Here’s a quick tip for you that will help your students improve their ability to analyze and write about text. The best part is that you will be scaffolding the process of literary analysis with assignments that take minutes to grade!
Sound good? Read on!
I kid you not when I say that I spent decades trying to figure out ways to help my students understand how to analyze a text and to write about it clearly. Reading many awkwardly worded essays over the years has driven me to find a solution. As you know, poorly written essays take so much time to read, and they make the grading process painful.
What I’ve realized is that students get pretty overwhelmed with the process. Analyzing a complex text is difficult to start with. Then, they have to figure out how to get their understanding onto paper in a way that is clear and well supported.
There are a lot of skills necessary to do each of these steps well, ones that we English teachers have sort of mastered. Or at least we are a few steps ahead of the students – because even we can be stumped when we try to analyze something new.
And, if you’ve ever tried to write a clear exemplar of analytical writing for your students, you know that it’s just not that easy.
Use short assignments to practice the skill of analyzing text
I decided to make the process of literary analysis – and writing about it – easier for my students by giving them shorter assignments.
Yes, they eventually have to write a full literary analysis essay, but we don’t start that way. Instead, we build toward it in a way that keeps students from getting overwhelmed.
✅ I scaffold the analysis process by included the major components I will look for in longer essays:
- An assertion that makes an interpretation about some aspect of the text
- Carefully chosen and skillfully embedded quotation(s) that supports the assertion
- A clearly worded analysis of the significance of the quotation or any other textual support
Students can achieve the above in a short paragraph that allows them to focus – and for you to assess quickly.
An example of these short analytical assignments:
My International Baccalaureate class is currently reading The Poisonwood Bible. The novel is narrated by the four Price daughters and their mother, and each has a distinctly different tone. I wanted my students to be able to identify how Kingsolver uses tone to develop character, and so I gave them this assignment:
👉🏻 You can grab the slideshow I used (you’ll have to edit it for yourself) by clicking here.
Scaffolding the process of literary analysis with exemplars
As with anything we assign, it helps students to use an exemplar or a model of what we expect. I like to show them a couple of versions of what I want, starting with ones that need some improvement. You will see those example in the slideshow.
First, I show them the rubric I will use for assessment and feedback and get them to use it to assess the samples I show them. This way, we can have a focused discussion about my expectations and I can tell if they need a little more instruction or review before they do the assignment.
Grading is fast and easy with short analytical assignments
Because these assignments are so short and focused, you can grade them quickly. The benefits of this for you need no explanation, but it also means that your students can get feedback quickly when it’s all still fresh in their minds.
The assignment that I explained above help me scaffold the analysis process AND it was graded in about twenty minutes! This is because each one looked something like this:
When the Underdowns inform the Prices that the Congo will have its first election, Nathan replies that “these people can’t even read a simple slogan: Vote for Me! Down with Shapoopie!” (167). His condescending tone and sarcasm demonstrates his arrogant belief that the Congolese people are lesser in intelligence compared than Americans.
Using the rubric, I was able to go through these quickly, and to let my students know if they are doing it properly. And, because it took little time to grade, I can give the students the option to use my feedback and redo their assignment. That’s the ultimate goal: to give them fast feedback that they can use for improvement.
(If you use Google Classroom, I highly recommend you using the rubrics there. Read why here.)
Focus on various literary elements as you scaffold literary analysis
This assignment was all about tone and character, but my students have covered a lot of literary ground this way. They’ve done many short assignments on the various ways that authors use language to develop character and theme. For example they have written about:
✔️ The use of imagery to set a scene
✔️ Figurative language used by the writer for a certain effect
✔️ How a character’s perspective is influenced by their background
✔️ A character’s reaction to something that illustrates one of their traits
I also use something that I call Quotable Quickies where I select significant passages from the text and ask students to make an assertion about the significance and use a quote to support their analysis. It’s the same as what I’ve described above, but this time I am choosing quotations that you want them to analyze.
Scaffolding literary analysis with your students
To use this process of scaffolding literary analysis with your students, think about the elements of fiction (or any genre) that you want your students to understand and write about. Then, at the appropriate time in your course, give them short assignments that allow them to hone the skill of analysis.
The beauty of these short assignments is that students can get very focused on the skills they need without the overwhelm that comes with writing a full essay. Once they have those skills, you can start building on them toward writing a full analytical essay.
And, you can give fast feedback.
Let me know if you have any questions!
You may want to start here: Three ways to teach students to make inferences
👉🏻 OR if you want to learn how to plan a full class novel study, check out this short course.