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”  (https://www.google.com/search?q=literary+analysis+definition&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8).  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” (http://www.uwstout.edu/english/lit_study.cfm).  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.  

The first step that I found to help students learn literary analysis is doing a character analysis.  To do a character analysis, I use a character analysis chart.  In this short video, I show how I use a character chart to teach the basics of character analysis. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gSk_7FdzEo

When I first use a character chart, I  provide everything for the students.  I give them the character, the questions, and the story.  I have the students work on only one character per story.  We don't analyze all of the characters because then it become tedious and boring which drives students away from reading.  We generally do several of these charts together before I let the students do it on their own.  I want to make sure they understand the questions, how to get textual evidence, and how to turn their notes into paragraphs.  

Again, I feel that if I don’t tell the students exactly how it should be done, they will get confused and frustrated (Kerr, 2016). By starting this analysis together, the students are getting the basics of the process of literary analysis, so then they are more comfortable making inferences and drawing conclusions because they have direction.  Character charts are an easier (nothing is easy!!) way to ease students into literary analysis.








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."
https://tinyurl.com/tellstudentswhatuwant. 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.