Part 2: Teaching the GCSE English Language Evaluation question

Last time I introduced the mnemonic GRANDDAD as a way into evaluating the writer’s craft. We’ve been cracking on in class, producing practice paragraphs and full responses to Q4 (AQA) with mixed results. What’s become clear is that students who stick too closely with trying to engage with the statement get bogged down and resort to waffle, while those that use Genre, Reader response, Archetypes, Names, Description of character etc. generally say something more meaningful. It’s not always fully evaluative but it’s getting closer. A good job with the assessment coming tomorrow. How they’ll cope with the demands of all four questions in an hour is another matter.

Anyway, here’s the two model answers, on The Spy who Came in from the Cold, that I did to get the whole thing started:

Q4

Pupil A

The writers use of the setting of the checkpoint fits the conventions of the spy genre. In this genre we expect to see a mysterious protagonist who works on his own like Leamas does. The declarative ‘Leamas went to the window and waited’ is effective because spys always have to watch what others are doing and wait around for things to happen’

The name of ‘Control’ is also a good choice by Le Carre. It makes it seem as if he is in charge and gives him authority. It’s a strange and unusual name which fits the strange events in the spy genre.

The woman in the extract is presented as an archetypal femme fatale which means she is dangerous but attractive. This works because it makes the reader want to find out what happens to her and if she gets any of the men into trouble. The simile ‘blonde, tough as nails’ works well because ‘blondes’ are meant to be attractive to men. Also ‘tough’ suggests shes dangerous once she get her ‘nails’ into you.

The description of the wall istelf adds to the sense of excitement for the reader. The setting is described as ‘the Wall, a dirty, ugly thing…like the backdrop for a concentration camp’ which makes it seem as if there is going to be deaths happening. This is because the noun ‘concentration camps’ were used by Hitler to kill people.

And a sophisticated one to aspire to:

Pupil B

A real strength in Le Carre’s writing is that he is able to make his characters mysterious, which reflects the secretive nature of the spy genre.  The characterisation of ‘Control’ is particularly effective as his enigmatic name has connotations of power and authority.  Alternatively, we could interpret his name as a place of command – like a control centre – but importantly far removed from the real action out on the front line.  This is reinforced by the sarcastic comment about Control ‘implying that he had to go off and risk his life somewhere else’ with the verb ‘implying’ taken to indicate that he is actually doing the opposite and retreating to his safe desk job.

Less successful, in my opinion, is the writer’s portrayal of the female character, Elvira.  She is described as a ‘forty-year-old blonde, tough as nails’, which seems quite an obvious stereotypical image, as ‘blondes’ are an obvious choice as an archetypal femme fatale.  The simile ‘tough as nails’ appears somewhat clichéd to the modern reader, although this may still have been an interesting comparison back in the 1960s.  ‘Nails’ does have a suggestion of holding something together, so does perhaps work as an indication of how the relationship seems a bit forced.  At least as a more mature ‘forty-year old’ she isn’t an obvious male fantasy figure.

On first impression, the character description of Karl, using the simile ‘like a rabbit in the headlights of a car’ also seems clichéd. It does however, fit nicely with the image of Karl being startled by the unexpected spotlights.  So it isn’t being used to depict fear in general, but the actual act of being dazzled by light emerging from nowhere. The juxtaposition of ‘rabbit’ and ‘car’ is effective as this scenario usually ends in death, which is precisely the fate that Karl meets.  ‘Rabbits’ are also seen as animals possessing low intelligence with matches with Karl’s characterisation.  Crucially they are famed for their reproductive urges (“breeding like rabbits”), which amplifies the sense that Karl’s sexual feelings for the ‘blonde’ have led to his downfall.

The shooting scene is very effectively portrayed.  The alliteration of ‘cleary…clatter’ emphasises the harsh sound of the bike (and with it Karl) hitting the tarmac, while the personification of the bullets ‘the first shot seemed to thrust Karl forward, the second to pull him back’ has a strong effect on the reader as the verbs ‘thrust’ and ‘pull’ provoke the feeling that Karl is like a puppet on a string, which tallies neatly with his characterisation as a naïve and manipulated individual.

You’ll notice that in this one I’ve started to respectfully challenge elements of the writing, qualifying my criticisms wherever possible. This is clearly difficult for most pupils – especially the non-readers of which I have plenty. But I think teaching pupils about both definitions of cliche: the worn out, hackneyed phrase and the predictable plot point will generate thoughtful contributions in the long run (a classic cliche of my own).

Here’s some of the example bits of analysis and full responses that pupils have produced so far. They’re a real mix of ability (predicted – by the computer, not me – to be Grade 4-7):

 

Hope you find these useful. Next time I’ll include the efforts of some really high ability pupils from a colleague’s group looking at a different text and will break down some of the parts of GRANDDAD in more detail.

Thanks for now,

Mark

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