Mastering the skills required for the GCSE English Language papers (both fiction and non-fiction) is one of the hardest challenges pupils face in the English syllabus.

Not only are you faced with multiple unseen texts, but you also have to pick-out language devices, explain the overall meaning and perspectives of texts, comment on structural choices – and explain why the author has made these decisions (and their impact on the reader). It’s a lot!

Students are often confident identifying techniques (i.e. similes, alliteration, juxtaposition), but less confident speaking about the effects these techniques create on the reader. This is important however, as across all exam boards – students are judged on their ability to explain language and structural points rather than simply spot them.

So, to help you prepare for the GCSE English Language papers – here’s a quick guide to some of the most common language and structural features and some ideas of how you can explain their impact on the reader.

Remember, these devices could be used in different ways in different texts – but this is just a guide to help kick-start your own thinking. Add your own notes on each term and have a go putting this into practice with some past papers.

Ready? Let’s get explaining…

Language Techniques – and their possible explanations and effects

Rhetorical QuestionsEncourages the reader to participate and ask their own questions. Can be used as a persuasive device, encouraging the reader to agree with your point of view.
Juxtaposition, Contrast, OxymoronSense of contradiction, author’s own confusion or uncertainty?
Rule of three / Tripling / Listing / Building layers of descriptionEmphasising a specific point, thing or perspective.
Personal anecdotes / Asides / Stream of consciousness / First Person PerspectiveCreating a sense of immediacy and personal connection with the reader – giving an insight into their inner thoughts.
AlliterationDraws the reader’s attention towards a specific phrase – reinforces things.
Metaphors, Similes, Figurative LanguageMaking the writing more interesting and engaging, creating a vivid picture in the reader’s mind.
Assonance (Os,Us etc.)Slows down the pace, increasing tension?
SibilanceCreates a sinister atmosphere, or more serene, whispering quality?
PersonificationMakes whatever it is seem like a living thing; an active participant.
Powerful VerbsCreates a sense of excitement and engages the reader.
Sensory Imagery (Olfactory (smell), Visual (sight), Auditory (hearing), Kinesthetic (touch), Gustatory (taste))Like figurative language – creating a vivid impression on the reader, emphasising descriptions.
ForeshadowingBuilds the tension, creates a sense of foreboding (negative) or excitement (positive).
Cacophony/Consonance (Harsh Sounds) vs Euphony (Pleasant, Soft Sounds)Creates a harsh/tense atmosphere or a pleasant atmosphere.

Structural Devices – and their possible explanations and effects

Repetition and Parallelism (Circular Structure)Emphasise a specific point, remind the reader of something… showing the author keeps returning to a central idea.
First person narrative perspectiveGives the reader an insight into the author’s personal views and experiences.
Third-person perspective / Omniscient narratorAllows the writer to present universal themes and lessons; allowing insights into various characters’ internal thoughts, as well as actions.
Chronological narrativeBuilds up tension, allows the reader to share in the author’s experience / journey?
Short impact sentence / short, abrupt statementsMaking the topic clear from the start, grabbing the reader’s attention (often after longer, more complex sentences).
Complex SentencesBuild up layers of description / contrasts with short impact sentences…
Flashback / Shift to Past-TenseTone of pathos? Emotive Nostalgia? Creating empathy in the reader.
Direct Address (You)Makes the reader feel more involved, as if the author is speaking directly to them.
Interrogatives (questions)Contrasts with declarative statements made in the text, creates a sense that the reader is involved in decisions?
DialogueWhat’s the tone of the conversations? Does it break up the pace of descriptive paragraphs and create interesting insights?
Enjambment (Poetry)Creates a flowing, conversational tone / or line-breaks suggesting the poet is struggling to hold their thoughts/emotions together?
Dashes or Caesura
(Often found in Poetry)
Slowing the pace and creating a more reflective tone – or suggesting choking back tears/emotions.

Tone and Feeling – and possible explanations and effects

Informal language / Colloquial Tone / Conversational ToneEngages the reader – often to emphasise a point.
Formal or literary toneBuilds a sense of authority or sense of narrative (perhaps contrasting with colloquial interjections?).
Gothic Tone / Horror TropesCreating an ominous, tense, foreboding atmosphere…
Personal OpinionsCommunicating the author’s unique point of view, often encouraging the reader to agree.
Hyperbole and ExaggerationCreates a humorous tone / emotive tone / opinionated and argumentative tone…
Emotive language (or emotive adjectives)Creating empathy/sympathy, sense of pathos, emotional engagement in the reader.

What terms would you add to this list? Do you agree with my suggestions on each?

Have a go using this sheet as a starting point for your own thoughts. Practice identifying and explaining both language and structural points, and you’ll be well-prepared no matter what the English Language paper throws at you. Good luck!

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