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.

Close Reading Strategies Introduction Activity

I want a way to introduce Close Reading to my students that will help them understand both the Why and the How behind the strategy.  I am a big fan of David Therialt’s blog, “The Readiness is All” and his approach the analyzing a text or piece of artwork through the  S.C.O.U.T. and T3 design.  I give him complete credit for the PowerPoint that I created and will share with you.  In it, I wanted to achieve two objectives:

1.  Introduce students to the strategy and terminology

2.  Allow for guided practice

SCOUT and T3 Intro PPT

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For each strategy, I outlined what to look for, a poem to allow students to witness and participate in a close reading analysis, and a piece of visual rhetoric for them to practice themselves.

Top Ten Teaching Resources for 2014-15

I am two days away from attending the first day of pre-planning for the 2014-15 school year.  It will mark the start of my ninth year of teaching, which means I have been building up quite the large bag of tricks to utilize both in the classroom and in my curriculum development.

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Today, I thought I would share with you some of the materials that I am most looking forward to using this year.  They include lesson plans, worksheets, and teacher resources.

Top Ten Teaching Resources for 2014-15

(In no particular order)

1.  Standards Tracking Chart

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LAFS 1112 Tracking Chart Generic

2.  Bloom’s Taxonomy Question Stems

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A list of question stems that are categorized by their Bloom’s level.  All six categories are listed.

Blooms Taxonomy Question Stems

3.  Teacher Reflection Worksheet

This template is setup to be a traditional lesson plan, however, I am going to be using it as a reflection tool instead.  I teach three preps, so I will have three worksheets per week, one per class.  Where each of the days of the week are listed, I am going to reflect on what worked, what needs to be modified, and anything else that is appropriate for the lesson.

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Teacher Reflection Worksheet

4.  Literary Devices in Literature Chart

I don’t know why I didn’t start this sort of document in the past, but it struct me while reading Jane Eyre, reviling in Charlotte Bronte’s writing style, that there were many different literary devices being used.  “Gee, that would be a great example of how to use anaphora in a real-world situation to show the students!”  And the rest is history.  I will be adding to this throughout the year and beyond.

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5.  TED Talk Worksheet

This is a worksheet that can be used with any TED Talk that you want to use in your classroom.

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TED Talks Worksheet

6. Diagram for Writing an AP English Essay

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 9.31.36 AM 7.  Creating Classroom Norms Activity – Beginning of the Year/Semester

After explaining what norms are and why they are important, I have the students break out into groups to create a list of norms they would like to see implemented into the classroom.  After we vote on our top 5-7, I print up a document that states them and all the students sign it.

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Community Agreement and Norms

8.  Classroom Rules Through Memes

Rules for Getting Along in Room 204 Erm

9. Close Reading Strategy: SCOUT

Resource: The Readiness is All blog

S: specifics (Locations, Characters, Time, Words, Choice of Details)
C: comparisons (symbols, metaphors, imagery, allusion etc…)
O: organization both sequential, what comes first and what comes last; and spatial, don’t bother looking it up, for me spatial organization is repetition, contrast, and questions like why is this paragraph or sentence so short or so long in comparison to the ones next to, or before, or after it. Organization also encompasses syntax.
U: unusual– this one is of course more difficult to explain, but I find it crucial. I want students to notice when things are different than expected. I want them to notice when generic conventions are broken, when something seems modern or just off. Those glitches in the matrix are often breadcrumbs leading down a potentially interesting rabbit hole.
T: Theme examples– This takes us full circle back to T3 (Topic/Tone/Theme) What are the quotes, symbols, plot events, motifs, characters etc… that point us back to theme and ultimately purpose.
Ideally I want students to find one or two of each of these. I might have them work in expert groups or I might just pick one or two of the SCOUT ideas to focus on for a particular work. After SCOUT-ing a work I want them to write their SCOUT discoveries in the form of a short paragraph of analysis. Before they write it down I want them to write down the page number and whether it is at the top, middle, or bottom of the page so we can quickly find the source of the evidence during class discussion.
Here is a list of literary terms for the S.C.O.U.T. process that I also use for the B.R.A.W.L (Battle Royal All Will Learn: a competitive team based Socratic Seminar process)

10.  Close Reading Strategy: 3T

Resource: The Readiness is All blog

So before we can discuss a piece of art (I use the word art to refer to any artistic endeavor including writing) we need to understand its specifics. When we talk about topic we are talking about basic comprehension: vocabulary, setting, situation, choices of details, characters, color, line, stroke, subject etc… if a student doesn’t understand a word or an allusion they will miss out on the ultimate intention and any corresponding theme.
Tone is the sulking Satan sitting on a ledge fuming over his Pandemonium. I require all students to have just ONE definition of tone. Tone is the author’s attitude towards the subject and the audience. Tone is crucial to understanding any piece of art. Tone starts with the title of a piece and works its way down and out. Tone can be tongue-in-cheek, playful, ironic, despondent and more. Tone colors every specific covered in the TOPICsection and leaves us with a palpable emotion. Students also need to understand the difference between tone, atmosphere and mood. Often in class I’ll say something like “listen up scumbuckets of Hades… I love, love, love teaching English.” The students quickly see that I can have one Tone (negative- illustrated by an epithet) towards the audience, and one tone (positive-illustrated by the repetition of the word love) shown towards the subject.
As we return to John Connor’s difficult decision we move into the pragmatic section of an artist’s purpose. (See this post for a brief discussion of the four purposes of art) Artists teach. They grab our attention by foregrounding an experience. The artistic dialogue is Hegelian in nature. There is a thesis made, a push back by the audience and society and then a synthesis of understanding. This is theme. I tell students that topic is what the story is about, but theme is what the story is REALLY about.
A poem that I love discussing early in class is Marge Piercy’s poem “Beauty I Would Suffer For,” or her poem “A Work of Artifice.” Her poetry is dripping with tone and has a fairly easy to understand initial theme. Of course there are more complex themes at work that you can explore later. I would link to the poems, but I’m not sure if the ones you find online are authorized postings by the poet.
If you want to really challenge your class, you can have them do a T3 with William Carlos Williams’ “This is just to say.” I enjoy using his poem once students experiment with the S.C.O.U.T. process which I will discuss in my next post.