Literary Essay Writing: Comparing Stories with Author's Craft Focus (Test Prep)
Many state tests expect students to write full literary analyses and this analysis needs to be comparing and contrasting. Here are some samples for New Jersey's state test:
These can be so confusing. I've created a basic essay format for my students that can work with most of these prompts, however, I wanted to it amp it up for my 7th graders and give them more choice after wrapping up a memoir reading unit.
I wanted them to be able to interpret a literary element and focus on how the author uses a specific craft to show this element.
Read about how this was accomplished!
As I mentioned, this followed up a memoir reading unit (not in my store...yet!). Students spent a few weeks reading memoir texts in book clubs. I then found a few short memoirs for them to use along with an excerpt from their memoir books. They chose one that worked well with their books.
You can do this similarly with any genre or simply pick two short stories for them to compare and contrast, so it doesn't have to be set up like this exactly.
Finding Author's Craft: Close Reading
So many of these test prompts require students to focus on author's craft which is when the author uses specific tools and techniques to develop a literary element.
First, I had them screenshot the entire short story as well as the excerpt from their memoir (but this could just be another short story). I provided them with a color-coded key with different types of techniques authors use to tell their stories.
They then use these exact colors to highlight their stories. They focus on parts that represent that author's craft. This picture below shows some of the highlights I did for "Name/Nombres" by Julia Alvarez.
I used an excerpt from Americanized by Sara Saedi to compare. I used this as my mentor text for my memoir unit.
Building a Focus
Next up is creating a claim and topic sentences. I have them come up with four literary elements of BOTH stories that are the same: theme, conflict, character traits, and mood. They determine what theme they have the same, what conflict is the same, etc.
They then choose ONE of the blues (this is color-coded for a reason), which is the major claim, to be the claim for the essay. They pull that down to the topic center builder below on the same slide. From there, they go back to author's craft and determine a focus. They look back at their highlights and decide what they have the most of. These become their focus for each sentence. This is building up to the comparing and contrasting aspect of the essay. I always have them create topic sentences before writing the actual essay.
Prepping the Essay and Gathering Evidence
Each topic sentence is a body paragraph. The idea is the first two are contrasting and the last one is comparing. This is the slide they get before they add their own information. You can see my samples by getting the slides here. I provided one sample here.
The color-coding helps them reference their previous slide to add their details and explanations. By the way, my kids have had LOTS of practice already with this before this mini-unit. Read about that here:
Non-fiction in Middle School ELA: Using Research, Essay Writing, and Book Creation for Skill Focus
The Importance of Highlighting: Different Ways to use it in Middle School English Language Arts
Finding and Using Text Evidence: Writing about Reading (No Fancy Acronyms Needed)
Essays in 6th Grade: A Basic Format that Elevates the Standard 5-Paragraph Structure
Writing the Essay
At this point, they've already gathered all the evidence they need and explanations. They really just have to copy and paste it all over, organize it, add some evidence stems, and clean it up. For them, I provide them with a checklist they are very familiar with as they've used it throughout the school year with their reading responses and a variety of other essays.
This is a student sample of a paragraph.
This ends up being a 5-paragraph essay, but really it's only 3 major paragraphs. While this is great for test prep, it really gets them thinking beyond the basic literary components of stories. As they get older, the analysis must get much deeper, so focusing on author's craft really helps with that.
You can get this entire mini-unit here!
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