Literary Analysis

Literary analysis takes students to the next level: thinking deeply and drawing conclusions about their readings. Analysis builds on the foundation of dictation and narration: once a student has mastered basic grammar, spelling, and formatting expectations and knows how to recognize and extract important information from what he hears and reads, he is ready to try literary analysis.

There is no perfect formula or specific age to begin teaching literary analysis. If reading classic fiction together is part of your routine, analysis is happening already—in your conversations and in your student’s observations about various characters as he reads. Getting into the habit of reading great books and discussing ideas, characters, and events increases a student’s ability to write quality essays.

At the high school level, I create assignments with specific requirements yet flexible subject matter. If we’re reading a classic novel, I ask each student to create a thesis statement about some aspect of the plot, characters, or places—and back up the argument with quotes and examples from the text. For example, when one class was reading Pride and Prejudice, a student argued that two contrasting characters, Mrs. Bennet and Lady Catherine de Bourgh, share a similar personality type. The student chose three main arguments to prove his thesis and used those to construct three body paragraphs. He sandwiched these between an introductory paragraph and a conclusion and turned in a fine five-paragraph essay.

Through regular practice of copywork and dictation, the discipline of listening and narrating, and the mental gymnastics of literary analysis, students gain invaluable writing skills that will serve them well—in college English classes and in real life.

Jessica Boling spent the first twenty-three years of her life in Tennessee, and the next two serving as a resident assistant at a missionary boarding school in Germany. Now back in Tennessee, she teaches English literature and composition at several area homeschool co-ops and is a freelance writer for and Good Catch Publishing. She blogs at

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at  or read it on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

Publication date: March 8, 2013