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How we use English Review Magazine to teach A-level English effectively

Lecturer of English and Sociology at West Nottinghamshire College

"Not only is English Review part of the students’ components for coursework, but equally it became very important for me and my CPD. I would find myself reading the articles and thinking ‘I’d never thought about it like that."


The articles in English Review are long enough that they offer credible and useful interpretations of different types of text, often ones that we study in class. I direct students towards English Review for coursework and current up-to-date interpretations, which fits with our assessment objective, different interpretations and views of others. I promote it to the students as an active part of the course content.

A few years ago, a student of mine said that one of the things they wanted to do more often was exam practice. I thought, ‘That’s a really interesting question, but where am I going to get these exam ideas from?’ Awarding bodies only provide you with so many past papers, and you can only make so much up on your own, so I started using English Review in lessons.

Every time there’s anything in it that speaks to me, that is relevant, even if it’s not specific to the text – for example this quote from Volume 24: ‘Literature is a way of coming to the same terms with such a dreadful event,’ I put that on the board at the beginning of the lesson, and say, ‘How would that as a concept apply to your texts?’ Even though that article wasn’t about their set texts, if you use articles and magazines like this, you can really broaden your perspective and understanding.

Not only is English Review part of the students’ components for coursework, but equally it became very important for me and my CPD. I would find myself reading the articles and thinking ‘I’d never thought about it like that.’ Within a couple of weeks, I’d have an idea for a lesson, and we’d have huge philosophical discussions as a class.

Unseen prose continues to be a challenge, across all subjects and specifications. One of the things students struggle with is being able to ask what a question’s doing, staying focused, knowing that they’re not really allowed to deviate. They need to engage properly with the question, which is where the magazine really comes in.

I like that English Review feels like a stepping-stone. At GCSE they’ve been given study guides that are very spoon-fed, with ‘fill the gap’ activities. They don’t promote independent thought, and that’s not a criticism because you need it less at that level. However, when you get to University, everything is textbooks, and it can be heavy going. Looking at online journal articles and Google Scholar, I really feel like English Review is the middle ground. If you start with the basic study guides that have held them up thus far, and then you give them something that’s small and manageable and engaging that they can read with, they can consolidate and summarise, they can start to see the relevance of it and be challenged by other people’s views. 

I spend half my time saying, ‘You can’t be wrong, you just have to be able to argue it.’ English Review gives students that opportunity to look at what other people think, and that reflective practice. It’s accessible. It’s not as intimidating as a journal, or as overpowering as a literary text, but it’s a step up, so I feel like it eases the transition, almost like the stabilisers before they get on a balanced bike. It’s getting them ready for higher education.