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!

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Teaching Othello at A Level – new worksheets launched

Earlier this term, a new text-guide was launched on Shakespeare’s tense and dramatic tragedy, Othello, alongside the entire text online – all free and easily accessible at

This play features widely across the 2015+ A Level English syllabuses so it’s likely that many teachers are soon to embark on teaching it, if they haven’t already.

Cut your lesson prep!

To save teachers the headache of preparation over the long awaited Easter holidays, a series of six detailed worksheets for teachers are being launched today. They cover topics such as:
  • The central relationship between Othello and Iago
  • The role of the three women in the play
  • An exploration of the structure, pace and tension of Othello
  • The way attitudes towards love, sex and male/female relationships motivate characters
  • An examination of the momentous final scene
  • How far prejudice about ‘outsiders’ is at the heart of the play.

Every worksheet contains ideas and activities which will take you through a number of lessons and homework sessions, as well as being extremely helpful when it comes to revision! Most of the lesson sequences also have easily photocopy-able resources to hand to students, saving you that extra bit of effort.

All bases covered

Written by established UK A Level Literature teachers and examiners, who know what you need to deliver to ensure exam success, the worksheets have:
  • Clear teaching objectives
  • Introductory activities
  • Textual exploration
  • Ideas to structure discussion
  • Creative or re-creative tasks to engage students laterally
  • Traditional essay topics 
  • Extension tasks for the quick or dedicated workers amongst your students.

Where it is helpful, the lesson ideas refer students back to the extensive contextual background knowledge which they need to be aware of, found in the main Othello text-guide.

We hope students of Literature everywhere will come to appreciate the qualities of this exciting drama, as we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the man who wrote it.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Teaching Keats at A Level – new worksheets launched

A poem by any other name.. 

Why do poets chose particular poetic forms for certain subject matter? And really, is there much difference between a sonnet and an ode?

If you are teaching selected poetry by John Keats this year, you may be pleased to know that new John Keats worksheets for teachers launched today will help you address these and other issues.

The worksheets comprise a series of ideas which will carry you through a number of lessons and help your students get to grips with the ‘typical’ elements of Keatsian style.

They cover areas such as:

  • The different imaginative worlds which Keats created in his verse
  • His repeated return to the themes of love, life and death
  • His use of the sonnet form
  • How his narrative poems work
  • The association between this second-generation Romantic poet and nature
  • An exploration of Keats’ famous odes.

Where it is helpful, the lesson ideas refer students back to the extensive contextual background knowledge which they need to be aware of, found in the online John Keats text-guide.

All teaching resources are written by established UK A Level literature teachers and examiners who know what you need to deliver to ensure exam success.

Happy teaching!

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The season to prepare

Hot cross buns

Some shops in the UK sell hot cross buns all year round, but traditionally, they should be made and eaten in readiness for Easter.

Fasting food

Throughout the Christianised Western world, the forty days before Easter, known as Lent, is traditionally a period of restricting foodstuffs or going without some meals, a practice known as fasting. This is in order to prepare for the great celebration of Easter, with its mixture of sorrow and joy:

  • Some hot cross buns were made without any dairy products, from which people abstained during Lent
  • Others contained dried fruit and rich spices, as a reminder that Jesus’ followers wanted to embalm his body with spices, once he had been put to death
  • All buns are marked with a cross on the top, reminding eaters of the manner in which Jesus was killed, nailed to a wooden cross. 


Eating hot cross buns, with their depiction of a cross, might seem an odd practice, given that they commemorate such an awful event, except that, for Christians, Easter is a wonderful feast. It celebrates the sacrificial death, and coming back to life (known as the Resurrection) of Jesus, which Christians believe sets them free from the otherwise inescapable victory of sin and death.

The idea of fasting and feasting has moulded British culture, with the big feasts of Christmas, Easter and Harvest shaping our calendar. These feasts arise from events in the Bible, and a new article explaining the development of the idea of fasting and feasting has just been launched by

A different focus

The idea of a long period of preparation before Easter also echoes another event in the Bible – when Jesus disappeared into the Judean wilderness for forty days to prepare for what would be three costly years of ministry, inaugurated by his baptism.

Experiencing the wild side

If you have ever been in a wild place, be it desert, forest, mountain or moorland, and been cut off from the usual distractions of modern life, you’ll know that it re-focuses your attention on what is around you and your place in the world.

Alone in the wilderness, we are confronted by ourselves, our physical and emotional limitations, as well as previously undiscovered capabilities. Many also feel that they find it easier to experience the divine. This experience is recounted a number of times in the Old and New Testaments and is echoed even today by many travel narratives.

The idea of escaping to the simplicity (and sometimes privation) of the wild has also been a significant factor in the development of the pastoral genre in English Literature. Find out how these ideas were inspired by Europe’s central cultural text at our article on Desert and Wilderness.

And if you want to try a brilliant hot cross bun, why not try this recipe? Enjoy!

Wednesday, 10 February 2016


New, free, online text-guide on Shakespeare’s classic tragedy 

A popular exam text

If you are studying:
  • A level English Literature with 
    • AQA (A or B)
    • Cambridge International
    • Edexcel
  • A level English Literature and Language with 
    • OCR
    • WJEC
  • Cambridge Pre U English Literature
chances are you will encounter Shakespeare’s Othello

And if you want to get the most out of the play, as well as do really well when it comes to exam time, then you need to know that a new, free, online text-guide will make all the difference.

Here’s some real help

Launched this week, the guide to Othello contains not only the usual scene-by-scene synopses and commentaries but lots more:
  • The guide takes you through the key themes of the play, the imagery Shakespeare develops, the way roles are characterised through relationship, action and language. 
  • There are sections dealing with what was going on in the society Shakespeare wrote for, as well as what they thought and believed, so that you can make connections with the text and see how the playwright played with the contemporary attitudes and culture of his audience.
  • There are also sections about how the play was structured, how it would have been staged in Shakespeare’s day and the way critics approach it now.
All this appears alongside handy advice on how to write essays at Advanced Level. And be assured - all guides are written by experienced UK teachers and examiners, who know the best help to give students.

Let us know

We hope you will like it. Why not have a look at the Othello text guide and tell us what you think? 

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

2016 - a special year

Shakespeare reigns

2016 marks four hundred years since the death of the world’s most famous and frequently performed playwright, England’s own William Shakespeare. Undoubtedly the focus will peak on 23rd April, which marks the date both of his (probable) birth and death, but celebrations will continue throughout the year.

Shakespeare isn’t just for theatre buffs. His tales have inspired all sorts of other art forms. During this year you can go to Shakespeare inspired ballets and concerts, look at the way artists have responded graphically to his settings and characters, or catch thirty-seven ten minute films which represent each of his thirty-seven plays – see

There’s a comic TV series (Upstart Crow) and exhibitions in Stratford and London to give a historical context to the Bard.

The Bard by any other name...

Reproducing texts in different styles is a particular skill explored in A Level English Language syllabuses. Having already started in October 2015, going through this year and on into 2017, are appearing a variety of re-tellings of some of Shakespeare’s most famous stories, using different contexts and in novel form:

  • The series was started by Jeannette Winterson, setting The Gap of Time: The Winter’s Tale Retold against the worlds of London banking and the deep south of America
  • In February 2016, Shylock is my name: The Merchant of Venice Retold, by Howard Jacobson might give an interesting perspective on the semitic elements of the story
  • June sees Anne Tyler reimagining Vinegar Girl: The Taming of the Shrew Retold, which you will be able to compare with the original in the forthcoming guide and online text
  • During October, providing interesting dystopian counterpoints from her recent work might impact Margaret Attwood’s retelling of The Tempest.

Coming up in 2017 are re-workings of:

  • Hamlet by Gillian Flynn
  • Jo Nesbo tackling Macbeth
  • Othello by Tracey Chevalier
  • Edward St Aubyn’s take on King Lear.

The writers are all high-profile, many of them prize-winners, so, if buying them yourself is an issue, get on to your school or college library to stock them (published by Hogarth, part of the Penguin empire).


Almost everybody who has ever studied English, studies Shakespeare. He’s universal.
Whilst at school, students may wonder why.
The older they get, the more they realise that William S. managed to convey, in striking ways that stay with you way beyond any performance, the most profound life truths.
No one is quite sure how he achieved it – but it’s worth celebrating that he did.

Make the most of this year!