The Springboard – P1, Q5

All images in this blog are available on Google, labelled for non-commercial reuse. All examples of my students’ work have been reproduced here with my students’ express permission.

Over the past couple of years, I have seen many approaches to the AQA Paper 1, Section B. I’ve examined in various capacities – it has been a pleasure to work with other schools on this and see the ways this question is tackled. These ways have included the ‘divide it up into a grid’ approach; the annotate the picture approach; the use of acronyms approach (I’m not a fan for writing tasks) and the no-approach-approach.

Loosening the narrative/descriptive distinction

The narrative/descriptive distinction is almost redundant; a powerful message from the new specification is that students are being assessed on the quality of their writing – not their ability to stick to a rigid narrative/descriptive rubric. After all, our successful authors do not take a binary approach to narrating and describing. The board have been clear in their labelling of the question; it’s not Q5a and Q5b. It’s just Q5 with two options. They’re marked with the same mark-scheme.

In my department, we’ve been spacing out the Section B tasks. On Fridays of week one, they learn about and respond to the paper one task, and on Fridays of week two, they do the paper two task. They’ve just completed their third task and already, the quality and quantity of what they’re able to produce in timed conditions has soared. It’s really striking.

The Springboard

I don’t think I truly appreciated this until now. The image given in Paper 1 is a springboard to a full response. Nothing more, nothing less. They do not need to describe the minutiae of what they see. They do not need to name each person in the image, or describe the colours in the image, or make sure they look for details that other candidates might miss. It’s a springboard. They should look at it, spend some moments making connections and then plan and write a creative response.

In-Class Approach.

To avoid the waffle and be easy to read/adapt/apply, this is numbered.

  1. I choose a focus from the AO5 and AO6 descriptors (pre-planned based on areas for development).
  2. I display an image and a task. The whole faculty use the same image – this works well for standardisation and cuts planning time. Our wonderful NQT Beth put these together over the summer.
  3. I spend 20 minutes teaching my students the content of the focus. This time includes contributions from them, modelled examples from me (and them!) and often general discussion on what could work well.
  4. We reinforce the notion that the response does not have to have a direct link to the picture. It’s a springboard – I use this term with them. We consider: who took the picture? Is anybody out of shot? What happened in the run-up to events in this picture? Do these two people know each other? Why are they there? What would this picture look like in a different context?
  5. The students spend 5 to 10 minutes on a plan. This is content-based, not method-based. I do not use acronyms for creative writing. They plan for structure too.
  6. They move on to the actual writing for 30 minutes. As we approach the exam season, I intend to extend this time.


Here are some examples of some of my students’ creative responses to some images. These are from term 6 last year and the from our Friday spacing tasks this year. They are just openings and there is a full range of abilities represented here. The point of this blog is to show the ways that the picture can serve as a springboard. Some of these were improved as homework. I’m not holding them up as shining examples of Grade 9 work; far from it. I’m illustrating how perceiving the image as a springboard can work in applied practice. I have corrected SPaG here for readability.

Image 1: dog and person on boat

Dog on Boat

Student A

He’d always stared at me. He always looked at me like he wanted food. It drove me mad. I used to say, “Ben! Stop staring!” and then feel the weight of guilt for hours after. Never did I think I’d be grateful for this little face being the only thing in my line of sight. Actually, never did I think I’d be running away.

Student B

Like clockwork, she sails past my river-side cottage at the same time every day. Dog on board and a single oar to guide her. I don’t know her name. She serves as a human alarm clock for me; as soon as she passes, it’s time for me to leave. Then one day she didn’t arrive. I was late to work and that’s when things started to go wrong.

Image 2: balcony, toddler and mopeds


Student A (opening and first two lines of second paragraph)

We didn’t know there was a witness and you’d be surprised at how much two-year-olds can say. Mopeds are fast, but words are hard to escape. (This line is repeated through the response)

It all started back in 2003. We lived a simple life with no need for materialistic [sic] possessions.

Image 3: abandoned swimming pool

Swimming pool

Student C

Axmed took the cleaning job the second he was offered it. “I shall work hard!” he told the pool manager. “I shall work so hard that you’ll see the sun reflecting from the tiles.” The pool-manager looked back at him and smiled. “You can work as hard as you like. Just don’t look at or talk to my daughter. The sun reflects from her eyes and I won’t have her corrupted.” Axmed’s heart sank but on the outside he showed no trace of this.

Student D

A panic attack feels like you’re drowning. The air that you crave can’t get to your lungs but teasingly condenses on your skin. It feels like you’re drowning.

Image 4: rocks, sky and an old building.


Student B (class focus on punctuation for this task)

The rocks lay squat. Fifty shades of green, grey, brown, black and everything in between. “Stay calm… stay calm…” muttered Henry to himself. He was undoubtedly lost. Pausing for breath at a disused turret, his mind wandered to earlier in the week. It had started well; the planning, the excitement, packing the essentials and hearing that final click of the front-door behind him – a final reminder that this was it. He was finally leaving.

Image 5: child in a library


Student E

My best friend was an open book. No matter her facial expression, I knew how she felt. I knew if she was happy, sad, hurt or angry. Most of all, I knew if she was lying.

Student F

My feet dangled, my toes not even scraping the floor. I felt like a three-year-old in a room bigger than a mansion. This job interview was not going well. I thought of my wife and three children, waiting back at the hostel. I thought of how I was going to disappoint them yet again. I needed to take a different approach. After the inevitable rejection, I decided to take a different route home.

I hope this offers some ideas for how to avoid the obvious interpretation of the image. I’ll blog on this again in a few months to show some more examples of how they’re getting on.