Tag Archives: anthology

Anthology themes

How do they go about choosing the poems to fit the various themes for the GCSE poetry anthologies? What are the criteria?

In previous years I have taught the AQA anthology but this year I am mainly teaching the Edxecel one.  Both anthologies are subdivided into clusters: Conflict, Relationships, Character and Voice and Places for AQA, and Relationships, Clashes and Collisions, Somewhere,anywhere, and Taking a Stand for Edexcel.

Imagine my surprise to find a poem that I taught under the theme of Conflict for AQA figures under the theme of Relationships for Edxecel.  Another poem that features under Character and Place for AQA ‘The Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning –  is under Relationships for Edexcel. No wonder pupils get confused! At least both boards are agreed on ‘Nettles’ by Vernon Scannell and Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 – they both are in the Relationship clusters!

‘At the border.1979’ by Choman Hardi is not a poem that I personally would have picked  at all (but that’s another blog altogether!) but it originates from the poet’s collection ‘Life for us’ that deals with the violence of war and persecution, alongside the pain of displacement. Most of the other poems in the Relationship cluster for Edexcel are about love in one guise or another. There are so many wonderful love/relationship poems old and modern, English and other cultures – why pick one that at best has to be shoe-horned into its theme?


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Moon on the Tides

This year AQA have made significant changes to their English/English Literature GCSE syllabi. Not only have controlled assessments replaced coursework but we have a new poetry anthology which is most welcome. Instead of having a selection of poems from other cultures (rather variable in quality in my opinion), four chosen poets plus a selection of pre 1914 poems(again rather randomly chosen), this year we have poems organised into four themes or clusters. I’m sure most teachers and tutors will welcome a fresh choice of poems to teach – after five years of teaching the previous anthology it was hard to summon up quite the same level of enthusiasm!

So far I only have pupils studying two of the clusters – conflict and character/voice but the collection of poems in both these seems to be engaging pupils. I think the poems included in the place cluster look particularly interesting.  This year the exam includes a question comparing two poems – one named and one chosen – plus a question on an ‘unseen’ poem.

Pupils are finding tackling an unseen poem quite a challenge as this is something they are unused to. In the past teachers have given them notes on the set poems from the anthology which can then be learnt and (hopefully!) reproduced in the exam. The unseen tests their analytical skills and is certainly useful preparation for those students planning to take English at A level or beyond.

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