Monday, June 04, 2018

Thinking about Paper 1

Paper 1 of the A level isn't that far away so here are a few suggestions about approaching the first 3 questions. I've posted in more detail about these in previous blogs which you can find here, here and here but here are some quick pointers:

  • It's all about meaning. Texts mean things and are made to mean by the people who produce them and the people who receive them. Think about what each text is actually about before you put pen to pen to paper. What are you being presented with? What's happened? Who is involved? What perspectives are being offered?
  • Meanings depend on contexts. You need to think about how meanings are being created in the texts in front of you. Look closely at how language is being used in particular places in the texts and how that relies on context. Is it the context of text being spoken, online or written? Is it the context of what has gone before in the text? Is it the context of who is saying or writing something?
  • Texts can be from all sorts of modes, genres, times and places, and for all sorts of audiences and purposes. Many of these will use language in recognisable ways that you'll be used to seeing and writing about. Some might be a bit less familiar - older, for example - but they'll still have been produced by a human being who's using language in ways that you'll recognise. 
  • Language is not just words. When you're analysing how language is used, look for what words mean, patterns of meaning, structures and visual design. Think about all the language levels or frameworks that you've been learning over the last two years and use the most appropriate ones for the texts in front of you. Graphology isn't an issue in a spoken text (it's not designed to be seen on the page, after all) but phonology might be. An online text might use visual design to structure ideas and create meanings, so that could be vital.
  • Structure is important. This could be grammatical structures (how phrases are put together, how words and clauses are placed in certain positions, how modal verbs, pronouns or tenses are used etc.) but also bigger, text-level, structures (beginnings, middles, ends...).
  • Don't write anything until you've read the texts and don't start writing your answers for Questions 1 and 2 until you have made notes and annotated your texts. 
  • Think about what you can include in your Question 3 answer while you're planning for Q1 and 2. It *is* OK to repeat yourself in Q3 but you need to explore connections and you need to think more carefully about the things that make the texts similar or different. One text will always be older and one contemporary - so there's your first difference -  but also think about organising your Q3 answer around things like audience, purpose and mode. 
  • Don't offload huge amounts of knowledge about language change when you think about the older text. Stick to discussing what's relevant to the text and its immediate context.
  • Be selective in what you write about and try to structure your answer clearly. There is no one right way to do this but it's best to avoid working your through a text in order ("In the first line there is a pronoun, in the second line there is an adjective, in the third line there is another adjective...") but to select the most useful parts to talk about and think about how they link together.
  • Don't write a long, rambling and generic intro. Get into the texts as quickly as you can with just a  short introduction.
I'm sure you will have lots of advice from your teachers about how to approach these questions, but these are things I've often told my students and I think they usually help. Best of luck.

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