This paper investigates the language demands of creating texts in the English classroom, which involve transformations in context. In particular, it focuses on the tensions inherent in tasks which require more traditional textual analysis to be presented in ways other than traditional ‘essay’ format. These tasks are interpreted differently by students and can result in texts which vary in terms of their choice of ‘written-like’ or ‘spoken-like’ styles. This paper uses data from year nine English students presenting speeches to an imagined jury arguing for Shakespeare's Macbeth's guilt or innocence and explores the implications of shifts along the mode continuum evident in the students' language. It raises the question of the relative importance of transformations of language and context and the extent to which control of mode is valued. Language analysis of student responses focusing on genre, periodicity, use of vocatives and endophoric reference suggests the imagined context required by the task is less important than the literary context in assessing student responses and can act as a distraction. Findings have implications for alignment of teaching and assessment practices in English classrooms.