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The GCSE Poetry Questions

A guide to answersing poetry questions for the Edexcel GCSE English and GCSE English Literature 'Identity' anthology.

William Burn

on 7 May 2010

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Transcript of The GCSE Poetry Questions

GCSE Poetry The Questions Choice of 2 One question will specify
the two poems you have
to compare One question will specify one
and leave the choice of the other
up to you. Read both questions carefully:
sometimes an easy question
is hard to write a really great
answer for A Typical Question... Look again at Mid-Term Break (page 22) and Once Upon a Time (page 24).
How does each writer explore the ways in which people show or conceal their true emotions?
In your answer you should make close reference to the language of the poems.
Break the question down... The first part simply tells
you which poems to write
about. The middle section gives you
the key words which tell you
the focus of the question The final part reminds you
to analyse language What the Examiner Wants to See Analysis of Language The question always asks for
close reference to language.

Make sure you write about:
Poetic techniques
Effects BUT! Be careful not to 'feature
spot' - Examiners want you to explain why a
writer has used a technique, or explain
the effect of certain words.
Simply listing technical terms will not
get you many marks Sharp focus on the question Each paragraph should begin with a sentence that includes a key
word from the question;
Make sure you link your paragraphs using sentences and
Focus your analysis on key words from the question;
Be careful not just to regurgitate your notes in the exam hall.
Insight into the texts Try to look beyond the surface meaning of the
See the poems not as examination test material
but as real poems written by real writers;
Challenge yourself on your own response to the
- Could I say more?
- Am I reading this in a mature, intelligent way?
BUT: don't try to use complicated vocabulary
to cover up poor ideas. Examiners hate it. Write a lot
about a little Pick two or three
relevant quotations Find as many relevant
things to say about
them as possible Focus on techniques
and effects Focus on comparison
with the other poem This will help you avoid
the urge just to summarise
the poem as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
What does this mean in practice? Look again at Mid-Term Break (page 22) and Once Upon a Time (page 24).
How does each writer explore the ways in which people show or conceal their true emotions?
In your answer you should make close reference to the language of the poems. Here's that question again... Tragic image - the distraught mother
shocks us The sharp, onomatopoeic sound of
'coughed' breaks the quiet mood
created by 'whispers' in the previous
stanza The enjambment allows Heaney to
pause, interrupting the tenderness
of a mother holding her son's hand,
which emphasises the power of her
grief, and the extent to which she seeks
to conceal it. It is important in the structure
of the poem, as it introduces the
change in mood where Heaney's
own shock and loss are revealed It contrasts with the cold, cruel
deception which Okara describes in
'Once Upon A Time', for example in
people smiling 'with their teeth.' How to Revise READ! Read the poems out loud; try to tell the story as well as possible. As you do so, think about how the language of the poem is affecting your reading:
- Is the tone changing?
- Is the pace changing?
- Are there important ideas you're emphasising? LISTEN! Try to find recordings of people reading the poems. As you listen to them, pay attention to the sounds of the poem, and the ideas. Which words are stressed by the reader, and why?

Youtube is a great reasource, and your teachers will be able to point you towards good readings of some of the poems Be ACTIVE Don't simply sit at a desk and try to memorise the notes on the poems: active revision will always help. Here are some techniques: Use visual learning Try to tell the story of a poem in a series of pictures The pictures don't have to be beautiful: they just have to capture the main events described in the poem. Can you draw the pictures from memory? Look back at them and think about what the pictures suggest.

Try colour-coding a poem. All the poems are available online, so why not try colour-coding a poem, or using an online resource like bubbl.us to group words and ideas Use audio learning Try recording yourself talking about a poem and listening to it on your iPod. This can be a really effective technique for revising characters or themes from 'Mockingbird', too. Be practical Keep flashcard notes of your work on poems.

Practice essay planning: use past papers

Keep your work focused and time-specific

Work with other people. Talk to your classmates, parents or teachers about the poems.

Don't spend ages looking online for everything you need to know. englishbiz.co.uk is a great place to start, but to be honest, there's an awful lot of rubbish out there, and you don't have time to sift through it all. It's all about clusters.... The poems in the anthology can be grouped into 'clusters' that all explore a shared theme or similar ideas. Try revising in clusters, so your knowledge is organised in a way that will be useful in the exam. Practice! Your teacher will be delighted to read, comment on and mark practice essays you do.

Why not do several plans for one essay title, and see which is the most effective?

Why not write the same essay twice, trying to do it better the second time? Remember! You write about the poems in the English Lit Exam,


in the English Language 4h (The Craft of the Writer) paper What makes a good paragraph? 1. Plan carefully - know what your essay's going to say before you start writing it (and make sure that you're going to answer the question!
2. Start the essay with a brief account of how the focus of the question appears in the poems, and highlighting the points you're going to make.
3. Start each paragraph with a clear topic sentence - often, starting with a conjunction ('however', 'in contrast' etc, is a great technique
4. Keep making connections between the poems and showing how they contrast, and use LOTS of quotations
5. Finish with a little paragraph where you think about what the poets tell us about the idea in the question.
6. Check very carefully - you can always gain extra marks this way. Concealing and showing emotions In 'Once Upon a Time' Okara explores the ways in which adults conceal their true emotions, and the anger and frustration which this creates. Heaney shows how a family tragedy reveals people's true feelings, despite the social pressures to do otherwise. Okara's poem is a passionate appeal to his son, a warning against the 'teeth' which people use for their smiles. Heaney's, in contrast, is more tender and moving, as the final image, in which the family's true grief is revealed, is surprisingly quiet and beautiful, despite its intense sadness. Good topic sentence:
Whereas Okara uses hard, bitter imagery associated with deception and sin to explore concealed emotions, Heaney shows how everyday images and phrases take on new meanings when they are used in a tragic situation. Bad topic sentence:
Big Jim Evans tries to hide his feelings but he can't because he accidentally uses the word 'blow' which suggests a car accident but Heaney doesn't know about it. 'Blow' is alliteration.
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