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Writing a magazine article

Writing a magazine article GCSE English Language

A useful overview for students learning how to write a magazine article, perfect for GCSE English Language non-fiction writing. 

This resource is designed to support students in planning for article writing activities, including coming up with great article ideas, considerations about the right target audience for their creative writing and honing their writing style.

Packed with supportive writing tips to inspire students with their article or 'story' idea, this resource helps students to focus on the appropriate language, style and tone for their readership. It can also shape their responses in terms of writing about current events in a feature article. 

Students will benefit from this step-by-step guide, particularly if they are interested in a future career as a magazine writer or blogger. It can also help students who might want to write for a local newspaper or launch a writing career in creative writing or copywriting.

More GCSE writing style resources to help develop students’ writing skills are available to browse, including additional creative writing and article writing resources.

An extract from the resource: 

Your article should include: 

An eye-catching headline which may include a pun, an abbreviation or an ambiguity. The task is to arouse the reader’s interest so a question might work. Do not make it too long.

The opening

A key sentence, which is, in effect, a summary of the main theme of the article and which will often contain the essential facts. Make it clear to the reader how you are connected to the issue and your view of the issue. You could begin by reliving an experience. Once you have stated it, you start again at the beginning of your information and work through to the end.

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Writing Magazine and Newspaper Articles

Writing Magazine/Newspaper Articles

As you may already be aware, there are a number of different magazines and newspapers out there. In the exam, you could get asked to write an article for any one of them, for example an article for a cooking magazine, a newspaper or perhaps a school newsletter. The type of magazine or newspaper that you are asked to write for and the purpose of the article will affect who your audience is (this will affect any piece you write, but we will discuss the audience of texts as a whole in more detail later). It is vital that you establish your audience before you begin planning your article. An example of a newspaper article has been provided below.

Metro paper cut-out

Although most magazine and newspaper articles include pictures (see above), you do not need to worry about this in the exam; what you need to write is purely textual; however, if you want to indicate the positions of images then a rectangular box with the word ‘image’ inside will suffice. A list of what should be included in a magazine or newspaper article is provided below:

  • A headline: this is used to grab the reader’s attention to the story – it is a good technique to use alliteration and other language techniques in your headings.
  • A subheading: this develops on from the headline and gives the reader more information on the story to grab their attention – again, it is a good technique to use alliteration and other language techniques in your subheadings as well. You may just decide to have one subheading below the headline or you may have a subheading before introducing each new paragraph of the article, if appropriate.
  • Split the rest of the story into paragraphs (make sure you include a topic sentence for each paragraph and you can also include subheadings above for each if it suits the magazine/newspaper style). The information that is placed in the article should be organised in the order of importance. The beginning paragraph should contain important information that the audience requires, whereas towards the end, less important information can be included; for example, opinions.
  • The article should be written in the past tense and in the third person as you will be narrating events that have already happened. In most cases, you will not be a part of the story so avoid using ‘I’ or ‘me’ even when giving your opinion.
  • Include quotations: quotations will make the story more interesting and factual for the reader as they will be hearing directly from the people that were involved.
  • Provide the facts and sometimes your opinion on the story. Use the 5 W’s in your plan to do this: who, what, why, where, when. These will provide the reader with as many facts as possible. Once the facts have been given then the writer will sometimes offer their opinion on the story (preferably right at the end – remember, write in the third person; never use ‘I’ or ‘me’).
  • The final paragraph should sum up the story; this is a good place to give your opinion if you want – remember, write in the third person.

An example of how you might lay out your magazine/newspaper article in the exam has been provided.

Your article will vary depending on what is being asked of you. Be careful not to copy the example provided if it does not fit with the task you are asked to complete. For example, it may not be appropriate to include a subheading above each new paragraph like is illustrated in the given example.

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Magazine Article Writing: How to write the Perfect Magazine Article for IGCSE

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  • Created on December 19, 2022
  • Blog , Cambridge IGCSE , English , Exam Tips , Free Resources , GCE O Level , GCSE , Homeschooling , IGCSE , IGCSE Notes , Learning Tips , Revision Tips

IGCSE Magazine Article Writing : 5 Key Points for How to Write a Winning Article

IGCSE magazine article writing is a recurring topic in the IGCSE English curriculum. Hence, asking students to write a magazine article is a very popular question when it comes to the IGCSE English Examination .

Since the magazine article question is very common it carries a considerable amount of marks as well. Therefore, students are very often hesitant to attempt the question due to fear of not producing a good article in their answer scripts.

Important Key Points to consider for IGCSE magazine article writing to write the Perfect Magazine Article

Every student should consider a few important aspects when thinking about how to write the perfect magazine article for IGCSE English .

These aspects are called key points and are relevant to any type of IGCSE Magazine Article Writing.

Students will find that planning, organizing, and writing magazine articles becomes much easier if the key points are understood.

In this article, on how to write the perfect magazine article for IGCSE let’s look at some of the important key points that will help you write the perfect magazine article .

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Take a look at 5 key points on how to write a perfect magazine article for IGCSE below

1. plan, organize, and draft.

As per tutors and teachers, around 30 to 40 minutes should be spent on IGCSE magazine article writing.

Therefore, a quick plan to organize your ideas and draft a framework for your article is important.

Students should take about 10 minutes to draft out their plan.

These 10 minutes are very valuable and allow the student to brainstorm ideas for their magazine article.

Once the plan is laid out you can then organize the title, paragraphs, vocabulary, facts, quotes, or technical terms.

Organization is key for a well-rounded and clear article.

A well-organized article will consist of a clear title, paragraphs, and a smooth flow of ideas.

While planning and organizing the ideas for your magazine article, you are in fact making a draft.

A draft will act as a quick guide when you actually begin writing the article.

Must Read: Notice Writing Format, Importance, Examples and How to Prepare

2. Identify your audience and writing style for IGCSE magazine article writing

While drafting the framework of your magazine article it helps to identify your audience

Identify who will be reading your magazine article

One important question to answer is:

Who is this magazine article for?

Is this for a school/children’s magazine, a women’s magazine, current affairs/news magazine, or a social magazine?

As soon as you identify your audience, you can decide on your writing style.

Writing styles set the tone and narrative of an article.

Therefore it is important to understand the type of tone or approach your article will take on.

Some of the popular writing styles are:

Descriptive writing 

Descriptive writing is when the writer paints a picture for the reader through his or her words and description to help them almost visualize their ideas.

Argumentative writing

Argumentative writing is usually where an idea, a point of view, or a debate is discussed. The writer can talk about both sides or only the side he or she supports.

Narrative writing

Narrative writing is where the writer is simply narrating a story, fictional or nonfictional to the reader in their own words.

Must Read:  Directed Writing: Format, Benefits, Topics, Common Mistakes and Examples

3. Decide which side you are on

Usually, IGCSE magazine article writing requires the writer to take a particular side of a topic.

One such example of a magazine writing article topic or question is :

‘Should Phones Be Allowed To School or Not ‘

Students have to decide which side they are going to take on such a topic.

Will they be writing for or against the topic of whether should phones be allowed in school or not?

Once the student has decided which side they will be representing, they can begin with an introduction to introduce the topic to the readers.

Then, students can proceed with presenting their opinions and thoughts on their chosen side in the body of the article .

Moreover, it is important that students provide evidence or reasons to prove their point of view.

A minimum of two paragraphs should be included in the body of the article.

Alternatively, students can also present an article where they can write on both sides to give a well-rounded perspective.

In such a case, students can give their points on agreeing with the topic in the first paragraph of the body.

Then, in the next paragraph students can present the points against the topic.

Furthermore, in order to show the exclusivity of each paragraph, students can use vibrant subheadings to attract the reader’s attention.

Must Read:  Report Writing Format, Tips, Samples and Examples

4. Using catchy titles and subheadings in IGCSE magazine article writing

While there is a lot of importance placed on writing clearly organized paragraphs, the title of the article and its subheadings need to be attractive too.

A very distinctive feature of a well-written article is the eye-catching title and subheadings.

Students can provide catchy and vivid headings or titles and subheadings to grasp the attention of the examiner.

For example, here is a suggestion for a student writing an article based on the topic ‘Should Phones be Allowed to School or Not ‘

Students can try writing something like this:

‘Student Poll: Should Phones be Allowed to School or Not?’

‘3 Top Reasons Why Phones Should be Allowed to School’

‘ Distraction or Necessity – Should Phones be Allowed to Schools or Not’

5. Rich vocabulary to write the perfect magazine article for IGCSE

If your writing contains richness, a variety of vocabulary, and flair then you can write on any topic.

The type of language and vocabulary you use can add dimension to any type of writing.

Especially in magazine articles, the writer needs to promptly hold the reader’s attention because magazine articles are shorter compared to novels and short stories.

Some of the ways in which you can add richness and versatility to the language are by using different techniques.

Magazine articles are a great way to showcase argumentative and contrasting opinions by using the following writing techniques suggested below

Techniques or vocabulary that can show comparison, contrast, analysis, and explain the topic in discussion will give your article an edge.

For example:  ‘On the other hand ‘, ‘In contrast to ‘ , ‘Alternatively’,  ‘Two sides of the same coin’ and ‘Lesser of the two evils ‘

Likewise, students can also use better vocabulary by adding different connecting and concluding words such as:

‘Additionally’, ‘Nevertheless’, ‘Simultaneously’, ‘In a nutshell ‘, ‘ To conclude ‘, ‘In conclusion, and ‘To wrap up ‘.

Richness can also be added by using a few quotes and proverbs that may seem suitable for the content of the article.

Another better way to write the perfect magazine article for IGCSE is…

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE

Try out a free trial with expert IGCSE tutors and attempt an IGCSE English past paper question on magazine articles to polish your skills and score better grades.

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English Teaching Resources

A site to share my resources for secondary English teaching.

Newspaper article for GCSE: Task and Model.

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The task is a standard AQA format task from Paper 2 Q 5. The medal is by no means perfect. I am using it alongside a lesson to familiarise students with the mark scheme. Students could be encouraged to apply the scheme to this model passage or to their own work.

The model was written in 40 minutes during a writing assessment and shows this in terms of the content of the arguments, I think. It’s not an easy task. Students might be encouraged to recognise the devices and structural elements of the writing.

Example Question

Paper 2 Section B: Writing

You are advised to spend about 45 minutes on this section.

Write in full sentences.

You are reminded of the need to plan your answer.

You should leave enough time to check your work at the end.

‘Technologies such as mobile phones and computers are useful, but we use them too much. They are taking over our lives.’

Write an article for a newspaper in which you argue for or against this statement.

(24 marks for content and organisation

16 marks for technical accuracy)

All articles need a headline – provide one and offer a journalist’s name. If possible, make the headline memorable, either by imagery or emotive language.

Common Sense? Not if you’re glued to a mobile.

An Article by Hamish McCunn.

Then outline your argument and define the 3 areas you will be considering. Remember most articles are written in short paragraphs.

A recently released movie – Cyberlifesaver – is making waves because of the idea it presents: technology is vital. So vital that we should let it take over our thoughts and deeds and stop worrying about the issues raised by this idea. In this article I take issue with this premise and suggest that the message of the film is dangerous – personally, financially and morally.

Having established the 3 areas of consideration, take each in turn and explore them –sticking to your chosen pro or con side of the debater. Use the IED structure to build your point…

On a personal level, the danger of over reliance on technology comes down to the loss of common sense in areas which once we humans excelled. An example relevant to many is in the area of romance.

Romance? Consider this: over 75% of respondents to a recent poll on Twitter said that they let their dating apps find suitable matches for them. That is to say, they put their trust in technology and let it overrule the signals which for centuries have enabled humans to find partners for life.  (You don’t have to believe it, by the way, just make it sound as though you do).

Averil Cameron (23), a charming young lady with a bright future in taxidermy, is a good example of how this can cause havoc. Despite having plenty of opportunities to find romance and even love in her everyday life, Averil felt FOMO pressure to go online and to use dating websites based on a series of algorithms which seemed to offer a stress free route to her dreams. ‘It all seemed so easy and so safe’ she said. ‘I put all my faith into Lovefinders and now I am broken hearted. I can’t believe I was so stupid!’.

The truth is that all such sites take our personal information not to help us to find love but to target their advertising and to sell to the highest bidders in terms of personal information. On many sites such as this, photographs, often intimate photographs, are uploaded. These find their way to all corners of the internet.

Now move onto the next section –the second of the three ideas outlined. Maybe bring in some authoritative voice to quote in this section.

Another risk of such sites and many like them is the control that they can take over our money. Peter Jones, Senior Customer Support Officer at Barclay’s Bank takes this very seriously indeed.

‘Many people do not realise the danger of signing up to websites and entering into a legally binding agreement.’, says Jones, ‘Too often the website asks for money upfront with a requirement to cancel which in over 60% of cases is missed due to forgetfulness, misunderstanding or lethargy.’ In short, he continues, entering into these kind of arrangements, though seemingly for convenience, leads to potentially destructive downward spirals. Credit scores are affected. Loans refused. Lives ruined.

The moral argument is reflected in the attitudes of the Big Tech companies. They tell us that we can’t live without the benefit of EE total broadband, or wall to wall streaming of dubious content on Netflix or Prime, yet this is untrue.

And the third and final section before a conclusion:

Too often the glamorous pitches are linked to nothing other than making money for the shareholders. Why should they care about the individual. The one who spends hours scrolling through the content on these channels before giving up to see if there’s anything interesting on ‘real TV’. There isn’t. There’s no money left in ‘real TV’. Instead, such activities create a definite sense of failure and let down. A noted psychiatrist said:  ‘I work with teenagers. There’s so much low self-esteem these days. Although it sounds daft, much comes from the feeling that they are entitled to so much more from their online activities. It’s as though they think they have bought happiness.’

It is clear to me. Put aside the corporate hype and look at the reality of the way in which Big Tech is manipulating us and the danger is clear. Our freedom of thought, our freedom of action and our freedom to simply be human is endangered by our slavish adherence to technology.

It is time for a change. Time to put the clocks back.

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Writing a storage article

Writing a magazine article GCSE English Language

A useful overview for learners learning how to write a magazine article, complete for GCSE English Language non-fiction writing. 

This resource is designed to support undergraduate in planning for article writing activities, including coming up with great featured ideas, considering about the rights target audience for their creative print and honing them writing type. Last zeit, I what looking under what features make up a letter, trying to define the incredible qualities of ‘letterness’ so that you aren’t relying on simply adhere an address at th…

Jammed with assisted writing tips to inspirational students with their article other 'story' notion, get resource helps students to special on the appropriate language, style and tone for their readership. It can also shape they responses in footing of typing learn current current on a special article.  On this resource, students wills enjoy sharing magazine articles creatively and engagingly encouraging originality, innovation, and expression. For students who enjoy say on funny strips instead graphic novels, options what deliverable for students to demonstrate their creativity by drawings the well as writing.Alternatively, you can kicks off their media graduate class according teaching your students all about magazine format. Use this magazine article template to have them produce their customized storage article complete with an interview and photos.

Students will benefit away this step-by-step guide, particularly if they are interested in a future career as a magazine writer or blogger. It can also help college who might want at write available an local newspaper conversely launch a writing career in creative writing or copywriting.

More GCSE writing style resources for help develop students’ writing skills are available to browse, inclusive additional creative how and article text resources.

An extract from the resource: 

Your article supposed include: 

An eye-catching headline which may contains a pun, an abbreviation or an ambiguity. The task is in arouse the reader’s engross so a question might jobs. Do not make it too oblong. GCSE English Language Writing Types: Articles

The opening

A key penalty, which is, are execute, a summary of the main theme of the article also which will often contain the essential facts. Make it clear to the reader how you are connected to the issuing and your sight starting this issue. You could begin by reliving an experience. Once you will stated it, you start again toward the beginning a your information and work through to the ends.

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how to write magazine article gcse

Magazines Analysing a Magazine

In the UK alone, there are approximately 8000 different magazine titles for general sale.

Part of Media Studies Industries

Analysing a Magazine

Illustration showing layout of front cover of magazine

A magazine's cover is the most important element, in terms of how it appeals to potential buyers

At a glance, you can generally tell if a magazine is going to satisfy your interests, outlook and aspirations close aspiration A hope or ambition in life. .

Different magazines have distinct house styles that convey their brand identity close brand identity The image a company constructs for itself through the use of logos, slogans and other marketing tools in order to appeal to an audience. .

The brand identity and point-of-view (or ideology close ideology A set of ideas or thoughts that someone, or a group of people, believe in. The plural of this is 'ideologies'. ) conveyed by a magazine is vital when we consider that magazines are selling us content that is often aspirational.

Modes of address

Different magazines have different modes of address close mode of address The ways in which a media text uses language to speak to its target audience - for example, formal or informal. .

This may be formal and informative, or more casual and catchy.

Magazines use design and language to stand out from their competitors in the same subgenre close subgenre A subcategory within a particular genre. .

For example, Kerrang! and NME both use an informal tone and style but Kerrang! uses language that will appeal specifically to heavy metal fans. NME , which is also informal, uses language that will appeal to indie music fans.

A magazine contents page lists all of its content including regular pages and special features. The audience (or readers) will normally expect to find regular pages in the same place for each editon.

For example, readers of Empire will know where to find cinema reviews, as opposed to feature articles. Readers of a lifestyle magazine will expect to find items like horoscopes near the back.

Features are particular to each magazine issue. They will contain new content on current topics and may be an exclusive for the magazine.

More guides on this topic

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Related links

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how to write magazine article gcse

Writing: Exercise 6 (Writing an article)

This is the final exercise of Paper 1 and 2. It can be an article, a report or a review writing. We’ll look at articles here.

You will be given a topic (more like a question to ponder up on) on which you have to write your views and opinions. This can either be a two-sided article (for and against) or a one-sided article (just your opinion). It is up to you to decide.

The topics usually given for this exercise are easy enough that you can come up with points right there in the exam, but it is good if you read upon various issues from around the word (obesity, technological influences, environmental issues, animal welfare, teenager issues etc).

So here’s how to attempt this question:

  • Before you start it is a good idea that you come up with a plan . Use the blank space below the question to make your plan, in pencil. In your plan write down the answers to these questions:
  • The audience : this will be specified in the question (it is almost always a school magazine). So when you write, keep in mind that you need to write to that audience. Your language, tone and vocabulary should reflect this.
  • Is my article going to be two-sided or one-sided?  If you know a lot about the topic and can weigh up the pros and cons, then go for two-sided. If you’re not too knowledgeable about it, stick to one-sided.
  • How do I introduce the topic? Start off by saying what the topic is and how important the topic is in today’s world. Why it is such a problem? Or is it a problem?
  • What’s in the body ? Write down three points . (If it’s two-sided write two pros and two cons) . You will develop your body based on these points. A few points will be given in your question paper, and you can use those!
  • How will I conclude the article? You need to sum up your points and give your final opinion (even if it’s two-sided, give your final opinion on the matter).
  • Organise . By now, you’ve pretty much come up with the contents of your article. Now organise your points into paragraphs.
  • One-sided Article: Paragraph 1: Introduction
  • Paragraph 2: First point with justification (or counter-argument)
  • Paragraph 3: Second point with justification (or counter-argument)
  • Paragraph 4: Opposing point which you contradict (here, you state a point said by people who have a different opinion from yours and explain why they are wrong. This is called argument and   counter-argument )
  • Paragraph 5: Conclusion- summary, (solution?), repeat your opinion
  • Two-sided Article: Paragraph 1: Introduction
  • Paragraph 2: Advantages/’For’
  • Paragraph 3: Disadvantages/’Against’
  • Paragraph 4: Conclusion- Summary and final opinion
  • Write . Use a variety of connecting words and argumentative phrases . Examples:
  • Expressing opinions: I agree/ disagree with the above statement that
  • In my opinion
  • I believe that
  • I am in favour of
  • I am against the idea of
  • It seems to me that
  • I sympathize with
  • Presenting and contrasting opinions: The main argument in favour/ against is
  • It is often said that
  • First of all I should like to consider
  • Apart from that
  • Even though
  • Furthermore
  • In addition
  • Nevertheless
  • Despite the fact that/ In spite of
  • On the other hand
  • On the contrary
  • What is more
  • What matters most in this case is
  • It is a fact that
  • There is no doubt that
  • Reasoning: Because of
  • As a result of
  • Consequently
  • On account of
  • Concluding: To sum up
  • To conclude
  • It can be concluded that
  • Thus, I am of the opinion that
  • Argumentative verbs (use these instead of say/tell ):

Here’s an example of a  one-sided article . This is one-sided because, even though it weighs up both ‘for’ and ‘against’ points, in each paragraph it contradicts the ‘for’ points and alludes to the same conclusion that zoos should be abolished. This is called the argument/counter-argument format.

ex. 7.3

  • Use your own points , words and phrases as far as possible. The more original your content is, the better.
  • Give a suitable title
  • Keep to the word limit 150-200 words. Exceeding a little over 200 is not a problem.
  • Always have an introduction and conclusion
  • Always organise your points into paragraphs . One para for each point (one-sided) or all advantages in one para and disadvantages in another para (two-sided) is the ideal format.
  • A final opinion has to be given.
  • Punctuation, spelling and grammar is very important. Check your writing once you’re done.

Time Management

For the core paper 1 take 20 minutes for this exercise

For the extended paper 2, 30 minutes should suffice to answer this question. Spend 10 minutes to come up with a plan, 15 minutes to organise and write your article. Use the 5 minutes left to read over your article, make changes and correct spelling, grammar and punctuation errors.

Notes submitted by Lintha

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46 thoughts on “ Writing: Exercise 6 (Writing an article) ”

wonderful! hope you keep updating with the new Syllabus

OMGGGG this information in awesome, thanks a lottt. Tomorrow im having a test on this!!!!!!!!

Like Liked by 1 person

Hi, this post was really helpful, but I have a question. Is it ok to take a stand (for or against) in magazine article writing? It is not a persuasive writing.

It’s preferable to remain neutral when it comes to magazine articles unless the specific topic you are addressing in the article expects you to take a stand for something, then go for it.

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The 4 Cs: helping students deconstruct GCSE questions

Taking apart letter C

The idea of deconstructing exam questions effectively is offered at the altar of outcomes every year. We challenge students to think harder and deeper about what they are being asked, what they have done before, and how they could respond.

But are we really showing them how to do this well?

The four main areas that students need to be able to recognise in order to fully understand what their response to the question requires are: command words, condition words, concept words and critical words.

Deconstructing GCSE exam questions: the 4Cs

Command words

Command words tell students what they are required to do to answer the question, so we need to make sure that they know what these mean. Are these words identifying? Evaluating? Describing? Discussing? Analysing?

“Describe” can be seen as the “what is it?” command. Students need to offer a series of points, usually linked, that include all of the main features.

“ Explain”, on the other hand, is the “how does this work?” command, so students need to use terms like “because” or “therefore”.

With “evaluate” questions, students should be able to more meaningfully consider which adverbs (such as “partially”, “fully”, “successfully”, “controversially”) are most useful and why.

We should be familiarising students with these words and definitions throughout the curriculum from key stage 3 onwards, and reviewing assessments to consider if they need to be reframed to include exam command words.

Rather than asking students to “write a leaflet to tell an audience”, for example, they could be asked to “write the text for a leaflet which explains to an audience”, and so on.

This would mean that Year 11s can focus on deepening their understanding around existing concepts.

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Condition words

These words set out the rules and parameters of the question. How many times have we had to award zero marks because an answer missed the point entirely?

The exam environment adds greatly to cognitive load, so we need to ensure that our students can be automatic in identifying the conditions of the question.

We can create habits through modelling and clearly articulating the thought process in accordance with the rules of the question. For example:

  • “Which lines are we looking at here? Draw a circle around those now.”
  • “Which sources do we need to disregard? Draw crosses through them.”
  • “Why would this answer get zero marks? How can you avoid this mistake?”

It may also be helpful to give students a series of similar questions that are reliant on them identifying and responding to a condition to hone their understanding of how to do this.

Concept words

A teacher’s ability to assist with this aspect of question deconstruction relies on their knowledge of the syllabus and the glossary of key terms. These concept words will vary from subject to subject, but could include words such as “representation”, “voice”, “exact value”, “secondary effects”, “factors” and so on.

GCSE students should be able to identify these words confidently and use them to explore how marks are awarded, as well as using them appropriately within their response.

A glossary for Year 11 students should not be a list of new academic words to learn but a reminder of words that they have already been introduced to and can now apply to demonstrate their understanding.

Critical words

These words add nuance but are often overlooked by students. Are we giving students an opportunity to explore and/or select a “central idea” or a “dominant issue”? Do we ask them “to what extent” they agree with an idea? Can they isolate a “controversial issue” or a “pivotal point”?

A useful technique here is to look at the question without the critical word first with the student, and then with it. How will this change the student’s response? What difficulty does it add? What would they include now that they would not have before? What words or phrases do they know they should be using? Students should then be able to see that the critical word is a fundamental aspect of the question.

The lessons here go beyond preparation for GCSEs: teaching students to better understand what they are being asked needs to be part of curriculum design rather than something that we only teach before mock exams. That way, we are truly allowing students to develop automaticity in their own effectiveness in planning, creating and evaluating their final responses.

Lisa Lockley is an assistant headteacher

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topics in this article

How we closed our GCSE gender gap

  • Solar Eclipse 2024

What the World Has Learned From Past Eclipses

C louds scudded over the small volcanic island of Principe, off the western coast of Africa, on the afternoon of May 29, 1919. Arthur Eddington, director of the Cambridge Observatory in the U.K., waited for the Sun to emerge. The remains of a morning thunderstorm could ruin everything.

The island was about to experience the rare and overwhelming sight of a total solar eclipse. For six minutes, the longest eclipse since 1416, the Moon would completely block the face of the Sun, pulling a curtain of darkness over a thin stripe of Earth. Eddington traveled into the eclipse path to try and prove one of the most consequential ideas of his age: Albert Einstein’s new theory of general relativity.

Eddington, a physicist, was one of the few people at the time who understood the theory, which Einstein proposed in 1915. But many other scientists were stymied by the bizarre idea that gravity is not a mutual attraction, but a warping of spacetime. Light itself would be subject to this warping, too. So an eclipse would be the best way to prove whether the theory was true, because with the Sun’s light blocked by the Moon, astronomers would be able to see whether the Sun’s gravity bent the light of distant stars behind it.

Two teams of astronomers boarded ships steaming from Liverpool, England, in March 1919 to watch the eclipse and take the measure of the stars. Eddington and his team went to Principe, and another team led by Frank Dyson of the Greenwich Observatory went to Sobral, Brazil.

Totality, the complete obscuration of the Sun, would be at 2:13 local time in Principe. Moments before the Moon slid in front of the Sun, the clouds finally began breaking up. For a moment, it was totally clear. Eddington and his group hastily captured images of a star cluster found near the Sun that day, called the Hyades, found in the constellation of Taurus. The astronomers were using the best astronomical technology of the time, photographic plates, which are large exposures taken on glass instead of film. Stars appeared on seven of the plates, and solar “prominences,” filaments of gas streaming from the Sun, appeared on others.

Eddington wanted to stay in Principe to measure the Hyades when there was no eclipse, but a ship workers’ strike made him leave early. Later, Eddington and Dyson both compared the glass plates taken during the eclipse to other glass plates captured of the Hyades in a different part of the sky, when there was no eclipse. On the images from Eddington’s and Dyson’s expeditions, the stars were not aligned. The 40-year-old Einstein was right.

“Lights All Askew In the Heavens,” the New York Times proclaimed when the scientific papers were published. The eclipse was the key to the discovery—as so many solar eclipses before and since have illuminated new findings about our universe.

Telescope used to observe a total solar eclipse, Sobral, Brazil, 1919.

To understand why Eddington and Dyson traveled such distances to watch the eclipse, we need to talk about gravity.

Since at least the days of Isaac Newton, who wrote in 1687, scientists thought gravity was a simple force of mutual attraction. Newton proposed that every object in the universe attracts every other object in the universe, and that the strength of this attraction is related to the size of the objects and the distances among them. This is mostly true, actually, but it’s a little more nuanced than that.

On much larger scales, like among black holes or galaxy clusters, Newtonian gravity falls short. It also can’t accurately account for the movement of large objects that are close together, such as how the orbit of Mercury is affected by its proximity the Sun.

Albert Einstein’s most consequential breakthrough solved these problems. General relativity holds that gravity is not really an invisible force of mutual attraction, but a distortion. Rather than some kind of mutual tug-of-war, large objects like the Sun and other stars respond relative to each other because the space they are in has been altered. Their mass is so great that they bend the fabric of space and time around themselves.

Read More: 10 Surprising Facts About the 2024 Solar Eclipse

This was a weird concept, and many scientists thought Einstein’s ideas and equations were ridiculous. But others thought it sounded reasonable. Einstein and others knew that if the theory was correct, and the fabric of reality is bending around large objects, then light itself would have to follow that bend. The light of a star in the great distance, for instance, would seem to curve around a large object in front of it, nearer to us—like our Sun. But normally, it’s impossible to study stars behind the Sun to measure this effect. Enter an eclipse.

Einstein’s theory gives an equation for how much the Sun’s gravity would displace the images of background stars. Newton’s theory predicts only half that amount of displacement.

Eddington and Dyson measured the Hyades cluster because it contains many stars; the more stars to distort, the better the comparison. Both teams of scientists encountered strange political and natural obstacles in making the discovery, which are chronicled beautifully in the book No Shadow of a Doubt: The 1919 Eclipse That Confirmed Einstein's Theory of Relativity , by the physicist Daniel Kennefick. But the confirmation of Einstein’s ideas was worth it. Eddington said as much in a letter to his mother: “The one good plate that I measured gave a result agreeing with Einstein,” he wrote , “and I think I have got a little confirmation from a second plate.”

The Eddington-Dyson experiments were hardly the first time scientists used eclipses to make profound new discoveries. The idea dates to the beginnings of human civilization.

Careful records of lunar and solar eclipses are one of the greatest legacies of ancient Babylon. Astronomers—or astrologers, really, but the goal was the same—were able to predict both lunar and solar eclipses with impressive accuracy. They worked out what we now call the Saros Cycle, a repeating period of 18 years, 11 days, and 8 hours in which eclipses appear to repeat. One Saros cycle is equal to 223 synodic months, which is the time it takes the Moon to return to the same phase as seen from Earth. They also figured out, though may not have understood it completely, the geometry that enables eclipses to happen.

The path we trace around the Sun is called the ecliptic. Our planet’s axis is tilted with respect to the ecliptic plane, which is why we have seasons, and why the other celestial bodies seem to cross the same general path in our sky.

As the Moon goes around Earth, it, too, crosses the plane of the ecliptic twice in a year. The ascending node is where the Moon moves into the northern ecliptic. The descending node is where the Moon enters the southern ecliptic. When the Moon crosses a node, a total solar eclipse can happen. Ancient astronomers were aware of these points in the sky, and by the apex of Babylonian civilization, they were very good at predicting when eclipses would occur.

Two and a half millennia later, in 2016, astronomers used these same ancient records to measure the change in the rate at which Earth’s rotation is slowing—which is to say, the amount by which are days are lengthening, over thousands of years.

By the middle of the 19 th century, scientific discoveries came at a frenetic pace, and eclipses powered many of them. In October 1868, two astronomers, Pierre Jules César Janssen and Joseph Norman Lockyer, separately measured the colors of sunlight during a total eclipse. Each found evidence of an unknown element, indicating a new discovery: Helium, named for the Greek god of the Sun. In another eclipse in 1869, astronomers found convincing evidence of another new element, which they nicknamed coronium—before learning a few decades later that it was not a new element, but highly ionized iron, indicating that the Sun’s atmosphere is exceptionally, bizarrely hot. This oddity led to the prediction, in the 1950s, of a continual outflow that we now call the solar wind.

And during solar eclipses between 1878 and 1908, astronomers searched in vain for a proposed extra planet within the orbit of Mercury. Provisionally named Vulcan, this planet was thought to exist because Newtonian gravity could not fully describe Mercury’s strange orbit. The matter of the innermost planet’s path was settled, finally, in 1915, when Einstein used general relativity equations to explain it.

Many eclipse expeditions were intended to learn something new, or to prove an idea right—or wrong. But many of these discoveries have major practical effects on us. Understanding the Sun, and why its atmosphere gets so hot, can help us predict solar outbursts that could disrupt the power grid and communications satellites. Understanding gravity, at all scales, allows us to know and to navigate the cosmos.

GPS satellites, for instance, provide accurate measurements down to inches on Earth. Relativity equations account for the effects of the Earth’s gravity and the distances between the satellites and their receivers on the ground. Special relativity holds that the clocks on satellites, which experience weaker gravity, seem to run slower than clocks under the stronger force of gravity on Earth. From the point of view of the satellite, Earth clocks seem to run faster. We can use different satellites in different positions, and different ground stations, to accurately triangulate our positions on Earth down to inches. Without those calculations, GPS satellites would be far less precise.

This year, scientists fanned out across North America and in the skies above it will continue the legacy of eclipse science. Scientists from NASA and several universities and other research institutions will study Earth’s atmosphere; the Sun’s atmosphere; the Sun’s magnetic fields; and the Sun’s atmospheric outbursts, called coronal mass ejections.

When you look up at the Sun and Moon on the eclipse , the Moon’s day — or just observe its shadow darkening the ground beneath the clouds, which seems more likely — think about all the discoveries still yet waiting to happen, just behind the shadow of the Moon.

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