Approaching AQA GCSE English Language Unit 1 Section B

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The path to enlightenment – expertise as an expression of self-sacrifice

Approaching AQA GCSE English Language Unit 1 Section B

Talking about chain reactions and how our actions can have unforeseen consequences. On Friday morning’s Year 9 assembly, two Year 11 students representing the school’s charity committee came to introduce this year’s chosen charity – Himalayan Trust, UK. Images of devastation caused by the earthquakes in Taplejung, Nepal, in April this year were beamed to the big screen. As a school, we raised over £15,000 for a Ripon-based charity, Dementia Forward. The challenge was clear – could we raise more this year? First, we needed a slogan.

As the teacher who was supposed to take my group in Guidance in period 4 was off sick, I decided to investigate into this year’s charity choice with my Form. After taking a look at Himalayan Trust’s website, we began to widen our search for inspiration for a slogan to enter for the competition. As described in one of my blogs, I encourage my Form to take part in competitions, we had won a few titles, and it would be nice if we could come up with a winning slogan. Then I stumbled across an old BBC4 documentary: Climbing Everest with a Mountain on My Back: the Sherpa’s Story. We watched the first half of it. But, there’s no slogan yet.

Hindsight, who would have thought that the delay was only for an unexpected fruition in a later lesson in the afternoon. Fast forward to my Year 11 lesson, revising for their mock English Language Unit 1 examination in a week’s time. The writing task was our focus.
We had been using a past paper with education as the focus of the reading material.

Question 5: 

“Choose a place that you have visited on holiday, or a place that you would like to visit. Write an article for a travel magazine that describes the place and explains why it would be a good place to visit.”

Roll on Climbing Everest.

As we watched, I found my attention quickly turning to the narration. I listened carefully, marking its structural and stylistic features and examining how we responded to the different features in the human story. Then, I had a thought. Why don’t we approach those two writing tasks in a similar style? I stopped the programme and announced to the group that I was going to try a new method with them.

By the time we reach Section B, many of us will be tired and our brains are probably struggling to be creative. We can do with a routine that can be readily deployed whatever the question. After all, the skills involved are typically, describe and explain (with a bit of persuasion thrown in); advise (with a bit of explaining to do) and argue (a kind of persuasion again). Based on the questions from the past 5 years, the genres invariably include letter, articles for magazines or newspapers, and increasingly blogs for online publications. Regardless of the tariffs of 16 (10 for over effectiveness and 6 for technical accuracy) and 24 (16 and 8 split), the demand is clear – the content has to make an instant and favourable impression. But how?

The following was a brief summary from me for them to try, following my analysis of the documentary narrative. Obviously, there are more following-on activities planned, too. First off, enter EPASSPORT:

Expert knowledge

  • The writing has to show high level of knowledge of your topic. Start by looking at your own passions and their related subjects. Demonstrate the level of knowledge fit for University Challenge or Master Mind.

Proper nouns

  • The number of proper nouns will illustrate how thoroughly you know your subject, the more specialised the more powerful they are.

Appeal to emotions

  • Include a range of thought-provoking elements (reflective, dramatic, humorous and serious) that appeal to contrasting emotions (awe, wonder, joy, sadness, etc.). One way of achieving this is use one paragraph for one purpose.

Sensory description

  • Again, another way of doing this is by focusing on one particular sensory imagery in each paragraph: visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory and gustatory.


  • Staggering statistics captures imagination. For example, it explains in Climbing Everest, it can take from one to one and half hours to melt ice into 1 litre of water at Camp 6, 8600 meters above sea level. Obviously, it’s not everyone who gets to climb Mt Everest, but do you know any unusual facts, or even factoids, or trivia, of your interests? Use them.

Punctuation (this part of the acronym is for the technical aspect of the answer)

  • Use a full range of punctuation – .,:;()–…?!””

Opening words

  • Open sentences with verb-ing, double adjectives, adverbs or other discourse markers.

Rhetorical devices

  • In addition to repetition, rhetorical question, figurative speech, and hyperbole, etc., vary your sentence types and lengths, too.

Tense agreement

  • Make sure that you use appropriate tense for the task.

It is a well-known fact that the writing questions almost always centre around issues relevant to young people: health, diet, holiday, sport, school, charity, social media and the great outdoors. Whichever one that appears in the exam, you can almost always relate it to your passion, travelling or Lego.

Remember, many of your peers from the more well-off background or who have attended private school will have been on several foreign holidays to visit some of the most remarkable countries or civilisations. They will also have had ample opportunities to pursue their hobbies to quite an advanced level. Without these real-life experiences, many of us will have to rely on learning them from what has been written about them.

I would thoroughly recommend specialising in at least one popular holiday destination.

Let’s head to Nepal.


About W. S. Lien

Tweed Wearer - Country Lover - Teacher Researching Professionalism and Identity@Clare College, Cambridge - Keen Amateur Photographer - Devotee to Poppy my Labrador
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