Teaching Question 3 (Paper 1, AQA GCSE English Language)

“How the story is told is as important as the events that are being told.”

What students need to identify when exploring how texts are structured for effect: (these are some of the main structural features, there are more!)

  1. Openings and closings (why have openings/closings been crafted in a particular way?)
  2. Structural focus & shifts (what images are we being directed to focus on? How do these change/develop?)
  3. Recurring features (are there any examples of recurrent language, images or ideas?)
  4. How time is used (e.g. chronology, tense shifts, starting at the end)
  5. Narrative perspective (how are the events depicted altered by who is telling the story? E.g a student and a teacher recounting the same events would be portrayed very differently.)

When students approach the text with structural focus in mind, they need to think like a camera. This means they need to really focus on the images that are being presented to them and consider why they are being presented with such images. What do they prompt us to imagine? Do they change how we feel about the narrator/settings/characters? An example of  how to practice this is the use of story boarding.

An example:


A student created this frame when exploring the opening of ‘The Girl on the Train’. By thinking like a camera, the students were able to ascertain which images the writer really wanted the reader to focus upon.

In terms of creating paragraphs in responses, we rely on the what-how-why structure. I find this far more useful than PEE, as the ‘explain’ part of PEE can be quite vague. By answering the focused question ‘why has this structural technique been used?’ students naturally engage in analysis of writer’s choices.

Here is an example paragraph from our work on ‘Girl on the Train’, using the what-how-why structure.

What structural technique is used?

How is it used? (Evidence in the form of a quote or reference to the text)

Why has this structural technique been used? (Because of its effect – explain the effect)

Subject terminology is underlined and in bold.

The writer uses a narrow structural focus at the beginning and end of the text. In the opening, the focus is on a ‘pile of clothing on the side of the train tracks’ and in the closing, the narrator sees that ‘little pile of clothes… abandoned’ in her mind. The recurrent focus on the image of the ‘pile of clothes’ is quite evocative because it raises many questions in the reader’s mind. The reader will wonder how a pile of clothing came to be ‘abandoned’ on the train track, as the more you consider the image, the stranger and more ominous it seems. There is no immediate explanation for such items being by the side of a train track, suggesting that something abnormal has happened. By repeating the image, the writer could be foreshadowing something that is going to happen later in the text, as the questions raised by the clothes will surely be answered later in the novel.

The narrator speaks in the present tense, so the reader experiences all of the events in the narrative at the same time as the narrator. The use of the present tense is effective because the narrator is not positioned in the future, meaning that we do not know how the narrative will turn out. This could increase tension, as the reader knows how little control the narrator has over the events.

At certain points, the narrator reflects on the past and reverts to speaking in the past tense, for example ‘My mother used to tell me’. This adds a slightly ambiguous layer of meaning to the text because the use of past tense could suggest that narrator no longer speaks to her mother or that her mother is not in her life anymore for some reason.

As you can see, the ‘why’ sections are significantly more developed, considering a multitude of effects and thus reasons ‘why’ the writer chose to use the technique.

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5 thoughts on “Teaching Question 3 (Paper 1, AQA GCSE English Language)

  1. This was amazing for my class of low ability students in a PRU. It really helped them understand what was being asked

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  2. This is really helpful. Could you please point me in the direction of the clip you used as the opening doesn’t appear to match. Many thanks.

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  3. Yes, sorry if that wasn’t very clear. I’ve watched the trailer too. I fear I am probably doing something wrong in my post half term haze. Thanks.

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