Have you checked out Secondary Solutions reading guides recently? They offer some amazing, insightful, standards based, questions and you can check them out here. These resources can save teachers a ton of time in planning, but we still have to teach the students to engage and respond well. If we want a quality product, we need to spell out our expectations. Today, I want to share with you some of my rules for answering questions about literature. Please leave a comment with any additions or questions you have! Together we can make a master list and raise the bar in classrooms around the country! (PS The word document version is attached to the bottom of this post so you can print and edit for classroom use.)
How to Answer Questions about Literature in This Class:
- Always use complete sentences. In addition to the typical grammar rules, this means always using proper capitalization, punctuation, and spelling.
- Answer the question. This sounds obvious, but when we get in a hurry or forget to pay careful attention, we can easily answer the question we want to answer instead of the one being asked.
- Beware of sentences that begin with the following words: because, that, and so. Only yield those powers if you can control them.
- Generally, authors should be referred to by last name. You may not refer to them by first name only and you should avoid Mr. and Ms.
- Know your audience. If you are not directly speaking to me, avoid use of second person (you). If you are referring to a play or speech, you probably want to discuss the audience. If you are referring to a book or story, you may mean the reader or another character.
- When discussing poetry, do not confuse the author and the speaker.
- Always use precise vocabulary. Instead of saying that something is good, try to say that it is significant or ethical or delicious.
- Remove slang, clichés, and emoticons.
- Use strong verbs. Avoid words like said, quoted, or this also shows…
- Pay special attention to parallelism.
- Avoid unnecessary cheerleading. I know Harper Lee is awesome, but let’s stick to a more sophisticated analysis of her work.
- When quoting, be sure select quotes that actually prove your point.
- When quoting, select short phrases and smoothly embed them in your sentences. Generally avoid long or stand alone quotes.
- When quoting, use an ellipsis (…) to omit words from the middle of a quote.
- When quoting, use [brackets] to add words that clarify within the quote.
- Generally, literature is referred to in the present tense. It is important that tense stays consistent in your work.
- English/Humanities courses abide by MLA format. When in doubt, check The Owl @ Purdue.
Sample Question and Answers:
How does Robert Browning use language to set a tone in his dramatic monologue, “Porphyria’s Lover”? Be sure to name that tone.
- Browning creates a foreboding tone by personifying the “sullen wind” as it “tore the elm-tops down for spite” and “did its worst to vex the lake” (Browning 42).
- Note the smoothly embedded quotes, strong verb and precise language.
- Browning sets an ominous tone as he describes the speaker’s “heart fit to break” and Porphyria’s struggle with “pride and vainer ties” (Browning 42).
- Note the attention to the speaker and parallel construction.
- Robert says, “sullen wind” as it “tore the elm-tops down for spite” and “did its worst to vex the lake” (Browning 42).
- Do not refer to an author by first name. Also, “says” in this case is a weak verb and the embedding is not smooth.
- Browning sets a bad tone.
- This answer lacks evidence and uses imprecise language.
- Browning gives you scary tone with “sullen wind” as it “tore the elm-tops down for spite” and “did its worst to vex the lake” (Browning 42).
- “Gives” is a weak verb. Take out you. Embed quotes more smoothly.
- Browning writes a beautiful poem by personifying the “sullen wind” as it “tore the elm-tops down for spite” and “did its worst to vex the lake” (Browning 42).
- The cheerleading does not answer the question.
- Browning sets an ominous tone when “she put my arm about her waist” (Browning 42).
- The embedded quote does not support the answer and if it did, it sill needs some work with brackets to clarify and smooth out the sentence.
Click here for a word document with this info that you can modify to suit your classroom! (It should save to your downloads folder) Don’t forget to leave your 2 cents in the comment box below and check back every week for more!
I spent my first couple of years teaching middle school ELA in downtown Los Angles. Those years were ripe with the creativity and energy of my own youth. One of my fondest memories of that time was a hip hop poetry unit from authors Sitomer and Cirelli. The unit taught poetic devices like imagery, figurative language, and hyperbole with music selections from Tupac, Run DMC, and Eminem along with poems by Frost, Hughes, and Kipling. My young students identified with the themes and appreciated the cultural relevance of the curriculum.
Fast forward a decade. I left LA and now I am teaching American and British literature to juniors and seniors in college prep and advanced high school levels. I’ve gotten older and decidedly less energetic (gasp!) and I’ve started to lose that age connection enjoyed by many young teachers. There are some definite advantages to the experience and maturity, but there are also some definite drawbacks in losing the connection with youth culture.
To bring back some of that connection, I recently decided to add music selections to my renaissance poetry unit for my 12th grade British literature students. For each poem, we walked through content, scansion, poetic devices, and historical context. Then, I played a song with some relationship to the poem. We then had a discussion of the connections between the poem and the song. I really enjoyed teaching this unit because it motivated critical thought around universal themes and it was fun to experience pop music with my students in a meaningful way. As an added bonus, students were totally into the lectures because they were trying to guess what song I was going to play at the end.
My unit had several renaissance poems, and I’ve picked out a couple examples to share with you below. I’d love to hear your thoughts on my ideas and your additions in the comment section!
Poem: Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29
Pop Song: Justin Bieber’s “As Long As You Love Me”
Connection: Shakespeare begins by describing the pressure he feels to succeed and concludes his sonnet with the couplet, “For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings/ That then I scorn to change my state with kings.” Bieber echoes this sentiment in the pressure of 7 billion people trying to fit in, which leads to the chorus, “As long as you love me, we could be starving, we could be homeless, we could be broke.”
Poem: Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130
Pop Song: “Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars
Connection: Shakespeare uses Sonnet 130 to criticize the cliché, idealized woman other sonnet writers croon over. He describes the real imperfections of his love and ends by saying, “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare as any she belied with false compare.” Bruno Mars begins his song with the same clichés that Shakespeare criticizes. Shakespeare says “my mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” while Mars says “her eyes make the stars look like they’re not shining.” This leads us into a discussion about clichés used in love poems and songs. Then we launch into the discussion of the congruities of the chorus with the main idea of the sonnet. It is interesting to talk with students about where the feelings of inadequacy come from (partner vs self).
Poem: Sidney’s Sonnet 39
Pop Song: “I need some sleep” by The Eels
Connection: The sonnet and the song focus on the need to get some sleep as a source of peace and solace in heartbreak.
Poem: Spencer’s Sonnet 35
Pop Song: “Anyone Else But You” by The Moldy Peaches
Connection: The Spencerian sonnet claims that his eyes cannot be satisfied with anything less than beholding his love, which is reflected in this cute little ditty from the Juno soundtrack where the singers “can’t see what anyone sees in anyone else but you.”
Poem: “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” by Christopher Marlowe and “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd” by Sir Walter Raleigh
Pop Song: “No Scrubs” by TLC
Connection: Sir Walter Raleigh famously writes the nymph’s rejection of the passionate shepherd, claiming the shepherd is full of empty, unrealistic promises. Similarly, TLC rejects the modern “scrub” who offers things that he simply cannot deliver.
Any questions or suggestions for the teaching strategy? I’d love to hear them!
On Tuesday, I published a prezi video tutorial for teachers that detailed many of the bells and whistles of prezi.com and went through how to create a prezi from scratch. I think it is important to understand the underpinnings and inner-workings of any tool we use in the classroom, especially if we assign students to make them. However, I’m also a full-time English teacher and mother with papers to grade, meetings to attend, and blocks to build, so today I created a video that shows how I create a full class period prezi in less than 15 minutes. My hope is to show you that prezi can seamlessly create multi-media lessons that can be saved and tweaked for future lessons, saving time in the long run.
The prezi I am going to create in this tutorial is based on the poem, “A Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes. I usually teach this lesson to my freshmen during our poetry unit. For other poetry unit ideas, check out these other great poetry and essay guides from Secondary Solutions!
Are you using prezi or do you have any plans to start? Leave us a question or comment and join the discussion!
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Emily Guthrie has taught junior high and high school English in Southern California for 8 years. She currently teaches grades 9-12, including AP English Language and Composition. She specializes in working with technology to enhance curriculum for English learners and enrichment students. She also blogs about fitness and motherhood at TheBusyMomsDiet.com.