Help your students feel much more confident with GCSE English Language, Paper 2, Question 4

When they’re tackling Paper 2, it’s crucial our students know exactly what each question  is demanding of them. Here’s how.

In my Year Eleven class, Josh is a Great Dane, on account of his height, which is somewhere in the region of a pro basketball player. Marcus is an Irish wolf-hound. He’s got long legs and a thick head of hair. Ellie is a shih tzu, as she’s lively and always well-groomed.

Of course, there’s some sound reasoning behind our canine alter-egos (I’m a Jack Russell terrier, in case you were wondering – energetic and vocal).  I tell the students that, like dogs competing in agility trials at Crufts, it’s crucial they know exactly what each question on Paper 2 is demanding of them. Whereas Q2 is about the content and Q3 is about methods, Q4 presents multiple challenges. It’s the Crufts equivalent of an a-frame, a tunnel and a hurdle. It’s a case of identifying different perspectives and comparing not just these perspectives, but also the methods used by the writers to convey these perspectives.

‘Where students were less successful, they tended to fall into the same traps as last year: focusing on ideas at the expense of perspectives; dealing with the texts separately without making meaningful connections; and identifying methods used without exploring their effect or how they contributed to presenting the writer’s point of view.’ (AQA, examiners’ report, June 2018)

It’s important to make sure students understand the crucial difference between the ideas and content of the texts and the opinions of the writer. It’s a good idea to model the process of reading the texts with the focus of the question in mind. Whereas Q2 asks students to synthesise content with a particular focus from each text, students need to be taught how to spot the viewpoints and perspectives that this question requires them to explore. It’s worth using sentence stems such as ‘the writer believes…’ or ‘the writer feels…’. When highlighting and annotating, students can look out for references to the text that reveal these viewpoints, either explicitly or implicitly.

I prepared two sources focused around the topic of trains. Source A, an account of travel in Japan by bullet train, and Source B, an extract from Dickens’ novel Dombey and Son. Although this is from a novel rather than a non-fiction source, I felt that given Dickens’ mastery of social realism, it was too good to miss. I then wrote a sample question:

Q4: For this question, you need to refer to the whole of Source A, together with the whole of Source B. Compare how the writers convey their different views and perspectives on the trains. In your answer, you could:

  • compare their different perspectives
  • compare the methods they use to convey their perspectives
  • support your ideas with references to both texts.

(16 marks)

We read the texts carefully and the students highlighted examples of where they felt the writer expressed a viewpoint or an opinion. I encouraged them to annotate Source A and Source B in the margins of the text, noting in their own words the viewpoint the writer had expressed.

Paper 2 Question 4

We then agreed the following principles for how to approach the question:

Start with a short introduction sentence.

‘Choose three ‘attitudes’, ‘perspectives’ or ‘opinions’ from each source to focus on. Don’t feel you have to compare ‘like for like’ or ‘oppositions’. You could, but it may not always be necessary.’

‘One of the sources may include a change or shift in perspective which you could include as one of your ideas.’

‘Analyse the layers of meaning in the quotation you choose; ‘zoom in’ on ‘juicy’ words and phrases or specific aspects of language used in the quotation.’

‘When moving on to Source B, use comparative connectives to point out the differences.’

‘Do one from Source A, then one from Source B, and so on.’

‘No need for a conclusion.’

‘Spend approximately 20 minutes on this.’

How to answer P2 Q4

I live modelled the process of how to write an introduction sentence and then a paragraph that focused on a viewpoint or perpsective from each of the sources. Students then wrote their own responses. I concluded by asking a few students to share with the class their answers verbally, and as a class, we constructively critiqued their work as a way of encouraging all students to reflect on their responses and make improvements.

Copies of the texts, which I’ve preannotated to help you teach, Q3 and Q2, are available here. In addition, feel free to make use of these preannotated exemplar texts on the theme of fire, which I’ve developed to support our students preparing for their forthcoming mock exams.

Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash