Revision Strategies: Killer Quotations

This revision strategy is all about helping students to see how they can use killer quotations to answer almost any question that comes up on the Literature paper exam. The trick here is to select quotations that are malleable and resonant, as well as having potential for rich analysis. It is worth spending time considering which quotations to select to ensure that you maximise their potential for both depth of analysis and breadth of application. I find that completing this activity helps students to feel more confident in their preparations for exams, as they realise just how useful their existing knowledge can be.

Step 1: choose your quotations

Depending on the class, you may wish to do this in advance, or you might co-construct a list of killer quotations with your class. I ask my A Level classes to come to the lesson with a list of their top 5 killer quotations, but I will also generally have a few ready to hand to use as models. For example:

  • John Keats – “Philosophy will clip an angel’s wings”. Look at the inevitability communicated by the modal verb, the assertiveness of the monosyllabic “clip”, and the symbolism of the wings, as well as the thematic juxtaposition between the restrictions of rational thought and the liberation of irrationality. This quotation articulates the idea that transcendence of earthly concerns is ultimately fleeting; as this is one of Keats’s key ideas, the quotation can therefore be applied to a range of questions.
  • Death of a Salesman – “a man is not a piece of fruit. You can’t eat the orange and throw away the peel”. Here Miller expresses the central tragedy of the play – that individuals are perceived as waste once their usefulness has been fully exploited by the capitalist machine. Willy Loman’s assertion is perhaps one of his greatest moments of clarity in the play – yet his temporary realisation of the way that society operates does not prevent his pursuit of an arguably limited concept of greatness, and thus the placement of this moment in the central section of the play heightens the pathos of the decline to death which follows.
  • Othello – “when I love thee not, / Chaos is come again”. The adverb “when” introduces the idea that it is inevitable that Othello’s infatuation will end, whilst the juxtaposition between “love” and “chaos” indicates that the tragic hero’s instability of mind will spread into social and political disorder. “When” is balanced with “again” – note the rhyme – and implies a cyclical descent into irrationality. Note also the placement of “not” – the statement “when I love thee…” holds so much potential, which is then negated, just as the hope of a happy marriage in Acts 1 and 2 is destroyed as the play progresses.

Step 2: annotate

Spend some time annotating these quotations using your habitual routines. I would generally start by working on a quotation under the visualiser, taking ideas from the class and clearly demonstrating how I would like them to present the work. Then I would set students to work on the other quotations in pairs and take feedback, again using the visualiser to share ideas.

Step 3: introduce an exam question

Explain to the class that you are going to explore how these killer quotations might be made malleable, and how they can apply the detailed analysis you have just completed to almost any exam question.

Select one killer quotation and then display an exam question on the board. Work with the class to explore how the quotation can be used in relation to the question.

For example, say you are revising An Inspector Calls and you select the quotation “We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other”. Display the question “How does Priestley present Inspector Goole in An Inspector Calls?” Perhaps give students time to think-pair-share, teasing out how the connection might be made between the quotation, the annotations, and the question.

Step 4: quickfire questions

For this part of the lesson you will need between 5 and 10 example exam questions. The idea is that students will have 2 minutes to read each question, and then decide how the quotation connects to it.

There are a myriad of variations on this section of the lesson, including:

  • Carousel – print questions on separate sheets. Students work in pairs to jot down their ideas, before passing the sheets around the class. Students add ideas to their new sheet. Repeat until students have seen all the questions.
  • Worksheet – print all the questions on a single sheet of paper, leaving space for students to write their ideas.
  • Powerpoint – put each question on a different slide and display on the screen for two minutes at a time.
  • Group work – split the class into groups and give each group a different question. You could then “jigsaw” the groups, or they could present their ideas to the class.

Ensure that the conversation around this task is rich and meaningful (I will be writing a blog on oracy soon), and pause and model improvements to the class where necessary. This activity could then feed into students selecting one quotation-question combination and writing up their ideas.

My killer quotations:

The Kite Runner

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