Developing Pupils’ Responses to Literature

One thing I love about exploring a literature text with my pupils is that they are free to explore meaning and be creative in their interpretations. However, getting to this point is not always easy, and fostering this in a written response can be even harder.

Regardless of what we may feel about Literature, it can sometimes seem overwhelming for pupils and they either don’t know where to begin or don’t know how to express their ideas fully. This is why I have aimed to add guidance through steps, memorable phrases and analogies. In the effort to promote independence as well as giving pupils the tools they need in order to fully delve into a text, I have been (and still am) trialling different strategies and ideas.

Below are some of the methods that have worked, alongside the resources I created for my own pupils. My aim has always been to ensure pupils have their own method for analysis that becomes their ‘go-to’, regardless of the text. Eventually, through the regular use of these, I am hoping that my pupils no longer need me as a guide and instead trust their own ability to delve further when responding to a text.

1. Developing their analysis of imagery - 'The Imagery Chain'

I often use this ‘chain’ as a way of showing pupils how it easy it can be to understand the effect of an image. Once pupils can understand the steps to deconstructing an image, they are then able to see why it has been chosen by a writer and how an effect has been created. I used the idea of a ‘chain’ so pupils are able to see the different stages and levels of an image and how all of these are linked together.

Analysis Chain Worksheet

2. Layering analysis - 'Layering with cake'

As a way of trying to encourage pupils to extend their ideas rather than rushing ahead to the next sentence, I shamelessly use food! I call this ‘Layering with cake’ because it tends to grab the attention of pupils of all years (the visual image is also very effective!). Furthermore, I find this comparison to cake quite apt when trying to show pupils how they are effectively layering their response when writing a literature essay. I developed this after trying to prompt my class to analyse more than one aspect of a quotation. This is a nice way of stretching pupils and forcing them to try and think of the different layers created by a writer. I found that their responses became much more sophisticated once they paused to think about how they could ‘layer’ their own response rather than trying to quickly hurry through the 'A' section of PEEAL/PETAL.

Layering your analysis with cake
PDF • 1.68MB

3. Developing a relevant and sustained response to a text - 'Threading'

Unfortunately, the ubiquitous PEEAL can often limit pupils when it comes to writing about a text and I found that the 'P' part of PEEAL tended to feel isolated from the rest of the paragraph. After energetically trying to explain to pupils that although their point is the start of their response it should not merely be left there, I created the analogy of ‘threading’. I was trying to explain that we should think about tying a knot around the keywords in the point and then thread them through the rest of the paragraph as a way of developing this idea further. Needless to say, I was faced with blank stares and gaping mouths. So, I hastily scribbled a diagram on the board – it worked a treat! This diagram has now been transformed into a clearer, neater infographic that can be glued into books or used as part of a display.

PDF • 416KB

4. Using context and author intention as a way of developing a response

- '2-step approach'

In order to avoid ‘bolted on’ phrases and historical facts which can masquerade as an exploration of context, I insisted pupils trial out the 2-step approach. This is extremely simple and merely acts as a prompt, so pupils remember to make a purposeful comment about context and author intention. I found that by encouraging pupils to pair context and author intention, their contextual reference was purposeful, and their discussion of the author’s message and intention was more thoughtful and explorative: no more phrases such as ‘the writer does this so we read on’ and ‘the poet wants us to feel emotion.’ Success!

I hope some of these resources and strategies prove useful with your own classes and you are able to energetically extol the virtues of ‘layering with cake’, ‘threading analysis’, ‘looking at the chain’ and following the ‘2 step approach’, as much as I do!

Don't forget to download the linked in resources!

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