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.


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