In my thirty year career, the thing I’ve found the hardest to get kids to truly understand, is how to do a literary analysis. Many of them can do one on a surface level, but most struggle to show a true understanding. I’ve been tweaking lessons for years, and the most success has come from using a visible thinking activity for analyzing text.
Last week I came up with a new way for my students to “see” how they should group and organize evidence that supports a thesis, and it worked really well. The students all agreed that it gave them a much better understanding of how to do an outline for their essays.
Let me explain how this visible thinking activity works:
Break down the elements so the can see how they fit:
My IB class is preparing for their midterm exam, and we’ve been practicing with short stories. Last week, they were working on Geeta Kothari’s The Spaces Between Stars, a story that is chock full of symbols that develop the theme. At this point in the semester, many of my students are good at identifying these things, but not all are able to articulate it effectively in a well-developed essay.
So, to help them with this, I did the following visible thinking activity:
First we had a class discussion about the author’s message in the story, and came to a consensus about a theme statement. Then when we went over the different techniques that Kothari uses to develop her message, and they were able to identify many of the symbols.
Create “analysis squares” that help them visualize:
Before class I printed off a square for each symbol. After our initial discussion, students wrote assertions about the symbol and included textual evidence to support the assertion.
When they finished, I asked them to think about how the symbols are used to develop the theme, and then to group the symbols that should go together – and the order that they would present them. The squares helped them visualize how all of the parts could fit together to support a thesis.
This was followed by a class discussion and debate about what made the most sense. As with most literary analyses, there are many ways to approach this story and its messages, so we had some excellent discussion about how to group and order the textual evidence.
So, if you have a complex text that you want your kids to analyze, you can prepare some of these “analysis squares” ahead of time. It takes a bit of work for you upfront, but this visible thinking activity will pay off in the long run when you read your students’ well-organized and supported papers!
You can grab an editable template here.
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