AQA · For Pupils · literature · poetry · Reading skills · Teaching Ideas

Saving Section C: Unseen comparison poetry (AO2 only)

This week, we’ve been feeding back on the mock exam. We found the two section C poems for the comparison question quite difficult and for the comparison ended up talking more about the ideas in the poem than the language. We’ve called this our ‘Saving Private Ryan’ question: there were bodies everywhere with only a few brave souls clinging on to the Czech hedgehogs (yep, I had to look it up!) with their brief analyses of language for survival. It’s not that we couldn’t do it, it’s just that the landing craft stopped too soon and … oh, I can’t take this metaphor any further. Fact is, we forgot about PEEZL.

So we went back to it today. Once we’d read through the poems again (I’m not going to say which ones because it might compromise other readers) and got the drift of them, we put a quotation on the board and tried to say as many things about it as we could:

Let e-mails fly like panicked birds

The purpose of this is to remind everyone that we can analyse language. We can pick out that it’s a simile and that it’s making links between the urgent frenzy of everyday life and images of nature. The imperative ‘let’ invites us to relax, to adopt a more laissez-faire approach to life and to ignore the constant demands of electronic nuisances. The adjective ‘panicked’ sums up this frenzy, the fact that this beautiful image of nature – birds – is disrupted by the intrusion of this electronic plague!

We then reminded ourselves of the AOs

Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 14.16.08

As I said, most of us focussed on ideas but it’s HOW the writer conveys these ideas which is important. We can do it: we looked at some unseen poems a few weeks ago and here was a response:

Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 14.16.15

Look how this example focuses on words and their effect. ‘The adjective ‘bleached’ is referred to and linked to the idea of over-cleaning. Although this could have been further developed (the word ‘bleached’ connotes an intense cleanliness, almost as if the woman wants to remove every stain of the past), it’s still really good for an 8 mark response. The final section is also really effective: it picks up on word classes – verb and adjective – and applies these correctly to draw out the connotations of the selected examples.

Okay. So now we’ve reassured each other that we have done this in the past. let’s look at what we did in the exam and try to improve. A quick read through (I wanted to take more time, but this should be an unseen exam and I’m not going to be there for the real thing).

The next stage is to look at our two poems again. There is no time in this question to dwell too long on too many details. This graphic might help: I got this from a colleague at Waseley – thank you again. It self-explanatory: we’ve been using tables for aeons so it’s not much different. The idea is to be quick – choose the best quotes that are LANGUAGE RICH – in other words, quotes that contain some big, neon words and techniques that we know we can say something about. TWO or THREE from each poem is more than enough. Put these in the ovals. Is 3 too many? Probably – I don’t think I’d be able to write about more than two per poem in the short time allotted for an 8 mark question.

Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 14.16.32

So thinking about the neon words/phrases in the poem, I came up with these. In the rectangles on the right hand side, I tried to think of comparison ideas.

Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 14.16.40

This next bit is ‘live’: I’m going to use my ovals to write a paragraph on the fly. Here goes:

Both poets use figurative language to explore the power of nature. The first poem describes how ‘the sky unrolls its telegram’. The personification here suggests the endlessness of nature’s ability to communicate with us, the verb ‘unrolls’ connotes the idea that there is something regal about nature’s message to us, whilst the mention of the telegram, an outmoded form of communication, seems to convey a timelessness to the poet’s ideas about nature: there is something nostalgic about this image, as if the poet is harking back to less frenzied times. The second poem uses the metaphor of ‘paintings are mountains’. Here the poet suggests that nature itself is a work of art; the ‘mountains’ are a sublime image, symbolising perhaps the overwhelming beauty of nature. 

Right. I wrote that whilst Prince was almost through singing ‘I could never take the place of your man’ which is about 5 minutes. I’ve got an English degree (poetry wasn’t my strong point) but I think that’s okay. The method works. Some of my year 11s will do better – that’s okay: many of Alex Ferguson’s players were better footballers than he was. That didn’t turn out too bad.

On to the feedback and improvement. I got this idea from the brilliant Rebecca Foster and adapted it for the feedback:

Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 14.16.22

In the next lesson, we’re going to focus on this feedback sheet and really try to improve our answers. Those that finish can then consolidate their learning with an analysis of these two poems (which I love):

Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 14.16.54

Once again, you can see that the question focuses on THE WAYS that the poets present the ideas.

Read the poem and fill in the ovals with quotations and techniques. Use the rectangles to make comparisons. Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 14.17.08


We can use this sort of writing frame to help us get going. Some of us will ignore it and go our own way; other will find it helpful to structure their response.

Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 14.17.00

Remember, to get to those higher echelons of the mark scheme, we need to write about LANGUAGE, FORM and STRUCTURE.

Writing about STRUCTURE and FORM can be difficult. If you’re not careful, you end up writing something like this:

The poet uses enjambment which makes the ideas flow and the single line sentences add impact and drama. In the second poem, there is no rhyme which reflects the lack of control… and so on..

This is just generalised comment. Remember, it’s not enough to DESCRIBE what’s happening with form and structure, you have to link it explicitly to the ideas in the poem. I find it better to weave comments on structure/form into analysis of language. Like this: IMG_3394

That first paragraph is really good in that it combines comments on form (caesura), structure (the end of the poem) and language (the word ‘breathe’) into a really integrated response. Lovely. It shows an integrated understanding of how these three elements combine to make meaning.

Here are some examples of how to write about form and structure with the Forster and Eliot poems:

Eliot uses enjambment: ‘the winter evening settles down with smells of steaks in passageways’ which shows how time seems to run away from us.  Forster also uses enjambment: this is shown in the lines ‘the yellow drip of lamps washing colour from their faces as they pass beneath’. This also reflects the movement of the city’s inhabitants and echoes how they are lost within the machine-like motions of the city. The apparent lack of order in the lines contrasts with the sense of order that human life is subjected to.

The first comment on enjambment is almost a comment on how this feature works to create an effect but perhaps could have been developed a little further by linking the comment ‘time runs away from us’ with the ideas in the poem: it’s a bit vague. The second sentence:

He uses rhyming couplets – ‘wraps’ and ‘scraps’ to draw our attention to the links between the movement of the wind and its impact upon the setting.

Feels similar: there is a feature of form (rhyming couplets) and a quotation linked to an effect, but again what impact does the poet want to create and how does it link to the poet’s ideas about the setting?

The final section of this point

Forster also uses enjambment: this is shown in the lines ‘the yellow drip of lamps washing colour from their faces as they pass beneath’. This also reflects the movement of the city’s inhabitants and echoes how they are lost within the machine-like motions of the city. The apparent lack of order in the lines contrasts with the sense of order that human life is subjected to.

is more integrated. The reference to enjambment is supported by a relevant quotation; the comment on movement is linked directly to what the poet is saying about the city and its influence on its inhabitants. The final comment on ‘lack of order’ is precisely connected to the ideas.

Here’s another example:

Eliot uses form and structure to convey the tired feeling of the setting. Short lines with end stops on ‘six o’clock’, ‘grimy scraps’, ‘vacant lots’ link the end of the working day, traditionally a sign of fatigue, with a feeling of dirt and emptiness. The adjective ‘grimy’ in particular conveys an image of neglect which links with a semantic field of weariness with adjectives such as ‘withered’, ‘broken’ and ‘burnt-out’ all combining to emphasise the overall sense of gloom. On the other hand, Forster draws attention to motifs of light and darkness: end stops on ‘blackness’, ‘darkness’ and ‘light’ all combine to reinforce the contrast between these opposing forces which are in conflict with the city and its inhabitants. Forster also arranges each of his ideas into neat couplets each exploring different sections of the city: he moves from shops and cafes to a wider perspective of the city ‘glowing … like a prehistoric fire’. The effect of this is to invite the reader to consider the dehumanised city from a distant view and reflect on how cities themselves take on sublime proportions as if they have become living entities.

Once again, there is an integrated approach. Comments on form (caesura, end stops) are linked to ideas through language (adjective ‘grimy’).

The link to the PPT is here:






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