|Wide reading for GCSE English|
This guide is written for teachers and students preparing for GCSE exams in Key Stage 4. It is written to help you understand the requirements for reading (En2), and for the category of work which leads to teacher assessment of this attainment target.
What is Wide Reading?
Wide reading is one of the various categories of coursework that you do for reading and writing. It is one of four categories of work which you must do to gain a certificate on the AQA/NEAB GCSE course for English (until 2003). Other exam boards may set different requirements for reading.
What do you have to do?
You have to study at least two texts, but you may do more. One text must be a work of prose (not poetry or drama) written before 1900 by an author whose name is on a list in the National Curriculum. (Click here to see the list). The other can be prose, poetry or drama and must be written after 1900 by a writer with a well-established reputation. You must write about each of the texts, and compare them. Note that the 1900 boundary will move in future GCSE syllabuses, to reflect the new National Curriculum requirements for reading: these place the boundary at 1914. This change will mean some tasks which are acceptable now, will no longer meet the National Curriculum targets. Teachers planning tasks now, may therefore exclude all texts written between 1900 and 1914, as these will change their position.
For this category of work (or your Shakespeare study, but not both) you may be assessed orally. For example, you may record an essay on audio or videotape, or you might be interviewed by your teacher, and answer a series of questions which fulfil the exam board's requirements, or criteria. The criteria are given later in this guide, and the tasks for assessment of Wide Reading, which you will find elsewhere on this site, are structured around them. Your teacher should refer to these criteria in assessing your work.
What texts go well together?
It is possible to find some works of literature with very close connections, but it is usually quite sensible to find works that have a common theme or general subject. One very good idea is to write about texts in which relationships are important. Not surprisingly, this will allow you to write about very many novels, plays and poems, as this subject is a favourite of many writers.
What texts should you study?
The possible combinations are infinite. What you study will reflect how far your teacher wants to prepare and direct you, and how far you are able to work independently. Some teachers want to make sure that you approach the subject in a very structured way, while others are more ready to let different pupils take different approaches. Examiners are comfortable with both - they are very ready to give more credit for work which is obviously done entirely by the student. They are less comfortable with schools where all the students write the same things in the same order. And you will find a range of tutorials on this site for texts which you may wish to combine.
Working at school or at home
If you are able to read independently, under your teacher's guidance, you may wish to study some books at home, perhaps using a holiday to read them. This is the only way in which you will be able, probably, to read long novels. Your teacher cannot possibly make a whole class read every word of Jane Eyre in school time. Even if this were possible it would be a bad use of the time. On the other hand, you can read enough material in class, from short texts, to produce a response that fulfils all of the GCSE criteria. One very sad result of the new reading requirements has been that UK publishers have rushed out collections of the shortest things written by the authors on the National Curriculum Heritage list - most of these are among the least good work of the writers in question.
Where can you find copies of texts?
Teachers may have sets of longer texts (novels or plays) which they will lend you while you work. Some publishers (notably Penguin and Wordsworth) have very cheap editions of novels by the recommended authors. Poems still in copyright may be reproduced for educational purposes. Some very good texts are published in the AQA/NEAB/Heinemann Anthologies for 1999 and 2000/2001, of which schools have copies in bulk. You can find text files of works which are out of copyright (when the author has been dead for 50 or more years!) from various locations- follow my links to recommended sites.
Where can you find tutorials for Wide Reading?
There are many published materials in print, of which most will help you do good work. They are competitively priced but not especially cheap. There is a lot of free material on the World Wide Web, but you may be unsure of its quality. There are tutorials on this site. Other sites worth checking out can be found on my page of recommended links.
If you wish to see the tutorials on this site, this link will take you to the list on my contents page.
Lists of writers
The first list is of writers of fiction, whose work was published before 1900, as in the last version of the National Curriculum. The second list is from the new National Curriculum, and shows major writers published before 1914. The only addition to the list (writing between 1900 and 1914) is Joseph Conrad. For writers after 1900, the lists in the National Curriculum are only advisory - your teacher should be able to recommend writers after 1900 whose work is suitable for you to study. One odd result of this division of writers is that you could study work by the same author who published both before and after the boundary date (such as Thomas Hardy, who conveniently published prose up to 1897, and no more novels, but lots of poetry, after 1900). The net result of moving the boundary forward in time is to exclude more writers from being studied.
Major writers of fiction published before 1900 (old National Curriculum)
Major writers of fiction published before 1914 (new National Curriculum)
Sites for literature - texts for free
You will find text files for classic texts at these sites: