English Literature Gcse Poetry Coursework


I’m going to level with you, the Edexcel IGCSE English Literature examination paper makes me very nervous indeed. We’ve been preparing students to undertake this examination for several years now – using the full range of available texts to try to see if there are any patterns to achievement – and, as every member of my department would testify to, we still do not feel especially confident we can predict how individual students will do.

As an example, our most recent cohort achieved almost 20% better A*-B compared to the year before – despite our prediction they would do slightly worse. Now, we’ve happily lapped up the plaudits for our excellent practice, but when we’ve sat and considered a variety of recalled papers, we’re not quite sure we can see why Student A in 2013 achieved 25/30 whereas Student B in 2012, with a very similar response, achieved 15/20. Hence our sense of trepidation every time May rolls along.

To try to mitigate this worry, we therefore seek to work very hard indeed on ensuring our pupils produce the most effective coursework pieces possible. This is not as easy as it sounds: a casual reading of the specification and the examiner’s reports makes clear that there is a distinct lack of clarity as to what a good coursework should look like.

What I will attempt to do across this guide is to outline my department’s practice – alongside a range of exemplar material – to show how we interpret the marking criteria and how we go about ensuring our pupils gain access to the highest marks of which they are able. It is worth noting that we have been highly commended in all of our moderator’s reports for the approach of our pupils in this coursework.

What Does the Edexcel Specification Say?

So, if you are choosing Paper 3, it means that you have decided your pupils will do better on a coursework unit, rather than undertaking Paper 2. By inclination, I think I would probably prefer my pupils to take wholly examined courses, but as mentioned above, I just do not think that there is enough consistency in performance in the examination for me to feel confident advocating this. Therefore, we made the decision, annually reviewed, to push ahead with the coursework unit.

This coursework is worth 40% of your pupils’ mark (but is marked out of 30 – don’t get me started on this unnecessary oddity) and is based on the study of all of the poems from Section C of the Edexcel Anthology. You can see the mark scheme for this coursework here.

I very much like the range of theme and meaning that is explored across this poetry collection and I think there is huge scope for pupils to find texts that really speak to them.

  • If Rudyard Kipling
  • Prayer Before Birth Louis Macneice
  • Half-past Two U.A Fanthorpe
  • Piano D H Lawrence
  • Hide and Seek Vernon Scannell
  • Sonnet 116 (‘Let me not to the marriage ...’) William Shakespeare
  • La Belle Dame Sans Merci John Keats
  • Poem at Thirty-Nine Alice Walker
  • Telephone Conversation Wole Soyinka
  • Once Upon a Time Gabriel Okara
  • War Photographer Carol Ann Duffy
  • The Tyger William Blake
  • My Last Duchess Robert Browning
  • A Mother in a Refugee Camp Chinua Achebe
  • Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night Dylan Thomas
  • Remember Christina Rossetti

Once all of these poems have been studied, pupils are required to submit one assignment that is based on a selection of “at least three poems” in depth and must “make reference to at least three further poems.” I will return to a discussion of this rubric in due course, but for the moment it is worth highlighting that this one assignment needs to be making reference to “at least” six poems.

The suggestion in the specification is that this coursework should be “between 1000 and 1500” words. It’s worth pausing and reflecting upon that for a moment. A coursework, worth 40% of the final mark, which analyses six poems in 1000 words. I’m not really sure what that would look like if I was to attempt it, let alone a fifteen year old.

Fortunately, Edexcel note that there is “no penalty for exceeding this guidance” – thus, I very much encourage my pupils to consider 1500-2000 to be the norm and this seems to have worked well. It is worth remembering that it is not really worth allowing your pupils to produce thousands and thousands. If they should be able to gain access to the top band with 1000 words, it seems pointless to produce reams and reams. Likewise, if your pupils are going to go on to study English at A Level, you will actively be doing them a disservice if you allow them to produce pieces of insane lengths – there may not be penalties for being overlong at GCSE and iGCSE but there certainly are at GCE.

Usefully, there are several example question put forward within the specification which can help you formulate your own ideas:

  • Several poems in the anthology explore different forms of possessiveness. Explore this theme, referring to three poems in detail and to at least three other poems from your wider reading.
  • Explore how different poets treat the subject of coping with loss, referring to three poems in detail and at least three other poems from your wider reading.
  • Rejection takes many forms. Explore this idea, referring to three poems in detail and to at least three other poems drawn from your wider reading.

What I quite like in the range of poems that are supplied in Section C is that this coursework does not automatically mean that GCSE coursework becomes a study in bleakness. Too many courses I have taught in the past have required pupils to study texts that seem almost wholly concerned with death, murder, violence and despair – there are actually a couple of fairly jolly pieces here! However, returning for a moment to the rubric which talks about “at least three”. Is the suggestion here that six poems is not optimal? That actually, the most able pupils are expected to take the initiative to consider more widely? I have been unable to really get clarity on this – all I can note is that we have not yet entered a coursework piece where more than six poems have been considered and it has never been fed back to us that there has been a lack in our more able pupils.

What are the Pitfalls?

For my department, it very quickly became clear that there were quite a number of problems arising when preparing pupils to write this coursework. First of all, this is an essay in which a minimum of six poems are mentioned. If we look at an examiner’s report – we see that this requirement is utterly key:

Compliance with the new requirement for the reference to three wider reading poems in addition to those for detailed study was uneven in some centres. Candidates varied between referring to 3 to 6 poems in total.  Some, but not all, centres had taken account of this in their marking.

So, that is three poems from the anthology poems that you have taught them, and then three others from wider reading. So, what status do these ‘wider reading’ poems have? Should you explicitly teach them to your pupils? Should you suggest possibilities to them? Should you wholly leave it up to their independence to seek out appropriate works? In my department, we all tried a mix of these techniques – trying to ensure that we were in the spirit of a specification that seemed to want us to encourage wider reading, but also – naturally – nervous that this is somewhat a challenge for some of our pupils. One colleague produced a very interesting ‘Wider Reading’ booklet in which the works chosen echoed across the concerns of the Anthology works. Personally, I specifically taught – very briefly – a further seven or eight poems that I thought appropriately echoed the themes.

This did mean that the first time we did this, the term became very poetry-heavy. We seemed to have weeks and weeks where we just ploughed through a different poem every few days. This was not a lot of fun for anyone – pupils or staff. Of late, I’ve encouraged that we drop in the ‘wider reading’ poems holistically across the life of the specification. Last year, I had a ‘Poetry Wednesday’ whereby we looked at a poem – regardless of what else we were doing – on a Wednesday: meaning pupils had quite a large bank of poems from which to draw by the time we reached the stage of completing the Literature coursework. As my own poetic tastes tend to run to the Modernist, this did become a bit “weirdo-of-the-week” but I felt it increased the engagement with a wide range of different writers to which pupils might not otherwise have access.

It is worth noting that Edexcel would like copies of the ‘wider reading’ poems that are mentioned in candidates work included in the sample. However, how should pupils write about these ‘wider reading’ poems? Edexcel offer some very vague parameters:

The treatment of these wider reading poems varied greatly. Though the specification only asks for 3 poems to be studied in depth and reference to 3 further poems, some candidates treated all 6 poems in equal detail. There is no penalty for this but in many cases it was done at the expense of real in-depth analysis of the anthology poems or of clear focus on the topic. At the other extreme some references were extremely cursory – no more than, for example, “Another poem about childhood is Roger McGough’s ‘First Day at School’” or “’Digging’ also has a lot of metaphors”.

So, if we try to come to terms with that advice, it appears that pupils should not write too much about the ‘wider reading’ poems – i.e. not in equal depth as they write about the three anthology poems- but they should write more than just cursory comments. I’ll show the approach we took to not falling into either of these two traps later on in this guide – but it is somewhat stressful for the teacher to have to work out how to judge what is ‘too much’ and what is ‘cursory’ in an essay where the suggested length is 1000 words.

Secondly, with this number of poems in play in one response, should the pupils be making comparisons between them in order to construct their essay successfully? When looking at the mark grid, it is very clear there are no marks available for making any such comparisons. Again, take a moment to let that sink in. Pupils are to write on quite a large range of texts, but are not explicitly expected to draw any comparisons or contrasts between these six poems. I hope I’m not the only one that finds this somewhat counter-intuitive.

To muddy the waters further, the 2011 examiner’s reports make clear:

Most candidates structured their work to draw comparisons between the wider reading poems and the anthology poems. This is not a requirement of the specification; it did, however, make it easier for candidates to integrate the wider reading.

So, a measure of comparison seems to be the way in which Edexcel envisages the piece developing. However, they are not going to have marks for those comparisons specifically rewarded. Although they acknowledge this makes it ‘easier’ to integrate wider reading. Again, I’ll show how we go about trying to untangle all of this ‘advice’ later on in this guide.

Finally, in terms of pitfalls to avoid, the key aspect for access to the top mark bands is for candidates to display “detailed knowledge of the poems” – including the ‘wider reading’ poems. So, there is an explicit need – within 1000 words, remember – for candidates to analyse all 6 poems in such a way that demonstrates ‘detailed knowledge’. The anthology poems should have the most said about them, but it is to:

- be expected that those in the higher bands would draw out and analyse one or two points of the [wider reading] poem and explain the choice; those in the middle would develop some idea of the poem and why it was chosen, and only those at the lowest levels would have nothing more to say than naming the poem and theme. 

Again, let me draw your attention to a suggested length of 1000 words. Reading back over this guide so far, I feel perhaps I have been unfairly critical of the exam board: I do actually greatly enjoy teaching this coursework, feel the pupils get an awful lot from it and I very much enjoy reading what they...

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The rationale for this post has been explored here .  My intention is to provide an outline and resources to help students in Year 10/11 approach “the Beast” – the 6 poem coursework extravaganza that gives 40% of their IGCSE marks…

The task requires careful planning and is the nearest i get to a scaffold at this level.  I try to encourage clear planning of each paragraph, let alone the essay as a whole and I am working on a model of roughly 3 paragraphs for each “major” essay with the “minor”poems being used as links between the majors – roughly a single paragraph for each.

Here is the teaching outline: coursework 2015


I also referred in the original post to John Thomsett’s excellent post on Janus Sentences: janus sentences


This booklet was prepared by a colleague: Jade Boyle.  It is a cracking piece of work.

Y10 Lit coursework booklet

I attach a set of EDEXCEL sample essays for information and recommend that all students look at these.  It is brilliant to write in a manner which is a consistent comparison, but Edexcel are clear that direct comparison is not needed and I recommend the 3-1-3-1-1-3 outline as a good starting point.

Examples High Mark Courseworkf

Exemplar Materials 4ET0 03 June 2014

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