Close reading: prose fiction (classroom activity)

16/05/2017

Reading time: 8 minutes

Introduction

Close reading is a big part of exams, as well as an essential, everyday part of studying and developing an understanding of a text. These five steps offer just one way of doing close reading. This five-step approach, designed for students, draws on four really helpful concepts from stylistics about the process of interpretation, and takes care to avoid some common problems. It is designed for extracts from prose fiction, but can be easily adapted for other kinds of texts.

Five steps in close reading for extracts from prose fiction

1. Read through for initial impressions

Start by noticing your initial impressions, rather than by looking for big themes straight away. Themes are often broad and complex, like ‘a critique of capitalism’ in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby or ‘warning against totalitarianism’ in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. In novels, themes can arise through lots of small, sometimes subtle suggestions interspersed throughout the whole text. If you’re dealing with just a couple of paragraphs from a novel, looking for broad themes can be a struggle. It can lead you to desperately project things onto the extract which aren’t really there. Focusing only on themes can also lead you to miss or neglect the less obvious, often less specific or definite aspects of interpretation which contribute to those themes. Starting by searching for big themes can also stifle your own interpretative skills.

It can be easier, and often ultimately more insightful, to begin with initial impressions. Impressions can be less fully formed, more abstract and less precise than the kinds of themes we often focus on when discussing texts. Initial impressions can include aspects of atmosphere (eg ‘gloominess’, ‘confusion and disorientation’, ‘a sense of innocence’ or ‘a sense of mystery’, etc), setting (eg ‘a vastness, desolation’) and character relations (eg ‘cold and uncooperative’), etc. These kinds of impressions are the very beginnings of interpretation, and it is these aspects which usually add up to the fully formed themes: it is through these impressions that those themes are constructed, developed and communicated. 

Start your close reading by asking yourself what initial impressions arise for you in your reading. This will keep your close reading grounded in the text and will help you pay proper attention to your own interpretative responses.

2. Annotation and analysis

The next step is to go back through the extract with those interpretative impressions in mind, and try to locate where, and how, in the text they arise. What do you notice, sentence by sentence? Underline the parts which stand out to you, including those which seem to be fueling those interpretative impressions, and any others you might have. For everything you underline, draw an arrow out into the margins and note down the following:

a) What kind of feature of language is it? Use terms and concepts you have learnt about to help you be detailed and precise.

b) What is it doing, in this context? What is it contributing to the meaning of the extract?

c) Does it relate to or connect up and with any other features and features of the extract?

It is here that four useful principles of interpretation come into play.

  • Foregrounding: Foregrounding is the relative prominence (as consciously or subconsciously perceived by the reader) of particular features (through patterns and deviation). An important part of the study of literature, and particularly close reading, is the act of paying attention to prominence, and making what might at first be subconscious impressions become conscious – bringing them into focus and conscious attention. Features are foregrounded through parallelism and deviation, and they work to create meaning together through ‘cohesion of foregrounding’.
  • Parallelism: According to Short’s (1996) ‘Parallelism rule’ for interpretation, paralleled structures suggest meaningful connections. So, paralleled features like repeated sounds, or metaphors, or structural repetition such as each adjective in a list of three adjectives, lead us to look for and create connections between each repeated element. Each repeated element gains associations of the other in the pair or set. Their associations combine to create a whole, integrated impression made up of its parts.
  • Deviation: Deviation is departure from a norm, convention, system or pattern. For example, you might encounter a list of adjectives all two syllables long, and then the list closes with one which is three syllables long. The deviation from the parallelism (the repeated pattern of two-syllable adjectives) makes the three-syllable adjective stand out, and seem or become more meaningfully significant.
  • Cohesion of foregrounding: ‘Cohesion of foregrounding’ is a phrase coined by Geoffrey Leech, in Style in Fiction (1970), to describe the way in which we try to link up foregrounded features and find meaning in the ways they function together. A good example is the way in which we see a constellation in an array of stars, drawing a connecting shape between the stars that shine the brightest. Themes arise through our process of ‘connecting up the(foregrounded) dots’.

These are processes of interpretation which underlie close reading, and which help to explain what we notice and how we find meaning. If you’re struggling to ‘see’ anything meaningful in a close reading text, focus on the parts which have triggered your initial interpretative impressions, and look for foregrounding, patterns and deviation.

Tip: The reason the interpretative impressions you started with are called ‘initial’ interpretative impressions is because they are likely to evolve and change, as you start exploring them, into fuller and deeper interpretative impressions and analytical insights.

3. Reflective relation to themes

In some tasks, you’re given a close reading extract which is an extract from a bigger text, like a novel, which you’ve studied and are familiar with. The fourth step in this process is to reflect on the kinds of things which you see at work in the close reading text, and explore connections between these and the themes and workings of the whole novel.

4. Selection and planning

As your interpretative skills and confidence develop, you’ll get better at seeing more and more in a close reading text. Not all of it will be hugely interpretatively significant, and you may not have time to cover all of it in an exam. Select your key points based on how interpretatively significant they are. If something at work in this extract is closely tied in with one of the novel’s broader themes, it’s probably worth including, but only if you’ve got something to say about how it’s working here. If you’ve noticed something but you can’t get beyond naming and describing it (that is, you can’t go beyond description to analysis), think about leaving it out.

Once you’ve chosen your key points, select the best (most illustrative) example(s) to quote and discuss when making that point. Again, you might not have time to include everything that illustrates that point: be selective.

Remember, a response to a close reading exercise needs to be structured carefully, just like any other kind of essay. Decide on a sequence for your points. You could order them in a way which follows the extract’s sequential development, or you could start with the points which bear the most interpretative significance and work on to those which are interesting but which you find less deeply meaningful. Alternatively, you could begin with points discussing aspects of the extract which are interpretatively interesting but which don’t seem overtly connected to the themes of the novel as a whole, and then move on to the elements of the extract which do relate and contribute to the novel’s broader themes.

5. Writing your response

Now it’s time to write your response. Don’t forget to include an introduction and a conclusion, just like any other essay. The paragraphs which make up the main body of the essay need to do the following:

  •  Each main paragraph should clearly communicate one point, through illustrative examples and analytical argument.
  • That central point should explain the relationship between a feature of the text and its interpretative effects. If you find yourself devoting a paragraph to describing a feature without talking about its effects, or describing interpretative effects without talking about how the text creates those effects, that paragraph needs to be developed or cut.
  • Always provide and discuss illustrative quotations to explain the relationship between the feature and effect.

A main paragraph can do more than this, of course, such as considering other possible interpretations, but these are the essential elements.

A last tip: Communicating clearly is more important than sounding intelligent or ‘academic’. If trying to write in a very sophisticated style results in your phrasing becoming confused and confusing and your meaning getting lost, step back to a more simple and straightforward style. There’s no point in using lots of long words and complex sentence structures if the person reading your essay can’t understand what you mean. Clarity is always the priority.

Conclusion

This five step process is just one approach. There are lots of other ways of doing close reading. Some will suit you and your thinking and planning processes more than others. This approach does, though, cover some of the crucial bases, and helps you to avoid the risks of trying to map big themes onto extracts awkwardly or inauthentically, and instead make convincing, text-based arguments explaining your interpretation. Underpinned by four key stylistic concepts, it offers a structure for paying close attention to and interpreting the extract itself, always holding firmly onto the relationship between features and interpretative effects. Try it out with some extracts from texts you’re studying and see what kinds of close readings it helps you create.

Further reading

For more on foregrounding, parallelism, deviation and cohesion of foregrounding, see Exploring the Language of Poems, Plays and Prose by Mick Short (Longman, 1996) and ‘Ling131’, an online stylistics course created by the same author (you can find a description and link in the ‘Online Resources’ entry in our Reading Suggestions category).

Analysing Implicatures (classroom activity)

03/01/2017

Reading time: 4 minutes

Overview

This is the second of two posts with ideas for developing understanding of ‘implicature’ (discussed in a previous research digest on ‘Implicature and literary texts’ ).

These activities apply the notion of implicature in analysing texts and understanding some of their effects. This could support students interested in:

  • Implicatures across literary and non-literary material (Making Connections, spec section 4.3).
  • Exploring interaction (Exploring Conflict, spec section 4.2).

First: identifying and exploring implicatures in texts

Ask students to look at any text and identify some of its implicatures.

They should also make a note of thoughts which might be about implicatures, but which they are not sure of. These will be a basis for later discussion.

Students begin working individually and then work in pairs or small groups to compare answers. Comparing notes will almost always lead individual students to have new thoughts about the text.

Step-by-step:

  1. Find a text or use a set one from Exploring Conflict (spec section 4.2) and make a note of as many possible implicatures of the text as you can.
  2. Compare your list with other students, considering each possible implicature and commenting to what extent you are sure it is an implicature.
  3. Try to sort the implicatures into types: which ones are stronger? which ones are weaker? Which ones leave you unsure about whether or not they were intended?
  4. Consider who might be intending to communicate each of these implicatures:
    • is it the author of the text?
    • a narrator?
    • characters?
    • somebody else?
    • are there any you are not sure about?
  5. Now focus on one fairly strong implicature of the text. Suggest further lines of reasoning so that you might derive a wider range of weaker implicatures starting from it.
  6. Discussion: “to what extent do you think what you have been doing contributes to (or counts as) developing a fuller interpretation of the text?”

Then: comparing texts

Following on from the previous task, this compares texts and how many stronger or weaker implicatures they give rise to.

Any texts could be compared, but one idea would be to start with two texts, including one which clearly gives rise to a wider range of weaker implicatures. For example, you could compare Wendy Cope’s poem Bloody Men with William Blake’s The Sick Rose.

Students can repeat this activity to explore further texts, or compare two parts of the same text. Consider the ‘gun’ simile at the beginning of Seamus Heaney’s Digging and the ‘dig’ metaphor at the end. This example is discussed in a previous digest post, ‘Implicatures and literary texts’.

Step-by-step:

  1. Select your texts.
  2. List some strong implicatures of each text.
  3. List some weaker implicatures of each text.
  4. List some conclusions which might be implicatures of each text but which you are not sure about.
  5. Now compare the two texts to consider: which one has a greater number of stronger implicatures and which one more weaker one?
  6. Discussion: “what does this suggest about the two texts?”

Finally: rewriting

This task develops understanding by intervention, i.e. by rewriting texts to give rise to more or fewer stronger and weaker implicatures. This can support students thinking about their own re-writing as part of Writing About Society (spec section 4.2.2).

  1. Revisit a text from the previous task.
  2. Make a note of some strong implicatures of this text.
  3. Make a note of some weaker implicatures.
  4. Comment on your overall impression of the text with regard to how many stronger and how many weaker implicatures it suggests.
  5. Now rewrite some passages to change the status of particular assumptions, i.e. either to make some weaker implicatures stronger or to make some stronger implicatures weaker.
  6. Look at a different text and compare it with the one you have been working on.
  7. Suggest some rewrites to one or both texts to make them more like each other.
  8. Discussion: “what does this suggest about the texts you have been looking at?”

Applying These Ideas to NEA

A student who has worked through these will have developed their understanding of implicatures and how they can vary across texts. They will also have developed their understanding of how to create and edit texts while thinking about the implicatures they are likely to generate. This can be useful for the NEA, and help students generate their own data for comparison with their chosen literary text.

Understanding Implicatures (classroom activity)

17/11/2016

Reading time: 7 minutes

Overview

This is the first of two posts with ideas for developing understanding of ‘implicature’ (discussed in the previous research digest on implicature and literary texts), including the ideas that implicatures can be stronger or weaker and that texts vary with regard to how many implicatures they suggest. It mainly targets the Non-Exam Assessment (NEA).

The ideas suggest how texts can be compared in terms of the kinds of implicatures they are likely to give rise to. So they could form the basis of comparison between a literary text and a non-literary text.

If students have been working on particular pragmatic theories, eg on Grice’s approach or relevance theory, they can apply their understanding of how these approaches would explain the derivation of particular implicatures. However, these activities show how the notion of ‘implicature’ can be used in analysing texts even without focusing directly on particular theoretical approaches.

Introduction

The term ‘implicature’ was coined by the philosopher Paul Grice to refer to indirectly communicated assumptions, eg to the assumption Bella communicates here that she is planning to read Scott’s new book:

Andy:                Are you going to read Scott’s new book when it’s out?
Bella:                I read everything he writes.

The first set of activities here contains tasks to help students focus on what implicatures are and what kinds of implicatures utterances can convey. The activities in Part 2, which will be posted separately, aim to develop understanding of specific texts by exploring some of their implicatures. While the examples presented below have been chosen to illustrate particular ideas, the activities could focus on examples taken from texts created by students.

Understanding Implicatures

In introducing implicature, it’s important to start with some fairly straightforward examples like the one above about Bella planning to read Scott’s book. A good starting point is simply to present a number of examples and ask students to identify possible implicatures.

a) Identifying implicatures

Students are asked here to look at the final utterances in these exchanges and to identify an implicature which they think the speaker is likely to communicate.

‘Essay’
(Andy is asking Bella about an essay which she has been struggling with for a long time)
Andy:                How’s the essay going?
Bella:                Lovely weather just now, isn’t it?

‘Three for two’
(In a shop, Bella has taken two tins of beans to the counter and is about to pay for them)
Assistant:        They’re three for two just now.

‘Good worker?’
(Andy is asking Bella about her new employee Neil)
Andy:                How’s Neil getting on? Is he a good worker?
Bella:                Well, he always arrives in good time.

When using examples like this, it’s important to clarify that these have underspecified contexts, meaning interpretations might vary depending on other aspects of the context. Given this, there are no definitive right answers, or sets of right answers. Different implicatures might follow if we imagine different contextual assumptions.

b) Different implicatures

Having established that students have a reasonable understanding of what an implicature is, this task then considers how implicatures vary depending on particular contextual assumptions.

If students haven’t all made the same suggestions for the examples above, they can begin to explore this by considering what would make different implicatures more or less likely. If students generally agree about implicatures in the previous examples, consider instances where further contextual assumptions are needed to work out the speaker’s intended to implication (with no contextual gloss).

Here, instructions  should make clear that Bella’s individual responses could be understood differently depending on the contextual assumptions available to Andy. Students are then asked to make two suggestions about possible implicatures and to identify contextual assumptions which would make each one likely.

Party?
Andy:                Do you know if Scott’s going to Ellen’s party?
Bella:                Jake’s going.

Coffee?
Andy:                Would you like a coffee?
Bella:                Coffee would keep me awake.

Crocodile?
Andy:                Do you fancy seeing that new Crocodile film with me?
Bella:                It’s a horror film.

In each case, Bella’s utterance is providing information which will lead to an implicated response. To see what kind of answer she intends, we need to know a bit more. The most likely assumptions we will think of are: whether Scott likes or tries to avoid Jake, whether Bella wants to stay awake or not, and whether Bella likes or hates horror films.

Students can explore this and other examples, considering how different sets of contextual assumptions make particular implicatures more or less likely. These could form the basis of some data generation for NEA.

c) Stronger and weaker implicatures

Having established a reasonable understanding of what an implicature is, these tasks ask students to consider two ideas mentioned in the research digest on ‘Implicature and literary texts’: first, that utterances typically convey more than one implicature; second that we can be more or less sure that certain implicatures are intended, i.e. they can be ‘stronger’ or ‘weaker’.

A good starting point is to ask students to look at one of the previous examples and consider other implicatures which might be conveyed at the same time as an implicature they have already discussed. This should work for any of the ‘party’, ‘coffee’ or ‘crocodile’ examples. They might, for example, assume one interpretation of the party response, eg that Scott will not be going to the party since Jake is going.

Further implicatures?

If we assume that Scott will not be going to the party since Jake is going, what other conclusions might we draw from this?

Possible answers include: that Scott does not like Jake, that anyone who would like Scott to come to their events should not invite Jake, that Scott might have a negative attitude to anyone who likes Jake, speculations about why Scott does not like Jake, and so on.

Students can then move on to consider other things which Bella might suggest by indicating that she likes or hates horror films. This might include assumptions about relative closeness to others based on their attitude to horror films, or other things which the refusal or acceptance of an offer of coffee might suggest (note that this is likely to raise the idea that an invitation for coffee can be a disguised sexual invitation; in my classes, this often leads to discussion of the phrase ‘netflix and chill’).

The aim of this discussion is to establish:

a. that utterances typically have more than one implicature

b. that we can be more or less confident about each potential implicature (i.e. they can be ‘stronger’ or ‘weaker’)

c. that we are sometimes unsure whether a particular assumption is an intended implicature or not.

Students can then go on to consider other examples (again possibly forming the basis of some data generation for the NEA), and experiment with them by imagining different possible utterances which would make particular implicatures stronger or weaker, eg Bella might have said ‘I hate horror films’ in response to the question about Crocodile.

Reading:

Here are some sources to help with understanding implicature and these activities:

Chapman, Siobhan. 2011. Pragmatics. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke. An accessible introduction to pragmatics.

Clark, Billy. 2013. Relevance Theory. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. An introduction to relevance theory which also discusses Grice’s work and the idea that implicatures can be stronger or weaker.

Clark, Billy. 2016. Pragmatics. In Marcello Giovanelli and Dan Clayton (eds.) Knowing About Language: Linguistics and the Secondary English Classroom. Routledge, London: 64-76. Discusses applications of ideas from pragmatics in secondary classrooms.

Impoliteness and Entertainment (research digest)

06/04/2016

Reading time: 8 minutes

Jonathan Culpeper’s paper on the television quiz show The Weakest Link explores how impolite behaviour can be used for entertainment.

The Weakest Link ran in the UK from 2000 to 2012. Culpeper describes it as an ‘exploitative’ show ‘designed to humiliate contestants, not to support or celebrate them as is often the case in standard shows’. The show is designed to maximise the potential for impoliteness (unlike ‘standard’ quiz shows such as University Challenge and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? where hosts are supportive to contestants).

One of the most culturally salient features of the show was the extremely impolite persona of the presenter Anne Robinson. Culpeper points out a number of ways in which this persona (distinguishing it from the ‘real’ Anne Robinson) is impolite to contestants. The focus of the show is on identifying ‘weak links’, ie contestants who are performing poorly. Between rounds of questions, each contestant identifies one other who they think has been performing poorly and the contestant with the most nominations has to leave. Robinson discusses nominations with some of the contestants and is impolite to them while doing so. Culpeper discusses several ways in which she is impolite. These include utterances which imply negative judgments about the contestants and their jobs, mimicry and prosody. Discussion of prosody can focus on pitch, rhythm, tempo, volume and voice quality. Here, Culpeper focuses in particular on pitch movement and stress placement.

In this exchange, Robinson mimics a contestant called Danny:

Danny:  a little bit harsh Anne, I live in Solihull now so I’ve moved up

AR:         what was wrong with Liverpool

Danny:   eer

AR:         eeh

Danny’s pronunciation of the filler eer includes a vowel articulated closer to the front of the mouth than would be produced by a speaker of something approximating ‘Received Pronunciation (RP)’. Robinson responds with an even more fronted vowel. As is often the case with mimicry, Robinson exaggerates features she mimics.

Another example appears in her chat with a contestant called Jay:

Jay:       the Australian army trained me

AR:       oh. is that why you go up in all your sentences

Jay:       yes

Robinson asks Jay whether his Australian training explains his use of what is sometimes described as ‘uptalk’ and mimics this by producing marked high rising tones centred on the words up and sentences. Again, her mimicry exaggerates the contestant’s manner of speaking. In fact, Culpeper points out that Jay’s speech does not provide much evidence of uptalk. This does not detract, though, from the opportunity to mimic him.

Robinson uses prosody to be impolite here:

AR:          Shaun, you’re a traffic management operative

Shaun:    that’s correct

AR:          okay, what do you actually do

Shaun:    er put traffic cones in in the road

AR:          you don’t

Shaun:    I do

AR:           well what an interesting person you turned out to be

Robinson begins her interaction with Shaun by quoting what we assume is his own description of his job. She then asks him “what do you actually do?” prompting him to use a more everyday description of the relatively mundane task of putting traffic cones in the road. As Culpeper points out, we might assume that Robinson’s utterance “you don’t” is sarcastic even without hearing how she says it. The prosody plays a significant role since it is a form often taken to be ironic. As Culpeper points out, the prosody is also consistent with surprise so contextual assumptions play a role in recognising this (and other) sarcasm.

Robinson’s prosody falls throughout the utterance “well, what an interesting person you turned out to be” in a way which ‘resembles a staircase going down’ and so ‘seems to signal boredom’. The earlier utterance (“you don’t”) had prosody consistent with surprise associated with something we assume to be mundane. Here, words which suggest interest are accompanied by prosody suggesting boredom.

These features, and others discussed in the paper, contribute to attacks on the ‘face’ of the contestants. The notion of ‘face’ is key to work on politeness. Culpeper refers here to Helen Spencer-Oatey’s (2002) update of Brown and Levinson’s (1987) ideas on this. She suggests a distinction between ‘quality face’ and ‘social identity face’:

Quality Face:

refers to ‘a fundamental desire for people to evaluate us positively in terms of our personal qualities, eg our confidence, abilities, appearance, etc.’

Social Identity Face:

refers to ‘a fundamental desire for people to acknowledge and uphold our social identities and roles, eg as group leader, valued customer, close friend’

Quality face is attacked by features which suggest the contestants are unimportant and have negative qualities. Social identity face is attacked by negative attitudes to their accents or jobs.

Culpeper also considers the idea that our understanding that Robinson is performing a role for the purposes of entertainment might mean that this is not really impolite after all. However, there is clear evidence that contestants do take offence. For example, Danny laughs nervously and looks down after his pronunciation of eer is mocked and another contestant smiles and exhales after a negative implication about his job. Culpeper suggests a distinction between impoliteness which is ‘sanctioned’ and impoliteness which is ‘neutralised’, concluding that the impoliteness here is sanctioned but not neutralised.

Culpeper’s discussion reveals a number of ways in which we can attack each other’s face. This approach can be applied in analysing a wide range of texts and interactions.

This is a digest of the following article: Culpeper, Jonathan. (2005). ‘Impoliteness and entertainment in the television quiz show: The Weakest Link.Journal of Politeness Research 1, 35-72.

Using this in teaching and learning

You can use this research digest to support your teaching of AQA’s AS and A-level English Language and Literature specifications in the following ways.

  1. Culpeper’s paper discusses other uses of prosody. In particular, he discusses the main catchphrase “You are the weakest link. Goodbye.” Classroom discussion could focus on this utterance and consider the contribution to impoliteness of its prosodic form. This might lead on to discussion of other prosodic forms and how they contribute to meanings. Clips and episodes of The Weakest Link are available on the internet. One entire programme is currently available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMs5YNrBvkg This could support students with potential topic areas for their Non-Exam Assessment (Making Connections, A-level).
  1. Culpeper’s paper could be used to explore ways in which work on politeness has developed since the work of Brown and Levinson (1987), including in the focus on impoliteness as well as politeness. Again, students could explore some of these developments looking at different types of non-literary material for their Non-Exam Assessment (Making Connections, A level). One specific area to focus on could be Spencer-Oatey’s new proposals about the notion of face, intended to replace Brown and Levinson’s account which focused on ‘positive face’ and ‘negative face’. For Brown and Levinson, positive face was about a positive consistent self-image, about this image being appreciated by others, and about wanting our own wants to be desirable to others. Negative face was seen as being about our actions being unimpeded by others. Students could explore the extent to which Spencer-Oatey’s ideas can map on to these two notions. (Culpeper suggests that Spencer-Oatey’s new notions account for aspects of positive face and that ideas about negative face map onto a different notion proposed by Spencer-Oatey: the notion of ‘sociality rights’, which are about ‘entitlements’ that we claim in interactions with others).
  1. A natural next step would be to look at other kinds of interactions and explore ways in which we aim to be polite or impolite in interacting with others. The ideas developed by Culpeper and others could be explored in any kind of interaction. Students might begin by considering examples from their own interactions, including in classroom discourse. Another possibility would be to look at current quiz shows and other television programmes. Culpeper mentions an example where impoliteness is implicated in an exchange between the hosts Ant and Dec on the programme Pop Idol:

Ant:         Our judges have been accused of being ill-informed, opinionated and rude.

Dec:         We’d like to set the record straight: our judges are not ill-informed.

In discussing other examples, students might consider how other approaches they have considered are relevant here. Dec’s utterance here could be explained with reference to how pragmatic theories account for implicit communication.

  1. Ideas about politeness and impoliteness can also be useful in looking at literary texts on the AQA specifications. For example, students could look at ways in which speakers in the poetry of Donne or Browning use politeness strategies (Poetic voices, A- level; Views and voices, AS) and/or at how characters in prose interact (Imagined worlds, A- level; Views and voices, AS). Another very natural application would be to consider ways in which conflict of various types is constructed and understood (this could include exploration and comparison of conflict used to create tension and conflict used to create humour). A good starting point would be to look at interactions between characters in drama (Dramatic encounters, A-level), noting ways in which they aim to protect or attack the face of others and what the effects of these strategies might be.

 

 

Recasting Remembered Places (classroom activity)

06/04/2016

Reading time: 5 minutes

Introduction

This teaching plan predominantly targets AS Paper 2, question 2, which requires students to recast a text from the Paris anthology. The assessment objective in focus is AO5: demonstrate expertise and creativity in the use of English to communicate in different ways. The technique of recasting is an element of the ‘Writing about Society’ component of the A-level specification, and so this teaching plan can usefully guide A-level students through the processes involved. Some of the activities described below also incorporate other assessment objectives and so support learning more broadly.

Activities

The following sequence of activities centres around an investigation of the ways in which multimodal texts communicate meaning. While the scrapbook will not be a form that students are asked to recreate in an exam (given its physicality), it is a useful means of exploring how words and images create meaning. As multimodality is a feature of many of the texts in the anthology, and could also from part of an investigation within students’ NEA work, these activities are designed to support understanding of multimodality in general.

  1. Exploring multimodal meaning in scrapbooks

i) Set up discussion activity: Explore the scrapbook as a form of discourse. A physical example would be ideal, but pictures of scrapbooks can be found on the web (eg using google images). As a class, collaboratively create a list of the kinds of images, objects and text that can be included in a scrapbook.

Other points for discussion could include:

  • the physicality of the form (related to AO3)
  • the decrease in popularity of the scrapbook in the wake of the growth of digital media and the latter’s different affordances for capturing memories (related to AO3)
  • the potentially ‘retro’ style and status of a contemporary scrapbook, how that ‘retro’ quality relates to context and what it contributes to the scrapbook’s meaning

ii) Homework creative activity: Over a weekend, students individually create two pages of a scrapbook representative of their experiences on one or both of the two days.

iii) Comparative activity: Students pair up, share and compare their scrapbook pages, answering the following questions relating to modes:

a) What kind of objects were used and what do they represent? (eg tickets, price labels, scraps of magazines, fabric, wrappers, printed recipes, leaves, etc)

b) What images were used, what do they represent and, if relevant, how realistic or stylised are they? (eg photos, drawn pictures, finger prints, arrows, borders, etc)

c) What text was created and how does it relate to the images or objects and to the overarching narrative of the discourse? (eg framing, connecting, explaining, providing descriptive or narrative detail, etc)

Students pair up and compare their scrapbook pages with respect to the following questions relating to genre and the ways in which narrative has been constructed:

d) How far is a narrative structure apparent in the pages? How is any narrative sequence conveyed (eg through layout, arrows, connecting adverbs, etc)?

e) In what ways are the elements of the scrapbook pages ‘tellable’ ?(‘Tellability’ relates to the qualities of a story which make it worth telling to an audience, eg its relative humour, relevance to the audience, entertainment value, suspense, surprise, irony, interest, etc.)

f) What kind of tone, if any, is apparent in the scrapbook? Are there any humorous, reflective, suspenseful or dark patches? Do the scrapbook pages function as a diary, a descriptive documentary, an adventure story, a comedy, etc?

iv) Re-creative activity: If the group dynamic allows for it, students could, in small groups, cut up and recombine elements of their individual scrapbooks to create a single, coherent, fictional few pages of an idealised day or event, or of a day or event communicated in a fashion representative of a particular genre. This activity replicates the recreative task at AS level (‘Remembered Places’ question 2, AO5.)

Each group then prepares to explain the choices they made in selecting and arranging the parts of their group scrapbook pages and share their pages with the rest of the class. This activity replicates the commentary on recreative writing task at AS level (‘Remembered Places’ question 3, AO2 and AO3).

  1. Re-casting verbal texts as multimodal texts

This activity builds on the prior creative work, applying the ideas and concepts involved to texts from the Paris anthology.

i) Re-casting activity: In pairs, students choose one of the following 9 texts from the Paris anthology.

  • Mike and Sophia, ‘Visiting Paris’
  • Bill Bryson, Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe (extract)
  • Eurostar advert ‘Stories are Waiting in Paris’
  • Personal Narrative: Anna
  • Rick Steves, ‘Rick Steves’ Walking Tour of the Louvre Museum’
  • Isabella, ‘La Parc Monceau’, from ‘Memories of places in Paris’ by Isabella and Sophia
  • Wild Night Music of Paris, The Toronto Star Weekly, 25th March 1922
  • Peter Lennon, Foreign Correspondent: Paris in Sixties (extract)
  • Helen Maria Williams, Letter II of IV, from Letters from France 1790-1796 (extract from Travel Writing 1700-1830: An Anthology).

a) In their pairs, students re-read what is narrated and described in their chosen text, and collaboratively write a short summary.

b) Individually, students recast their chosen text (or a part of it) in the form of a few pages from a scrapbook (including drawing the objects they would include). This activity replicates the recreative task at AS level (‘Remembered Places’ question 2, AO5.)

ii) Reflective commentary activity:

a) In their pairs again, students compare their recast versions, and explain to each other what decisions they made in the recasting process. While not requiring a structured, written commentary, this activity prepares students for the commentary on recreative writing task at AS level (‘Remembered Places’ question 3, AO2 and AO3).

b) Having explained the choices they made, students can then reflect on what the nature of the recasting process and the decisions they had to make reveals about the nature of the base text, eg the relative tellability of elements of the base text, the point of view involved, the availability of images associated with the verbal content, the structural ordering and relationships between parts, etc.

c) Through whole class discussion, students can be guided to reflect on how images and words signify meaning differently, and how the two can interrelate to function communicatively together. This supports the study of multimodality and genre more generally in the anthology.

More material on recasting texts and on the related concepts and terms referred to in this teaching plan can be found in the English Language and Literature A/AS Level for AQA Student Book (Cambridge: University Press, 2015) and in Textual Intervention: Critical and Creative Strategies for Literary Studies by Rob Pope (Routledge, 1995).