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The Area of Study Response, also known as Section 3 of Paper 1, is a particularly strange type of essay. In it, you are asked to synthesise ideas from a range of texts with your own personal response, addressing a specific question or statement, under an umbrella concept: Belonging. It’s not an easy thing to do but here are some hints to help you:

  1. Know your texts. This knowledge is demonstrated through quotes and close references, not through vague or sweeping generalisations;
  2. Engage with the question and the concept. Don’t just talk about the texts, try to develop a personal response to the idea of Belonging. This can be done through having a two part intro, the first part addressing the question/concept/issues raised, the second part introducing the texts. Continue this engagement throughout your response, which brings me to the next point;
  3. Develop an argument. The AoS is not a persuasive piece but having an argument can help to keep your writing focussed and structured. What is your own concept of Belonging? How has this been influenced by the portrayal or Belonging in your texts?
  4. Use the magic circle. Quote – Technique – Effect. Every body paragraph should do this at least once. Make clear and distinct links between the text being discussed, the technique used in the text and how that portrays an aspect of Belonging;
  5. Write clearly. Yes, English teachers love big words and complex sentence structures, but not when they obscure meaning. You are not James Joyce. Clarity is more important than verve (if you can have both, however, go ahead). Read your work aloud to check that it makes sense.

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A colleague of mine recently mentioned that, in the race to meet a billion outcomes, we had perhaps lost some of our love of and fun with language. One of my teaching resolutions for 2009 is to spend more time on activities that inspire a love of our crazy language. Here’s an interesting start:

This is what happens when you put the complete works of Shakespeare into Wordle. It generates a cloud of the most common words, size indicating frequency. I think this would be a great tool for creating vocabulary lists that are a bit more interesting and a bit less listy.

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Belonging is the new HSC Area of Study but it’s more than that, it’s a fundamental human need. I tend to conceptualize belonging in the negative, to think of the outsider, of the person who doesn’t belong. I always identified with those characters in books, with Erika Yurken in Hating Alison Ashley, with Elspeth in The Obernewtyn Chronicles and with poor ignored Anne Eliot in Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Each character was competent in her own way but out of place within their family, school, society. What made them not fit? What made these characters square pegs in round holes? For Erika it is simply a matter of perception, she thinks herself better than (or different from) what she is and, when she finds herself, she finds that she fits exactly in her own place. Anne and Elspeth are both out of place because they are extraordinary. I was always attracted to this idea of not belonging because of being special.

I love this quote about Belonging:

Belonging is a circle that embraces everything; if we reject it, we damage our nature.
The word ‘belonging’ holds together the two fundamental aspects of life:
Being and Longing, the longing of our Being and the being of our Longing.
– John O’Donohue

It is what we are and what we want to be all wrapped up into one. In this module I’m looking forward to exploring the idea of belonging to a Place as well as to groups, communities and families.

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