Sunday, October 11, 2020

Structural features for GCSE English Language

The structure question is one which can cause all sorts of problems for students approaching GCSE English.  So, there are a number of lessons on our VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) which cover what might come up in the exam – and the approach we take to it may surprise you.  

However, of course, just like the language question, Paper 1 Question 3 (of the AQA exam) demands that you know some terminology so that you can describe the structure of a text while responding to the question.

So, here are some of the structural features that you will see in action on the VLE.  Knowing what to look forward is straightforward enough, so as you can see from the list below, there are a number of important structural features to look at.

Knowing how to take this terminology and put them together to make an exam response is, of course, something altogether different.  We will leave those lessons on the Virtual Learning Environment!

In the meantime, take a look at the structural features below.  They come with a set of graphics that may blind you!

Structural features for GCSE English Language


This is where the time that the story takes place is established (year or month or season etc).  It often sets out where the story is set at the same time and is useful exposition.  Often mentioned “in passing”.

This is where the place the story is set is established.

The introduction of the main character - also known as the protagonist - can be an important structural element of a text.

This is where background information is placed in a text. This information can be about setting, character, prior events, historical context (and so on!) might be mentioned. Can be short but often lengthy.

This is a device used to change ideas or perspectives.  It can go from the outside to the inside.  It can go from one character’s thoughts to describing a scene -and so on!

This shows events that happened before the current time frame.  They are often shown as memories and help a lot to explain background and motivation.

This is where conversation and speech may be used.  It is important that dialogue moves a story forward and can slow down the pace of a text to allow the reader to take in new info.

Short paragraphs often ‘zoom’ in to specific, important details in a text.  They can help to convey excitement, danger, or action – and also raise the emotional reaction.

Long paragraphs (often called expository paragraphs) usually focus on setting, characters, and/or mood.  They tend to be descriptive and help set the overall tone of a story.

Although this is probably not going to feature often, it’s worth a mention.  This is where the writer might give you a hint, early on, about what is going to happen later.  It helps the reader to build up a sense of expectation about what is going to come up in the story later

This is something that happens in the story that is unexpected.  It gives a new view on the whole topic!

This is when the first word or line is repeated at the end of the story, showing that it has come “full circle”. Often there may be subtle changes to show narrative movement – that things have changed since the beginning.

This is, of course, not the only way to end a story - but it seems to be the most common in GCSE English texts.

If you are a student studying towards this exam, we have a way of answering this question which may makes things a lot easier for you - at least more straightforward.  Come and join us on the Virtual Learning Environment.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

GCSE English Language: How to get High Marks on Paper 1 Question 2

If you are working towards your GCSE English Language (AQA paper) you will already know that Paper 1 Question 2 is the one where you are asked to read a tiny extract of a text (sometimes just six or seven lines) and then you have to comment on the writer’s use of language.  Often, reading through those lines, a student can feel a little like Oliver Twist begging for food in the Poor House – “Please Sir, can I have some more?”

Paraphrasing one of Dickens’ most popular characters probably isn’t going to do any good here – but if you got the inference that I just made then you are well on you way to doing very well on this questions.

Over on our VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) our section on this question is becoming more extensive.  As well as a number of lessons where we take you through the steps you need to take in order to answer this question successfully (left is a graphic from one of the lessons – you can see an answer in progress), we have quizzes, videos – and of course, the opportunity to earn a badge by being successful in your learning.

It’s easy to write this question off – it’s only worth 8 marks.  However, you must remember that there is another language question worth 12 marks in Paper 2.  That means altogether your knowledge of how to describe how language is used is worth 20/160 marks – in other words 1/8 of the entire exam  As this is easily the difference between one grade and another, the language questions must not be ignored.

Often, of course, students don’t ignore these questions – they spend far too much time on them meaning they have less time to answer the questions that are worth more marks.  Irony aside, our VLE also has advice on timing (well of course it would, wouldn’t it?).

The question itself can be rather stupefying – it is so long and has a bullet list of things that you can look out for (language features, sentences, words and phrases) that are meant as useful prompts but can translate in to a list of bewildering things to find in those few lines.  The hunt for language features, for example, can be an end in itself – what happens if you read through and there are none that you can spot?

Fear not – we can help you out there too.  Language features are not the be all and end all – in fact what often happens is that students find a simile – yippee!  They then spend the next ten minutes describing what a simile is instead of how that particular simile has been used to give the reader the impression of this, that or the other.  So, language features aren’t always as useful as they appear to be when you spot one in the exam!

On our VLE you will be able to prepare for the question and eventually submit an answer to a real English teacher (all of ours have years of experience delivering this qualification) who will mark it and give you feedback on your response.  Sounds good, eh?