Spoken Language Gcse Essay Topics


Compare the ways these two texts present the life of a writer.

You should consider:

  • how they use language and structure
  • the ideas in the texts

Extract A

Here is an extract from the diaries of John Steinbeck.

Lincoln’s Birthday. My first day of work in my new room. It is a very pleasant room and I have a drafting table to work on which I have always wanted – also a comfortable chair given me by Elaine [his wife]. In fact I have never had it so good and so comfortable. I have known such things to happen – the perfect pointed pencil – the paper persuasive – the fantastic chair and a good light and no writing. Surely a man is a most treacherous animal full of his treasured contradictions. He may not admit it but he loves his paradoxes.

Now that I have everything, we shall see whether I have anything. It is exactly that simple. Mark Twain used to write in bed – so did our greatest poet. But I wonder how often they wrote in bed – or whether they did it twice and the story took hold. Such things happen. Also I would like to know what things they wrote in bed and what things they wrote sitting up. All of this has to do with comfort in writing and what its value is. I should think that a comfortable body would let the mind go freely to its gathering. But such is the human that he might react in an opposite way. Remember my father’s story about the man who did not dare be comfortable because he went to sleep. That might be true of me too. Now I am perfectly comfortable in body. I think my house is in order. Elaine, my beloved, is taking care of all the outside details to allow me the amount of free untroubled time every day to do my work. I can’t think of anything else necessary to a writer except a story and the ability to tell it.

John Steinbeck

Extract B

Here is an extract from Stephen King's advice book and memoir, On Writing. He is talking about his writing desk.

‘The last thing I want to tell you in this part is about my desk. For years I dreamed of having the sort of massive oak slab that would dominate a room - no more child's desk in a trailer laundry-closet, no more cramped kneehole in a rented house. In 1981 I got the one I wanted and placed it in the middle of a spacious, skylighted study (it's a converted stable loft at the rear of the house). For six years I sat behind that desk either drunk or wrecked out of my mind, like a ship's captain in charge of a voyage to nowhere.

A year or two after I sobered up, I got rid of that monstrosity and put in a living-room suite where it had been, picking out the pieces and a nice Turkish rug with my wife's help. In the early nineties, before they moved on to their own lives, my kids sometimes came up in the evening to watch a basketball game or a movie and eat pizza. They usually left a boxful of crusts behind when they moved on, but I didn't care. They came, they seemed to enjoy being with me, and I know I enjoyed being with them. I got another desk - it's handmade, beautiful, and half the size of the T. Rex desk. I put it at the far west end of the office, in a corner under the eave. That eave is very like the one I slept under in Durham, but there are no rats in the walls and no senile grandmother downstairs yelling for someone to feed the horse. I'm sitting under it now, a fifty-three-year-old man with bad eyes, a gimp leg, and no hangover. I'm doing what I know how to do, and as well as I know how to do it. I came through all the stuff I told you about (and plenty more that I didn't), and now I'm going to tell you as much as I can about the job. As promised, it won't take long.

It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room. Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around.’

Stephen King

Open-ended and closed questions

There are two different types of questions that can be asked. These are:

Open-ended questions

Open-ended questions prompt your listener to answer in a much more detailed way. They cannot give a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, but must be prepared to provide plenty of detail and give reasons for why they believe their opinion is the correct one.

Closed questions

Closed questions are much simpler to ask but they are also much simpler to answer. They generally only require a one word response such as ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and will not provide you with any of the details you need to move the discussion forward.

You should avoid closed questions at all costs as they will not allow other group members to give you interesting answers. Here are some examples of closed questions:

  • Do you like the colour blue?
  • Do you think there is too much crime in Wales?
  • What is the title of your favourite book?
  • Do you think graffiti is wrong?

Here are examples of how you could ask the same questions in a more open-ended way that would require more detailed responses:

  • Why do you like the colour blue?
  • A recent newspaper report claimed that crime in Wales is on the rise. Why do you think this might be the case?
  • Why is To Kill a Mockingbird your favourite book and can you also tell me something about your favourite character?
  • Some people claim that graffiti is a legitimate form of street art. Do you agree with this and can you give your reasons why/why not?


If you ask open-ended questions, you will be given more information to comment on. At the same time, if you are asked a question you must give as much detail as you can in your answer. Never just give a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer but give reasons for your opinion.

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