Analyzing Fiction and Nonfiction Strategies

With the adoption of the Common Core Standards, and other states that have implemented parallel standards of their own, the English department has been given the task of supporting students’ growth in understanding texts, fiction and nonfiction, in a deeper and more analytical manner.  An inch-deep, mile-wide approach to reading analysis is no longer acceptable.  Teachers must wrap their minds around teaching skills as opposed to texts.  This means that we must change the way in which we teach students to approach reading.

1.  Close Reading

Essential Aspects of Close Reading:

  • A close reading is a careful and purposeful reading AND rereading.
  • Students really focus on what
    • the author had to say
    • the author’s purpose was
    • the words mean
    • structure of the text tells us
  • A transaction between the reader and the text
  • Getting what the author had to say and bringing some of your own ideas to bear on that text.

“Close Reading and the CCSS, Part 1.” – Common Core State Standards TOOLBOX. Web. 29 July 2015.

Some Close Reading strategies:


It seems as though there are a thousand-and-one resources available for reading and analyzing literature.  You can purchase entire unit plans complete with daily assignments, guided reading questions, collaborative activities, assessments, and powerpoint presentations!  They are a new teacher’s savior and an experienced teacher’s rejuvenation.  When I started teaching AP Language and Composition, I searched for nonfiction text analysis resources, and while I found some wonderful lessons, I felt empty-handed.  I was given just enough information and guidance to be able to meander through my first year, but I knew that it would become my objective to really customize those materials to best support both my students and myself.

2.  SOAPSTone

Any AP English teacher can tell you that the go-to strategy for analyzing any nonfiction text is the SOAPSTone method:

After reading a nonfiction text, a student would analyze the piece to identify each of the SOAPSTone elements.  This allows them to gain a greater understanding of the text, make connections, and therefore use a more critical eye while evaluating the efficacy of the piece.  For example, if a student was unaware of the political background or historical impact of a piece, they may view its argument in a much different way than what was intended.  Additionally, the tone plays a major role in how a piece is interpreted.  A sarcastic, humorous tone will lead the reader in a much different direction than a didactic one.


Thanks to the wonderful resource, and foundational element of my Pre-AP English course last year, The AP Vertical Teams Guide for English, I was able to identify another text analysis method: SIFT

  • Symbol: Examine the title and text for symbols
  • Images: Identify images and sensory details
  • Figures of Speech: analyze figurative language and other devices
  • Tone and Theme: Discuss how all devices reveal tone and theme


4.  Fourfold Method

analysis of drama, fiction, poetry, and nonfiction

  1. Literal or historical level: the things that are happening in the story are literally happening on a surface level
  2. Political level: the level on which human beings relate to others in a community and in the world
  3. Moral or psychological level: the way in which the self relates to the realm of ethics
  4. Spiritual level: the universal level on which a persona relates to the cosmos, the way of the pilgrim soul

5.  Aristotelian Theory




  • Cornerstone of critical theory
  • Poetics laid out the basis for traditional analysis of drama (dramatic fiction)
  • “the imitation of an action; a writer’s attempt to represent reality or truth in artistic form”
  • Structure and purpose of tragedy is:
    • Unity of Action:
      • tragic plots must have a clear beginning, middle, and end
      • action should be ordered and continuous
      • cause and effect process
    • Catharsis:
      • events should inspire pity and terror
      • vicarious experience to attain emotional purgation, moral purification, or clarity of intellectual viewpoint
    • Tragedy
      • reversal of fortune/fall from greatness brought on by error or frailty
      • hamartia inner weakness or inherent error
        • usually through excessive pride or hubris
        • reversal of fortune is characterized by “reversal of situation” and “recognition”
      • “Scene of Suffering”     

The AP Vertical Teams Guide for English. 2nd ed. New York: College Entrance Examination Board, 2002. Print.

Unpacking Common Core Standards

For teachers in Florida, the 2014-15 school year is the inaugural launching of the standardized standards, and thankfully there are many states who are much farther ahead than us and have provided many useful resources.  I currently have been diving deeper and deeper into the North Carolina Live Binder.

In addition to this, I have been selected to attend  a series of conferences that address the “How” and “Why” of transitioning from current state standards to the Common Core.  This past Tuesday, the focus was unpacking standards.  The idea is to become familiarized with what the Common Core really expects of our students.  The exercise that we practiced with two of the 6th grade ELA standards was to identify the nouns (concepts) and verbs (skills) within each standard.


Standard:  CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.9 Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres (e.g., stories and poems; historical novels and fantasy stories) in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics.

Pink = Skills

Green = Concepts


It was a helpful exercise and at the very least it forced us to really read the new standards.

I am taking this a step further and creating my own chart which includes the CCSS standard for 11th and 12th grade ELA, the Skills, Concepts, AND Product/Assessment/Resources for each.

Screen Shot 2013-09-21 at 4.46.32 PM

I am using this great Bloom’s Taxonomy Verb Chart to help me fill in the Product/Assessment/Resource column:



I am hoping to have the entire set of 11th and 12th grade standards before we get trick-or-treaters at our front door.


Updates on Prezi, Standards, and Planning Wall

In the span of twenty-four hours, I went from being halfway done with planning my 9th grade curriculum and ready to jump head-first into the Genius Hour Pool to teaching 11th grade ELA, Creative Writing, and Advanced Placement Language Arts.  I feel like a Will Smith sitcom character.

Now, this is a story all about how
My life got flipped-turned upside down
And I’d like to take a minute
Just sit right there
I’ll tell you how I dealt without losing my hair!

Needless to say, staying open-minded and flexible is the key to maintaining sanity in the world of Education.  With that being said, I know the most productive and healthy thing for me to do is accept that things are going to change and dive in!

I made a few adjustments to the flow of my Introduction to Genius Hour Prezi presentation.

Here is the new Project Genius Nerdfighter Prezi

Screen Shot 2013-07-22 at 4.29.02 PM

Also, I’ve been increasingly frustrated that there is not a user-friendly/printer-friendly edition of the new Common Core State Standards.  After much Copy/Paste Time, I’ve created a Word document that makes it easier to view the 11-12th English Common Core State Standards.

If there is anyone who would benefit from having this document, you can access it here:

11-12 Standards


If nothing else, this whole transition has taught me that anything I do to alter a wall must not be permanent!  I spent a great portion of my second semester working with my students to create the GORGEOUS wall mural in my 9th grade classroom.

Wall MuralWith a new grade level comes a new classroom.  It is with a heavy heart that I will be passing the torch of the 9th grade classroom onto another teacher.

Also, I created my own planning wall at my home office, thankfully with masking tape instead of paint.


Bootstraps have been pulled up, and I am ready to move on…