I am back to continuing my Wednesday teaching posts! Today I want to talk about teaching Literary Analysis. During the Q & A session of my AWP panel one attendee asked how we worked in literature when some schools did not encourage it in the composition classroom. We talked about strategies for how it could be done more on the sly, but I tend to fight for it.
There are three main reasons why I teach some literary analysis in freshman comp:
- I love to read, and when you teach what you love it really resonates with the students.
- Most students will have to take a literature course before they finish their degree (2 or 4 year), and (especially at the community college level) I have encountered many students who do not have the basic skills necessary for a literature course. For example, I had to define what prose was. We need refreshers on what plot is etc.
- Being able to analyze something is a good skill to have, and one of the “basics” that is often covered in composition text books. I just choose to approach the topic through my specialty in literature.
So, how do I go about teaching literary analysis? For starters there is usually a chapter in the book to start the discussion. There are then many different ways you could tackle the subject. This YouTube video is a decent start. A lot of the discussion will depend on which genre I decide to cover. I don’t tend to do all genres in composition one. I don’t want to muddle the waters too much.
Here are some examples of projects/papers we have completed on literary analysis:
- Fred Chappell was coming to speak at RCCC so as a class we read the book of linked poems Midquest. Each student signed up for a poem. I selected poems that were not picked to discuss in class as a group. I then wrote an introductory paragraph. Each student then added their paragraph in regards to their poem. Each student, at the end, then had the opportunity to write a concluding paper. The person with the “best’ concluding paragraph was added to the end of the group paper, and they received a bit of extra credit. I did this group paper via the Wiki function on Blackboard. It was actually a really fun project.
- If I decide to do fiction I like to read “The Tell Tall Heart” as an example and then we watch a video interpretation of that. This also gives the class a chance to branch into film analysis as we look at the differences between the film version and the print version. I also bring in contemporary fiction pieces.
- I have a lot of different options if we are looking at non-fiction, but a good starter is this article from The Onion. We talk about satire, purpose etc
- Also with poetry I have done the tie to lyrics by sharing excerpts from the Poetics of American Song Lyrics and then asking students to take a what is poetry quote. They have to then take the lyrics of their choice and explain how it fits the poetry definition they picked.
These are just scratching the surface. Some other sources I like to use include:
- Margo Roby’s blog post The Poet is Never the Speaker
- The surreal poem Let Us Consider by Russell Edson
- Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins
- Dear William cartoon
- And a Story of mixed emoticons
I can of course go further from here, but just wanted to give you a taste of some of the things you can do with literary analysis if you are a teacher and haven’t been sure about whether your students can handle it or not. I think the big thing is to get them thinking, and to not focus on there being ONE right answer. Let’s analyze. Reflect. Consider.