Make English literature revision easier with this three-step process

2nd March 2017 at 18:15
Revising English literature
This three-step process for revising literary texts will help to cement students' knowledge and allow you to monitor their progress. Also, we list our top 10 English literature revision resources

For some students, English literature revision involves little more than rereading a text armed with a highlighter. So it pays to make it clear to students what revising a literary texts really involves.

One definition of revision is "study of work done in order to prepare for an exam", but this has limited usefulness. What exactly is the "work done"? And how do you define when it is "done"?

I find it effective to treat English literature revision as progressive, falling into three stages: studying a text, post-text and pre-exam. Literature revision is, therefore, "reconsidering and altering in the light of further evidence". 

1. When studying the text 

In this stage, students make notes on their reading before class, and on the discussion during class. Throughout this stage, I periodically ask them to sift through these notes (for example, at the end of a chapter or act) and write down the most significant things they've learned or observed and what they still need to understand or find out.

This is an opportunity for students to take ownership of the revision process, moving from merely taking notes to the higher analytical skill of making personal sense of their learning.

It also enables me to see what they have learned individually and whether they have taken on board the issues I want them to understand or consider.

The results of this revision approach can be disconcerting and surprising. You may need to dedicate a class to sharing, deconstructing and reconsidering some of the points articulated, but it's better to do this now than to leave students to wade through incoherent notes before the exam.

2. Returning to the text

The minutiae of studying literature can lead students to lose appreciation of how the parts make up the whole. An English literature revision class at the end of a block of study offers an opportunity for the class to reconsider and alter their views communally.

Instead of individual "final" essays on one topic, written and marked in isolation, five or six small-group presentations on different aspects of the text can help students to evaluate the text more dynamically.

Get the groups to choose from a list of topics or create one themselves. Sample questions could include "How differently is authority demonstrated in The Crucible?" and "What moments in Heart of Darkness help us to define the narrator?"

Further evidence-gathering and articulation of ideas is more useful than exam-writing practice at this point, and group work boosts individual understanding.

3. Exam preparation

Solitary revision of literary texts before an exam is often discouraging, but when revision is shared as a class it is much more stimulating.

I take each text in turn, divide it into sections for pairs of students and ask them to present their work chronologically during a single session. In this way, the text is brought alive as one coherent whole.

The students' brief is: to narrate their section vividly but concisely; to give it a heading and define some significant aspects; to identify one telling quote; and to pose one high-level question to which they may or may not have an answer – for example, "Does Jim in The Glass Menagerie kiss Laura for his own pleasure or for hers?"

This approach gives you the chance to see where students are in their understanding and to contribute to this for the final time.

This is an edited version of an article by Elizabeth Stephan, a teacher at Hockerill Anglo-European College in Hertfordshire, England. She is the author of IB English A Literature: Study and Revision Guide and has taught in Japan, Europe and the US


Our top 10 English literature revision resources

1. Tackling technique

This revision workbook provides a useful set of revision tasks on the language paper to help students get to grips with exam technique.

2. Key quotations

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

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. Perfect answer

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

6. 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.

7. Exam enlightenment

This comprehensive revision aid covers a range of elements in both the language and literature exams and is also great for assisting students with SEND.

8. 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.

9. On-point analysis

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

10. 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.