Moving your literature teachers to be more daring

It is pretty well known that when it comes to choosing the works you will study in your syllabus, teachers are in control, in most cases, of the process. Many considerations play into this: the school situation in terms of boards which have oversight of schools, budgets, personal preferences, and school aims and philosophy. Nevertheless, sometimes teachers can be invited and nudged to go in new directions and sometimes, just sometimes, you can have a role in that. So let’s say there ...

Sound should make sense: better poetry commentaries

Sound should make sense: just as the poet uses sound to enrich the meaning as well as the emotional and pleasurable aspects of poems, so should you try to write sensibly about the linking of sound to meaning in your commentaries.  What does the poet gain by manipulating the sound possibilities of language? One of the challenges candidates face when so writing about poetry is how they can usefully address the sound effects that are both present in and intended by ...

Abstract? General? Vague?–or just not understood?

Here’s something we often find as students try to express their ideas about the literary works they’ve read, and it’s captured in statements like these: ‘The causes of the hero’s death are abstract.’ ‘The town is presented in abstract terms in the poem, rather than with particular features that give the reader a clear sense of the setting. ‘The final outcome for the married couple in the ending of the play seemed to me abstract.’ ‘The moon acts in frightening, abstract ways in Lorca’s plays.’ It’s ...

Sometimes it’s fine to be ‘fresh’

Though being 'fresh' as in "Don't be fresh with me, young man, 'said his mother curtly'  is perhaps a little archaic in usage, working to get your writing to be 'fresh' is a goal worth aspiring to and will offend no one.  Our previous 3 sets of tips on writing have addressed some important and basic ways to improve the ways you present your writing, but this 4th one moves to a different but equally important level.  And it has ...

Writing tips #3: Get to the point!

Some of us (teachers and students alike) are handicapped in delivering what we want to say in the most direct way (17 words) --or to put it another way-- we all have trouble being direct (6 words). Sometimes this weakness arises from a love of words, sometimes from being inattentive, sometimes because we don't really clearly know what we mean to say. Here are some common evasions of directness, clarity and persuasiveness that often appear in IB writing. A good exercise would ...

Writing tips #2: Conventions make readers happy. . .

. . . and a happy reader (examiner) is likely to have a friendly response to what you write.  So as your final effort for 2016, the one where you are determined to 'get better' and eliminate the nasty gremlins in your writing style, give your writing an honest look at these three matters: The convention of punctuating a work's title in your essays and responses to questions. The convention of only talking about one thing at a time, a ...

4 sets of writing tips to last a lifetime

Whenever I have surveyed my students in the Literature course as to why they have chosen the course, the leading answer is 'to improve my writing.'  After that comes 'because I love reading.' So over the next months I am going to try to boil down some common problems that undermine your delivery in writing (and sometimes speaking) of what you want to say.  Some of these will be very basic and repeated errors that will make your current academic ...

‘Let us contemplate evil’

“Let us contemplate evil’ Sheridan Baker in his Practical Stylist begins one of his chapters with this invitation about ‘evil. And he offers us some evil practices that will keep you from becoming the writer you could be. So here is the second set of tips plus one. The one you really need to get rid of is the following practice: ‘emphasize on’ In idiomatic English, all you need to write or say is ‘emphasize’ followed by whatever it is that is emphasized. So ‘Fitzgerald emphasizes ...

Facing up to the IA assessment: the dreaded oral

This is a tough one, and there's no doubt about that.  Here are a few bits of good advice selected from various teachers. Collaborative advice from teachers for HL/SL candidates facing the IA for Part 2 Preparation through the year Take good notes in class, mark up your poems or passages, and all of your Part 2 works, color code, so that you have easily accessible materials to revisit for review for both the IOC and the HL discussion. Pace your review, ...

Existentialism in brief

Just in case you're not willing or able to take on the whole of Sarah Blakewell's At the Existentialist Cafe, (New York, 2016) I thought I'd provide you easy access to some points from her summary on page on page 34.  Sometimes it's good to just have a solid reference point to play your ideas against, particularly if you are reading works by Sartre or Camus.  These, remember, are her 'take' on some important facets that she sees in the ...