In this newer area of the study design, students often struggle to succinctly introduce key examples and link them to the essay topic provided. In order to help students develop this skill, there are a couple of explicit steps we can use to scaffold students to write more concisely and clearly.
1. Teach students to structure their brainstorming in response to an essay topic:
Students should be taught how to unpack an essay question in detail. The table below unpacks one of the questions on I am Malala and Made in Dagenham from the 2018 exam. Before students think about specific examples, they use a table like to identify:
A) How they can compare the texts in terms of techniques, characters and setting
B) What specific ideas they can discuss and compare
C) Whether they can challenge the topic
|Compare how Rita and Malala||act in defiance||of men’s||expectations.|
The upbeat colours of…
The music in…
The extended explanations of…
The first person narrative of…
Rita’s ability to…
Malala’s capacity to…
The arguments between husbands and their wives…
The worlds of…
try to placate
|men who seek to put them down
men who support them
of some women who do not have their strength
men who are in charge
You will notice that the brainstorming in the white section of the table includes a range of different words to describe the ideas within the question, but also a range of different phrases that help students to challenge the question. For instance, although students could respond by only discussing the ways Malala and Rita challenge men in power, a more interesting and detailed discussion would discuss how they also conform to the expectations of some of the men in their lives. Also, in the final column of the table, students can see that it would be dangerous to generically discuss ‘characters’ but that it would be better to group characters together, or separate out the different characters so that they can more effectively compare the ways the different texts show nuance about these ideas.
Students should be given lots of modelled examples of how to unpack different questions like this, as well as plenty of opportunities to independently unpack essay questions so that they are more capable of interpreting a range of questions under exam conditions.
2. Show students what it means to explore an essay topic in writing:
Exploring and discussing an essay topic does not meaning repeating the key essay topic words ad nauseum. It means to look at the ideas from the topic from different angles. Let’s have a look at an example of this:
When Rita challenges her husband’s conception of what a good husband is, telling him that his behaviour is just “as it should be”, she demonstrates how difficult it is to confront the assumptions of most men.
Note that the words in bold are words that directly link the example to the essay question – without repeating the essay question words. This allows the student to show insight by discussing a specific aspect of an idea with a particular example. The structured brainstorming phase was essential to this to give students a set of words and phrases they could use to explore and discuss ideas.
In terms of using examples, below are some sentence starters and fragments that will help students write about a particular moment in one of their texts and link it to the essay question:
In …[this scene]…character learns/discovers/understands that…[phrase that directly links to the topic].
By…[doing something]…character demonstrates..[phrase that directly links to the topic].
On….[specific event]…s/he challenges/confronts/accepts the….which demonstrates how…[phrase that directly links to the topic].
After the…[specific event]…, character decides to…indicating how…[phrase that directly links to the topic].
It is [character’s] observation that…which show us most clearly how [phrase that directly links to the topic].
Following the [key event or moment], character chooses to…which indicates how [phrase that directly links to the topic].