High Point, Low Point, Cardboard Box

I had a bit of a breakthrough moment with some students the other day in terms of Paper 1 Question 3 of the AQA English GCSE.

I did a dance in class. My students didn’t think it was a dance and to be fair they were (probably) right – some of them do dance BTEC and it wouldn’t even have ticked the boxes for the pass criteria. However, I think it may have helped with the question.

In many ways, considering structure in writing is like examining how a great dancer fuses flashdance with MC Hammer.

An issue a colleague of mine had unpicked was that quite a number of our students had been approaching question 3 by going through the text in a linear fashion – exploring structural features at the beginning, then in the middle, then at the end. Interestingly, this appeared to be limiting the points they were making. In their minds they were overcomplicating it or getting confused and writing too little. She’d worked out that a beginning, end, turning point approach was helping her students. I tried this and, like her students, mine began to move forwards. However, in some of the sample papers and the papers teachers have shared on Twitter, either the ending is the turning point or the turning point is so close to the ending that students find it tricky to spot the difference – sometimes there isn’t a turning point at all and sometimes the line is blurred between the ending and the turning point.

My revelatory moment came (and this is very straightforward so be prepared not to be shocked but it’s helped students so you may want to use it) when I began to use the terms high point and low point alongside turning point.

  • Where is the high point in the tension?
  • When is the low point in the protagonist’s happiness?
  • Where is the turning point in the character’s luck?

Of course, you could use climax and anti-climax as other, more literary terms are available, but having these three terms has just begun to help my students get a grip as they feel more consistent.

Plus, I get to do a bad dance.

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