response to literature essay middle school

Bell Ringers

Teaching literary analysis in middle school.

My literary analysis resources have basically been seven or eight years in the making.

I don’t know about you, but when I first realized I needed to be teaching literary analysis to a bunch of twelve and thirteen year-olds, I didn’t even know where to begin.

I had been teaching upper elementary in the three years prior, and we had done some on-demand literary analysis reading responses, but really digging into a literary analysis essay overwhelmed me.

Truth be told, my teaching strengths at the time were primarily reading and math. I had always had to dig deep to find my writing teacher voice.

But, I was now a seventh and eighth grade ELA teacher who could no longer hope her students picked up some writing skills along the way.

So I did what any good teacher would do…. I Googled how to teach…

I think I Googled something like, “Examples of middle school literary analysis essays.”

Nothing showed up in Google.

Then I Googled, “How do you teach literary analysis essays?”

I was able to find an example of a college-level literary analysis essay…

… and that was about it.

Because I couldn’t really find what I was looking for, I began creating and practicing each step of the literary analysis essay before I taught it.

This also created a ton of exemplars for my students.

response to literature essay middle school

I broke down each area of a literary analysis essay into lessons, chunks, chart papers, reference materials, and writing examples.

In the beginning, it was to get my brain wrapped around things, but not surprisingly it was exactly what my students needed too.

I literally learned how to write a literary analysis essay in front of them.

I would type my rough drafts as they were working and I could stop them as I came to struggles.

My mini-lessons were based on challenges I was having and again, not surprisingly the same challenges they were having.

I could also make reference pages (like the ones in your freebie) as we went along in the unit, because I could see what terms and concepts they needed constant reminders and help with.

Want to know what happened?

My student’s ELA proficiency scores increased 45% in one year and almost 70% in just two years. Those are not typos.

>>  CLICK HERE  << to download  the FREE Literary Analysis Reference Booklet.

response to literature essay middle school

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  • Writing Response Paragraphs for Literature

Aug 29, 2022

response to literature essay middle school

Writing response paragraphs for literature is the solution to a problem I had with my middle school writers. My middle school writers didn’t know how to analyze specifically for questions asked about literature. The rigorous texts brought on by Common Core Reading Literature standards were already difficult enough. So, I desperately searched the Internet for a solution.

response to literature essay middle school

Acronyms Didn’t Work for My Middle School Writers

I tried the RACE strategy, the RACES strategy, ACE, ACES, PEEL, and so many other acronym-based strategies to help them understand how to build a written response paragraph to literature. 

I realized that my students may be confused by all the different acronyms taught to them over the elementary school and middle school years!

Not only that, their answers to literary questions went something like this: 

In the text, the author says, “do not go gentle into that good night…” in line1. This is important because it is repeated over and over again in the poem. The poet says to his dad not to go gentle into the night. 

I needed a way to help my middle school English Language Arts students.

Trying to get my writers to understand that analyzing or explaining a quote by repeating the quote is circular reasoning. It doesn’t tell me anything about why their quote is relevant to their answer. I explained this over and over again – day after day until I wanted to pull my hair out!

Also, the above example paragraph does not mention the author’s name, the title of the text, the genre or the main point about why this quote is important or relevant to the question or prompt.

response to literature essay middle school

Focusing on the Standard Skills in Writing Response Paragraphs for Literature

In my writing workshop classroom , students floundered when it came to writing response paragraphs for literature.

Additionally, writers didn’t know what part of the text to focus on or what skill we were actually studying. Even though I had it posted, and I spoke about it throughout the lesson! Post-it notes and annotations did nothing to remind them of the skill we were working on. They were just scribbled notes on bright sticky papers they often liked to play with rather than reading!

Next, I tried creating paragraph frames, but they still didn’t connect the skills and key concepts of literature with what they were writing. 

That’s when I realized my writers needed a more focused approach to writing response paragraphs. They needed a standards-based approach. So, I set about creating the levels of support I knew my writers required in order to answer these types of questions with any depth of understanding.

response to literature essay middle school

Academic Vocabulary of the Standard 

I created  vocabulary activities for each standard teaching the academic vocabulary specific to each standard. This was vital to my writers understanding key concepts.

Middle school writers need to know the academic vocabulary for their state testing, and this was a great way to introduce it to students. After this, they needed to use the academic vocabulary words when writing their response paragraphs for literature.

These words would be used throughout the school year and on state tests, so I know these words were essential learning. Also, I would need them to understand the academic vocabulary in order for them to understand rubrics, graphic organizers, paragraph frames and sentence frames – the other supporting activities I created for them.

response to literature essay middle school

Rubrics for Writing Response Paragraphs for Literature

I needed a way for my writers to understand why they earned certain scores on their writing response paragraphs. Furthermore, I wanted them to know what to include in their paragraphs as well as what they should revise to improve their scores and writing.

By using a 4 point system, I could easily translate the points into grades for progress and quarterly report cards. Plus, I could assess according to which standards my writers mastered and which ones they still needed to improve upon. 

Teaching the rubric before teaching the writing, students learned how each standard measured their learning. So, they could monitor their own progress and use the rubric as a checklist. Also, they could write down what they did well and what they could improve.

I gave each student a copy of the rubric to glue into their interactive notebooks for ELA. They could refer to these over and over again, or I could print off a new one each time we worked on that standard.

response to literature essay middle school

Posters of Standards and Skills

Posting the standards and skills in front of the classroom while we worked on them helped my student writers to remember our learning focus. It also helped visitors from the district office and my assistant principals, who often were responsible for my evaluations, see what our daily focus was.

Needless to say, these posters helped me to achieve highly effective scores for the last six years in a row. This also saved me time from having to write them on the board. Also, if I had them in a presentation, that was often missed by the evaluators who often walk into class after I’d started.

After laminating the posters, I put magnets on the back. It’s very easy to just stick them up in the morning or before I leave for the day.  

To stay organized, I keep them in a plastic box next to my whiteboard at the front of the room. I have a piece of construction paper in between the Literature and Information standards, and since they are numbered, I just refile them in numerical order.

These posters were a game changer for me!

response to literature essay middle school

Graphic Organizers for Writing Response Paragraphs for Literature

The graphic organizers that textbook companies and other learning sites publish are too generic for my writers. If I wanted to focus my students on the standards, I needed to create a graphic organizer for each standard. Each organizer focuses specifically on what they need to determine, distinguish, analyze, trace or explain. 

With each graphic organizer, I left students space for writing down important information they would need in their paragraphs.  Writers needed to be able to write down titles of texts, author’s names, answers to text-dependent questions, text evidence quotes as well as the page numbers for citations. 

They also needed a place to explain why that information was important to answering the question. Sometimes, they included a summary. Other times they had to compare. I taught them not to just repeat the author’s words but to explain why they mattered to the topic, character, plot, scene, poem, etc.

However, providing graphic organizers was not enough to support my students who did not know how to start their writing response paragraphs for literature. They needed paragraph frames or sentence stems.

response to literature essay middle school

Paragraph Frames Bridge the Learning Gap

For some of my students, especially English Language Learners, students with 504 plans and those with specific learning disabilities, writing is particularly difficult. Especially academic writing.

Although I’d already front-loaded the vocabulary, taught and gave them checklists (rubrics), and graphic organizers, these writers still needed help with how to form all this information into sentences.

Paragraph frames help students to see the order in which everything needs to be stated. Starting with the genre, author and title, then progressing to the answer to the question or main point of the paragraph, they can see where the cited text needs to be written. They can also begin to understand where the analytical part of their answer follows to explain the relevance of their text evidence. 

When glued into their notebooks for future reference, these paragraph frames can help them to continue to write new paragraphs about other texts, using the same format. 

However, not all students need paragraph frames, and sometimes paragraph frames can be too constricting to writers.

So, I also created sentence stems. 

response to literature essay middle school

Sentence Stems based on Common Core Standards for Constructed Response

Other students may not need paragraph frames, but they do need the language and transition words to help them to construct a well-written response to literature. 

I divided and organized my Sentence Stems into a short list of options for each sentence of a written response. Since each standard requires different information, these sentence stems include the academic vocabulary, transition words and phrasing particular to each skill and standard.

Sentence stems proved to be another game changer because it allowed for more student choice and autonomy as these are suggestions for how to word each sentence, yet still gives students the guidance they need to write their responses.

response to literature essay middle school

Printable and Digital Resources

Once I made all of these resources for literature, I never had to make any other worksheets. I even made them digital, so I could use them to present with and for students who need to write on a computer. This really came in handy during the last three years of the pandemic!

They can be used in both Google Slides and in PowerPoint. They have text boxes pre-inserted for writers to type into. This makes the digital version extremely easy to use, since I don’t have to go to a copier if my students have computers or a digital device to use.

I continue to use these for my tutoring sessions with my middle school students on Outschool!

response to literature essay middle school

Combining Writing Response Paragraphs for Literature into Academic Literary Essays

Once writers have mastered the standard, I gave them another short piece of text to write paragraphs that led to an essay.

I taught them how to write introductions and conclusion paragraphs, which were easy since the main idea paragraphs were already written.

We practiced these paragraphs all year long with all the different reading literature standards.

Therefore, when yearly testing time came along, my writers were ready to rock the writing portion of their Common Core writing portion of the reading exam.

Here’s a sample of what I created:

response to literature essay middle school

Conclusion: All the work has been done for you in my Writing Response Paragraphs for Literature Resources

All the literature standards for each grade level are listed below. Just click on the image or link to find exactly the standard you need.

These resources all come with a standard poster, skills poster, rubric, graphic organizer(s), vocabulary, some have additional notes, paragraph frames, and sentence stems along with lesson plans for implementation in your classroom.

Like I said, you could also use these in tutoring sessions!

Even better, you can bundle and save – Get all of the reading literature standards writing response paragraph resources at one time. Click on the grade level and type of writing response you need below:

6th grade Literature Writing Response Paragraphs

response to literature essay middle school

7th grade Literature Writing Response Paragraphs

response to literature essay middle school

8th grade Literature Writing Response Paragraphs

response to literature essay middle school

Writing Response Paragraphs for Informational Resources are also available

Click on the grade level you need below:

6th grade Informational Writing Response Paragraphs

response to literature essay middle school

7th grade Informational Writing Response Paragraphs

response to literature essay middle school

8th grade Informational Writing Response Paragraphs

response to literature essay middle school

You can also get both Literature and Informational bundles in a MEGA BUNDLE:

6th grade Mega Bundle

response to literature essay middle school

7th grade Mega Bundle

response to literature essay middle school

8th grade Mega Bundle

response to literature essay middle school

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response to literature essay middle school

Response to Literature: Purpose

Contributor: Delaine Thomas. Lesson ID: 12328

You've decided to write a response to literature paper (or were assigned one!). Either way, there's a purpose: to persuade someone to either read the book or run from it. Learn how!

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Have you ever been so caught up in a book that you felt you were one of the characters?
  • Wouldn't it be fun to write your own book review to share with others?

Sometimes, when you read a really good book, you feel like you become part of the action — maybe to the point of sensing that you become one of the characters.

These interactions with literature are priceless, and the book that generated those emotions should be shared with others in hope that they have the same experience. One of the best ways to convince someone to read (or not read) a piece of literature is to share a written response to literature.

Before continuing, if you missed or need to review the previous Response to Literature   Related Lessons , you can find them in the right-hand sidebar.

Sometimes, you may need a little push to get your thoughts about a book moving, even if you really did enjoy the book. Here are a few ideas that may help you focus:

  • Think about the characters in the story and if any of the characters have changed over the course of the book.
  • Compare yourself, someone you know, or a famous historical figure, to the main character.
  • You might even think about the characters' names and why the author decided to name them as he or she did. Do you think there is some significance or purpose?
  • What about setting? Does the setting remind you of somewhere you've been?
  • Maybe you'd rather think about the title, and whether the book should be named something else.
  • You can also discuss the theme of the book, and how it is develops through the characters' actions. Your topic can be as simple as, "I think the book teaches us about ... "
  • Or you can go deeper and try to predict what may have happened prior to the start, or after the ending, of the book, and why.

Whatever you choose as your purpose for writing your response, you need to stay on topic to produce a well-written paper.

Generally, every response to writing includes a summary of the book, a description of the characters, what happened in the plot, and whether you liked it or not. The answer to your overall response question, which will be your topic sentence, must be supported by text-based evidence. Your response is strengthened when you summarize passages and include direct quotations from the text. This text evidence is used to support the topic or response you selected.

There are three basic sections in a response to literature essay: introduction, body, and conclusion.

In the introduction , provide the title of the book, the author’s name, and a brief summary of the book. In your summary, briefly lay out the main events of the story and discuss the traits of the main characters. Then, state your topic to let your reader know what aspect of the book you will discuss in your paper. State three reasons that support your opinion.

In the body , you will begin addressing your opinion, starting with your first reason and using evidence from the text to back it up.

Start a new paragraph for each of your three reasons. Use personal connections to the book, such as your own experiences and what you already know, as well as your text evidence, to build a strong argument to support your opinion.

End your paper with a concluding paragraph that summarizes your argument and tells your reader if they should read the book and why. As always, do not introduce any new information in the closure because this new information may have an unwanted effect on the point you are attempting to make.

In short, a response to literature paper follows a basic essay format, and can best be described as a combination of a persuasive essay (you are trying to convince your reader to see your point of view on the novel), and a research paper (you are investigating the text for factual information to support your claims).

Before continuing to the Got It? section, discuss the answers to the following questions with your teacher or parent:

  • What is a response to literature?
  • What is included in a response to literature introduction?
  • What is included in the body?
  • Why do you need to include text evidence?
  • How is evidence presented in the paper?

Remember, when writing a response to literature, you want to use a book that left you with a strong impression.

Continue on to the Got It? section to examine a sample essay.

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Resources and Extras

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Related Lessons

  • Response to Literature: Introduction Part I
  • Response to Literature: Introduction Part II
  • Response to Literature: Expressing Ideas
  • Response to Literature: Citation

Additional Resources

  • Writing a Response Paper  (Mometrix Academy)

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  • 17 Literary Response Writing

Literary Response Writing Chapter Opener

Start-Up Activity

Write the following sentence starters on the board:

A great novel is like . . .

My favorite movies are those that . . .

I love a story that . . .

Take answers from students, writing them down. Then review the answers, looking for commonalities. Most if not all of the responses should highlight a special connection that the literature makes with the reader or viewer.

Great literature naturally evokes a response, and students can formalize that response in writing. This chapter leads the way.

Think About It

“It's in literature that true life can be found. It's under the mask of fiction that you can tell the truth.”

—Gao Xingjian

State Standards Covered in This Chapter

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.10

LAFS Covered in This Chapter

Lafs.1112.rl.1.1, lafs.1112.rl.4.10, lafs.1112.ri.1.1, lafs.1112.ri.4.10, lafs.1112.w.1.2, lafs.1112.w.2.4, lafs.1112.rl.1.2, lafs.1112.rl.1.3, lafs.1112.rl.2.5, lafs.1112.w.2.5, lafs.1112.w.3.7, lafs.1112.w.3.9, lafs.1112.w.4.10, teks covered in this chapter, 110.38.c.4.g, 110.39.c.4.g, 110.38.c.7.a, 110.38.c.7.b, 110.38.c.7.c, 110.39.c.7.a, 110.39.c.7.b, 110.39.c.7.c, 110.38.c.4.f, 110.38.c.5.c, 110.38.c.7.d.i, 110.39.c.4.f, 110.39.c.5.c, 110.39.c.7.d.i, 110.38.c.7.d, 110.39.c.7.d, 110.38.c.10.b, 110.39.c.10.b, 110.38.c.5.d, 110.38.c.6.a, 110.39.c.5.d, 110.39.c.6.a, 110.38.c.6.b, 110.38.c.6.c, 110.38.c.6.d, 110.39.c.6.b, 110.39.c.6.c, 110.39.c.6.d, 110.38.c.8.b, 110.39.c.8.b, 110.38.c.9.a, 110.39.c.9.a, 110.38.c.9.b.i, 110.39.c.9.b.i, 110.38.c.5.f, 110.38.c.9.b.ii, 110.39.c.5.f, 110.39.c.9.b.ii, 110.38.c.9.d, 110.39.c.9.d, 110.38.c.9.c, 110.39.c.9.c, 110.38.c.11, 110.39.c.11, 110.38.c.4.h, 110.39.c.4.h, 110.38.c.10, 110.39.c.10, page 212 from write for college, literary response writing: quick guide.

Use this page as a basis for discussing literary responses and warming up students to the possibilities in this chapter.

Students can respond to literature in many ways: book or movie reviews, play synopses, novel analyses, anthology recommendations, parodies, fan fiction, wikis, and so on. Page 213 includes many different starting points for literary analyses alone. Whatever the response, readers should start by thinking of the communication situation using the PAST questions.

Of course, responses in writing also benefit from attention to the traits, especially ideas . Literature allows one mind to briefly inhabit another mind, sharing its ideas.

Related Resource Tags

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Page 213 from Write for College

Ideas for literary analyses.

Use this page to encourage students to find a unique inroad to whatever they are reading and responding to.

Fiction, history, and biography feature people (characters) in a particular place and time (setting) doing things (plot and conflict) for specific reasons (theme). These forms and all nonfiction also feature authors who write with a particular style. Any of these elements can provide a strong starting point for a literary analysis.

Page 214 from Write for College

Guidelines: writing a personal response.

Our favorite literature is very personal. We connect to a specific character or setting or author and can't get enough. That's why personal responses provide an excellent starting point for literary analyses.

Use the model on pages 216–217 to show one student's personal response to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Lead students through the prewriting guidelines and give them time to find and review the literature that they will respond to. Point them to page 215 for many possible starting points for personal responses.

Once students have read their selections and gathered their thoughts, lead them through the drafting guidelines. Emphasize that a personal response can freely use an "I" voice, showing the connection between reader and literature.

Provide students the Checklist for Revising and Editing Personal Responses to help them improve their work.


Page 215 from Write for College

Starting points for personal responses.

The questions on this page prompt students to find points of entry for their responses. Invite students to read through the list and pick out one or two questions they would like to explore. Then direct them to the bottom of the page and suggest that they freewrite responses to the question(s) they have chosen. After 5 to 10 minutes of freewriting, they will likely have a strong sense of where they would like their responses to head.

Page 216 from Write for College

Personal response.

Have students read the sample personal response on this page and the next. Then lead a discussion about it.

  • How does the writer connect with the story?
  • What words show the writer's enthusiasm for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland ?
  • How does the writer use details from the story?

Page 217 from Write for College

Personal response (cont.).

After students have read this page and the last, have them respond to the reading by answering the "Reading for Better Writing" questions at the bottom of the page.

Page 218 from Write for College

Guidelines: writing a book review.

Students have written book reports from the time that they became readers. High school book reviews , however, need to demonstrate greater sophistication. Students should avoid the "I" voice from personal responses (pages 214–217), instead focusing on the elements in the literature itself. Also, the review should do more than chronologically list events, but instead should evaluate their significance and help the reader decide whether to read the work or not.

Review with students the sample book review on pages 219–220. Then lead them through the prewriting guidelines and give them time to work.

Once students finish prewriting, have them develop their drafts.

Provide them the Checklist for Revising and Editing Book Reviews to use as they improve their work.

Page 219 from Write for College

Book review.

Have students read the sample book review silently to themselves. Then use the side notes to lead a discussion about the parts of the review.

On this page, have students focus on the writer's use of quotations from the book and paraphrases of the action in the book. Have them determine why each quotation provides a significant insight stated in an especially effective way. Tell students they also should choose quotations carefully, paraphrasing most information.

Page 220 from Write for College

Book review (cont.).

Complete your discussion of the model book review.

Note how the review discusses the ending without ruining it (no spoilers).

Also, note how the final paragraph captures the theme of the book, broadening it out to connect to life in general.

Page 221 from Write for College

Guidelines: writing a limited literary analysis.

Instead of reviewing a whole work, students can dig in more deeply to analyze one part. They could select a physical part, such as a chapter or section, or they could choose one of the classic components of fiction: character, setting, conflict, theme, exposition, rising action, climax, denouement, dialogue, or description.

Have students read the sample literary analysis, which focuses on a specific scene in The Scarlet Letter .

Afterward, lead students through the prewriting guidelines. Give them time to work. Tell them to transition to drafting whenever they feel ready to do so.

Provide the Checklist for Revising and Editing Limited Literary Analyses to help students improve their work.

Page 222 from Write for College

Limited literary analysis.

Have a volunteer read aloud the excerpt from The Scarlet Letter . Then have students silently read the limited literary analysis beginning on this page.

Afterward, lead a discussion. Note how the writer identifies the passage, credits the source and author, and gives background leading up to the thesis statement.

Page 223 from Write for College

Limited literary analysis (cont.).

Continue your discussion of this analysis. Note the interplay of paraphrases and quotations of especially effective passages. Also note that the writer continually goes beyond both types of evidence to infer and interpret from the text.

With the definition of "foundered" (see the third side note), the writer brings outside evidence into the interpretation. Encourage students to connect the passage to other readings, historical events, definitions, and other types of external information. (Of course, the connection should illuminate the text.)

Page 224 from Write for College

Continue your discussion of the model, using the side notes for talking points.

Page 225 from Write for College

After completing your discussion of the model analysis, have students spend five minutes freewriting in response to the "Reading for Better Writing" prompt at the bottom of the page.

Page 226 from Write for College

Guidelines: writing an extended literary analysis.

An extended literary analysis treats a whole work just as a limited literary analysis treats a specific part.

To prepare students to write their own extended literary analyses, have them read and review the sample play analysis on pages 226–227.

Present to students the guidelines for prewriting and give them time to work. Have them transition to drafting whenever they are ready.

Provide the Checklist for Revising and Editing Extended Literary Analyses to help students improve their work.

Page 227 from Write for College

Extended analysis of a play.

Ask students to read the analysis. Then lead a discussion of the model.

Discuss how the writer describes the action in the play and provides quotations from it. Also, show how the writer incorporates comments from the playwright (on this page) and information about the playwright (on the next page) to flesh out the analysis.

Point out to students that this analysis is shorter because of the medium it addresses, while a novel-length extended analysis may need to be longer to adequately explore the work. (See pages 229–232.)

Page 228 from Write for College

Extended analysis of a play (cont.).

Complete your discussion of this analysis. Afterward, have students reflect by freewriting responses to the "Reading for Better Writing" feature at the bottom of the page.

Extended Analysis of a Book

Have students read the extended analysis to themselves. Afterward, use the side notes to discuss the work. Note that this analysis digs in more deeply than the play analysis had. It cites more sources and more rigorously reviews them.

Page 230 from Write for College

Extended analysis of a book (cont.).

Continue your discussion of the analysis. Note how adeptly the writer incorporates outside viewpoints, including insights from the author's mother, an author in her own right.

Also show how the writer does not simply "plunk" quotations from the literature and other sources, but seamlessly incorporates the quotations with explanatory text.

Page 231 from Write for College

Discuss the side note on this page, showing how the writer used the observation of a critic to add greater dimension to her analysis. The reference allows the writer to unpack one of the major themes of the literature.

Page 232 from Write for College

Complete your discussion of the extended analysis. Point out how the writer used MLA documentation style to provide in-text citations (in parentheses) and works-cited entries.

Page 233 from Write for College

Guidelines: responding to a literary prompt.

On many high-stakes tests, including the AP English exams, students will need to read a piece of literature and respond by writing an analysis essay.

An on-target response starts with analyzing the prompt using the PAST questions. After analyzing the prompt, students should closely read the literature. On a piece of scrap paper, they should write a thesis statement that names the literature, provides the subject, and creates a specific focus that answers the prompt. Students should jot supporting points below the thesis statement, creating a quick list to structure their responses.

Then students should draft their responses.

Afterward, they need to quickly revise and edit their responses. Provide them the Checklist for Revising and Editing Responses to Literary Prompts. Students should ask themselves these kinds of questions as they revise. (Of course, they will not be able to use the checklist during an actual testing situation.)

Page 234 from Write for College

Literary prompt.

Ask students to closely read the literary prompt and analyze it using the PAST questions:

  • P urpose: Capture Poe's sense of being alone, with evidence from the text (meaning, imagery, symbolism; rhythm, rhyme, enjambment)
  • A udience: Test grader
  • S ubject: The poem "Alone" by Edgar Allen Poe and its major theme of isolation
  • T ype: Literary analysis essay

Then have students read the text. Ask them to practice prompt responses by jotting down a thesis statement and quick list of main points. Have students draft, revise, and edit their responses.

Afterward, review the student response on page 235.

Page 235 from Write for College

Prompt response.

After students have written their own responses to the prompt and text on page 234, have them closely read the sample student response on this page.

Ask students how their own responses differed from the sample response. Ask how the responses were similar. Then lead a general discussion of the sample, using the side notes to guide the conversation.

Afterward, ask students what they learned about responding to literary prompts in a timed situation.

Page 236 from Write for College

Evaluating literary response writing.

Provide students the Assessment Rubric for Literary Response Writing to help them evaluate their responses to literature. You also can use this rubric to assess student's writing, assigning a score of 1 (incomplete) to 6 (amazing) for each trait, and dividing by 6 to receive an overall score (6 = A+, 5 = A, 4 = B, 3 = C, 2 = D, 1 = F).

  • 01 One Writer's Process
  • 02 Traits of Writing
  • 03 Prewriting
  • 05 Revising
  • 07 Publishing
  • 08 Improving Sentences
  • 09 Building Paragraphs
  • 10 Mastering Essays
  • 11 Writing with Style
  • 12 Writing Terms and Techniques
  • 13 Personal Writing
  • 14 Narrative Writing
  • 15 Explanatory Writing
  • 16 Argument Writing
  • 18 Creative Writing
  • 19 Conducting Research
  • 20 Summaries, Paraphrases, and Abstracts
  • 21 Report Writing
  • 22 Writing the Research Paper
  • 23 MLA Research Paper
  • 24 APA Research Paper
  • 25 Writing in Science
  • 26 Writing in Social Studies
  • 27 Writing in Math
  • 28 Writing in the Workplace
  • 29 Reading Nonfiction
  • 30 Reading Literature
  • 31 Reading Graphics
  • 32 Listening and Note Taking
  • 33 Speaking Effectively
  • 34 Building Vocabulary
  • 35 Writing on Demand
  • 36 Answering Document-Based Questions
  • 37 Taking Exit and Entrance Exams
  • 38 Taking Advanced Placement* Exams
  • 39 Marking Punctuation
  • 40 Checking Mechanics
  • 41 Understanding Idioms
  • 42 Using the Right Word
  • 43 Parts of Speech
  • 44 Using the Language
  • 45 Student Almanac

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Humanities LibreTexts

12.14: Sample Student Literary Analysis Essays

  • Last updated
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  • Page ID 40514

  • Heather Ringo & Athena Kashyap
  • City College of San Francisco via ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative

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The following examples are essays where student writers focused on close-reading a literary work.

While reading these examples, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the essay's thesis statement, and how do you know it is the thesis statement?
  • What is the main idea or topic sentence of each body paragraph, and how does it relate back to the thesis statement?
  • Where and how does each essay use evidence (quotes or paraphrase from the literature)?
  • What are some of the literary devices or structures the essays analyze or discuss?
  • How does each author structure their conclusion, and how does their conclusion differ from their introduction?

Example 1: Poetry

Victoria Morillo

Instructor Heather Ringo

3 August 2022

How Nguyen’s Structure Solidifies the Impact of Sexual Violence in “The Study”

Stripped of innocence, your body taken from you. No matter how much you try to block out the instance in which these two things occurred, memories surface and come back to haunt you. How does a person, a young boy , cope with an event that forever changes his life? Hieu Minh Nguyen deconstructs this very way in which an act of sexual violence affects a survivor. In his poem, “The Study,” the poem's speaker recounts the year in which his molestation took place, describing how his memory filters in and out. Throughout the poem, Nguyen writes in free verse, permitting a structural liberation to become the foundation for his message to shine through. While he moves the readers with this poignant narrative, Nguyen effectively conveys the resulting internal struggles of feeling alone and unseen.

The speaker recalls his experience with such painful memory through the use of specific punctuation choices. Just by looking at the poem, we see that the first period doesn’t appear until line 14. It finally comes after the speaker reveals to his readers the possible, central purpose for writing this poem: the speaker's molestation. In the first half, the poem makes use of commas, em dashes, and colons, which lends itself to the idea of the speaker stringing along all of these details to make sense of this time in his life. If reading the poem following the conventions of punctuation, a sense of urgency is present here, as well. This is exemplified by the lack of periods to finalize a thought; and instead, Nguyen uses other punctuation marks to connect them. Serving as another connector of thoughts, the two em dashes give emphasis to the role memory plays when the speaker discusses how “no one [had] a face” during that time (Nguyen 9-11). He speaks in this urgent manner until the 14th line, and when he finally gets it off his chest, the pace of the poem changes, as does the more frequent use of the period. This stream-of-consciousness-like section when juxtaposed with the latter half of the poem, causes readers to slow down and pay attention to the details. It also splits the poem in two: a section that talks of the fogginess of memory then transitions into one that remembers it all.

In tandem with the fluctuating nature of memory, the utilization of line breaks and word choice help reflect the damage the molestation has had. Within the first couple of lines of the poem, the poem demands the readers’ attention when the line breaks from “floating” to “dead” as the speaker describes his memory of Little Billy (Nguyen 1-4). This line break averts the readers’ expectation of the direction of the narrative and immediately shifts the tone of the poem. The break also speaks to the effect his trauma has ingrained in him and how “[f]or the longest time,” his only memory of that year revolves around an image of a boy’s death. In a way, the speaker sees himself in Little Billy; or perhaps, he’s representative of the tragic death of his boyhood, how the speaker felt so “dead” after enduring such a traumatic experience, even referring to himself as a “ghost” that he tries to evict from his conscience (Nguyen 24). The feeling that a part of him has died is solidified at the very end of the poem when the speaker describes himself as a nine-year-old boy who’s been “fossilized,” forever changed by this act (Nguyen 29). By choosing words associated with permanence and death, the speaker tries to recreate the atmosphere (for which he felt trapped in) in order for readers to understand the loneliness that came as a result of his trauma. With the assistance of line breaks, more attention is drawn to the speaker's words, intensifying their importance, and demanding to be felt by the readers.

Most importantly, the speaker expresses eloquently, and so heartbreakingly, about the effect sexual violence has on a person. Perhaps what seems to be the most frustrating are the people who fail to believe survivors of these types of crimes. This is evident when he describes “how angry” the tenants were when they filled the pool with cement (Nguyen 4). They seem to represent how people in the speaker's life were dismissive of his assault and who viewed his tragedy as a nuisance of some sorts. This sentiment is bookended when he says, “They say, give us details , so I give them my body. / They say, give us proof , so I give them my body,” (Nguyen 25-26). The repetition of these two lines reinforces the feeling many feel in these scenarios, as they’re often left to deal with trying to make people believe them, or to even see them.

It’s important to recognize how the structure of this poem gives the speaker space to express the pain he’s had to carry for so long. As a characteristic of free verse, the poem doesn’t follow any structured rhyme scheme or meter; which in turn, allows him to not have any constraints in telling his story the way he wants to. The speaker has the freedom to display his experience in a way that evades predictability and engenders authenticity of a story very personal to him. As readers, we abandon anticipating the next rhyme, and instead focus our attention to the other ways, like his punctuation or word choice, in which he effectively tells his story. The speaker recognizes that some part of him no longer belongs to himself, but by writing “The Study,” he shows other survivors that they’re not alone and encourages hope that eventually, they will be freed from the shackles of sexual violence.

Works Cited

Nguyen, Hieu Minh. “The Study” Poets.Org. Academy of American Poets, Coffee House Press, 2018, .

Example 2: Fiction

Todd Goodwin

Professor Stan Matyshak

Advanced Expository Writing

Sept. 17, 20—

Poe’s “Usher”: A Mirror of the Fall of the House of Humanity

Right from the outset of the grim story, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Edgar Allan Poe enmeshes us in a dark, gloomy, hopeless world, alienating his characters and the reader from any sort of physical or psychological norm where such values as hope and happiness could possibly exist. He fatalistically tells the story of how a man (the narrator) comes from the outside world of hope, religion, and everyday society and tries to bring some kind of redeeming happiness to his boyhood friend, Roderick Usher, who not only has physically and psychologically wasted away but is entrapped in a dilapidated house of ever-looming terror with an emaciated and deranged twin sister. Roderick Usher embodies the wasting away of what once was vibrant and alive, and his house of “insufferable gloom” (273), which contains his morbid sister, seems to mirror or reflect this fear of death and annihilation that he most horribly endures. A close reading of the story reveals that Poe uses mirror images, or reflections, to contribute to the fatalistic theme of “Usher”: each reflection serves to intensify an already prevalent tone of hopelessness, darkness, and fatalism.

It could be argued that the house of Roderick Usher is a “house of mirrors,” whose unpleasant and grim reflections create a dark and hopeless setting. For example, the narrator first approaches “the melancholy house of Usher on a dark and soundless day,” and finds a building which causes him a “sense of insufferable gloom,” which “pervades his spirit and causes an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart, an undiscerned dreariness of thought” (273). The narrator then optimistically states: “I reflected that a mere different arrangement of the scene, of the details of the picture, would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps annihilate its capacity for sorrowful impression” (274). But the narrator then sees the reflection of the house in the tarn and experiences a “shudder even more thrilling than before” (274). Thus the reader begins to realize that the narrator cannot change or stop the impending doom that will befall the house of Usher, and maybe humanity. The story cleverly plays with the word reflection : the narrator sees a physical reflection that leads him to a mental reflection about Usher’s surroundings.

The narrator’s disillusionment by such grim reflection continues in the story. For example, he describes Roderick Usher’s face as distinct with signs of old strength but lost vigor: the remains of what used to be. He describes the house as a once happy and vibrant place, which, like Roderick, lost its vitality. Also, the narrator describes Usher’s hair as growing wild on his rather obtrusive head, which directly mirrors the eerie moss and straw covering the outside of the house. The narrator continually longs to see these bleak reflections as a dream, for he states: “Shaking off from my spirit what must have been a dream, I scanned more narrowly the real aspect of the building” (276). He does not want to face the reality that Usher and his home are doomed to fall, regardless of what he does.

Although there are almost countless examples of these mirror images, two others stand out as important. First, Roderick and his sister, Madeline, are twins. The narrator aptly states just as he and Roderick are entombing Madeline that there is “a striking similitude between brother and sister” (288). Indeed, they are mirror images of each other. Madeline is fading away psychologically and physically, and Roderick is not too far behind! The reflection of “doom” that these two share helps intensify and symbolize the hopelessness of the entire situation; thus, they further develop the fatalistic theme. Second, in the climactic scene where Madeline has been mistakenly entombed alive, there is a pairing of images and sounds as the narrator tries to calm Roderick by reading him a romance story. Events in the story simultaneously unfold with events of the sister escaping her tomb. In the story, the hero breaks out of the coffin. Then, in the story, the dragon’s shriek as he is slain parallels Madeline’s shriek. Finally, the story tells of the clangor of a shield, matched by the sister’s clanging along a metal passageway. As the suspense reaches its climax, Roderick shrieks his last words to his “friend,” the narrator: “Madman! I tell you that she now stands without the door” (296).

Roderick, who slowly falls into insanity, ironically calls the narrator the “Madman.” We are left to reflect on what Poe means by this ironic twist. Poe’s bleak and dark imagery, and his use of mirror reflections, seem only to intensify the hopelessness of “Usher.” We can plausibly conclude that, indeed, the narrator is the “Madman,” for he comes from everyday society, which is a place where hope and faith exist. Poe would probably argue that such a place is opposite to the world of Usher because a world where death is inevitable could not possibly hold such positive values. Therefore, just as Roderick mirrors his sister, the reflection in the tarn mirrors the dilapidation of the house, and the story mirrors the final actions before the death of Usher. “The Fall of the House of Usher” reflects Poe’s view that humanity is hopelessly doomed.

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Fall of the House of Usher.” 1839. Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library . 1995. Web. 1 July 2012. < >.

Example 3: Poetry

Amy Chisnell

Professor Laura Neary

Writing and Literature

April 17, 20—

Don’t Listen to the Egg!: A Close Reading of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”

“You seem very clever at explaining words, Sir,” said Alice. “Would you kindly tell me the meaning of the poem called ‘Jabberwocky’?”

“Let’s hear it,” said Humpty Dumpty. “I can explain all the poems that ever were invented—and a good many that haven’t been invented just yet.” (Carroll 164)

In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass , Humpty Dumpty confidently translates (to a not so confident Alice) the complicated language of the poem “Jabberwocky.” The words of the poem, though nonsense, aptly tell the story of the slaying of the Jabberwock. Upon finding “Jabberwocky” on a table in the looking-glass room, Alice is confused by the strange words. She is quite certain that “ somebody killed something ,” but she does not understand much more than that. When later she encounters Humpty Dumpty, she seizes the opportunity at having the knowledgeable egg interpret—or translate—the poem. Since Humpty Dumpty professes to be able to “make a word work” for him, he is quick to agree. Thus he acts like a New Critic who interprets the poem by performing a close reading of it. Through Humpty’s interpretation of the first stanza, however, we see the poem’s deeper comment concerning the practice of interpreting poetry and literature in general—that strict analytical translation destroys the beauty of a poem. In fact, Humpty Dumpty commits the “heresy of paraphrase,” for he fails to understand that meaning cannot be separated from the form or structure of the literary work.

Of the 71 words found in “Jabberwocky,” 43 have no known meaning. They are simply nonsense. Yet through this nonsensical language, the poem manages not only to tell a story but also gives the reader a sense of setting and characterization. One feels, rather than concretely knows, that the setting is dark, wooded, and frightening. The characters, such as the Jubjub bird, the Bandersnatch, and the doomed Jabberwock, also appear in the reader’s head, even though they will not be found in the local zoo. Even though most of the words are not real, the reader is able to understand what goes on because he or she is given free license to imagine what the words denote and connote. Simply, the poem’s nonsense words are the meaning.

Therefore, when Humpty interprets “Jabberwocky” for Alice, he is not doing her any favors, for he actually misreads the poem. Although the poem in its original is constructed from nonsense words, by the time Humpty is done interpreting it, it truly does not make any sense. The first stanza of the original poem is as follows:

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogroves,

An the mome raths outgrabe. (Carroll 164)

If we replace, however, the nonsense words of “Jabberwocky” with Humpty’s translated words, the effect would be something like this:

’Twas four o’clock in the afternoon, and the lithe and slimy badger-lizard-corkscrew creatures

Did go round and round and make holes in the grass-plot round the sun-dial:

All flimsy and miserable were the shabby-looking birds

with mop feathers,

And the lost green pigs bellowed-sneezed-whistled.

By translating the poem in such a way, Humpty removes the charm or essence—and the beauty, grace, and rhythm—from the poem. The poetry is sacrificed for meaning. Humpty Dumpty commits the heresy of paraphrase. As Cleanth Brooks argues, “The structure of a poem resembles that of a ballet or musical composition. It is a pattern of resolutions and balances and harmonizations” (203). When the poem is left as nonsense, the reader can easily imagine what a “slithy tove” might be, but when Humpty tells us what it is, he takes that imaginative license away from the reader. The beauty (if that is the proper word) of “Jabberwocky” is in not knowing what the words mean, and yet understanding. By translating the poem, Humpty takes that privilege from the reader. In addition, Humpty fails to recognize that meaning cannot be separated from the structure itself: the nonsense poem reflects this literally—it means “nothing” and achieves this meaning by using “nonsense” words.

Furthermore, the nonsense words Carroll chooses to use in “Jabberwocky” have a magical effect upon the reader; the shadowy sound of the words create the atmosphere, which may be described as a trance-like mood. When Alice first reads the poem, she says it seems to fill her head “with ideas.” The strange-sounding words in the original poem do give one ideas. Why is this? Even though the reader has never heard these words before, he or she is instantly aware of the murky, mysterious mood they set. In other words, diction operates not on the denotative level (the dictionary meaning) but on the connotative level (the emotion(s) they evoke). Thus “Jabberwocky” creates a shadowy mood, and the nonsense words are instrumental in creating this mood. Carroll could not have simply used any nonsense words.

For example, let us change the “dark,” “ominous” words of the first stanza to “lighter,” more “comic” words:

’Twas mearly, and the churly pells

Did bimble and ringle in the tink;

All timpy were the brimbledimps,

And the bip plips outlink.

Shifting the sounds of the words from dark to light merely takes a shift in thought. To create a specific mood using nonsense words, one must create new words from old words that convey the desired mood. In “Jabberwocky,” Carroll mixes “slimy,” a grim idea, “lithe,” a pliable image, to get a new adjective: “slithy” (a portmanteau word). In this translation, brighter words were used to get a lighter effect. “Mearly” is a combination of “morning” and “early,” and “ringle” is a blend of “ring” and "dingle.” The point is that “Jabberwocky’s” nonsense words are created specifically to convey this shadowy or mysterious mood and are integral to the “meaning.”

Consequently, Humpty’s rendering of the poem leaves the reader with a completely different feeling than does the original poem, which provided us with a sense of ethereal mystery, of a dark and foreign land with exotic creatures and fantastic settings. The mysteriousness is destroyed by Humpty’s literal paraphrase of the creatures and the setting; by doing so, he has taken the beauty away from the poem in his attempt to understand it. He has committed the heresy of paraphrase: “If we allow ourselves to be misled by it [this heresy], we distort the relation of the poem to its ‘truth’… we split the poem between its ‘form’ and its ‘content’” (Brooks 201). Humpty Dumpty’s ultimate demise might be seen to symbolize the heretical split between form and content: as a literary creation, Humpty Dumpty is an egg, a well-wrought urn of nonsense. His fall from the wall cracks him and separates the contents from the container, and not even all the King’s men can put the scrambled egg back together again!

Through the odd characters of a little girl and a foolish egg, “Jabberwocky” suggests a bit of sage advice about reading poetry, advice that the New Critics built their theories on. The importance lies not solely within strict analytical translation or interpretation, but in the overall effect of the imagery and word choice that evokes a meaning inseparable from those literary devices. As Archibald MacLeish so aptly writes: “A poem should not mean / But be.” Sometimes it takes a little nonsense to show us the sense in something.

Brooks, Cleanth. The Well-Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry . 1942. San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1956. Print.

Carroll, Lewis. Through the Looking-Glass. Alice in Wonderland . 2nd ed. Ed. Donald J. Gray. New York: Norton, 1992. Print.

MacLeish, Archibald. “Ars Poetica.” The Oxford Book of American Poetry . Ed. David Lehman. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006. 385–86. Print.


  • Sample Essay 1 received permission from Victoria Morillo to publish, licensed Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International ( CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 )
  • Sample Essays 2 and 3 adapted from Cordell, Ryan and John Pennington. "2.5: Student Sample Papers" from Creating Literary Analysis. 2012. Licensed Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported ( CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 )

The Daring English Teacher on Teachers Pay Teachers Secondary ELA resources Middle School ELA High School English

15 of the Best Questions for Teaching Literary Analysis

Teaching Literary Analysis: 15 Questions to Ask Your Students

Teaching literary analysis in the secondary English classroom is an essential cornerstone of high school English and middle school English curriculum. When students learn the process of literary analysis, they will embrace the new challenge each literary text brings. How do you teach literary analysis essay?

15 literary analysis questions

When I first teach literature to my students, I use direct instruction strategies. I provide my students with literary analysis terms and examples. Then we begin short stories and excerpts together. Usually, we will analyze a couple of short stories together as a class before moving on to more substantial pieces, like novels. One blog post that might be helpful is this one about how to  write a literary analysis response .

When I’m teaching a piece of fiction, I like to have set questions I can use throughout the year to ask my students. As students answer the same question about various texts throughout the year, they improve their analytical skills and begin to form a better understanding of how literature analysis works.

If you are teaching response to analysis and literary analysis, here are ten questions you should ask your students about the piece they are reading. These questions are some of the questions included in my Response to Literature Task Cards that work with any piece of fiction. Here are several questions to guide your students as they analyze literature.

Here are 15 questions you can use when teaching literary analysis to your students.

Literary analysis questions about theme.

  • How do the characters in the story develop or enhance the theme?
  • How does the conflict of the story develop or enhance the theme?
  • How do the symbols within the story develop or enhance the theme?
  • How does the author’s tone of the story develop or enhance the theme?
  • How is the story’s theme reflect the context in which it was written?

Literary Analysis Questions About Setting

  • How does the setting affect the plot?
  • How does the setting affect the conflict?
  • How does the setting affect the tone of the story?

Literary Analysis Questions About Characters

  • What is one of the protagonist’s flaws or weaknesses?
  • What is one of the antagonist’s flaws or weaknesses?
  • What motivates the protagonist to act?
  • What motivates the antagonist to act?
  • What character is most believable and why?

Literary Analysis Questions About Conflict

  • How does the conflict reflect the context of the time in which the story was written?
  • How does the author create a believable conflict?

Here are some literary analysis teaching resources you may like: 

Literary analysis with sticky notes.

Teaching literary analysis can be fun, engaging, and accessible for all students! Increase student engagement and understanding in your next literary analysis unit (whether it be short stories or novels) with interactive and hands-on close reading organizers and scaffolded writing responses. Students will enjoy using sticky notes in class as they analyze the author’s use of various literary devices in complex short stories and novels.

Literary analysis with sticky notes!

What fellow teachers say about this resource:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Extremely satisfied

“ My students found this very helpful to organize their writing and the movement involved with using sticky notes was a hit. The kids loved getting to use sticky notes and to flip them up and down. It made the planning for their writing so much faster. Would highly recommend for all students but especially for any kids who have a hard time focusing.”

“ This is a great way to have kids write literary analysis in a different way instead of just asking for essays. It’s like a little trick to get them to do academic work while thinking they are just doodling on sticky notes. I even use this with AP Lit and just modify my expectations somewhat. I appreciate all the different handouts/options.”

More resources:

My  Literary Analysis Mini Flip Book  combines the fun and excitement of sticky notes with the format of a mini flipbook. It is the perfect culminating activity for students to analyze a final short story in your short story teaching unit.

These  Response to Literature Task Cards  are an ideal way to get students talking about complex literary themes and ideas within any piece of fiction. There are two sets of tasks cards in this set, and you can use them again and again with any short story or novel.

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What I’ve Learned From My Students’ College Essays

The genre is often maligned for being formulaic and melodramatic, but it’s more important than you think.

An illustration of a high school student with blue hair, dreaming of what to write in their college essay.

By Nell Freudenberger

Most high school seniors approach the college essay with dread. Either their upbringing hasn’t supplied them with several hundred words of adversity, or worse, they’re afraid that packaging the genuine trauma they’ve experienced is the only way to secure their future. The college counselor at the Brooklyn high school where I’m a writing tutor advises against trauma porn. “Keep it brief , ” she says, “and show how you rose above it.”

I started volunteering in New York City schools in my 20s, before I had kids of my own. At the time, I liked hanging out with teenagers, whom I sometimes had more interesting conversations with than I did my peers. Often I worked with students who spoke English as a second language or who used slang in their writing, and at first I was hung up on grammar. Should I correct any deviation from “standard English” to appeal to some Wizard of Oz behind the curtains of a college admissions office? Or should I encourage students to write the way they speak, in pursuit of an authentic voice, that most elusive of literary qualities?

In fact, I was missing the point. One of many lessons the students have taught me is to let the story dictate the voice of the essay. A few years ago, I worked with a boy who claimed to have nothing to write about. His life had been ordinary, he said; nothing had happened to him. I asked if he wanted to try writing about a family member, his favorite school subject, a summer job? He glanced at his phone, his posture and expression suggesting that he’d rather be anywhere but in front of a computer with me. “Hobbies?” I suggested, without much hope. He gave me a shy glance. “I like to box,” he said.

I’ve had this experience with reluctant writers again and again — when a topic clicks with a student, an essay can unfurl spontaneously. Of course the primary goal of a college essay is to help its author get an education that leads to a career. Changes in testing policies and financial aid have made applying to college more confusing than ever, but essays have remained basically the same. I would argue that they’re much more than an onerous task or rote exercise, and that unlike standardized tests they are infinitely variable and sometimes beautiful. College essays also provide an opportunity to learn precision, clarity and the process of working toward the truth through multiple revisions.

When a topic clicks with a student, an essay can unfurl spontaneously.

Even if writing doesn’t end up being fundamental to their future professions, students learn to choose language carefully and to be suspicious of the first words that come to mind. Especially now, as college students shoulder so much of the country’s ethical responsibility for war with their protest movement, essay writing teaches prospective students an increasingly urgent lesson: that choosing their own words over ready-made phrases is the only reliable way to ensure they’re thinking for themselves.

Teenagers are ideal writers for several reasons. They’re usually free of preconceptions about writing, and they tend not to use self-consciously ‘‘literary’’ language. They’re allergic to hypocrisy and are generally unfiltered: They overshare, ask personal questions and call you out for microaggressions as well as less egregious (but still mortifying) verbal errors, such as referring to weed as ‘‘pot.’’ Most important, they have yet to put down their best stories in a finished form.

I can imagine an essay taking a risk and distinguishing itself formally — a poem or a one-act play — but most kids use a more straightforward model: a hook followed by a narrative built around “small moments” that lead to a concluding lesson or aspiration for the future. I never get tired of working with students on these essays because each one is different, and the short, rigid form sometimes makes an emotional story even more powerful. Before I read Javier Zamora’s wrenching “Solito,” I worked with a student who had been transported by a coyote into the U.S. and was reunited with his mother in the parking lot of a big-box store. I don’t remember whether this essay focused on specific skills or coping mechanisms that he gained from his ordeal. I remember only the bliss of the parent-and-child reunion in that uninspiring setting. If I were making a case to an admissions officer, I would suggest that simply being able to convey that experience demonstrates the kind of resilience that any college should admire.

The essays that have stayed with me over the years don’t follow a pattern. There are some narratives on very predictable topics — living up to the expectations of immigrant parents, or suffering from depression in 2020 — that are moving because of the attention with which the student describes the experience. One girl determined to become an engineer while watching her father build furniture from scraps after work; a boy, grieving for his mother during lockdown, began taking pictures of the sky.

If, as Lorrie Moore said, “a short story is a love affair; a novel is a marriage,” what is a college essay? Every once in a while I sit down next to a student and start reading, and I have to suppress my excitement, because there on the Google Doc in front of me is a real writer’s voice. One of the first students I ever worked with wrote about falling in love with another girl in dance class, the absolute magic of watching her move and the terror in the conflict between her feelings and the instruction of her religious middle school. She made me think that college essays are less like love than limerence: one-sided, obsessive, idiosyncratic but profound, the first draft of the most personal story their writers will ever tell.

Nell Freudenberger’s novel “The Limits” was published by Knopf last month. She volunteers through the PEN America Writers in the Schools program.


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  1. PDF Middle School Literary Analysis/Response to Literature ...

    Writing the Essay • Teach the elements of a Literary Analysis Essay as outlined on page 11. • Complete the T-Q-A for the novel. Make sure students use "looping" as described on page 13. After getting some preliminary thoughts on paper, have them write a thesis using the handout on page 14.

  2. Teaching Literary Analysis in Middle School

    I had been teaching upper elementary in the three years prior, and we had done some on-demand literary analysis reading responses, but really digging into a literary analysis essay overwhelmed me. Truth be told, my teaching strengths at the time were primarily reading and math. ... "Examples of middle school literary analysis essays." ...

  3. 33 Responding to Literature Prompts

    Present this prompt to your students: In an essay, show how a character changed from the beginning to the end of a story. Then give students 5 minutes to plan their writing. They should quickly analyze the prompt, choose a character, and list what happens to him or her. After 5 minutes, see if students were able to complete these tasks.

  4. PDF Response to Literature: Purpose and Tools

    Layout 1. Purpose: state an opinion To write about a response a character's to literature traits, essay. setting, plot, The purpose of a response to theme, story, or moral of literature the story. is to Typically, supported the essay is organized with a brief world, or by evidence from reader's own the experiences, text.

  5. Writing Response Paragraphs for Literature

    Writing response paragraphs for literature is the solution to a problem I had with my middle school writers. My middle school writers didn't know how to analyze specifically for questions asked about literature. The rigorous texts brought on by Common Core Reading Literature standards were already difficult enough.

  6. 5 Literary Analysis Tips for Middle School

    It might seem a little elementary, but when middle school students are starting out with literary analysis, they often need a little hand-holding. Later on, when they have gained some confidence, they can analyze without the sentence stems. 3. Provide examples from your whole-class read-alouds. Every day, I spend at least ten minutes reading a ...

  7. What Is A Response To Literature Essay

    A response to literature is an essay that is written in response to all of, or a specific element of, a piece of literature. In a response to literature essay, you state your own opinions about the theme, plot, characters or settings, backed up with evidence from the literary text. Download FREE teacher-made resources covering 'Response To ...

  8. Literary Analysis Worksheets & Free Printables

    Students choose one of two writing prompts focused on analyzing the interaction of different story elements in this literary response worksheet for middle school! 6th grade. Reading & Writing ... students gain skills necessary to succeed in writing. Literary analysis worksheets take the struggle out of essay writing, so your child can focus. ...

  9. 12.9: Essay Type

    The response essay is likely the most informal type of literary analysis essay students will encounter in a literature course. This essay simply asks the student to read the assigned text (s) and respond to said text (s). There are several purposes in writing such an essay. This kind of essay: helps students better understand the reading ...

  10. Response to Literature: Purpose Educational Resources K12 Learning

    There are three basic sections in a response to literature essay: introduction, body, and conclusion. ... PreK/K Primary (K-2) Intermediate (3-5) Middle School (6-8) High School (9-12) Adult Learning Parent Resources. By Time. Less than 30 minutes 30 minutes to an hour 1-2 hours 3-4 hours 5+ hours. By Content Type. Interactive Video.

  11. 17 Literary Response Writing

    Our favorite literature is very personal. We connect to a specific character or setting or author and can't get enough. That's why personal responses provide an excellent starting point for literary analyses. Use the model on pages 216-217 to show one student's personal response to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

  12. Extended Constructed Response Prompts

    Once you've selected your pair of high-interest texts, you're ready to write the essay prompt. STEP 2: Write an Aligned, Extended-Response Prompt. To write an aligned, extended-response prompt, start by reading an example extended-response prompt from a released state test. Here is a sample prompt from a 7th grade Smarter Balanced assessment:

  13. Exploring Literary Analysis in Middle School by Creating Videos

    Creating Videos to Explore Literary Analysis. Making a short video can be a powerful opportunity for students to explore a reading in a different way from writing an essay. As an English teacher, one of my first go-to processes when watching a film, even at home for recreation, is digging into the mise-en-scène, or the arrangement of objects ...

  14. 12.14: Sample Student Literary Analysis Essays

    Page ID. Heather Ringo & Athena Kashyap. City College of San Francisco via ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative. Table of contents. Example 1: Poetry. Example 2: Fiction. Example 3: Poetry. Attribution. The following examples are essays where student writers focused on close-reading a literary work.

  15. 5 Creative Response to Reading Activities

    Let's take a look at some ways we can engage students in creative written responses to reading. BOOKSNAPS. Booksnaps are not traditional writing assignments. Basically, students snap a photo of a page they are reading and reflecting upon. The writing portion comes in when students show - through emojis, sentences, symbols, hashtags, etcetera ...

  16. 15 of the Best Questions for Teaching Literary Analysis

    15 of the Best Questions for Teaching Literary Analysis. Teaching literary analysis in the secondary English classroom is an essential cornerstone of high school English and middle school English curriculum. When students learn the process of literary analysis, they will embrace the new challenge each literary text brings.

  17. Response to Literature Essays

    Response to Literature Essay (aka Literary Analysis Essay) Writing Lesson Handouts, Lecture Notes, Graphic Organizers, and more -- everything you need to help your middle or high school students grasp the concept of the five-paragraph Response to Literature essay, also called Literary Analysis Essay...

  18. Five Ways to Respond to Literature

    Support students by suggesting ideas if needed (e.g., answering questions about characters or setting, making predictions, writing a summary). Keep the brain dump displayed to use later in the lesson. Tell students that today they will be using specific types of questions and prompts to respond to literature. Prepare your students to analyze ...

  19. PDF Literary Analysis Rubric

    7 6. Topic sentences are present and make an argument connected to the thesis; however, ideas are obvious and basic. 5. Topic sentences are not linked to the thesis. Topic sentences show misunderstanding or prompt or text. 4 3. Topic sentences not evident. Topic sentences are facts or summaries.

  20. Response to Literature Essay Frame by Middle School by C Evans

    Description. Students' literary analysis and thoughts can be presented academically with this response to literature essay frame. Your struggling students and English Learners can use these sentence frames and essay template to write a successful analysis of ANY short story or novel. This essay frame includes simple introduction and conclusion ...

  21. Results for responses to literature

    Response to Literature Essay (aka Literary Analysis Essay) Writing Lesson Handouts, Lecture Notes, Graphic Organizers, and more -- everything you need to help your middle or high school students grasp the concept of the five-paragraph Response to Literature essay, also called Literary Analysis Essay.

  22. 20 Reading Response Questions for Any Book

    Ready-to-Go Reading Response Questions to Get Your Students Thinking. Here are 20 "Lit Spark" Reading Response questions for your students. They are perfect for literature circles, individual writing prompts, or even just class discussions. Here are some great ways to use literature response questions: Use alongside your close reading.

  23. Reader's Responses: Literary Analysis for Middle School

    Literary Response | Literary Writing | Literary Essay Literary analysis is an important writing area for middle school students to master. These weekly prompts serve as a less formal way of encouraging literary analytical thinking and can easily be evolved into longer essay prompts. Each topic looks at a specific literary device or concept.

  24. What I've Learned From My Students' College Essays

    May 14, 2024. Most high school seniors approach the college essay with dread. Either their upbringing hasn't supplied them with several hundred words of adversity, or worse, they're afraid ...