Teaching literary analysis

The writing assignments that matter the most are the ones that go beyond description and narrative formats. They are the ones that require scrutiny and reflective thinking while probing for deeper meaning. They are the literary analyses.

Students in almost any grade can write them, because they are rooted in literature.

Literary analysis is the close examination and occasionally the evaluation of a piece of literature. The reason teachers ask their students to write literary analyses is to engage them in critical thinking skills.

Students easily can find themselves overwhelmed when facing a literary analysis assignment. Unlike other content areas, written expression offers flexibility in communication. An analysis isn’t ever wrong because the writer offers his or her perspective on the topic.

Literary analysis requires advanced writing and thinking skills, so students need guidance in their critical thinking journey. Most literary analysis can be broken down into specific steps, and each one of these steps is the foundation for the next one.

Topic selection and focus

Literary analysis includes many facets of literature. Students can write about a story’s or book’s plot, setting, or use of figurative language. The options don’t stop there. Have younger students write about only one facet of the literature they read. Older students can incorporate multiple aspects.

Teachers seeking to differentiate instruction can adjust the number of topics to be addressed in the analysis.

When students know what they are to look for, it’s time to gather evidence that proves the point. For example, the student who writes about conflict in a short story will need to locate instances of conflict in the story.

Gather the evidence

The evidence for literary analysis comes from the text itself. Students find examples and prepare to incorporate them in their literary analysis.

Paraphrasing and summarizing works well when providing proof. Students also can insert quotes from the text as a way to prove what they are saying. As students work through this part of the process, they may inadvertently or blatantly plagiarize. Take time to teach citing and referencing.

Scaffold the writing experience

If students approach literary analysis as if they were following a recipe, they may find the writing process easier to complete. Although teachers may have variations, most literary analysis essays have four main sections. Have your students tackle each section one at time.

  • Introduce the main point. The introduction usually consists of a single paragraph that begins with a hook or lead – something to catch the reader’s attention. Next, students explain their point in one or two sentences.
  • Present the evidence. Any evidence must support the main point. Students incorporate their summaries or quotes, and they paraphrase what others have said. Presenting evidence often requires at least one paragraph per piece of evidence.
  • Offer analysis. In this section, students explain how they came to the conclusion that their point is correct. Persuading the reader may take several paragraphs.
  • Conclude the essay. Finally, the conclusion reiterates the main point in one paragraph. It also serves as closure to the literary analysis. Students should make a connection to the analysis by offering their own observations or relating a similar experience.

Writing a literary analysis promotes critical thinking skills in ways that other writing assignments cannot. Teachers willing to guide their students through each step of the writing process will discover just how capable of independent thinking their students are.


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