About Robert Johnson

English teacher since 1997. Worked in High Schools in Yorkshire till 2005. From 2012 have worked in FE establishments. From January 2015, worked in Adult workplace training delivering Funky Skills Maths and English.

Batter My Heart – John Donne

Holy Sonnets: Batter my heart, three-person’d God  

John Donne  


Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you  

As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;  

That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend  

Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.  

I, like an usurp’d town to another due,  

Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;  

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,  

But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.  

Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,  

But am betroth’d unto your enemy;  

Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,  

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,  

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,  

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.


This is perhaps, the most famous of all the John Donne sonnets to be mentioned in popular culture in the last fifty years or so, because it has been taken over by evangelical Christians in this world of ours, to be something of a special poem, requesting something equally special from God.

Starting with the opening words, we see the request, presumably from the person who sees themselves as a sinner in need of a loving God, who is asking the Lord to do something more than usually happens in their communicative and prayerful lifestyle and relationship. This is a poem about relationship with God, how we can get close to the Lord our God in such a way as to feel the love that is supposed to exist there.

The poet asks, “Batter my heart,” which is suggestive of the fact that the person cannot get close to his belief of who and what God is, someone whose relationship has not been allowed to flourish yet and seeing as how any relationship is a two way affair of the heart, it is only right to think of a relationship with God in the same way. “Batter” is an interesting verb. It is not a soft dealing with God that he is asking for. It is not a tender thing he is asking for. This is a battering, a sense of destruction, where he is asking the Lord to destroy everything that gets in the way of what keeps him from getting that close to his Lord. He wants his heart battering into submission in such a way as to show that he has been changed from within.


As he is requesting this heart battering, itself the most famous line of this poem, he is also asking that God would “knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend” anything that hurts him, or gets in the way. Christians, you see, need to feel that it is God they are placing first in their lives. The first commandment, to love the Lord your God with all you have [Deuteronomy 5: Bible] is the key commandment. It is a case of God first. Others next. Ourselves last. It always has been and always shall be.

So, give my heart a battering, he is saying, and knock, shine and mend my heart. He is asking this so that he can then rise up from the ashes of his spiritual death he is in now, into the radiance that he believes he can and will find in a true and loving relationship with God. He knows the force which is needed to change him is massive. He knows that these words of strength; “break,” and “burn” are power words, the sort that paint a picture in the head of the reader to bring about a feeling of natural strength used in a supernatural way.

“Make me new,” he adds. He feels like he is a “usurped town,” which is an interesting use of the words and means that he feels like a town that has been captured and is in need of being rescued. He wants it that God is the one who does the rescuing. For this writer, this is the only option. When a Christian believer sees the extent of their wrong doing, or their sin as it is called, they then feel worthless in the sight of a holy God. As much as they “labour to admit” to the God that they love that they have done wrong, it never stops. That is the problem with sin and sinning; it keeps on happening, but here, the poet is asking God to mould him, make him, bend him, break him and bring him into something new, something great for God. It is the Christian’s prayer of confession and supplication all rolled into one, which is why, for a believer like me, this poem is oh so special.

Notice too that he uses reason in his poem as a tool, for change and for the better. “Reason,” he argues, is God’s “viceroy” in him, which should defend all things good. A viceroy is someone who runs a country on behalf of someone else and the country in question is Donne’s bruised and weary spirit. So the metaphor here is of the spirit, that he should really defend with regular, daily bible readings, moments of prayer; communing with God more, but he doesn’t, like so many of us, do it enough, so he feels as if he has to summon God to ask him to force him to his knees in fervent repentance [saying sorry for the things you have done wrong].

But his soul, his spirit, is “captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue” so he cannot control it. St. Paul, in the Bible, adds something to this, when he [and this is my paraphrase] says that there is a good that we should do but we do not do and a bad that we enter into that we should avoid. We have all been there; should I do this even though I know it is wrong? This is Donne’s dilemma and ours, so here is a man who is almost on his knees in fervent prayer, saying to God, “Come God, enter my heart and change me from within.” He is asking for the kind of change that he believes, at the time of writing, when Christian beliefs were more accepted than they are now, is permanent and lasting. As a Christian myself, I know how hard it is to keep to the track you feel is the right way in life. Sometimes, that track is narrow and I use the Robert Frost poem to describe my difficult walk, by saying that there are two paths and one is the one “less travelled by” and the other one not. I usually end up on the wrong one and get into bother. It seems Donne is the same.

This is what Donne is saying in this poem. He is stating the obvious, in a way, that we are all the same, that whatever we do, whether or not we know it is right or wrong, we do it and then we regret it.

He dearly loves the Lord his God. He says that plainly when he utters those words: “Yet dearly I love you and would be lov’d fain,” or loved back. But he also feels as if he is “betroth’d unto [God’s] enemy;” the Devil himself. When you think of the things that you do each day, those bad things, they tend to eat at you. This man clearly has a troubled conscience and he is unable to get rid of the fact that he is so bad, or at least, feels as if he is. So he is now asking God to “divorce” him from, or to “untie or break” the bonds that keep them apart from each other.

This is a love poem to God, from a penitent sinner. “Take me to you, imprison me,” he asks, imploring God to take him and do something with him to make him good once again. What he fails to realise at the time, is that biblically, if he has repented, which is what this poem is, then God has forgiven him, because that is what he does, always, but he cannot feel or believe that yet and that is something that at the time, the church would not let their believers feel with the relative ease of today.

The last two lines or so are, for me, extra special, as a believer myself. He says, “I, except you enthrall me, never shall be free” from the snares of the sinful mind. However he tries to turn away, he cannot break free. If only he can find a way, he is thinking, then he will break free from all this bad stuff in his life. He would even be “chaste,” which is an old word, or archaism, for being sexually inactive. But God, he asks, do something with me. “Ravish me,” even, he asks, which is a sexually provocative word in any age or era and one that brings images of love making to the mind of the reader. He wants the throes of passion that can be had in relationship with and in the presence of the holy God. He wants the passion of faith; real faith. He wants the passion in life, to enjoy life more. He wants what it says in John’s gospel, “life in all its abundance.” (John 10:10)

I wonder whether or not he was in a depressive state when he wrote this poem. As sonnets go, it is up there with Sonnet 18 and Rossetti’s’ lovely poems of love and for a believer, it is the best leveled prayer to God to change a person from within that has ever been written, which is why I love this poem so much.



Different Places, Different Anagrams

For those who have been following this site for some time now, they will be used to being in school or college and having to use something called a PEE chain. For those who are used to this website and know it well, they will be used to PEED, where I argue that to get the higher grades, you need to add a more Developed idea after your explanation.

In other words, you link ideas from your life experience.

Thus, if the poem is about a break-up of a relationship and you have experience of that, as I do, you add in after the PEE bits, how there is usually pain involved in such a relationship ending. It makes your simple PEE chain into something far more detailed and developed and worthy of the higher grades.

Likewise, when students are taught another way to do this, it can get confusing, so here we are again to let you know that you need not worry when this happens. I use an example today given to me by a student of the law, who is in his Foundation year, the year before his degree begins.

He gave me this…


Identify, Analyse, Evaluate.

Now that sounds all too strange, to me, when I am used to PEED, but it is not meant to be confusing. Let’s have a look and see that there is little difference between this and my way of teaching this, how the two can be merged and how you, as a student, can also use either method for writing your essays.

Firstly, Identify means simply that the student using this method for writing has to find something in a piece of literature, or an extract in a Language exam. So, let’s say you are given Sonnet 18 as an unseen poem and you see the words, “the eye of heaven shines….” You have to ask what you can identify in that line. The answer is a metaphor, because “the eye of heaven” refers to the sun, but in a poetic, rather impressive [some would say ‘posh’] way.


So, you begin writing your usual PEE chain, as follows.

The poet is making a point about his love [point] by saying that “the eye of heaven shines,” [evidence] which signifies how beautiful he thinks the love of his life is, comparing her to the beauty and glory of the sun [explain] …

Then, you add the Development bit, by adding to your thought and using something from your life, so you can get this… [I have removed the brackets to show the final effect]

The poet is making a point about his love by saying that “the eye of heaven shines,” which signifies how beautiful he thinks the love of his life is, comparing her to the beauty and glory of the sun which suggests that this is a newly found love. Such love and infatuation is often short lived so it may be that the poet is feeling the pangs of sudden infatuation rather than love itself. 

Can you see what I mean? There is a lot more detail there, even though there is only one comment made in the Development section. I would add two or three comments where possible to add depth to my ideas.

Then, using the method of writing in the picture above, we see the word, “analyse.”

Analysis is all about the language used and the effect it has on the reader. In the example above, from Sonnet 18, there is the beginning of this, but this IAE example goes one step further by suggesting that you write about effects, in their plural sense. This is where phrases like these come into play…

This signifies that,             This implies that,               Such a suggestion means…

When you get to the Development angle in the writing technique, the idea is to say that this means one thing but could also mean something else. If you have three ideas roaming around in your head, then you need to share them, especially in the exam, especially where you are analysing something. You simply need to get every idea down that you can.

Lastly, you see the word, evaluate, which means you can here add in alternative readings of something. For example, for centuries, people who write about literature have thought that Shakespeare was writing Sonnet 18 for a woman, like in the film, Shakespeare In Love, starring Joseph Fiennes, where he creates the poem for Lady Viola de Lessups, his new found muse [the woman he now fancies].

But more modern writers have changed their ways of thinking in this area and have suggested that there is no gender in the poem, so it could equally have been written to a man, either one that he loved, which means he would have been homosexual, or to another writer and poet, perhaps even one by the name of Marlowe. If this is the truth, then his writings can be seen in more than one way, to reflect a love that would no doubt have put him in prison in those days.

So, there you have it.

If in school, you are taught PEE, then add some Development ideas in there. Add detail to your writing. If you do so, especially in the examinations, then you will be able to guarantee one thing; you will never be sat in an exam again, with twenty minutes left, having nothing to do but sit there, twiddling your thumbs. You will improve your scores from an E to a C, or a 2 to a 5, and if you are there already, from a C, or a 5, to a 7 or 8, or a B or A grade.

If that is what you want to happen, this is the suggestion for today.

So, grab a poem from somewhere right this minute, that you have to write about and have a go using IAE, or PEED. The result will be the same.











Section B – Exam Task AQA

In the 2017 examination for paper 1 from AQA, there were two tasks. The first one gave a picture of two people on a bus. Task A was to write a descriptive piece about them using the picture.

The second task, Task B, asked students to write a story about two very different people.

Which one did you do? Which would you do if these were your choices? I would go for the description every time because I can use everything in the picture to help me, but many students, even those who are better at analysis than description, go for the second task.

Why is this an error?

The reason that is a mistake, in my humble opinion, is that unless you know the rules regarding storytelling, you will mess it up somehow. The picture that follows is an example of a plan for any story in any exam.


When you write a story, do so following this drawing.

Describe the characters first, then place them somewhere, in a setting, add some form of conflict, get the action to rise, or increase, like a sense of danger and then, run that to a climax. Finally, resolve the panic in the story with an ending that basically tells what the moral of the story is. Then you have a decent plan for a story.

For those who love logic, this is logic based; A+B=C etc.

What follows is a short story attempt, that took two one hour sessions to complete at home with an English tutor in situe. See if you can follow it and see how she has used, more or less, the plan in the picture.  She has subverted it ever so slightly.


Charles was a thirty-five-year-old, middle class, well-spoken, self-employed engineer who earned £35,000 a year, who had a wife, two children and an extremely expensive Audi. He was such a caring, honest man who was always happy to help and remained calm at all times because he was always one step ahead of everyone else. He was polite, well educated as he left High School with 11 qualifications and had gained a Master’s Degree in Business and Engineering.
   “I’m really excited for our experience on the high ropes” thought Charles. “I have been looking forward to today for weeks!”
   He heard a man near him shouting and being very rude to others, so swiftly turned around to see what all the commotion was about. This was Bob causing a scene with the others.
   “Are we actually going to get on these high ropes or are we all just standing here staring at them?” yelled Bob to the people surrounding him.
   He was a thirty-four-year-old, working class, single man who worked as a bin man who earned £11,000 a year because he only worked part time. The rest of the time he was getting into trouble. He could barely afford a house, had a very basic, rusty old Ford Focus. He was a rude man who was constantly shouting at people and was always getting into trouble with the police as he would say what was on his mind to people without thinking. He left High School with no qualifications, so only had training to be able to be a refuse collector. He did not go to University, so was much less educated than most of the people who were at the High Ropes Adventure Park with him.
   The problem that Bob always had was that he felt he was better than everyone else. He was a lot more confident than others and would always be the first to do things without thinking.
   They both quickly approached the rickety, old swing bridge, with Bob feeling confident that he would cross with ease. However, Charles was feeling anxious and was not so confident in himself. As they stepped out, onto the bridge and began to walk across, Charles started to feel very uneasy about the rickety bridge and decided to slow his pace down a little, whereas Bob was powering along the bridge in front, until he heard a snap!
   The sound came from one of the panels breaking underneath him!

   Charles noticed that something was wrong immediately as he saw Bob’s right leg fall through the panel. The image in front of him was a sight he was not expecting, with Bob’s right leg hanging and dangling like a pendulum on a clock. He rushed over to Bob and asked how he was.

   “Do I look okay to you? I think my leg is broken and I need your help to get me out!” exclaimed Bob.
   “Let me help you,” enquired Charles, hoping that he could be of any use.
   Bob was wriggling and struggling to get his hanging leg out from the hole he had created, shouting and screaming at people as they weren’t helping him at all and that they were not being quick enough in make the decision of what they should do. He soon realised that Charles was the only person nearby who looked as if they had an idea of what to do, so looked up at Charles with a sense of hope in his eyes and sarcasm in his voice.
   “Is there any chance Charles, that you are able to try and help pull me out of this hole?”
“Yes of course, I just have to get myself across to you first.”
   Showing the struggle on his face, Charles slowly but surely crossed the bridge to where Bob was hanging. He reached forward with his left hand to secure himself onto the rope at the side of the bridge. With his other hand, he knelt down and hooked his arm under Bob’s shoulder. He then slowly and safely began to stand up straight. As he did so he said something to Bob.
   “3…2…1” and then he lifted Bob out of the hole.
   Because of this incident, Bob began to realise that he should be more like Charles, because he would not offer to help anyone regardless of who they are. He noticed the calmness in Charles and wished he was more like him. The ironic part was that they both came from the same public secondary school and he began to realise that it just shows that if you put a bit of hard work and effort into what you love, you will go a long way, whereas, if you are not bothered about what you do and could not care less, then you will not get very far.


Well done that student.


How To Be Creative…

How To Be Creative – In One Easy Lesson

Imagine the scene.

You have been writing your way through Section A in the exam and are happy with your progress so far. You like reading an article and writing about it. You feel comfortable doing that because you have been taught how to do it well by your teacher in the classroom. He has done his job well, but when it comes to being creative, your heart freezes, the panic rises, the bile tastes in your mouth and you want to rush for the door.

If that is you, O Not Very Creative One, then panic not!


There is help here for you, if this is you and you find being creative hard to do.

It is not as hard as it sounds, if you think logically, which you have just been doing for an hour or so, on Section A of the exam. So how do you go from being analytical to being ultra creative? Well, the answer is in the fact that in Section A, you are asked to analyse someone’s creative writing, whether it be an article, an advertisement, or anything else.

Someone sat down at a computer and created it, after all.

Section B then, is your chance to show that you can not only write about something creative, but that you can do the same creative thing yourself.

Imagine once more for me, this task, taken from the AQA 2017 paper 1. It asked in Section B for you to look at a picture and write a description. That was the first choice. Most who took the exam opted to not do this task. I think they were wrong to not choose it, but that is just my thinking. Instead, they went for the more creative one, which asked them to write a story about two very different people, [which is what the picture for task 1 showed] or something like that.

Imagine that in front of you.

How do you plan for that in the few seconds you have before you get writing?

If it was me, I would split the page in two, on the first page of Section A, like this.









I would then add in some detail into each section of the chart, to build up the two opposing characters. Being the father of a son aged 26, who is about to take part in his first ever boxing bout, I might add some of that in as well, making it so that they are facing each other in the story. If I then add in some more ideas, I soon end up with something like this.  







Rough, tough, rugged, medium height and build but strong

24 with wiry ginger hair, curly

Working class background

No father figure

Angry, agitated and fast

Quick tempered

Like a volcano going off when angry

Troubled background

Not worked much

A bit of a loner

Has taken drugs before now

Can be dangerous when made angry



Calm, collected personality

Agile, tall and strong

26 with dark brown hair

Middle class background trying to be someone he isn’t

Steady on his feet but not very fast

Thoughtful and respectful

Not very easily angered

Middle class upbringing, Grammar school boy

Life and soul of the party and likes to drink

Everyone likes him

Before too long, after less than 5 minutes, I am left with a chart that details two very different characters and I can begin writing about them, sharing them with my reader, or in this case, marker. 

But there is a pattern to follow.

I would always start by describing place or person when writing a story. Do not go straight for speech. Let that come later. Choose your style of writing, whether in the first person, or in the third person and go for it.

This is the pattern to almost every single story ever written. You need to adopt it too. 


The idea is you begin by describing the characters first. Steve comes first because he is the rougher of the two, so more easy to have fun using words to describe him, using things like similes to describe him, like saying he is as strong as an ox. Then the same for Michael. Likewise, it is easy to think of words for such as him. Once the characters have been fully described, you will have 250 words already and can then add in a setting, if you have not done so already, as well as speech, so this might be a charity boxing bout in aid of Cancer Research [this is what my son is doing now, so I use this here as an example because it is relevant – you do the same from something relevant to you on the day].

Once the setting has been described, you add in a piece of conflict, like a low punch, below the belt, hurting Steve. Michael might have not meant it but Steve does not know that and his anger burns for revenge. Once the conflict is set, it can be built upon. Maybe Michael does it again, this time on purpose? It goes unnoticed by the referee but not by Steve. As you continue the story, you have to get to a climax, whereby something happens that ends the bout, or puts a stop to it, so either a knockout, or a problem where neither wins. This then leads to the resolution of the story [could be a draw and they become firm friends] and a further description of the themes contained within is able to be expanded upon in your final paragraph, a little like stories used to end with and the moral of the story is…..

If you follow that style and that format, as well as planning it well, you end up with a story to dazzle the marker. So long as your spelling and punctuation is good, the grammar should fix itself because words like boxer, bout, gloves, round, referee, blow and knockout are normally used when referring to this event. That is called the good use of the correct Register. 

Now the task asks you to write about two very different people, so you have to make one as different to the next as you can. One is like a derailed train wreck of a man. The other is a skyscraper, tall and elegant. Your description of them both should make the differences so obvious.

Above all though, when you write it, do one thing and one thing only; SHOW OFF YOUR SKILLS.

Happy writing!

Language & Structure Blues

If you, like some, have had your results and are not happy with them, then this is written with you in mind, because at the end of the day, this teacher knows that one of two things killed you off in the two exams you took in June.

The first would be the nerves. Everyone gets them. Even I do and I have been teaching for 21 years now. It is normal. Try to remember that. But remember the second thing that will have happened on exam day [both times]. If the nerves are not bad enough, then a question on language and structure is enough to make a Saint blaspheme. That’s swear to you. I mean, what kind of government twit put that in the exam? We teachers are not told what the likes of AQA and Edexcel want either, so we are flailing in the dark trying to teach you all the skills needed to answer such a question.

Yes, you know what a noun is, can count the length of sentences and know that the long ones hold lots of detail, whereas the short ones are usually for effect. But this is exam day, when you are on hot bricks anyway, so to ask you to write about such things, is, I believe, unfair.

So, I wrote the following piece with you in mind, using the excerpt from the AQA 2013 English exam, back in the day when it was just one language exam. If you find the insert on their website under past papers, give it a read and then read this, it will make sense. It is entitled, Will Turning Vegetarian Save The Planet?

I asked a student of mine to write an answer to the title of this, based solely on that piece. I shall look at her response tomorrow for the first time, but I shall use my hard copy of this to show her the difference between using the old PEE thing as basically as needed and the need to fill the answer with ideas and thoughts from your own heart and mind. If you have read my other blog pieces you will know I am not a fan of PEE but like to know you know how to PEED instead.

Here it is….

Will Turning Vegetarian Save The Planet?

Task: Answer the question, showing how effective you think the article is.

There are several ways to write an answer to this question using the idea of language and structure. This example does not centre on language or structure, as such, but on the overall effect of the article, which is what was asked for.

The simple [Level 2-3] response to the article question

This article tells the reader about how effective a vegetarian diet is on the human body. It begins with information on “greenhouse gas emissions” and states that by going vegetarian, the “9.2 billion” on the planet by 2058 will be much better off. It uses proof from people like Lord Stern, who believes that “meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases.” This is why this article is successful in making someone think that it might be a good idea to go vegetarian.

Do you notice the point, evidence, explanation there? It was very basic, wasn’t it?

The more detailed [Level 4 – 7] response to the question

In order for the world to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases, there are a number of things that either can happen, or need to happen, depending on who you are. Alex Renton believes that the farming of pigs and sheep and cattle is something that “produces more greenhouse gas emissions than every train, truck, car and aeroplane put together.” She is correct in her assumption, according to the rest of the article because she is able to prove her point, using evidence from credible sources. For example, she quotes Lord Stern, a governmental climate change adviser, who believes that, “meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases.” It is these gases that threaten our very way of life. They make it so that we see heatwaves more, flooding when there was smaller amounts of rain in the past and needs to be placed in check, so as to be controlled more. Otherwise, before too long, we as a global community shall be in trouble. If by eating less meat, or indeed going vegetarian, helps the planet to survive past 2058, then this has to be a good thing. In this way, this article is quite successful because it promotes an idea, backs the ideas up with clearly defined evidence and makes the reader think about what they consume on a daily basis. The language of persuasion it uses is therefore, very helpful to its cause.
       The structure of her article is weighted in favour of going vegetarian, until the middle of the article, and the word, “However,” which always suggests that an opposite side to an argument is about to be shared. In order to create this balanced article, not showing any bias anywhere, she makes the point that to create the man made soya products like Quorn, that replace meat on the supermarket shelves, actually uses “more land and resources than their beef or dairy equivalents.” In this way, showing both sides to the argument, she is able to balance out her thoughts, add structure to her writing, for effect, in order so the reader can make an informed judgement. Because of this, this article is able to reflect on the pros and the cons of meat consumption and allows the reader to make up their own mind. The lack of polemic is good because it is not forcing one opinion down the reader’s throat and allows them to decide for themselves. In this way, this is a very effective article. Would it convince me to eat less meat? Quite possibly!

Which has more detail in it?

What of Language and Structure then?

If you wanted to answer this in terms of language and structure, you would simply do one thing first. Then you would do these things, in order…

1. Locate all good words and highlight them.

2. Make a short plan – split the paper down the middle with a line.

3. On the left, place all ideas to do with structure [sentence & paragraph length, variety, complexity]

4. On the right, place all things to do with language [nouns, verbs, adjectives etc]

5. Then use the W, S, T approach! Word Level, Sentence Level, Full Text Level……a paragraph for each!

6. Then state at the end, how effective it is.

Job done! It is not that difficult when you put it onto the paper logically eh?

Extend Your Writing

Okay. So you are sat in a GCSE English exam. Here is your title piece: Write about a time where you or someone you know did something wrong. What would you write about?

Just how do you go about doing something like this?


The answer is not as difficult as you think. This task was in this year’s Edexcel examination as a choice between a blog piece, like this one I am doing and an article. My students went for the article, when this kind of writing is just so easy to do.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, plan the thing. Use the Power of Y planning that exists on this website. You have an idea, say a place where it happened. For me, that would be a camp site. So you put the words CAMP SITE into the middle of the page. Then you draw 4 lines away, one to each corner, but keep them short. Make sure each line is a centimetre long [ish] and ends in the shape of a Y. From that one idea you have to find two more and so on, so camp site gets us WITH MATE and ON Z250s if it was me. Do this for each line going outwards till you exhaust your ideas and suddenly, 4 ideas become 16 things to write about. It is so much easier to write about sixteen things than four!

Then number each area to show which you will do, in order. And then, begin writing. Easy really. But it is easier said than done if you have little confidence in your own abilities. So let me ask you a question.

How much can you talk about something you did that was wrong?

When you latch on to that one time, I bet you could talk the hind leg off a donkey, as we used to say where I come from, about the event. I bet you would have trouble stopping talking, so why not treat writing in the same way? You have the plan, but do not write about number 1 and just write three sentences before going on to number 2 and so on. Doing that will give you sixteen sentences maybe, bringing you an old fashioned F or G [2-3 in new money] score for your task.


Any work you just did in Section A has been wasted because you did not add enough detail into section B. Your exam script that now has to be sent off to be marked is uneven, imbalanced and might as well be half an exam paper that has been filled in.

The exam marker, people like me, love to see these tasks where there are six or seven pages written because we know you have really given it some gusto sharing your ideas when it comes to having a go at writing with style and verve. You have not just written a half of a page and left it at that, for you have decided to grab this task by the throat and give it one hell of a shake.

So, assuming you have gone into detail describing people, places, colours, smells, tastes, actions, reactions and a whole host of other things, your section B task will be a good one. Do not expect a level 4 if you do not do this in Section B.

At the end of the day, your work should be thought out, planned and detailed. That is the secret to success. Here is my example, written off the top of my head [highly inadvisable to do this]


A Time When I did Something Wrong … or 2P Or Not 2P. 

I hate cocky people; those types of individual who enter into your life and make it a damned misery. It has always been a pet peeve of mine to hate such people because I come from a dysfunctional family where my father was abusive and my mother just sat back and let it happen. So when I am out with my friend for a weekend camping, fishing and motorcycling, the last thing I need to do is get some other biker who is older trying to dominate us to the point where he is making our lives a misery.

I could go into extreme detail but suffice to say that within minutes of his arrival, he had Steve and I looking at each other and trying to decide whether to leave the camp site for another or to get our own back in some small way. Eventually, we decided to do the latter and hatched a plan. It was Steve’s idea really. I do not think my young mind, aged about 18, could have hatched such a nasty and devious plan as this, but I went along with it in the end and question, even now, whether or not I regret it.

You see, we decided to get the camping stove out and make a cup of tea. Not much of a plan I hear you thinking. We had one of those little single burners on the top of a gas bottle that is so hard to get balanced on grass and a pan to boil the water in for the enamel cups. We then had tea bags and sugar with powdered milk, for the “brew” as it is called where I come from. All was going well until Steve had the daft idea to get his own back on this goon. He said he would urinate in the water, so it mixed well, and then add it to the pan for us to boil. Gross, I know, when I look back now, but that was just two Doncaster lads out for the weekend on their bikes around Scarborough, being plagued by this idiot on his bigger, much more intricate bike.

I went along with it but there was no way I was going to taste the thing, even though survivalists will tell you there is nothing wrong at all in doing such a thing. Even now, I am not sure I could do it in even the most extreme of cases. So, the thing got boiled and the brews got shared. I chickened out and got a can of Fanta Orange juice to drink and Steve gave this guy a drink of tea. Steve even tasted his and carried on drinking. He was and remains a complete Troglodyte. How he kept his wrinkle free face from turning inwards, I will never know. But the goon loved it and thanked him for making him the brew. I sat there completely confused.

We waited for the splurrrtt as it would come out of his mouth but he must have had so much sugar in the thing as to alter the taste. Nothing happened. No reaction. No punch line to the joke. The gag had backfired and all seemed to have gone wrong. We knew it was not the right thing to do, but we still did it. We knew that there might be a reckoning, but we did it nonetheless. We were to cheeky lads who always held grudges. Did we ever tell him before the weekend was over? Oh no. He was bigger than the both of us put together. But we did enjoy the giggles that it gave us when the following morning, he asked, “fancy a brew lads?” We declined!

Do I regret it now? Partly. I do not regret getting my own back on the man, whoever he was [for I cannot remember his name] but I do think that perhaps, we could have found an even more sinister way to exact that revenge. Boys will be boys and all that, but one thing rings true from this story and that is Steve and Rob were not the sort to be trifled with. On that note, some things never change.


Now can you notice the style of writing there? It is, unfortunately, a true story. Notice each paragraph. Consider the following thoughts.

P1. Starts powerfully and sets up the scene to follow, always wise…

P2. Starts to tell the story, but only slowly – do not jump straight in there

P3. Expands the story, introducing ideas and events in greater detail

P4. It is only by paragraph 4 that the event is actually told – take your time

P5. Details the reaction in some detail, of the event happening and the reaction

P6. Retrospectively looks back and checks whether there is any regret


There is a logical sequence to all this writing. Logic dictates that when we tell a story, we do so by starting at the beginning, working our way through the story and then we come to an ending, which is best left reflective…….was I sorry etc…….so that the reader can make up their own minds about the story, whether true or not, fake news or just daft story telling.

In the end, you can write it off the cuff, like I just did, but you may lose out on detail, which is why it is best to plan it, including numbers of sections which come first etc and then write it, using as much detail as you can remember, even if you have to make it up. When you can do that, you can write an exam masterpiece to enthral the marker into giving you maximum marks.

Happy writing!

Lit Exam #2 – Oh, The Horror

Just when you thought it safe to go into the exam room again for the Literature exam, they go and do something horrible to you. I am advised this morning that the exam questions for today’s Lit exam, the second and final one, were as follows [assuming you studied these texts:

Q1 An extract showing Joe and Pip visiting Satis House, with the question being ‘How is Joe and Pip’s friendship portrayed in the extract?’ [Great Expectations]

Q1B How is friendship portrayed in the rest of the book?

Q2 The poem was ‘A Complaint’ and one other poem of own choice – Compare how loss is shown with another poem.

Q3 Compare Poems ‘British Summer’ and ‘The Month of May.’

My students tells me that Q1 was okay, that Q2 was awful and Q3 was really good to have a go at, so I am hopeful of success for them in the Lit exam this year.

But how did you do in this exam? What did you cover in each question? Below are just a few ideas off the top of my head and without any text in front of me, apart from when we get to the poetry ones in Q2.


Q1 An extract showing Joe and Pip visiting Satis House, with the question being ‘How is Joe and Pip’s friendship portrayed in the extract?’

Q1B How is friendship portrayed in the rest of the book?


The first part of this question, if my memory is correct, is Joe taking Pip to Satis House in the middle chapters. Did you put how Joe and Pip are close but how Pip would feel slightly embarrassed now because of how Joe might feel uncomfortable in such a setting as this? Did you add any of the following detail in there?


Pip and Joe are friends from the off, but as Pip changes when he is older and more affluent, so too does Joe, because of learning from Biddy and because he works hard to build up an income, so both are socially climbing. The fact that Joe pays off Pip’s debt at the end shows how much Joe has grown from humble blacksmith on the marshes to something of the gentleman that all men wanted to be in the Victorian era. It was the main goal of man at the time and still is, to a certain extent, but Joe is arguably the only real gentleman in the story because he is a ‘gentle man’ as well with all he sees. Friendship, to him, is easy, but for others it is not.

As to friendship in the rest of the book, that is one big book to consider, but did you write about:

Pip and Estella

Herbert and Pip

Pip and Miss Havisham

Joe and the young lady he eventually marries

Pip and Orlick [in opposition to real friendship]

Jaggers and Pip

Wemmick and Pip


[Pic = Herbert and Pip from the David Lean film.]

They are just a few ideas off the top of my head, but all able to be written about using short quotes in those lovely PEED chains to get your point across.

Q2 The poem was ‘A Complaint’ and one other poem of own choice – Compare how loss is shown with another poem. 

Now here, we have the horror question that comes up in every English exam, both Lit and Language. Lord knows what they have planned for you in June but this is not nice at all. I am in complete agreement with my students this year. What fifteen year old or sixteen year old knows about loss in such a way as this and can write about it even if they wanted to?

Unfair, Mr Politician! Totally unfair!

Here is the poem they specified, if you chose this question over the other [if indeed there was a choice]. I am assuming this was the one you got today. If not then apologies.

A Complaint – Wm Wordsworth

There is a change—and I am poor;

Your love hath been, nor long ago,

A fountain at my fond heart’s door,

Whose only business was to flow;

And flow it did; not taking heed

Of its own bounty, or my need.


What happy moments did I count!

Blest was I then all bliss above!

Now, for that consecrated fount

Of murmuring, sparkling, living love,

What have I? Shall I dare to tell?

A comfortless and hidden well.


A well of love—it may be deep—

I trust it is,—and never dry:

What matter? If the waters sleep

In silence and obscurity.

—Such change, and at the very door

Of my fond heart, hath made me poor.

The theme of loss in this poem is countered with the idea of what he has or had in love through his relationship. It is the change in his relationship that shows the extent of the loss encountered. The tenses used like in “What happy moments did I count” tell us this is in the past and he is remembering something good, feeling that profound sense of loss. But the question I have is how far into that did you go, depending on how much time your teachers told you to spend on this question, given the length of the exam itself from start to finish?


If you then chose another poem from that which deals with loss, like Neutral Tones, with its sense of greyness symbolising the dullness of loss or the sense of hopelessness that loss brings to a person, then you did okay in this exam for this question. It is impossible for me to assess how well or not you did because you had choice of poem for the second one, but was your essay balanced? Did it cover both? Did it compare, as asked to, saying how one was similar with the other? If so, then Bravo You!

Q3 Compare Poems ‘British Summer’ and ‘The Month of May.’

This, I believe, is the unseen poetry one which usually is a single poem, so for them to add in a second and say you have to compare them is for me, just plain wrong. GCSE English Literature is hard enough in the first place without making it harder for you, making it more likely you might mess up a question like this. Analysing unseen poetry is an artform and so long as you used the ‘Unlocking a Poem’ sheet ideas from this website, you should have done well on at least one of the poems, but did you compare them both with each other?

See this page to see how to compare poems…


In the end, this was not an easy examination, but the set text extract should have been okay, given which ever text your class studied, but at the end of the day, it will all depend on how well you were taught, how well you learned and how well you revised, to see on the day what grade you get.

Do not be disappointed in late August either way. Just enjoy the experience of this Lit exam which is now over forever [for most] and revise like mad for the Language exams for the one question that will nobble most students is the Language and Structure question in each paper. Language is easy enough, but folks get stuck on the idea of structure. For that, remember my posts on here for the three levels of attack: Word Level analysis, Sentence Level Analysis and whole Textual Analysis. If you write following such a structure, writing a paragraph for each [1.5 sides A4 total?] or one of your own making to make it easier, then you will Ace the two exams in June and be full of smiley faces afterwards.


Happy hunting!






The Lit Exam – Easy or Tricky?

Some students who come out of the GCSE English Literature examinations saying one thing; “that was easy, Sir.” They say this for one of two reasons. Either they have revised, worked hard, been taught well and done well in the examination, or they have rushed the question, not revised as well as they could do and done what they think is a good answer, but one that will in fact get them no higher than a G or an F in old money, or a 2 or 3 in the new ways of marking the thing.

So, how well did you do today?


My student that I tutored read and studied three texts: Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, Shakespeare’s Macbeth and the great play, An Inspector Calls. He says, in round about words that the questions for his first exam were as follows [might not be word for word]:

Macbeth: How is Lady Macbeth portrayed in the sleepwalking extract? How is guilt shown elsewhere in the play?


An Inspector Calls: What is the significance of money in the play?

How did you answer these if you took this exam board question?

It was the first Edexcel examination so seeing this might give you some tips if you need a resit in November, or if you are looking at this next year and trying to figure out how the hell to answer such a question as these. The fact that he was unable to give me the Dickens question is a bit of a bind, for it is my favourite novel of all time, but that is for the second examination and so there is still time for me to write a later blog piece.

So here goes on the two from today.

Macbeth: Lady Macbeth the Sleepwalker

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Given the fact that I have not been given the exact text to work from it is difficult to see where it starts and where it finishes but the fact that it is a separate two part question says a lot. Normally, you would answer the first question and be expected to say something about the guilt she feels in the rest of the play in your answer. But here, they have split it to make it easier and so you will see the need to write [using those lovely PEED chains] about both sides of the question.

What would you include? Well, in the first part, you might write about the following:

  1. She is sleepwalking out of guilt
  2. Her mind is fractured because of the bad things she has done
  3. She cannot control or switch off the feeling of helplessness
  4. As such, she is damaged goods
  5. But then, she did ask for hell’s demons to unsex her earlier in the play
  6. She feels the nature of what she has entered into because the human heart cannot take such a thing as killing another human being

Guilt in the rest of the play

In the end, there is so much guilt to choose from. Here are just a few ideas for you to consider. They are not meant, if you took the exam today or whenever it was and you then read this and think oh dear, I did not put half of that in, to annoy you. If they do, then apologies from the outset, but they are meant to make future learners think about the depth of their answers.

  1. Macbeth feels guilt as soon as he does the deed
  2. He feels the guilt of Banquo’s death and sees the ghost. Is that not his fractured mind also at work? [compare to Lady Macbeth and get more points]
  3. There is the guilt of going to the witches for assistance
  4. There is the guilt of others for allowing Macbeth to do what he does; Macduff for not being able to protect his family etc

Guilt is resident throughout this play. It is there because the writer, Mr Shakespeare himself, wanted us to think of certain themes like this. He was writing around the time of the arrival of James 1st onto the throne in England and Shakespeare is almost saying what would we need to do to get rid of a monarch? How could it happen? It is pure conjecture of course, but can be seen as a muse for writing. The history of the Scottish battles, found in different texts [Holinshead Chronicles] will have had some influence as well. It is even possible to see the previous Queen, Elizabeth 1st, as being partly an influence. She is a strong woman in a man’s world and knows what it means to be so. With these and other possibilities, it is possible to run out of paper in an examination very easily.

But what of An Inspector Calls?

What is the significance of money in the play?


Written as a social criticism at the time against capitalism and its insidious activities in our lives, this play is a critique of how the rich treat the poor, how the employer treats the employee in a time before British benefits systems were invented. You worked and you got money to live. You didn’t and you ended up in the Workhouse. Sad, but true! Very Dickensian, I know, but true.

So to see a writer defining the importance of money in one’s life, one has to write an essay in terms of how one group of people in the play see money and how the other sees the need for it. The question is begging for you to compare the rich and the poor and their attitudes to income.


Here are a few ideas for you…

  1. The employer – Birling Snr – his sense of superiority over everyone
  2. The drunken party goer – Birling Jnr – a lost sense of family
  3. The employee – needful of employment to live, fearful of losing job
  4. The rich friend – keeping the little woman, male and female stereotypes
  5. The Good Samaritan – helping others out when we can
  6. The rich family – their attitudes to their wealth, keeping it in the family
  7. The workforce – How they are needful of the factory
  8. Inspector Goole – His comments on how one treats the other
  9. The Social Comment – the criticism being made of those who have at the time

There is so much more I can think of and that is without looking at the text in full, or revising it. I have not read it or taught it for about ten years, but they are the things that bounce back into my memory because it is such a memorable little play.

So how did you do?

I hope in August that you find out and it is good news from both Lit exams. When you take the next one, in a few days time, remember what is said here about depth and detail. Then it is time to revise for the Language exams in June and knock them into the stands when you answer. Remember, for all your English exams, write using those lovely PEED chains where needed and do not stop writing, for the more you can offer to the examiner, the better chance you have of scoring higher than predicted. If you only offer one page when there are four or five given for you to use, then do not expect much more than a 3.


It is up to you now. Time to get revising!