Author logo The AQA Anthology for English and English Literature - prose

What is the English Anthology?
Prose texts in the Anthology
Getting to know the stories
Ideas for teachers
Ideas for students
Putting the stories together
Using a grid to compare stories
Ideas for practice questions
Superman and Paula Brown's New Snowsuit
Your Shoes
Growing Up
The End of Something
Poetry in the Anthology
Printing and copying this guide


This guide is written for students and teachers who are preparing for GCSE exams in English and English literature. This guide gives a general introduction to the AQA Anthology, which is a set text for the AQA's GCSE syllabuses and to the prose texts.

On this page I use red type for emphasis. Brown type is used where italics would appear in print (in this screen font, italic looks like this, and is unkind on most readers). Headings have their own hierarchical logic, too:

Main section headings look like this

Sub-section headings look like this
Minor headings within sub-sections look like this

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What is the English Anthology?

The English Anthology is a collection of poems and short prose fiction. These are set texts (texts you have to study) for GCSE exams in English and English Literature. If you are a student preparing for these exams, then - for some parts of each exam - you will write about some of these texts. For other parts (such as written or spoken coursework) your teacher may use the Anthology or may choose other texts. There is more than one Anthology - as different exam boards have their own. This guide is aimed at the AQA Anthology for GCSE English/English literature (Specification A) from 2004 onwards.

Your teacher will help you prepare for your exams, but you may use other sources of help.

Your Anthology is a very important book. Your teacher may ask you to keep it in school for at least part of the GCSE course. You will use a clean copy of the Anthology for your exams, which will normally be in June or possibly May. (Most students take a two-year course and are assessed at the end of Year 11, but it is possible to take either exam in an earlier year. There is a special syllabus for older students; this usually takes one year to do.)

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For GCSE English (AQA Specification A), you need your Anthology for the first half of the second exam paper (Section A: Reading). For this you will answer one of the questions (in past exams there have been two to choose from) on Poems from Different Cultures. You will normally write about poems in one or other of the two clusters - but you can mix poems from both clusters. The two clusters belong to a single coherent collection of texts. The only significance of the clusters is the requirement to name a poem - there will be two questions and one will have a named poem from cluster 1 whilst the other names a poem from cluster 2. And candidates are free to choose a second poem from either cluster.

Answering your chosen question should take you about half an hour. If you go over this time, you may have to rush the second half of the paper (Section B: Writing). This is not a good idea generally. However your teacher may advise you to spend a little more time in a given section if he or she knows that you can pick up extra marks at one point without too much risk of losing lots of marks elsewhere. Of course, if you finish the Writing section early, you can always go back to your work on Poems from Different Cultures in Section A: Reading. Below you will find guidance on how to use your answer booklet to leave space for this.

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For GCSE English Literature, use of the Anthology is optional for the first part of the paper (you may use it but you don't have to) but compulsory for the second part. In the end-of-course exam (for which there is only one paper) you have to write on set texts. These are divided into two sections:

  • post 1914 Prose (Section A) and
  • pre- and post-1914 Poetry (Section B)

Section A - the prose texts in the Anthology are mostly shorter than the other set texts. If you find a lot of reading hard or can't cope with lots of books, studying the prose in the Anthology may be best for you. This section is worth 30% of the total marks for literature. The question may name one of the stories or ask you to choose from a selection - but you will normally have to write about two stories together.

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Prose texts in the Anthology

The seven stories in the Anthology are:

  • Doris Lessing - Flight
  • Sylvia Plath - Superman and Paula Brown's New Snowsuit
  • Michèle Roberts - Your Shoes
  • Joyce Cary - Growing Up
  • Ernest Hemingway - The End of Something
  • Graham Swift - Chemistry
  • Leslie Norris - Snowdrops

The titles of the stories are interesting. With one exception (click here to find out which) the titles suggest the themes of the stories. Two of them are abstract, while four of them are ambiguous - they refer to one thing literally (an object or physical process) and another thing metaphorically (an abstract process). Take the example of Chemistry. This word literally names a physical science - most students will learn about chemistry as part of a science course. But chemistry is also used as a metaphor for the way people get on together (it is very commonly used to describe characters in film who have - or lack - on-screen chemistry together, for example).

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Reading the stories and getting to know them

The Anthology has a lot of print in it. For many students this is no problem - you enjoy reading independently and know what things mean, or are comfortable that you can find out. The same might be true of most teachers, too!

But we do not all have the same learning styles - and we can use visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning to make the experience more lively and enjoyable, as well as more memorable.

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Ideas for teachers

If you are a teacher, it makes sense to read through any text before you try to present it in a live reading - otherwise you may be unsure how to pronounce, say "frangipani" in Flight.

Probably all of the stories are short enough for you to manage a live reading in the course of a teaching period - the shortest is just over three pages long while the longest is some seven pages. Do you know which these are? Click to find out the names of the shortest and the longest stories. (At about three minutes a page, that might take over twenty minutes.)

Where a story has passages of dialogue, then you might like to ask pupils to read a part, as in a play. (All of the stories have dialogue except one - do you know which? Click here to check the answer.) You should give the readers time to look at their lines before they read them.

The ideas in the next section are suitable, in many cases, for assessment in English (speaking and listening), as well as supporting the study of prose for English literature.

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Ideas for students (with or without teachers)

Visual learning | Auditory learning | Kinaesthetic learning

These ideas will work both for students working in a class and those working independently - perhaps with a home tutor or being educated at home.

Visual learning

If you enjoy visual learning - maybe you are good at illustration - then you can produce a shortened version, or even the full version, of the text in an illustrated format: as a comic strip, photo-story or mix of text and images. You will not want to copy the full text (unless you are very patient) but can use a scanner and optical character recognition (OCR) software to produce a copy. (It will need a few corrections, but this is much easier than typing it out.) Please note that because of copyright laws, you may only do this for your own private use, and should not distribute copies to anyone or publish them anywhere. A teacher could use this technique in a classroom, where all the students already had the Anthology, but could not save the resulting document to a public network.

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Auditory learning

This idea works best for students working in pairs or small groups. You can prepare and rehearse dramatic readings of part or all of a story. You can also record it. One way is to use analogue technology - compact cassette or VHS tapes. You can also use digital recording software to record on a computer, in formats like Real Audio or mp3. You can store the resulting data files on a hard disk drive or other media (CD, floppy disk, minidisk, memory stick and so on). Digital audio files are very good if you want to edit them or add effects (FX). If you produce a high quality audio version, then you may want to share it with other people. Again, you need to be aware of copyright and may need to get the permission of the publishers of the story.

All of the programs listed here are available as freeware - you can get them at no cost. (Click on the hyperlinks to go to the suppliers' Web sites.) You can record mp3 files using Audacity. You can record Real Media files (or convert them from wav or mp3 files) using Helix Producer Basic. To play these files you will need a media player such as RealOne Player or Windows Media Player. Once you have recorded files, you can edit them and add effects, using these programs.

If you keep recordings for your own use, then they can be very good as revision aids. You can listen at the same time as you read on the page. Or you can play back a reading while doing other things. (On car journeys, while getting ready to go out, while playing a game on the PC - so revision does not have to be painful.)

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Kinaesthetic learning

You can also use physical actions to reinforce learning. In the case of the stories this could involve some of these ideas:

  • Dramatic reading: actors speak the dialogue at the same time as performing physical actions.
  • Dramatic reading: one group reads the narrative and dialogue; others perform the actions (this means that the actors are not restricted by holding copies of the Anthology, to read from).
  • Mime: work out a play, without any speech, to show the main events in the story. This is very hard, but in planning it, you would come to know the story well.
  • Scenes: Take an episode from a story and make it into a scene for performing. In this case you might learn the lines by heart, use properties and costume, to produce a more convincing result.

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Putting the stories together

Things not being what they seem | Surface and hidden narratives | Mysteries | Nature and human nature | Escapes and farewells | Generation gaps | Rites of passage | Sad or happy stories?

You will want to be able to write about any two stories - and must be ready to answer any question that the examiners set. Broadly speaking, the questions will be of two kinds. These are

  • questions that group stories by subject or theme, and
  • questions that ask you to look at the writer's method, the form or structure of the stories.

It is probably easier for you to think of the stories in the first way. Here are some ideas of how you might group them.

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Things not being what they seem

This is a popular subject for treatment in short stories - in some of the Anthology stories we find this theme. Do you agree with the statements below?

  • In Flight the grandfather may be wrong about his granddaughter and her fiancé.
  • In Superman and Paula Brown's New Snowsuit people are wrong about the narrator.
  • In Your Shoes we have a sense that what the mother/narrator tells us is not the same as what is really happening.
  • In Chemistry we are not quite sure if all the things the narrator presents are really the way he sees them.

Can you think of things not being what they seem in other stories?

If this idea is right - then how does the reader discover what is really happening - or at least come to have doubts about what seems at first to be going on?

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Surface and hidden narratives

This is a similar idea to that of things not being what they seem - but you should be prepared for slightly different emphasis and different wording. In many of the stories we get a sense of something that the writer is telling us - but not directly. Here are a few suggestions as to how this might work in a few of the stories.

  • In Your Shoes the writer suggests some things that the narrator does not tell the reader in a straightforward way - but which she reveals without meaning to do so.
  • In Snowdrops there is a love story hidden beneath the surface story of a young boy going to see some flowers with his class and teacher.
  • In Chemistry there are hints of something going on behind the scenes - but this perhaps never appears very clearly.

Can you find other examples of hidden narratives below the surface?

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Some of the stories conceal mysteries - which may or may not be resolved. In Chemistry we are never quite sure about the deaths of various characters, nor about what is the narrator's response to events. In Your Shoes, we are left uncertain about what has really happened to the young woman whose mother narrates the story. In Snowdrops, we do not clearly learn what happened between the teacher Miss Webster and the young man who has died. Can you think of other mysteries in the stories? What do you think happens? Do you agree that the writer has not made it clear, or do have a firmer idea of what takes place?

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Nature and human nature

Many of the stories are about nature - perhaps that of animals and plants - and its relation to people. Look at the statements below and see whether you agree with any of them. You might use these as a starting point for a practice essay.

  • Flight compares the homing pigeons kept by an old man - and especially his favourite - to his granddaughter, whom he fears to lose.
  • In Growing Up, we see a contrast between nature in a wild state and in a civilized or cultivated state - this applies to the garden of the people in the story, their pet dog and the two daughters.
  • In Chemistry we see ideas of natural science - of chemistry and physics - in the forces that control and attract people.

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Escapes and farewells

One quite common theme in these stories is the idea of escape or leaving - with or without taking leave. Here are a few examples of stories where this may be important.

  • In Flight we can see how Alice is moving away from one kind of life to another - she will be leaving her mother to live with her new husband.
  • In Your Shoes the daughter has left home. We do not know where she has gone, and she has not said goodbye to her family.
  • In The End of Something Nick is leaving Marjorie - he also may be running away from something else, commitment, perhaps.
  • Chemistry has several partings - as well as the death of the grandfather, there are the earlier departures of his wife and the narrator's mother.
  • Snowdrops has a narrative of a parting - the final parting of death.

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Generation gaps

Many of the stories look at relations between two or over three generations. For example:

  • Flight looks at the relationship between Alice and her grandfather - with her mother, Lucy, caught in the middle and trying to help her father accept what is happening.
  • In Superman and Paula Brown's New Snowsuit the narrator, as a child, looks to her parents for support but does not receive it.
  • Your Shoes gives a portrait of three generations of a very confused and unhappy family - the narrator's family history may be responsible for her relationship with her daughter.
  • Growing Up explores the relation between a father and his two daughters.
  • In Chemistry we again see a family spread out over three generations - and how an outsider upsets the symmetry of their relationship.

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Rites of passage

A similar way of looking at the stories is in terms of rites of passage - important events in the lives of the characters.

  • Flight shows how Alice is growing up and moving on into a new life, while her grandfather and mother respond in their different ways to this.
  • Superman and Paula Brown's New Snowsuit is about a first betrayal - the narrator is falsely accused by her schoolfellows, and her parents do not stick up for her.
  • Your Shoes is also about a young woman's attempt to gain independence - though in a very different way from that of Alice in Flight.
  • In Growing Up we see how Robert Quick begins to recognize his daughters' increasing autonomy - the story looks forward to the idea of the girls' courtship, and Robert's becoming marginalized.
  • The End of Something looks at the way love can come to an end - it is about the severing of a relationship.
  • Both Chemistry and Snowdrops look at the last rites of passage - at death, and the way the living accept death and get on with life.

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Sad or happy stories?

Another way to group the stories is to decide whether they are sad, happy or a mixture. Which is the most and which the least happy or sad?

  • There are different kinds of sadness - both the mother in Your Shoes and the teacher in Snowdrops are sad because they have lost someone they love. But the nature of their sadness differs greatly. Can you say how?
  • Sometimes a story begins sadly but moves to a happy ending or seems to. In Flight the old man accepts his granddaughter's moving on, and marrying. But right at the end of the story she is in tears?
  • The End of Something is about a relationship that dies - but is it as sad as other stories here?
  • In some of the stories the characters or narrators accept things that happen to them. In other stories they are more defiant. Robert, in Growing Up, is perhaps more resigned to what happens than the narrator of Chemistry. Or is he? What do you think.

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Using a grid to compare the stories

You can use a grid to organize comments on pairs of stories. Click on the links below to open a grid in a new window - fill in the blanks with your own responses, and you can produce an outline for an essay or exam answer. If you want to use the grid with your computer, then you should use the .doc (Microsoft Word) or .rtf (rich text format) files. If you wish to print it out and write on it, then use the .pdf (portable document format file. Left click to open the document in a new window; right click to save it to your computer or storage media.

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Ideas for practice questions

Foundation tier questions | Higher tier questions

You can always get an idea of the kind of questions that examiners set, by looking at past papers from real exams. But you know that these questions will not be set again. So it may be better to practice with questions that might come up - by looking at stories arranged in pairs by theme or subject. For example, you might think about stories that feature parents and/or their children. (You can prepare to write on both - the question in the exam will show you where to place the main emphasis.) This example (parents and children) would work for any of these stories:

  • Flight (you could look either at Alice as the child of Lucy, or Lucy as her father's child)
  • Superman and Paula Brown's New Snowsuit (the narrator and her parents; the other children and theirs)
  • Your Shoes (the mother as parent or as child)
  • Growing Up (Robert and his daughters)
  • Chemistry (the narrator and his parents - one dead and one living)
  • You could also write about Snowdrops, though this (parents and children) is not really the central subject. The End of Something would not be suitable.

You can make up your own questions by using the examples discussed under the heading: Putting the Stories Together. When you are taking the exam it is very important for you to be able to see what the examiners are asking you.

  • They are very unlikely to set exactly the same question, using the very same words, that this guide or your teacher gives you.
  • But they are very likely to ask you questions that are mostly the same - since the questions here are based on what the stories are about.

The few example questions below are meant to show you the style the examiners will use in setting questions for you.

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Foundation tier questions
Example 1

In both Superman and Paula Brown's New Snowsuit and Growing Up the main characters learn things about people around them.

Compare the things they learn, and the ways the writers show the characters' experiences of learning.

Write about:

  • the things they learn;
  • how the writers show the characters' experiences of learning by the ways they write about them;
  • similarities and differences between their experiences of learning, and how the writers show them.

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Example 2

In Flight the grandfather has to face some unpleasant truths.

Compare the ways the grandfather and one other character from another story in the selection have to face unpleasant truths.

Write about:

  • the truths that the two characters have to face;
  • how their experiences are shown to be unpleasant by the writers of the stories;
  • similarities and differences between the experiences, and the ways they are shown.

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Example 3

Compare the attitudes of adults towards children in any two of the stories in the list below.

  • Superman and Paula Brown's New Snowsuit
  • Your Shoes
  • Flight

Write about:

  • the attitudes of the adults;
  • how the writers show the attitudes of the adults by the ways they write about them;
  • similarities and differences between the attitudes in the stories, and how the writers show them.

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Higher tier questions
Example 1

Compare the ways the writers of Flight and one other story from the Anthology shape their stories to prepare readers for the endings.

Example 2

Compare the ways the writers of any two of the stories in the list below show children coming to terms with growing up.

  • Superman and Paula Brown's New Snowsuit
  • Your Shoes
  • Flight
Example 3

Compare the ways the writers of any two of the stories in the list below present the relationship between parents and children.

  • Flight
  • Your Shoes
  • Growing Up
  • Chemistry

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Can I print this guide and photocopy it?

This guide is free for individual users - for example, teachers or students working from home - in any part of the world. You can print out the guide, but it is not ideal for printing and photocopying, and may run to many more pages than you expect.

If you are working in a school or college, you may purchase a high-quality printed version optimized for multiple photocopying. The cost of the printed version includes permission for unlimited reproduction within your institution - if you expect to make multiple copies, this will probably save on your bulk photocopying and printing costs. To obtain the printed guide, contact:

  • ZigZag Education and Computing Centre Publications
  • Greenway Business Centre
  • Doncaster Road
  • Bristol
  • BS10 5PY
  • Tel: +44 (0)117 950 3199

Click on the link to go to the ZigZag Education Web site:

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