Text Responses essays
You must make sure that each of your topic sentences deals with (and directly answers) an aspect in the prompt.
An easy way to plan:
- Think about the most obvious answer or the best piece of evidence for an aspect of the question. Flesh it out; elaborate.
- Think of another character or section in the book, and write a sentence that covers a slightly different part/aspect of the topic.
- Think of a problem or some evidence/character that defies (goes against) the question.
Remember: often the most direct answer and the simplest statement is the hardest. The late Steve Jobs understood the issue of simplicity: “Simple can be harder than complex: you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.”
The “simple” comes with a great deal of practice.
Writing thematic-style essays;
Creating and presenting (Section B)
In “Section B: creating and presenting” you will encounter various themes and relate them to a variety of texts. Inspired discussions may revolve around conflict, identity, landscapes and whose reality. Typical prompts that you will encounter are: “Conflict brings out the best or worst in people. “We grow through change”. “People’s true spirit is revealed in difficult times.” “There’s two ways of seeing our world – a right way and a wrong way.”
An expository essay with an interesting beginning; 3 clear angles/points with parallel examples); show a problem with the topic.
See Sample Plan/Format for expository/ hybrid/ persona-style: Hybrid essay
When writing expository essays relating to these themes you may wish to write a feature article or adopt “hybrid” format. A feature article can be compared with an expository essay with narrative and creative components. Feature writers often take a narrative approach and draw on dialogue, descriptive scenes and varying tones of voice to tell stories. Anecdotes and “people” stories are common and help to bring the theme alive.
Think about an interesting persona: hybrid/feature texts
- Choose an authentic but fresh context/persona. It should be simple and straightforward, but have the potential to include sophisticated examples and quotes. For example, Jason Smith, Youth Leader at the Kyneton Youth Voices Program. Use the “I” as a linking device and one who signposts the key ideas. Exploit the personal dimension. Once you get confident, inject a dash of personality into your persona.
- Make sure you show a progression of ideas. Divide your article into three sections with a beginning, middle (development) and end (food for thought; a complex or ambivalent, contradictory idea.) (Or think about a compare and contrast style: start with some similar examples and then show a difference/a contrast.)
- Once you choose a context/persona that you are comfortable with think about how you can link to the set text. This can often be done through a speaker, lecturer, presenter etc.
- Write out your key ideas/points/ paragraphs from the set text that you tend to use for a variety of prompts.
- Then think about some parallel examples that suit your persona and the text. Make sure you have a variety of quotes, real-life examples and sources (poems/people) etc.
- Finally, create an interesting beginning that also suits the persona and foreshadows the text.
The author: feature writers may be newspaper staff writers who have investigated an issue, or they may be freelance writers with particular expertise and seek to contribute to a debate. Personal journalism, or the use of the first-person pronoun, is common. This means that writers, drawing upon their personal or professional observations, often include personal references and their own feelings and attitudes to the subject — sometimes with a “before” and “after” perspective.
The audience: feature articles should appeal to the target audience. For example if a magazine targets middle-aged women, then the articles, advertisements and pictures would reflect the women’s interest in lifestyle, career, money, health and relationships.
The facts: Writers must research their facts and present them in a compelling and interesting manner, including quotes to give a sense of immediacy. They must choose a range of sources to give a balanced perspective. Use a combination of evidence.
Who are you?
You must choose a “persona”, that is you may be an expert or professional in the field, or represent an organisation. Or you may be a staff writer; you may be a youth leader or a student leader at a school/university. Your persona is critical to your message. It is also critical to your writing style. If you wish to include a personal slant, establish the “I” persona near the beginning of your article.
Making a start: a template for your first “hybrid” (feature) article
Follow the guidelines below to write a “hybrid” article. As you gain confidence, you can vary your persona, become more sophisticated or model your style on your favourite newspaper writer. (For example, refer to Martin Flanagan, Saturday Reflection, The Age (Insight).
See Sample Plan/Format for expository/ hybrid/ persona-style: Hybrid essay
Also see Writing in Context.
Joey Bloomsfield, Community Reporter, Meredith News
Take on the role of a community reporter at a local magazine and report on the Shire’s Cultural Week. Include some stories about people in the (local) community and refer to your novel or film.
Write down your key points/arguments, starting with the most obvious point. Think about your most compelling evidence for each point. Be sure to establish an emotional and/or a logical context. You must show a progression of ideas: include a problem or a different angle to show the issue’s complexity.
Here we go.
Start with an interesting beginning: a short anecdote or a quote.
Set the scene. Explain your purpose: to cover Meredith Shire’s Cultural Week.
- Show a link to the prompt.
- Refer to a speaker/discussion at the Meredith Library. This is an opportunity for you to discuss aspects of your chosen text and similar examples that shed light on the prompt. For example, you may focus on a discussion by Mr Donavan regarding a relevant theme in your novel.
- Make a comment. Ask a question. Perhaps include a relevant comment from a member of the audience.
- If you wish to refer to a film or a play, include a reference to the Meredith Theatre Company or the Meredith Film Society.
- Ask a question to prompt reflection.
- You may conclude with a reference to a local “people” story, or a reference to your favourite poem that provides another interesting angle on the prompt.
- Round off your discussion.
- Conclude with a final example or refer back to the opening anecdote or quote. Encourage readers to reflect on a problem.
See a sample of Joey’s essay.
See Better Essays and Persuasive Techniques : See Chapter 4: Persuasive text types pp 90-91.
For sample “hybrid” essays and a variety of styles and contexts, see:
“Different versions of reality” (Whose Reality) (Student Magazine)
Our place in the world and us: Reflection in The Meredith Gazette (“Death of a Salesman”, Two essays on Whose Reality from different persona/context)
How we live in a world created by others, Student Representative (Whose Reality: Wag The Dog)
Trapped in our subjective world: A prison with no bars (Literary reviewer, Spies)
Looking back can alter our reality: Spencers Film Festival by reviewer Hayden Crong
Speech: Sally Dalton, new age health consultant; How much reality is healthy?
(Speech to Spencer Grammar School, The Lot, Death of a Salesman)
Also a Speech by the Author of “Getting a Grip” (Jeremy Springer, who addresses a group of wannabes: Death of a Salesman)
Remembering and forgetting: life-style counsellor and health guide (Death of a Salesman)
See “A Series of Open Letters” (Based on the The Lot/ Whose Reality)
Illusions and dealing with loss: psychologist, Jimmy Swanson (Death of a Salesman)
Spencer News Reflection: what determines our realities? : Column Reflection
Misrepresenting Reality: an insurance evaluator takes stock: Willy Loman
See Evading Reality, a personal reflection (Death of a Salesman)
To get involved or not: Weekly Reflection Column by Student Representative (Conflict)
See Relationships with Place and Community By Jason Smith Youth Leader (The Mind of a Thief)
Dilemmas and choices: a reflection of ourselves (Conflict) (Spencer News)
See “Doing the Right Thing”, by Janie Fitzpatrick, Youth Global Voices Group (Melbourne) and Galileo
See A Clash of views and values and conflict, by Kristy Mendelson (Student representative Hampton Park University)
“The world in which we live shapes us” History Lecturer at Southern Cross University (Imaginary Landscapes)
See Identity as a Story (Mind of a Thief)
Be sure to perfect your Language Analysis Skills if you want a good mark the Year 12 English Exam.
See also our VCE workbook for students: The Language of Persuasion: an essay-writing guide.
Please click here to download a PDF version of the Exercises in the Language of Persuasion: an essay writing guide for immediate use. By using these exercises, you will be able to follow our support material on each exercise (See “turn to exercise”). Each “turn to exercise” includes key strategies, suggested responses, students’ samples and assessors’ marks and comments.
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We’ve all been doing Text Response essays from as young as Year 7. At this point in VCE, we should be feeling relatively comfortable with tackling themes and characters in our essays. However, the danger with just discussing themes and characters is that we often fall into the trap of simply paraphrasing the novel, or retelling the story. So how do we elevate our essays to become more sophisticated and complex analyses that offer insight?
An important distinction to be aware of is that the expectation of Year 11 English was geared more toward themes and characters. However in Year 12, teachers and examiners expect students to focus on the author’s construction of the text. By keeping in mind that the text is a DELIBERATE CONSTRUCTION, this can help eliminate retelling. A good guideline to follow is to include the author’s name at least once every paragraph.
Some examples are:
- (author) elicits
- (author) endorses or condemns
- (author) conveys
Move beyond talking about character and relationships. How are those characters used to explore ideas? How are they used to show readers what the author values?
To explore the text BEYOND characters, themes and ideas, tackle the following criteria:
Social, cultural and historical values embodied in text
In other words, this means the context in which the text was written. Think about how that influenced the author, and how those views and values are reflected in the text. How does the author create social commentary on humanity?
Linguistic structures and features
These involve the author’s use of symbols, metaphors, subtext, or genres. Consider why the author chose those particular words, images or symbols? What effect did it evoke within the reader? What themes or characters are embodied within these literary devices? Metalanguage is essential in VCE essays, so ensure you are confident in this field.
If the text is a film, it’s important to include why the director chose certain cinematography techniques. Comment on the mise-en-scene, camera angles, overview shots, close ups, flashbacks, soundtrack, to name a few. Or if it’s a play, examine the stage directions. These contain great detail of the author’s intentions.
How text is open to different interpretations
“While some may perceive… others may believe…” is a good guideline to follow in order to explore different angles and complexities of the text.
Skilful weaving in of appropriate quotes
This is how to create a well-substantiated essay. To weave in textual evidence, don’t simply ‘plonk’ in sentence long quotes. Instead, use worded quotes within your sentences so the transition is seamless.
Do you know how to embed quotes like a boss? Test yourself with our blog post here.
Strong turn of phrase
Ensure your essay is always linked to the prompt; don’t go off on an unrelated tangent. Linking words such as “conversely” or “furthermore” increase coherence within your essay. Begin each paragraph with a strong topic sentence, and finish each paragraph with a broader perception that links back to the topic and the next paragraph.
This is also where having a wide range of vocabulary is crucial to presenting your ideas in a sophisticated manner. Create a word bank from assessor’s reports, sample essays, or teacher’s notes, and by the end of the year you’ll have an extensive list to choose from. Also, referring to literary devices contributes to a great vocabulary, exhibiting a strong turn of phrase!
Consider the topic
What does it imply? Find the underlying message and the implications behind the prompt. There is always tension within the topic that needs to be resolved by the conclusion of your essay.
Finally, simply enjoy writing about your text! It will help you write with a sense of personal voice and a personal engagement with the text, which the teachers and assessors will always enjoy.
Extra: Want a step-by-step process—and all the tools you'll need—to ace Text Response? Become a Text Response expert today and breeze through VCE English. Start your journey with our Ultimate VCE English Study Guide now.