Matrix Blog

English 9-10

10 Things You Must Know About Context for Year 9 English

Unsure about what context is and how to research it? In this article, we'll explain what it is, how to research it, and how to incorporate it into your Year 9 English responses.

Once you are in Year 9, you will need to start thinking about more complex ideas in texts. This means that you will need to understand what context is and how to discuss it in your essays. So, this article will show you 10 things you must know about context for Year 9 English, including what context means, how to research and write context, and what not to do when writing about context.


10 Things You Must Know About Context in Year 9 English

  1. What is context?
  2. There are different types of context
  3. All texts are influenced by context
  4. Composer’s context vs reader’s context
  5. Meaning and relevance of a text can change with context
  6. Understanding the context of a text is very important
  7. Research the text’s context
  8. Integrate context into your analysis; not large chunks of context
  9. Ensure that the discussion of your context is relevant to the essay
  10. Remember to always share your perspective and arguments too


1. What is context?

In relation to High School English, context is the circumstances surrounding a particular time or event. It refers to the circumstances and ideas that shaped the world when the text is created.

This includes:

  • Social issues: Problems that affect people in society
    • Eg. Women’s rights have been an issue within society throughout time. However, in contemporary society, women have gained more rights and equality than women in the 1500s (eg. right to vote, right to work, the ability to choose who they marry etc.)
  • Values: Moral and ethical beliefs. These structures society and create expectations of how people act
    • Eg. Honesty is a value that existed throughout time, even in 200BCE and 2021AD.
  • Social presumed knowledge: Knowledge and assumptions that the audience (of a particular time and place) should already know
    • Eg. People who live in Australia will know the name of the current Australian prime minister. However, people living in other countries might not be aware of our leader.
  • Perspectives: Different angles and views about a particular issue or thing. Often this will shape the way one views and explores a text
    • Eg. Different people might have different thoughts and opinions about religion
  • Major/influential events: Major events that shape the way particular groups or society thinks.
    • Eg. This can range from wars to protests to the death/birth of important people and even the rise of certain celebrities.
  • Cultural norms: These are pop-culture that is well-known by people of a particular time and society.
    • Eg. Elvis Presley is known as the King of Rock and Roll during the 15th century.
  • Technological changes: Technology is ever-changing and that will affect how people live and view the world.
    • Eg. Computers and phones are new inventions. People living during medieval times would be clueless about these new technologies.
  • Textual conventions: As times change, so does the forms of texts and norms of these texts.
    • Eg. Film only arose because of the introduction of TV. Plays were a popular textual form during Shakespeare’s time because most people in society didn’t know how to read.

You will see that the different aspects of context change depending on the time period or place and other aspects remain the same.

For instance, slurping your food seems rude in Western countries but it is a compliment in some Asian countries. Racism existed during Shakespeare’s time (the late 1500s), and it still exists today (2020s) even though it is, arguably, less extreme.


Image: Elvis Presley the King of Rock and Roll (right) meeting Richard Nixon, the US president in 1969-1975 (left)


Improve your essays now!

Learn more about Matrix+ Online English classes now. 


2. There are different types of context

As you would’ve seen above, there’s quite a lot of information that can be considered as context! On the surface, it is has a very broad definition, so let’s narrow it down to help you better grasp what context means for your English studies.

There are different types of context that you should know about. Knowing these types of contexts will help you find contextual points in your texts and better understand them.

Here are some different types of context you should consider:


Biographical/personal context

Biographical context or personal context refers to the personal circumstances of an individual. In terms of your English studies, it includes an examination of the composer’s personal life.

This can include :

  • Where they were born and grew up
  • The years they were alive
  • Where they attended school and what they studied
  • What were their religious beliefs
  • What major events occurred in their lives (eg. illnesses, meeting an important person, being given an important award etc.)

If we can understand their biographical details, we can start to understand and unpack their perspectives and hypothesise about their motivations. Knowing these points will help you understand the composer’s perspectives and viewpoints and how they influenced their literary works.


Cultural context

Cultural context refers to the customs and social behaviours of different groups of people. This can include:

  • Art, music, literature
  • Language
  • Food
  • Rituals, ceremonies, and festivals
  • Dress codes
  • Traditions and customs
  • Beliefs

Cultural context allows us to understand the beliefs that shaped a composers worldview and identity.

Note: Cultural context is quite similar to social context but they’re not the same!


Social context

Social contexts refer to the social aspects of society. In other words, the way society functions. When you think about social context you might consider the following:

  • Social hierarchies and classes (eg. Feudal hierarchy, Great chain of being, wealthy vs lower class etc.)
  • Societal values/perspectives (eg. American dream, equality, loyalty etc.)
  • Societal issues (eg. racism, sex discrimination, government corruption etc.)
  • Different communities or groups of people (eg. minority groups, millennials, veterans etc.)
  • Social norms (eg. handshake when meeting someone new, marriage traditions etc.)

Social context allows us to understand the opportunities composers had in their lives or the ones they missed out on. Suche experiences can have a significant impact on an individuals life and perspectives.


Historical context

The historical context deals with world events and other major influential events. Think about the falling of the Berlin wall, World War II, the Me Too movement, the Hippie era, COVID-19 and other similar events.

These can also shape the way the composers think and feel about particular issues and events.


For example, writing during the peak of The Roaring Twenties, F.Scott Fitzgerald painted a grotesque picture of the excesses and privileges of American Elites.


3. All texts are influenced by context

Everything is influenced by context!

The way you think, your knowledge and your personality is shaped by your environment.

This also applies to texts! When a composer writes or creates their text, their personal ideas and perspectives will shine through the text.

For instance, Shakespeare’s texts are a direct reflection of his context. Most of his plays have religious undertones because of his highly religious society. They also tend to reflect the highly patriarchal views of his society.

On the other hand, Animal Farm (published in 1945) is an allegory of the 1917 Russian revolution. The farm represents Russia; it explores ideas of propaganda and corruption.

However, remember, context doesn’t have to be obvious in a text. Sometimes, major historical events or ways of thinking aren’t being explicitly discussed, but instead, acts as a backdrop for the text.


4. Composer’s context vs reader’s context

No one has experienced exactly the same things as you did. Even though you might be born on the same day as another person, and grew up in the same area, there will still be minor differences.

This also means that no one has the exact same context as you.

So, your context and your composer’s context are different!

William Golding wrote Lord of the Flies during the 1950s after experiencing the horrors of World War II, where he served in the Navy. As such, the war is a major influencer on his way of thinking. On the other hand, we’ve never experienced or participated in warfare. Instead, we’re probably reading Lord of the Flies in the safety of our bedroom as a prescribed text for our English class.

As such, it is important to understand that composers have a different context than you, even if you’re the same age or grew up in the same area. Realising this will help you better grasp the text as you will understand why and how the text is written the way it is written.



5. Meaning and relevance of a text can change with context

We’ve seen how texts reflect the context of their composers and we learned that our context is different from everyone else’s. So, this also means that the meaning of a text and its relevance can change depending on the context.

For instance, The Birth of a Nation (released in 1915) applauds the Ku Klux Klan’s efforts to maintain white supremacy. At the time, the film was quite successful as American society was openly racist against African Americans.

However, if this movie was released today, it will be highly controversial as we are much more critical of racism. Today African Americans have more rights than they did in 1915. So, this is a clear example of a text losing meaning and relevance over time because of the changing social context and values.

On the other hand, Shakespeare’s texts seem to still be relevant today despite being written in the late 1500s and early 1600s. This is mainly because Shakespeare explores the human condition like dreams, hatred, love, loyalty and honour. But Shakespeare also considered societal issues that are still relevant today like prejudice, racism and gender disparities in his works.



6. Understanding the context of a text is very important

Understanding the context of a text (and the composer) is crucial as it helps clarify meaning and messages in texts.

Knowing the context of a text helps prevent miscommunication.

This includes meaning within the storyline and the wider message of the text.

For instance, in Romeo and Juliet (1597), the characters bite their thumbs at each other.

Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?

I do bite my thumb, sir.

Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?

Is the law of our side if I say ay?


No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you sir; but I bite my thumb, sir.

This was a common gesture during the Elizabethan era used to insult the other person. As such, people during the Elizabethan era would’ve understood this easily. However, nowadays, biting your thumb at people is not common at all. Instead, the equivalent of biting your thumb at people is lifting the middle finger at someone.

If you didn’t understand the context of Romeo and Juliet, you wouldn’t understand the meaning behind biting one’s thumb.

This also applies to understanding texts as a whole. As we previously discussed, a text’s meaning can change over time. So, if you want to figure out the composer’s intentions and purpose of writing/creating a text, you should attempt to understand their context. This will give insight into how they think and feel, which will help you figure out the text’s messages.

For instance, the nursery rhyme Ring Around a Rosy is just a fun song that children sing today. No one really thinks twice about the meaning of the rhyme because it doesn’t really apply to today’s context anymore.

A pocket full of posies,
A-tishoo! A-tishoo!
We all fall down.

However, when this rhyme first arose during the 1600s, it had a much more grave meaning. London during the 1600s was suffering from the Great Plague.

This outbreak and its symptoms were well known by the people at the time. If you caught the bubonic plague, you will get a rosy rash (“Ring-a-ring-a-roses“) and sneezes and coughs (“A-tishoo! A-tishoo!”). People also carried posies of herbs to protect them from the smells of the plague (“A pocket full of posies”. And, the last line (“We all fall down”) refers to people falling and dying once they caught the plague.

As you can see, once you understand the context of a text, you can better understand its meanings and purposes.



7. Research the text’s context

As we mentioned earlier, knowing the context of a text is crucial to having a stronger understanding of a text. this means you must research the text’s context!

We know this might sound intimidating but it doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s break down the different aspects of context that you need to research.

If you want to learn how to research, check out this article: How to Research for Your English Texts. This article may be targeted towards senior students, but it will still be useful for you!

To quickly summarise the article, here are the steps you should take to research context for English texts:

  1. Prepare for your research:
    1. Get organised and set aside an hour or two
    2. Read your text so you know what you are researching
    3. Create a list of things you want to research
  2. Work out your search terms
    1. Use keywords that relate to the topic you are researching
  3. Go to Wikipedia
    1. Wikipedia is not a source itself. However, it is a good starting point if you are researching!
  4. Search for your main terms 
    1. Type in your keywords and other search terms into the Wikipedia search bar.
    2. Read whole articles to gain a holistic understanding of what you’re researching.
    3. Write down key points
  5. Build your research field 
    1. Remember, Wikipedia is your starting point. Don’t trust it on its own, anybody can edit it. So, you should check the footnotes at the end of each article to check out other reliable sources.
    2. Explore other key terms in Google to find more sources
  6. Evaluate your sources
    1. Some sources are more reliable and accurate than others. You’ll need to evaluate these by examining where the source is from and who it is written by. You will also need to compare sources to see if there are any disparities between them.
  7. Research offline
    1. Remember, you don’t need to Google everything, you can also do research through books and talking to people! Visit the library to read up on different topics or talk to people who are well versed in the topic.

Now that you know how to research generally, let’s see what you should look at when you are researching about context. Here is a general (and non-exhaustive) list of questions you can use as a starting point for your research:

  • Where did the composer grow up? Where do they live now?
  • Are there any significant events in their lives?
  • What years were they alive? What was this time period like?
  • What is the country/society where the text was composed like?
  • What is the text based on?
  • What are some cultural and social norms of the composer’s society?
  • What are some popular ways of thinkings of society?
  • Does the composer have any strong beliefs?
  • Were there any major events during the composer’s time?




8. Integrate context into your analysis; not large chunks of context

Now that you know how to research context, it is time to learn how to discuss the context in your essays!

One of the biggest issues that students come across is that they either don’t discuss context at all or they have large chunks of text discussing context that isn’t integrated well into the essay.

Remember, contextual information can provide insight for a number of different analytical points.

For instance, in Romeo and Juliet:

  • Shakespearean society’s view on women:
    • Young girls have marriages arranged to preserve the family line or for wealth = Juliet was arranged to marry Paris, a nobleman
    • Women were viewed as property of their fathers or husbands = Juliet’s father restricts Juliet’s freedoms and decisions
  • Elizabethan society were strong believers in fate and astrology
    • Derived from their highly religious and pre-deterministic state, people believed that their lives were written out in horoscopes and astrology = Romeo and Juliet were destined to die (“A pair of star-cross lovers take their life”)

As you can see, you can link contextual points to many aspects of the text.

So, there is no need to brain dump a paragraph about context, because you can disperse it and integrate it throughout the essay.

Integrating your discussion of context will also bring your writing to the next level as it is much more cohesive to read and creates a deeper analysis.


9. Ensure that the discussion of your context is relevant to the essay

Another big issue that students come across is that their links to context are not relevant to their essays.

Here is an example:

“William Golding, the author of Lord of the Flies, was born in 1911. His father was a schoolmaster”

So, why do these sentences seem irrelevant to the essay?

Firstly, brain dumping dates and fun facts does not necessarily mean that you are effectively discussing context. You have to ensure that it is relevant to your arguments and analysis.

This means that you should pick relevant contextual points and always link them to your analysis.

For instance, “William Golding traumatic experiences in World War II as a member of the Navy inspired him to write Lord of the Flies. This text explores ideas of chaos and order and violence”.

See how the contextual point is used to explain aspects of the text? This is how you effectively integrate relevant contextual points in your essays.


10. Remember to always share your perspective and arguments too

Discussing the composer’s context and their beliefs and perspectives is a great way to boost your essay to the next level. However, you also need to share your perspectives and arguments too!

Markers want to read what you think about the text as well!

Remember, don’t simply discuss other people’s views and perspectives or copy their arguments. Always ensure that you are providing your own arguments and viewpoints. This will make your work more ‘critical’ and authentic.


Do you need more confidence to write about context?

Matrix+ Online Course will help you break down context with our subject-matter experts and provide you with one-on-one feedback through our Q&A Boards. Learn more about Matrix+ Online English classes now. 


Written by Tammy Dang

Tammy is a former student of Matrix and is now studying Law / Media (Screen and Sound Production) at UNSW. She is a Digital Content Writer for the Matrix Education blog. Tammy aspires to become a lawyer in the future while continuing to run her art business.


© Matrix Education and, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matrix Education and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Get free study tips and resources delivered to your inbox.

Join 75,893 students who already have a head start.

Our website uses cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you continue to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies. Read our cookies statement.

OK, I understand