“Slave” – AQA Paper 1

I need their kind 2 illustrate what’s wrong – what’s wrong?

Prince – Slave – Emancipation


ENGLISH LANGUAGE (8700) -Paper 1 Explorations in creative reading and writing (also see paper 2 “Slave” – AQA Paper 2 ).  Also, when you’ve finished both ‘Slave’ blogs I suggest you go to my “Betcha by Golly Wow” as there are LOTS of free resources; extracts, AQA new spec, articles etc to help.

Last September when I began teaching the new AQA specs for language (AQA website) I remember thinking this is going to be smooth sailing. Students will ACE, yes I am shouting…ACE this and I will look gooood. Then I marked the first end of unit test(s) for paper 1 around December and then paper 2 in June, and I had a reality check. I even wondered if I’d been in the room for 6 weeks. My title for the blog comes from the fact I became a slave to my own ego. I had to ask myself why aren’t students getting this – what’s wrong?

I need to say at this point please do spend time on AQA site – it is quite literally full of teaching ideas, videos, resources etc: AQA English GCSE . If you see chunks of text in quotations it’s because I’ve lifted it from the AQA site (I couldn’t have worded it any clearer myself).

After marking hundreds of soul destroying answers, I decided to write down things I noticed, common mistakes etc. At this point I need to clarify I often refer to techniques or skills as ‘methods’ I am simply following AQA’s lead here. One of the first things I did was to create a ppt a sort of ‘help-guide’ with all key information per question on a slide (you can download at end). At the start of the unit I get students to copy tips/hints into their books. It does take a lesson, but then ‘we’ refer back throughout unit.

One of the big focuses this year (Sept ’16) for my school is going to be reading and comprehension. Our students seem to read a piece of text but at the end have no real idea what they’ve read. To combat this for September we’ve changed our lesson format, specifically our language lessons, to follow this type of format:

  • SPaG starter
  • Inference / comprehension / deduction skill intro to the lesson
  • Main part of lesson

For Paper 1 the texts will be “extracts from literature prose fiction (such as novels and short stories) and will focus on:

  • openings
  • endings
  • narrative or descriptive passages
  • character development
  • atmospheric descriptions

Other appropriate and descriptive approaches will also be included. They will be from the 20th or 21st century. All texts will be unseen.”

A quick glance format for Paper 1 (creative texts) questions:

  • Q1 – Identify & interpret (AO1) – 4 marks
  • Q2 – Language analysis (AO2) – 8 marks
  • Q3 – Structure (AO2) – 8 marks
  • Q4 – Evaluate (AO4) – 20 marks
  • Q5 – Descriptive or Narrative writing (AO5/6) – 40 marks


Section A: Reading

paper1 q1

Many of my students failed to gain full marks because they simply didn’t read the question properly. Students need to answer in a simple sentence type answer eg

  • he had wild eyes (correct or accepted)
  • wild eyes (incorrect not accepted)

Many of my students pick really random things that don’t actually answer the focus of the question ie description of the weather (they pick description of a house, I have no idea why other than they simply don’t read the question properly), and many just answered in the format of bullet point 2, the simplest answer possible. These both failed to gain them 4 easy marks.

Students need to be encouraged from day 1 to write one point per line, in a simple sentence referring to the purpose of the question. They need to draw information only from the section indicated in the question.

To improve:

  • Get students retrieving information against the clock
  • Use true and almost true statements alongside false ones
  • Each answer must make sense on its own (ie a simple sentence)



NOTE “Bullet points in question 2 and 3 – the bullet points are a guide for students, but they do not have specific marks allocated to them. Marks are given for the quality and level of response rather than number of points made.”


paper1 q2

The key part of this question is the command word: HOW

For this question I teach students to look for word patterns, phrases, language features, language techniques, sentence forms.  Get students to look for sentence length to enhance mood, adjectives to enhance description, patterns in words or phrases, imagery (simile) adding to overall piece.

The biggest mistake students make is is they simply don’t analyse language. The key point here is that students MUST analyse language – it is not enough that they can select a word/phrase or method. They must be able to refer to specific details, name the technique and attempt to closely examine how the writer has conveyed an effect or meaning, they need to interpret their quote by analysing a key word in context of the extract. Students tend to go wrong here because they don’t always make analytical comments about the writing. They are good at picking a word/phrase and sometimes can name the method used (remember if a student names the method used it’s how well the student “makes use of this to improve the quality of the response that is important”). It’s not enough that they say the author has used a simile/adjective if they can’t tell me why the ‘simile’ was effective!  They simply  fail to comment as to why something is effective – in context. For example:

  • His house was now his prison” The concrete noun ‘prison’ could mean he feels his home is a place where he feels trapped, imprisoned or locked in. The writer’s choice is effective because it makes the reader consider a place once associated with safety, indicated by the past verbwas‘ and adverbnow‘ makes him feel he lacks freedom.

Many moons ago  made a brilliant firework poster that I have blown up on my wall:


Quote explosion

Remember if students analyse sentence structure (or punctuation) it must be to enhance the language-that’s really the focus.

We hope that our new SOW and our starters which repeat and reinforce concepts such as inference, deduction, comprehension and language analysis in every lesson will help students with this.

To improve:

  • Get students to identify different possible meanings in a text (or word/phrase)
  • Students must identify ways authors create meaning; meaning+method+evidence+effect eg the author uses (name method) to highlight (link to question focus) seen in (quote) this suggests (meaning). This could create the effect/make a reader (develop effect).
  • Ensure students use a range of statements from the firework poster above – this will encourage them to develop their analysis for higher marks.


Here’s a low band student response in comparison to a high band response:



paper1 q3

The most common error students make here is they simply re-tell the events in their own words (sometimes they don’t even do that, they lift sections of the text).

Get students to (initially) look for structural features, whole text-beginning/endings. Using relevant details to support ideas. Teaching students methods such as sequence through a passage, movement from big to small – ideas or perspectives. taking an outside to inward perspective, or vice versa, introductions and developments,  reiterations, repetitions,  threads, patterns or motifs, summaries and conclusions, shifts of focus, narrative perspective, connections and links across paragraphs, internal cohesion and topic sentences.

Students need to be able to look at how a character, theme or setting is presented in terms of the structure of the text. If students look at sentence structure analysis, whilst still appropriate, should only be referenced where students think that such analysis contributes to the structure of the whole, for example, a recurring motif or pattern that informs meaning. My focus for September will be to really look at why the structure of the text is important to overall meaning or understanding for the reader. Use a range of texts with different structural features/methods getting students to identify as many developing/detailing why they’re effective. I really advise you to download the resource at the bottom of this blog (AQA methods) – look at the subject terminology the exam board expects/assumes students to use confidently with regards structure (teachers are possibly more comfortable using subject terminology for language analysis).

Other suggestions to teach structure are perspective shift, paragraph level-topic change, single sentence paragraphs, sentence length, POV – 1st person etc. Child/adult narrator. Genre of writing. How text begins – general or focused, or does the text shift location/character-why? Is it descriptive/dialogue?  How does structure manipulate reader.  Does reader sympathise with events? Is there something funny, sad, scary, eventual in the event or stands out odd compared to the rest of the text?

To improve:

  • (as with Q2) get students to identify meaning+method+evidence+effect  students must identify a method the author has used and discuss why it’s important/successful.
  • Again ensure students pay attention to question focus: At the beginning of the extract the author focuses the reader’s attention through (name method)  to (reference to text) this shows (link to question focus) and can be seen (evidence -not necessarily a quote). This could suggest (meaning) and creates the effect of (detail effect). The author then moves to (repeat steps)!

Here’s a low band student response in comparison to a high band response:




paper1 q4

For this question students need to give personal response, explain why the character/description is/are effective, keep relevant to the text and question with relevant details to support the overall effect.

This is an evaluation question and requires students to “evaluate how each of the characters is developed in different ways, and to speculate on reasons why, or speculate on the different effects they may have on the reader.”  AQA are looking for “a critical response which provides a degree of synoptic assessment. Students can only achieve top of the mark bands if they are able to bring together all of their reading skills from inference, through analysis to evaluation.”

In other words how does the choice of language/ structure make events/characters come to life. Try to mention all characters in an extract how do they combine to overall effect? Does one character/setting/ description stand out? Why?

Some useful evaluation sentence starters/evaluative language to express a student’s judgement (difficult to write generally so these are a little formal):

  • It appears to me that the author…
  • In my opinion, the article…
  • The concept presented by the author is intriguing/innovative in that it… (positive)
  • The arguments the author presented are inadequately supported… (negative)
  • The article accurately/inaccurately portrays/presents…

Or get students to either begin or use within an evaluative sentence appropriate adjectives such as:

  • Successful
  • Interestingly
  • Powerful
  • Didactic
  • Ambitious
  • Confident

for example: The author has successfully ….. or Interestingly Steinbeck…

(Look at the end for a fantastic resource “The Language of Literary Analysis” listing lots more vocabulary to assist with analysis).

With a personal response question students should be fine if they have been actively reading the passage (again a problem we have with ours – they don’t seem to do this).

  • Students need to consider and judge what they are reading as they read the extract.
  • They need to understand and absorb the general gist of the content and need to be confident enough to agree/disagree.
  • Students also need to be aware of the style and the tone used in the passage and judge how they affect the reader. What feelings and ideas does the author suggest or want the reader to feel?
  • Finally at the end of a passage students need to have an opinion, for example. I enjoyed that because …………… or I really felt ………..

My students made the error of just analysing language or retelling events (again). They need to analyse effect of choices and develop their reasons as to why they are successful.

To improve:

  • Make a clear statement in response to the question. Add the method used by the author. Get students to follow this with a clear opinion (this is a culmination of their skills; inference, through analysis to evaluation). Statement+method+evidence+opinion+effect+meaning/inference
  • Ensure students explain why an author used a specific (method) word/phrase/imagery (in reference to the question). Why was this particular choice successful/why did it work/why did it create a possible effect on the reader?
  • Encourage students to use language that clearly assesses the quality of a text or the effect created with a specific word/phrase/method…eg this is successful because

Here’s a low band student response in comparison to a high band response:



paper1 q5

This is actually so much harder than it first appears. Students have to either: Write a description suggested by this picture (visual image provided). Or: Write the opening part of a story about…

My students found this hard, they either:

  • picked the first option ‘description of a picture’ but only described what they could see in the image and really struggled to describe something ‘suggested’.  They could only describe what they could actually see in the image. To combat this I will use more images as a starting point in September, I may also start using sensory bags (bags clearly labelled with the sense students must use, to then write a description focusing on their discovery).
  • or the students that wrote the opening of a story get so wrapped up in telling a/the story that they don’t describe details, they just sort of list a series of events.

I have used CASSIE with KS3 for a long time to try to ‘help’ students write better sentences:

  • C = Colours
  • A = Adjectives/Adverbs
  • S = Senses – all 5
  • S = Sentence structures – use all
  • I = Imagery – simile. metaphor, personification etc
  • E = Emotive language


Resources – A few resources I put together to teach the new spec to KS3:

This is student ‘at a glance’ revision guide to each question (there’s a matching P2 version on SLAVE 2). There are lots of versions of these around, so you’ll be able to find one to suit your taste/needs:

I put the following ppt together to introduce the spec to students after I taught paper 1. I felt there was so much information students needed to see criteria clearly. For paper 2 I got them to copy into their books and ‘we’ referred back to it constantly in lessons.

This following resource took me a while to put together, but I went through several mark schemes and picked up the ‘methods’ or a ‘method phrase’ (sorry just made that up), to help students with skills. I have broken up into the different skills per year group; yes I know there are repetitions. At this stage I will teach year7 basic skills building up through the year groups as we go… obviously KS4 will be expected to know, understand and utilise all of them! (I will get round to sorting alphabetically or in a type of skill hierarchy order one day):

An indispensable resource for English teachers: The Language of Literary Analysis tweeted out by Andy Tharby @atharby – I’d also suggest you follow this link to his blog with some fantastic Question templates to help you tease/draw out student responses.

I typed this A4 table up a year ago and as a teacher (not student) resource and I found it really helpful to use in lessons as a quick handy A4 reminder/guide for skill descriptors and banding when in lessons:

I typed this PA sheet up for some cover booklets I made. I am aware the I/you is a little confusing but you could always split into two; a student self assessment or a peer assessment.

A list of AQA suggested command words (taken from their site)


The screen shot sample answers I’ve included are all from e-AQA somebody in your school should have a login.

There are different resources on paper 2 blog that can be used for paper 1.


Links to some other great blogs from a range of English Teachers re AQA paper 1/2




14 thoughts on ““Slave” – AQA Paper 1

  1. I am an NQT in post compulsory education. I am teaching this spec for the very first time and I think this blog is brilliant. Extremely detailed and helpful. Thank you very much.


  2. Pingback: “Let’s Work” | alwayslearningweb

  3. Thank you for this – you have provided such helpful and thoughtful guidance with great links, too. If it’s OK, I shall share your ideas with my Dept. It’s the precision that is so useful, really picking apart what’s required. I’ll direct them to your blog, in any case.
    I agree, the AQA site is useful, too, but it is getting people to look at it and search out the resources that is proving more difficult – that old chestnut of lack of time…
    So, thank you.


    • You are so welcome! And yes please share!

      My opening paragraph is the truth, I felt a little lost when I first taught it too. This helped me organise the requirements… much of it is from AQA so not ‘me’ guessing or thinking I know it all!

      I would also suggest you look at Betcha By Golly Wow blog – lots of paper 1 and 2 resources there for new spec.


  4. Pingback: AQA Language | goodmorningmidnightblog

  5. Thank you so much for this very very very helpful material. I am a tutor of GCSE to second language English adults in an FE college, having taught the old syllabus last year to 22 of them. This is such a tough remit with the new material and I am anxious about how this qualification will be received by non-native speakers, as I know it is a challenge for native English teenagers.
    I would really appreciate it if you have a scheme of work that you followed with this course? I have developed one myself but not sure if it is any good.
    Would be great to hear from you anyway. Jennifer


  6. Pingback: “Slave” – AQA Paper 2 | alwayslearningweb

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