Saturday, 23 April 2016

English Language Non-Fiction: Writing Arguments

Tip: Read Some!

An excellent source for argument writing are the columns in newspapers.  If you search papers such as The Independent and The Guardian online, you will find they have 'Opinion' sections.  The Times is brilliant too, but you have to subscribe to access it.

Start to read a variety of these.  Think about the key points the writer is making on their chosen topic (summarise what they are saying).  Look for language devices that the writer had used to argue their points: can you see any rhetorical questions?  Rule of three?  Second person address?  Consider how they have structured their writing: can you pick out any short sentences or paragraphs that impact on the reader?

The more you read good writing, the better writer you will become yourself.  Remember, GCSE English exams will have a non-fiction element.  They will expect you to both read and write non-fiction.   Therefore, getting into the habit of reading some good quality non-fiction in your own time will put you at an advantage.

Tip: English is about skills, not truth

This statement applies specifically to the non-fiction writing section!  I'm not encouraging you to embrace lies and deceit.

Your examiner is expecting to see that you understand how to create and support an effective piece of non-fiction writing, whether it is argue, persuade, inform or explain.

You will face a question that asks you to tackle something random, like 'Write a letter to your local council arguing that more should be done to tackle rubbish in your area."

You are not expected to know lots about the issue or have plenty of facts about it to hand.  You need to MAKE IT UP.

First, plan your points.  You will need to come up with about 4-5 points about the issue that will create the structural backbone of your piece of writing.

1.  The area looks untidy and ugly.
2.  The amount of rubbish is dangerous for children.
3.  Residents should be encouraged to recycle.
4.  Rubbish harms wildlife.
5.  A cleaner local area would attract more people to visit.

Each of my points will become a topic sentence that will then be padded out into a paragraph by my entirely made up supporting evidence.  This bit is where you get your features in.

Great language features for arguing:

Rhetorical Questions
Imperative Verbs
Second Person Address
Emotive Language
Rule of Three
Expert Opinions
Public Opinions
Facts and Statistics
Counter Argument

These are just some of the key features that you can include in your writing.

I like this bit.  Don't get too silly with it, but have some fun creating your evidence.  Do this as you are writing; you won't have time to plan all your features in an exam.

Example of Point 4:

Furthermore, the amount of rubbish in our local area is very harmful for wildlife.  Dr Ray Smith from the University of London said, "The population of song birds in this country has fallen by 45% in the last five years.  Our studies indicate that this is because they are ingesting rubbish, such as cigarette ends, from our pavements."  The results of his research clearly indicate the toxic effects of waste on our birds.  Surely these distressing figures will prompt you to take action on reducing the waste dumped on the streets in our community?  

Dr Ray and his study are entirely made up.  I am trying to prove my point that rubbish harms the local wildlife and I am showing the examiner that I know expert opinions, statistics, emotive language, second person address and rhetorical questions are all devices that help me to argue.  I will get ticks for making my writing appropriate to the purpose and audience and for using language devices.

Tip: Start with a scenario

I think a really effective way into an argument, or any non-fiction piece, is to get the reader to imagine a situation that is linked to the topic.


Imagine streets covered in waste.  Imagine the stink of refuse as it is warmed by the sun.  Imagine the fear you would feel encountering large rats, drawn to our community by the extensive source of food.  If the rubbish in our area is not dealt with soon, this is the situation that all local people will be facing.

You, as our council, need to take action on the refuse!


Friday, 22 April 2016

Point... Evidence... Writing Analytical Responses

You might have been given a strategy for writing a paragraph in a reading response. 

The popular one ten years ago was PEE:

Point - make a point that answers the question
Evidence - include a quote that proves your point
Explain - explain what the quote means in your own words and what it shows the reader

Unfortunately, this doesn't really cut it at GCSE now.  There is a huge focus on demonstrating your understanding of how a writer uses language and structure in order to construct setting/theme/character.  To explain is simply not enough.

My preferred method is PEAL:

Point - make a point that answers the question
Evidence - include a quote that proves your point
Analyse - analyse how the writer has used language and/or structure with terminology and the effects that this creates on the reader/audience
Link - clearly link your analysis back to the question that you are answering


Remember that everything your are reading is a construct: it is your job to pick these constructs apart, seeking out layers of meaning and looking carefully at how language and structure have been used to create effects in the writing.  Never fall into the trap of writing about characters like they are real.  Keep referring to the author to show the examiner you are crystal clear that this is a text and the writer has used devices to construct this person.  

In your analysis, break down your quote and requote words and phrases to illustrate your analytical ideas.  This gives your analysis depth.

Discuss your ideas using tentative language.  Nothing is definite in literature, it is all personal interpretation.  Write that something might mean, could imply, perhaps shows rather than stating that something DOES mean what you think.  This also invites you to try and think of other ways that a text might be interpreted.


Explore how Wilfred Owen presents WW1 in his poem, 'Dulce Et Decorum Est'.

Point: In Dulce Et Decorum Est, Owen shows the consequences of fighting in WW1.

Evidence: "Men marched asleep.  Many had lost their boots,/ But limped on, blood-shod."

Explain: This suggests that the men felt exhausted as they marched and many no longer had boots.  Some had bleeding feet.  This implies to the audience that the conditions in the war were very harsh.

Okay?  Not really.

Point: In Dulce Et Decorum Est, Owen shows the consequences of fighting in WW1.

Evidence: "Men marched asleep.  Many had lost their boots,/ But limped on, blood-shod."

Analyse:  Owen uses a metaphor, "men marched asleep", that could imply that the soldiers were exhausted; it might also suggest that their abilities were impaired.  The enjambment on "boots/but limped on" extends the line, maybe reflecting that the journey was a difficult and arduous one.  Owen's use of the verb "limped" has connotations of injury, the men seem to have been damaged by the war; this is further indicated by the compound adjective "blood-shod" which creates a grim image of the reality of the war for the reader.  This could also signify the bravery of the soldiers, that they continued in their duty in spite of the horrific conditions that they were subjected to.

Link: Overall, Owen is exposing the reality of WW1 for his reader through his presentation of what the soldiers endured.


Tip: look for what you know.  You might not know all of the features, but you should know some.  If a quote uses a simile and you know it's a simile, say so!  You are demonstrating that you understand the writer's/poet's techniques.

Google is your friend.  If you feel unsure about key devices in poetry and prose, ask your teacher or, failing that, do some of your own research.  There is a wealth of information available online.  Don't remain passively ignorant, take action!

The Need for Speed

Tip: Get Fast

Unless your usual way of working is on a computer, in your exams you are going to have to write.  Not only that, you will need to write quickly. 

This is a very useful skill to develop, especially if you plan to continue to college and beyond.  

How can you do this?  How can you go from taking an hour to write a page of A4 to 15 minutes?

1.  Practise

Get sample questions from the teacher.  Time yourself.  Write.

Find other opportunities to write: keep a diary, write letters, write a short story.  Just write.  The more you do it, the quicker you will get.

Don't worry about being neat, but keep it legible.  The examiner needs to be able to read your ideas, otherwise it's all a waste of time.

2.  Plan

Always plan.  It is amazing how many times I will tell a class about the genius of planning and they simply ignore this and go straight into writing, then they wonder why their writing is too wordy, or they've picked the wrong question and run out of ideas.  

Planning organises the points, ensures you have definitely picked the best question and clears up any mental clutter so you start writing entirely focused on the question.

Ultimately, any long answer in English revolves around making key points, whether it is a writing or a reading task.  The points become the outline structure and then you pad with either your quotations and analysis (Reading/Literature) or your reasons and supporting evidence (Writing).  Planning these key points and selecting your quotes OR planning your points and creating your supporting evidence is five minutes at the start of the exam that could save you a huge amount of misery when you dry up part way through or start repeating yourself and wasting time.

3.  Check your grip and posture

Many people experience pain when writing.  This not uncommon.  I know I get tense when marking and it can hurt my hand, arm and shoulder.

Try different pens until you get one that feels comfortable when you hold it and don't grip it too hard.  You can even buy pen grips that can help you to hold a pen comfortably.  This is really worth exploring if you get writing pain as you need to enable yourself to write as easily as possible in your exams.

Don't press too hard and try not to tense up.  Again, practise helps.

Have breaks: stretch and wiggles your fingers and rotate your hand both ways.

Always write with the pens you will use for your exams.  Get used to how they feel in your hand and how they write.  Make sure you have plenty of them.  Make sure they are black ink.

Resist the urge to write in pencil.  You will have to write in black pen in your exam, so get used to it.