In English Language and Literature (SL and HL), one piece of external assessment that is under your control is the Written Task. Now, granted, this is a new course, and there aren’t too many examples available (on the internet, or with your teachers) from which to get some ideas, but writing a successful Written Task is really not that hard! In fact, you can have some fun with it!

For example, consider any of the Harry Potter books. Note: we have chosen Harry Potter simply because practically EVERYONE has heard of him and the series. The goal of a Written Task is to demonstrate how well you have understood the way in which the author (J. K. Rowling, in this case) has conveyed her intent and her meaning through ‘language’.

As a student, your goal is to convince your readers (teachers / examiners / fellow students) that you understand what is going on. Some aspects that you can consider are:

  • Historical, cultural and social contexts
  • Formal elements of the text, genre and structure
  • Attitudes and values expressed by literary texts
  • Impact on readers

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Step 1

Lets take a look at Harry Potter from these points of view. Consider the microcosm of Hogwarts and the surrounding world of magic. You could talk about the importance of heredity and alliances through marriage as well as the associated prestige. In doing so, it is important to consider HOW this is conveyed through the use of language, or in this case, by the choice of words. Compare ‘Pure-bloods’ versus ‘Squibs.’ What sort of connotations are present? Does one term sound better than the other? Why? HOW is language important at creating such perceptions in your mind (and this is where you will find yourself applying more and more of your TOK approaches)? What do these things tell you about the society that Harry Potter and his friends live in? These kinds of questions will simply get you thinking about HOW you should be approaching your texts.

Step 2

Now start thinking of WHAT you will do with your Written Task. You have the license to be creative, as long as you are effective in convincing your audience and cover all or most of the aforementioned aspects. Remember, you are being graded on the following criteria:

  • A: Rationale
  • B: Task and Content
  • C: Organization
  • D: Language and Style

Given below are a couple of examples of what we would have done, if we were assigned Harry Potter novels:

Example 1: A conversation between Harry, Hermione and Ron as they work together to compose a speech to welcome the members of the newly founded ‘Dumbledore’s Army’.

In this conversation, you can include the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘why’ of the reason behind the secret gatherings. Since it is a speech, you can also indicate your understanding of the different characters and their traits within the conversation. For instance, Ron would be likely to suggest something outlandish, but Hermione would contradict it right away, either by pointing out the weaknesses or by adjusting his suggestions to be more politically correct. The way you phrase your sentences and words should be an attempt at capturing these characters’ voices as you have read them within the books (grammar, tone, choice of words, etc). Lastly, in your rationale, you can explain WHY this conversation about a speech was necessary to write about - perhaps because you thought this was entirely missing within the books, or perhaps you wanted to further develop the rising tension between Ron and Hermione (before they are open about their romantic interests in each other) - either way, you need to convince the readers about WHY this is important, and HOW you are able to use similar devices the author has used in the original books.
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Example 2: A brochure to promote pleasure tours at Hogwarts Castle

Imagine that you work for a travel agency, and you need to promote Hogwarts to visitors from other places (Beauxbatons? Durmstrang?). This is a fun task, since you can let your imagination run wild - you can pretty much recreate your own fantasies about what you would do if you were given a chance to live a student’s life at Hogwarts. Incorporating the knowledge and understanding bits here should be fun - you can talk about the various features of Hogwarts, such as its towers, the Grand Hall, the kitchens and the food that they serve, students’ dormitories, the Quidditch tournaments etc - but you have to adapt your descriptions and your choice of words in much the same way that a travel agency would. Using inviting adjectives and highlighting the attractions is one way to do this. You can even insert pictures within your task, to make it more and more like a real brochure, and you can include fun ‘facts’ as captions for pictures… the ideas are endless. However, you need to have an effective rationale behind creating a travel brochure like this - this is where you need to incorporate the social and historical contexts. Why would someone from a competing school or a different region want to visit Hogwarts? What kind of language would you use for this brochure? Would it be formal? Informal? Who is your audience… etc - these are some of the many things you need to consider.
Please bear in mind that we have written this using Harry Potter as an example simply to show the numerous ways in which you can approach your texts. Your teachers and supervisors will ultimately be responsible to approve your topics - so while this may be a more ‘fun’ assignment, it is still important to bear in mind that you HAVE to satisfy the GRADING CRITERIA in order to write a successful written task.
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