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Assessment

Analytical Writing: The GCSE Character Essay

Students write an essay on character having generated claims, selected and annotated evidence, and read a model essay.

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This resource is intended for educators in the United Kingdom.

At a Glance

Assessment

Language

English — UK

Grade

6–12
  • Democracy & Civic Engagement
  • Human & Civil Rights

Overview

About this GCSE Supplement

This optional GCSE supplement gives students the opportunity to engage with one of the characters from An Inspector Calls and write a character essay on Priestley’s presentation of that character. This is fundamental preparation for the English Literature GCSE.

This GCSE supplement is not a lesson, and does not need to be taught as such. It is structured in such a way as to ensure that the various steps necessary for writing an effective essay are outlined in an appropriate order: 

  1. Brainstorm ideas and generate claims
  2. Select the evidence
  3. Annotate the evidence
  4. Read a model essay
  5. Plan and write an essay
  6. Reflect on the essay writing process
  7. Respond to feedback and redraft

Engage with the supplement in the way that works for your class, adapting it to their needs and skipping out any steps they will not benefit from completing. 

This lesson is placed at this point in the scheme of work as, by now, students have discussed and studied all of the main characters: Eva Smith, Mr Birling, Mrs Birling,  Sheila, Eric, Gerald, and Inspector Goole. They will, therefore, have the full range of characters to choose from when selecting the focus of their essay.

  • Analysis (Lit-AO2, Lang-AO2)
  • Application of Contextual Information (Lit-AO3)
  • Clear and Coherent Writing (Lit-AO4, Lang-AO5/AO6)
  • Critical Reading (Lit-AO1/AO3, Lang-AO1/AO4)
  • Evidence-Based Reasoning (Lit-AO1–3/Lang-AO1–4)
  • Knowledge of Content (Lit-AO1/AO3)

Students prepare to write a GCSE essay on character. As preparation for the essay, students take a range of steps to boost their analytical skills, critically reading the text, applying their knowledge of context and using evidence-based reasoning. The range of analytical steps include: making claims, selecting relevant evidence, and annotating and analysing the evidence. Students also employ critical reading skills to rearrange, dissect and discuss a model essay, before writing their own. When teachers mark students’ work using Marking Criteria Codes, students are able to engage with the feedback and redraft, which helps students improve their writing skills. The models and sentence starters also help students develop as clear and coherent writers.

This GCSE Supplement includes:

  • 7 steps
  • 4 teaching strategies
  • 5 handouts

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before teaching this GCSE supplement, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

We recommend giving students a choice on which character they write about. The reason being that if students are able to choose which character to focus on, then they are more likely to make a choice that feels relevant to them. Recent adolescent brain research reveals that students are more likely to retain information that makes sense to them and that they find relevant. Moreover, students will find their ability to choose their focus empowering. It might, however, be wise to remove the character featuring in the model essay from the students’ list of choices, to ensure that students do not just copy what is in the model.

  • Teachers can choose from model essays based on two different characters: Mr Birling or Mrs Birling. There are two models for each of these characters. One model is suitable for intermediate-level students and the other, for advanced-level students. It is important that if students choose to write about one of these characters after studying the model essay that they generate an original claim and analyse evidence that they have gone through the process of choosing.
  • Please select the appropriate model for your students. You may choose to use both intermediate and advanced models in the same class so that your students can access the content at a level appropriate for them. If you do so, you would need to decide how students read the model. You could group students according to level and have them read the models aloud or ask students to read the models independently. 
  • Print enough handouts for students to read in groups of three or four.

We recommend that teachers use Marking Criteria Codes when reviewing students’ written work to help them develop the structure and content of their writing, and their written English. These marking criteria codes enable teachers to nurture their students as effective writers by giving them in-depth feedback, which requires proactive student engagement.

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Procedures

Suggested Activities and Steps

  • Inform students that when they are writing an essay about character, they will need to make a selection of claims about that character. 
  • To generate ideas about their character before they start making claims, have students respond to the following questions in their journals. Project the questions one at a time so students have time to develop their ideas. 
    • Who are you most interested in writing about and why?
    • In what ways do you relate or not relate to this character?
    • What lessons can you learn from this character that you can apply to your life? 
    • How does Priestley present this character in the play?
  • Next, have students move into groups of three or four based on their character. You might have more than one group with the same character. Invite them to share ideas from their journals, adding any new ideas about their characters to their journal responses. 
  • Then, have students move back to their seats and explain that they will be writing an essay about Priestley’s portrayal of their chosen character in the play, responding to the following question: How does Priestley present the character of [insert character’s name] in An Inspector Calls?
  • Ask students to generate 4–5 claims about their chosen characters. Each essay will contain an introduction, two or three paragraphs that explore one claim each, and a conclusion, so if students write more claims than they will need, they can choose the strongest ones for their essays.
  • Circulate around the room as students write their claims either under their journal entries or in their exercise books. 
  • Once students have identified claims, they will need to consider how they might link together to form a central argument that will thread through the essay. This central argument can be straightforward. For example, if students think that Sheila is presented in a range of ways, their central argument might be that Priestley presents the character of Sheila as complex. Students should then choose three claims that can link to this central argument throughout the essay.
  • Once students have identified the three claims they are making, they will need to find the evidence to support these claims. Students should be aiming to find two pieces of evidence per claim, and their evidence should not all come from one part of the play. 
  • To help students select appropriate evidence, you may wish to guide them through the Relevant or Not? teaching strategy. This should help them to distinguish between evidence that is relevant to support an argument and evidence that is not relevant to support an argument.
  • Alternatively, your students may be ready to start selecting their evidence. Remind them that they want evidence that they can do a lot with and that will be easy to remember. Let them know that it is best to avoid very long quotations. Have them select two pieces of evidence for their claim. Project the following questions on the board to help students during the evidence selection process: 
    • How does this piece of evidence support my claim?
    • Is it short, but rich? How can it be analysed in multiple ways?
  • Once students have selected their six pieces of evidence, explain that for each one, they must outline how their evidence supports their claim.
  • To do so, it is useful to first annotate the evidence, identifying any words or phrases to zoom in on and/or thinking about whether or not the evidence links to the sociohistorical context. Doing such a process can also help them identify the sorts of quotations that facilitate rich, in-depth analysis. 
  • First, model an annotation of a quotation on the board, thinking out loud to highlight the annotation process. You may wish to use the following questions to guide your verbalisation of the annotation process:
    • How does this piece of evidence support my claim? 
    • Is there a word or phrase that can be analysed in depth to support my claim further? 
      • What does it mean? 
      • How does this word or phrase support my claim about ______________________  [character’s name]?
    • Is this evidence relevant to the sociohistorical context of the play, either when the play was set (1912) or when the play was written and first performed (1945)? If so, how?
    • How might the audience respond to this evidence? 
    • Is there anything else that stands out about this evidence? 
  • Then, ask students to follow the same process. It might be easier if they tackle one claim and its two pieces of supporting evidence at a time, rather than annotating each piece of evidence in no particular order, as this may help them think about how they will link these claims together.
  • If your students would benefit from developing their analysis further, you may wish to give them the Developing Analysis Grid handout and ask them to fill in the sheet using their annotations to help them. Please note, if students are analysing two pieces of evidence for each of their three claims, then they will need three copies of this sheet.
  • Explain to students that before they will write an essay on how their character is presented in An Inspector Calls, they will read a model essay to help see how someone else has structured their essay and linked their ideas together.
  • Divide students into groups of three or four, and give each group an essay from either the handout Mr Birling Essay Models or the Mrs Birling Essay Models (both have an intermediate and an advanced model, so use whichever fits your class’s needs). Ideally, students should not read model essays for the character they will be writing about.
  • Ask students to read their essay in their groups using a Read Aloud strategy.
  • Then, once they have read the essay, ask them to discuss the following questions in their groups, annotating their ideas onto their handouts: 
    • What information is presented in the introduction?
    • What is the central claim made in each paragraph and what evidence is used to support each claim?
    • How are additional pieces of evidence incorporated? Can you identify any specific linking words?
    • What different messages does the author of the essay identify in the play? How do they link these messages to the context?
    • What does the author do in the conclusion? Why is this effective?
    • What is the central argument threaded through the essay concerning the representation of the character?
  • Next, lead a brief class discussion using the above questions or fielding ideas from the students about any confusions they had or what they thought did or did not work in the essay.
  • Ask students to sketch out the vague plan for their essay, which will respond to the question: How does Priestley present the character of [insert character’s name] in An Inspector Calls?
  • Project the following structure for them to follow as a guide: 
    • Introduction: contextual references?/summary of theme and/or claims and/or central argument? 
    • Paragraph one: claim + two pieces of supporting evidence
    • Paragraph two: claim + two pieces of supporting evidence
    • Paragraph three: claim + two pieces of supporting evidence
    • Conclusion: summary of essay/message concerning Priestley’s portrayal of the character 
  • Give students the handout Essay Structure and Sentence Starters and, if desired, model writing an introduction on the board to help get them started.
  • When students have finished writing their essays, put them in pairs to complete the Read Aloud Peer Review strategy, in which students read out their essays and then share feedback on how to improve each other’s essays. 
  • Finally, ask students to journal on the following prompts: 
    • What was the biggest challenge for you? How did you deal with this challenge?
    • What tools or activities helped you write your essay?
    • What could you have done to help yourself write a better essay?
    • What other support would you have liked from your teacher or classmates?
  • When students give you back their essays, consider using the Marking Criteria Codes teaching strategy to give in-depth feedback and to boost student engagement with marking.
  • Then, give students an opportunity to redraft their work, taking on board the suggested improvements. If your students write particularly impressive essays, consider asking the students for permission and using them as models in future lessons. This can make students feel very empowered and proud of their work.

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