Choosing the passage
The question of whether to choose the poem or the prose extract sometimes causes considerable unease on the part of students, and it is certainly an element of the paper that you will need to address.
As pointed out elsewhere in this section, one golden rule is NOT to go into the exam with the choice pre-determined. Students are often left unstuck when, having decided to explore the poem or the prose extract beforehand, they find that the reality of the extract in front of them is not as they had expected or hoped.
It is important to give your students good advice about this issue, some more salient features of which are listed below.
|Good reasons to choose the passage||Bad reasons to choose the passage|
The poem/prose extract seems is more interesting
|I made my mind up before the exam|
The poem/prose extract provokes a response in me
|I prefer to write about poetry or prose|
|I like one or more features in particular||The poem/prose extract seems easier to understand|
|Some elements strike me as ambiguous||
I can identify lots of literary features
|I see interesting contrasts or points of development||There is nothing I do not 'understand'|
Another point to make is that developing 'self awareness' about the passage that most interests them can ultimately help students take ownership of it - and identify elements of it that seem to them more important or interesting. In this way, a sense of independent thinking can be exhibited, which is usually a hallmark of the more sophisticated - and higher-achieving - responses.
The activity below is designed to encourage awareness on the part of your students about why they would choose a particular passage over another - and in so doing, develop understanding of the various 'hooks' through which literary writing can pitch for our attention and engagement.
1. Give students the hand out (downloadable below), which contains the four passages listed here:
Download the passages here
2. Ask students to read the passages and choose the one they think they would choose to write about, if they were asked to
3. Then ask them to identify the reasons for choosing one over the others. The list below might provide some guidance:
- An interest in the presentation of character and/or a relationship
- A focus on setting
- An engaging use of literary language
- Something engaging about the narrator and his or her voice
- A sense of atmosphere that is generated
- The cumulative effect of particular detail
- The presentation of significant physical action
- Something mysterious ambiguous or unexplained
4. Discussing why a particular passage resonates more for you than another, and comparing reasons with another student, is of course a powerful reminder of the fact that meaning in literary works is as much found as it is discovered. But whatever the course the discussion takes, you will hopefully be able to use the exercise as a means to encourage ownership of a passage - a recognition that the commentary is in many respects simply a record of the way in which an extract of literary writing affects an individual, which may or may not correlate very closely with someone else.