Tag Archives: literature


Many students embark on A level English without being aware of how different the possible courses really are.  You can study for an A level in either English Language or English Literature or even a mixed course of English Language and Literature. This year I have one student doing straight English Literature and another doing the mixed course. Fortunately for me there has been a slight overlap in the content: both students have had to produce some creative writing in the form of an opening to a dystopian novel. They then have to write a commentary on their own creative writing. One student looked at Brave New World as their stimulus and the other The Handmaid’s Tale. 

Writing a commentary on your own creative writing is quite a challenge. The trick, I think, is to be very aware while you are writing the original piece, of the stylistic devices you are using. In other words, loading your work with interesting metaphors, alliteration, power of three etc will provide you with good material to comment on in the companion piece. Students seem to find this coursework a very enjoyable part of the course.

I have to admit to favouring the pure Literature course and this year I have been lucky with a great selection of texts: some old favourites like Hamlet, The Revenger’s Tragedy, Frankenstein and First World War poetry, and some texts that have been new for me to teach like Dannie Abse poems and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. 

A level English is always hard work to tutor with heaps of reading and preparation but it is very rewarding too! There’s nothing quite like helping a student discover the delights of one of your own favourite texts.


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A is for advanced

But just how advanced should the material be??

I was quite surprised to discover that Angela Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber’ is on the A level syllabus. Now, don’t get me wrong – I think this is an excellent book, well worthy of study but it does contain some very adult sexual themes that I hesitate to name, for fear of attracting the wrong sort of traffic to this blog! I recognise that most 16/17 year olds of today are probably a lot more worldly-wise than I was at that age but nevertheless I would question whether all sixth-formers are comfortable with such material.

Interestingly a couple of years ago, a poem was removed from the AQA Anthology as it was deemed too violent. Was that right or should the pupils have been given the opportunity to discuss the issues raised by the poem?

I’d be interested in other views on this question. I imagine that not many parents are actually aware of the content of the books their teenagers are studying.

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