My name is Richard Vardy and I’m Head of the English Department here at Reigate College. We’re really pleased you’ve chosen to study English Language & Literature A Level and we’re looking forward to welcoming you to the department in person at the beginning of the academic year. In preparation for this, we’d like you to complete a series of tasks over the coming months.
These are all independent tasks, but there will be the opportunity to come together and discuss what you’ve learnt with your fellow students when we start the A Level course in September. Please also remember to use this time to be reading as widely as possible.
All the tasks should be completed by Choices Day on 25 August. As well as giving you an insight into the A Level course, you should find them interesting and enjoyable.
The tasks will be released here in three phases:
Explore your Subject – 4 May
Exploring historical context
For A Level English Language & Literature you will study F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel The Great Gatsby. It was written in 1925, and is set in New York City during Prohibition, when the USA Government tried to ban alcohol. This era is known as the ‘Roaring Twenties’, or the ‘Jazz Age’.
It is interesting to consider how social and historical contexts influence the texts we study and this is an important skill you will develop on the course.
Look at this image of ‘The Roaring Twenties’. What do you think are some of the distinctive features of this period?
Now conduct further research into the ‘Roaring Twenties’ in the USA. These links may help, but feel free to find sources of your own.
Once you’ve made some notes on the text, read this extract taken from The Great Gatsby. The narrator, Nick Carraway, is describing a party at Gatsby’s house.
There was dancing now on the canvas in the garden, old men pushing young girls backward in eternal graceless circles, superior couples holding each other tortuously, fashionably and keeping in the corners—and a great number of single girls dancing individualistically or relieving the orchestra for a moment of the burden of the banjo or the traps. By midnight the hilarity had increased. A celebrated tenor had sung in Italian and a notorious contralto had sung in jazz and between the numbers people were doing ‘stunts’ all over the garden, while happy vacuous bursts of laughter rose toward the summer sky. A pair of stage ‘twins’—who turned out to be the girls in yellow—did a baby act in costume and champagne was served in glasses bigger than finger bowls. The moon had risen higher, and floating in the Sound was a triangle of silver scales, trembling a little to the stiff, tinny drip of the banjoes on the lawn.
I was still with Jordan Baker. We were sitting at a table with a man of about my age and a rowdy little girl who gave way upon the slightest provocation to uncontrollable laughter. I was enjoying myself now. I had taken two finger bowls of champagne and the scene had changed before my eyes into something significant, elemental and profound.
Now answer these questions:
How does the writer suggest the energy and excess of Gatsby’s party?
How might the contexts of the Roaring Twenties have influenced the language and ideas in this passage?
A significant part of the English Language & Literature course is devoted to the analysis of non-fiction. This means factual writing or speech, and is usually based on real-life events. It will help enormously if you are already familiar with the different types of non-fiction.
So, before the course, you should gather together examples of the following types of non-fiction text:
published diary entries and memoirs
famous public speeches
book, television and film reviews
Once you have a good range in your collection, take notes on how the writer (or speaker) of each text uses language which is appropriate for audience and purpose.
There are also three literature texts on the English Language & Literature course, including The Great Gatsby. A Level English students enjoy developing their ability to read with greater insight and sensitivity. They also enjoy making connections between texts. You should read as much fiction as you can in the coming months. Keep a brief reading record with the following headings:
Why I chose this book
What I like (or dislike) about this book
What I find distinctive or interesting about the way the book is written
If you are unsure what to read, here are a few suggestions we think you might like:
Monica Ali, Brick Lane
Margaret Atwood, Surfacing
*Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
*Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights
Albert Camus, The Stranger
*Wilkie Collins, Armadale
Philip K. Dick, Electric Dreams
*Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
Sebastian Faulks, Engleby
Aminatta Forna, The Memory of Love
Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere
Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
*Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge
Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
Cormac McCarthy, The Road
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
*Edgar Allan Poe, The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Writings
Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea
Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things
J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
*Bram Stoker, Dracula
Miriam Toews, A Complicated Kindness
*H G Wells, The War of the Worlds
*These titles are all available as free e-texts online. Please read other books if you are unable to get hold of any of the above list – they are just suggested titles and the most important thing is that you keep reading.
You should complete this section of tasks by 1 June.
Get Going – 1 June
There are many different ways to
describe the world we live in.
A Level English Language and Literature students should always be aware that written or spoken texts tend to express a point of view, or to be written or spoken from a particular perspective. In other words, they express an ‘attitude.’ An ‘attitude’ is the writer/speaker’s personal viewpoint on a given topic.
Non-fiction texts, such as newspaper articles or autobiographies, are written in response to a ‘real-life’ event. You will read and analyse lots of these texts in the first year of the course. Sometimes, news reports seem to be ‘neutral’ and descriptive, but reading closely, we can see that they actually have the purpose of persuading us to share the author’s perceptions, thoughts and feelings.
In fictional texts too, such as in a novel or short story, we should always be alert to how and why different attitudes/points of view about the world are expressed.
Sometimes these attitudes are expressed explicitly by the characters.
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald and set in New York in
the summer of 1922, is one of the set literature texts on the course. The first-personnarrator, Nick Carraway, likes to express his
point of view to the reader. He is also a main character.
So, he both plays a part in the story AND
he tells the reader what happens. When we read the book, there is no avoiding
Nick’s voice, and his point of view.
In the first chapter, Nick leaves his
comfortable middle-class home in the Mid-West of the USA and arrives in New
York. He rents a cottage on Long Island, just across the river from Manhattan.
Next door to his cottage, Nick sees a house. Eventually, he discovers that it belongs to Jay Gatsby, the mysterious protagonist of the novel.
Here is the house as it appears in the 2013 film of the book.
Now, here is the description of the
house from the novel. Read the sentences closely.
‘I lived at West Egg. . . my house was . . . squeezed between two huge places that rented for twelve or fifteen thousand a season. The one on my right was a colossal affair by any standard — it was a factual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool, and more than forty acres of lawn and garden. It was Gatsby’s mansion.’
Now answer these questions:
What does Nick
Carraway think about Gatsby’s house? Is he impressed by it, or not?
can be detected in the language he uses to describe the house? What can we
assume about Nick from the way he describes Gatsby’s house?
Can we also
assume anything about the owner of the house, Jay Gatsby?
Detailed and accurate language
analysis is another key skill on the A Level English Language and Literature
course. It is important that, from the beginning, you learn how to focus on
specific examples of language. This is known as ‘close analysis of the text’.
The best students also use appropriate
subject-related terminology when commenting on the quotations from the text. Many
of the key language terms should be familiar to you from your GCSE course, but
at A Level it is essential to use them consistently and with precision.
Here are some of the ‘levels of
language’ which a student is expected to use when analysing a text.
such as adjectives and verbs
Look back over your answers to the
questions on Nick Carraway’s description of Gatsby’s house. Can you add in any
language terms to your responses?
Below you will see the front pages of
newspapers published on the morning of May 11th, 2020.
All of them are focused on the topic
of Boris Johnson’s televised speech to the nation on the issue of how the
government wants to change the current restrictions placed on social life,
known metaphorically as the ‘lockdown’.
However, if there is a common topic,
it should be evident that each newspaper seems to take a very different attitude
towards what the Prime Minister said.
Some newspapers seem to be reasonably
happy with what Boris Johnson said; others seem to be much more critical.
Read the headlines on the front pages
closely, then group them together according to whether they express a positive
or a negative response to Boris Johnson’s speech.
Now focus on particular language
choices used by the writers of the headlines.
Here is a slightly more detailed list
of the main language terms again, to help you focus on particular details.
Vocabulary choices – and the connotations of particular words
Formal or informal register – and the use of names
Semantic fields of words with similar meanings
Word classes, such as pronouns, verbs or adjectives
Use of imagery, such as metaphor
Use of humour or puns in familiar phrases
Select two front pages with contrasting attitudes towards Boris Johnson’s speech. Write a brief paragraph in which you identify the different attitudes of each front page and how the writers use language to convey those attitudes.
You should complete this section of tasks by 1 July.
Aim High – 1 July
On your A Level English Language and Literature course at Reigate College you
will study The Great Gatsby, an
American novel published in 1925.
In your first lesson, you will read and discuss an extract from the novel
which describes a party in the gardens of Gatsby’s mansion. The extract is
printed below. To prepare for your first lesson, read the extract and answer the three questions which follow.
Focus on the aspects of the extract you enjoy and feel more confident
about. Develop a general impression. Do not worry if there are details or
references you are less sure about – these will be clarified for you in the
This is the first description in the novel of
a party in the gardens of Gatsby’s mansion, in the summer of 1922.
At least once a fortnight a corps of caterers came down with several hundred feet of canvas and enough coloured lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby’s enormous garden. On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold. In the main hall a bar with a real brass rail was set up, and stocked with gins and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten that most of his female guests were too young to know one from another.
By seven o’clock the orchestra has arrived, no thin five-piece affair, but a whole pitful of oboes and trombones and saxophones and viols and cornets and piccolos, and low and high drums. The last swimmers have come in from the beach now and are dressing upstairs; the cars from New York are parked five deep in the drive, and already the halls and salons and verandas are gaudy with primary colours, and hair bobbed in strange new ways, and shawls beyond the dreams of Castile. The bar is in full swing, and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside, until the air is alive with chatter and laughter, and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot, and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s names.
The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the opera of voices pitches a key higher. Laughter is easier minute by minute, spilled with prodigality, tipped out at a cheerful word.
The groups change more swiftly, swell with new arrivals, dissolve and form in the same breath; already there are wanderers, confident girls who weave here and there among the stouter and more stable, become for a sharp, joyous moment the centre of a group and then, excited with triumph, glide on through the sea-change of faces and voices and colour under constantly changing light.
Suddenly one of these gypsies, in trembling opal, seizes a cocktail out of the air, dumps it down for courage and, moving her hands like Frisco, dances out alone on the canvas platform. A momentary hush; the orchestra leader varies his rhythm obligingly for her, and there is a burst of chatter as the erroneous news goes around that she is Gilda Gray’s understudy from the Follies.
The party has begun.
The narrator is also a character, called Nick Carraway. What difference does this make, that a character narrates the novel?
What impressions does the narrator give of the food and drink provided for the guests?
Overall, do you think the narrator enjoys the party? Or are there hints of criticism in Nick’s description of the guests?