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.

Reflective Teaching Challenge Day Twenty-Two: My PLN


What does your PLN look like, and what does it to for your teaching?


When I started my Twitter account in April of 2009, I had no idea what this social media format was all about let alone how much it would change the way in which I teach.  In those 4.5 years, I have collaborated with, shared ideas, developed lessons, discussed teaching philosophies, and even met IRL with some of the most dedicated and awe-inspiring educators.  They are my PLN.

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In 2013, I participated in two Edcamps, one in Battle Creek, MI and the other was virtual.  I was able to accumulate even more contacts during these sessions, and my PLN grew from there.  Additionally, I have participated in Twitter Chats that have focused on content, teaching philosophy, teacher-mindset (Teach Like a Pirate), and projects (Genius Hour) Because of my virtual PLN, I have totally revamped my teaching approach, implemented new teaching strategies and resources, and grown in my creativity and resourcefulness.

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**A Story About How My PLN Came to the Rescue**

I was talking with one of the organizers and some of my Twitter PLN friends about an idea I had for the upcoming school year: Genius Hour.  I had learned so much from a friend, Joy Kirr (@JoyKirr) and several #GeniusHour Twitter chats.  Joy had been successful in her implementation and I was still in the planning process, never having actually conducted a Genius Hour sessions.  The organizer of nERdcamp asked for me to host a session after lunch and talk about Genius Hour.

“Sure!  I’d love you,” I replied, while in my head I was like, “WTH AM I DOING!?!??!”

Another friend, Bernice (@BHomel1) whom I had been talking to for months on Twitter and met for the first time that day, agreed to help me present.  We immediately tweeted Joy and told her what we were about to do.  Joy was thrilled, filled with, well, joy.  She said she would add notes to a live Google Doc that we could post in the classroom and would add to it as we went through the session.  And guess what!  It was a grand success!

Reflective Teaching Challenge Days Four: What I Love About Teaching


Respond: What do you love the most about teaching?


This post could either be in the running for the world record for the longest blog entry or it could be the shortest with the single word, “Everything.”  Somewhere in the middle will be my list of the top ten things I love about teaching.


Top Ten Things I Love About Teaching

(In no particular order)

  1. Sharing the love of literature with my students
  2. Watching students achieve the Aha Moment, also known as the Lightbulb going off when they finally make the connection between content and skill.
  3. The caterpillar-to-butterfly effect; watching students grow and develop into the future adults they’ll become
  4. It causes me to push myself to be better; I cannot rest of my laurels.  Believe it or not, I really do enjoy attending professional development trainings and taking continuing education courses.  I love learning new things, especially if it is something that can help my teaching.
  5. Working with a group of equally devoted teachings.  I can count on my hand the number of teachers who have only been in the classroom to punch the clock, and in my ten years of education experience, I can tell you that they didn’t last more than a year.  I am incredibly lucky to have been able to call so many inspiring educators my colleagues.
  6. Putting my education courses into practice and understanding why certain teaching strategies are effective
  7. Cheering on my students at extracurricular activities, sporting events, and competitions
  8. Being in charge.  I cannot deny that a little bit of my control-freak gets gratification when I get to decide and plan out the yearly, quarterly, and daily unit plans.
  9. Students’ energies definitely fuel my own.  When I walk into the building with a bit of a gruff or exhausted for a million different reasons, the minute that I hear the first, “Mrs Ferrari, guess what!!” I’m alive.
  10. My job is never boring.  I’m always entertained, inspired, challenged, brought to laughter and delight, and enthused.


Reflective Teaching Challenge: Day One

Reflective Teaching Challenge: Day Two

Reflective Teaching Challenge: Day Three