Beyond just summarizing one’s reading, students need to be able to respond to the literature. This might include drawing connections among texts, analyzing the text for figurative language, critiquing the text for a particular characteristic, using the text to support a specific opinion, etc.
But what do you do when students repeatedly write weak literature responses? How do you elicit stronger ones? When determining your instruction for this type of writing, target the writing skills students are lacking. Here are the ingredients to a well-written literature response:
1. Identify your purpose for writing (e.g. summarize the story/text; analyze the writing/text; explore your individual thoughts and feelings about the text).
2. Include support and evidence from the text (multiple details and examples from the reading).
3. Paraphrase the author’s ideas from the text.
4. Stay on topic. Keep your topic narrow and focused.
5. Identify trends and tendencies of the text/author (e.g. figurative language, theme, symbolism, point of view, author’s attitude, author’s purpose, etc.).
6. Make personal connections–What memories came to me as I read? What other text(s) does this book resemble? Which images made a strong impression on me? What passage or line is hard to understand?
7. Juggle responding to multiple reading passages in your literary response (reference evidence from more than one text; make text-to-text connections).
8. Include a topic sentence/thesis statement that introduces the text, author, & genre being analyzed.
9. Within the introduction, identify the purpose you are writing or point you want to make.
10. Arrange ideas in a logical order (i.e., make a point and then support it with relevant examples from the text).
11. Utilize specific nouns; avoid unidentified pronouns (e.g., “he” when referring to a male character in a book with five other male characters).
12. Take a stance and state an opinion with confidence. (Be sure students know there is no right or wrong opinion, but that the support is crucial.)
13. Vary sentence lengths based on the sentence content (e.g., hard-hitting, factual statements in short sentences; concluding thoughts that make the reader ponder in longer sentences).
14. Write in present tense.
15. Utilize accurate citation style and format.
In addition to targeting mini-lesson instruction, be sure to provide students with strong anchor paper examples. Show students examples that include the quality, quantity, and characteristics of a well-written literature response. Don’t just tell them what to include–show them!