Monday, 28 September 2015

Ensuring you’re not left behind in A Level English

Filling in the gaps

There are five Assessment Objectives on which you will be examined for AS and A level English Literature (see blog of 9.9.15). You need to be up to speed on every one of them.

Most of you will be taught courses by teachers who have done English degrees. They will be well able to help you understand a variety of critical approaches (AO5), show you how linguistic patterns shape your responses to texts (AO2) and help you become familiar with – and confident of using -  accurate terminology to express your views (AO1).

All of that equates to 62.5% of all the marks you might score in your exam.

But there are a couple of areas that even well-educated teachers may be unaware of, which together add up to over a third (37.5%) of marks awarded –

  • They may have gaps in their knowledge about the culture which produced texts and for which they were originally created (AO3 – worth a quarter of all your marks)
  •  They may not recognise how frequently literary texts reference other texts (AO4 – worth 12.5% in the exam)

Topical example

In an editorial of a UK paper recently, the columnist commented on the understanding that people have of the migrant crisis and how it has been shaped by one picture:
‘Did we not know, had we not read, that migrant children drowned? What happened to the written word?’
How many of your teachers would know that the journalist was echoing another literary text which commented on people’s faulty understanding (AO4):
‘Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning?’
If you – or your teacher – can tell us what the columnist was alluding to (without googling the answer!), email us at and praise will be heaped upon you in the next blog.

If you - or those educating you - are stumped, it looks like you might need the help that can offer!

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Welcome to A Level English exam success!

We are here to help

From this September, students studying English Literature at AS and A Level are working through new syllabuses which are targeting success according to a variety of different assessment objectives.

Instead of four assessment goals there are now five, each of which aims to help you with:

  • AO1 - Articulate informed, personal and creative responses to literary texts, using associated concepts and terminology, and coherent, accurate written expression
    • How we help - utilises - and explains - the kind of terminology and concepts expected at A Level
  • AO2 - Analyse ways in which meanings are shaped in literary texts
    • How we help - writers help you understand how aspects like form, narrative and language are used to shape meaning
  • AO3 - Demonstrate understanding of the significance and influence of the contexts in which literary texts were written and received
    • How we help - is designed to help students understand the significance and influence of cultural and historical contexts: the way the beliefs and worldview of the author informed everything they wrote
  • AO4 - Explore connections across literary texts
    • How we help - covers a range of literary texts and explains the connections and comparisons. 
  • AO5 - Explore literary texts informed by different interpretations
    • How we help - Commentary covers a range of different ways to interpret each text. makes all this easy and accessible and is FREE!

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Twentieth Century attitudes

The –isms that shaped a century

Fascist leaders Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini
Contextual awareness of what people thought and felt really helps us make sense of what people wrote in any given era. It is an intangible world of ideas which, when we understand it can help us succeed if we are studying A Level English Literature.

Often, authors don’t directly refer to widely held attitudes – they just assume that everyone is coming from a particular cultural viewpoint – even if their job is then to challenge it.

The twentieth century saw the questioning of many longstanding cultural norms, which were replaced by newly developed beliefs. For example:

  • In the first quarter of the twentieth century, Enlightenment rationalism was superseded by Modernism
  • This was itself discarded in the last quarter of the century, as being an inadequate perception of how life held together, in favour of Post-modernism.

But what do all these –isms mean? has just provided some handy explanations in its ‘Making sense of the intangible world of the twentieth century’ section. Launched this week are easy to understand pages where you can find out about the following:

Communism & Fascism – two ideologies which shaped nationhood and conflict across the world for much of the century

Feminism – the shift of authority from patriarchy to the recognition of female values and power

Modernism – the scientific, industrial ‘solution’ to human progress

Post-modernism & individualism – the loss of faith in over-arching truths

Religious attitudes – changes in religious observance and cultural certainties

Multiculturalism – a challenge to the British, white, Protestant ascendancy

Simply by living within a culture that held these attitudes at varying times, British poets, novelists and playwrights reflected them and refracted them.

As the summer holidays roll on for most, why not take some time out to explore this rich background, and therefore get the most out of the English literature of the twentieth century?

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Shifts in the way we live

The World of the Twentieth Century has just introduced a new section on site about ‘The World of the Twentieth Century’. This week we are adding to articles about momentous events of the century with some perspectives about how the way British people lived changed between 1900 and 2000.

Recently there was much adulation over the birth of a new royal, Princess Charlotte – but did you realise that there were at least two eras in the twentieth century when the stability of the British monarchy looked in doubt? Check out Monarchy

Right now, Greece is dealing with the cumulative effects of spending without the bank reserves to pay. How did running up personal debt become the norm for many in the UK from the 1980s onwards? See Income & consumerism 

The working environment is often reflected in literature. How did this change for many Brits after the 1970s? Find out at World of work

What helped many UK citizens fall back in love with the British landscape in which few actually lived? Discover the answer at Humans & the environment

Our grandparents and great-grandparents grew up celebrating Empire Day (as Queenie remembers at the start of Andrea Levy’s Small Island). Why is this no longer the case? Find out at Colonialism & post-colonialism

These are just a few of the areas covered by the extra material being launched today to help users make sense of the tangible world of the twentieth century. Remember, it is contextual awareness like this that can help you succeed at A Level English Literature!

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Moments that shook the world

2015 anniversaries 

2015 has been full of anniversaries – ways of remembering key events that shaped the course of history:

  • 800 years ago this year, English King John was compelled to sign the Magna Carta, establishing that even a monarch was subject to the rule of law
  • It is 200 years since the British victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo
  • 100 years ago was the desperate defeat of Allied forces in the Dardanelles campaign, during the First World War
  • It is 70 years since the declaration of Victory in Europe, marking the defeat and downfall of the Nazi domination of Western Europe – the liberation of their concentration camps helped others see the evils of the regime in all its grisly reality
  • It is 25 years since East Germans flooded through the Berlin Wall and it fell, the symbol of division and communist oppression. That same year Nelson Mandela was freed from incarceration 
  • Only 10 years ago London was rocked by the efforts of four suicide bombers which left 700 people injured or killed

Why do we memorialise these events? Because they are an anchor as life passes; they remind us of how we lived, what kind of people we were when the event happened.

Many situations in the list above commemorate the overthrow of oppression and control – the impulse of the human spirit for freedom. Events such as the end of war and liberation of Auschwitz altered the way people thought about themselves.

Perspective shifts and the arts

The Elephant Celebes by Max Ernst
It is these shifts in perspective which the arts pick up on. Just as modernist painters reflected the sense of moral disintegration in the aftermath of the First World War, so authors and poets channeled the angst or optimism of the era into their works:

  • For example, the looming danger of George Orwell’s novel 1984 picked up on the very real oppression of Stalin when he attempted to blockade West Berlin in1948 (the year in which Orwell wrote his book).

If you are studying literature it is expected that you will understand how events provided a context against which writers created their texts. Indeed, examiners will award 25% of your marks in A Level English Literature on the basis of your ability to:

Demonstrate understanding of the significance and influence of the contexts in which literary texts are written and received. 

The World of the Twentieth Century already has lots of background material to help you make sense of literature up to the end of the Victorian era. Now it has just introduced a new section on site about ‘The World of the Twentieth Century’. Available are eight new articles focusing on key events between 1900 and 2000, such as:

  • the two World Wars, the Cold War and conflict in Ireland
  • The reshaping of the economy after the Wall Street Crash 
  • The shift of power and territory according to ideology in post-war Europe and Palestine 
  • The change in society as a result of immigration and integration.

Texts such as The Great Gatsby, The Handmaid’s Tale and Wide Sargasso Sea make better sense when you can place the worlds they depict against the reality which their respective authors faced.

There will be more to come, so keep looking out for updates!

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Summer shows

Exams will soon be over 

Pericles, Prince of Tyre
Yes really! And the rest of the summer term is a great time to let all you have accumulated over your year(s) spent studying AS/A2 Level English Literature sink in.

Often this is the time when, as students, you suddenly ‘get’ what the requirements of A Levels are all about, rather than feeling out of your depth after the relative shallows of GCSE English. You stop floundering and start swimming. And because of this, you might actually start enjoying literature more!

If you have been studying a play text in the past months (or are soon about to) the easing of pressure after the exam period is also a great time to catch a live production of your drama text. Unfortunately the great majority of them are in London, but with longer days and the summer holidays beckoning, perhaps you could make a day of it in the capital.


Everyone covers the bard.

If your syllabus includes a tragedy see if you can get to:

  • Hamlet, at the Barbican Theatre, London, 25.8 – 31.10.15 (with Benedict Cumberbatch)
  • Macbeth, at the Young Vic, London, from 3.12.15 - 3.1.16
  • Othello, at the RSC, Stratford, is more imminent, running from 4.6 – 28.8.15

If you are studying a problem play, like Measure for Measure, you will benefit from seeing one of these productions:

  • Measure for Measure, at the Globe Theatre, London, from 20.6 – 17.10.15
  • The Merchant of Venice, at the RSC, Stratford, between 15.6 – 2.9.15
  • Measure for Measure, at the Young Vic, London, from 8.10 – 7.11.15

Perhaps you are studying a Romance play like The Tempest:

  • At the new Sam Wannamaker indoor theatre (next to London’s Globe Theatre), a companion piece, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, will be showing from 25.11.15 – 21.4.16

Meanwhile, a Shakespearean comedy on offer is:

  • As You Like It, at the Globe Theatre, London, from 15.5 – 5.9.15

Jacobean drama

Shakespeare’s contemporaries were creating a vivid range of comedies and tragedies, sometimes blurring the two so that the humour is dark and there are flashes of laughter amongst the gore. What’s it like on stage? Check out three productions at the Swan Theatre, the RSC’s more intimate venue:

  • The Jew of Malta, from 1.6 – 8.9.15
  • Love’s Sacrifice, from 6.6 – 24.6.15
  • Volpone, from 3.7 – 12.9.15

Comedies of manners

Before the syllabuses change, current students may well be studying a seventeenth or eighteenth century ‘Comedy of Manners’ such as She Stoops to Conquer, The School for Scandal, The Rivals or The Way of the World. If you want to see how the style of writing translates onto stage, and how the comedy works, why not go to see

  • The Beaux Stratagem, at the National Theatre, London, from 3.6-31.8.15
  • The School for Scandal, at the Park Theatre, London, from 12.6 – 7.7.15.

Mid twentieth century

There’s hope for those of you living in the north of England or Scotland. Two productions are coming up from autumn onwards:

  • Waiting for Godot, at the Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, from 19.9 – 10.10.15
  • The Crucible, at the Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, from 18.2 – 19.3.16
  • In London you can catch the RSC’s Death of a Salesman, currently running until 18.7.15

If you know of other productions around the regions, please let us know – email

Above all, enjoy the experience and - after all your hard work - remind yourself why you took English in the first place…

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

King Lear catch up

The count-down begins

At the start of February a new, searchable online version of Shakespeare’s King Lear was launched at

Over the half term break a free, comprehensive King Lear text guide came out, with everything A Level English Lit. students and teachers need to ensure exam success. 

Now, as revision starts to get serious, help is at hand again in the shape of Teachers’ worksheets on King Lear.

Worksheet contents

The six Crossref-it worksheets  contain material for a number of lessons focused on Shakespeare’s tragedy. Accompanied by supplementary student handouts, they cover areas such as:

  • Exploring the characters and themes established at the play’s opening, particularly the parent-child theme
  • Analysing the dramatic impact of Act 3 Scene 2.
  • Considerations of key themes in the play, for example
    • Love and relationships
    • Seeing and blindness
    • Madness, wildness and disorder and how they connect
  • Exploring the impact of the final scene (Act 5 Scene 3) and the play’s sense of justice.

Teaching variety

Every worksheet contains a variety of teaching approaches, including:

  • An opening exercise - to help student engagement
  • Textual examination of key passages
  • Discussion ideas - to deepen understanding
  • A recreative task - to help make connections
  • Critical tasks - enabling traditional essay practice
  • Extension tasks - to widen knowledge.

Student help

It’s not just teachers who will find the worksheets helpful. As a student preparing to be assessed this summer, you might just be starting to panic as you uncover any gaps in your notes / understanding / lesson attendance. Trying downloading and working through a worksheet and you will end up with lots of helpful ideas to throw back at the examiner.

Have fun!