Saturday, September 9, 2017

My Wonderful, Fabulous, Incredibly Awesome Way to teach theme - Using Children's Books to Teach Theme

My Wonderful, Fabulous, Incredibly Awesome Way to teach theme.  

I love Judith Viorst’s stories.  Alexander is the best character!!! And I love using her books in my middle school classes.  Now I have seen lots of other teachers use children’s books before, but I don’t always see how the children's’ books are used to teach the literary analysis skills that students need. As I have stated in my previous blogs (, literary analysis is starting at younger ages, and I notice that my middle school students are just not ready for this type of activity (Kerr, 2017).  The other aspect that I have noticed at conferences and professional development is that many other language arts teachers approach teaching literary analysis and figurative language like a scavenger hunt or guessing game when students, especially younger students, don’t fully understand exactly what they are to be doing.  Again, I feel that I need to tell students exactly what they need to be doing and how to do it in order for them to understand what is expected (Kerr, 2016).

One of the hardest part of analysis that students must do is to find the theme of a piece of literature and how the theme is developed by figurative language.   The working definition that I use is that theme is the universal message that the author is trying to portray. In order to a universal message, the students need to be exposed to different pieces of literature that would have the same theme.  This is where Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst comes into play. I use the story to help the students understand different figurative language before I introduce them to finding the theme poetry.  My students are to analyze “The Rainy Day” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  Both of these pieces have the same theme - everyone has bad days.  And both pieces use about the same figurative language to develop the theme.  In my video, I go into great detail on how I teach this lesson.

Here is the shortened version.  

First I read the story to the students.  Then I give a copy of the story to each of the students so that they can mark it up.  I also provide a copy of the chart of figurative language that we will be examining.

By doing this, the students know exactly what figurative language to look for.  I also provide the definitions for the students so that everyone has the same working definition.  We generally do this as a class together.  So when we are finished, everyone should have chart that looks like this:

By filling in the chart, the students will have not only the figurative language, but also the textual evidence that supports the figurative language.  In my video, I go into more explanation about how to fill this out.  

Next, I give the students another empty chart for “The Rainy Day.”  Again, I give them the figurative language and definitions so that they know exactly what to be looking for while analyzing.  Please note that the figurative language is exactly the same -  I didn’t change anything.  This is the hard part because most pieces of literature don’t have exactly the same literary devices. But I feel that it is really important the the students have the same literary devices for the first few times in trying to figure out theme. They also have a the poem available to mark up.

After we finish reading the poem, the students, in small groups, find the examples and effects created.  We then compare them as a whole class so that the students will have a chart that will look like this:  

From here, the students can do a compare/contrast analysis of the two pieces of literatures, an analysis of how authors use hyperbole or repetition, or how mood is developed.  They can then do the writing on their own because they have their charts finished.  My video goes into more detail about how I pull the lesson together.

I really like this process because the students are lead through the process of finding the figurative language and literary devices in order to find theme.  They are also able to connect themselves to this particular theme and see how different authors develop it.  Once students can see the basics of literary analysis, they are more comfortable and confident in finding the theme in other pieces of literature and being able to support how the theme is developed through the use of figurative language and literary devices.  


Auman, Maureen E. Step up to Writing. Longmont, CO: Sopris West, 2003. Print.  
Character Analysis. Dir. Rachel A. Kerr. Rachel Kerr. YouTube, 13 June 2017. Web.
Kerr, Rachel A. "Just Tell Students What You Want and How You Want It Done.” N.p., 17 Feb. 2016. Web.
"Literary Analysis: Using the Elements of Literature." Literary Analysis: Using Elements of  Literature. Roane State Community College, n.d. Web. 13 June 2017. .
"The Value of Literary Study." UW Stout, n.d. Web. 13 June 2017.  <>
Urquhart, Vicki, and Dana Frazee. Teaching Reading in the Content Areas: If Not Me, Then  Who? 3rd ed. Denver: McRel, 2012. Print.
Viorst, Judith. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. New York: Simon & Schuster Children's, 1972. Print.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

How to Use Character Charts to Ease Students into Literary Analysis

Okay - old fashioned teacher coming out again!! This time it is about character analysis!  I have noticed that in the past few years, analysis of literature is starting younger and younger. Unfortunately, many of my middle school students are not ready for literary analysis.  I have seen a variety of factors that play into this issue - students who don’t have basic reading skills mastered, immaturity, lack of motivation, confusion, etc.  Regardless of these factors, literary analysis is still expected.  So, I have developed a few strategies to help all students to be more successful with literary analysis.

To begin with, we need to have a working definition of literary analysis.  If you google “literary analysis,” the first definition is “Literary analysis focuses on how plot/structure, character, setting, and many other techniques are used by the author to create meaning”  (  This is really hard for middle school students because it is so abstract.  Also, many teachers and students approach literary analysis more of a scavenger hunt of trying to find figurative language instead of looking at the pieces of the puzzle that create the story.  

So if literary analysis is so difficult for students, why do we start doing this when students are so young?  According to “The Value of Literary Study” we do literary analysis because “literary study involves the four processes of reading, thinking, discussing, and writing, its practical pedagogical value lies in its tendency to stimulate these activities and thereby improve the student’s ability to perform them” (  In other words, we do this because it teaches students how to think, how to see how pieces of information are put together, and how to understand the motivations and emotions of the characters.  

When I first use a character chart, I  provide everything for the students.  First we discuss the difference between thin and thick questions - for us old timers that is the new term for concrete and abstract questions.