Lesson Plan: How to Write a Literary Analysis
Remember when you assigned a literary analysis or an interpretive essay and all you got was 237 summaries of a short story you’d already read 15 times, so you slammed your hand in the filing cabinet drawer until you drew blood and broke every finger?
The better option, of course, would have been to teach students how to write an interpretive essay or to teach students how to write a literary analysis.
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Common Core Standards
Teaching how to write a literary analysis satisfies the following ELA Common Core Standards.
- RL.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
- L.9-10.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
- RL.9-10.3 Analyze how complex characters (e.g. those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.
- W.9-10.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
- W.9-10.1a Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
- W.9-10.1b Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly, supplying evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level and concerns.
- W.9-10.2b Develop the topic with well-chosen, relevant, and sufficient facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience’s knowledge of the topic. W.9-10.2a Introduce a topic; organize complex ideas, concepts, and information to make important connections and distinctions; include formatting (e.g. headings); graphics (e.g. figures, tables); and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
- W.9-10.1c Use words, phrases, and clauses to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.
- W.9-10.2f Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information or explanation presented (e.g. articulating implications or the significance of the topic).
- W.9-10.3c Use a variety of techniques to sequence events so that they build on one another to create a coherent whole.
- W.9-10.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
- L.9-10.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
The Basics of Writing a Literary Analysis
Use the following guidelines for teaching how to write an interpretive
essay or how to write a literary analysis:
- The introduction must introduce the literary work, capture the reader’s attention. and include a clearly written thesis statement that contains the literary interpretation.
- The body of the essay must support the thesis statement through evidence–facts, examples, summaries–and commentary–opinions, analysis, interpretation, insight.
- The conclusion summarizes the interpretation and allows the writer to draw attention to the most important aspects of the analysis.
An ‘A’ essay does the following:
- Identifies the author, title, and gives a brief summary of the literary work.
- Provides a clear interpretation of the author’s message and purpose.
- Provides details, quotations
Writing and Drafting
When teaching how to write a literary analysis or interpretive essay, emphasize the following:
- Reread the literary work several times. This seems logical to teachers. It’s not logical for students. Read through the first time to get a feel for the work. Reread and look for passages and ideas that stand out or have special meaning.
- Before drafting, brainstorm possible interpretations. A good strategy is to write annotations as you read.
- Discuss the interpretation with others who have read the work. As a teacher, it’s important to have class discussions on works being analyzed.
- Make sure you have a clear answer to the following questions as you write or revise:
- What is the main point of the essay? This main point should be clearly identified in the thesis statement.
- What evidence best supports the interpretation ?
- Are there any points that should be added to clarify the interpretation?
- Is there any superfluous evidence that could be deleted?
Following are the most common errors with literary analysis:
Writing a Summary. No matter how many times you emphasize that you do not want a summary, you’ll still get them. The only way to eliminate this error is to model analysis and give really low grades to students who summarize rather than analyze.
Listing Facts. A close relative of the summary is listing facts. It’s also called the, “I’ll list as many facts as I can about this literary work and hope the teacher doesn’t grade it very closely” syndrome. Explain that listing facts without explaining how the fact supports the thesis statement or why that fact is important is useless.
Having No Evidence. At the other end of the bad analysis spectrum is the no evidence analysis. It consists of nothing but conjecture.
Teach how to write a literary analysis or how to write an interpretive essay and avoid the common pitfalls before you assign the essay. Try this exercise.
- Write down a specific quotation or example from a literary work.
- Underneath the quote write the phrase this shows________ .
- Complete the sentence two times for each quotation.
- Discuss answers and point out the difference between analysis and summary.
- Once students have the basic idea down, assign the essay.
- Another option is to have them answer discussion questions in the following format: 1 detail from the story, with 2 pieces of analysis.
Types of Essays
Step-by-step instructions for writing different types of essays can be accessed by the following links.