Engaging Activities for Practicing Literary Analysis

Literary analysis is an important activity, requiring students to dig into the text in a thoughtful way, finding support in the very words and phrases and ideas of the text.  It’s different from research writing or opinion-based papers.  Students, at times, struggle with explaining why they feel the text is saying something– especially if they’ve fallen into a heavily reader-perception based approach to texts.

Repeating literary analysis writing helps reinforce the process of finding support and, well, analyzing the text.  However, students can start to resist completing another literary analysis, or worse, begin to see the task as “busy work.”

Here are some strategies for engaging approaches to the Literary Analysis:

  1. Song Lyric Literary Analysis— students examine a song for use of poetic devices.  Can be done as a whole group, such as with a teacher-selected song.  Students can also work in small groups, each on a different song, teacher and/or student-selected.  Another option is for students to chose their own (school-appropriate) song.  Any song should have enough variety in lyrics to provide opportunity for analysis– very repetitive songs would not be a good choice.  (I have let students choose a song that includes select profanity and let them “bleep” the profanity out in the copy of the lyrics turned in, as well as the analysis.  This allows otherwise good choices for analysis to be used, in spite of the occasional swear word.)
    • This activity also works great around Christmastime, when Christmas carols and winter songs proliferate.  A Christmas Carol Literary Analysis is a fun way to include holiday-themed work even in the secondary classroom.
  2. Movie Literary Analysis— movies share many of the same literary elements as texts do, from characterization and theme to mood and allusion.  Using some or all of a movie is another way to work on literary analysis.  Students examine the movie and use the same sort of support as they would with a poem or (print) story.  There is an added challenge of not having passages of the text to refer to, but instead needing to explain what they are analyzing.  Pixar shorts work very well for this activity.
  3. Have students do a “Write Your Own” story or poem– students examine the text for several literary or poetic devices.  Then, using those same devices, plus a similar theme or main idea, students will create their own version.  This has students apply the literary devices found in the text, for a different sort of higher-level thinking about the text.  Short stories and poems are good choices, such as Casey at the Bat or After Twenty Years.
  4. Literary Essay Writing Printables– break the process into bite-sized pieces with fill-in-the-blank printables.  This can help reinforce the steps of analysis for both strong and weak writers.  Sometimes, taking the emphasis off the essay writing portion is a good approach: instead, students work on just the analysis.  Can also be used to scaffold the process for individual, group, or whole class, focusing on the areas where students need the most support or practice.
  5. Tweet the Text— fun activity that has students examine the use of language by turning a text (passage or poem) into Tweets, like on social media and microblogging.  Students then reflect on the impact, including effect of literary devices in the mediums.  Fun reinforcement, though less in-depth analysis of literary devices than the above options.Literary essays make a great way to wrap up a text.  If you’re looking for other ideas for culminating projects, consider these Retelling Projects and these Creative Culminating Projects for your next text.
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