Get Your Students Ready to Analyze Lit

Literary analysis is tough, there’s no question about that. Many kids struggle to “get it,” and even if they do, they see it as one of the more challenging tasks we give them.

This is not something that you will fix by diving into analysis on your first day. Instead, you can get your kids primed and ready to analyze by spending some time making connections to their lives and showing your students that they already have what it takes to discuss author choices. Then, long before the first literary essay, you can scaffold the skills they need to be successful. Here's how I do it:

1. Make it Relevant:
We humans speak in metaphors, similes and analogies all the time. Whether we're aware or not, most of us play with our words in order to get our ideas across. Show your students this with exercises that illustrate that it's not just writers who make deliberate choices about the way they say things.

By doing this, you can begin to take the mystery that shrouds literary analysis away. It's important, too, that you don't just get students to identify these devices in their conversations, but to think about why they chose particular words and phrases. If they can understand why they do this, they will get closer to being able to understand why writers do it too - and they'll see it as normal, not just something hard we ask them to do in English class. (You can grab a free slideshow to guide these discussions here. If you'd prefer a paper copy, you can grab this).

2. Start a Graffiti Wall of Common Phrases:

Show students how often they play with language by recording words or phrases, uttered by people in class, that illustrate deliberate use of language (That's so extra, If she doesn't turn on the AC, I'm gonna melt, This book is a snooze-fest). You can create something fancy or just write it on your board. The point is to show your students just how prevalent it is that they use a literary device to get an idea across, so when they use a metaphor or simile, or any other device, add it to the wall and ask them WHY they used it.

After you spend some time illustrating how students regularly play with language, it's time to start scaffolding analytical skills.

3. Play Figurative Language Bingo:
When you and your students are ready to start analyzing author choices, don't dive into formal analysis right away. Instead, have a little fun while your students begin the practice of identifying literary devices in their texts. As your students are reading, have them record examples of devices that they find in the text. You can create a bingo card by making a 5 x 6 table and filling it in with the different devices that you want your students to find. I repeat the most common ones - like metaphor, simile and personification - and throw in just one of the least common ones like synecdoche. Students can fill in their cards by recording quotations that match each device.

I step my figurative language bingo up a notch, so the students also have to analyze the purpose of each device they discover. I provide them with folded-over cards where they record the quotation that illustrates the device, and then, on the inside, they write a brief statement about what they believe the author's purpose is. They check with me before they put it on the board, which builds in some formative assessment too. Once someone gets a row, I give them a little prize, so the competition is fierce! (You can check out my bingo board here).

4. Find Evidence As They read:

In order to scaffold the skills students need to write an analytical essay, have them find examples of quotations that illustrate author choice in the texts they are reading. They can do this after a mini-lesson where you show them how word choice affects meaning,

and then they can share their findings with a partner. This is an activity we use a lot in my classroom, especially with independent novels so my students can get used to noting author craft in the books they have chosen to read. I use this as a low-stakes activity, just for skill-building, so they don't feel the pressure of a grade hanging over them. Then, when we do full class novels and it's time to write a literary essay, they know what they are doing. You can read more about how I use this activity here.

5. Collaborate to Collect Evidence

One way that I scaffold skills for literary analysis is to have students work together to collect evidence that illustrates the development of certain themes in their full class novels. I put topics, quotes, and statements about emerging themes on the walls and, as they

read, students work together to collect evidence from the novel to support them. When they find a quotation or key fact from the text, they write it on a sticky and place it on the wall. After they've finished, students work together to sift through the evidence and choose the stickies that best support the theme. By working together, they end up finding a lot more evidence than they normally do alone, and the collaboration they do while sorting and organizing their findings is a highly valuable - and effective - exercise. You can read more about this activity here.

6. Teach the Process:
I bet, like me, that you've ready many "analysis" essays that are just plot summary. I complained about this for years, and then I started doing something different. Now, I devote a lot more time to teaching my students the process of analysis. We start with activities like the ones above, and then I lead them toward their first literary essay with lessons and activities that model how to create one. We focus on the steps of the process of thinking, planning and writing, not just the end product. You can read more about this process here.

Any time we study a novel or play together, we focus on the process, so students can see that analysis is not some magical ability that only a few of us are lucky enough to have. It takes work - but once you get used to the strategies and stages of analysis, it really isn't that much of a mystery.

Novel study stations for literary analysis

With these strategies, I've seen huge gains in my students' work. I have most definitely seen fewer plot summaries - which makes me very, very happy. 

I've got several items in my TpT store that can help you teach analysis to your kids. You can find them here:

Activities for Independent Reading

Literary Elements Mini-Lessons
Teaching the Process of Literary Analysis
Novel Study Stations for Any Text

My friends at the coffee shop have materials that can help you as well. Check them out here:

Stacey Lloyd: ELA Graphic Organizers

Nouvelle ELA:  Literary Quote Analysis
Addie Education: Novel Study: Chapter Response Pages for Any Novel
Presto Plans: Close Reading and Annotating Text
The Daring English Teacher: Literary Analysis with Sticky Notes
Tracee Orman: Literary Elements Print & Go for Any Text

Back to Top