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TEACHING LITERARY ANALYSIS
I’ve been teaching analysis for almost three decades now, and the
biggest lesson I’ve learned, from much trial and error, is that I need to
focus on the process, not the final product. We need to break down
the steps and give kids the time to master them before we assign a final
essay.
This product is not focused on creating a final product but on lessons that you can use
while your students are reading a text, ones that will provide scaffolding for them, so
when it comes time to write an analysis, they should be ready. The handouts, slideshows,
and activities are all designed to teach students the steps they need to follow when
they do an analysis, whether it’s for a major assignment, or just for class discussion.
(NOTE: students will need to have an understanding of how elements such as setting,
point of view, characterization, etc. contribute to author purpose).

In this file, you will find handouts that will help you teach students how to make assertions
about important elements of the text and to back them up with support and comment-
ary. We are not creating a thesis or topic sentence for an essay; instead we are getting
in the habit of speaking and writing about literature in a way that can lead to effective
literary essays. I do this first, so they will get in the habit of making assertions and
supporting them with evidence and commentary, even when we are having small
group or class discussions.
1.  Give students a short piece of text to read (this could be a short story or the first few
pages of a new novel). Ask them to make statements about what they have just
read. Then, use the first eight slides in the Making Assertions slideshow to discuss the
difference between summary and analysis.

2. Pass out the handout called Doing a Literary Analysis. You could read it to them, but I
prefer to give students a few minutes to read it to themselves – you never know if
they’re really listening!

3. Assign a section of a text to be read. Ideally, I’d do this when you are starting a new
class novel or play. Give students the graphic organizer labeled Preparing for
Analysis. Instruct them to take notes on any of the key elements they find as they are
reading the first section of the text. These notes can be in point form, but they should
include page references so they can find the information later. You can give them
time to read in class or assign it for homework.

4. Group your students and have them discuss the notes they took while reading. Give
them the Recognizing Key Elements handout to fill in. After they have finished, have a
full class discussion about their conclusions. You can use slides 9-11 for this.

5. Use slides 12-41 in the Making Assertions slideshow. Give students the handouts titled
Analytical Verbs and Analysis: Making Assertions. Go over with them.
TEACHING LITERARY ANALYSIS
6. Give each student the handout that asks them to make assertions based on the
section of the text they have read. After they’ve had time to do so, put them in pairs
or groups to choose the best assertions.

7. At the beginning of the next class, give out the handout titled Supporting the
Assertion and go over with them.

8.  Group students and give each group the handout titled Evidence & Commentary, as
well as the sheet with space for sticky notes. Each group will also need three sticky
notes. Have them complete the activity. You can follow it up in a number of ways:
a) have them pass the sheets in so you can observe how they have done and give
them some formative feedback, b) have each group present their quotes and
commentary to the rest of the class, or c) ask each group to tape their sheet to the
wall and do a gallery walk so each group can see what the others have come up
with.

8.  Give each student the handouts titled Nouns to Focus on Technique and Supporting
the Assertion. Instruct each student to choose one of his/her assertions to use for the
activity. I give them time in class to work on a rough copy and assign a good copy
for homework.

9.  I have included an editable assessment checklist for this activity. You can find it in the
editable template file. I use it to give formative feedback to my students, but it could
easily be used for a summative grade as well. The “Reminders for Next Time” is a
space where they write notes to themselves about what they need to do to improve.
(The checklist does not have criteria for the students’ use of language as I want them
to focus on the skill of analysis at this point).

I use this process when we do our first full class novel; however, it could easily be adapt
-ed to do with a short story.

*Because we are working with different ages, abilities and class times, it’s difficult for me
to supply you with exact times for each of these activities. You will need to decide
based on the needs and length of your classes.
SUMMARY OR ANALYSIS?
In the space below, write as many statements as you can about a text you have read.
These could be statements about important moments in plot, characterization, use of
language, theme, etc.

Now, reread each statement. Put a checkmark beside it if the statement is


analytical. Place an X beside ones that are factual.
DOING A LITERARYANALYSIS
A literary analysis shouldn’t start when an essay or presentation is
assigned. Instead, the process needs to begin the moment you start to
read the text. You should notice what the writer is doing and make
interpretations about why. You must look beyond the facts of the story,
read between the lines, and uncover the author’s purpose.

WHAT SHOULD YOU LOOK FOR WHILE READING? Make sure


In order to analyze a text, you will need to ensure that you you enjoy the
are aware of literary elements and how they are used in the
work. Be sure you are familiar with how the following
book too!
contribute to author’s purpose:

!  Narration & Point of view !  Diction & Imagery


!  Setting (time and place) !  Figurative Language & Symbolism
!  Tone, Mood & Atmosphere !  Characterization
!  Important events in the plot !  Thematic Development

SUMMARIZING VERSUS ANALYZING: What’s the difference?


A summary is a retelling of what you have read in the text. An analysis examines the author’s
craft and purpose. When you do an analysis, you need to use facts (summary) from the text as
evidence. However, this evidence is used to support your points, not to make them for you.

When you write an analysis, you need to make assertions based on what you have interpreted
as you read. Assertions are not factual statements. Instead, they are claims or arguments that
are based on your interpretation of the author’s choices.

So how do you know if you are analyzing or summarizing? First, you need to understand the
difference.

Facts can’t be argued.


You can actually point Underline the factual statements & highlight the analysis:
to them in the text. Gene considers Finny to be his best pal, but his internal
dialogue displays very conflicted feelings for his friend. For
Analytical statements
examine the purpose, example, when Finny gets away with wearing the pink
effect and meaning of shirt to the headmaster’s tea, Gene confesses that he
the facts in the text. IF a “couldn’t help but envy him a little” (23). Later, when
statement is analytical, Finny escapes recrimination for using the school tie as a
someone could argue belt, Gene experiences “a sudden stab of disappoint-
against it. ment” (26). Both times, he attempts to rationalize his
feelings, thinking them normal. Gene’s initial reactions
illustrate his hidden envy of Finny, but his subsequent
Begin with an excuses make it clear, that he is in denial over his true
assertion; then, find feelings.
facts to back it up.
RECOGNIZING KEY ELEMENTS
Often, kids will go off down the wrong path with their analysis because they have
focused on only some of the facts from the text, and have missed a key element. You
can use the slideshow, Making Assertions, to discuss this idea.

The slide with the photo of the group of people in the stadium works well for this
discussion. My students started to discuss whether or not they were watching a game.
Someone pointed out that there were no players in the photo. Another suggested that
the play might just be in another area of the field. At that point, a student said, “but
there are not fans in the stands.” I used this as an opportunity to talk to them about
ignoring key information. If they zero in on only some of the key facts and ignore a very
important piece of the puzzle, then their interpretation can be way off base.

Each of the photos can lead to certain assumptions that may need to change once
you get more information (as is illustrated with the story of Judi and Michael). For
example, the boy with his head in his hands could be tired or embarrassed. Or, he could
be closing his eyes because he’s trying to think of a word. The girl looks like she loves
watermelon, but maybe she doesn’t, and she’s smiling because she is about to throw it
at someone.

The whole point of these discussions is to show kids that we need to collect evidence as
we read texts and be willing to change our interpretations as we gather more. Also,
when they are doing an analysis after they have finished a text, they need to search for
the best, most relevant information to support their ideas, and not just choose the ones
they like or understand the best. If they do that, they may be leaving out something that
is very necessary for their understanding of the text.
PREPARING FOR ANALYSIS
Use the space below to take notes as you read:
Key facts and/or plot events:

Tone, mood and atmosphere:

Deliberate use of Language (diction, figurative language and/or imagery):


PREPARING FOR ANALYSIS
Use the space below to take notes as you read:
Effect of setting, point of view, narration:

Character Development:

Evidence of thematic development:


RECOGNIZING KEY ELEMENTS
As a group, choose elements from the assigned section of the text that
you believe the author is using for a purpose. You may not know what
that purpose is yet, but that’s ok. As you read, you will get more
evidence that will allow you to make educated decisions about what is
significant and what is not.

As a reminder, these are some of the elements that authors use to create meaning:
!  Narration & Point of view !  Diction & Imagery
!  Setting (time and place) !  Figurative Language & Symbolism
!  Tone, Mood & Atmosphere !  Characterization
!  Important events in the plot !  Thematic Development
Which of these are significant in this part of the text? Why? How might the author be
using them for a purpose? Record the element and your rationale.

Be ready to share each element and its rationale with the class.
USING ANALYTICAL VERBS
When you use an analytical verb, you are focusing on the author’s craft
and purpose, rather than on retelling the story. There are many verbs to
choose from, but you can use this list as a starting point.

Advocates Differentiates Presents


Alludes to Elevates Promotes
Articulates Elicits Propels
Asserts Emphasizes Proposes
Balances Employs Provoke
Bolsters Establishes Raises
Builds Exaggerates Recalls
Categorizes Expands Reduces
Characterizes Expresses Relates
Clarifies Facilitates Reinforces
Classifies Frames Responds
Collates Gathers Reveals
Compares Illustrates Revitalizes
Concludes Implements Shows
Confirms Implies Signifies
Continues Juxtaposes States
Contrasts Generates Strengthens
Conveys Guides Substantiates
Correlates Highlights Suggests
Creates Identifies Supports
Critiques Informs Symbolizes
Debates Integrates Underlines
Defends Personifies Utilizes
Depicts Persuades Validates
Develops Portrays Verifies
ANALYSIS: MAKING ASSERTIONS
There are many ways to state an assertion about the text, but you can start by using the
following pattern. As you get more comfortable with this process, you can experiment
with more variety.

WHAT is your assertion about? This will be an element of the text you want to analyze
Use an ANALYTICAL VERB: Use a verb that will focus on the writer’s purpose in using this
element
Explain WHY: Make a statement about the author’s purpose in using this element

EXAMPLES:
Gene states that Finny is his best pal, but his internal dialogue displays very conflicted
feelings for his friend.

What? the statement and his internal dialogue


Analytical Verb: displays
Why? to show that Gene has conflicted feelings

Orleanna’s comparison between herself and Africa suggests that, like the nation, she
had no control over what happened to her.

What? Orleanna’s comparison


Analytical Verb: suggests
Why? to show that she has no control

The novel ends with Scout looking out at her neighborhood from Boo’s porch, thinking
about the things that Boo witnessed as he stood there. This illustrates that she has learned
to view the world from a different perspective.

What? Scout standing on Boo’s porch thinking about what he witnessed


Analytical Verb: illustrates
Why? to show that she has learned
ANALYSIS: MAKING ASSERTIONS
Now, you will make some analytical assertions based on this section
of the text. When you write an assertion, you can use the pattern
explained on the previous handout. Please review if you don’t
remember: WHAT + ANALYTICAL VERB + WHY

After you have written a number of assertions, discuss them with your group.
Come to a consensus about which ones are best and choose one group
member to record them.
NOUNS TO FOCUS ON TECHNIQUE
When you use nouns that focus on technique, you will be discussing
author’s craft and purpose, rather than retelling the story. There are many
to choose from, but you can use this list as a starting point.

Alliteration Epiphany Persuasion Theme


Allusion Establishment Plot Tone
Analogy Euphemism Point of View Validation
Articulation Exaggeration Portrayal Verification
Assertion Expansion Presentation Weakness
Atmosphere Exposition Promotion OTHERS:
Balance Expression Proposal
Character Flashback Provocation
Characterization Foreshadowing Realization
Classification Hyperbole Recollection
Comparison Justification Reduction
Conclusion Juxtaposition Relation
Confirmation Highlight Reinforcement
Conflict Identification Resolution
Contrast Identity Response
Correlation Idiom Revelation
Creation Illustration Revitalization
Critique Imagery Satire
Debate Implementation Setting
Defense Implication Strength
Depiction Integration Structure
Development Irony Style
Dialogue Metaphor Suggestion
Diction Mood Support
Differentiation Motif Suspense
Elevation Narrator Symbol
Emphasis Narration Syntax
Employment Personification Tension
SUPPORTING THE ASSERTION
After you have made your assertion about an element of the text, you need to support
and explain it. Generally, you will follow this pattern:

1)  Make the assertion, an argument, about an element of the text.


2)  Provide context if necessary
3)  Use textual evidence to support the assertion, usually a quotation.
4) Include commentary (analysis) following the textual evidence to explain how it supports the
claim.

WE’VE LEARNED ABOUT ASSERTIONS, NOW, HOW DO YOU CHOOSE TEXTUAL EVIDENCE?
Direct quotations and paraphrased information from literature must be used to support the
assertion. These can be sections of narration, dialogue, a character’s thoughts, etc. But not just
any old quotation or example will do. You need to choose the best evidence to support your
claim. Don’t just take the first thing you find. Ask yourself: does this quote/example really support
my claim? Are there other more effective examples?

Also, don’t use an extremely long quotation. Instead, use only the most essential parts of it and
paraphrase the rest, if necessary.

When you use a quotation, it must be embedded and cited. Use one of these “equations”:

Your words + the quotation = a complete sentence (page #).


The quotation + your words = a complete sentence (page #).
The quotation + your words + the quotation = a complete sentence (page #).

Atticus explains, "I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that
courage is a man with a gun in his hand” (112).

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man
with a gun in his hand,” Atticus explains (112).

"I wanted you to see what real courage is,” Atticus explains, “instead of getting the idea that
courage is a man with a gun in his hand” (112).

HOW DO YOU INCLUDE COMMENTARY OR ANALYSIS AFTER THE EVIDENCE?


This is the part that explains your thinking to your reader. You will explain why the selected
quotations prove your assertion. Don’t assume that it is clear why you chose the quotation.
NOTE: DO NOT simply paraphrase the quotation. Use an analytical verb so your focus is on the
author’s craft and purpose, not summary. Also, use NOUNS that focus on author technique.

EXAMPLE:
Atticus explains, "I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea
that courage is a man with a gun in his hand” (112). Atticus presents a CONTRAST to
Jem’s version of courage as a a violent act, suggesting, instead, that it is one that
requires determination and sacrifice.
SUPPORTING THE ASSERTION
HOW DO YOU INCLUDE COMMENTARY OR ANALYSIS AFTER THE EVIDENCE?
Use an analytical verb so your focus is on the author’s craft and purpose, not
summary. Also, use NOUNS that focus on author technique.

~One way to write a commentary is to begin with the phrase, This shows.

“A little water clears us of this deed. How easy is it, then!” (II ii 68-69). This shows
that Lady Macbeth believes it will be easy to wash away the evidence of their
crime and, ultimately, their guilt.

~While the above commentary is getting the job done, it’s not the strongest
wording. For example, what IS “THIS”? Instead of a vague pronoun, choose a
noun that focuses on technique. Let’s try it again:

“A little water clears us of this deed. How easy is it, then!” (II ii 68-69). Lady
Macbeth’s reaction to the blood on her hands shows that she believes it will be
easy to wash away the evidence of their crime and, ultimately, their guilt.

~Now, “THIS” is clearer: it’s her reaction to the blood that shows her belief. But it
can still be better and even more analytical Let’s try it again:

“A little water clears us of this deed. How easy is it, then!” (II ii 68-69). Lady
Macbeth’s casual reaction to the blood on her hands shows that she believes it
will be easy to wash away the evidence of their crime, and, ultimately, their guilt.

~How does the addition of the word casual make it better?

*NOTE: be careful of overusing “shows.” It works, but you want to have variety in
your writing. You can use words like illustrates, portrays, presents, highlights, etc.
Refer to the handout on analytical verbs if you need help.
EVIDENCE AND COMMENTARY
For the following activity, your group will complete the following:

1.  Choose one of the assertions you made about the text. Write it in the space on the
top of the sheet provided.

2.  Each group member will spend a few minutes looking for the best evidence to
support the assertion.

3.  As a group, come to a consensus about the three best pieces of evidence found.

4.  Write each quote or example on three different sticky notes – one piece of
evidence/sticky.

5.  Place the sticky notes on the page provided.

6.  Write a commentary beside the sticky notes. It needs to explain why the evidence
on the notes proves your assertion. Remind yourselves how to do this, by reviewing
the notes on how to write the commentary.

7.  Use the space below to brainstorm ideas for the commentary:
Assertion:

Quote for Support: commentary:_____________________________


_________________________________________
_________________________________________
_________________________________________
_________________________________________
_________________________________________
_________________________________________
_________________________________________
_________________________________________

Quote for Support: _________________________________________


_________________________________________
_________________________________________
_________________________________________
_________________________________________
_________________________________________
_________________________________________
_________________________________________
_________________________________________
_________________________________________
Quote for Support:
_________________________________________
_________________________________________
_________________________________________
_________________________________________
_________________________________________
_________________________________________
_________________________________________
_________________________________________
SUPPORTING THE ASSERTION
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER:
Through the actions of Atticus Finch, Lee suggests that real courage comes in many forms.
(ASSERTION) Atticus forces Jem to read to the racist Mrs. Dubose, so he can help her beat a
morphine addiction. This is shortly after the incident with the rabid dog, and Jem is in awe of his
father’s prowess with a rifle (CONTEXT). After Mrs. Dubose’s death, (CONTEXT) Atticus explains to
him, "I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a
man with a gun in his hand” (112). (EVIDENCE) Atticus presents a contrast to Jem’s version of
courage as a violent act, suggesting, instead, that it is one that requires determination and
sacrifice. (COMMENTARY)

OFTEN, YOU WILL PROVIDE MORE THAN ONE PIECE OF EVIDENCE:

Gene considers Finny to be his best pal, but his internal dialogue displays very conflicted
feelings for his friend. (ASSERTION) For example, when Finny gets away with wearing the pink
shirt to the headmaster’s tea (CONTEXT), Gene confesses that he “couldn’t help but envy him a
little” (23). (EVIDENCE) Later, when Finny escapes recrimination for using the school tie as a belt,
(CONTEXT) Gene experiences “a sudden stab of disappointment” (26). (EVIDENCE) Both times,
he attempts to rationalize his feelings, thinking them normal. Gene’s initial reactions illustrate his
hidden envy of Finny, but his subsequent excuses make it clear, that he is in denial over his true
feelings. (COMMENTARY)

YOUR TURN: Choose one of your assertions and then support and explain it. Normally, we don’t
label our analysis, but this time I want you to, so I know that you are aware of each component.
Write a draft here and then use it to write a good copy.