Saturday, 26 November 2011

Mind Maps and Radio4

With some of the BFTF crew now well into his secondary education, BFTF has been looking ahead to see what English GCSE questions are like these days. This is, of course, a much easier job than it was a couple of decades ago as many papers and even answer schemes are available on-line. So, after downloading a suitable past paper, BFTF asked No1Son to have a bash at one of the essay questions.

No1Son decided to to take the option in which the student has to write a short essay from the following perspective:
"Write about a time when you had to stay with a relative."

Further instructions were:
"In this section you will be assessed for your writing skills, including the presentation of your work.Take special care with handwriting, spelling and punctuation. Remember that this is a test of your ability to write descriptively."

He certainly managed to write plenty of text, in handwriting that (embarrassngly) was neater than that wihich BFTF has ever been able to manage. Having said that, he seemed to have taken the question to mean that he should write about every aspect of the stay in chronological order and throw in the odd adjective or two, as opposed to actually writing descriptively.

So BFTF suggested that perhaps No1Son should write about fewer items, but do so in a more descriptive way. For example, instead of "The living room had a 32" TV", perhaps one of the following might attract more marks :

"A modern looking TV sat in the corner, dominating the room"

"The glass screen of the TV gazed back at me, as if urging me to pick up the remote"

"Dust lay on the top of the TV, suggesting that cleaning was not a priority for this household"

"Like an overbearing robot awaiting instructions, the TV lurked silently in the corner of the room"

"The TV seemed too big for rthe room, as though we were in some kind of "Alice through the looking glass" world."

Also, to help No1Son consider other aspects of a story, rather than just focussing on a visual description and chronological narrative, BFTF asked him to draw a mind-map of all the different points of a story that he could mention. It has to be said he did a good job of this, and a schematic of his resulting mind- map is shown below:
BFTF wondered whether he was going over the top in his shopping list compilation procedure...
No1Son's comment on the mind-map, after using it a couple of times:
"It's quite good, it hepled me write better English. It gives me better ideas"

One other suggestion that BFTF made was the perhaps No1Son should listen to the "From Our Own Correspondent" programme on Radio 4. The language used by the reporters who contribute to this programme is often very beautiful, concise and evocative - and is therefore presumably exactly what you need to get a good grade in an English GCSE.

To take a few examples from a recent report by Andrew Harding from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC):
"We were crossing into the DRC from the tiny, orderly Rwanda, these days it's the musical equivalent of switching from a Strauss waltz to Iron Maiden"

(Regarding the town of Goma) "It's a dirty, bad tempered, mesmerising place"

"In the forests and hills around Goma, a wretched cast of militia gangs, rebel leaders and army factions, the remnants of Congos long wars, continue to wrestle for power."

"The candidate, a local favourite named Vital Camerra, is trying, not unlike a professional surfer, to cling onto a chair on the back of a pick-up truck that is pitching and swaying violently"

Dear Reader, do you have any tips on helping teenagers with their school studies (especially their English Language). If so, why not leave a comment below. . .

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