5 Ways to Analyze Nonfiction

One of my favorite teaching units is my nonfiction unit because with nonfiction allows teachers to incorporate engaging topics that are both relevant and controversial into the classroom. Nonfiction writing can be a great tool to teach students a variety of skills, but it can also sometimes be difficult to teach. I think the biggest problem in teaching nonfiction in the English classroom, though, is trying to convince students texts matters outside of school. So, first things first, you need to explain to your students why they are reading Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American by Frederick Douglass, for example, outside of the fact that the man led a fascinating and eventful life. A few things the students should consider when reading nonfiction are tone, purpose, vocabulary expansion, and effectiveness. Here are a few ways to tackle these considerations:

1. Conduct Quick Research.
Assign students a brief research assignment. I often do this as quick poster projects where I assign student groups a topic and they must research their topic and write their findings on a poster to present to class. The inclusion of an outside story on the same subject can allow the students to connect to the material in a new way and expand their minds to understand the purpose. It is like solving a mystery; you can’t do it without all the pieces. By having your students research and understand more of the context surrounding the text, it may illuminate another critical point in the text.

2. Read Aloud.
Some students do better with hearing the text read aloud, and this is especially true for speeches. Whenever I introduce a new text to class, especially on that is short and quick to the point, I like to read it aloud to my students (even my seniors) so that I can model to tone and inflection of the piece. Another benefit to reading the text aloud to your students is that you can emphasize particular elements that you are trying to highlight and analyze.

3. Focus on Vocabulary.
Many nonfiction texts include words that our students do not know. When I have my students analyze new nonfiction texts in class, I encourage them to work together in partners to scan the text for words they do not know. Then students look up the definitions on their phones and share their findings with the class. An open discussion about the words they do not understand can teach both the specific students and their peers a lot too. Maybe their peers also did not know the certain words either, and then this discussion will be beneficial for the entire class. This helps everyone in the class to improve their vocabulary while also improving their understanding of the text.

4. Quick Writes
Sometimes writing out their thoughts will help students develop a more concrete analysis of the text. When I analyze nonfiction with my students, I like to get them thinking on their own and comfortable with their analysis skills before moving on to a much larger writing assignment or project. I’ll assign multiple quick writes throughout my nonfiction unit. For a quick write, I instruct students to gather their thoughts and quickly write for about 10 minutes. Then I have students partner up and share their writing with one another. After a few minutes of sharing, I ask for a few volunteers to read either their paper or their partner's paper to class. This shows students that there are multiple ways to analyze a text, and it also gives students more examples.

Here are some of the quick write prompts I frequently use in my classroom.
1. Why do you think the author wrote this text?
2. What was the author’s purpose in writing this text?
3. What is one strategy that the author uses that makes this text particularly effective?
4. Who was the intended audience for this text and why?
5. How does the author establish ethos in this text?
6. What is the author’s main idea, and how does the author support this idea?
7. Do you agree with this text? Explain why or why not.

5. Get Creative
One acronym I use for rhetorical analysis is PAPA: purpose, audience, persona, argument. At the end of our nonfiction and rhetorical analysis unit, I have students select their own nonfiction text to analyze. They read the text and analyze it using the PAPA acronym. Then, I have my students create an artistic PAPA Square as their final project.

Nonfiction can be a great way to talk about different rhetorical devices and strategies. Nonfiction is also a great way to expand students’ worldview by introducing them to a wide variety of topics. Some might be historical, others more modern, and some are definitely on the controversial side, but they always convey an important message. Through these analytical tools, your students will be able to get the full effectiveness of the nonfiction work you have decided to analyze together.

Collaborative Short Story Review Poster Project

Whenever I teach freshmen or sophomores, I always begin the school year with a short story unit. I use this unit to introduce literary elements to my students, and they start exploring literary analysis. I believe it is a perfect way to begin the school year.

Toward the end of my short story unit, I assign my students a collaborative short story review poster project that takes two days. I use the poster project as a final review activity before our short story unit test and essay. And since I require each group of students to present their posters, it’s also a tremendously helpful review for the students.

Students work together in groups of 4-5. As a requirement, I ask that everyone in the group contribute to the final project, and everyone must also speak and present. Since this is usually their first presentation of the school year, I feel that group presentations help ease students’ minds a bit.

I provide my student groups with butcher paper for the poster, and I also supply them with colorful paper and markers. I have my students complete all of the work for this collaborative project in class.

Each group creates a poster for a different short story we read together in class, and it is okay if there are duplicate groups. If I have duplicate groups, I usually have them spaced out across the room from one another.

Each poster has the same requirements. Students must include the title and author of the short story. From there, students must also add the definition of each listed literary element as well as an example (in their own words) from the story. To support their examples, I have students find three quotes that demonstrate three different literary elements, and they also write a 3-4 sentence summary of the story.

This project can easily take up more than two class periods (mine are 55 minutes each), so I emphasize to my students that this is meant to be a quick review. I also stress that I am looking for quality content on the poster rather than poster aesthetics.

Typically, I spend about 10-15 minutes explaining the poster project and reviewing the guidelines with my students (and this also includes a quick discussion about my group work expectations since this activity usually takes place about one month after the start of the new school year). After that, they have the rest of the class period to work. On the second day of this project, I briefly review my expectations again and then give the students about 30 minutes to complete their posters.

For the presentation, each group takes turns presenting their posters to the entire class. Once my students are finished presenting, I hang these posters on the walls as we work on our short story essay, which is usually a motif essay. Displaying these posters on the walls helps my struggling students brainstorm quotes and ideas for their essays.

One of the reasons why I love this project so much is that it is entirely student-centered. During these two days, my students are usually sprawled out in groups on the floor as they discuss the story and write about it.

More Short Story Teaching Resources:

5 Ways to Analyze Poetry

5 ways to analyze poetry in the middle school English language arts and high school English class.
Reading poetry is one of the most valuable lessons in high school English classes. There is so much to learn from each poem, and each analysis adds value to both the current poem students are studying and to future poems. Here are five ways students can begin to analyze poetry.

1. Annotate the poem.
The best way for students to begin analyzing poetry is for them to make a note of the things they notice. Making use of the margins of the poem, students can take notes on the structure of the poem and various poetic devices they find. Students can also take note of the parts that interest them or the various elements that contribute the the theme. Annotating a poem allows the student to understand further precisely what the poem is saying, and it also forces students to take a deeper, closer look at the poem. My Annotating Poetry Made Easy lesson provides students with a systematic was to annotate poetry to make it more accessible for students.

Sign up for my poetry emails

Subscribe to receive FREE poetry teaching resources!

You won't ever receive spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit
2. Identify recurring devices and images.
Identifying the details that are repeated throughout the poem gives students a better understanding of the poem, especially since poets tend to repeat certain elements for emphasis. Once they begin to notice the commonalities among the poem, the poem can be better analyzed. Identifying these recurring devices can be done through annotations in the margins or through other note-taking methods. My Poetry Analysis with Sticky Notes unit helps students identify various poetic devices.
5 ways to analyze poetry in the middle school English language arts and high school English class.

3. Read the poem multiple times.
Just as it is essential to question the poem, reading the poem multiple times allows the student to get a feel for the poem. On a second reading, the student may begin to notice the number of metaphors found in a stanza. On a third reading, the student may now understand the importance of these metaphors and how the comparisons enhance the vivid imagery that the poet paints. Taking the time to read a poem multiple times will allow a student the full experience and understanding of the poem.

4. Ask questions.
Questioning what is being read is a great way to analyze poetry. Students will always have questions about poems, such as what is this poem really about? What do these images represent? Why is this poem important? Poetry lends itself to questions and questions help to create and build the analysis of a poem. When students spend time asking themselves these questions, they are already analyzing the poem, without even realizing it and their analysis overall will be better for it.

5. Read the poem out loud.
Poetry is meant to be read aloud. Having students read the poem out loud will allow them to hear the poem as it is intended to be heard, and this will enable them to analyze it even better. Hearing different rhythms and rhymes aloud will give them the chance to notice parts for their analysis. Reading it out loud makes students notice the little details that make this poem different than any other they have read.

While students may not always appreciate poetry at the time of studying it, poetry analysis can prove to help their writing and literary careers. These methods of poetry analysis will help students in many valuable ways.

25 Ways to Practice Self-Care and Avoid Teacher Burnout

25 Ways to Practice Self-Care and Avoid Teacher Burnout

I love being a teacher. It’s such a rewarding career, and it is such a privilege to get to be able to teach, inspire, and empower today’s youth. However, as wonderful as being a teacher is, it’s also a demanding profession. Throughout the year so many teachers feel overworked, overstressed, and underpaid. These three factors lead to teacher burnout, and alarming statistics show that the teaching profession loses many promising educators within their first five years on the job.

As a teacher, it’s essential to maintain self-care. Here’s a list of 25 ways to help teachers avoid teacher burnout.

1. Keep positive notes from current and previous students in an easy-to-access folder or drawer. If you are ever feeling underappreciated or undervalued, look at these notes.

2. Make some favorable calls home. After a rough day, one of the last things you might want to do is stay after school to call parents. However, select a student who has shown improvement and make a positive call home. Not only will it make the parent’s day, but it might be enough to bring up your spirits.

3. Practice meditation.

4. Do yoga.

5. Take an art class. Some art classes even provide wine. For some people, this might be the best way to unwind after a long day of teaching.

6. Take a mental health day. Sometimes, you just need a day off. One important rule to follow when taking a mental health day is DO NOT THINK ABOUT WORK. Trust me, I know it’s hard. And as an English teacher, it’s tough not to take off a day to grade. However, that defeats the whole purpose of a mental health day.

7. Unplug! Choose a day and completely unplug. By doing so, you’ll escape the pressure from email and social media.

8. Do not add your work email to your cell phone. While it’s nice to have access 24/7 to what may seem like super pressing emails from students at 7 in the evening, those emails can wait. Either go into work twenty minutes earlier or stay twenty minutes later to handle email communications. By leading emails at school, you’ll remove some stress from your life.

9. Ask for help. Often we take on more than we can handle with blind optimism. Don’t wait until you feel so overwhelmed that it affects your job performance. Ask for help, and ask for help early on. Collaborate with your colleagues and plan together. Even if it means meeting during lunch or before school once a week, the extra support will help.

10. Say no. It is okay to say no to people, especially at work. If you are feeling overworked and overwhelmed, the last thing you need is an extra duty or deadline.

11. Journal.

12. Read something for enjoyment.

13. Plan a spa day. You work hard, and sometimes you need to treat yourself!

14. Go for a walk, run, hike, or bike ride. Feeling the warm sun grace your skin will instantly set you at ease. Plus, the release of endorphins will help release some tension too!

15. Go on a picnic with your favorite people. Perhaps your favorite people include your family and children, or maybe it’s your besties. Whoever you picnic with, food, good company, and laughter will brighten your day.

16. Try a new recipe.

17. Play video games.

18. Binge-watch television.

19. Go to the movies. You will enjoy the night out and entertainment.

20. Leave your grading at school, especially over the weekend. The weekends are for you. Leave your grading at school so that you can truly relax and enjoy the two days off of school.

25 Ways to Practice Self-Care and Avoid Teacher Burnout
21. Go shopping. It isn’t called retail therapy for nothing. And while you’re at it, make sure to remember to ask if they offer teacher discounts!

22. Plant and nurture a garden.

23. Take a group exercise class. The excitement in group exercise classes is contagious. You’ll leave feeling thoroughly exhausted and refreshed at the same time.

24. Plan a weekend staycation. In doing so, you’ll get to have some quality time with the people you love while seeing your town in a new perspective.

25. If none of these help you, count all of the days you’ve been in school. Now tell yourself that for these many days you’ve been helping, teaching, and inspiring students. For these many days you’ve been a constant in a student’s life. For these many days, you’ve made a positive impact.

Helping Students Create Stronger Characters

It’s a common problem among students, that when they start a fictional narrative, they tend to focus solely on their plot and develop their characters around that plot. This tends to cause their characters to be dull and 2-dimensional. Plot-driven stories are great and enjoyable, but if these stories cause a character who is characterized one way, to act another to advance the plot, it becomes weak.

One way to deal with this is to have students focus on making a single character and genuinely developing them, to the point that they know their whole life story. One way to do this is to have students create a sort of facebook profile for their character. They should know the age, birthday, how many friends they have, what kind of photos would you find them in, who their family is, what are the things their characters like and share, and their biggest pet peeves are?

If a student knows all these things about a character, they might have a better idea of their character will act in different situations. However, a way to get students to know how the character would truly act is to give your students different situations or scenarios and have the students tell and explain how their character would act and why. For example, if the character is a runaway and they get pulled over, they probably would fidget and act a little nervous, not smile and greet the officer with open arms.

A great story to teach with a creative writing unit is “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner. The story looks at an elderly woman and her history within a small Southern town. By examining this story and the protagonist, students can see how Miss Emily reacts and responds to different people, situations, and locations.

To analyze this in class, group students into small groups and have each group examine a different aspect of Miss Emily's character. Each group should explain the what and when for a surface-level analysis, but then dig deeper to answer the how and why. By completing an exercise like this, students will gain a better idea of how to fully develop a protagonist for their next fictional narrative.

5 Poem and Novel Pairings

When teaching a novel, there are a lot of different ways to incorporate other texts so your students can understand the novel and the characters’ motivations. Pairing poems with novels from the same period or with the same theme allow your students to make connections and understand the depth of the literature. Here are five poems to pair with novels your class may be reading:

1. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston and “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou
In both Their Eyes Were Watching God and “Still I Rise,” the characters face struggles that are very similar regarding both race and gender. Both of these writers are well-known and talk about subjects they are knowledgeable about, and the students can compare the texts by seeing how these themes and subjects work in the different pieces. How do they compare in a poem or a novel? Does it matter how the story is told or is the same powerful effect still present in both?

2. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley and “Prometheus” by Lord Byron
Both the novel and the poem express similar ideas regarding the themes of death and life. Specifically, the titles of both texts include a mention of Prometheus, a god who helped man survive by bringing fire and therefore life to humankind. This could be something exciting to compare in class. Also, the fact that Shelley and Lord Byron knew each other, and Lord Byron was present when Shelley created the idea of Frankenstein is an additional fact that would be interesting to teach the class with these poems.

3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and “To a Grey Dress” by Arthur Symons and “Faults” by Sara Teasdale
For The Great Gatsby, I have decided to pair the novel with two different poems. However, both of these poems are short. The subjects again, in each text are all related, and the poems represent a lot of Gatsby’s motivations or even seem as if they could be told from his perspective. The poems were also written around the same time, so they have the same sense about them. These poems paired with the novel will provide the students with a greater understanding of the characters and the novel itself.

4. Macbeth by William Shakespeare and “Sonnet 94: They that have the power to hurt and will do none” by William Shakespeare
I paired these two texts together, for a few reasons. One, they are written by the same writer, Shakespeare, so students can compare them to see how the writing style has changed or stayed the same. Two, both texts revolve around an obsession with power, and both show the danger of it. This could be interesting also to see if the students find any differences in how Shakespeare views this subject. Does his opinion change over time? Or can you tell that the same person writes it?

5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson
These two pieces are paired together because they both speak about the similar themes of hope and freedom. Jane Eyre is always as hopeful as she can be in horrible situations, and Dickinson’s poem revolves around the idea of hope and how it stays within you even when you do not recognize it. Freedom themes are present in the heavy bird imagery found throughout both. Jane always wishes for her freedom, wishes to be a bird, while Dickinson's poem uses bird imagery to also represent the idea of hope and freedom that “perches” within oneself. With bird imagery being repeated and always hope around the corner, the idea of hopeful freedom is a theme that resonates with the writers of both of these texts.

Above are just a few suggestions for a classroom that wants to add even more to their studies of literature. Taking time to discuss poems that are related to the works being read is beneficial for the students, as they will only learn more from the additions.