Improving Close Language Analysis



We are what we repeatedly do. At the moment, our students are repeatedly writing weak close language analysis.

In our AQA GCSE breakdown for language the average score for Q2 (P1) and Q3 (P2) was much lower than I had anticipated. This is a worry, mainly because the ability to write good close language analysis is the nuts and bolts of all four exams. Unless we get this single thing right, we are unlikely to make huge gains on other parts of the exam.

During our INSET department time, we agreed that we would make this, and only this, the focus of our starter activities all term for Y11.

Attached is a simple 28 slide PPT, with single quotes from both literature texts and unseen fiction (slides 1-5 Jekyll and Hyde, slides 6-10 Macbeth, slides 11-15 L&R poetry, slides 16-20 An Inspector Calls, slides 21-28  unseen fiction).

Every Y11 teacher will be using this for a variety of starter activities throughout term 3. These include:

  1. Identifying what language techniques are being used.
  2. Identifying which are the rich language words in the quote.
  3. Identifying the contextual importance of the quote (the point in the narrative, the themes it highlights, the character information revealed etc.)
  4. Analysing the effect of individual words, specifically answering the question of why this word? by considering synonyms and connotations
  5. Analysing the effect of the word or phrase in sentence and in context.
  6. Constructing short analysis paragraphs drawing together the above, using a variety of modelled frameworks which do not include ‘This shows that….’
  7. Magpie-ing (stealing) the good work of others to improve own work.
  8. Repeat, repeat, repeat.


Taking the quotes from literature texts means we will also be surreptitiously revising literature content. The little voice inside my head that reminds me of  the ‘need to interleave’ is calmed knowing that students will have to draw on their factual knowledge in order to write with fluency about each quote. The bottom line is also that – without the confidence to do this properly, all writing becomes reduced to thin, formulaic, descriptive, and often very short responses.

Please feel free to use and adapt the PPT here.


Ode to Subject Knowledge (& Keats)

I’m fairly sure I will remember this Christmas as the Keats Christmas. I spent much of the first week completely engrossed in his life and poetry, preparing to teach it for A Level. I have to confess I can bear more than a passing resemblance to a truculent teenager when it comes to reading greats and classics. I think we can all be guilty of the odd inner shoulder shrug and a ‘nah, not for me’ when it comes to acknowledging the deep significance of something we are, at that moment in time, completely ignorant of.
To put this into context, I went to a woefully inadequate school. My polytechnic-turned -university education almost completely ignored literature pre-20th Century (apart from John Donne bizarrely, who I still love to this day) as I sat in lecture after lecture on colonial and post-colonial literature and the literature of violence. I left with the impression that literature was a chaotic bundle of random authors, shouting into the wind. I’d had no opportunity to build schematic understanding of the chronology of literature, the literary movements or the links to history – other than the impact of colonialism, of course. As a result, I sure understood imposter syndrome when I first took on the role of Head of English.
The beauty of subject knowledge though, is how easily it can be fixed. The biggest hurdle is ourselves. I recognise my inner moody adolescent too well. The fear of the unknown still exists – accepting what we don’t know about our subject can be as daunting and terrifying, as it is thrilling, but I now jump in head first and know that I have nothing to lose.
Keats may not be to everyone’s tastes, but there is something about his approach that has struck a really deep chord. He was no academic scholar and derided by many of the establishment throughout his painfully short career. But he studied Shakespeare, Milton, Dante and others with obsessive intent. He excelled because of his habits and repeated actions, not because of his class, his schooling or his family. There is something really very admirable about this. Reading his poetry is like stepping into a kaleidoscope. There seems to be an infinite number of worlds (allusions, references, cultural nods) housed within each image. The more you know, the more you realise you have yet to learn.

This makes preparing to teach it slightly daunting. Reading Peps Mccrea’s Memorable Teaching reminded me of the catastrophic mind-mess that can be created when teachers present their material in a disorganised, overloaded, thoughtless way. I am most reminded of my mum asking my brother, now with a physics PhD, to help me with my maths homework when we were younger; an actual mind-mess for sure, and totally counterproductive. We are therefore going to start at the beginning, as Keats did:

  1. Introduction to classical myths & legends, especially those that feature prominently in Keats’ work.
  2. Look at how classical allusions have permeated into our culture and have shaped  much of our culture today – especially with reference to the work of Matt @Positivteacha and Doug @DoWise
  3. Use a history of literature timeline to root Keats in his era, but enable students to look back across time – connecting him to our work on Shakespeare, tragic conventions, and the romantic poets from the GCSE poetry anthology . This fantastic guide created by MissR @AlwaysLearnWeb here is an excellent summary.
  4. Prime students to look out for the key themes in Keats’ works in advance –  conflict that exists in beauty, gender, permanence & immortality, sensuality & the ‘lived life’, and his own identity as a poet.

I hope to share resources, if I put any together. But, I have a feeling that the work itself is as rich a resource as we will need – and will be more than enough to keep us busy.

If I get the opportunity again, to teach something I’ve never taught before, I will grab it! I  may not always love it; I may, in fact, really dislike it, but I think it’s important we’re taken out of our comfort zones and stretch ourselves from time to time. Really learning something new as a teacher is quite a humbling experience, and one I hope I can communicate to my students.