Cambridge IGCSE® First Language English: a literature based approach

Experienced international teacher and teacher trainer, Jane Arredondo, has worked with pupils studying English as their first or as an additional language for over thirty years. Currently, she is an examiner and IB Diploma level Workshop Leader. Here, Jane shares her approach to building language skills through literature.

Jane Arredondo

I have always found poetry, where diction is fundamental to meaning, particularly useful in reviewing and consolidating language skills

Using a short literature text (poetry, prose or drama) where words and syntax have been employed for a particular effect in a language lesson helps students not only examine the writer’s craft but improve their own use of English in a variety of ways.

While students will not be asked to ‘do’ a poem in any of their Cambridge IGCSE First Language English assessments, literature, and in particular poetry, is an excellent means of reviewing language at both word and sentence level. Try this activity from the new First Language English for Cambridge IGCSE, to see how colour-coding a poem can be used to review grammar and increase active vocabulary usage.

Get students thinking about how language works

Start by putting the colour code on the board: blue for verbs, red for nouns, yellow for adjectives and green for adverbs. Then give students a copy of Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll. Many will already know the poem, and most will say ‘the words don’t mean anything’ – but they do!

Read the poem aloud to the class, emphasising words such as ‘slithy’, ‘mome raths’ and ‘galumphing’. Dramatising these words helps students to hear whether they are verbs, nouns or adjectives. Ask students to work in pairs to colour-code the verbs and nouns in the first stanza. Put the stanza on the board and ask how they know which words are which. Now, using yellow, they should identify adjectives in the same stanza. Take feedback and review how adjectives work in sentences. Before moving on, look at the syntax of the first stanza and discuss how it functions as a sentence. Ask students to think about what constitutes a sentence and create one of their own using invented or unusual words, or words from Jabberwocky. This helps students to see how individual words function in the context of a phrase, clause and sentence, and is very useful preparation for the Cambridge IGCSE First Language English Reading paper.

Encourage creativity in writing and speaking

Once you have reviewed parts of speech and syntax in the first stanza, ask your class to work through the rest of the poem in pairs, making lists of nouns, verbs and adjectives. You could ask them to select at least two invented words in each category and substitute them with real words. Finally, students should choose a stanza or a section of the poem and re-write it in prose as part of a fantasy novel. This will bring together and consolidate all they have been doing during the course of the lesson and enable them to see how reading literature can improve their writing. Later, you could ask students to read their work aloud in groups. This serves to reduce pre-oral assessment self-consciousness and encourages risk-taking.

I have always found poetry, where diction is fundamental to meaning, particularly useful in reviewing and consolidating language skills. Using colours in textual analysis helps the more visual and kinaesthetic learners and can be employed with any type of written text. Everything here is directly useful for the Cambridge IGCSE First Language English assessments and also helps develop language and thinking skills for A Levels or the IB Diploma course.

First Language English for Cambridge IGCSE

Wholly engage students and build the key exam skills

A fully comprehensive course with a grounding in literature that engages students while cementing all the crucial exam skills and knowledge.

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