The Value of a Strong Introduction
An introduction serves a purpose and therefore it must be put together thoughtfully. An introduction is required for each question on the AQA Literature papers, except the final question in paper 2. A good introduction should go beyond simply reflecting the question or considering the key word – it should act as a frame for the rest of the answer, a foundation on which students can build and craft their response.
What does the examiners’ report say?
The structure of responses was much more dynamic and purposeful with many examples of introductions being used to frame the overall purpose and give clarity to the response as a whole. There was also much more evidence of higher-ability students knowing the value of setting out a thesis or concept to drive and shape their answer. At the other end, there was much less evidence of formulaic, acronym-driven structures which liberated these students and enabled them to focus on the key ideas in the question.
There are some important parts to unpick here when considering teaching students how to write, not only a purposeful introduction, but one that has the potential to drive a top-quality response. Important points to note:
- “Dynamic”: encourages teachers to move away from the formulaic PEEs and towards encouraging students to move more fluently through or between texts, themes and concepts.
- “Overall purpose”: conveys the importance of the response having core focus, a line of enquiry.
- “Setting out a thesis”: is perhaps most poignant; here students are encouraged to engage with wider interpretations and reading of texts, in light of the question, that they go onto explore.
Once a student understands a text and the various methods that a writer engages with, they can also consider the overall readings and interpretations that apply to that text. Rather than isolating particular characters and themes, students need to engage with the bigger ideas and this can be asserted in an introduction.
In teaching how to write a purposeful introduction, I ask students to consider three key elements:
- What is the HINGE word/phrase in the question?
- What MEANINGFUL comment/s can be made about the text in light of the question?
- What THEORY can be put forward about the overall text that you seek to explore?
1.Begin by considering the hinge word or phrase – what does the question hinge on? For example:
Compare how poets present the power of nature in ‘Storm on the Island’ and another poem of your choice.
2.Having read ‘Storm on the Island’, students might then comment on the extended metaphor used by Heaney to convey the brutal attack on civilian life during ‘the troubles’ in 1960s Ireland. Students may have chosen to compare the poem to Owen’s ‘Exposure’, considering how the deadly weather becomes the unexpected enemy to soldiers in the trenches during WW1. These comments are directly connected to the hinge word, are precise and have meaning.
3.Students may then consider that BOTH poets echo the fragility of human life when faced with the power of mother nature, when faced with a force that cannot be challenged or beaten. This then becomes the thesis for the response – a theory that can be driven towards, explored and weighed up.
Both Heaney and Owen convey the power of nature in ‘Storm on the Island’ and ‘Exposure’. The extended metaphor used by Heaney describes the brutal attacks on civilian life during ‘the troubles’ in 1960s Ireland. In comparison, Owen’s ‘Exposure’ considers how the deadly weather becomes the unexpected enemy of soldiers in the trenches during WW1. The poets echo the fragility of human life when faced with the power of mother nature, when faced with a force that cannot be challenged or beaten.
This approach can be engaged with in conjunction with precise vocabulary to support students’ wider thinking and to ensure that ideas are expressed in a way that is articulate and fluent, not formulaic or repetitive.
Categories: English Literature