Text-dependent analysis essays! From the moment that I first saw these forms of writing on our state tests I have both dreaded and admired them. On the positive side, text-dependent analysis essays inspire students to analyze texts and think more deeply. On the negative side, sometimes I feel like these essays have eaten all other forms of writing in Pennsylvania.
However I'm feeling today, these are tough forms of writing for students to undertake. This year, I've tried to focus more on creating a classroom that builds the deep thinking needed to analyze texts. This means that I need to create plenty of text-dependent analysis questions based on the texts that we are reading.
Some may try to mystify the process to make it look like creating your own questions is beyond the capability of an ordinary classroom teacher. But don't believe it! With a little bit of thinking and the right kind of knowledge, you can create your own text-dependent analysis questions.
One text or several?This is the first question to answer for yourself. Do you want students to analyze elements within one text, or analyze connections between texts?
It may seem as if working with one text is easier. From a writing standpoint, using a single text will make transitions easier. However, from an analysis standpoint, sometimes it's easier for students to work with two very different texts. It's been my experience that readers will generate ideas more readily and have stronger conversations when working with multiple texts.
Choose strong textsWhether you are working with one text or two, be sure to use strong texts with lots to analyze. (This is one of my issues with the endless weekly assessments in the Wonders program: they are all focused on staff-written short texts that meet a certain word count and Lexile criteria, and don't offer much variety or depth.)
Two elementsThis is the key to writing a strong analysis prompt! PSSA text-dependent analysis guides state that the tested questions will always have two textual elements for students to link together. Sometimes these textual elements will be stated; sometimes they will be unstated. (Oh, joy!)
Here are some guidelines for starting your own questions. Not every question works for every text, of course. It's best to read the text you want to use and think, "What would be fun to talk about?" This isn't meant to be an exhaustive list, of course, but a set of ideas to get you thinking.
Narrative element starters
- Analyze how the events of the plot reveal the theme.
- Analyze how the character's actions convey the character's traits.
- Explain how the use of figurative language enhances the reader's understanding of the imagery.
- Analyze how the use of stage directions impact the reader's understanding of the events.
- Analyze how the character's actions impact the unfolding of the plot.
- Explain how the author's choice of setting affects the events of the plot.
- Analyze how the narration of the story would be different if the story were told from a different point of view.
- Explain how the word choice creates a mood within the reader.
Expository element starters
- Analyze how the text structure conveys the main ideas of the selection.
- Explain how the author's word choice shows the author's point of view toward the topic.
- Analyze how the text features help readers to understand the main ideas.
- Analyze how the inclusion of firsthand accounts affects the reader's understanding of the main ideas of the text.
Talk timeAfter I create a few analysis prompts for my students, I copy them and have students meet in small groups to discuss them. "You don't have to write an analysis essay," I tell them. "Instead, I want you to take great notes: write down text evidence, make connections, show your thinking!"
Over the course of the year, I've seen an improvement in students' willingness to grapple with these conversations. It's hard! As I listen in, I've noticed that some groups focus on just one of the elements and forget to make the connection to the other one. I ask a few questions of these groups to get them thinking and help them to see how to make connections.
Taking the time to write these questions and elicit these conversations is well worth the effort! What prompts have you found helpful in your classroom?