English Literature

Developing Detailed Explanations

Today, my colleague read the following in an essay response: “The phrase ‘he is dead’ from the poem confirms that the person is dead”. As much as this caused a giggle, this is evidently a student who is struggling to conceptualise ideas and to grasp what ‘interpretation’ really involves. Many students seems to fall into the “clear” and “explained” section of the mark scheme, however with a some directed note taking and revision, could transition into “thoughtful”.

This is an activity I stole from a colleague and have remained faithful to ever since. It seeks to encourage students to think about interpretations from a metaphorical or symbolic perspective – this is not just for higher ability students; I have seen some fantastic ideas from a range of abilities.


The aim is to encourage and enable broader and more original interpretations and for students to put it into writing (a follow-up task to the main event above). The image can be whatever you choose – a beach scene, a tree, a city. Students must begin with the key strongest part of the image, in this case, the trunk. My students decided this must be the Inspector from An Inspector Calls. From there, the rest of the characters are added along with what they represent. Naturally, quotations or context should be added. I would always encourage students to explain to me WHY they have chosen certain elements of the picture to reflect/represent the chosen elements of the text. Many can be interchangeable.

Once the image, notes and quotes are complete (this took my set 2 students 20 minutes), they are presented with either a character or theme based question. In this case, I chose character as this is what I had asked them to focus on. They produced one paragraph in which I expected them to articulate what they had presented in their picture. They then had to underline/highlight this as below:


Here, you can see that the interpretations directly link to the picture, where Mrs Birling is symbolised as a bird and therefore, “looks down from her lofty perch”.

Categories: English Literature

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