GCSEs: Three tips for better literature revision

This three-step process for revising literary texts will help to cement your students’ knowledge

Revising English literature made easy

When you reach the point in the year where all the books have been read, the poems have been learned and the plays has been studied, it's time to go back and go over it all over again.

But just re-reading the texts isn’t enough, according to experts such as Professor John Dunlosky of the department of psychological sciences at Kent State University, Ohio.

So what revision tasks will work? Here's a tried-and-tested three-step approach:

1. Interleave 

Ideally, you should have been interleaving revision all the way through the year, as Laura Tsabet suggests in her blog, but if you haven’t, it’s not too late to start.

An easy way to use interleaving is to open each English lesson with five questions that cover the four different parts of the literature exam: Shakespeare, pre-19th century, modern text and poetry.

Tes writer Rebecca Foster has helpfully curated a whole host of these questions on her blog.

The questions might look like this:

  1. Where does Shylock say he was when Antonio “many a times and oft..rated” (insulted) him?
  2. How many people shoot at the looter in Remains?
  3. In An Inspector Calls, what is the intended effect of the change of lighting?
  4. Which serial killer was still at large at the time Conan Doyle wrote The Sign of the Four?
  5. Who says “I am unwell. Send me the papers for me to sign.” Shylock or Sherlock?

By mixing up your revision topics, you keep the knowledge of each text fresh in the students’ minds.

Not only that but you also provide the opportunity to make connections between them.

If a student couldn’t grasp what you meant by dramatic irony when you were explaining the significance of the Titanic in An Inspector Calls, it might click when you explain it in The Merchant of Venice, enabling better understanding all round.

2. Mix your media

Using audiobooks and still images to revisit texts can help students to picture the texts and understand their meanings on a deeper level.

Often on a first reading, students are just grasping the plot. In class, you’ll now want them to re-read to understand the concepts on a deeper level and start to make important connections between events in the text.

Alongside these different versions of the text, you should also use exemplar essays to help students understand what their analysis could look like and the sort of phrasing they should use to express their ideas. This will demystify exactly what it is they’re meant to be looking for.

3. Focus on vocabulary

In the poetry clusters of the anthologies from AQA and Edexcel, there are more than 100 tier two words in the dozen or so poems students are expected to study.

These words can prohibit the students’ access to the text, because they will either lack the confidence to tackle a piece of analysis that would require them to use the unfamiliar word, or worse, they make an incorrect analytical point using the word.

A great example of this is from Charlotte Mew’s The Farmer’s Bride. The use of “down” didn’t register with the students on first teaching: they all thought they knew what it meant.

When I made reference to the hair/animalistic characterisation of the bride, they nodded in agreement because, yes, that’s what happens all the way through the poem. I thought they understood.

They thought they understood. But they didn’t. It was only on returning to the vocabulary and pulling out each word abstractly using this worksheet that it clicked for them: “down” meant “hair”, he was describing her hair as if she were an animal.

Now, they understood the reference, and it provided them with another example to illustrate their analysis.

Our top English literature revision resources

Key quotations

Ensure students have a thorough grasp of literary texts with these killer quotation activities, suitable for any literary text and particularly useful for closed-book examinations.

Rigorous revision

This bumper revision planning grid offers a guide to helping students to develop the skills needed to analyse unseen prose extracts. It is easily adaptable and could also be used to plan ideas for descriptive and narrative writing exercises.

Rhyme reasoning

A comprehensive presentation on how to analyse poetry in a simple way. It considers the poetic techniques and devices of language and structure.

Perfect answer

These poetry revision sheets aim to add an extra dimension to students’ practice revision essays and assist them with annotating texts.

Quick peek

These revision cards contain small, manageable chunks of information and interpretation about a wide selection of popular poems and texts. They can be used as a starting point for more in-depth exploration.

Exam enlightenment

This comprehensive revision aid covers a range of elements in the language and literature exams and is also great for assisting students with special educational needs and disability.

Power of persuasion

These revision lesson resources cover individual, pair and group activities, and are an informal assessment tool to help students to spot and talk about a variety of persuasive techniques.

On-point analysis

These handy revision guides recap the different ways to read and analyse non-fiction texts and respond to exam questions.

Terms of success

This memory game aims to help cement the definitions of literary terms in a fun and engaging way, and can be used as a starter or plenary activity.

Visit our revision hub and wave goodbye to stress during exam season. It’s packed with tips, tricks and techniques that can help set your students on the path to success.

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