Here are some useful approaches for teaching the structure question:
- Start with literature texts that they know well
Beginning with texts from their literature GCSE reduces the difficulty: students already know the content and can instead entirely focus on the elements needed for success. This approach works well with question 4 too.
Providing an abstract representation of what an answer requires allows students to develop a transferable mental model that they can then apply when practising.
More often than not, structural analysis can be expressed through reader response. In order to answer why a thing is in a certain place or why a certain order occurs within a text, it can be helpful to think of the effect on the reader. Perhaps we realise something? Perhaps we are encouraged to make a link to something else? Perhaps there is an interesting contrast or difference between two bits? Because structural analysis often deals with larger components (the descriptive opening/the fast-paced dialogue/the linked beginning and ending), students don’t necessarily always need to use quotations and can instead make indirect references to the text in order to substantiate their ideas.
2. Use films and the camera analogy
Structure can be explained by drawing an analogy with camera work in films: what the writer is focussing on or foregrounding is similar to what a director has chosen to shoot.
Car chase scenes often have cliched and predictable cinematography and there are certain camera shots that are almost ubiquitous in such sequences:
The teacher can model lots of oral or written examples of these:
The writer zooms in on the driver’s hands gripping the wheel, so we realise that she is concentrating hard and struggling to manoeuvre the car due to the high speeds.
The writer focusses on the front car wheel which is turned and smoking, allowing us to realise just how fast they are going and that the edge of the road.
The writer changes the focus to a panoramic shot, describing how the car is weaving through a traffic jam, making us realise how dangerous the car chase is and that one error will result in carnage.
Students can then complete half models provided by the teacher, each one with less of the steps completed:
The writer zooms in on the speedometer so we realise…….
The focus changes to smoke coming out of the bonnet……
The writer changes the focus to……..
3. Address common misconceptions
Students often drift away from structural analysis into language analysis and it is worth addressing this error up front. It is also worth being explicit about avoiding vague explanations.
4. Guided Practice
Initial practice should be guided and the teacher can remind students of the what is required in their response:
This support should be faded out as quickly as possible and the goal of guided practice is accurate performance. Students will begin to develop their fluency and later trials should require students to finish in incrementally shorter time periods. Guided practice should involve students making specific checks when they finish the task. Students should label their answer, demonstrating where they have included the three elements (structural phrase + text reference + why is that bit there).
5. Lots of distributed independent practice
Once students have demonstrated accurate performance in guided practice, they need to do plenty of distributed, independent practice, writing in response to as wide a range of relevant texts as possible. The goal of this part of an instructional sequence is fluency and generalisation and this practice seeks to increase the flexibility of their knowledge. Overlearning is important here and students should continue to practice beyond the point that they are able to perform well within a sufficient time limit.