Teaching Literary Analysis & Comprehension

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Learning how to analyze and comprehend literary texts is one of the most advanced and exciting aspects of reading instruction. This lesson explores how to get students on the path toward deep comprehension.

Reading Comprehension

Mrs. Clark is confused. Her fourth grade students are strong readers who have good decoding skills and read fluently for the most part. But somehow it's hard to get them involved in deep and interesting conversations about the things they read.

Mrs. Clark is beginning to understand that comprehension - the aspect of literacy that has to do with understanding what you read and making sense of it on multiple levels - is not always a natural by-product of good decoding. Rather, students need explicit instruction that helps with comprehension. In fact, it is important to teach students literary analysis - techniques for forming a nuanced and meaningful picture of the layers of significance within a text.

Mrs. Clark decides to look into what helps students learn comprehension at different ages and skill levels.

Early Readers

Mrs. Clark begins by talking to preschool and early elementary teachers. She learns that these teachers use the following strategies for teaching literary analysis and comprehension:

  • Capitalizing on the read-aloud

Teachers of young children make great use of read-alouds for teaching comprehension. When they read aloud to their students, they stop and talk about characters, setting, and plot. They model in-depth thinking about reading and help their students start meaningful literary conversations.

early readers

  • Author studies

In the early grades, reading multiple books by one author to students can be a very effective way to help students notice things like an author's style, habitual themes, or how a series works. Mrs. Clark talks to many primary teachers who do whole-class author studies several times over the course of the year.

  • Making use of visuals

Mrs. Clark learns that teachers of the youngest students frequently have children draw or make other kinds of art in response to what they have read. Using art as a reading response helps children invoke their own creativity while simultaneously making meaning out of text.

Upper Elementary and Middle School Readers

Next, Mrs. Clark investigates how upper elementary and middle school teachers work toward comprehension and literary analysis. She discovers the following strategies:

  • Book clubs

Students at these ages tend to be quite peer-oriented and capable of sustaining discussion. Book clubs and literature circles are great ways to get them talking about text and making deep connections.

  • Teaching literary devices

At this age, students are ready for some explicit discussion around concepts like symbolism, author's purpose, character motivation, and plot structure. Learning to label the different strategies they encounter in literature helps students talk about their ideas and understandings more maturely and readily.

  • Genre studies

Mrs. Clark learns that upper elementary and middle school students often benefit from in-depth investigations into particular genres. Reading a great deal of one genre, like mysteries, biographies, informational texts, or science fiction, allows students to become experts on the ideas, challenges, and devices specific to that genre. This in turn makes students more adept at text analysis.

High School Readers

Finally, Mrs. Clark looks into how high school language arts teachers handle comprehension. Though her students are younger, she finds it helpful to have an understanding of what they have to look forward to.

  • The Classics

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