Homeschooling Chronicles: Literature Analysis

Developing a check list can make writing a literature analysis easier.

By Kristen Kindoll


Literature Analysis

Literature analysis can be a difficult concept for students to understand. The ability to extract information from a book and reiterate it in written form can be a difficult skill to master. Analysis involves more complex thinking than simply naming your favorite character or part of the book. In middle school, students are expected to go beyond the acceptable elementary response of "I really, really liked it because . . ." or "It was very, very good because . . ." to more detailed explanations. While analyzing literature can seem arduous at first, it can become a natural process.

My children love books. Like most families, we go to the library often. I have a list of books I want to check out, but we still wander through the aisles looking for a surprising discovery. We have books all over our house, and sometimes, I literally trip over them. When my older child babysits, I have even paid him by giving him the latest books he is passionate about. While my goal of getting my children interested in reading was easily accomplished, the next was a little trickier.

Going Beyond the Surface 

I wanted my students to look past the words and more into the meaning of the books they were reading. I would pose questions, and have them think carefully about their response. At first, I did plenty of coaching. But eventually, my children began to surprise me. They shared their thoughts and pointed out ideas that hadn’t occurred to me. We began to have interesting discussions about literature. It was exciting to witness the transformation into deeper analysis. I especially loved when they passionately communicated their deeper thoughts.

Questions to Think About

Questioning began by having the student list some basic information about the book:

  • the title
  • author
  • description of the basic story, key plot points (at least five)
  • major scenes (at least four)
  • major characters
  • minor characters

Translating an Analysis into Written Form

The next step was to begin writing down their thoughts. In order to make the requirements understandable, I developed a check list. Instead of jumping right in, I asked them to think through their responses step by step. This helped them to streamline their thoughts.

Here's my check list:

  1. How do the characters relate to each other?
  2. Focus on the setting and the location. Where does the story takes place? Is this setting important to the story? When does the story take place? Is the time important?
  3. What is the theme of the novel?
  4. What is the point of view or tone (serious, comedic, etc.)? Explain.
  5. Is there any symbolism in the novel (something used to represent the theme or major idea)?
  6. What genre is this book (science fiction, realistic, historical, etc.)? Explain.
  7. Are there other books similar to this? Note the book and how it is similar.

Turning a List Into an Essay

In order to write, students need to learn how to organize what they want to say in a fluid manner. This skill is honed and refined with each paper. The first paper is a difficult hurdle, but each successive paper gets easier. I required that with each book, recreational or educational, my son use the checklist. Together, we discussed his findings and discovered deeper insights. While he was initially reluctant, we worked through the answers together. This showed him how to organize a paper. As time went on, he could do more by himself.

In the end, my son had learned to use a written outline to organize a written analysis. The road has been bumpy and fraught with perils. I was afraid that learning these analysis skills would become burdensome and destroy his love of reading. While he isn't thrilled about the extra work, he still loves to read. I have also noticed that his insight in other areas has improved.  Literature Analysis is one of the many tools for developing complex thinking and creating a thoughtful individual.

Literary Analysis Lessons:

Literary Elements in Jan Brett's "The Mitten"

In this lesson, students are introduced to literary elements by identifying plot, cause and effect, characters, and more. They then retell the story as if the animals in the story can talk, and put it all together in a PowerPoint presentation.

Understanding Character

Students delve into character analysis, learning about direct and indirect characterization, static and dynamic characters, internal and external conflicts, and more. 

Email Response: "A Tale of Two Cities"

This lesson incorporates literary analysis and technology. Older students study Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities," then write and send a literary analysis by email to a peer.