Why I love…Going back to basics with AQA: Q2 Language Analysis

Last week, I was really pleased with Year 11s focus on structure, but Q2 was proving much more elusive for some of my students. So, I gave them options.

Confident with Language Analysis – Be independent and have a go at working through one of @lauralolders Laura Webb’s excellent mini mocks.

Not confident with Language Analysis – Stick with me and we went through the following lesson.

I’d marked their practice questions 2 and 4 and for both questions the sticking point was the language terminology and the ability to analyse what the effect of the specific choices of language. This lesson then acted as a feedback lesson.

First, I gave them the small extract from Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball song. I played the first few verses to the students and asked them to stay with me as it would become clear what I was trying to achieve with them.

Then, through whole class questioning we annotated the snippet of the song for the language techniques being used and I asked them to tell me what the specific choices were doing. As I questioned the class, I made sure that every student was involved in the process and we discussed the use of: Verbs, Metaphors, Similes, Personal Pronouns, Nouns and repetition. All terminology that they discussed and fed back to me about.

Then, still as a whole class we discussed what different emotions the writer was explaining. We wrote these on the board: 1 – Falling in love/Infatuation, 2 – Fear 3 – Devastation/Loss of Love and I asked them to complete the sentence to introduce what they were going to be discussing.

Next, I asked them to use the framework and the annotations that they had completed to talk about the first emotion. We discussed how they could potentially use a cluster of verbs or the metaphor from the first stanza. At this point some of the students were asking what I meant by state emotion 1 and I said that they could use emotion 1 from their introductory sentence and then say what language terminology was being used in the evidence that they were going to write about.

As they completed each step, I circulated the class and read what they were doing live, offering feedback or prompting them to think really hard about the effect or what the evidence really meant.

All the students who completed the exercise were successful with their analysis and hopefully this lesson gave them confidence to work through the question 2. I will use the framework repetitively until students are confident on how to structure their language analysis and then I will remove it. Hopefully, giving them the same sentence stems all the time and encouraging a commonality in the approach to the question, the students are being allowed to use their working memory for the processing of what the language is doing in the context of what they are reading and embedded in their long term memory is the strategy to get started and the process behind how to analyse language.

The resources are attached below. I realise that this is nothing revolutionary, but hopefully it is useful.

Why I love…Structure Focus Q3 AQA

This year, as we have in the past, we’ve started Y11 with the short story Anthology to ease into language. I’ve read A Family Supper with my class and we’ve focused mainly on structure.

To do this, I started with a very simple structure mind map on the board. They told me what they thought could be structural techniques and I agreed or disagreed explained why and wrote the correct examples on the board. I also gave questions as clues, hints and tips to encourage them to think hard. It was no hands up, just them calling out if they thought of a technique and me adding some to the finished product. That was the end point of a lesson after reading and working on comprehension.

Next lesson, I arrived armed with the structure techniques and a chart with the definitions of those techniques which I’d typed out. See below, which they glued in the back of their books with the built up glossary of terminology that they already have written in as they have gone along.

I gave them the structure question and implored them to ignore ‘to interest the reader’ section as this is so misleading and ties them up in knots. Not one of them used the phrase in their writing.

As you all know the question is always: How does the writer structure the text to interest the reader?

Annotating and Modelling

I spent the majority of a lesson asking the students to annotate an extract for the structural techniques, while I circulated and prompted them to think about – WHAT WAS HAPPENING – at specific points in the story and telling them to focus on start – middle – end and any changes that occurred in the way the text was put together. This lesson was also a modelling one. I reminded them that I wasn’t looking at the words or phrases or what the language was doing, but rather what the writer had done to create the shape of the writing. They then told me the structure points that they had selected and importantly expanded on WHY they had chosen them and WHY they felt the writer had used them. So, rather than me telling them what the writer was trying to achieve, they were doing the thinking process. I wrote the ideas on the board so that we had 5 – 6 solid ideas that we could focus on.

During the process of circulating the class it became obvious that the automatic questions I ask myself when considering structure were missing from some of the students thought process. So, I stopped the lesson and put some questions on the board to support those students. As it is a mixed ability class this helpful for the lower prior attainers, but some of the higher prior attainers were struggling to do the annotations, so everyone wrote these in the back of there books for ease of future reference.

Structure thinking prompts:

  • What is happening in the events of the story?
  • What are characters doing?
  • How are the characters interacting?
  • Where is the story set?
  • What time is it?
  • Are there any changes to the above?
  • What is the specific tone and does it change?
  • What mood or atmosphere is being created?
  • What dialogue is used?
  • Who is speaking most?
  • Is there blocks of description and what do these reveal?
  • What types of sentences are being used? (Declarative, imperative, interrogative, exclamatory)

Next, I live modelled a full answer with the students having pens down and listening. As I modelled, I asked them questions about choices to make in words and explained the process of my thinking as I did it.

E.g. The exposition of “The Family Supper” extract shows an ongoing dialogue…

I explained I was using exposition to immediately position myself as an expert knowing that this is the opening part of the text I am reading.

I also explained that I was using the word extract to acknowledge that I was aware that there was more to the story than the section I was focusing on.

I explained that I was using the title in this case to highlight my knowledge of the extracts name, but that I could also just use ‘in the extract’

Throughout the modelling I continued with my mental thought process as well as the questioning.
E.g. Who was the ongoing dialogue between?

So that the class could answer and participate in the thinking process of me creating the model on the board.

Once I had modelled the full answer, I asked the class to write it in their books, explaining that I wouldn’t normally get them to copy verbatim what I have written but on this occasion I wanted them to have the model in their own writing so that they could physically see how much they personally have to write to respond to the question in full. I’ve explained many times when asked how much should I write that this will vary from person to person depending on the handwriting that they have. I have students whose handwriting is small and meticulous and the same answer in my handwriting which is fairly large and sprawling looks completely different even if it is the exact same response. I find this is useful in reminding students that there is no set ‘size’ for an answer but that there are structure that they can follow to help them succeed.

When they finished I asked them to count how many sentences the full response was so that they could recognise that there was a conciseness to the response that isn’t obvious from the board work. Then, I annotated it with them. We used the What – How – Why prompts to annotate. We also explored where the start/middle/end was dealt with. Finally, we discussed the use of analytical verbs and how these help us to develop what we are saying into a coherent full answer that deals with the effect of the structure. I used the colour purple to underline every structural terminology example so that they could then answer – How is the terminology embedded into the answer? This question, for me, was pivotal, as always in the past they’ve focused on language choices rather than what the structure is doing.

Finally, as a metacognition task, I asked them to answer the question what do you need to include in an 8 mark question to check their understanding of the model answer and how to approach it.

This was the model answer that the students copied into their books.

The next step was to read more of the story. I then gave them the opportunity to answer the question, reminding them that they needed to:

  • Annotate the text for the structure at the start/middle/end/changes or shifts in focus
  • Say what they think is happening at that point in the story? (WHAT)
  • Say how they think it is happening in the structure and with evidence? (HOW)
  • Say why they think it has a particular meaning or why the writer made this structural choice? (WHY)

I encouraged them to use the model answer and circulated the class answering any questions. Then, I took the books in to mark using a mark scheme criteria grid which I ticked for current standard of response and underlined the targets for next time. This made the marking really quick and easy.

No student had confused language with structure this time and every student had at least written a paragraph about the structure in the start of the extract, fulfilling each piece of criteria, which is something they can build on to have a full answer. Many students finished the full example. I’m going to give feedback using a particularly sharp example from a student. The student in question had understood that the extract is a whole piece of text and referenced a return to the exposition when talking about the resolution of the extract, so I will use that example to show students how to expand their comments for the very highest level of understanding. (I have typed the example up for the class but will ask if I can share the example here more widely, before doing so.)

As a whole school our CPD teaching and learning focus is on Rosenshine’s principles and our department are specifically looking at modelling and daily review as a way to increase students attainment, understanding and engagement. I hope that this is useful when thinking about how to approach the structure question as I’ve always felt, in the past, that I was missing something with this one.

Why I love…Teaching The Merchant of Venice for the first time.

It has been a while since I’ve taught a new to me Shakespeare text in its entirety and I’m hugely lucky to have an experienced teacher to bounce ideas off. I’m teaching The Merchant of Venice for the first time ever and have a wealth of resources to draw on, but in order to feel secure in it, I’m creating resources and selecting quotes as I teach to make sure that I know what I’m trying to do with it.

So far, we’ve read Act 1 completely as a class with the class reading.

First, and on the advice of my colleague we did a plot summary. This has meant that students are beginning to see themes reveal themselves already and understand the complexity of the plot. My mind works in a linear way so I’m teaching plot and sub plot concurrently as they occur in the text. We have summarised each act as we go along. I’ve also embedded daily retrieval activities as the whole school focus is on embedding Rosenshine’s principles, so this new scheme (to me) felt like the perfect opportunity to practice what I’m trying to preach.

The retrieval activities look like this and I’m adding them into one PowerPoint so that as they become more confident we can go back to them:

I’ve selected what I think are key quotes and we’re going to work on these considering: Meaning & why, Effect & why and terminology for Act 1, before starting to read Act 2.

Finally, for my own benefit I’ve tried to consolidate what happens in the exposition of the play, although I may have done this badly. I’ll share bits of this with students, but for now it’s just initial getting my head around GCSE Merchant thoughts. Any feedback is welcome as I could be barking up the wrong tree!

What is revealed in the exposition of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice?

Shakespeare’s exposition in the problematic Elizabethan comedy ‘The Merchant of Venice is developed through Act 1 Scene 1 to Act 1 Scene 3 revealing the main plot line with Antonio and Bassanio linked in a bond of friendship and Portia as a strong female protagonist in sub-plot. Shakespeare introduces us to the main plot: Antonio borrowing money from Shylock to support his best friend Bassanio’s quest to win Portia; a sub plot: Portia’s dilemma relating to the lottery her father created before his death; finally, reflecting the main plot: Shylock’s unusual demand of a bond that is not interest but instead a bond of flesh.

The first line of the play is stated by Antonio who exclaims in a melancholic tone “In sooth I know not why I am sad” to imply that he is feeling unusually upset or out of sorts, which for someone who appears to have everything seems unusual and makes the audience and his friends question what is wrong with him. Solarino questions him and uses a metaphor to describe Antonio’s state of mind “Your mind is tossing on the ocean” indicating that they recognise the turmoil that Antonio feels and would like to get to the bottom of why he feels this way. Solarino and Salanio imagine two reasons for his depressed persona “Is sad to think upon his merchandise?” with the question implying that they think Antonio is worried about the ships, goods and money he has tied up elsewhere and while this is a good guess, Antonio rejects this. He also rejects the statement “Why then, you are in love.” Suggesting that if he isn’t worried about business then his melancholy must stem from affairs of the heart, again, Antonio rejects this suggestion with a dismissive “Fie, Fie” showing that he will not counter the suggestion. However, when his most “noble kinsman,” Bassanio arrives his other friends leave them to have a discussion alone. At this point, we learn that Bassanio will reveal “To whom you swore a secret pilgrimage” implying that perhaps this has been the idea that has been on Antonio’s mind, because as soon as they start talking this is one of the first things that Antonio asks him, making it appear as if this question has been troubling Antonio, perhaps because he holds Bassanio in high regard. Antonio immediately agrees to support his friend in the quest to win Portia, but without the means to do so. He promises, perhaps rashly that “my purse, my person, my extremist means lie unlock’d to your occasions.” indicating that he will do anything to help Bassanio. Antonio’s generosity here knows no bounds and Antonio urges Bassanio to “Try what my credit can in Venice do.” commanding him to borrow money so that he can woo Portia. This shows how loyal and generous Antonio is, as all his money and merchandise is currently tied up on the seas and although Antonio is a successful Merchant and has a good name, the business that he is in is risky as indicated earlier by Salarino and Solanio. Thus, the exposition of The Merchant of Venice helps to reveal an Elizabethan suspicion relating to the dangers involved with trading on the open seas.  A Shakespearean audience might have recognised that trading in this way was dangerous and as a Christian society they would have been aware of the dangers and suspicions about borrowing money with interest. Antonio’s generosity exposes his great regard for Bassanio and a willingness to put himself in debt for him.

In Act 1 Scene 2 we are introduced to the character of Portia and her lady in waiting Nerissa. The mean length utterance across the scene reinforces the power balance between the two characters with Nerissa mainly asking one-line questions, prompting a longer more detailed and intelligent response from Portia. In this way, we are quickly presented with Portia as a non-stereotypical wallflower character, rather a woman who knows her own mind, however she is still bound by the limits of patriarchy as she either has to go along with the lottery set up by her father or chooses to. The question-and-answer structure of the scene allows the action to move swiftly and decisively and we learn that Portia is unimpressed with the multitude of suitors that have called upon her. The act begins with the revelation “I may neither choose who I would, nor refuse who I dislike… curbed by the will of a deceased father” allowing the audience the understanding that she is bound by the wishes of a dead man, her father, who she must obey even in his death. The grip of patriarchy here is real. Portia agrees that she will assess the character of the men who have tried to woo her and in doing so “level at my affection” revealing that she will tell her lady in waiting exactly what is on her mind in relation to the gentlemen who try to win her affection, showing that she has a quick wit and understanding of the position that she has been left in. The first in a series is according to the statement by Nerissa “the Neapolitan prince” which many in the audience would consider a good and handsome suitor for a rich heiress, such as Portia. However, she rejects him as she rejects her other plethora of suitors indicating through her use of the metaphor “a colt indeed” to explore the idea that she believes him to be young, uncouth and unsuitable for her. The use of a horse analogy here implies that he has not yet learnt the manners of the world and the audience would have been amused by this, seeing the parallel between a prince; someone who is supposed to be refined and dignified with good manners and an untrained young horse. After disparaging all the young men in various ways “doth nothing but frown”, he is every man and no man”, “who can converse with a dumbshow” with the tone of her speech becoming more and more scathing as Nerissa lists the young men who are trying to win her hand in marriage, she finally concedes that there is a suitor who is pleasing to her. Interestingly, when Nerissa questions her about him, Nerissa’s speech pattern changes and she uses triplets to describe his virtues, rather than naming him with a title or a nationality alone, implying that she finds him a more suitable and convincing match for her lady. The prompts that Nerissa uses are “a Venetian, a scholar, a soldier that came hither…” imply that there is virtue in the man that she speaks of. Portia’s response is telling in the affirmative and almost eager tone she uses “Yes, yes it was Bassanio…” although she tempers her pleasure with what seems like an, afterthought questioning his name. Up till this point, she has been disregarding all suitors and this is the only time where she appears eager to consider someone worthy of her attention and pleasure. She states to Nerissa “worthy of your praise” with the simple statement indicating that she remembers him fondly and is pleased to think that he might attempt to win her hand in marriage. The exposition here of this sub plot shows several ideas: Portia is a woman with a mind of her own; she is a woman with a quick wit; she is intelligent; she is not easily fooled; she is highly regarded in society; she is willing to obey her father’s wishes despite this meaning that she is impotent in any decision-making process; she is willing to reject men of great standing and most importantly she is enamoured by Bassanio or by the idea of him at the very least. Although the main plot and the sub-plot are inextricably linked it seems clear to a contemporary audience that Portia is a woman to be reckoned with, her strong opinions, while voiced in confidence to her lady in waiting Nerissa reveal the inner strength of her character, something that Shakespeare would have been very aware of. Contextually, Shakespeare’s presentation of a strong-willed female protagonist, such as Portia, could be a form of flattery towards Queen Elizabeth the ruling monarch as she may have seen the parallels between herself and Portia. Queen Elizabeth was constantly being urged to marry and sire an heir and the lottery devised by Portia’s deceased father appears to leave her little choice, unlike Queen Elizabeth, who chose not to marry and to rule independently rejecting the patriarchal society of the time and impressing upon the nation that it was possible to be female, intelligent and to rule over the nation.

Finally, during the exposition in Act 1 Scene 3 we have the damning evidence that Shakespearean society, laughed at, degraded and demonised other religions, perhaps unsurprisingly considering the persecutions of Catholics at the time. Although, Jews would have been unknown to most people the stereotypes and religious tropes would have been commonplace, therefore Shakespeare perhaps used Shylock for comedy effect to make the audience laugh. As a contemporary audience the persecution of Jews is reprehensible and we recognise that this humour is now outdated and offensive. In fact, when exploring the presentation of Shylock, it is difficult as a modern audience to counter how his mistreatment could have been funny. In Shylock’s dialogue with Antonio, he explains that Antonio has “rated me / About my money and usances” implying that Shylock had been verbally abused on more than one occasion about his occupation, one that excludes Christians, as they are unable to lend money with interest for religious reasons. However, the insults don’t stop there. Shylock is also accused of being a “misbeliever, cut-throat dog” with the connotations of Shylock being someone without a religion, or certainly not the correct religion, implying a lack of tolerance for other faiths. As well as this, the highly insulting use of the noun “dog” which are animals in the Jewish faith that are believed to be unclean, a fact that Antonio would have known. The insulting tone and degrading insults imply that they believe Shylock to be less than human. Shakespeare allows Shylock to reflect on this rather than Antonio telling this story, perhaps giving authority to the bond that Shylock demands. We also learn that Shylock has been spat on in the street, a truly hideous and dirty insult. So, while Shylock is not supposed to illicit sympathy in a Shakespearean audience it is hard for a contemporary audience not to feel sympathetic to his plight and mistreatment as he is a human who has been mistreated and abused publically, all due to his religious beliefs.  The exposition of Shylock here allows the audience to understand that being the right type of Christian is to be righteous and to hold a higher authority in society, something that was a prevalent ideology in Elizabethan society with the persecution of Catholics being commonplace at the time. Although there were no Jews or only those who had converted to Christianity in England, the treatment Shylock experiences has parallels with the treatment of Catholics. Although Shylocks “bond” is harsh and inhumane, Shakespeare seems to be deliberately painting Shylock as an antagonist. The demand he makes is done in a matter-of-fact tone with no emotion “Be nominated for an equal pound of your fair flesh to be cut off and taken in what part of your body pleaseth me” almost as if asking for part of someone’s body as interest is a normal part of his occupation. Although, we know that he hates the Christians as he has admitted as much earlier in the scene, therefore this seems to be a revenge driven bond that is designed to make Shylock even more villainous than he currently is.

Throughout Act 1 we see the exposition of themes, ideas and societal ideas. First, Antonio is willing to borrow money to help his friend, an altruistic act that results in his “bond” with Shylock. Portia is revealed to be an intelligent and forward-thinking woman who adheres reluctantly to the patriarchy. Shylock on the other hand is very much a stereotypical portrayal designed to incite hatred in the audience. From a modern viewpoint it is easier to sympathise with Shylock, than perhaps a Shakespearean audience would have. The stereotypes and exaggerations that Shakespeare uses firmly place Shylock as the villain due to his religion and abhorrent demands. The exposition of The Merchant of Venice skilfully introduces us to the main characters and themes in the play and helps position us as the audience in favour or against particular characters. 

Why I love… The Boy Question – 3 big takeaways

Today, sitting in the sun, I’ve achieved something that I wanted to do before September. I’ve read and summarised in detail the strategies from The Boy Question by Mark Roberts @Mr_englishteach. These will be shared in September inset with my team as part of our renewed focus on closing the gender gap. I’ll also share with my line manager for wider whole school discussion as well.

Why have I enjoyed it so much?

1 – It was sunny and sitting under an umbrella in the sun was a delight

2 – It was really well written, researched and interesting

3 – It is an area that I am very interested in, particularly post-Covid.

4 – I’d read half the book already, so summarising those chapters was a good opportunity to revisit and re-digest those first few chapters.

5 – I had the time and space and head space to really concentrate on the messages and the strategies.

6 – It gave me some new ideas while also confirming some of the ideas, strategies and techniques that I use.

7 – It’s written as a practical guide that is not patronising and which offers some relevant case studies and is useful to anyone, irrespective of their career stage. I can imagine ECTs and people like myself with more experience to Deputy Heads and Head teachers reading this and getting something from it.

8 – The strategies are sensible and productive.

What are my big three takeaways?

Strategy 1

Several places in the book, which is handily subtitled per chapter, revisit a good tried and tested strategy.

Live Modelling.

Mark Roberts reminds us of the multiple benefits of modelling the process to the class. Not only do we live model but we reveal our thinking process, adapt as we do and show students at a word, sentence and whole paragraph or text level what to do. The live modelling is also something that Roberts asks us to consider as a co-constructed effort. This strategy unpicks some of the hidden processes and encourages buy in from the reluctant students and offers tangible evidence of success.

Strategy 2

Teach to the Top and Scaffold down.

In many areas of the book again, the benefits of aiming high, are extolled. Students should not be offered an all, most, some diet or extension tasks, instead they should all be given the same high thinking questions or tasks and then the teacher uses their skill and toolkit to break this down into manageable chunks. Think, sentence starters, modelling, questioning to support rather than dubious extension tasks that allow some students to fly meaning that the gap widens.

Strategy 3

Language is a major key to unlocking potential.

Across the book, again the way that the teacher uses language has real power. Instead of getting angry, disappointed or frustrated teachers have the power and the potential to encourage, motivate and enthuse students to want to learn to become less extrinsically motivated and more intrinsically motivated. It reminds me of the quote “You make the weather” (I don’t know who to attribute this to) however, the focus throughout the book on little examples of how to frame and phrase teacher talk and feedback was an excellent and salient reminder.

Would I recommend this book?

Yes, without a shadow of a doubt.

My next steps:

Create a presentation that neatly and accurately reflects the thinking, time and effort that has gone into this book so that we can start from day one implementing these strategies or reinforcing the ones that we already use.

Thank you for writing Mark, a thoroughly pleasant and productive use of the day for me.

The Boy Question By Mark Roberts

Why I love…teaching Shakespeare Characterisation: Othello in Year 9

I’ve written about the first part of this unit before.

With Year 9 as I’ve said before we are working on Shakespeare in order to better prepare the students for their GCSE Lit study and they have risen to the challenge. The SOL and unit on Othello is not mine, two of my colleagues put the unit together and it has been an absolute pleasure to teach it.

We started with a summary of Act One this time and didn’t reveal the play’s conclusion, allowing this to unfold across the unit, which we have not yet finished. First, we read the summary, explored where, what and how the action unfolded through questioning and got the students to summarise what they had learnt. Then, we looked in detail at Act 1 Scene 2 where Othello is summoned in front of the senate and Brabantio accuses him of foul play and witchcraft over the marriage to Desdemona. The class read the scene out loud and then we worked on annotating the language for meaning and effect and what this suggested about the time period. Once we’d explored this scene in detail we used the what – how – why structure to explore first impressions of both Othello and Desdemona.

Next, we read a non fiction article by Andrew Dickenson on Multiculturalism in Shakespeare’s time and explored what it told us about the context of the play and how the play might have been received. Then we looked at Othello’s speech and how he presented his argument eloquently, politely and with dignity, but also looking at how the speech helped to show the internalised racism that Othello was carrying within him. Having explored the context, it was useful to the students to have read the speech after gaining an understanding of the climate of the time period and we annotated and explored his thoughts and feelings in detail. We worked on an extended response to the speech considering – How does Shakespeare use language to present Othello? I shared the following with students to provide some stimulus for them to consider the different aspects of his speech.

We looked at how discourse markers can be used to help build on what you are saying as well.

Next we did some creative writing considering Othello’s story through the eyes of Desdemona with a first person account of what Othello had told her. This was a lovely piece and a nice way to allow students to show their understanding of what had happened to Othello and show empathy through the character of Desdemona.

After this we did some vocabulary work and read a summary of Act 2 & 3 exploring what happened in these scenes again through questioning.

We then explored in detail Act 3 Scene 3 and looked at how Iago is manipulative and deceitful throughout the scene towards Othello and then using What – How – Why as the structure completed an extended response to how Iago is manipulative and deceitful in this scene. I marked these and used GCSE criteria to ask students to identify what they were currently sitting at and how they could improve this, as I wanted them to see what GCSE looks like as the unit is designed to support them with understanding Shakespeare in advance of their Y10 Literature GCSE.

Examples used in the feedback from students and a stretch one from the teacher:

Task: Explore these examples and explain what they have done well and what they need to improve. Are the examples?

  • 1 – Narrative 
  • 2 – Some 
  • 3 – Explanatory
  • 4 – Clear
  • 5 – Thoughtful
  • 6 – Critical

Example 1

Shakespeare indicates that Iago is deceitful when he says “My Lord, you know I love you”. He is being sly and trying to be nice and friendly to Othello because of the fact that he framed Cassio and Desdemona for cheating, trying to make it more believable. Othello is being tricked by Iago and he falls right into his trap. Othello may feel happy that Iago is his friend, but in reality he is being betrayed. Right now he feels flattered that someone is looking out for him. Shakespeare wants to show that from Othello’s perspective Iago was caring and loving, but then from he was betraying Othello. I think that Shakespeare’s intentions were that sometimes people in the real world can be loving and caring but in reality they betray you.

Example 2

Shakespeare also presents Iago as hypocritical and showing not one bit of contrition whilst talking to Othello. The metaphor in “It is the green eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on” shows us that Iago is finally revealing his true egotistical character. The colour green is normally associated with the emotion of jealousy or envy. This means that Iago is telling Othello to watch out for jealous people who are trying to ruin him mentally and emotionally. Othello may feel sceptical as he’s now questioning who the loyalty of those he trusts. Perhaps, Shakespeare is trying to showcase how hypocritical Iago is. Iago himself is jealous of Othello and hates him, yet says he ‘loves him’ and warns him of people envious of him.

Example 3

Shakespeare implies that Iago is sly. This is shown in the pretence he makes of being a good friend to Othello, with the possessive pronoun “My good Lord” and by using the title to imply he respects Othello. The slyness in his character is shown because this is not how he really feels, Iago is rejecting Othello behind his back but to his face he is being polite, respectful and caring. The audience feels angered by Iago’s betrayal and manipulation of Othello. Shakespeare might be saying that people are not always what they seem.

Example 4

Shakespeare presents Iago as dishonest, as he puts doubts into Othello’s mind about the relationship between Cassio and Desdemona. The declarative statement “I did not think he had been acquainted with her.” Is an example of Iago trying to make Othello doubt how Desdemona behaves towards Cassio. However, this initial presentation of doubt is thwarted as Othello is aware of them knowing each other. This makes Iago change tact and begin to imply that Cassio is a dishonest and dislikeable character, ironically as it is actually Iago who is the antagonistic deceiver. The flattering tone in “My lord, for aught I know” implies that Iago doesn’t know whether Cassio should be trusted. By implying this Iago is deliberately deceiving Othello, as he knows there is nothing untoward happening but he wants Othello to have this doubt in his mind. The audience may feel astounded that Othello is so easily deceived, but Shakespeare has cleverly included 55 mentions, by other characters, of Iago’s honesty, so it may have been his intention to make the audience and Othello think that Iago is an impeccable character who is beyond reproach. The noun “honest’ has connotations of truth reliability and good intentions, therefore Othello could be forgiven for assuming Iago is guileless.

We looked at the first one together exploring exactly what they had from the success criteria on the board in them and then the students unpicked the other 3 examples. Finally, they gave feedback on what went well and what could be improved for each.

Following on from this, students chose another quotation and improved their paragraphs.

To have a break from analytical writing and annotations we did a viewpoint: Shakespeare’s plays are no longer relevant. Schools should stop teaching them. This was an inspired viewpoint as the discussion and resulting written pieces shows a depth of understanding of both the for and against viewpoints.

Again, we did a feedback lesson on this, considering how we could improve our skills of expressing a clear and developed viewpoint:

Feedback: Is Shakespeare still relevant?

Have they included?

  1. What – Topic sentence?
  2. Why – Explained their reason in the topic sentence
  3. How – Given evidence from Shakespeare or applications of their ideas
  4. Why – Enhanced it with some persuasive sentences
  5. What – Linked back to the topic sentence

Task: Label each example with the 5 things I have asked to be included in the writing.

Explain what is good (WWW) and what needs to be improved (EBI)

Example 1

Shakespeare as a topic for study is great because it links to topics that are still relevant in today’s society, such as internalised racism, mental health issues etc. Although a vast majority of Shakespeare plays are still relevant in today’s society there are a few percent of people who will argue that some of his plays are irrelevant. For example, ‘A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream’ is about a Donkey which wouldn’t help anyone in today’s society.

Example 2

Plays such as ‘Othello’ and ‘Hamlet’ offer a great view into what society may have been like at the time that they were written. It is clear that pupils can use this information to learn and understand the context og the time. I believe that knowledge of our history is fundamental for young people as it helps their understanding of the world to develop. Learning about these topics through Shakespeare’s splays is an engaging and exciting way for Secondary school students to feel more connected with the past. From my own personal experience, learning about Shakespeare’s plays has helped me to understand more about history. I’ve been able to gain knowledge on issues from the time through watching and reading his stories and I feel that other students should be given this opportunity to do so as well.

Example 3

While some people may believe Shakespeare as a playwright has no further impact on language, other than him creating famous and well known lines, such as “To be or not to be” from Hamlet. However, those people would instead be wrong. Due to Shakespeare we, in society, now have expressions like “cold-blooded” and “epileptic” which have come from his plays and had a massive impact on the way we communicate now. As language is forever changing, it is important to learn some words roots and former usage, so by removing Shakespeare from the curriculum it will shut down the entrance into the learning of communication. Yet, by continuing the teaching of his plays it gives us, as the next generation, a better  understanding of the language we speak.

We have since looked at Desdemona and patriarchy in detail, considered the death of Desdemona and the final soliloquy by Othello before he dies. Our final focus is an Oracy project based on either Hamlet or Othello where students create a paired or group presentation that they will get up and present to the class. This is going really well and I’m really looking forward to hearing what they have to say about Shakespeare’s characterisation.

Although a challenging topic, they have risen to the challenge and shown maturity and understanding. As I said at the outset this wasn’t my scheme of work, but I have enjoyed teaching it, immensely.

Why I love… Teaching Shakespeare Characterisation in Y9: Hamlet

At the moment, I have two vastly different mixed ability sets in English at Y9, they look similar on paper but are very different in reality. However, one thing they have in common is an absolute joy of working on the current unit. Both classes have been studying Hamlet and now Othello and the engagement they have shown with the unit is really wonderful to see. I’ve been feeling like I’ve been neglecting my KS3 classes a bit at the moment with the increased scrutiny and focus on TAGs in KS4, so thought I’d try to reassure myself a bit by writing about how we’ve approached this characterisation unit and how it’s going. Also, I’ve seen some criticism of Hamlet being taught in KS3 on twitter and want to show how it can work in this year group.

We changed Y9 a couple of years ago in order to try to make the curriculum more diverse and reflect the diversity in our school. It was also to increase students ability to study, analyse and write about Literature in preparation for KS4 where we do split entry with Literature GCSE in Y10 and Language in Y11.

The current overview of Year 9 looks like this and this is a working document that will be updated to reflect what we have taught and if there are any other changes that we need to make:

As you can see we have a choice of texts which we deliver as a cold read and which teachers have autonomy over the choices they teach.

Two of my brilliant colleagues put together the unit for Shakespeare characterisation and due to lockdown, this is the first time we’ve managed to actually physically teach it, so it is lovely to be in a class and doing this.

We started with a focus on Heroes and Villains in order to introduce the idea of protagonists, antagonists, flaws and archetypes. Then we went onto focus on a plot overview of Hamlet considering the storyline and understanding what happened. We did this through the SparkNotes summary video, question and answer and lots of discussion. Next we put Hamlet into context and used a context summary and comprehension quizzes. We also worked on lots of consolidation and retrieval practice for the plot of the play to ensure that the students were completely comfortable with what happened.

Students were given a booklet of key scenes and we explicitly modelled through questions and answers how to annotate effectively for meaning, effect and language/structure. Using lots of questioning we started with the supernatural introduction of Hamlet’s father, the ghost. Students were fascinated by why people would have believed that Hamlet had indeed seen a ghost and why Hamlet so readily believed his story. We wrote about how Claudius was presented as an archetypal villain through the impression we gained from Hamlet – the ghosts monologue and looked at the multiple references to the biblical story of the Garden of Eden and how this intertextuality was typically found in Shakespeare’s plays. We also explored how the introduction of a character through the eyes of others’ was an important plot device as before we’ve even met Claudius we are positioned, as the audience to distrust, dislike and see him as deceitful and dishonest. In this way we were able to explore and really appreciate that the play is a construct and that characters are multi-faceted and three dimensional. Then, we moved onto Act 2 Scene 2, where we met Claudius and saw his deceitful nature for ourselves. Again, we used lots of questions and answers and students as the actors to read the scene. The characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern brought up some lively discussion as the students were absolutely certain that they wouldn’t spy on Hamlet on behalf of the King, Claudius through loyalty to their friend. This meant that we could have some really good discussions about morality, when it is acceptable to watch over someone and report their actions back to a third party and generally consider views on the importance of trust and honesty. After this we looked at Hamlet’s turmoil in Act 3 Scene 1 and looked very closely at Hamlet’s ‘To be or Not to be’ soliloquy. There was a lot of discussion about whether Hamlet really was mad or not and whether he actually sent himself mad through his own procrastination or not. Students then wrote about the presentation of Hamlet’s madness. We also looked closely at Queen Elizabeth’s spy network in order to understand how contextually the court of Claudius was linked closely to the fears and concerns of the Queen at that time. Then, we looked at the juxtaposition of Hamlet’s inability to kill Claudius while he was praying (although we didn’t read the scene) and the instantaneous nature of the killing of Claudius behind the arras and we read this scene. We looked at the ironic nature of the killing happening through a religious tapestry, a fact that we think would have been recognised by a contemporary audience and considered carefully the presentation of Gertrude here. Throughout the unit we were considering whether Hamlet truly is a tragic hero or not and kept coming back to this as a big question. We looked at the presentation of Hamlet in the Get thee to a Nunnery scene and explored whether his behaviour was acceptable or not. This also allowed us to discuss the stagecraft and directorial choices. The scenes that we chose to watch for the behaviour of Hamlet towards Othello were quite gritty and opened up discussions about violence and abuse against women and misogyny.

Throughout the unit we did lots of analytical writing and some viewpoint work too. @katiesuther created a brilliant viewpoint task on Joint Enterprise which linked into the topic of Hamlet and Justice, but also importantly taught our students about criminal responsibility.

All in all the work on Hamlet was engaging, allowed us to tackle some really delicate subjects and helped to prepare the students for explorations of language in Shakespeare at GCSE. We are currently teaching Othello and then will move onto Much Ado about Nothing and the levels of engagement, thought and discussion in the classes are just as high as they were with Hamlet.

I hope that this is interesting and shows that Hamlet can be and is a suitable text for KS3. Even though we haven’t taught the whole text, the purpose of the unit is to introduce characterisation and language and I believe that this has been successful, so far.

Why I love… A Level English Language: P1A Meaning & Representation

I am not and have never professed to be an expert in A Level Language, but I have some lovely students that I am currently tutoring. I agreed to take on the tutoring with the caveat that I’m not an expert but I’d give it my best shot. What a revelation. I am actually loving it. It is a new challenge; it is exciting; it is fun; it is so rewarding and hopefully above all else; it is useful for them. I’m going to clarify what I’ve been doing with them here and hopefully my online colleagues who read this will be able to let me know if this sounds useful and on the right tracks or not. I’d really appreciate hearing if what I’m thinking and doing is familiar to those who teach A Level Language, as my expertise and degree is in Literature, so this is new territory for me.

First, I printed off the resource glossary and familiarised myself with that, as well as the specification and past papers, so that I’d know what we needed to look at. Then I called in the experts: former colleagues who teach the specification came up absolute trumps and looking through what they sent me was a godsend and has given me a wealth of knowledge – thank you @miss_thinks (Rachel) and Kelda (not on twitter); twitter @team_english1 also came up trumps and signposted what to do and what to look for; finally Dr Vincent Leigh @fratribus (thanks @dileed for being a good egg and putting us in touch) gave up his time to have a chat with me, which was invaluable and @MrMcVeigh shared some resources which have proved very very useful, as well as the @Englangblog account which is brilliant.

Session 1

In the first session, we discussed exactly what it was that they were looking for support with. Essentially, we came to the conclusion that they were feeling insecure about how to write about English Language at an A Level standard and that they knew about the AOs, but were struggling to understand how these worked in writing.

With this in mind we went over a basic essay structure:

How to structure Paper 1 Section A Q1/Q2:

Introduction – Contextualise the extract – say what the extract is about, why and when it was written. State what you will cover in the rest of the essay.

Main Paragraphs – Structure them around patterns that you notice in the language.

Consider the following ‘invisible questions’ to help you think about this:

What does the text do?

How does it do this (techniques)?

Where does it do this (evidence)?

Why it creates a specific meaning?

What and why it creates a specific effect?

What is it teaching you as a reader?

How was the writer positioning themselves?

Conclusion – Summarise how the language/features are used and explore why the writer positioned themselves in this way.

Then, I asked them how they would annotate the text, in order to be able to identify the features that they were going to write about. This was really useful as it became evident that they weren’t sure what to look for. I gave them the glossary that the exam board provide and we discussed what the following meant:


Word Level

Sentence Level

Tone – Specific



Lexis and Semantics

I then asked them to annotate the article as they would normally and that showed me that despite discussing it, this was something that needed explicit teaching. That struck me as interesting as at GCSE I teach this, but I wonder if at A Level this is not yet embedded and that it needs to be revisited explicitly, so that students can start to approach texts critically right from the start. If they are unsure what the text contains, then surely they can’t write most effectively about it?

As a result, we clarified a guide to annotation as follows:

Guide to annotating at A Level

Question the text on a whole text level. Think about – what it is about? Who is speaking (the authorial voice)? Consider the purpose, audience, format and tone and what the author wants you to learn. How is the author positioning themselves? Are they expert or layman? What do you think they intend the reader to think and feel and why? What is the title suggesting and why? Does the title guide the information in the text? Zoom in on specifics at a: Paragraph, Sentence, Word level; also, consider the graphological features and how they support your reading of the text; think about where patterns are occurring within the text; what do you notice that seems important or relevant?; consider the denotation and connotations that are coming up.

Obviously, this guide is not an exhaustive list of features to start annotating for, but a useful starting point, I hope.

Then, we looked at some sentence level work, as during the course of discussion with Q&A it was evident that these were not securely embedded as knowledge. Thinking about: Simple, complex, compound and what these look like and how sentence purpose can be a useful pattern; declarative, exclamatory, interrogative and imperative. Through the sentence level work we looked at examples, considered what imperative and modal verbs were, abstract nouns, subject, verb, object, pronouns, prepositions and participles. Considering these through sentence level examples was useful as we were able to go over and discuss these and consolidate/introduce the knowledge of these. We did this by using worked examples that we talked about linked to the text.

I think what I discovered, again, was that the basic building blocks need to be secure before you can really do justice with the new knowledge. This consolidatory work was really useful and has come up several times since.

Finally, we worked together on positive and negative tones, coming up with a list of specific tones that they might want to consider and identify. We also looked at PAFT and bias to think about this and how this is important with the representations that writers are making.

I asked them to finish annotating the extract based on what we’d discussed in preparation for the next session.

Session 2

We built a bank of ‘invisible questions’ that they could use to help them interrogate the texts and consider what the meanings and representations were:

What do I notice… about…

  • patterns relating to words
  • patterns relating to tone
  • shifts/changes in tone
  • the format/graphological features/overall structure
  • patterns in sentence structure and purpose
  • other examples of patterns in the text
  • other terminology used in the text that seems interesting or relevant

Then, we considered the following questions in relation to this:

  • How are any of the above used?
  • Why are they used?
  • Why or how do they create specific effects?
  • How is the author trying to position you?
  • What is the author’s intent?
  • How do you feel as a result of what is said or done in the text or the patterns you have identified?

Then, we con-constructed an introduction with questions and answers. We unpicked this to see what each sentence was doing and did the same thing again but with a main paragraph.

Session 3

Students wrote a paragraph and we swapped and peer assessed, using the criteria from the previous lesson and their strengthened annotations. I wrote at the same time as them and we discussed what was written in all examples and how to smoothly embed AO1 and AO2, as opposed to treating them as two stand alone aspects. We looked at the mark scheme and unpicked what it was actually asking for and how that was shown in the different examples that we had produced. The highlighted parts of the text were up for discussion.

Students were asked to annotate the second source at home and we discussed the context of the 19th century and how this could immediately help us understand the second source on a superficial level, at first.

Session 4

We looked at the comparison structure and discussed the second source in detail. We looked at the question and recognised that it asks for both similarities and differences and that this meant that they would need to do both. We also looked at the mark scheme for the comparison to try and identify what was being asked for. We then co-constructed the example below.

This was annotated in advance of the final session on Meaning and Representations.

Session 5

First, we did a quick quiz and went over the areas that hadn’t stuck yet.

Next, I got the students to explain in their own words what the different highlighted colours equate to.

  • Pink – 2/3 ideas to focus on
  • Orange – comparative points
  • Blue – Terminology
  • Purple – Analytical Verbs
  • Yellow – Evidence
  • We discussed the analysis bits.

Then, we did a bit of maths on how long each question should last.

P1A Q1 & Q2 – 35 minutes

P1A Q3 – 30 minutes

(which I hope is the correct advice) We worked it out by the mark distribution.

Then using the model with the annotations, they wrote their own comparative paragraph and I wrote at the same time. Then, we swapped and peer assessed. They highlighted the work with the same colours as above and considered what those colours told them. It was evident that comparison focus was weak and that although we’d all written about the same example, we had different styles and that was okay. The important thing was to bring in next time writing on meaning and representations the strengths noted in their peers work.

Next session, we are moving onto P1B and looking at that. What I’m hoping from this blog post is some more experienced teachers of English Language A Level will have a read and confirm if what I’m advising is accurate and helpful, or if there are things that I’ve missed or misinterpreted. I’d be hugely grateful and appreciative, as the last thing I want to do is confuse the students or get it wrong. Thanks in advance for any advice. It really will be hugely appreciated.

Why I love…Considering the mental load

This year has been incredibly tough, in fact last year has also been incredibly tough, teaching online and managing from home was really difficult and I don’t even have the added impact of having my own children to consider and help (they are old enough to be almost completely independent when it comes to studying).

However, the mental load of Centre Assessed Grades last year was hard. We had to decide on the grades and rank orders and ensure that they were fair. We had to rely on the integrity of our team, our wider school community and then even wider the whole country of teachers, who just want the best for their students.

This year though is even more mentally challenging. On the one hand, exams being cancelled was inevitable and we knew that, on the other hand it genuinely feels like teachers have been thrown under the bus. A plan from the DFE should have been in place for what comes next. Instead, they foisted it onto JCQ, who have done their best with little guidance, but they in turn foisted this down onto the exam boards who have been sinfully slow in releasing any information but again who can blame them, the failing is at the top and shouldn’t be blamed on JCQ or the exam boards, then somewhat inevitably: the exam boards have foisted this back down onto schools and ultimately teachers.

This means that up and down the country teachers and school staff are literally and metaphorically tearing their hair out to make decisions that should be centralised, equitable and fair, for the futures of our pupils. The pupils lives have already been turned upside down and they have already been penalised in countless ways and now they will have an excuse to ‘blame’ the teachers if they don’t get the grades that they want. Not all pupils will do this, but given the media denigration of teachers, I can’t see it happening any other way. The mental load for the pupils is mad, they are being assessed on what they have been taught both in class and in an entirely alien way from what they did at home. For some, working home was successful, but in my experience even the ones who navigated this successfully are much happier to be in school with a teacher in front of them, teaching. For others, the working from home was unsuccessful, for innumerable reasons and they are aware that this is a problem. No-one who didn’t work or found it hard or who did some of the work has come back to school feeling a sense of achievement and this is problematic. Yes, the majority are now working hard in class with the teachers in front of them, but the sense that they couldn’t do it independently is still there for some of them and as such they feel the weight of this mentally. The good thing is that children are resilient and they do bounce back and they do overcome those feelings.

So, the mental load for students has increased and the media dubbing this ‘the lost generation’ and the narrative around ‘lost learning’ is for me indicative of a wider issue around what we expect from young people. That however, is a different issue altogether.

The mental load for me and those that I work with is mad at the moment. Thinking about assessments, adapting the curriculum, ensuring that we are fair and objective. Ensuring that students have a balance of ‘this is really important’, but also ‘this is not trying to stress you out’ is crucial at the moment. I can’t stop thinking. My mind is constantly racing and racing and racing about making sure that our young people are helped and that my team are supported. We have been put in an impossible situation, but like always we will prevail. We have to. The pupils in our schools are relying on us prevailing. The parents of those children are also worried and we have an obligation to try to make this as fair and as accurate as we can. I don’t have all the solutions. All I do know is that the mental load right now is onerous for everyone working in schools, who has a child at school or is a child in school, preparing for Y11/Y13.

This doesn’t mean that we won’t do it and won’t get on with it. I just think it is important to acknowledge it. I’m pretty sure, I can’t be the only one thinking this is a bit of a mental situation and that the mental load is overwhelming at times!

Why I love…What? How? Why? instead of the dreaded PEA!

What seems like a million years ago now, well it was a few years ago, anyway. I decided to stop using PEA. I’d butchered it anyway, so that it became a jumble of letters that students had to remember in order to go beyond the A and develop their writing. There was so many versions that it had became Frankenstein’s monster, just in the analysis sense. Then, at my last school, I started developing and honing exactly what I wanted students to include in their paragraphs in order to meet the basic and then extend this to meet the developed criteria that meant ‘good’ analysis. I still use the elements of the criteria in my explanation and a lot of the premises in it, along with the What? How? Why? in order to encourage developed analysis.

When I explain how to analyse to students I’ll tell them that I want them to use the following and explain what I mean.


What is your basic answer to the question?

What are you going to say about the text?


How does the evidence in the text support this?

How is the language technique/method supported in the evidence you have selected?

How are connotations explored in a particular word or phrase that you have selected?


Why does the evidence mean something?

Why does the evidence make you think or feel this?

Why has the writer chosen to present the evidence in this way?

Why has the writer wanted you to know this/think about the evidence/text?

Often, I will just write on the board:

What? = answer to question

How? = technique/method and evidence

Why? = meaning + why? and effect + why?

This becomes a really quick and easy scaffold.

Alternatively, I will give instructions for language analysis as a stepped guide:

Link to the key focus in the question (we will have underlined that together as a class first)

Embed the technique used in the evidence

Embed the evidence

Use an analytical verb

Explain the meaning (literal and inferred)

Use a connective and offer a reason for the meaning

Explain the effect – how you think/feel in relation to the evidence

Include the context if relevant, linked to the evidence used

Include the writers’ intentions – what they are trying to say about a theme/idea or about society

Aiming Higher – Zoom in on words, Use multi quotations to support your initial idea about the question, contextualise the extract before moving into the close analysis, Keep referring back to the question

By using these concurrently, with models, I’m trying to encourage students both for Literature and Language questions to develop their thinking and focus on deeper and more meaningful analysis.

What this looks like in the classroom:

With Year 9 at the moment, we are exploring Hamlet, and students have exploded quotations. First, we did this independently in books, then we crowd sourced from the students, so that they had absolutely exhausted their ideas and added to what they had come up with on their own.

Then, using a the following from a lesson by my colleague:

To what extent do you agree that Claudius is presented as an archetypal villain in Act 1 Scene 5.

I’ve asked them to explore What? How? and Why? thinking about:

What does Hamlet snr say his brother has done?

What does Claudius behave like towards Gertrude?

What way does Claudius kill Hamlet snr?


Introduction with 3 ideas to explore:

Claudius is clearly shown to be a villain, although this could be considered biased, due to the viewpoint being presented by Hamlet senior, who was the victim of fratricide at the hands of Claudius. Hamlet accuses his brother of the most heinous crime, presents him as an adulterous man who has been predatory towards Gertrude and describes in depth the way in which he is poisoned to his son Hamlet. As Hamlet is a Ghost in this scene, Shakespeare is perhaps deliberately playing on the fascination of the audience with the supernatural to engage the imaginations of the audience and imply that they too should despise and detest Claudius, or perhaps to remind them of the divine rights of the king, as a warning as the ever suspicious King James the first was terrified of plots against him.

Main Paragraph 1 about Hamlet saying what his brother has done:

When the Ghostly Hamlet speaks to Hamlet (his son) about what has taken place he uses the metaphoric reference to imply that Claudius is the devil. “The serpent stung me” indicates that Claudius has behaved in a sly, slithering, stealthy and deceitful way as the reference to a snake has those connotations. The use of “stungforeshadows the later revelation in Hamlet’s monologue of the way that Claudius poisoned Hamlet. The choice of the noun “serpent” as a reference to Claudius is also biblical and makes a direct comparison to the Garden of Eden and the serpent that encouraged Eve to fall from grace. Perhaps, Shakespeare is deliberately showing the audience that danger can lurk in the most unsuspecting places and that upholding religious values is important.

Underlined = What

Bold = How

Purple = Why

I complete this process with the students and label up the examples on the board or colour code them on a PowerPoint slide with them.

I believe that this systematic approach to students analysis helps them in the long run, as the process is so well embedded that they are then able to free up their working memory to just concentrate on grappling with what the text in from of them says and they have these processes, so well embedded that they can do this automatically and then move into developing their own writing style that uses the combination of what – how – why without them even realising that is what they are doing. It helps them to move into higher level analytical thinking, again without them even realising this.

This is really nothing new, but it might be useful.

Why I love…Animal Farm – Chapter 5 – Divisive Behaviour

Previously, when teaching this novella, I was working through example essays with my class and had worked on one essay per chapter, up to Chapter 4. Therefore, I thought I would resume these, now. Perfect timing for me as I will be in class working on Chapter 5 next week. The other blogs are here: Why I love…Animal Farm: A blog collection

How is Chapter 5 shown to be hugely divisive in Animal Farm?

Orwell, a democratic socialist who was active in his anti-totalitarian regime dislike, seems to have deliberately introduced Chapter 5, the mid-point of the novel, as divisive to demonstrate that the animals’ equality is slowly being eroded and the animals have no capacity to change this. Immediately, we have been shown Mollie’s unhappiness which could be divisive as she clearly doesn’t want to abide by the rules of the farm. Then, we have the divisiveness between those who want the windmill and those that don’t. Finally, Snowball’s expulsion can be seen as one of the most divisive moments in Animal Farm, as the complicity of the animals in allowing this expulsion paves the way for a totalitarian regime led by Napoleon, that would not have been possible if Snowball had been on the farm to counterbalance Napoleon.

First, we see Mollie behaviour in Chapter 5 perhaps as a way of foreshadowing her leaving the farm. This is divisive as the animals should all be in favour of running the farm for themselves, but Mollie has been unhappy from the outset. The repetition of “more and more troublesome” at the start of the chapter shows Mollie’s unhappiness is becoming more evident to the other animals and shows that she is a divisive character as she is not blindly following the rules. In fact, she lies about her behaviour to Clover, which is again divisive as Clover is trying to follow the rules, and Mollie is quite indignant in her tone when she says “He didn’t! I wasn’t! It isn’t true!” suggesting that she is actually trying to cover her tracks and is perhaps embarrassed that she has been found out. The exclamatory remarks that she makes really quickly imply that she is lying and trying to claw her way out of this. Mollie’s behaviour appears suspicious to Clover, who searches her stall and finds incriminating evidence “little pile of lump sugar and several different coloured ribbons” both items that Mollie was upset about giving up when the seven commandments were originally set up. The fact that she has these contraband items makes it seem as though she is uninterested in following the same rules as everyone else and makes her divisive as she is willingly flouting the rules and ignoring them, in favour of her own selfish desires. However, she is said to have “disappeared” with the verb indicating that no-one knows where she has gone, only that she is no longer on the farm. This is unsurprising given her unhappiness, however it could be seen as divisive as the utopia that the animals want to create on the farm is clearly not something that every animal shares, as is evident with Mollie choosing to leave the farm. This desertion and dissent in the ranks of the animals could be seen as divisive as other animals might also decide that they are unhappy and want to leave. However, the divisive nature of Mollie’s behaviour doesn’t have this impact and in actual fact is overshadowed by the disagreement between Snowball and Napoleon over the building of the windmill.

Snowball is in favour of building the windmill, while Napoleon is steadfast in his determination that this is a terrible idea. They disagree most viciously and the management of the farm would have been peaceful had it not been for these two: “These two disagreed at every point where disagreement was possible” with the repetitive way disagree is used implying that this is not a simple matter of them not agreeing, but more fundamental that this. They both appear to be oppositional in their behaviour towards each other and the adjectival phrase “violent debates” and the fact that they both had their “own following” demonstrates that the utopian dream put forward by Old Major is in jeopardy, due to the ongoing fued between these two powerful characters. Snowball representing Trotsky and Napoleon representing Stalin implies that this violent disagreement is never going to end well for Snowball. Even though he “won over the majority with his brilliant speeches” with the adjective implying that he is good at public speaking and persuading the animals to think in a similar manner to him, ultimately Napoleon manages to shut much of the equitable debate down. Napoleon encourages the sheep to bleat “Four legs good, two legs bad” whenever a debate or discussion was occurring with the animals and in this way, Napoleon was able to manipulate the decisions being made. This divisive relationship seems doomed to create disharmony in Animal Farm. Napoleon shows a cold and nasty side to his personality when the plans for the windmill have all been worked out. The verbs in “lifted his leg, urinated over the plans and walked out without uttering a word” both literally and metaphorically show the derision that he feels towards Snowball and his schemes to make the farm a better environment for all. Napoleon’s scorn is evident in the way he chooses to behave here and Orwell then states that the “whole farm was deeply divided” which shows further evidence that the animals don’t know who to believe or side with and reinforces the way in which the power play between Snowball and Napoleon creates a divide in the farm, between the followers and supporters of Snowball and Napoleon, which creates the conditions for Napoleon to chase Snowball off the farm a further act that could be seen as devious, calculated and divisive.

Predictably, as Snowball represents Trotsky, it seems fitting that Napoleon manages to chase him off the farm and into exile as this is what happened to Trotsky. The dogs, who have hitherto been hidden away are summonsed by Napoleon using auditory imagery “uttered a high-pitched whimper” and the verb “bounding into the barn.” For the dog’s movement, indicates the power that they seem to possess. The arrival of the dogs marks a turning point for Snowball as they “dashed straight for Snowball” in a targeted attack to either harm or injure him. This could be seen as divisive as Napoleon is clearly in the process of using fear and intimidation as a way to seize power and control over the situation and the farm. He is successful as the other animals are so “amazed and frightened” that they allow the “chase” to take place without saying or doing anything to stop it. Napoleon’s superior power comes from the dogs who he has trained from pups to become as the adjective suggests “enormous dogs wearing brass-studded collars” which must have been an intimidating sight for Snowball and the other animals on the farm. The fact that they are wearing a uniform is suggestive of the secret service who Stalin surrounded himself by and the dogs are clearly symbolic of the secret service in the way that they behave towards Snowball. Napoleon doesn’t have to do any of the difficult and violent work, much like Stalin, but instead instructs his dogs to do this. This coup took place extremely suddenly and the emotions of the animals reflect their shock at the turn of events “even Boxer was vaguely troubled” with the adverb implying that he is aware, despite being considered to be unintelligent that there is something wrong with what had taken place and that Napoleon’s behaviour was divisive. Squealer goes onto lay the foundations of one of the threats that will keep the animals in their place, which again is divisive as he is pitching the animals in direct opposition to humans, which he knows frightens the animals. This speech “Surely, comrades, you do not want Jones back?” is deliberately manipulative towards the animals in order to get them to stop discussing the expulsion of Snowball and consider how they are better off, because they have the farm and not Farmer Jones. Napoleon’s sly and divisive behaviour is finally foregrounded when he announces that the windmill will go ahead. This was the issue that had deeply divided the farm, as a result of Napoleon’s objections towards it and the U-turn that Napoleon undertakes is then explained away by Squealer, once again. Squealer appears to be working with Napoleon as a propaganda machine, talking to the animals and getting them to see Napoleon’s point of view. The repetition of “Tactics, comrades, tactics!” demonstrates the slippery and manipulatory behaviour of Napoleon and Squealer, but the animals don’t seem to notice it and they “accepted his explanation with no further questions” which shows that they have been subjugated at this point in the novella and the intimidatory tactics and persuasion employed by Napoleon have worked.

Throughout Chapter 5, it is evident that the farm is no utopian, equal society and that the dream Old Major shared has been modified and distorted as power gained by Napoleon has grown and his scruples have gone. Mollie leaving could have been divisive as the animals may have seen this as an opportunity to leave also, however it isn’t as they blindly accept this and carry on as if she didn’t exist. The argument and bitterness between Snowball and Napoleon were divisive and in fact caused two factions to grow in the farm, showing a divided loyalty towards the different characters. Finally, the expulsion of Snowball, violently and unlawfully by Napoleon should have been divisive, but wasn’t due to the fear and intimidation that grew as the shocked animals tried to process what had happened. Chapter 5 is where Napoleon takes charge, overthrows any democracy and makes the lives of the ordinary proletarian animals much more difficult. Although the actions are divisive, he manages to take power with an iron fist and this is only going to be detrimental to the ordinary animals.