Approaches to the Analysis of Literature and Film
Writing Skills
The Writing Process
Skills for Literature Study
English Department Criteria for Grading
Criteria for Student Performance in Reading, Analytical Thinking, and Writing
Taking Notes on Class Discussion

Approaches to the Analysis of Literature and Film

The following are some of the chief elements to be considered in your analysis of the things you read and the films you watch. Together with these elements are some of the questions to be considered as you think about what you read and see.

1. Character

  • a. What kinds of relationships does the character have with other people?
  • b. What kinds of attitudes do other people have about the character and what kinds of attitudes does he or she have about them?
  • c. What does she or he think about herself or himself?
  • d. What does the author or director think about the character, and what does he or she want you think? How can you tell?
  • e. What do the choices the character makes in the story tell you about her or him?
  • (Note: Some of these questions may overlap, but they are all important points in your analysis.)

2. Setting

  • a. What does the choice of setting tell you about what the author is trying to do in the story? How does the setting contribute to the story?
  • b. How does the author or director create the setting? How important is the sense of place in the story?
  • c. What is the relationship of the setting to the mood of the story?

3. Plot

  • a. Is the plot consistent and believable?
  • b. Why has the author or director chosen the characters he or she has for his or her chain of events?
  • c. Why has the author chosen to end her or his story or film as she or he does? Consider character and theme in your answer.

4. Style

  • a. What images and symbols are most important in the story?
  • b. How does the particular language that an author uses contribute to the meaning of the story?
  • c. What other special ways does she or he have to convey her or his theme?
  • d. What details of description has he or she chosen to emphasize and why?
  • e. What do you think is the overall effect that the author is trying to produce? Is she or he successful? Explain.

5. Theme

  • a. What ideas or questions is the author trying to suggest?
  • b. What are the most important elements of the story in conveying these
  • ideas?
  • c. What is the relationship of character, setting, plot, and style to theme?

6. Coming to Critical Conclusions

  • a. What kind of view of the world do you think the author is trying to present?
  • b. Why is she or he trying to present that view?
  • c. Is his or her view persuasive for you? Why or why not?
  • d. If you disagree with the author, how do you weigh your evidence against hers or his, and how do you resolve the differences, if possible?
  • e. How does the author determine what is evidence? How do you determine what is evidence?
  • f. What influence, if any, has the author had on you? Can you see the world from a different perspective as a result of what you’ve read?

Writing Skills

This is a catalogue of writing skills. All these skills–basic, intermediate, advanced–are taught recursively. Through repeated emphasis on these skills in all writing, students master technical control and improve their speaking, listening, and reading capacity.


  1. Constructing a coherent sentence.
  2. Performing free writing exercises.
  3.  Using pre-writing activities.
  4.  Understanding the concept of thesis.
  5.  Understanding the nature of evidence.
  6.  Developing a short paper with coherent paragraphs.
  7.  Conferring with a teacher for discussion and revision of papers.
  8.  Initiating peer response groups.
  9.  Discovering methods of revision.
  10.  Beginning to use research materials.
  11.  Discovering the uses of word processing.


  1.  Using complex sentence structure.
  2.  Developing a critical vocabulary for analysis.
  3.  Originating an independent topic and thesis.
  4.  Combining two or three works in the development of a thesis.
  5.  Using journals to promote writing and thinking.
  6.  Using peer response groups more perceptively.
  7.  Independence in knowing what questions to ask.
  8.  Initiating teacher conferences before and after papers.
  9.  Developing revision techniques–a sense of revision as more than re-writing.
  10.  Using several library resources.


  1.  Developing personal writing style and voice.
  2.  Exploring the original use of language with metaphor and allusion.
  3.  Imitating the style of works studied.
  4.  Using journal material in the construction of formal papers.
  5.  Articulating a complex thesis demanding multiple concepts.
  6.  Using multiple responses from peers and teachers and integrating them for effective revision.
  7.  Increasing confidence in self-editing.
  8.  Expanding use of teacher conference at any time the writing process.
  9.  Writing independently.
  10.  Researching independently.
  11. Cultivating an original approach to analysis.

The Writing Process

I. Prewriting

A. Finding ideas

  1.  Use journal
  2.  Freewrite
  3. Write lists

B. Choosing a subject

  1.  Choose one you are excited about
  2.  Choose one you are equipped to write about
  • a. Personal experience
  • b. Research

C. Limiting a subject

  • Determine your purpose and audience
  • Use techniques for limiting
  • a. Divide broad subjects into parts: time period, particular type,particular person; part of a whole
  • b. Make a tree diagram

D. Listing the details

  1.  Brainstorming
  2.  No concern for order of ideas

E. Ordering and eliminating details

  1.  Simple plan
  2.  Outlining
  3.  Drawing a picture
  4.  Types of logical order
  • a. Chronological order
  • b. Spatial order
  • c. Order of importance
  • d. Developmental order

5. Thesis statement

II. Writing the first draft

A. Writing from plan

B. Determining tone

C. Writing the introduction

  1. Thesis statement
  2.  Capturing attention
  3.  Giving background information
  4.  Raising a question

D. Writing the body

  1. Topic sentence and support
  2. Transitions among and between sentences
  3.  Adding to plan/outline

E. Writing a conclusion

  1. Restating thesis
  2. Referring to idea in introduction
  3.  Answering questions raised in introduction
  4.  Making an emotional appeal
  5.  Offering an insight

III. Revising

A. Checking for unity and coherence

  1. Eliminating ideas that stray
  2. Checking/adding transitions

B. Checking for sufficient support

C. Checking for accuracy of information

D. Checking overall structure

IV. Editing

A. Checking grammar and usage

B. Checking sentence structure variety

C. Checking diction

D. Checking spelling

E. Checking for neatness

Skills for Literature Study

The following is an outline of skills for the study of literature. Obviously, the progression in any individual will not always be neatly sequential, but these list provide a range of skills needed for critical, intelligent reading.


  1. Learning to read on one’s own–taking a book home or to the library and reading independently fifteen or twenty pages per night.
  2. Understanding basic English vocabulary and looking up unfamiliar words in the dictionary.
  3. Following a sequence of events in reading.
  4. Formulating a question or questions about those events.
  5. Writing one or more paragraphs to explain the character traits of the characters in the reading.
  6. Paraphrasing a passage in the reading
  7. Writing a precis.
  8. Learning some basic vocabulary of literary analysis: plot, character, theme, tone, mood, protagonist, antagonist, dialogue, monologue, point of view, metaphor, etc.


  1. Reading longer assignments on one’s own–twenty plus pages per night.
  2. Increasing ability to perceive and discuss abstractions.
  3. Formulating critical judgments.
  4. Understanding the need to support opinions about a text with evidence from the text.
  5. Developing a personal point of view about literature.
  6. Formulating one’s own topic for discussion.
  7. Understanding the importance of historical and social context in reading certain works of literature.
  8. Investigating independently questions that arise in class.
  9. Gaining fluency in reading works with challenging language and complicated structures.
  10. Perceiving literature as a reflection of values.
  11. Developing a sense of literature as metaphor.


  1. Understanding the components and effect of style.
  2. Understanding the relationships between ideas and historical context and perceiving the way ideas develop in context.
  3. Comparing themes in different works and seeing connections to prior readings.
  4. Formulating questions in philosophic terms and perceiving the philosophical implications of the reading.
  5. Understanding the relationship between literature and ideology and seeing the implications of this.
  6. Understanding aesthetic questions–i.e., the appreciation of language and form.
  7. Reading extensively on one’s own and pursuing questions beyond the requirements of class work.
  8. Understanding various critical methods, theories, and systems of interpretation.

Attainment of all of these skills is at least a life’s work, but this gives some indication of the various levels of skills.

English Department Criteria for Grading

The following are categories used for evaluation of student writing. It is important to remember that some writing assignments are ungraded; some assignments are intended to address only some of the categories; some students’ work will concentrate on several of these categories only. The goal is to use these categories to help to develop students’ individual abilities fully.

1. Interpretation of the assignment

  • How well does the student address the topic?

2. Logical Organization

  • thesis
  • sufficient evidence
  • transitions
  • introduction
  • conclusion
  • elimination of extraneous material
  • clarity/coherence/continuity

3. Technical Considerations

  • paragraphing
  • spelling
  • vocabulary
  • punctuation
  • grammar
  • legibility

4. Style

  • diction
  • apt metaphor
  • originality
  • forcefulness/passion

5. Commitment/Effort

  • thoroughness
  • use of writing to develop ideas
  • attention to rough draft revision
  • sincerity and honesty

6. Insight/Understanding

7. Individual Considerations

  • goals and talents of the individual student
  • how the work compares with other work by that student

8. Imagination/Creativity

Criteria for Student Performance in Reading, Analytical Thinking, and Writing

The following are general standards for evaluating students in English classes. Each course has particular requirements and we have a departmental explanation given to students of the meaning of each letter grade. Individual assignments may emphasize certain of the following skills more than other skills; teachers make those requirements clear in each assignment given. That is, teachers select and inform students which rubrics are most appropriate to the lessons presented and tasks assigned.
Skills in English are recursive and, therefore, sometimes not easily sequenced; nevertheless, we do have a range and continuum of tasks and challenges here . Skills in analytical thought should inform student writing; included here are some general categories with specific skills indicated.

Analytical thinking and reading

Fails to meet the standard:

  1. Not completing assigned reading.
  2. Not being able to summarize or paraphrase the assignment.
  3. Not formulating questions.
  4. Lacking basic vocabulary.

Meets the Standard:

  1. Reading on one’s own and completing the assigned pages; as part of this, familiarity with basic vocabulary and ability to look up words not familiar.
  2. Following a sequence of events in the reading.
  3.  Paraphrasing what one has read and formulating questions about those events.
  4.  Formulating a character analysis from one’s reading.
  5.  Using the basic literary vocabulary: that is, figures of speech and literary terms.
  6.  Identifying and discussing abstractions–concepts and themes.
  7.  Formulating critical judgments and supporting the judgment with the text.
  8.  Developing a personal point of view and formulating one’s own topics for discussion.

Exceeds the Standard:

  1. Identifying and analyzing historical and social context in certain works of literature.
  2.  Articulating the values expressed in a work of literature clearly, with a sense of personal style and voice.
  3. Comparing ideas and themes in different works and seeing influence and connections to other readings.
  4.  Identifying, explaining, and putting into practice aesthetic issues–style and form.
  5. Demonstrating background in and practicing various critical methods and approaches to interpretation.

Analytical thinking and interpretative writing skills

Fails to meet the standard:

  1. Not attempting to address the assignment.
  2. Failing to formulate thematic questions.
  3. Failing to respond to what is being asked in the questions on tests and quizzes or in discussion.

Meets the standard:

  1. Demonstrating evidence of careful reading: use of examples and specific reference to the text; correct identification of characters; understanding of the order of events or the organization of ideas.
  2. Demonstrating independent consideration of the text: posing one’s own questions about theme and character and drawing conclusions in journals, drafts, and in-class writing.
  3. Responding clearly to the questions in reading quizzes or other in-class writing, responding directly to the question and making specific reference to events and characters in constructing a response.

Exceeds the standard:

  1. Using background information from class and other class notes in formulating and developing a thesis.
  2. Formulating analysis and interpretations beyond summary and literal reading of the text: that is, drawing thematic conclusions, connections, influences from other works and to other works.
  3. Demonstrating insight and originality.

Writing Technique

Fails to meet the standard:

  1. Failing to read an assignment sheet and understand what is being asked.
  2. Failing to demonstrate the concept of thesis.
  3. Failing to achieve enough technical proficiency with vocabulary and usage to be understood in writing.
  4. Lacking any commitment to the task; not following through and not completing assignments.

Meets the standard:

  1.  Demonstrating careful reading of the assignment and awareness of what is being asked.
  2. Demonstrating a basic knowledge of clear sentence structure: parallelism, placement of modifiers, clear pronoun references.
  3. Using basic punctuation clearly: periods, commas, semicolons, colons, dashes, quotation marks.
  4.  Using prewriting activities: drafts, journals, writing to learn exercises.
  5.  Formulating a thesis and using evidence to support one.
  6.  Organizing ideas and making transitions between sentences.
  7. Writing introductions and conclusions: how to state a thesis and how to sum up inferences; transitions from the thesis paragraph to the body of the paper and then to the conclusion.
  8. Practicing methods of revision: conferences with teachers, peer editing, self-editing. In revision, avoiding repetition of errors; how to revise for clarity and impact.
  9. Demonstrating correct use of verb tenses.
  10.  Using increasingly complex sentence structure, using critical vocabulary.
  11. Developing topics independently and using notes and journals.
  12. Identifying voice and audience and how to adapt writing to serve the purposes of clear voice and attention to audience.

Exceeds the standard:

  1.  Experimenting with style: imitations of authors’ styles, expanding personal vocabulary, varying sentence and paragraph structure with an understanding of stylistic effect.
  2.  Developing and demonstrating a complex thesis with reference to multiple concepts, works studied, points of view.
  3. Practicing the connection of style and content; how subject can determine the structure of one’s writing.
  4. Developing and demonstrating individual style and insight, with attention to aesthetic and critical perspectives.

Taking Notes on Class Discussion

(The following are some suggestions for students on how and when to take notes in classes that are designed as discussion and activity classes.)

You have probably had some discussion about notetaking in classes from time to time. It is easy enough to take notes if your teacher says something like, “Write this down.” Definitely a clue. Also, if there are charts or formulae presented that don’t appear in a book or are not handed out to you, you know you need to note them.

The problem comes in many English classes and history classes that concentrate on discussion. How do you know when to take notes and what to take notes on? Some people feel they do not have to take notes. Perhaps you have an excellent memory or are a genius. If that is the case, fine. Otherwise, it is helpful to have something written down to refresh your memory and to give you some sense of what is important about the discussion.

The following are some clues:

1. Something written down on the board: a diagram of Shakespeare’s stage, a chart of the Great Chain of Being, names, dates, etc.

(Even if you do not memorize all this data, it is helpful to have it written down to give you background for tests, papers, general wisdom.)

2. Issues or themes that are reviewed or repeated.

(If you hear someone in class talk about the main idea of a reading, jot it down. You may agree or disagree, but it will jog your memory and your thinking. If there is an idea that is referred to as important or unusual, jot down the main points. For example, paradox and paranoia in Macbeth–jot down that heading and some examples gone over in class.)

3. Definition of words and discussion of terms.

4. Categories of ideas, relationships between ideas.

(If you hear in discussion, and if you see on the board, characters, themes, symbols, images, etc., put in categories, jot that down. This will give you some sense of the direction of the discussion.)

5. Review and repetition in the conclusion of discussion.

6. Something that interests you, seems unusual, seems confusing.

(You should, of course, ask any questions and make any observations you want in discussion. Also, you should note anything you hear that catches your imagination, makes you think, drives you crazy, etc.)

Your notes are your own; some teachers may want to look at them from time to time, but they are primarily for your reference and should be in whatever form makes sense to you. The above clues should give you help in reading and writing assignments for your class.

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