GCSE English Language Non-Fiction Resources


GCSE English Language C19th Non-Fiction Resources for Teachers and Parents

 These free downloadable resources arise from the current coronavirus crisis, knowing that teachers cannot access their physical resources in schools, may not know where to look on the internet for further materials, and need resources which are on topics unlikely to cause distress at a traumatic time. In this way, they are similar to previous resources I’ve made. (This is me by the way.) These new resources avoid scientific and medical topics to focus instead on the more light-hearted innocuous aspects of Victorian life (of which there were many!). These resources are a response to requests from teachers in lockdown for something a little less dark to share with students.


There were 729,315 entries for GCSE English Language in the June 2019 exam series and a new component of the 9-1 specification (introduced in 2015) is the introduction of unseen 19th century non-fiction, which students have to read, understand, analyse and comment on in relation to a paired 20th or 21st century source on the same theme, all under timed conditions. That’s a lot of students needing to access 19th century materials to practice on, and a lot of teachers looking for resources…


So,  I made these! You can find more information below, including a video guide to finding similar resources, guidance about the exam boards these resources work best with, and other useful links. I’ve only provided the 19th century source, but you could easily find a 20th/21st century source to pair each of these with


Video Guide to Finding 19th Century Non-Fiction Online


Which exam board do these resources respond to?

These are applicable first and foremost to AQA GCSE English Language (8700), where Paper 2, Writers’ Viewpoints and Perspectives, asks students to compare two non-fiction extracts (one of which is always 19th century) as part of Section A – Reading. The specification notes that such non-fiction could be drawn from ‘high quality journalism, articles, reports, essays, travel writing, accounts, sketches, letters, diaries, autobiography and biographical passages or other appropriate non-fiction and literary non-fiction forms’ (p. 14).


If you use OCR GCSE English Language (9-1) – J351, then these resources relate to Component 1 – Communicating Information and Ideas (where students are similarly faced with compared unseen 19th century non-fiction with a linked piece of 20th/21st century non-fiction. As OCR’s specification notes, ‘The unseen 19th century text will always be non-fiction’ (p. 5).


In each case, the 19th century source appears in a very time-pressured exam which constitutes 50% of a student’s entire GCSE grade. While not everything hinges on this part of the exam, a fear of all unseen 19th century non-fiction is a fairly major stumbling block!


What’s the format of these resources?


Since 19th century literary non-fiction can be hard to find – especially for time-pressed teachers – I provide a series of ‘Source B’ texts (as per AQA Paper 2). The extracts are formatted (as far as possible) as they would appear in an AQA exam script: in 11pt Arial font, with a brief introduction to the source and a glossary of vocabulary students couldn’t be expected to know.


Should teachers wish to use them, each source comes with a mock Question 3 from Section A. This is the 12-mark question asking students to focus on a set span of lines and answer a ‘How does the writer use language to…?’ question.


These resources are designed to be used with students from National Curriculum Year 9 onwards, to help them prepare for the unseen 19th century literary non-fiction extracts they’ll see on their exam papers. They aim specifically to help the following:


  • to increase students’ reading speed when reading 19th century non-fiction: roughly 15 minutes of exam time is recommended for reading the two unseen sources. Therefore, the quicker students can read and understand 19th century non-fiction, the more time they can spend formulating strong answers.
  • to allow students to practice the skills tested by Assessment Objective 2, which can fall by the wayside when students are busy just trying to understand the gist of the text:


“AO2: Explain, comment on and analyse how writers use language and structure to achieve effects and influence readers, using relevant subject terminology to support their views”


Since AO2 remains constant across exam boards and across language and literature, practising this element helps students across all of their GCSE English work.


Further links


For teachers:


For researchers:


Page contact: Dr Catherine Charlwood (catherine.charlwood@cantab.net)