Literary analysis is difficult for most students, and I believe it’s mostly because they get overwhelmed with the process. That’s why I do my best to scaffold the steps they need for success. Today, I’d like to share one of my favorite (and most successful) strategies: literary analysis with quotable quickies.
Scaffolding the skills for literary analysis
Early in my career, I would assign a literary essay after we finished a novel or play without really focusing on skill building. Yes, we discussed the characterization and theme of the novel, but I just expected that they would know how to take what they learned in the discussions and put it all together for their essay.
Nope. That didn’t work so well.
When I started giving shorter assignments that allowed them to build the skills they needed before the final essay, their analysis and writing improved a great deal. You can read more about this process (and grab a free template) here.
This whole process, however, starts with an even smaller component: the quotable quickie.
What’s a quotable quickie?
Quotable quickie is a term I started using with my students several years ago, and it’s just an alliterative way to tell my students that they only need to write a one or two sentence analysis of a short passage from a text we are reading.
I give them the language they need to accomplish this and give them lots of models to refer to and mimic. We start with quick in-class practice activities, move to students passing in one or two sentences for formative feedback, and conclude with one that they pass in for summative assessment.
The idea behind it is that if they can focus on learning the skill of writing an analytical statement – rather than one that’s all plot summary – they will learn the skills they need without the overwhelm that comes with a whole paragraph or essay. Then, once they feel confident, they can apply that skill to longer pieces of writing.
Let’s take a closer look at the quotable quickie process:
Practice identifying author craft:
Before we start the process of analysis with the quotable quickie, my students get lots of practice with identifying literary techniques and discussing why and how they are used.
I select a passage that is a good examples of author craft and then I model my process of close reading. Next, I’ll give the students more passages to work on in pairs and ask them underline or highlight things like diction, imagery, figurative language, etc. Then, they discuss the purpose of it.
This is a process we do for several classes before I introduce them to actually writing about author craft. But first, they need to learn the language of analysis.
Give students the language they need for literary analysis
I’m going to use one of my favorite analogies here. If I want to learn to play golf, there are so many things I need to understand, not the least of which is the terminology associated with the game. Assume I know nothing or only have a rough idea of how it all works (like many of our students when it comes to literary analysis). Terms like driver v putter v chipper or green v fairway could seem obvious to one who knows the game, but they may not be to the novice.
And, even if the novice can pull a chipper from the bag, do they really know how to use it?
It’s the same with analyzing lit. Before students can dig into that complex task, they need to know not only the terms, but how to use them. So, I begin by giving them a handout with a list of analytical verbs and nouns that focus on technique. I copy this handout on colored paper because I know they will be referring to them many times during my course.
(Note: this comes after students have gone through lessons on how authors use certain techniques. For example, they need to know how writers use things like diction, metaphor, etc. for effect).
Next, I show them when and how to use these terms and give them lots of practice in using them.
Give lots of color coded exemplars
Whenever I model the use of these words, I provide students with lots of exemplars and use color coding to help them “see” how all of the components work together. I believe that the visuals provide them with the support they need to feel more confident about what they need to do, just as I would if I had a golf coach show me how she uses a chipper v a driver.
Click below to see an example of a slide show that I use to demonstrate how the nouns for technique and analytical verbs can be used to answer the question I begin with:
Once students get their formative feedback, it’s time to use what they learned about literary analysis and do the whole process again, this time for a grade.
By the time they have gone through this process, they are ready to write a full paragraph and then an essay. It takes a little more time, but…it’s so worth it!
👉🏻 Want to give this a try with ready-to-go instructions, slideshows. and assignments? Click here.
✅ What about a short course that guides you through the process of planning a novel study (along with lots of activities)? Click here to find out more.
More strategies for scaffolding literary analysis:
Scaffolding the Process of Literary Analysis (starting with an analytical paragraph)
Teaching Students to Analyze Text (building the habits they need)
Teaching the Process of Literary Analysis (an overview)
Hexagonal Thinking Activities (one of my favorite skill building activities)