How to Differentiate With Literary Essay Writing

There they sit.  Some twenty to thirty students, just finished with a piece of literature and ready to receive instructions for writing a literary essay.  While, in theory, they should all be writing at or around grade-level, in fact, students may be all over the place with how proficient they are– or are not– in writing an essay, or specifically in writing a literary essay.  This situation may be compounded if you have a high population of at-risk learners.  Students may range from inability to write a cohesive paragraph to polished literary analysis.  And everywhere in between.

One strategy is to require, provide, or exclude support documents on an individual, group, or classroom basis.  In the beginning of the year, I might put everyone on the support printables as I better learn where they are in writing. Struggling writers will get some of the scaffolding they need from the support printables.  Proficient writers get some reinforcement that doesn’t hurt anything, even if they don’t need it.    Later essays, I may assign some groups (or individuals) support documents while others are optional.  Other essays, such as at the end of the year,  support documents may be offered to all to use, or not, as they wish.



Support documents for differentiation with a Literary Essay:

–Worksheet to support finding literary devices and drawing conclusions from the devices.  A solid first step to any literary essay is examining the literary devices used and drawing a conclusion from it.  A premade worksheet that walks students through the process is effective support.  As they work, I can also walk around the room visually seeing who is making progress and who is mocked by the blank page.

–Formal Pre-writing sheet to identify thesis and provide support before beginning.  Some students do not need formal pre-writing and can jump into the writing, and may even prefer it.  They can still be encouraged to jot some notes even if it’s not a formal pre-writing worksheet as most students benefit from the thinking process of writing out their pre-writing.  Adding a grade to the pre-writing process can help ensure students use it.


–MEAL Plan for Paragraph Writing templates and printables: I originally saw this for younger grades– usually with cute graphics like hamburgers or something.  But, honestly, the acronym is a good reminder and can easily be adapted to include high school level paragraph writing requirements.  Plus the addition of “one or more sentences” for each item helps older students to follow the guide without being too rigid on it.  Students who need additional support can write directly on a template with prompts for each part of the paragraph– a good visual to guide them.  This can be used as the drafts for their body paragraphs.  I also have a guide that can be used without the template, for students who need less support than the fill-in-the-blank template, but are not quite proficient at paragraph writing.

–Introduction and Conclusion paragraph writing template and guide.  Introductions and conclusions tend to be an area where students struggle.  In my experience, even students who are solid with the introduction still struggle with the conclusion (and the fact that is can very well be repetitive.)  A set of templates helps those in the most dire need for support.  Others may use the guide to help them through effective intros and conclusions.  Those ready to fly solo may not use either.


–Topic/ thesis selection guidance and essay reminders are generally good for most students, including the proficient.  My standard essays include these reminders to help students stay on track, usually including topic selection reminders.  For more proficient students, I may provide a version with minimal reminders, more similar to what a standardized test provides to help them practice without it.  All students work form basically the same assignment sheet, complete with rubric.  (The rubric is a reminder of sorts, as well, as it delineates what they are graded on.)

–Quick Guide to Literary Essays: a handy reference sheet (others may call it a cheat sheet) to help remind students of what to include and what to avoid in their literary essay.  Even proficient students can benefit from a reference sheet should they want to clarify or refresh their memory.

It’s kind of like training wheels, for essays.  When they are ready, they won’t lean on the training wheels much, or at all.  In fact, advanced learners can be pushed to work without the supports, to see if they understand the concept.

I usually offer support printables to all ranges to help keep the struggling students from feeling as if they are standing out as being deficient.  Since some students will self-select, it covers the ones who I may require to use the support documents.  Image can be a powerful thing in the secondary classroom.

Some fun literary essay variations to try in your classroom: Movie Literary Essay and Song Lyric Literary Essay.




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