Tips for Non-fiction writing/reading

Help, tips and assistance for students. This blog is part of a range specifically for students and can be found, along with others, under Student GCSE Blogs.

Below are some useful lists to help you when reading/analysing/writing non-fiction texts.

Try to answer these questions to help you understand the text:

  1. Who do you think is the intended audience?
  2. What is the purpose of the text?
  3. What form is the text written in?
  4. What type of language is used in the text?
  5. Who is the narrator?
  6. Have they used any techniques/methods?
  7. Has the structure of the text contributed to meaning?
  8. What is the mood/tone of the article?
  9. What atmosphere is created for the reader?
  10. Do you think this is a (*enter topic* eg survival) story?
  11. If so, why (or why not)?


Here’s a downloadable table of Paper 2 expectations (minimum/detailed expectations)


Thank you for reading.

Non-fiction Practice (a real one)!

Help, tips and assistance for students. This blog is part of a range specifically for students and can be found, along with others, under Student GCSE Blogs.

This wasn’t written by me but by a year 11 student at my school (A.Butler). He gave me permission to add to my blog as a Paper 2, Question 5 practice.

Paper 2 question 5 practice

‘Floods, earthquakes, hurricanes and landslides – we see more and more reports of environmental disasters affecting the world and its people every day’.

Write the text of a speech for a debate at your school/college in which you persuade young people to take more responsibility for protecting the environment.

Children torn away from the caring arms of their families; entire communities wiped from the face of the planet; villages and towns that have been centres of culture and trade for generations obliterated by our carelessness, our lack of respect, our failure to do our duty to other members of the human race, and the planet on which we all cling to those few  things that matter to us.

Natural disasters are of course phenomenon’s that can often be attributed to the workings of our planet. But in this day and age they are becoming more and more frequent, and causing more and more catastrophes and chaos. We must face up to the truth: disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes are approximately 40 % more common in our time due to the actions of not just global corporations and national industries, but of the heartless, ignorant manner in which so many of us choose to live our lives today.

It is all too easy to point the finger of blame to developing countries with large populations such as China and India, or to the economic powerhouse that is the United States of America. However whilst these do of course have an undoubtedly huge effect on our environment (it would be foolish to suggest otherwise), it is the common people and citizens of countries around our fragile world that make the greatest impact.

Today I am beseeching that you all take into consideration the obvious fact that the choices you make today will have ever-lasting actions on those less-fortunate that have to suffer on a daily basis.  If you are all part of the new generation of people who are coming to this basic realisation, you will be improving the lives of millions, no, billions. Taking responsibility for your actions doesn’t require a life-time commitment, where you sacrifice your basic human rights in order to protect others, instead, something as simple as dealing with your litter correctly, using public transport, or avoiding cooking excess food can completely alter the lives of other that would otherwise have suffered by our common ignorance. If you take care of your litter, it would negate the need to landfill sites, which still plague our country to this day. Furthermore reducing the use of fast depleting natural resources, and limiting the use of electricity which is still on the whole produced by fossil fuels, all helps the limit the effects of climate change which causes the frequent natural disasters that cause so much suffering today.

My aim here today was not to dictate to you how you should live your own life, but to offer an insight into some of the consequences of failing to make minor, insignificant changes, that you could make to help our environment, and in turn helping others in their lives. I hope you can appreciate this speech and take away the knowledge that if you are just one of the thousands of others who are making new changes in their previously harmful lifestyles, you can make a real difference in our world. This is what I hope you can take from this, and I would ask that you makes small changes in your life, to make a huge difference in somebody else’s own less fortunate life.

Thank you for reading.


If I was marking this I’d put it in the top band.

AO5: 23 and AO6: 14.

Spelling is not quite perfect – and there is an errant apostrophe and a sentence or two! So lacking perfect control.

Also, AO5 says thanks for reading not quite top – you must remember context!



Question 5 Practice (a real one)!

Help, tips and assistance for students. This blog is part of a range specifically for students and can be found, along with others, under Student GCSE Blogs.

This wasn’t written by me but by a year 11 student at my school (A.Butler). He gave me permission to add to my blog as a Paper 1, Question 5 practice.


Write a descriptive short story based on the following image:


A high pitched scream pierced past the roar of the burning buildings. A sorrowful shriek accompanied it through the crescendo of collapsing hovels. A mournful wail of grief threw itself through the crackling flames. Mean whilst a dense cloud of choking ashes; thick, black smoke; and a heavy pallor of dust surged upward against the background of the evening dusk. The scream was cut short, an evil laugh echoed in the emptiness it left behind. Seeing the houses burning ferociously, emitting a seemingly ghostly glow that worked its way into the surrounding gloom, I noticed there were bodies scattered in the paths between the huts and shacks. Where once children had played, obscene sights of mutilated corpses remained, working away into the back of my mind. I stepped out from the bushes warily, in disbelief at the horror before me.

Steadily a strangely familiar smell: that of roasted pork, wafted into my nose, as the fierce heat of the raging fires embraced my entire body. My stomach rumbled at the anticipation of pork, juxtaposing the reality of what I was seeing. With a sickening realisation, it dawned on me that it wasn’t quite the smell of roasted pig flesh that I was being provoked by, rather it was the smell of my burning neighbours. Their flesh was consumed by the fire, whilst others outside smouldered in the puddles of blood and dirty water that were rapidly evaporating. Acid burned the back of my throat, as it bubbled up from my stomach. I heaved, heaved, and heaved again, but did not fully vomit. My stomach rumbled again, and I cursed my stomach for thinking it was to be fed. A dribble of acid, mucus, and saliva fell from my mouth, mixing with the manure that had recently been spread over the field I was entering. It tasted of despair, of hate, of regret.

I staggered, confused at what I was seeing, through the field of new wheat. The ears of corn were oblivious that their creators had perished, and waved gently as a breeze rippled through them, even now carrying layers of soot and ash. The sharp prickling of the corn made itself aware to me, but I ignored it, as I stumbled towards the outskirts of the village.

Mortified, I turned my head to see a scarecrow’s face. It stared at me. In its eyes, there was no remorse, just an empty black. I stepped further forward, and suddenly tripped over a large black object. As I scrambled away, I realised I had shouted out. I stopped and listened. A grim voice sounded out: “there’s another one!” Silence. “Sounds like he was in the field!” another suddenly cried. Much quieter a sinister, closer voice mumbled to me. “Keep your head down if you want to live, boy.” Startled I turned to where I had tripped, and saw the face of a man I had never seen, a traveller perhaps. I could only see the whites of his eyes, which contrasted with the soot-black of his face. There was something in those eyes, anger, pain, resent perhaps, that made me shiver. I shook my head and crawled away from him, out of the field, and into a narrow gully at its edge, all the while I felt his eyes piercing into my back like spearheads.

The voices came closer. Petrified, I dared to lift my head above the lip of the dyke, to see to men, clad in thick leather, their faces masked, their heads covered in dark hoods, so even their eyes were hidden. One, holding a worn and rugged sword, looked to the other, who could maybe match the same description of his friend’s sword, and spoke words of cruelty, and morbid sadism. “I can’t be bothered to search for whatever straggler hides in this field. Let’s just burn it, besides, no one will be coming here for a long time.” He barked what he must have thought was his interpretation of a laugh. Recalling his words I realised with a horror what that meant…

As the man who had remained silent picked up a nearby fallen branch and plunged it into the flames of a burning thatch roof, I almost called out. With great effort I managed to stop myself, instead only a pitiful keening that I was sure they would hear emerged. They didn’t. Holding his makeshift torch, the second man called out “you can burn alive or feel my axe in your neck, heathen!” Heathen. Heathen. Who called innocent villagers heathens? These men were not broken men, marauders, they, they were members of The Order…

Without waiting for a reply he threw his torch in a high arc towards the middle of the field. It spiralled gracefully, like a dancer, through the night sky (for now the sun had fled the atrocity), before descending like some fell beast into the young corn. The flames quickly caught the dry ears, swiftly multiplying and intensifying. The murderers, for that is what they were, stamped their feet rhythmically. I thought I heard some kind of chant or prayer, put the burning crops were too loud. With a roar of pain the traveller rose from the field and sprinted for the killers, his cloak burning brightly. “YOU BASTARDS!!!” he screamed, “YOU FILTHY BAS”- his voice was cut short as a crossbow bolt pierced his windpipe. A pitiful, gurgling, gasping sound emerged from him as he fell into the flames. A vapour of blood rose into the sky, the heat evaporating his life before him.

Hurriedly, the men of The Order ran to their horses, as the mounted crossbowman, clearly some kind of Purifier, called after them “glee not in the death of that infidel, for we will cleanse this world of many more tonight!”

Echoing into the distance the sound of many hooves and shouts of pride departed. I waited in the silence, sobbing into my cloak, until dawn, to be sure they had left.


Bewildered, I shuffled down the central lane of the village, or rather, its smouldering ruins. Smaller yet still threatening fires continued to consume anything that was flammable, and flames still insisted on catching my cloak as I walked past the village hall. Much of its lower part was made of stone, yet under the heat many had cracked. The Order has smashed most of it down, and set afire to what could be burned. Bodies were strewn haphazardly around the old market square, some with their throats opened to the elements, some with bolts protruding, most with stab wounds of various descriptions. Some blood continued to trickle down the lane towards the only wholly stone building, our shrine to the spirits of the surrounding hinterland. The Order had been most brutal there. Corpses hung from the Sharwood trees that formed a grove around the shrine. I remembered being told by a fervent believer that Sharwood burnt at a temperature higher than that at which iron would melt, and that it could only be cut down after a week’s chopping. That man now dangled from a tree, his eyes gouged out by the wicked blades of the Purifiers. A few piles of smouldered corpses lay scattered around the building, work more of the Purifiers. I shuddered at the thought. Amongst them lay women and children, impaled by stakes. I could not bear to describe nor look at any more of the scenes.

The Order, or in full The Sacred Order of the Blackstone Sanctity, were merciless killers and cultists I knew, but this was far worse than I had originally believed. I turned at the sound of another man’s movement. Startled, I saw my sister’s husband emerge from under a pile of corpses that blocked a doorway. He looked at me, and his shoulders sunk with relief. “I thought you were one of them” he muttered. “They have already left” I responded in a likewise volume and tone. “Rumours say that they always leave men behind to kill survivors and people who are returning from other places” he said, ignoring me. “They burned your sister alive, on the other side of the village, I saw her as I tried to fight off some of the Order’s men, and they knocked me over and thought me dead.” He spoke with no emotion, his eyes blank. He had seen too much I knew. I nodded, not knowing what to say or do. He stared at me, then past me. “By the sprits the rumours are true!” I turned my head even as I instinctively started running to drag him to safety…

Three men, red cloaks on their backs rode towards us, one with an axe, one a lance, one a bow. No sooner did I see the bowman draw his bow did I feel the arrow graze past my ear, and thud into my brother-in-law. I jumped over his body. I had to survive. I had to ignore what I had lost and could not save in this moment so that I might avenge them. I ran. What a fool I was. No man can outrun a horse, nor escape the lance fate has aimed for him.

The thundering hooves came closer. I feebly ducked my head. An arrow struck me in the back. I collapsed as my legs ceased to function. I felt no pain below my chest. I realised it had struck my spine, and felt the head scraping against it. A scream of agony burst from my lips. I sputtered some blood out of my mouth. I heard a man dismount behind me, and another one further back. A whimper, my brother, was cut short, and steps were taken toward me. I tried to move, but was too weak. Rough hands clasped my hair, and pulled my head up. I faced toward the steadily brightening sky. “Old ways won’t open new doors, infidel. It is so sad you could not convert to the truth. Know that eternal fire awaits you. You were quite quick I must say, for a heathen. I suppose the fire inside you burned brighter than the fire around you. Such a sad, sad waste.” I tried to spit blood and contempt onto his hands, which held my chin up to the sky. It came out as more of a trickle. I closed my eyes. I felt the warmth of the sun on my face. I felt the cold of the blade on my neck. A sharp cut. A burst of pain, my eyes rolled back. Darkness. Silence. Peace.


Thank you for reading.

Evaluating (you know the tough one)!

Help, tips and assistance for students. This blog is part of a range specifically for students and can be found, along with others, under Student GCSE Blogs.

Paper 1 Q4 is an evaluation question, you have to meet this objective: AO4 Evaluate texts critically and support this with appropriate textual references.

This is a SAMPLE question…


The first thing you need to remember is this is an evaluative question and requires a personal response from you the ‘reader’.

Evaluation is defined as “the making of a judgement about the value of something”.

  • You are being tested on your ability to evaluate how effective a text is.
  • This means you must write about the methods (techniques) a writer uses to create an effective text and are those effects successful?
  • Try to analyse patterns of words e.g. the writer uses [strong verbs] to show….


Let’s look at an extract:



Here’s a ‘sample’ response:

I agree with the student. I believe Dumas successfully creates a mysterious scene with the description of the ‘bandaged eyes’ and as a reader, I can feel the character’s uncertainty and fear.  I would be wondering what was the ‘indiscretion’? I would also be scared for the character; are they going to kill him because the author’s use of powerful language makes me feel as if I am there witnessing the scene unfold in front of me, I am curious as to why there is a need for secrecy. Why can’t the character ‘raise the bandage’?

The long effective description manipulates the reader’s thoughts as we walk ‘the thirty paces’ with the character.  By using sensory language such as the noun ‘odour’, verb ‘roasting’, and the adjective phrase ‘balmy and perfumed’ the reader can also feel the change in atmosphere as the character walks blindly from the rooms to a cave, this will be frightening and creates further mystery. The author emphasises the smells to describe the setting and highlight the character’s reliance on his senses.

Dumas cleverly continues to play on the reader’s senses with touch, smell and hearing – which make up for the lack of sight.  Dumas has successfully described the character’s thoughts as he tries to guess his whereabouts, making the reader feel his blindness. This was an anxious scene for me to read.


Don’t just analyse language here (as in Q2). For this question make a clear statement in response to the question. Add the method used by the author then follow this with a clear opinion – eg


  1. Explain why an author used a specific (method) word/phrase/imagery (in reference to the question).
  2. Why was this particular choice successful/why did it work/why did it create a possible effect on the reader?
  3. And 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 are other evaluative comments that you can look for in a text:

  1. look for patterns in words that create strong images
  2. look for emotive language that makes the reader feel something
  3. look for punctuation to enhance meaning
  4. look for verbs or modifiers that have strong connotations (positive or negative)
  5. look for adjectives/adverbs that add to the meaning and help you see an image vividly
  6. look for descriptions that reveal a different focus
  7. look for the senses, used to help reader’s understanding
  8. look for any technique used eg personification/onomatopoeia to reinforce an idea
  9. look for descriptions that build up an image for the reader (eg weather)
  10. look for patterns that build tension across an extract


Language to use when evaluating a text:


Thanks for reading.


What (exactly) are you trying to say?

Help, tips and assistance for students. This blog is part of a range specifically for students and can be found, along with others, under Student GCSE Blogs.

When writing how do you make the best choices? Hopefully, this blog may help you! I’m going to use this image:


AQA Section B: Writing You are advised to spend about 45 minutes on this section.

I will do other posts on how to plan/a whole narrative piece. This blog will show you how to pick the best words/sentences etc. I apologise again for the differences in colour but hopefully they will help you:

  • Blue – a possible choice
  • Red – synonyms and alternatives
  • Grey/black – my thoughts/explanation for choices

If I begin with a verb (-ing) I start my piece in the middle of some type of action

  • Looking (gazing, staring, leering, glancing) at me (this is a ‘clause’ it doesn’t make sense on its own so needs more information).
  • anyone would think I was another excited (delighted, thrilled) visitor at the carnival (this would make sense, if I add a conjunction ‘but’ I can carry my sentence on giving more details)  
  • but as I shook my head and sat down (having the choice of ‘down’ suggests my character is sad, by showing not telling! The verb ‘shook’ will create intrigue for the reader – )
  • I knew that was the furthest emotion I was feeling. (if the character wasn’t excited – why not?)

I’ll add some punctuation and put all the above together…

Gazing at me, anyone would think I was another excited visitor at the carnival, but as I shook my head and sat down, I knew that was the furthest emotion I was feeling. 

I need to change the focus to introduce a flashback… (if I don’t it will confuse my reader)

  • As I wait for Mark I thought back and wonder how it all went wrong.

Now I need to go back and change some choices above from present to past tense – so would becomes will,  was becomes am ….. shook-shake, sat-sit etc. I will begin a new paragraph to show a topic shift, maybe look back at an event previously that night, this will show the examiner you can handle ‘tenses’ accurately.  This time I will begin with an adverb (-ly) that takes you back to the start of the night…

  • Eagerly (impatiently) I walked towards the carnival. I prefer impatiently.
  • I also want to add a line about noticing the sights… so added The first thing I saw was the

To ensure I hit the higher bands I need to vary my writing and to do this I will comment on the senses.  If this was real the first things I’d notice would be the lights and sounds. I want to comment on the lights, then the noise. Which of these choices would you pick…?

  1. A golden (bright, brilliant, rich, glorious, joyous) hue encased the rides like a jewel (trinket sparkle gem) in the darkness. (creates a beautiful image of the contrast)
  2. Lights shone out in every direction (a little boring)
  3. yellows, reds and greens shot out (effective because rides often have coloured lights beaming out.

Personally, I like (1).  Now I want to focus on the sounds:

  1. I heard the screams of laughter (a little boring)
  2. Next came the laughter (chuckle, giggle, glee, roar, cackle, howling) and squeals (shriek, squawk, shrill, screams, screech) of delight (the adverb ‘next’ joins the lights/sounds)
  3. I strained to separate the screams from laughter and those fearful of clowns. (doesn’t sound like he’s happy!)

I like  (2). I continue with the sounds…

  1. (who is laughing) enthusiastic boys and girls
  2. teenagers (adolescents, youths) looking for love and
  3. parents cold (frozen, chilly) and tired (annoyed, bored, irritated) tiny (puny, miniature, little, wee) smiles fixed on their faces

Then, to see how it’s shaping up, here’s the section together:

Impatiently I walked towards the carnival. A rich, golden hue encased the rides like a jewel in the darkness. Next came the giggles, the cackling and squeals of delight; enthusiastic boys and girls, youths looking for love and parents frozen, bored and irritated, little smiles fixed on their faces.

I know this can seem forced but so far I’ve used colours, adjectives, adverbs, the senses and a mixture of sentence structures. What I haven’t used is techniques such as similes or metaphors. If you want to score the top band you must! At this point I’d start a new paragraph so that I can change the focus again. Remember paragraphs have a purpose!

  • Suddenly (quickly) (the adverb works as it means something happened quickly)
  • I was distracted from the sights as if a wizard waved a wand (the simile helps visualise the comparison of distraction and ‘wand waving’ like a reaction you can’t resist)
  • and I was hit (punched, shot, knocked, slapped, swatted) by a wave. (we know our character wasn’t hit by a ‘real’ wave so it’s a metaphor. Again it continues the sudden change – also I liked punched, so will extend my sentence now)
  • I lifted my head as the smell (aroma, scent, stench, whiff spice) of sausages and burgers hit (punched, shot, knocked, slapped, swatted) me. (again appealing to the senses).
  • The crowd parted. (separated, split) (the simple sentence is effective because it gives little information)

Suddenly, I was distracted from the sights as if a wizard waved a wand and I was punched by a wave; slapping my thoughts back into focusI lifted my head as the aroma of sausages and burgers hit me. The crowd parted.    

I’m almost at the end. Here I’ve gone back and proofread my narrative. There are some minor errors, so below I’ve added or changed anything that didn’t quite work. I also need to add one final paragraph bringing it all together. I’ll leave that one a bit of a mystery!

Now let’s put that ALL together:

Gazing at me, anyone will think I am another excited visitor at the carnival, but as I shake my head and sit down, I know this is the furthest emotion I am feeling. As I wait for Mark I think back and wonder how it all went wrong…

Impatiently, I had walked towards the carnival. The first thing I saw was the rich, golden hue encasing the rides like a jewel in the darkness. Next came the giggles, the cackling and squeals of delight; enthusiastic boys and girls, youths looking for love and parents frozen, bored and irritated, little smiles fixed on their faces.

Suddenly, I was distracted from the sights as if a wizard waved a wand and my senses were washed over by a wave. The sensation was so strong it was like punching my thoughts sharply back into focus; I lifted my head as the smell of sausages and burgers hit me. The crowd parted.  

That’s where it went wrong. It all happened so quickly. It wasn’t really my fault, it was all just so exciting; the sights, the smells, the people. I knew Mark was distracted and he wasn’t paying attention.  I pulled away from him, he wasn’t prepared and stumbled as he lost his grip. He yelled at me, but I didn’t look back. I just ran! I hadn’t thought to stop. I crashed into some people, knocking a girl over. I didn’t care. I went straight for the discarded bun on the floor. A large hand grabbed me and I was abruptly yanked to the side. I looked up as the mud squelched beneath my paws. Mark was angry. He pulled me by my lead as he apologised to the girl. My ears went back and I lowered my head. I had upset my master.

Total 301 words

@PieCorbett (storyteller) suggested the following tips when I discussed writing this blog:

  1. Use adjectives – but don’t overuse them – the adjective has to earn its place adding something new and necessary that the reader did not know
  2. Writing works well when the feeling comes through the description so that I experience the writing as if I was a character
  3. Try to ‘surprise’ the reader – with word combination or sentence variation, mood change or new event.
  4. Shifting clauses – ‘Reaching up, I grabbed the first branch’
  5. Be concise with your choices eg ‘The wind blew’.

I’ve probably made this look a lot more complicated than it is, but I wanted to show you how to write a piece, to consider each choice carefully!

The key is to experiment in your lessons. Work closely with a dictionary and thesaurus – draft out pieces of work until you are happy.

Read lots of different genres; non-fiction as well as fiction, modern and classic!

Then on the day you sit your English exam you are more confident with language and how it works.

This little list of reminders may help you:


Thank you for reading.

Structure – AQA P1 Q3

Help, tips and assistance for students. This blog is part of a range specifically for students and can be found, along with others, under Student GCSE Blogs.

Structure can be quite difficult to anlayse, we are quite fixed on analysing the actual language and can get distracted. Structural features  (exam board definition) can be: at a whole text level eg. beginnings / endings / perspective shifts; at a paragraph level eg. topic change / aspects of cohesion; and at a sentence level when judged to contribute to whole structure.

AQA – Paper 1, Question 3 will be worded along these lines:


To help you, I’m going to look at several extracts, rather than one text. I am aware my comments in a different colour can make it distracting so, original extracts can be found here. When you get to the end I’ve listed other structural features to look out for.

1) Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

It was a pleasure to burn. (focus begins [simple sentence paragraph] with the juxtaposition of pleasure/burn.

It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. (the author then begins a new paragraph, focusing on the senses, but continues the semantics of burn with blackened, he also italics the verb ‘change’ suggesting something different) With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history. (author then uses a long complex sentence with several clauses, begins with the hose and it’s beauty or importance, the first clause shifts from burning to a hose, the author uses alliteration to emphasise the continued semantic field of ‘burning’) With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black. (uses another complex sentence focusing on importance of [novel title] 451) He strode in a swarm of fireflies. (simple sentence) He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house. (a further complex sentence switches focus from the heat to buring of books) While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning. (paragraph ends with a time conjunction and continues the focus of the burning books)

Montag grinned the fierce grin of all men singed and driven back by flame. (ends with a single line paragraph and the pleasure Montag gets from fire/heat)

So now I’ve broken down each line, here’s how you put it together (remember you will be commenting on the whole extract – not one section as I have). I’ve only analysed the beginning or this post would be very long!

The extract begins with Bradbury juxtaposing the two nouns ‘pleasure’ and ‘burn’ in a simple sentence focusing on the importance of heat/fire to the character. He then begins a new paragraph but continues the status of heat by focusing on the reader’s senses and places importance on the last word by putting the verb ‘changed’ in italics. Possibly this is what the character likes the most, the transformation? The effect of the description of burning could hypnotise the reader in the same way it has the character. 

Bradbury continues the focus on burning through a complex sentence with the subordinate clause switching to the hose, and then moves onto the power the character has, continuing the beauty in the character’s eyes.

2) 1984 George Orwell

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. (extract begins with a focus on month and time also 13 is unusual) Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.  (complex sentence beginning with a man’s name, then switching to the weather tying in this and first sentence, then moves onto victory mansions)

The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats. (author shifts focus from the weather to the inside of [victory mansions] using the reader’s senses) At one end of it a coloured poster, too large for indoor display, had been tacked to the wall. (continued use of senses) It depicted simply an enormous face, more than a metre wide: the face of a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black moustache and ruggedly handsome features. (shifts focus to a complex sentence describing a man’s face [clearly important], the use of colon links the sentences describing the man) Winston made for the stairs. (short/simple sentence shows Wimston’s lack of interest) It was no use trying the lift. Even at the best of times it was seldom working, and at present the electric current was cut off during daylight hours. It was part of the economy drive in preparation for Hate Week. The flat was seven flights up, and Winston, who was thirty-nine and had a varicose ulcer above his right ankle, went slowly, resting several times on the way. (there are a series of simple and complex sentences focusing on the broken lift, setting up the next sentence with the repeated picture) On each landing, opposite the lift-shaft, the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran. (the final sentences focuses on the picture again the importance of Big Brother watching)

Again I’ve broken down each line, here’s just a part of the analysis (remember you will be commenting on the whole extract – and don’t forget you are commenting on structure NOT language).

Orwell begins the extract with a compound sentence focusing the reader’s attention on the month and time of the novel’s title ‘1984’ and the unusual time of ‘thirteen’. The effect of focusing on the unsual hour could initially confuse a reader as it appears un-natural. He then switches to a complex sentence introducing the character’s name. The subordinate clause at the start tells the reader ‘Winston Smith’ is important but then quickly shifts to entering ‘Victory Mansions’.

Orwell begins a new paragraph and uses the reader’s senses to imagine the description of the building, and it’s an unappealing one!

3) Beware of the Dog by Roald Dahl

Down below there was only a vast white undulating sea of cloud. (extract begins focuses on flying and the beauty of the sky with a metaphor) Above there was the sun, and the sun was white like the clouds, because it is never yellow when one looks at it from high in the air.

He was still flying the Spitfire. (change of paragraph shifting focus from sky to the plane, short sentence names plane [ww2) His right hand was on the stick, and he was working the rudder bar with his left leg alone. It was quite easy. (followed by a simple sentence telling the reader he’s an expert) The machine was flying well, and he knew what he was doing. (then a last confirmation that he was indeed a good pilot)

Everything is fine, he thought. (new paragraph moves from him being a good pilot to short sentence, clause order, then character’s thoughts) I’m doing all right. I’m doing nicely. I know my way home. I’ll be there in half an hour. (4 simple sentences building tension quickly) When I land I shall taxi in and switch off my engine and I shall say, help me to get out, will you. I shall make my voice sound ordinary and natural and none of them will take any notice. (the remaining sentences change POV to character talking about himself as a 3rd person) Then I shall say, someone help me to get out. I can’t do it alone because I’ve lost one of my legs. They’ll all laugh and think that I’m joking, and I shall say, all right, come and have a look, you unbelieving lot. Then Yorky will climb up onto the wing and look inside. He’ll probably be sick because of all the blood and the mess. (the reader realises something may be wrong at here, he’s joking surely) I shall laugh and say, for God’s sake, help me out.  (paragraph ends with humour and a hope that all will be ok).

Finally, I’ve broken down each line, here’s just a part of the analysis (remember you will be commenting on the whole extract. Pick out the best or strongest structural features.

The author begins the extract by focusing the reader’s attention on the sky with a metaphor ‘sea of cloud’ describing the beauty and compares by comparing the sky to a sea gives a sense of calmness at the start. This soon changes with a new paragraph and a simple sentence shifting the focus quickly to the ‘spitfire’ (a plane associated with WW2).

Dahl uses another paragraph to move focus again from the previous calm skies to one of possible danger. He begins with a short sentence using the main clause to reassure the reader that the character is fine – or so ‘he thought’.  The effect of using a series of short simple sentences is that it begins building the tension quickly, like a series of short violent jabs punching each thought the character has.

As a student you need to meet this assessment objective- do not revert BACK to analysing language:

AO2 Explain, comment on and analyse how writers use language and structure to achieve effects and influence readers, using relevant subject terminology to support their views

This question assesses how the writer has structured a text.

Look for

  1. a new paragraph – a shift in perspective, character, setting.
  2. look at the beginning/end of the extract.
  3. look for a topic change.
  4. look for exclamation marks they indicate excitement/anger or sense of urgency.
  5. look for short sentences, suggest faster pace, the building of tension.
  6. look for verbs that mirror actions eg run may suggest pace picks up!
  7. look for comparisons (simile/metaphor) that add to the pace of action.
  8. look for complex sentences that mirror the characters/setting mood/action.
  9. look for clause order, which is at the start main or subordinate clause.
  10. look for patterns in words that suggest ongoing action.
  11. look for adjectives/adverbs that add to meaning in an extract eg a train moved angrily.
  12. look for descriptive writing/dialogue in an extract.
  13. what is a reader drawn to see/think or feel?
  14. are certain elements foregrounded? If so why?


Thank you for reading

Better Words! P1 Q5

Help, tips and assistance for students. This blog is part of a range specifically for students and can be found, along with others, under Student GCSE Blogs.

For AQA you are tested on AO5 Content and Organisation and your ability to…

Communicate clearly, effectively and imaginatively, selecting and adapting tone, style and register for different forms, purposes and audiences. Organise information and ideas, using structural and grammatical features to support coherence and cohesion of texts.

I will try to do this in a clear order, using high-quality examples to help you. How do you create a truly suspenseful description through word choice and order?

Word choice

You are going to enter a creative writing competition.

Your entry will be judged by a panel of people of your own age.  Either:

  • Write a description suggested by this picture: (picture of a dark gloomy room – see below)
  • Or: Write the opening part of a story about an empty room at night.

(24 marks for content and organisation and 16 marks for technical accuracy) [40 marks]

To help I’ll use this image:


Read the following:

The room was filled with paintings, some old and others new. The lighting made the room creepy and made the paintings look scary. They were just portraits of people. He looked at each one of them, the clothes they were wearing. It was odd that some of these portraits were wearing modern clothes. He didn’t know what to think of them when his eyes fell on a particular painting which sent shivers down his spine.

I’d mark that at a high band 2 (around 12/24 if a whole piece was written at this standard) it displays ‘some’ attempt to match audience and purpose for content and organisation. How would you improve the above? Remember you want yours to stand out. Consider your possible choices:

Consider two possible choices:

  1. A stream of moonlight – makes it seem like an endless flow
  2. A shot of light – suggests a sudden light

Number (1) creates the atmosphere I want, it leads perfectly to the verb ‘glide’ – again an effortless sort of floating movement. Once you change your vocabulary choices and have a firm idea of what you are trying to convey, it’s much easier to connect your sentences under one idea: the paintings.

A stream of moonlight glides across the vast room finally resting on the paintings; suspended on the wall for eternity.  Endless smiles locked in a moment years before, but their eyes now stare impassively from their lofty brush strokes. Darkness hides secrets they can no longer tell.  The heavy wooden door slams shut sending dust up into the centre, dancing silently like tiny souls trying to escape.

I’d mark this at a band 4 (approx 20/24 if a whole piece was written at this standard). I’ve used a semantic field connected with time: ‘finally’, ‘eternity’, ‘years’, ‘no longer’ and ‘endless’. There’s also a link to light and truth: ‘moonlight’, ‘darkness’ & ‘hides secrets’ and one of being imprisoned through ‘locked’ and ‘escape’.

Each of your choices has to mean something, and more importantly, has to work ‘in context’. Also, I find a descriptive piece easier than the opening of a story. When students pick the second option they stop writing descriptively and just re-tell a series of events.

Read this extract from The Woman in Black by Susan Hill. Consider her choices and how much she dedicates to describing the wind!

During the night the wind rose. As I had lain reading I had become aware of the stronger gusts that blew every so often against the casements. But when I awoke abruptly in the early hours it had increased greatly in force. The house felt like a ship at sea, battered by the gale that came roaring across the open marsh. Windows were rattling everywhere and there was the sound of moaning down all the chimneys of the house and whistling through every nook and cranny.

Let’s look at each of her choices in detail here.

Thanks for reading.

Woman in Black

Help, tips and assistance for students. This blog is part of a range specifically for students and can be found, along with others, under Student GCSE Blogs.

I want to look at AQA P1 Q2 (language analysis).  Here’s an extract from The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.

During the night the wind rose. As I had lain reading I had become aware of the stronger gusts that blew every so often against the casements. But when I awoke abruptly in the early hours it had increased greatly in force. The house felt like a ship at sea, battered by the gale that came roaring across the open marsh. Windows were rattling everywhere and there was the sound of moaning down all the chimneys of the house and whistling through every nook and cranny.



Analysis of a paragraph in detail – which words/techniques to look at, and why?  Let’s look at each of the author’s choices in close up:

During the night the wind rose. The preposition ‘During’ shows the reader the relationship between the nouns ‘night’ and ‘wind’. By making it vague, at some time in the night – it disorientates a reader’s senses adding to the overall effect of suspense Hill was trying to create. The verb ‘rose’ personifies the wind making it appear supernatural as if it suddenly came alive. The use of a simple sentence adds to the atmosphere the author was trying to create through the omission of a long, unnecessary complex sentence.  Finally, having the scene take place at night makes it more frightening because you can’t see clearly and have to rely on all your senses.

As I had lain reading I had become aware of the stronger gusts that blew every so often against the casements. The verb choice ‘had’ works because it means to experience or possess, so by choosing the past tense suggests they no longer do! The adjective ‘strong’ suggests physically demanding, however, by changing it to a comparative with -er could allude to a conflict between external forces and the narrator.  Finally, the verb ‘blew’ again a past tense of blow could mean just a creation of air, to me it hints at the wind pursing its lips – in other words it needs to be close!

But when I awoke abruptly in the early hours it had increased greatly in force. The conjunction ‘but’ introduces a clause contrasting with what has already been mentioned. The verb ‘awoke’ (again past tense of wake) literally means to stop sleeping; a person (real or not) is always slightly disorientated when just woken up! The adverb ‘abruptly’ doesn’t ‘hint’ at anything! It clearly means suddenly and unexpectedly. My next choice is going to be the pronoun ‘it’ – Hill is referring to the wind, but it could also mean something identifiable. She then ends this sentence with three similar vocabulary choices ‘increased’, ‘greatly’ and ‘force’. All three suggest increasing violently in size! 

The house felt like a ship at sea, battered by the gale that came roaring across the open marsh. Here I want to look at Hill’s use of a simile – by comparing the house to a ship helps the reader see how forceful the wind and storm were. You begin to imagine the powerful sea smashing at a small insignificant ship/boat, and in turn can see how the bricks and walls of the house are no match for nature. The adjective ‘battered’ suggests being hurt by repeated attacks. Finally, the adjective ‘roaring’ continues the personification of the wind to something enormous or tremendous.

Windows were rattling everywhere and there was the sound of moaning down all the chimneys of the house and whistling through every nook and cranny. Hill finishes the paragraph with the choices ‘rattling’ (adj) ‘moaning’ (v) and ‘whistling’ (v) when describing the wind. She is clearly comparing the wind to a ghost, something the character cannot really see or understand. And the adverb ‘everywhere’ means he cannot escape!

However, you need to put it all together into a single paragraph. Even when you are analysing language you need to be accurate and concise, in other words, select a ‘judicious’ range of quotes. You are specifically looking at words that make this a tense scene (Definition: unable to relax because of nervousness or anxiety). So which words (language) specifically makes this scene ‘tense’. Let’s look at the question again:


Hill uses a series of verbs such as ‘rose’ and ‘blew’ to personify nature, making it seem real, powerful and unrelenting, it also suggests the wind has risen from the dead and is coming for the narrator.  Hill continually compares the wind to the supernatural as a powerful and frightening element, showing the reader how small and alone the narrator is. The author also uses techniques such as a simile to compare the house to a moving ship so the reader can visualise the strength of the wind against the old house being repeatedly ‘battered’ as if it’s moving and swaying. Hill finishes the paragraph with a series of verbs ‘moaning’ and ‘whistling’ again personifying the wind as if it’s chasing the narrator wherever he goes. The verbs also suggest the wind (or ghost) is like, or worse ‘is’, a tortured or vengeful spirit.  Hill’s choices are not only effective in creating a suspenseful and terrifying atmosphere but are successful as they create a sense of foreboding for the character. It feels as if you are in the house, wondering if it is the wind or a ghost! Hills’s choices make this a very tense and anxious scene for the reader who will be terrified not knowing what hides in the darkness.


  • point (turn the question into your opening statement)
  • evidence (embed your quotes) also use a range to support your point
  • develop your idea – explain why [name technique] is effective
  • analyse language for meaning and connotations – give literal and figurative meaning (remember to pick out key choices from your quote)
  • comment on reader reaction/response – remember to comment on the effect on the reader (you!)
  • evaluate the author’s intention – was/were the author’s choices effective in a given context


Word choice – AQA Paper1 Q5

Help, tips and assistance for students. This blog is part of a range specifically for students and can be found, along with others, under Student GCSE Blogs.

The new language spec, AQA Q5, (AO5) Paper 1 and paper 2 is worth 24 marks for your content and organisation. Here’s how the top marks are awarded:


Descriptive writing makes our readers (in your case the examiner) see, feel, and hear what you see or imagine. Whether you are describing a person, a place, or a thing, your aim is to reveal a subject through vivid and carefully selected details. Try to focus on the mood or feeling evoked rather than simply describing an object/person as it exists in itself.  Try to arouse emotion.

To score top band, your writing must have ‘extensive and ambitious vocabulary with sustained crafting of linguistic devices’. It must also be ‘compelling, incorporating a range of convincing and complex ideas’.

The exam board doesn’t want much – does it?! Actually, to write well is difficult. Let’s take a look at an example question:


What do you think of this…?

I reached up and grabbed the first branch. It was slippery but I managed to get myself up onto it. The wind was blowing and the tree was rocking back in forth. I could already feel the excitement as I started my journey.

The rain started up harder and I could feel the weight of just a few drops. I reached the part of the tree that had only a few branches and it was a challenge.

It’s a good descriptive piece; I’d mark this around a band 3 (14/24 marks) hitting the clear and consistent band. But would you say it’s convincing, inventive, assured and compelling? No.

But, by changing just a couple of your lexical choices, the mark can go up easily by a couple of marks (around 18/24 marks).

I reached up to grab the first moist branch. It was slippery but I managed to hoist myself up onto it. The wind was blowing rapidly and the tree was rocking back in forth but I didn’t care. I could already feel the exhilaration as I started my dangerous journey.

The rain started up harder and I could feel the weight of just the few drops. I reached the part of the tree that had only a few branches. It was a challenge.

What the examiners are looking for is something exceptional and exciting to hit the top band – remember you’re up against other 16-year-olds describing the same image. Yours has to stand out; now take a look at this one:

I regained consciousness, eyes still closed. My expectations of what I was to visualise in a moment were limited to a remote, unheard location amidst nowhere. A sudden thought of hope gave me some optimism, as I finally decided to discover my surroundings. I lifted my head, one eye opening at a time, absolute beauty, by all the meaning of the word. My eyes reached a point where they couldn’t open wider anymore, signifying the magnificent sights ahead of them. There was everything one would see in a dream, it defined nature.

My feet burned with new blisters as my wet boots crunched through green and pine needles. A cold breeze rustled the trees and raised goose bumps on my arm. Through the pain of the cold, my eyes remained astonished as they filled up with tears representing the awe- inspiring scenery.

I would mark this at around band 4 (23/24 marks) it hits the skill descriptors for both content and organisation.

How do you know you’ve written a ‘convincing and compelling’ piece? To me it’s simple; I want to keep reading the extract above.

If you want to hit the top band you must use a range of techniques; colours, adjectives, adverbs, a mixture of sentence types, all the senses and imagery. But that’s not enough. Experiment with clause order, word choice and ‘show’ don’t tell!

Your writing needs to show originality and creativity! How do you achieve that? Listen to your English teacher and practice – lots!


Tone – AQA Paper2 Q5

Help, tips and assistance for students. This blog is part of a range specifically for students and can be found, along with others, under Student GCSE Blogs.

The new language spec, AQA Q5, (AO5) Paper 1 and paper 2 is worth 24 marks for your content and organisation. Here’s how the top marks are awarded:


One thing to get right is ‘tone’ – it falls into all the bullet points of ‘content’.

‘Tone’ is a linguistic term describing the way YOU, the author, express your attitude towards a topic in your writing.  Your tone can remain constant throughout a piece of writing or can change.  Tone is expressed by your use of syntax, your point of view, and the level of formality in your writing.  Tone can range from sarcastic, to humorous, to serious, to questioning, to angry, to persuasive, or to informative.

For example:

  • That’s great!- suggests an excited, surprised or happy tone
  • You did what? – suggests an irritated tone
  • What the hell did you do? – suggests an angry tone.

The tone you use decides how the readers (in your case, the examiners) read your piece of writing; it tells them how they should feel while they are reading it.

1) Register is convincing and compelling for audience

  • Will they understand the language that you are using?
  • What beliefs, values, and logical ideas does your audience have?

2) Assuredly matched to purpose

  • Should your writing contain slang or colloquial language?
  • Should the tone be formal or informal?
  • Are you evoking a specific reaction or emotion from your audience

3) Extensive and ambitious vocabulary with sustained crafting of linguistic devices

  • Choose language that will help you to express yourself clearly and effectively.
  • Select the appropriate language that is specific to your writing goal or situation.
  • Develop a rich and extensive vocabulary to create variety in your language choices.

Take the following question (paper 2 Q5):

‘Animals have feelings! It’s wrong to breed animals for the sole purpose of killing them for humans. Should we eat meat?’

Write an article for a local newspaper in which you explain your point of view on this statement.

What do you think of following sections/examples (taken from I’ve added brief comments on the right-hand side.


Now consider this article for the same question…

I don’t eat meat, should you?

I’m a 16-year-old vegetarian and have been for the last 5 years of my life. I want you to consider the reasons you eat meat, and hopefully, I may convince you to give meat up! For-ever!

I like the taste of meat! Actually, I miss it!

I bet you didn’t expect that, did you? However, it’s true, my reasons for not eating meat are simple; I think it’s cruel to kill innocent animals. Would you be surprised if I told you 80% of people questioned in a recent poll also think the killing of animals for humans to eat, is cruel? To raise an animal with the sole purpose of killing it is selfish, morally wrong and often inhumane.

Maybe next time you order a steak or chicken nuggets you should think about the animals that went through extreme pain for you to eat your McDonalds. Not only is it inhumane to put animals through such pain, not eating meat and having a vegetarian lifestyle can have huge benefits to animals, the environment, and your health.

Why do you think the phrase ‘like a lamb to the slaughter’ is so effective (and no it’s not just because it contains a simile)? The lamb is innocently and helplessly, led away without realising the danger.

This would score you approx band 3 (15/24 marks). Mainly because whilst register and purpose are ‘generally’ matched, I can’t say it’s consistent. The student hasn’t considered the audience of a ‘local newspaper’ and the article (whilst good) is more likely to appear in their class book.

Now consider this one:

Stop telling me not to eat meat!

I love meat: the smell of bacon on a Sunday morning, a chicken breast, even – liver or kidney. And nothing can beat a near-raw slab of steak – no matter how well your mother cooked that broccoli. There’s little point claiming to me that a vegetarian, let alone a vegan diet, can be as tasty as the bloodthirsty variety. Yet there are good reasons why a survey has found that 40% are cutting down on their meat consumption – becoming, like me, “flexitarian”.

You’ll likely have read many of these arguments before on these very pages. Apparently if we just became vegan (or vegetarian) then world hunger would be solved; Britain could feed itself – without resorting to that nasty, foreign muck so despised these days; the fear of antibiotic resistance would be a thing of the past; the NHS would be saved; and of course, global warming would be consigned to the history books.

Seems like quite a compelling moral argument for ditching the meat – and that’s without even mention the suffering of the animals who are killed and packaged before being cooked in some delicious butter and served up on a plate in front of your gaping maw.

And yet. Meat. It’s yummy. Tofu is never going to match a fish finger sandwich to salve that wicked hangover. So the flexitarian craze should be embraced – although I suspect it’s going to need a better name.

This would hit an upper band 4 (22/24 marks) because it’s convincing and compelling. It’s interesting and lively. It matches its audience and purpose.

Under pressure, it’s a lot to remember, but you MUST match your audience, purpose and language. Your content (AO5) is worth 24 marks! Tone is very important.


  1. Tone– A collection of words and possible meaning in context
  2. Quick-Guide-to-Tones – an ‘at a glance’ guide to tone from