Teaching guide: works - literature
This guide has been written for all A-level modern language teachers, particularly benefit of those with little or no experience of teaching literature. It includes advice on selecting the right text for your students, time and staff planning, resourcing your teaching, ideas for exploiting texts in class and how to prepare your students for success in the AS or A-level exam.
Choosing texts from our list
The AQA prescribed list of literary texts offers language of an appropriate level of length and difficulty with subject matter rooted in the target language country to stimulate AS and A-level students. You may choose a text from the list which corresponds with your own tastes as well those of your students. If you’re enthusiastic about the text it’s much more likely your students will be too.
Texts are mainly modern, but there’s also an opportunity to study older texts which have been proved accessible and popular in the past. You may wish to select a text which supports your teaching of other themes in the specification. Alternatively, you may feel the text should be an opportunity to explore different aspects of the target language speaking culture.
You may want to investigate the availability of support materials. It would be wise to have the school library stocked with any support materials you can find and share online resource links with students. You and the students will find these invaluable when preparing the text.
Specialist websites provide ready-made support materials such as lesson plans and handouts, but make sure you check them for quality. You may prefer to adapt them or design your own. You may wish to collaborate with other colleagues to create and share support materials.
Your school may use specific sources which allow books to be obtained at a discount. Search online for the best value source. Editions with additional notes may be worth buying if they exist. The European Schoolbooks is a good source of texts.
Electronic version of the book
If the school or students have appropriate devices you may prefer to use an electronic text. It is preferable if all students have the same source to make page referencing easier, even if they use different devices.
Advantages of an e-text
- You can project text on to a screen and highlight, for example, particular sentences or phrases. You can use ‘hide and reveal’ techniques once you have text you can manipulate.
- With the Kindle any notes and highlighted text may be picked up in an Amazon account from where they can be pasted into a word processor (Amazon, Kindle, Fire and all related logos are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates).
- Searching for an elusive quotation may be easier.
- The text is accessible from a range of devices: tablet, kindle and phone.
- Words are clickable for meaning (definition in the target language or translation).
- Some out-of-copyright books are free.
- Students may find it convenient to read an e-text whilst keeping a second window or device open for an online dictionary or dictionary app.
On the other hand some students and teachers may dislike reading from an e-reader and long term cost may be greater than buying printed texts which may last a few years.
Time and staff planning
Many schools and colleges have found that the second year of the A-level course is best for working on literature. Depending on staffing availability, you could have one teacher allocated a certain number of periods a week for the autumn or spring term to work solely on the literature.
Some departments like to begin preparatory work in the post-exam period in the summer term after the first year. If you are the lone teacher with the class you may prefer to split your lessons between language and literature to provide variety during the week.
AS alongside A-level course
If you have students studying a one year AS course alongside the two year A-level in the lower sixth, you will need to teach a literary work (or film) during that year. You will want to begin preparing your text, resources and lesson planning well in advance. Gained time in the summer term may be useful for this.
How to approach teaching text
If you have never taught literature at AS and A-level before, you could view this is as an excellent way to develop your own knowledge, skills and enthusiasm. If you prepare your text carefully and are clear in how you approach your teaching you will bring expertise to the task and your students will derive great pleasure from the work.
You may like to include this area in your personal performance targets. This area could also form part of a departmental target. Do not forget that there is plenty of expertise out there to help you: colleagues in your school, forums, blogs and commercial websites.
It’s a good idea to prepare students for the content of the text. You could look at the life of the author, study the setting of the book or the historical context of the book.
You may do themed vocabulary work if the text features a particular range of lexis. You could introduce a range of generic language which students will find useful when reading and discussing the text: character, narrative point of view, themes, plot, structure, style, imagery and rhetorical devices.
You could let students read the text for themselves if you think they can cope with it, but this may present a risk if they are likely to find it demoralising to read a major text on their own.
Students doing the two year A-level course may want to read the book over the summer holidays before returning to school or college in September of the second year.
When you teach literature you are still teaching language. You may use as much target language as possible when doing question-answer, pair work, reading comprehension worksheets.
Many teachers find that they like to use some English when discussing harder areas. You can cover some discussion points in English before going through them again in the target language.
Reading aloud is a source of listening practice, can allow for practice of pronunciation and intonation and can ensure that every student has read the text carefully at a slow pace. You may choose to read aloud key sections of text to ensure that comprehension is sound. It’s probably unwise to spend large amounts of time reading aloud, but some classes may need a higher level of guidance than others.
Challenge of lengthy reading
Ideally you’d like your students to have read reasonably lengthy texts before embarking on a novel. Could you include a short story or extracts from literature in your scheme of work before you begin your exam text?
Many teachers have reported that their classes really enjoy the literature element of A-level. If you share your enthusiasm, guide them carefully, fine-tune your teaching in ways described earlier and teach them to be analytical, they will nearly always come to enjoy the work and develop their confidence.
Your students should feel a sense of achievement and by teaching them to read analytically about experiences from another country you’ll broaden their view and develop a key transferable skill for life. Don’t forget to explain that by reading at length they’re building up their general proficiency in the language as well as learning about an aspect of the culture of the target language country.
Integrating literature with other aspects of the course
Try not to see language and literature in isolation. You can do all kinds of language work with your literary text and look for other language resources which may support the themes of your book. You could prepare retranslation tasks – passages in English based on your text to be retranslated into the target language.
Texts offer plenty of opportunities to work on morphological patterns – nouns to verbs, verbs to nouns, adjectives to adverbs and so on. The text may also be a launch pad for oral activities such as information gap tasks, question-answer and presentations.
The text clearly offers excellent opportunities to develop the skill of translating into English, necessary for the rest of the AS and A-level exam. You might select key passages of the text for this, so students simultaneously develop detailed comprehension and translating skills. However, if you spend too much time translating into English you will limit the amount of meaningful listening input and oral practice students receive.
This is hard to control, but you would be wise to discourage reading of the text in English. Some students may use this as a short cut and thus limit the amount of target language reading they do. We know that extensive reading in the target language improves acquisition so ensure that students do their reading.
Some teachers may feel that certain students would benefit at a later stage from a more rapid reading in English when preparing for the exam.
Reading critics in English
Reading critics in English may be a good idea if the source material helps students to comprehend more difficult ideas. However, target language sources help students develop their language and provide a good source of language which may be recycled or adapted for essays.
Class and home reading
Some close, guided reading in class is a good idea, but students should develop their ability to work independently, so much reading will be done at home or in the library. See how much you can rely on your students to be independent. If they need more support, provide it.
Studying the text
There’s a wide range of oral, reading and writing tasks you can do while studying a literary text. These texts are just another example of written language. There’s a variety of tasks you might use with any non-literary text.
- Teacher or student read aloud.
- Play a recording of extracts of the text read by the author (these are occasionally available online) or a foreign language assistant, if you have one.
- Have your assistant come in and read sections of text.
- Do question and answer (oral and written).
- Do gap fill.
- Do true/false/not mentioned exercises.
- Correct false sentences.
- Make up questions or true/false statements.
- Answer questions in English (for harder areas where lack of proficiency may hinder discussion of complex issues).
- Brainstorm vocabulary.
- Do jigsaw reading (put jumbled sections of texts into the correct order).
- Complete vocabulary glossaries.
- Find synonyms and antonyms.
- Do matching tasks (eg starts and ends of sentences).
- Translate into English.
- Retranslate into the target language.
- Answer multiple choice questions (oral or written).
- Summarise chapters orally or in writing.
- Do dictation and paired dictation.
- Write essays.
- Watch videos of interviews with the author where they are available on YouTube or elsewhere.
- Write imaginary dialogues between characters.
- Write a book review.
- Use online text manipulation software to work on individual passages.
- Write an obituary of a character.
- Write a diary extract from the point of view of a character.
- Do matching tasks along the lines: ‘Who would have said….?’
- Complete sentence starters.
- Write an imaginary interview with the author.
- Summarise a biography of the author.
- Do individual online research into the author for a presentation.
- Go through model essays from exam board sites, other students or written by the teacher.
- Design a worksheet as if the student were the teacher.
Generating target language discussions
A common approach is to have students read a section of text or chapter in advance of the lesson, with a worksheet to guide them (eg questions, true/false, tick true sentences, matching and so on). The focus of handouts would be on meaning rather than linguistic form. In class you can use answers as a basis for
communication and development of points.
If students are not very forthcoming treat an extract as if it were just any other text and design tasks to elicit responses as you would normally, perhaps focusing on factual matters before you move on to analysis.
Help with vocabulary
You can provide students with vocabulary lists, which will ensure that you, as a teacher, have a firm command of the lexis. When you prepare your text you’ll probably make notes on vocabulary as you go along. Glossaries will speed up the reading process for students and make it more pleasurable. Dolanguages.com provides ready-made vocabulary glossaries.
The downside is students have fewer opportunities to develop their independence and dictionary skills. One common approach is to provide handouts with selected vocabulary along with comprehension questions or other exercises.
Planning: a four step approach
This general approach is widely used. Some groups will work faster than others, of course, and you will need to assess if every section of a work requires the same attention to detail. For timing you will need to take into account any assessment arrangements in your school.
- Do any pre-reading work eg background work on setting, theme or author.
- Read chapter by chapter, or section by section. Set reading for a week ahead with a worksheet for guidance. Expect about two to three hours to be spent on this. A week later use the worksheet as a basis for class discussion, explanation and clarification (wholly or largely in the target language). Establish a regular pattern and high expectations for punctual and thorough work. This may take at least eight weeks, depending on the length of the text.
- When the book is finished begin reviewing themes using some of the exercise types listed above. Make use of other sources: critics and study guides. Some of these might be in English. You might spend about three weeks on this.
- Prepare for assessment and practise essay writing.
You should study the assessment criteria (AO3 and AO4) in the specification very carefully and share these criteria with students. Students need to have a clear understanding of what performance looks like at each level.
AS alongside A-level course
If you’re co-teaching the one year AS and two year A-level, you need to distinguish differences in question style and assessment criteria. In the case of both exams, the emphasis is on relevance, sound knowledge and analysis, coherent structure and effective language to carry out the task.
As students build their skill at essay writing you may use these criteria for marking. You may feel this is better done later in the course when students are ready for exam style questions. If you apply the criteria to their first attempts students may be dispirited.
On the other hand, you may prefer students to know the demands of the task from the outset. Don’t forget that students will improve the quality of their essays with practice. Study the exemplar essays on aqa.org.uk, along with commentaries.
Share them with students and get them to analyse their performance against example essays and assessment criteria.
Writing effective essays
Students will need to develop their essay technique through guidance, modelling and practice. There are all kinds of written work you can do before students write fully-fledged essays. You can use questions in the target language, correcting false statements, gap-fill, paraphrase, true/false, summary, writing individual paragraphs, introductions and conclusions, to name a few.
Some teachers say they prefer their students to start essay writing at an early stage to develop good habits. This may depend on your group. Remember that some of your students, particularly any studying English literature or film, will have more experience of this type of analytical essay writing than others. You may encourage students to read each other’s essays. You’ll need to allocate lesson time for timed essays in the run-up to exams.
You’ll want to provide lists of good essay phrases, effective exemplar essays (available at aqa.org.uk) and examples of essays written by peers or the teacher. You will want to provide students with as many essay questions as you can. A-level questions demand a deeper and broader analysis than AS questions.
You need to prepare students for challenging questions which will demand a high degree of analysis. You should take your lead from the specimen question papers provided by AQA.
Timed essay writing
Students may perceive the essay to be the hardest exam challenge. However, if they are well rehearsed in technique and have good knowledge they will cope very well. Close analysis of mark schemes helps them refine their technique and realise sound knowledge, analysis, good structure and relevance are rewarded as well as language range and accuracy. Superficial, descriptive and irrelevant essays will score low marks.
Examiners judge the overall quality of the essay and apply the assessment criteria. Although they are provided with lists of points they may hope to see, this is not exhaustive and any valid points will be rewarded. There are no ‘set answers’.
Mark schemes will not specifically reward the use of direct quotations from the text, but students may find they can exemplify points of content effectively through quotation. Some texts may lend themselves very well to direct quotation, but close textual reference is an equally valid way to justify points and arguments.
Students will need individual copies of texts which they can annotate in pencil. You may prefer an electronic text. Consider the cost over a period of years and the ease of note-taking from a student’s point of view. It’s common for students to write pencil notes on printed texts and for those texts to be reused for a few years. If a printed text is covered it will last longer. Hardback texts are more expensive but have a longer life span.
Make sure the school library is stocked with printed resources: at least one extra copy of the book in case a student mislays their own copy or leaves it at home, any published study guides in the target language or in English, any accessible works of criticism in the target language or English.
A list of web links to reviews, summaries and criticism is also helpful.
Suggestions for online and printed resources which may support your work:
- Dolanguages – Resources for French, German and Spanish texts offers paid-for packages of worksheets, ideas, model essays and vocabulary lists. A good range of texts from the prescribed lists are covered. Resources include vocabulary lists, grammar tasks, comprehension questions and essay writing with model essays.
- Modern Foreign Languages Resources for Teachers of Spanish, French, German has free resources on Boule de suif, Candide, Bonjour Tristesse, and Como agua para chocolate.
- www.frenchteacher.net has paid-for resources on L’Etranger.
- Glossary of Literary Terms for the AP Spanish Literature and Culture Course
- TES Resources site has a range of useful resources, some of which you may find appropriate for your students. Other resources, many free, may be found online. Always make sure resources are accurate.
- For French you can explore the Profil and Fiche de lecture series. These are short study guides.
- For German try the Königs Erläuterungen series of study guides. These cover some of the works on the list.
- For Spanish you can explore the series entitled Critical Guides to Spanish Texts. These study guides (in English) cover a number works on the list.
- Hodder and OUP have been selected to enter our approval process for AS and A-level French, German and Spanish. These resources will include guidance on teaching both films and set texts. Any enquiries relating to these resources should be made directly to the publisher.