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GCSE French literary extracts

I have just finished working on a set of ten short literary extracts with exercises. these are designed to resemble the examination questions which you'll see in specimen papers and actual exams from June 2018. I'm sure subscribers will find them useful. They could be done individually or given out as a booklet for practice in the run-up to exams. I've included pieces by Camus, Balzac, Ionesco, Sartre, Saint-Exupéry, Pagnol, Hugo, Zola, Sagan and Maupassant.

Writing these has reminded me of what a cul-de-sac this inclusion of literature is. Someone high up decided that it would be a good idea to get pupils reading more literary texts as part of work from KS2 through to KS4. This implied that such texts have high value and can contribute to a more rigorous approach to language teaching overall.

In practice, however, you soon discover the limitations of working with authentic or abridged/adapted literary texts. These are the issues:

  • Texts are nearly always too hard, unless you adapt them. They usually go against the bets principles of teaching reading comprehension.
  • Extracts in isolation, even with a brief contextual introduction, don't make much sense to students and are unlikely, therefore, to be engaging.
  • It is very hard to design interesting communicative lessons (stress communicative) based on literary extracts.
  • Exercise types are constrained when you use literary texts. You end up doing what the examiners and textbook writers do: questions in English (mainly) or true/false, gap-fill and selecting true sentences (essentially the same as true-false).
  • Narrative texts usually use the passé simple, which will need some teaching. For this reason AQA (the only exam board to have their specification accredited at this stage) have cunningly avoided it by using dialogue, texts using the imperfect or passé composé (e.g. Camus' L'Etranger).
I believe that what will happen is this: text book writers and teachers, fully aware of the above constraints, will pay lip-service to literature and include a few isolated exercises just to make sure that students have prepared for the exam assessment types. Some teachers, notably those working with high ability pupils, will take on more meaningful and engaging activities, such as reading short stories or even easy plays.

In any case, this apparent attempt to reintroduce work of the Whitmarsh-style type (take a look at some old O-level books), imposed on us from a central authority, is a bit of a blind alley.


  1. "the examiners and textbook writers do: questions in English (mainly) or true/false, gap-fill and selecting true sentences (essentially the same as true-false)."
    Not all textbook writers! ;-)
    There are so many interesting things to do with literary texts, but they take time and space, both in very short supply with teachers and textbook writers unfortunately - which doesn't mean you can't do them. Perhaps you could encourage teachers to look into teacher's books/notes a bit more, sometimes the good ideas are hidden there for lack of space on the book page! Danie @Frenchmatters

  2. Thanks for commenting. I can see how some activities can be generated with the right texts: word-play, creative writing, analysis and no doubt a good deal more. But from the communicative language teaching teaching point of view, I find them limited. Would you like to do a guest blog in answer to mine?

  3. Thanks for commenting. I can see how some activities can be generated with the right texts: word-play, creative writing, analysis and no doubt a good deal more. But from the communicative language teaching teaching point of view, I find them limited. Would you like to do a guest blog in answer to mine?

  4. Where can we find these sample texts for GCSE? I think we can find more texts that are adequate in contemporary literature and especially short stories or books written for children. Yes, it is going to be a real challenge but I see it as a good one.

  5. They are on There is no doubt lots of great children's lit out there, but how much is at the right level for GCSE? In my opinion, not much. Don't forget copyright issues when working with extracts from contemporary texts.


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