Saturday, November 30, 2013

How to Kick IB Language A Paper One's Butt by Analyzing a Poem - Part Two: Criterion B

Now Nardvark (via his alter-ego Nerdvark) has ripped a poem to shreds ("I am Tourist" by Adrian Mitchell) and is ready to apply "Criterion B: Appreciation of the writer's choices."

Here "the writer's choices" refers to such features as form, words, literary techniques the author/poet used, and so on.  So in Criterion A you needed to show your understanding, which you arrived at by analyzing the stylistic features.  Now you need to explain HOW your discoveries shaped your understanding, and you need to do this with PEE.

Let's look at an example.

Nardvark taunts Nerdvark with a delicious mayo and pb sammich in an effort to get some quality homework out of him.

Nerdvark realizes that the poem mocks tourists.  To prove it, he makes a point:

In this poem, tourists are conveyed as being stupid.

He gives an example:

For example, the poet makes very little use of punctuation in the poem.

And he explains how his example proves his point, and ultimately answers the question or refers back to his thesis.

Omitting such a basic feature of the language as punctuation makes the poem sound very childish and therefore makes the narrator, the tourist, appear idiotic.  The poet uses this feature to mock the tourist-narrator.

Nerdvark can now go through the rest of the features he found in the same manner.  Enough PEEing, and your "analysis and appreciation of the ways in which language, structure, and technique shape meaning" will be considered very good.  Ta-daa: five out of five on Criterion B!

Now go to "How to Kick IB Language A Paper One's Butt - Part 3: Criterion C" and "How to Kick IB Language A Paper One's Butt - Part 4: Criterion D."

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

How to Kick IB Language A Paper One's Butt by Analyzing a Poem

As promised in the previous post on kicking IB Language A Paper One's butt, Nerdvark has gone at a poem -- in this case "I Am Tourist" by Adrian Mitchell, as seen on last year's May exam -- and peeled its layers.  Here is the poem (in fact, the actual page off the exam) after Nerdvark got through with it (Nard contributed by stamping a purple pig-head at the bottom):
Nerdvark's colour-coded annotations of "I Am Tourist" by Adrian Mitchell, for IB English Paper 1
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Nerdvark likes to colour-code his analysis.  He reads the poem several times (on Paper One you can dedicate more time to reading/analyzing if you pick the poem, because poems are shorter) and he uses a few colours to underline and write his thoughts/impressions.  For "I Am Tourist" Nerdvark picked green to analyze form, red to analyze literary tools, and blue to analyze words.  He then wrote a few notes to himself under each question.

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Form - Look at whether the poem follows a standard form, which might be a clue to analysis, such as the use of a ballad to tell a story, or free form.  Look at punctuation, which helps you understand meaning.  Look at lines and stanzas - sometimes longer lines or shorter lines emphasize the idea in those lines.  Sometimes different stanzas have different tones or different topics.  Look also at rhyme and rhythm - a rhythmic poem might be mimicking a childen's rhyme, the sound of hoofbeats, music, or heartbeat - the rhythm might be faster for an exciting poem, or slower for a romantic poem.  Also note who the narrator is, the POV, and whether the narrator is talking to someone. (Hint: the narrator is rarely the poet, and sometimes the narrator is talking to him/herself, or someone else other than the reader, such as his/her lover.)

Literary tools - if the poem has a wide range of literary tools, you might want to colour code them, too - pink for imagery including metaphor, purple for sound tools such as onomatopeoia, etc. 

Words - all the words (connotation of words, meaning of words, symbolism, and sounds of words) add up to the poem's atmosphere, mood, tone, and hidden layers of meaning.  You can say the poem has a "lexis" of ... as "I Am Tourist" has a lexis of self-centredness through repetition of the words "I" and "my".  It has a simplistic lexis through words like "cold glass", "blue", "full" and "beautiful."

Thank you, IB Organization, for providing a fun poem by The Dogfather, Adrian Mitchell.  Find out everything about this poet on his website:, which is decorated with blue dogs of peace.

Check back for "How to Kick IB Language A Paper One's Butt - Part 2: Criterion B" coming up soon on this blog!  Meanwhile, if you like my blog, please check out my website,

Thanks for reading.  If you enjoy my blog and/or find it helpful, please take a well-deserved break! Written by K.I. Borrowman

Monday, November 11, 2013

How to Kick IB Language A Paper One's Butt - Part 1: Criterion A

Language A: Literature – Paper One

Guided literary analysis

Nardvark is at it again – cramming for IB exams.  He is determined to get level 7 on his literary paper, but since he snoozed through most of his classes, he has no idea how.  Luckily, Nerdvark is here to help (mostly because Nard refuses to bring him a peanut-butter-and-mayonnaise sandwich until he does)

with ...

How to kick Paper One’s butt (in four parts)

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Part 1

In Paper One you are given a choice of two passages (texts) to respond to.  One is a poem, and the other is prose.  It might be fiction or non-fiction.  Your response is graded on four criteria.  Criterion A is called “Understanding and Interpretation.”

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How do I interpret a text, you ask?  How do I understand it?  This is why your teacher has been ramming LITERARY TOOLS down your throat for the past two years.  Analysing the tools the writer/poet used will help you get at the deeper meaning of the text.  Nerdvark likes to think of a literary text as an onion.  You can peel away the skin, and underneath there is another layer of onion.  You can peel that away, too, and underneath you will find another layer.  Peel that onion, peel it layer by layer... of course you’ll start to cry but you’ll eventually get to the core of the onion.
A poem is like an onion...

A lot of students shy away from the poem, because they think poetry is “harder” to understand.  Actually, poetry is easier to respond to, because it is rich with literary tools.  In each line of poetry you can find two or three literary tools being used, from sound tools such as alliteration, onomatopoeia, rhyme and rhythm, to imagery tools including simile, personification, and metaphor, to the very basic of tools, the word.  Each word the poet chooses is chosen for a reason.  Together, these words give clues to understanding the poem  via the writer’s tone, the poem’s atmosphere, and the many facets or meaning or connotations of the words.

Take a look now at the level descriptors for Criterion A:

The trick is to read the poem several times.  Each time, underline bits and jot down what literary tools are being used and what layers of meaning they reveal.  After several reads, you’ll have a “very good understanding” and be able to write a “sustained” (it’s long and it sticks to the same points) and “convincing” (the reader, aka examiner, is convinced that your interpretation is accurate because of the explanations you use) and you’ll support it with “well-chosen references,” i.e. the best parts of what you underlined. 

If you're not sure of how to structure your response, go with the old standby, the FIVE PARAGRAPH ESSAY.  Make sure you follow the writing process and do lots of PEEing to get full marks in this criterion.

Come back next time for an example of a poem that Nerdvark peeled like an onion (and cried!), and stay tuned for Criteria B, C, and D!  Eventually I’ll show you an example of alevel-7 paper.

Thanks for reading.  Exhausted? Take a study break! Written by K.I. Borrowman