Comprehending, Responding


'HOW' is a pesky word that has caused the downfall of even the brightest English students 😧 It’s a word examiners and teachers use to encourage students to offer ANALYSIS.

This is where examiners and teachers provide a parameter for the analysis.
E.G. “Explain HOW THE USE OF SETTING shapes the construction of one of the characters in this passage.”
You are being asked specifically to analyse the setting and how it influences character construction. You've been given a parameter for the HOW (analysis).
Other examples:
“Explain HOW THE PATTERNS OF LANGUAGE OR STRUCTURE are used to represent a complex idea.”
“Explain HOW A TEXT USES VOICE to encourage you to empathise with others.”
This is where YOU are left to choose the type of analysis you will offer. And this is where the downfall occurs 😧
Because a parameter has not been provided, some students fail to realise they are still expected to discuss the important course concepts they’ve been sweating over for the last two years.
E.G. “Explain HOW at least one text you have studied appeals to a particular audience.”
Can you see there is a lack of direction regarding the HOW?  BUT!  You are still expected to offer analysis.
So where do you go from here?
We suggest picking from ANY of the topics below, all of which allow you to offer analysis and successfully address the HOW:
🧐 Consider generic conventions (structure, point of view, setting, characterisation, ideas or themes or issues, stylistic features).
🧐 Consider language features – WRITTEN (metaphor, simile, personification inclusive pronouns, statistics, rhetorical questions etc) or VISUAL (camera angles, lighting, juxtaposition, mise en scene, symbols etc)
🧐 Consider values and/or attitudes in the text.
🧐 Consider context (production and reception).
Think about it.  A film or novel or poem may appeal to a particular audience because of setting.  Because of the values that are reinforced, or challenged.  Because of the time period in which it was produced, or received.  Because of the characterisation…..and so on.
There are LOADS of things you could potentially discuss.  The key is not to ignore the HOW.
Don't make the mistake of thinking this sort of question is easy or straightforward.  You still need to offer analysis and show you are thinking about the way the text has been CRAFTED. 😊
Comprehending, Responding

EXPLAIN – how do I do this?

This instructional verb is used a LOT in the ATAR English examination papers.  For example:

  • EXPLAIN how your response to this image has been affected by the arrangement of visual elements. (2017)
  • EXPLAIN how the use of setting shapes the construction of one of the characters in this passage. (2016)

EXPLAIN means to give reasons for, to relate cause and effect, to make the relationships between things evident.  You have to make the marker understand something by giving reasons for both ‘how’ and ‘why’ things are as they are.

Here are some useful phrases you can use 😊

  • To understand the …… it is useful to think of….
  • … works by …
  • Because… then …
  • When… then …
  • … is/are caused by …
  • Whereas…
  • In the same way …
  • … results from …
  • The effect of….
  • The main reason for …
  • Taking into account …, it is clear that …
  • … interacts with …
  • … affects …
  • … causes …
  • … influences …
  • …predicts …
  • … leads to …
  • … informs …
  • … emphasises …
  • … demonstrates …
  • … impacts on …
  • … supports …


Your essays should predominantly be written in the present tense – is, shows, explores ideas about, purpose is to….

However, QUOTATIONS don’t always fit smoothly in our essays when a novel or article is written in the PAST tense.

That’s when these little guys [  ] come in really handy.  They tell a marker that you have CHANGED or ADDED something in the quotation.


In the opening of his dystopian novel, Orwell states that “it [is] a bright cold day in April, and the clocks [are] striking thirteen” as a way of signposting that all is not normal in this futuristic London.

The actual quote is “It was a bright cold day….the clocks were striking…”

My marker can see  [  ]  that for the purposes of grammatical correctness, I have amended the tense.

This tells them - I know how to use verb tense and punctuation properly.  Reward me!  😊


Orwell shows how serious the surveillance in Airstrip One is when he says “they [thought police] watched everybody all the time”.

It may not be clear to a marker who “they” are – so I provide the context for my marker using the square brackets.  I need my marker to be able to follow my argument

AND THAT’S IT.  TOO EASY!  Be careful though – you can’t use [    ]  to change the writer’s meaning to suit yourself.  And don’t use these ones (  )  -  that would be wrong. 😊



Most Yr12 students will study a fiction or non-fiction text this year, so think about the VOICES represented in the text you have studied and the different PERSPECTIVES it offers.  Here’s a few examples 

👩‍🎓 “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” – Mark Haddon gives children with Aspergers and their families a VOICE and presents their PERSPECTIVE of living with this disorder.

👨‍🎓 “Destroying Avalon” – Kate McCaffrey gives teenage victims of bullying (both cyber and physical) a VOICE in this novel and presents their PERSPECTIVE of what it’s like to be in this situation.

👩‍🎓 “Broken Lives” – Estelle Blackburn gives John Button a voice and protests his innocence, presenting his perspective on the evidence and life in prison. She also presents the perspective of the Eric Edgar Cooke and his crime rampage on the streets of Perth in the 1960s.

👨‍🎓 “The Book Thief” – Markus Zusak takes the unique approach of giving Death a VOICE, making him the narrator in the novel. We see Death’s PERSPECTIVE on death, loss, suffering and humanity). He also gives a VOICE to the German people who disagreed with what the Nazis were doing and presents their PERSPECTIVE on this period of time and the treatment of Jews.

👩‍🎓 “Things Fall Apart” – Chinua Achebe gives the Igbo people a VOICE and presents their PERSPECTIVE on an African society that challenges narrow Western representations of the continent.

👨‍🎓 “The Handmaid’s Tale” – Margaret Atwood gives women a VOICE and explores feminism from several different PERSPECTIVES.

👩‍🎓 "Snow Falling on Cedars" – David Guterson gives Japanese Americans a VOICE and presents their PERSPECTIVE of living in a post-WWII America.

👨‍🎓 “The Kite Runner” – Khalid Hosseini gives Afghan people a VOICE and presents their PERSPECTIVE of life in Afghanistan before and after the Russian invasion, under Taliban rule and life as an immigrant/refugee in America.

👩‍🎓 “Hiroshima” – John Hersey gives VOICES to six survivors of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in this journalistic novel, presenting each person’s PERSPECTIVE of the bombing and the impact it had on their lives.

And that wraps up our focus on VOICE and PERSPECTIVE 

Hopefully we’ve provided enough examples to give you the idea and understand the concepts a little better.

And maybe, if you have to do your own investigations, we’ve given your some great ideas for texts that you can choose from too 



This is a popular medium for giving groups or individuals a VOICE, and consequently, presenting a variety of PERSPECTIVES.  Here’s just a few examples:

  • We looked at Michael Moore’s documentaries a few weeks ago – “Bowling for Columbine” and “Sicko” – which give Americans a VOICE to express their discontent at their outrageous levels of gun violence and broken healthcare system.


  • “Murderball” gives a VOICE to disabled athletes and presents the PERSPECTIVE of wheelchair rugby players.


  • “Bra Boys” gives a VOICE to the Maroubra surfing gang in Sydney, allowing them to present their PERSPECTIVE on surfing, their territory, multiculturalism and the violence often associated with them.


  • Louis Theroux ‘s documentaries always make for interesting viewing! He gives a VOICE to minority groups (Neo-Nazis, gangsters, America’s most hated family, swingers, alien killers, doomsday preppers) whose CONTROVERSIAL PERSPECTIVES often challenge the values and beliefs of mainstream society.


  • “Black Fish” gives a VOICE to the cruel treatment of Tilicum (and other orca whales in captivity) at the hands of the multi-billion-dollar sea-park industry.


  • Mabo: Life of an Island Man gives a VOICE to Eddie Mabo and presents his PERSPECTIVE about family, home and his fight for an entire nation and its legal system.


And so on and so forth…