Choosing Comparative Study Texts

I must admit that I find choosing Comparative Study texts difficult. Choosing texts to study for the Comparative can take a lot of time and thought. Students find the Comparative Study difficult. It is unlike what we usually ask them to do – texts are not considered in isolation, but in relation to each other. Student responses and views are extremely valid, their ability to make judgements and compare texts will earn them high marks. And this is partly why it is difficult to choose the texts to study. Which three texts will form that perfect combination? What is important to watch out for when choosing your texts?

Added to this, the Comparative Study is the biggest question on Paper Two in terms of marks, and is also the question where most freedom (and responsibility) is given to the teacher. It feels like there is a lot at stake when choosing these texts. With dozens to choose from, where do I start? How do I pick wisely? How do I get that perfect combination for my class group? Is there a perfect combination?!

So what do I do?

Find Out More

Always. There are comparative texts that I am unfamiliar with. I chat to colleagues and go online to find out more about texts I have not come across before.

You can browse the Comparative texts for 2018 texts here.

Make a shortlist

I choose some titles that appeal to me. If I read a synopsis and it bores me, or if a novel is eight hundred pages long, or out of print, I take them off my list. (I take them off my list even if said novel is supposed to be the best novel of all time. If I don’t want to teach it, I will avoid it, unless there is nothing else to choose from.) Now I have a list of interesting texts as my starting point.

Start Reading/Viewing

This is the time consuming (but also enjoyable!) part, working my way through the shortlist. As I go, texts I enjoy go in my ‘possible’ column, while those I don’t are struck off.

Consider the Comparative Modes

As I consider texts I would like to teach, I think about how they will fit together for the Comparative.

If I find myself with little to say for certain modes (General Vision and Viewpoint is trickiest in my own experience, followed by Literary Genre), I know my students will certainly struggle. I try to spend time thinking about the connections and differences I will highlight in the classroom. When I can come up with lots of ideas, I know that the text is likely to work for me.

Consider the group you are teaching

I know this is not always possible if you are taking over a class or teaching the Comparative to a new group of fifth years, but where possible, I take my class group into consideration.

A weaker group will definitely struggle with a lengthy novel and the large amounts of independent reading that go with it. I ask myself if it is worth it for the text I have chosen?

Conversely, I may have a group of very engaged, thoughtful readers, looking for something challenging – I try to bear this in mind when choosing texts for them.

Something else I consider is whether the subject matter will engage my class, or will I have to battle my way through it? With so much to choose from, I try to go for something that my class group are likely to connect with, if I can. Ideally, their reading should be something to enjoy, not to slog through.

Teach stories you like

 If you find a text you love, teach it. Your enthusiasm and interest will be of real benefit to your students.

The list of prescribed texts, though sometimes daunting, can make for entertaining reading. Reading The Spinning Heart, The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Big Maggie for the first time, I couldn’t believe it had taken me so long to get around to them. I was thrilled to find texts that I was excited about teaching, and thoroughly enjoyed as a reader. There are some real gems prescribed every year, although they are not always commonly chosen.

Stick to your guns

When you find a combination of texts you want to teach, don’t doubt your judgement or decision! It is easy to be swayed by “But we always do X” or “But there are no notes on Y”. If you are happy with your texts and how they fit together, then the combination is worth teaching. Your students will be rewarded for their original combinations and insights in the exam.

So best of luck with your choices, and happy reading!!


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