Reading & AO2

Have a look at the following picture. It is taken from the Edexcel GCSE English course currently running in schools and colleges throughout the country, or indeed the world.


There are several things there to wrestle with, especially the written and spoken language components, but what about the reading section, the AO2?

AO2 says “students must  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.” That sounds a right mouth full at first glance, but if you split it up, you get something that leads the student towards their final 2 exams where they will have to write in this style. Now remember, in this syllabus, one exam involves 19th Century literature and the other 20th Century non-lit studies. Therefore, I see the need to split these two ideas when covering these aspects in class. One half of the lesson may be lit based, with the rest being non-lit, or one lesson on each. It all depends on how many hours you have each week.

Let me try to explain further what I mean. This is how I would plan it all, at first glance. Two strands of work. One based on the 19th Century Lit requirement and the other on 20th Century non-lit. Through both, I would expect to see students broadening their skills in things like transactional writing; letters, diaries etc, as well as writing to analyse. The saying ‘practice makes perfect’ rings true every time. But the emphasis for me, would have to be on how to actually cover AO2.

Now, if we split up the AO2 comment, we see the following:




With these things in mind, you have to think about how these three things will be covered, taught and acted upon. Explanation of something needs to be clear and to the point. If a teacher brings in a copy of the “I Have A Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr, asking for an analysis on it, then the first thing to do is explain its context. When I was in training, the key thing being taught was “social and historical context” of a text. Therefore, I would expect to see a student writing about the struggles in America that brought about this speech.

Then the students need to make comment on the thing itself. The first section is explaining context. This section is all about personal thought, but please remember those PEE [D] chains again. They have not gone away and never will. If you make a comment, then follow it up, or embed into it, a quote from the text, before going into any further explanation.

Then, with those two sections covered, the student needs to actually analyse the text. Now, if it was the Dream Speech, my analysis would involve the use of Americanisms, of local language, or repetition, of style and emotive language, to name but just a few. So with these three elements included in a written analysis, one would expect a student to pass well in this reading section.

But, consider this; AO2 is only 15% of the final GCSE programme. This is where points could be won or lost in the exam, leading to an expected C grade becoming a D grade and a very emotional student [let alone the teacher].

So, the student needs to write these three things, in these three ways, upon reading a text. When I did my GCSE in 1991-2, my teacher, Steve P, gave us work to do in class so we could apply those three strands mentioned above. He gave us newspaper reports, journals, medical posters, adverts, really anything he could find. We would then be taught how to write using the three strands mentioned and each week, we would have a homework to complete. He would mark them out of 20. My first one was a 13, based on a poem. I then wanted a 15 and got one. He then encouraged us all to go a point higher. I got the 16, then the 17, then the 18, the 19 and I remember sitting there, thinking what the hell do I have to do to get a 20?

So I asked him. My spelling mistakes [at the time] were repetitively annoying so I brushed up on them using f7 on the computer for words like SEP -A – RATE and finally, I got the 20. Now these were elements to my coursework, so I ended up with 45% before I sat an exam. 50% was a C grade so I was fortunate. In the same way, I would set work like Steve did, with homework, to be marked out of 20 [just for personal and student use] so that a student can see their progression, as I did. Encouraging that element of competitiveness is important!

Now you are thinking I have forgotten something. No I haven’t. The AO2 goes on to say that this writing, explaining, commenting and analysing, needs to look at “how writers use language and structure to achieve effects and influence readers, using relevant subject terminology to support their views.”

Here is where the teacher’s creativity comes into play. How do you use language to influence someone? How do you structure what you say to someone? What effect are you wanting to achieve? If you go on social media and write something derogatory about an actor, then what effect are you wanting to achieve? Think like this and writing about such things, such texts, is suddenly very easy.

The last bit, about “using relevant subject terminology,” is all about those wonderful technical elements that are to be found in my Glossary of Terms, found here on this site. Search for it and see. If Martin Luther King Jr says something three times, then he is using rule of three, repetition, possibly alliteration and an emotive style of language. There are four points there, to followed with four short quotes and then, as you are writing, you get the chance to extend yourself, stretching your thoughts, ideas and analysis of a text.

It does not matter what the text is. Each one is written and created for a reason, so remember again those three words mentioned elsewhere: AUDIENCE, FORM & PURPOSE. When you remember those, suddenly you have a focus to your writing.

Now, a little task for you is to select your own text, from a non-lit perspective. Then, write an analysis of it and post it back onto the Facebook page attached to this website. Let us all share in how we make the changes needed as we begin to study [and teach] this new linear style of GCSE.

God bless.



There have been times in the past, especially as a new teacher and even in training, where I have been asked to teach something like a lesson on ‘Similes and Metaphors.’ Those lessons still haunt me to this day because similes are easy. Most of you know and understand them well, but when it comes to understanding and locating a metaphor in writing, more or less nine out of ten students will scratch their heads, give that bemused look and say “Huh” when asked to do so. As a teacher, you walk away thinking “try again.”

So, here is a little pictorial idea for you to help you memorize it.


Think about what is written on this soldier’s helmet. 3 little words to describe war. 3 short words that are so accurate as well, I am sure. 3 words that are a metaphor.

If they were a simile it would say something like, “war is like a version of hell.” The words “like a” make it a simile.

But “War is Hell” merges the two ideas together to create one, rather than comparing them. The “War is hell” one is easy to spot though, so maybe we need to stretch you a little here?

Another example therefore, might be “the traffic was murder this morning.” Clearly, this is the same principle as before with the war one. There are two images, of a city full of cars trying to get to work and a murder scene. Mix the two together [rather than comparing them] and you get a metaphor. Easy.

Now, things get more stranger. Try this one for size.

Capital isn’t in the stock market–it’s in what we stock for ourselves. No one’s going to throw us a line until they see how good of a boat we can or could build.

Where is the metaphor there? It is a harder one to spot for sure. For a start the first sentence begins with a negative up to the hyphen [-] and then adds to itself for detail. Has the metaphor been seen yet?


If you then read the next sentence you notice two images again that are being brought together. There are no references to “like a” so no similes here. But two images that are being merged in a way, those of being thrown “a line” and “a boat we can … build.

p21      7f31e49b2c77c549237e97f78b1e7bb8

The trick is to see the two images in your head. Do not worry if this seems hard. It is hard. This is one of the hardest things in GCSE English, but get this right and the rest is a cake walk. [Did you see what I did there even without intent?]

2 images, a line being thrown and a boat being built. Look back to the sentence again that they came from and you will see No one’s going to throw us a line until they see how good of a boat we can or could build.” 

So now, you are ready to write about the metaphor. How do you do that? Well, you use your PEE [D] chains mentioned before and mention the effect it has on the reader. Beware though, for there may be more than one effect for we all see things differently. Throwing a line can be a fishing term as well, for example. Below is how I view the metaphor mentioned:

Capital isn’t in the stock market–it’s in what we stock for ourselves. No one’s going to throw us a line until they see how good of a boat we can or could build.

The writer uses a metaphor here [point made] to compare the difference between a banker’s attitude to giving help to a client [further point made] and their offer of help itself. In using the term “throw us a line” [evidence used] the writer paints an initial picture in the mind of the reader of a line being hauled from a ship, but the desired effect is that the reader should respond positively because this is a term for giving someone financial help when they are in need. . By then using the term “until they see how good a boat” [further evidence used – second part of metaphor] a person can build, they are making the reader merge the two images to create an immediate and direct meaning. [further point made]. In doing this, [development to follow] this allows the reader to see not only the fact that one has to speculate to accumulate, but also that lenders will assist where prudent finances exist. [end of PEE chain]. 

Now, with all those brackets, that is not an easy paragraph to read, but I added them to help you see what the marker/teacher has to look for. Without all these elements in, you are not hitting the C grade mark, let alone a higher mark.

Now you have a go at writing a PEE [D] chain for this metaphor. It is a statement by the artist, Pablo Picasso. Add it to our Facebook page.

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.