Represents / Characterises / Symbolises literary analysis

Recently, I’ve been working on ways to improve students’ analysis of language.  For me, it’s always the weakest assessment objective and is difficult to achieve a balance. You risk moving into the plodding “write three things about this word” approach, or tortured variations of PEA. On the other hand, neglect language analysis and you end up with a fluffy high-level essay that floats somewhere above the text without ever really pinning it down.

My students often have a real flair for the interpretation of ideas, themes and characters, but the issue is that close analysis of how writers create meaning.

We have used Caroline Spalding’s literally / metaphorically / symbolically. I tend to suggest students use that within paragraphs to build their analysis from word to whole text, and it works great as a repeated structure.

We’ve also started using the triplet “represents / characterises / symbolises” throughout their writing, and discussion, to embed consistent analysis and think more about the writer as a constructor of the text. Using these words regularly throughout essays puts the focus on technique – if you’re including the word characterise you really have to be talking about effect and meaning. So far, the students adopting it are writing in a more literary way. The balance is improving, there’s more focus on technique, and a real sense of understanding literary creation.

What do you think?