Literary Analysis Essay Writing

Literary analysis is the hardest writing mode to teach. Narrative, research, and argument? Got those covered. But literary analysis? Oof.

The trouble with literary analysis isn’t the structure, of course. The hard part is the analysis. How do you teach 14-year-olds to think deeply about a literary work and then clearly express those thoughts in writing? 

When I was teaching freshmen, it was a long process. Lit. analysis was a major focus every fall as we learned literary devices via a collection of classic short stories. Throughout the first quarter, I’d introduce elements of literary analysis writing with repeated exposure to deep-thinking questions, close reading demonstrations, and writers’ workshop-style tasks that we’d kick around/massage on the whiteboard together. Like I said, a process.

Over the years, I broke some of those elements down into lecture materials I’ve shared here for free. (Click for theme, introductory paragraph, concluding paragraph, and words to avoid materials.) But I never built a complete Introduction to Literary Analysis writing unit because it felt too big, too unwieldy. In the past month, two friends in separate conversations mentioned they really wanted me to pull those bits and pieces into an easier-to-follow path. So I did.

What does the plan look like? This:

It’s my nine-week process boiled down into nine days. At the end, students will have the building blocks they need to apply these skills to any work of literature a teacher wants to use for a full literary analysis essay assignment.

Long-time followers of the blog will notice that about a third of these materials are free downloads (see above). A third is comprised of existing paid product elements that fit smoothly into this plan. The final third is comprised of entirely new materials I built for this unit. 

My favorite pieces are the introductory slide set to help students see why they should care about this writing mode, the step-by-step body paragraph format guide, and the deconstruct the essay models that help students see how the whole process comes together. 

Introductory slide set sample:

Body paragraph format sample:

Deconstruct the essays sample:

If you’re interested in teaching literary analysis, this unit is the right place to start. 

Alright, y’all, what’s my next project? Leave a reply below and let me know which teaching task is giving you the most grief right now. I want to make your life easier, if I can. 

10 thoughts on “Literary Analysis Essay Writing

  1. Kim Schroeder says:

    I would love to see a research essay unit! Particularly for a long research essay–like 5-10 pages! 🙂 Thanks, LR, you’re the best!

  2. Charlotte Schilten says:

    Your work is truly golden! Thank you for all you do to help ease the burden!

  3. Thanks so much, Charlotte, for your kind note. 🙂 I really do love building curriculum and helping teachers. This is my happy place.

  4. Amanda Glavickas says:

    I teach seventh grade social studies and really struggle with knowing how to instruct my students in writing for a content area (and what to have them write to be honest!). I know high school English is your jam, but I could use the help.

  5. Hey Amanda,
    Like you said, my focus is ELA more than social science, but I can suggest that you to look up “document-based question” assignments. At the high school level, my history teacher friends use a lot of DBQs as baby-step prep for the AP history exams. I’m thinking that maybe you could break down that format/process into even smaller chunks for your 7th graders? Okay, social studies friends, what else should Amanda look at as she builds her writing materials?

    Hope this helps,
    🙂 Laura

  6. I’d love to see a rhetorical analysis essay unit.

  7. I would love a unit based on “real life” skills. Perhaps students choose a job, complete a job application & cover letter, research salary, create a monthly budget, etc. It isn’t exactly ELA specific, but honestly, so many of my students are lacking basic life skills that don’t fit into a specific class’s curriculum so it falls through the cracks.

  8. Fantastic ideas, Ashley! I love these and know there’s a real need for resources like this. Not sure when/if/how, but I’ve added this to my idea notebook. Thanks!

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