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This is a workbook intended for students studying for AQA GCSE English Language, Specification A. Although forming part of the Language syllabus, this is in fact a collection of poems from the AQA Anthology. They are all poems from different cultures or traditions and most are written by non-native speakers; some of the poems, such as 'Half-Caste', feature non-standard English. In total there are sixteen poems, and they are divided into Cluster 1 and Cluster 2, eight poems each. Poems by Imtiaz Dharker and Grace Nichols are featured in both clusters, whilst Cluster 1 also includes poems by Chinua Achebe, Nissim Ezekiel, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Edward Brathwaite, Tatamkhulu Afrika and Denise Levertove. Cluster 2 additionally has poems by Sujata Bhatt, Tom Leonard, John Agard, Moniza Alvi, Niyi Osundare and Derek Walcott. In the exam, students have a choice of two questions, one focusing on the poems of Cluster 1 and the other on the poems of Cluster 2. Many schools only teach poems of one cluster so as not to overburden their students, but this does of course mean that there will be no choice of questions for them in the exam. To study all sixteen poems in detail would be a tall order, especially as there are a good number of other poems to study for the English Literature exam, but a knowledge of three or four from a second cluster could make a difference in the exam.
Section 1 of this workbook gives the full text of each poem on the left-hand-side of the page, along with a very brief piece of information on the poet and a 'poem dictionary' (glossary) where necessary at the bottom. On the right-hand-side of the page is a series of questions on the poem, each question followed by dotted lines as a space for the answer. The first question usually focuses on some aspect of the language of the poem, and may simply require giving two or three examples of imagery. Further questions centre on meanings and ideas, such as:
Why does the poet act violently at the end of the poem? (for Afrika's 'Nothing's Changed') How does the poet create the effect of being in a dream? (for Nichols's 'Island Man')
There are altogether either five or six questions on each poem, and the final one always requires the student to choose a phrase from the poem that they particularly like or dislike, and to explain why. This will encourage the student to express their personal feelings about the poems when answering exam questions.
Section 2 concentrates on the themes of the poems, be they themes concerning politics, identity, people, particular places, metaphors, and so on. Each of the fourteen themes has one page devoted to it. At the top of each page, the poems that deal with the theme in question are listed in a blue box; the number of poems in this box ranges from four to ten. The first question is of a general nature and does not refer to any of the poems in particular. Here are one or two examples of these initial questions:
- If you were to write a poem about a political issue, which issue would you choose and why? - Write a couple of sentences about a change that has happened in your life.
This type of question sets the student thinking about the theme itself, perhaps in the way that it relates to them personally and so it begins to take on more meaning. The second question usually requires choosing one of the poems from the box at the top of the page and relating the theme to it, for example:
- Choose a character or group of characters from one of the poems at the top of the page. How does this person / do these people mix with other people in the poem? (This could focus on Achebe's 'Vultures', Bhatt's 'Search for my Tongue', or Alvi's 'Presents for my Aunts in Pakistan', for example.)
Question three names one of the poems and asks the student to compare a certain aspect of it to one of the other poems of their choice from the Anthology. This is exactly what the student will have to do in the examination. Here is one such example:
Compare the use of metaphors in 'This Room' (by Imtiaz Dharker) and one other poem. Compare: the types of metaphor used what feelings and attitudes are expressed by the metaphors how important you think the metaphors are to the overall impact of the poems.
The fourth and final question on each page is again an exam-style question, similar to question 3.
The CGP series of books always uses a sprinkling of silly humour throughout to make things seem a little less boring for students. The brief introduction, for example, says 'It contains lots of tricky questions designed to make you sweat - because that's the only way you'll get any better. It's also got some daft bits in to try and make the whole experience a bit more entertaining for you.' Some of the questions are worded with a similar tone, whilst others are perfectly serious.
This is a workbook, and there is an accompanying study book that will present all the facts that students need to know. So far, however, I have been unable to track this study book down in shops or on Amazon, but it is available from www.cgpbooks.co.uk . A separate answer book for the workbook is also available at a cost of £2.00.
I do think that this is a useful workbook for students who are aiming to achieve Grade C at the highest. Having the full text of the poem alongside the questions is ideal, and the initial question on each poem is usually straightforward, requiring a brief answer, to draw students in easily. Answering the questions in Section 1 will make it clear what the most important aspects of each poem are. Section 2 will show what the predominant themes are that are likely to feature in exam questions, as well as giving a list of the poems that could be compared for each theme. The final two questions for each theme are exam-style questions, and the only drawback is that no space has been left to answer these, whereas in the exam forty-five minutes should be spent on a detailed answer. This answer should of course be written on a separate sheet, but students should not presume that they only need to write a short answer. Practice in extended essay answers is absolutely necessary.
This workbook would not be suitable for very able students who are expecting to achieve a Grade B or above in the examination. There is a study book and accompanying workbook in the same series aimed at those studying for the Higher level.
GCSE English AQA A Anthology The Workbook - Foundation Level Coordination Group Publications, Ltd, 2004 Paperback, 48 pages ISBN 18414668797 Price £6.00 (Amazon £5.70; Amazon Marketplace from £3.23)