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Practising Literary Analysis

Beth Kemp | Saturday July 16, 2011

Categories: Hot Entries, Writing, Literary Analysis, Teaching Ideas & Skills Development

Close analysis of extracts – whether of known or previously unseen texts – is a key part of the assessment of English Literature (and the combined Language and Literature courses).  It is also a difficult skill to master and therefore needs considerable classroom practice.  Sometimes the task is to engage in ‘practical criticism’, selecting a range of interesting features of the text to arrive at an interpretation, while at other times, textual analysis needs to be focused more specifically: on the text’s relation to context; or on the development of a particular character, theme or motif in this scene; or on likely interpretations using literary theories.

There are activities here which are suitable for developing ‘prac crit’ skills and others which are more concerned with the focused approach.  Equally, some tasks here are more suitable for unseen texts (whether that’s in relation to known texts or a studied context or not), while others are most effective for exploring extracts from set texts.  Some of the ideas here are similar to some in the ‘practising linguistic analysis’ guide, while others can also be found in the guide to teaching poetry.  The collections of ideas for developing analytical writing and for making good use of model essays will also provide some relevant ideas for this kind of work.

Zoom lens

Resources required:

  • Text extract
  • Timer

This can be used for known extracts, known contexts, or completely unseen analysis.

  • Students work in pairs to a strict time, approaching the text in a series of ways, moving from the broad (e.g. context or genre) to the particular (e.g. imagery, or even specific word choices).
    • Feedback can be taken at each stage (this is helpful to model and reinforce how much depth should be evident), or at the end.

This can be used to demonstrate how students could or should approach a text, and is therefore suitable early on in the course.  Alternatively, it can be used...

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