the novel’s context. However, extensive sections in the new Crossref-it guide cover areas such as the Social / political world of the novel, with information about:
  • Colonialism and slavery
  • The black civil rights and black power movements
  • Women’s liberation and the sexual revolution.
Alice Walker had an individual take on mainstream religion, which is shown in the development of her protagonists. Sections about the Religious / philosophical background to the work include:
  • African religious beliefs
  • The use of religion to uphold racism and slavery
  • The role of the church to overthrow racist (and colonial) oppression.
Walker’s text is composed of a series of letters between the two sisters. Students need to know how it reflects a literary heritage of:
  • Epistolary novels
  • Slave narratives
  • Post-colonial writing.

Understanding the text

The text-guide on The Color Purple has thought-provoking commentary of each of the 90 letters, as well as helpful character studies. It contains an analysis of the novel’s themes and its dominant imagery, as well as an appraisal of the text’s narrative devices and language. There is detailed investigation of the text’s structure and how it is used to convey meaning as well as shape the story.

As ever, there is extensive help for students in writing about the text, their ideas joining the range of critical interpretations which have been brought to bear since the novel was first published in 1982.

All in all, this new text-guide offers everything a student needs for success in A Level Eng. Lit. as well as providing fascinating insights for the interested reader.

Make the most of it! --> Free text guide on Alice Walker's The Color Purple

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Othello and Keats worksheets

Help for A Level Eng. Lit. teachers and students

Those preparing for their A levels are now on study leave. However, a little later, those in the first year of their A Level Eng. Lit. course will undoubtedly face summer exams too, perhaps their first experience of what it is like to face the rigors of Advanced Level testing.

In recent weeks has been releasing material to help students studying the old specifications – but here’s something for the post 2015 students and their teachers.


Shakespeare’s shocking tragedy is being widely studied. If you have gaps in your notes or are getting confused about how Iago’s machinations work out for example, then going through the worksheet questions on each Act and scene can be a great way to sort it out in your head.

Markers always want students to show that they know the whole text, not just the beginning and the final scene. And there are only thirteen really key scenes, so don’t feel defeated before

you start – it really is do-able! You can find the worksheets here.


If you are revising the poetry of Keats, also launched today are handy worksheets setting questions to help you examine each poem and build up your notes on:
  • First impressions
  • Language and tone
  • Structure and versification
  • Imagery and symbolism
  • Themes.
They are also a great way for teachers to be sure students understand the poems – have a look at what’s on offer here.

Of course, all the detail you need to fully comprehend these drama and poetry texts is freely available at Just go to:

We’re sure you can do it!

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Dubliners and Blake worksheets

If you are teaching or revising the Dubliners short story collection, by James Joyce, or William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, help is at hand. Launched today are handy worksheets setting questions to work through on each text.

Deceptively simple, it is sometimes hard to know what to write about the Songs of Innocence and Experience. Every worksheet directs students to investigate:

  • First impressions
  • Language and tone
  • Structure and versification
  • Imagery and symbolism
  • Themes.
Students revising the poems can not only refresh their memories and fill up important gaps in their notes, but also see how the texts interrelate.

Meanwhile, for helpful explanations and detailed contextual information, make sure you visit the site at:

We’ll be thinking of you!

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Revision time!

Get ready!

The last cohort to be examined under the old A Level English Lit. specifications is now madly revising to prepare for exams, which will start in around a month’s time.

When you have hardly looked at a text which may be the first one studied back in 2014, you probably need some help in getting your head around it again. Step forward a new launch of worksheets based on two texts:

  • The White Devil, by John Webster
  • Persuasion, by Jane Austen

Help with revision – in school and at home

Now teachers can issue students with a set of downloadable question sheets which cover every scene or chapter of the above works, helping students explore aspects such as structure, characterisation, language, imagery and themes.

If students are wanting a thorough way of building up their revision notes at home, they can access these worksheets for themselves in the website here and here.

Accessibility of the texts

Persuasion is fairly accessible, via myriad TV and film adaptations which have familiarised audiences with Jane Austen’s world. However, the experience of being a woman in those times is still a world away from life for girls in the UK today, so the text-guide offers detailed insight into the cultural expectations on characters like the Elliot sisters. There are also handy sections on how the novel is structured and how characters are judged, for example.

Webster’s play is far trickier. The White Devil is set in a different country, in a different religious culture and is part of a specific dramatic genre, the Jacobean revenge tragedy.

Students need to understand not just which character does what (and the plot is pretty complex) but how their worldview has shaped the way in which they think and behave.

The text-guide sets the play within its times, and the way in which English audiences of the time perceived Italian behaviour. It outlines the expectations of the dramatic revenge genre and how far the play fulfills them.

Successful study

As students start to think about how to improve their exam technique, they will find lots of advice in each text-guide to help them, as well as sample essay questions to approach.

Test yourself

Sign in to the Chrome app at and students can also test themselves on memory questions for every scene and chapter in The White Devil and Persuasion. Furthermore they can plan out answers to sample exam questions and check how well they score compared to the site’s suggestions.

It’s time to crack on, so good luck everybody!

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Enjoying the Easter holiday – and the ideas that led to it

Easter was fairly early this year, and so many are enjoying a full fortnight’s break following the celebration, as well as having been off for Good Friday. For some it is a much needed chance for rest (fuelled by chocolate eggs!) before they gear up for A Level exams in a few weeks’ time.


The whole concept of holidays has been shaped in the West by an idea which runs right through the Bible - that God knows humanity is frail and needs to have down-time.

Launched this week, a new article in the series Big ideas from the Bible explains how regular rest periods are important, whether it is for travellers who need to stop, for exhausted soil, or for the anxious who need relief. Physical rest is put in place by God’s laws in the Bible and by civic authorities today, who decide how the working year should be shaped. UK academic terms are framed by time off for Christian celebrations – Christmas, Easter, Whitsun and summer harvest.

Where human agency may have limited success, the idea of perfect rest is promised for believers once they get to heaven – but a measure of that can be accessed in the here and now. Why not take a break from your current task and explore the idea here?

Highs and lows

Everyone can become emotionally and physically ‘low’ if they are exhausted, whilst an exciting event can energise us and send us out on a ‘high’. Another Big idea about Ascent and descent launched this week explains how the ideas behind these idioms came via the Bible to influence our culture.

Easter itself is the premier example:
  • The followers of Jesus went from being desperately low, as they despaired over the death of their leader, to ecstatically excited once they saw Christ alive again.
  • Jesus’ final days were a series of physical ascents and descents:
    • He went up the Mount of Olives to pray, and came down it to be arrested
    • He was suspended high on a cross, then lowered to be interred in a rock hewn tomb
    • According to Christian belief he descended to the realm of the dead, then rose back
    • He appeared to his followers in an ‘upper room’ before finally rising up to heaven, up to life from the grave then sent down his Holy Spirit to dwell amongst believers on earth.
So next time you are ‘in the pits’ or ‘on a high’ (perhaps after the exams!), think about how the Christianised Western worldview put you there!