Writing a literary analysis can be challenging for students, especially if they’ve never written one. Having struggled through the process of teaching how to write literary analysis in grades 5-8, I’ve learned some pointers I’d like to share. Here are my top 5 tips for literary analysis writing success.
1. Choose Carefully When Assigning a Text to Analyze
By far, my number one tip for teaching literary analysis is to carefully consider the piece of writing you want your students to analyze. You don’t want to overwhelm students, so plan ahead. Consider these points: What is it that you want them to analyze? Theme? Setting? Character? Is the piece an appropriate length? Make sure your selections clearly include the literary element(s) you want analyzed.
Not all stories and novels focus on each element, so be mindful of this when you’re teaching and assigning. Here’s an example: Let’s say I’ve assigned my sixth grade class a literary analysis of the short story “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” This story is heavy on plot and character. However, setting was not the author’s focus. It may still be analyzed for how it contributes to the outcome of the story, but plot and character are emphasized much more. It’s good to point this out to students, and it’s important for you to know as this paragraph will be more challenging for students to write.
2. Know the Target Text WELL When Teaching Literary Analysis
How well do YOU know the story? Don’t rush in and assign an analysis unless you’ve really done your work. Try writing a literary analysis yourself to see if it will work for students. If you’ve tried it yourself, you’ll have a better understanding of what might frustrate your students.
3. Set Clear Expectations for the Literary Analysis
Know what you want and stay focused. I like to have students analyze pieces by targeting and supporting what they believe is the theme of the story. We look at how plot, setting, and character all work together to support a proposed theme. Here the expectation is clear and the focus is singular. This is especially important with younger students or students needing extra support.
4. Provide Literary Analysis Writing Frames
Giving students a frame for writing immediately reduces their anxiety. This is especially true of students who shut down when the word “writing” is mentioned. If there’s a way to make something more accessible to all students, it’s worth the effort. I’ve actually created writing frames for a 5-paragraph literary analysis that you can find here.
5. Provide an Example Essay When Teaching Literary Analysis
This is HUGE. Seeing an example demystifies the process. I actually read aloud an example of a literary analysis from our old anthology and we talk about and analyze the piece. Additionally, I’ve written an example literary analysis of a text we’ve read together earlier in the year. This is important since we have the common reading experience, and I can use it as an example as we work through our writing process.
Annotating the exemplar essay is a great strategy to get students to read deeply. (One word of caution: write the example essay so that it is accessible to your students. Of course you can add more complex vocabulary, but you want to engage, not frustrate, your students.)
If you’d like more specifics on how I teach literary analysis writing to students in grades 5-8, you can find my step-by-step packet on writing a literary analysis here. It has everything you’ll need: check lists, writing frames, an example analysis, a rubric, and more detailed tips to help you find success in teaching students how to write a literary analysis.
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