Ever wondered how you can use your favourite box set to help with your IB English studies? Read on!
Make sure you know these so that you can comment authoritatively on them. The earlier you get yourself familiar with these, the better – that way you can spot them as you read, and they will flow when you are writing your paper 1 essays! Examples are: theme, symbolism, motif, irony, imagery, narrative voice, point of view. Themes are the “big” things the story is about – love, death, power, betrayal, revenge – these would all be suitable for Game of Thrones, as an example of a fantastic complex plot with many notable narrative devices! And sticking with that example, the throne symbolises ultimate power. A motif, which is a recurring aspect that means something important – dragons, stand for mystical, magical and maybe uncontrollable! There is a strong “elemental” imagery of fire, ice and other throughout. The point of view constantly switches, which we call “omniscient” point of view! In some novels the point of view is restricted to one character even though it is third person!
We really want to pull that text apart (not literally!). Why has the author said it this way? What effect does that particular way of saying it achieve? Close reading is the notoriously picky part of IB English writing, but if you can master this you’re onto a winner. It is easy for students to be general, but I find it’s the real level 7 students who habitually do this (and you can all do this – if you do it enough, it becomes habit!). We need to have a close ear for language here. As a first step, underline interesting lines in the text, then think about why they are interesting, what do they reveal about character, what do they achieve?
Need I say more? Make sure you learn some relevant quotes that you can use. One idea is to group them according to main theme, e.g. 10 quotes on Love, 10 quotes on Death, 10 on Religion etc. Make sure you have quotes for all the main characters. you could also group your quotes according to “literary criticism” angles like Feminism or Marxism – yes, you will be looking at critical theory! The earlier you start this process, the less you will have to actively learn your quotes – they will just become familiar to you. Trust me on this.
Have a checklist of these. You can divide them into more technical aspects like rhyme scheme, rhythm, alliteration etc, and more meaning-based ones like metaphor, simile, symbolism, imagery. If you are intimidated by poetry, tackle it first in your overall revision! Once you master the main devices, you have a template for approaching a poem and will never again be faced with a mental blank! Is the rhyme scheme abab or abba? And more crucially, why? For example, Thomas Hardy – who you are very likely to come across if you haven’t already, either in poetry or prose form, often uses this “enclosing” abba rhyme scheme which creates a feeling of being trapped, and often echoes the theme of the poem (refer to his poem Neutral Tones if you want to see this amazing device in action!) A very structured rhyme scheme is an aspect of more older, traditional poetry, whereas modern poetry is more flowing, so you need to listen out for “sound” and internal rhyme. Read poems out loud – you will understand them in a completely new way! Make sure you know your iambs from your trochees…(more on poetry in a forthcoming blog!)
Again, practise this from the outset – it is crucial, not just in English IB but in all academic essays. Your essay should have an introduction, a conclusion, and a main body with paragraphs arranged by theme. Your introduction will give brief overview of what you intend to discuss – which novel, the central question and your argument, or any critical approach you will use. Your conclusion should really, summarise the argument you have made in your main body.
Your paragraphs should each lead logically one to the next. If there is a central argument, which there usually will be, make sure the reader can follow this thread. The best way to ensure your essay has a good structure is to plan in advance! Your planning need not take a long time, just jot down some ideas in a logical order and then refer to this as you write.