At the heart of Eduqas’s English Language GCSE are accessibility and variety. This is important because if, like me, you’re an English teacher, you will welcome being trusted to teach a range of texts that will engage all students. And you will value the emphasis the specification places on choice and flexibility. So, at the start of this new academic year, as we (metaphorically) brush off the sand from our termly planners, it is worth taking some time to plan how best to deliver Eduqas’s English language GCSE.
Make the most of Eduqas’s resources
Eduqas has produced some essential resources to help teachers navigate the syllabus. As you plan your course, think about how and when you can make the most of the resources Eduqas has produced for English teachers. Its website has some excellent resources, including interactive activities on narrative writing, approaches to 19th century texts, a bank of text tools that allow teachers to use their own piece of chosen text to generate a range of activities, and much more. These activities are well suited for independent study, as well as pair work. They are fun to use and encourage the students to focus and learn, as they engage with the task.
In addition, there is the excellent Teacher’s Guide. This contains not only indispensable information on each part of the course, but also maps out a possible two-year course, term-by-term, fitting it alongside Eduqas’s English literature course. There are also practical ways of breaking down the assessment objectives into manageable, understandable and teachable tasks. All this, plus exemplar extracts, activities and guidance on answering questions.
And, of course, there is the specification itself. This will be a valuable aid over the next two years, as you answer those awkward questions, mid-lesson, that can disrupt the rhythm of your teaching. Getting to know the requirements of the course is always time well spent. And the fact that it’s written in clear, accessible language is also a bonus that English teachers will appreciate.
Emphasise the importance of close reading
Close reading is built into Eduqas’s specification, so when you are planning which texts to teach, think carefully about how layered and rich they are. You could begin by introducing them to the beginnings of your favourite novels, just to show how much a writer can intentionally pack into one or two lines. For example, here are some of mine, which come from different time periods:
Each of the lines in the table above can be read in a number of ways (why call him Ishmael? What’s his real name? Why the allusion to the Bible? How simple are beginnings to mark? When can we say anything really begins or ends? Why the very specific time of 4.48pm? Why will they find Flo?’)
There are so many different ways into these sentences that could help prepare your students for their examinations. One of the key areas to focus on is to show the writer’s possible intent. In section A of component one, candidates are asked very specific questions about an extract of between 60 and 100 lines. And they can quickly move from listing some features of the text to answering on what impressions the writer creates, to how does the writer create an effect. By teaching your students how to zoom in on key words and phrases, you are preparing them for more demanding activities, but ones that are built on those developing analytical skills.
From there you can move to section B of the same component where 40 marks are awarded for creative prose writing of between 450 and 600 words. You could have real fun playing around with the openings of famous novels: why not tell them to write 200 words using these first lines as their openings? Then get them into pairs and ask them to edit each other’s work down to 100 words, then 50, then 25, then 10…and then one. And from there you can start teaching them about theme. This teaches them vital skills, such as the importance of editing and writing under timed conditions.
Be imaginative with text types
Schools are encouraged by Eduqas to "increase depth, breadth or context within the specified topics to consolidate teaching of the subject content". This is your opportunity to introduce your students to a huge range of text types from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.
And these texts must be substantial, and work as good models for the students’ own writing. So avoid news feeds or transient forms of microjournalism, such as tweets or very specialist blogs, as these will not provide appropriate preparation for the examination.
Within each class you will have some students who love sport, others who are into gaming, probably even more who will be into music. Make the most of their interests by getting them to read. For component two, the emphasis is on comparing an extract from the 19th century and one from the 21st century. You could use past papers as a starting point here, but the better you get to know your students, the more able you will be able to challenge them to bring in appropriate texts for comparison. Give them the criteria, and let them expand their reading. Getting the right text that meets your requirements will be a challenge in itself for some students. Reward them for their reading and for knowing their audience (a key requirement for section B), and then get discussing.
Component three matters so get talking
Talking about talking…one of the best ways of developing students to be more assured students of English is to focus on their speaking and listening skills. Some students are very good at the former, but not so strong with the latter. Component three aims to address this. This part of the course does not contribute to the final mark, but it is reported on and that will matter to students. You can tie presentations and speeches into the written tasks you have taught elsewhere or ask them to talk about something they are passionate about. We often make sense of meanings by articulating them aloud – to ourselves and to each other – and from there we can begin to develop ideas in writing. Make the most of this part of the course and you’ll see progress elsewhere.
Plan collaboratively…and share
Eduqas’s bank of resources is accessible, flexible and free, but it is just a starting point and there are plenty of other places to find excellent guides to teaching the course.
But the most effective resources are often written by teachers because they know their students best of all, and every English department team will have different skills and areas of expertise.
Use them and then share. There are lots of platforms available that facilitate creating a community of professionals, including Microsoft 365, Google G Suite, Dropbox and Evernote. Working together allows English teachers to do something that they love doing: exploring texts, debating and getting creative.
There is also a growing number of bloggers, as well as teachers, sharing resources via Twitter. And if you do use social media then you will find that @eduqas tweets with a human face, responds to queries and regularly publishes lots of new material.
There have been many changes to the courses we teach our students, but hopefully the resources available to English teachers should help us plan and prepare exciting and interesting courses. And some things never change. One of the most important – and permanent – of qualities is that English remains an empowering subject that prepares our young people for life. More important is that it remains fun and engaging, both to study and to teach.
David James is deputy head academic at Bryanston School