Tuesday, April 12, 2016

How to Kick Butt in IB Language A Part 2: Detailed Study

When your oral commentary rolls around, you don't know what extract you're going to get or from which of the works you studied it will be taken, so in order to prepare to kick butt in the oral commentary, you have to do two basic steps:

  1. Learn literary devices: you need to be able to recognize, define, explain, and evaluate the effects of the literary devices in the extract you get. It could be poetry, prose, or drama, so you need to be familiar with literary devices for all these genres. Click here to read some of my posts on literary devices, and memorize your literary device handouts from your teacher. 
  2. Practice! Your teacher might give you opportunities to practice in class. If not, you can practice on your own. The best way to practice is to emulate the conditions of the oral commentary. 

First, get an extract. If your teacher doesn't provide practice extracts, just go through your works studied in this section and choose some likely-looking extracts. Remember that an extract for the oral commentary is usually about 40 lines. It could be a whole poem that's roughly 40 lines, or a 40-line passage from a text.

Second, look at the guiding questions. In HL you won't have guiding questions, but you can still ask yourself some questions. If your teacher doesn't provide extracts with guiding questions for you to practice, try to think about these typical guiding questions suggested by the IB board:


  • What is revealed about the character(s) through the diction employed? 
  • What role do music/sound/lighting effects have to play in this extract? 
  • What impact is this extract likely to have on the audience? 
  • For what reasons can this extract be considered a pivotal/key moment in the play? 

Prose: Novel and short story 
  • How does structure function in this extract to convey key ideas? 
  • How does the balance between dialogue and narrative affect your understanding of this extract? 
  • How are the key themes of the work explored in this extract? 
  • How does this extract work to change your understanding of the characters involved? 

Prose other than fiction 
  • To what effect is sentence structure used in this extract? 
  • In what ways is the style of this extract typical of the work as a whole? 
  • What is the likely impact of this extract on the reader? 
  • How important is the logical sequence of ideas in this extract? 

  • What is the relationship between the title and the poem itself? 
  • How does the progression of ideas contribute to the development of the theme(s)? 
  • How does stanza structure reflect the development of the poem’s subject? 
  • In what ways does the final line/stanza change your understanding of the poem as a whole?

Third, practice preparing your commentary by analyzing the extract and annotating it. You are allowed to take the extract into the commentary with you, so write as much as you can all over it. I recommend colour-coding it. For example, if you see lots of metaphor in the extract, use green for all the metaphor, and if you see lots of personification, use blue for it. Use pink for the rhyme scheme and orange for the punctuation. And so on. Highlight the examples and write notes to yourself about them. Remember you have to explain the broad aspects like structure, characters, etc, and the details like aural devices, imagery, etc. and you have to tell the effect of each. So write all your ideas out, but in point form. If you try to write out your entire commentary, you won't have time, so just write points - key words. Don't forget to PEE! click here for more on PEEing in English class. Time yourself and don't let yourself spend more than 20 minutes. With practice, you'll get better at analyzing and annotating an extract in 20 minutes, and this exercise will also help you prepare for the exam as you will be writing a commentary on an unseen passage.

(now for the fun part!) Fourth, after annotating your extract for 20 minutes, practice giving an oral commentary to your friend, dog, family member, or mobile phone. Record it and play it back. Reflect on your practice session and write notes to yourself. What did you like about it? What do you want to improve? Don't worry if you can't pull off ten minutes of commentary the first time. You might speak for three or four minutes the first time. That's why you're practicing. If you can manage three minutes for your first practice session, set a goal for yourself to speak for four or five minutes at your next practice session.

After you've selected, prepared, and commented on five or six extracts from different texts in Part 2, you should be ready for the oral commentary.

Join me next time for: How to Kick Butt in IB Language A Oral Commentary!

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