English Teacher, ‘Try Me’ No.1- Conceptualised responses for GCSE and A level/ challenge activity

Getting students to understand texts as a construct can be difficult, it’s a common trope for students to ‘get lost’ in the characters or language of a text without considering some of the wider concepts covered. They may know particular moments or scenes well, but won’t always consider the wider context of these moments or be able to articulate their significance.

One way I’ve been trying to get students to consider the text as a whole construct and to look more closely at structural patterning of novels and plays is to use the excellent theme diagrams which are available on LitCharts.com. This website is so useful and has a wealth of really comprehensive notes and guidance for teaching texts. The subscription to the LitChartsA+ is well worth the money and saves huge amounts of time when planning (in true #LitDrive fashion!)

The themes diagrams are excellent in prompting some in depth conversation about the text as a whole.

Here’s a brief version of what I did:

  • Explained to the students that they won’t find the task easy. It’s difficult for a reason, but the skills being learnt here are valuable
  • Give the students one of these (below) and ask them to identify which theme the chart is displaying and they need justification as to how they know.
  • Explain that they won’t know the answer straight away and that that’s part of the fun.
Typical theme diagram from www.litcharts.com

Listening to the discussions taking place is really interesting, especially as they navigate their way through working out ‘how much’ of a particular theme is present in that section of the text.

Then the debates start: ‘ well, whatever it is, it almost dominates chapters 7 and 8- what do those chapters have in that chapter 4 doesn’t have?’, ‘ could it be friendship and loyalty because…?’ ‘ Actually, it can’t be because in this chapter…’

This has proven to be an excellent way for them to be able to navigate their way around a text and to be able to justify their thinking in a different context. The students find this hard and it’s a great way to make thinking visible during a lesson.

For your planning ease, I’ve put a few direct links here to some of the popular GCSE Lit texts, I’m pretty sure most if not all texts on the specifications are available… just a taster!

Animal Farm

Great Expectations

A Christmas Carol

An Inspector Calls

Macbeth

Romeo and Juliet

There are plenty of variations on a theme, for sure, but if you’ve found this useful or if you’ve used/ adapted, I’d really love to hear from you. Feel free to comment below or on the Twitter post.

Enjoy the challenge!

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