Archive for Writing Analysis

Resolutions: Opposing P.O.V. Journals

It’s hard to escape the onslaught of reminders that a new year, #2013, should mean adopting new “habits.”  Better habits for our health, personal lives, professional lives.  Ads arrive at my door reminding me that I can get organized via the Container Store, healthy via the NordicTrack and better sleep via the Healthy Back Store.  Retail outlets are desperate to help me.  However…

Winter break feels too short.  Adopting new “habits” too hard and looking ahead January and February seem endless.  Teachers need help without sacrificing mental health and student instruction post winter break.  Instead of enticing you to spend your holiday gift cards, I’m going to spend the month of January posting small things, little things that make a huge difference.  The hope being that you can adopt them easily in order to simplify your teaching life without having to completely revamp.  Make a New Year’s resolution to yourself.  Find more time in your classroom for meaningful instruction that requires less direct instruction from you.

My first resolution for you?  Create an ongoing journal assignment.  This type of journal will practice Common Core and AP English skills.  It will also give you 10 minutes at the beginning of each class to catch your breath while they find their voice.

Start with having them write a 10-minute journal 2-3 times a week.  The best way to get students in the habit of working in a journal is to keep in the room.  Think composition notebook or a cheap spiral.  However, if you are working on the cheap or you want to implement this immediately, simply create lined paper in a Word document (hit the underscore button for eternity) and copy.  Each sheet of paper represents one journal.  If you feel so inclined you can label each sheet.

Journal Type#1: The Art of Argument

Let’s start with my favorite journal.  Students read a short article.  Then, they write an entry that either qualifies the article’s argument or directly opposes it.  This will be a challenge for them since often they agree with the op-ed’s point of view.   Remind them that it helps extend their “range” as writers if they can identify other perspectives and construct response that include those points of view.  Yes, it is difficult.  But it also challenges them too. This type of journal demands they consider other views.    Below are some great articles to help you begin.  If you are pressed for time consider having students read the article outside of class and come prepared to write their challenge or qualification.

Argument Journals-Articles

Writing Analysis: Week in Review


Friday Dialogue from  

Your Two Favorite Educators 

As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to assess their innermost feelings about helping students writing analysis. 

How would you describe yourself as a writer in high school?

Aubrey: Dramatic.  I was very overwrought and used lots of adverbs.  There is this paper that I wrote over Faulkner’s Light in August that I keep in the bottom desk drawer of my desk at school.  It is the worst paper I have ever read.  It is probably the worst thing I have ever written either.  And I’ve read a lot of bad papers, things like AP essays that make up fake professors with fake research.  This far surpasses the badness of all of those and is primarily a result of me trying to use big vocabulary and I was trying to make my sentences as complicated and emphatic as possible.

Emily:  I was madly in love with a boy in high school and that seemed to find its way into everything I wrote. I very distinctly remember a piece I wrote for DJ Nell, the best English teacher to live, with the directions to write a narrative.  I wrote about my boyfriend coming around the corner as a big hulking specimen of a man (you know you love the allusion, Gatsby lovers).  I constantly remark now at how embarrassed I am of the person I was in high school.  It is amazing I turned out halfway normal after high school.  And, yes, I realize I am running a big risk with my students who read this blog for admitting this narrative topic.  I’ve learned to accept and embrace my flaws as a 17-year-old!


I argue that developing analysis in writing is the hardest thing for students to do.  What is their “go to” strategy they employ because it’s the easiest? 

Aubrey: They are very good at using rhetorical questions.  Really terrible rhetorical questions.   They also spend a lot of their time using phrases/words like “throughout history” or “epic” when I’m not sure they even understand what those mean.

Emily:  I want to throw up every time I see a quotation as an opener to an essay.  It never fails.  Students think it is engaging their readers and insightful when, in reality, it is just copying someone’s else genius idea to trick their readers into reading.  Jokes on the students though…all it does is signal they have to rely on someone else’s ideas to write an engaging piece of literature!


This week I introduced my “Add the Commentary” exercise.  To practice what I preach, I would like you, Aubrey, to add the commentary to the following example:

Claim: Lindsay Lohan is a bit hot mess.

                Evidence: Lohan has not completed any of her required community service and as a result is now required to complete her hours in the morgue.

Aubrey’s Commentary: Clearly, Lohan is struggling to meet the expectations of her parole agreement.  However, it seems as if ending up with “morgue” duty is indicative of a larger problem.  First, it isn’t clear how this forces her to interact with people in a meaningful way.  Second, it seems to send a message about morgues that flies in the face of what CSI: Las Vegas teaches.  Regardless of these two large issues, Lohan is still, if nothing else, a complete disaster.  Any person who uses fingernail polish to send inappropriate messages, steals jewelry and forgets to wear underpants is truly has no shame.

Emily:  What do I say to that.  First, you wrote the word “underpants.”  Hysterical.  Okay, I’ll take a stab at it but know my commentary cannot hold a flame.

Emily’s Commentary:  Lindsey Lohan’s transfer to the morgue signals a move of intolerance against idiocy.  If Lohan weren’t so dumb, she could actually avoid the whole scenario of jail/no jail that she is currently facing.  Let Lindsey Lohan serve as an example to America’s youth that you can weasel your way through situations, but, eventually, the man will always win.

Writing Analysis: Day Four

Today’s suggestion is something I call “Add the Commentary,” something that usually propels my AP students to having a writing and reading epiphany.  The biggest issue I see with my AP students at this point of the year is that they can identify how an author communicates an idea, but they struggle to explain how the author communicates the idea.  To try to remedy this, I construct a sample analytical paragraph—except I remove the analysis.  So I fully craft a model paragraph, replete with a complex, comprehensive claim sentence and a clear, specific, and developed example from the passage.  Then, as a group or individual, they will then need to analyze what has been provided for them.  Typically I will ask questions in the margins and suggest they answer them in a progressive nature to fully analyze the example.  Typical questions are:

  • Why is this significant?  What does it reveal explicitly about the content/topic/passage?
  • How does this connect to the argument presented in the claim sentence?
  • What is this revealing implicitly?  What is being said about society, life, human nature, etc?  What is a natural and logical progression of the example?  How is it symbolic or representative of a larger argument?

Below is a sample from the 2002 prompt from the AP English Language exam.  The prompt is:   In the following excerpt from her memoirs, Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) reflects upon her childhood summers spent in a seaside village in Cornwall, England.  Read the passage carefully.  Then write an essay in which you analyze how Woolf uses language to convey the lasting significance of these moments from her past.  To help them see the direction the essay is taking, I usually give them a thesis statement.

Thesis Statement:  While communicating a memory from her past, Virginia Woolf meticulously utilizes language, most specifically quick phrases, punctuation, diction and metaphors, to transmit the import of this reminiscence.

  • Transitional sentence for body paragraph one:  While describing a seafaring expedition with her father and brother, in which a young Woolf catches a fish, she communicates a memorable feeling of “excitement” by manipulating the sentence structure and punctuation she employs in her description of this act.
  • Evidence One-Sentence Structure:  Throughout the first section of the provided passage, Woolf makes use of short, choppy sentences to capture the thrill of catching her first fish.  She observes “there was a little leaping tug; then another; up one hauled; up through the water at length came the white twisting fish.”
  • Record the commentary in the space below:


  • Evidence Two-Punctuation:  Oftentimes this use of telegraphic sentences incorporates punctuation that increases the rapidity of the pace and thus the enthusiasm of the memory.  In the moments directly before the catch, Woolf interrupts herself to emphasize the excitement when she declares “…and then—how can I convey the excitement?—there was a little leaping tug….”
  • Record the commentary in the space below:


  • First Paragraph Wrap-Up:  

This provides a great model on how to explain an example and what kind of language the students should be using.  So many times students have an accurate understanding but aren’t sure what language to use.  Providing them an existing paragraph helps them to better understand* how to effectively communicate their points.  It also teaches them how to construct a cogent paragraph that is truly focused around one idea, something they comprehend but have a hard time implementing.  So many times my students fail to understand that examples should be centered around one specific idea, not just random devices and strategies utilized by the author.  Finally, it helps them identify the difference between discussing an example and analyzing an example, something students of all levels, abilities, and ages struggle with.


Photo from jcarlosn

Writing Analysis: Day Three

My favorite thing about wikis is the name.  Wiki, wiki, wiki.  I could say it all day.  In fact, my goal is to not use one pronoun in this post in the hopes that I can incorporate the word “wiki” at least 20 times.  5 wikis down, 15 to go.

In its basic form a wiki is a site for peer-editing and collaboration.  Since a wiki is designed to be edited and revised by multiple people, a wiki is a great way to encourage students to contribute to extending an example.

There are several wiki applications available for teacher use.  PB Works, Wikispaces, and Voice Thread are all great tools for creating wikis and are pretty user-friendly.  However, I would recommend edmodo or schoology (two programs we love at  Since edmodo and schoology are like Facebook for students, I will ask students to post their example or claim sentence like a “status update” in Facebook.  If using one of the above mentioned wiki applications create a wiki page for the essay prompt and then teach your students how to add pages for their topic.

Then, for their homework, they are responsible for replying to 6 separate people.  I assign them to complete a 3, 2, 1:

  • Ask a specific question to 3 people to make the re-evaluate their example or topic.
  • Provide answers to 2 questions asked to peers about their topic/example.  This requires them to read their peer’s example/topic and the questions that have been asked about that example/topic.  Their answer needs to be unique and original and not copy what someone else has already written.
  • Make 1 connection between a peer’s example/topic and the real world.

Throughout this process they shouldn’t even be looking at their own example/topic.  The reason why I stress this is because I want them getting practice evaluating numerous examples, not just their one.  The more they see the process of how to evaluate a topic the more they will be able to retain the skills.  Also, it causes them to see multiple answers to the prompt, which will help to strengthen their answer because they are either seeing ideas that support their interpretation or they are seeing the counter argument, which causes them to re-evaluate their position and make it more finite.

Okay…so I didn’t use wiki 20 times.  But that is probably better for everyone else involved!  I will find a way to sneak the word into future posts!

Photo from orangeacid.

Writing Analysis: Day Two

A few weeks ago we posted on creating group annotations on an image.  However, this method could also be used for developing and enriching analysis with a few simple tweaks. 

After the students have begun the writing process and have a rough idea of what they will be discussing in their essay, prep them to bring one quotation for their essay.  This could be modified into just a reference, but I think it works better with a quotation because it is something concrete for a silent yet interactive activity like this.

Place their desks into pods of four.  Once they have assumed their seats, provide them a document broken up into four quadrants.  They will write both the topic of that particular body paragraph and their example in the top left square.  The topic is the main idea they are trying to prove in their paragraph.  This will help provide their peers guidance when providing analysis. 

They will then pass their piece of paper clockwise and receive one from their peer.  Without speaking to their peer, they will need to read the topic and the example.  Then, announce they have four minutes for paraphrasing and summarizing the example in the top right box.  Their paraphrasing should be 1-2 sentences.  Then they will pass clockwise.  Now they will have an image with the top two boxes completed.  They will need to take a few moments to read through the provided comments but cannot change anything that has been written.  They will just need to work with what has been provided and add onto it.  Announce that in the bottom left box they will record how the example connects to the topic of the paragraph.  This should be a 2-3 sentence explanation.  Finally, the students will pass clockwise again.  Again, announce that the student is charged with reading what the first three students have written and follow their stream of thought.  Their task is to consider the significance or the “so what? Who cares?” about the example in 2-3 sentences. This will vary greatly depending on the topic and the example.  You might tell the students to examine the critical context of the example and what it reveals about life, society, human nature, etc. or, if the essay is more of a literary analysis ask the students to analyze how this example connects to the work as a whole (like the characters, a major theme, etc.).  The students will pass one more time so they have their original example.  Give them a few minutes to read through the comments and see if they make sense and reached the student’s objective for the paragraph.  If not, then maybe the student needs to think through the topic more fully to ensure he/she can communicate it clearly.  If a student cannot accurately summarize a topic then this might signal a larger problem that needs to be resolved before fully committing to the topic. 

                What I like about this is that it teaches students a systematic way to go about approaching an example.  It isn’t as simple as just giving the example and talking about it.  The analysis needs to be streamlined and cohesive and progressive.  The ideas should build upon one another, which is what this format suggests. I also like how this image then creates a type of graphic organizer for the student.  They might not use the exact same language/words that their peers provided, but they can follow the path created by their peers.  Finally, I also like how this indicates how thorough analysis of an example should be.  From beginning to end they should be devoting 5-8 sentences; this is a shock for many of my students who think 2-3 sentences suffice for thorough development. 

                Like suggested during our week of annotations, this could easily be converted into a group activity where the pods of students consult with one another about the topic/example and then pass the example to another group, not just clockwise within their group.  This would be ideal for a smaller class (because students can work in pairs or groups of three) or one in which students are struggling and might need a small group discussion to fully understand the analytical process.  The only problem with this is then they are analyzing multiple examples for different topics and it might become a bit confusing. 

Photo from Susan NYC and jjpacres.

Writing Analysis: Day One

I was such a silly, naïve teacher my first year.  In preparation of teaching The Crucible I had the great idea to do a simulation with my students.  I wanted to play the “telephone” game where you whisper a sentence to a person who repeats it to the next person, who repeats it to the next person, and so forth.  After everyone has heard the sentence the final person announces to the class the sentence he/she has heard.  My intention with this was to highlight how easily and quickly the truth can be distorted.  “This is going to be great,” I told myself.  “I’m a great teacher.”  So, wide-eyed and wrinkle-free I approached the day thinking I was the most inventive 22-year-old teacher ever.  Then, five students into the simulation, I heard snickering and began to think maybe a simulation wasn’t the greatest idea.  Then, fifteen students into the simulation when the snickering turned into raucous laughing I knew that asking students to whisper to a peer without any tracing back to the culprit was a horrible idea.

While I have learned not to endorse playing the “telephone” game with your students, I do think that the concept behind the Read more