English & EAL

Context vs. Text Response essays: How & what to write for Context

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Many students get hung up on the idea of what a context essay actually is and how it differentiates from a normal text response essay.

Simply put, a text response essay analyses the TEXT using IDEAS as a support basis while a context essay analyses IDEAS using the TEXT as a supporting basis.

The crucial difference between a context essay and a text response essay is creative license.

Text response essays are often very systematic; using a step-by-step method to structure the introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion. When writing a context, many of these limitations are removed. A context essay can be one of, or a hybrid of: an imaginative essay, a persuasive essay or an expository.

Yet, it is crucial for you to find ways to make your context essay memorable. I find the best way to do this is to insert a little bit of your personality into your essay, so that by the end of the page, the person reading your essay will feel a little connected to you and how you express yourself.

How you can do this:

In year 12, I wrote three main context essays. Each essay focused on a different aspect of my personality.

The first was self-love, and I thought about the way I loved myself versus the way I expressed my love for those around me.

The second was recognising the delusions held by myself and rest of society, likening this delusion to a disease.

The third – and the essay that I bought into my exam – was an introspective look on nature and how the lack of stars in our night sky mimicked our fading faith in the natural world.

When you are passionate about something, it comes through in your writing. I suggest to all those who are wondering where to begin their context piece:

  • Find something that you’re passionate about – it could be nature, love, superficiality, technology, art, sadness…
  • Explore those ideas in relation to your broader context topic (encountering conflict, imaginative landscape, whose reality, identity and belonging… etc.)

When you’ve found something to talk about, there are several ways to personalise your context essay, such as:

  • Using a running metaphor
  • Having an anecdotal introduction

A running metaphor

A running metaphor is repeatedly emphasising a specific idea throughout your piece.

For example, we can use the running metaphor of a grizzly bear to represent the idea of strength. We can label this as the “grizzly bear in all of us” and throughout different stages of your context piece, give a brief nod to the metaphor to keep it running.

An anecdotal introduction

The beauty of an anecdotal introduction is that it can be incredibly flexible.

It can be used humorously by recounting a funny story and instantly setting the tone of your piece as light-hearted and energetic.

It can be used as a tearjerker by recounting a sad story that instantly sets the tone of your piece as sombre and serious.

The anecdotal introduction will leave a piece of your life behind in your writing and this will help the reader to feel personally involved and empathetic towards you.

Hopefully, these examples can spark some inspiration in you, as you prepare your final context pieces. Context pieces are my favourite to write because you can have a lot of fun with developing your individual ideas and letting your creative juices flow. Remember that It is okay to change your mind on what you want to write about and that everybody gets stuck – just go for a run or listen to some music and you’ll find that ideas will come when you least expect them to.

Good luck!

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