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High School — Reading
Literary Text

Literary texts represent a variety of authors, cultures and eras. Literature endures because it tells the story of the human experience. Through stories, poems, tales and plays, we encounter settings that describe places or characters close to our heart or others that are exciting, strange or unreal. As the events of these stories unfold, we listen to the voice of an author who has woven words to represent a point of view and created a plot to expand our knowledge of questions, relationships and experiences.

Students should be able to explain the elements that create a story and analyze the way authors have molded these pieces to shape literary texts. Authors write about themes in literature because they have stories to tell. By gathering strategies to understand and analyze literature, students are enriched by the lessons and experiences shared in the tales of various times and places. Knowledge of how we use language to make stories also empowers students to tell stories of their own.

The Ohio academic content standards establish the following expectations for student performance in the area of Literary Text:

  • Students must demonstrate comprehension of various genres by identifying and explaining the elements of literature;
  • Students must infer theme and meaning across different works and respond critically to text;
  • Students must be able to analyze an author's use of language.

The content in this Teaching Tool is based on the Ohio's Academic Content Standards and benchmarks and includes types of questions asked on the Ohio Graduation Test. While various suggestions and activities for working with students are included, this Teaching Tool is designed to complement a rigorous, research-based curriculum, not to substitute for one.

Literary Text

1. Literary Text

Click on the following benchmarks for more information and for links to annotated OGT items.


Benchmark A: Analyze interactions between characters in literary text and how the interactions affect the plot.

Benchmark A: Analyze interactions between characters in literary text and how the interactions affect the plot.

Reading a great story is like traveling; you meet new people, visit new places, and witness events you wouldn't normally see. In order to truly appreciate a story, readers need a firm grasp of its parts. Stories are made up of people, places and events. When an author successfully weaves all of these elements together, he creates another reality.

Understanding literature involves knowledge of characters, settings, plot, conflict and point of view. These elements are interwoven in a symbiotic relationship to create the literary text.

A literary character offers an chance to walk in someone else's shoes. By closely observing a character, we can acquire a deeper understanding of what motivates the people we know in real life, and we can think more rigorously about who we are and what motivates us.

Frequently in literature, the narrator or another character describes a character's significant traits, indicating to the reader exactly what to expect from a character. This technique of direct characterization tells readers the most important thing to know about this person--the words or phrases that best describe her.

Writers do not always define a character or describe the essence of a person in a single word or phrase. In order to discover what really makes a character tick, readers often have to look for his or her significant traits. Indirect characterization requires the reader to uncover clues that reveal a character's feelings, traits and motivations. Characters are illuminated through their speech, thoughts and actions, as well as through other characters' comments.

Students may begrudge you asking them to dissect conversation and dialogue between literary characters, yet they certainly do this exercise all the time when they are gossiping on the phone. How many times have you heard your students in the hallway exclaiming, "She said what? I can't believe she said that! How did she say it? I mean, did she sound mad?"

Teenagers love to talk. We learn about people through their conversations and through conversations that others have about them. In the same way, the words that authors script for their characters contribute to the mood of a poem, novel, short story or play. The author's message or theme is often conveyed through the words of the characters.

In particular, the verbs that describe the way characters speak are keys to understanding the conversation. Did a character simply say the words or did he exclaim them? Did the character ask, beg or demand? Encourage your students to pay attention to and discuss the verbs authors choose when crafting conversations or speech in their texts. These verbs reveal information about motivations, emotions and situations.

One way to analyze the verbs in dialogue is to ask students to read aloud conversations between characters. Emphasize that students should follow the clues given by the verbs when they read a character's words. If a character whispers, the student reading that line should perform the words softly. If a character roars, the reader must shout the line. Discuss what these verbs add to students' understanding of the characters and contexts.

In addition to examining how characters say their lines, readers can further understand a conversation by looking outside the spoken lines. Where are the characters as they speak? Does the setting contribute to the nature of the conversation? For example, how does a secret meeting in a private library differ from a casual chat in a restaurant? What kind of body language is described? Are the characters revealing feelings with their motions that are not directly stated in their words? Careful readers analyze word choices to uncover more information about the dialogue.

Have your students act out some scenes in class to illustrate this concept. Distribute slips of paper with descriptions of situations in which a character's actions contradict his words. Ask your students to illustrate the following scenarios in short skits. The actors should use body language, express tone of voice, and establish setting details to indicate what the characters are feeling, even if the words attempt to hide the characters' true emotions.

  • A girl receives a birthday gift that she hates. She tells her grandmother that she absolutely adores the pea green shift dress with its attractive yellow polka dots and interesting purple stripes.
  • Two friends are talking in a cafe. One friend tells the other how glad she is to see him. Actually, the speaker is really anxious to get home.
  • A student tells his teacher that he is paying attention to her lecture on Beowulf but he is really thinking about football practice after school.

Characters reveal themselves both by what they say and how they say it. If students grumble about the difficult language in literary classics, point out that authors, even Shakespeare, sometimes use slang and regional dialect, just as we do in our everyday speech. For example, students might recognize current slang when they find Shakespeare's Ross in Act IV of Macbeth saying, "My dearest coz, I pray you, school yourself." You might use the example of Zora Neale Hurston's Janie who speaks in a Southern dialect throughout the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Ask your students to consider the effect of slang or dialect on a character's voice. Have them choose a favorite literary passage from the books you read in class. Give students time to write about why they find this passage particularly enjoyable. Remind them to explain how the words the author uses helps the reader to hear the character's voice.

Use a discussion of how characters reveal traits through their speech and actions to segue to a discussion of the role of the monologue and the soliloquy. Often, characters in drama are revealed to readers when the characters speak either to themselves or directly to us. A soliloquy is a form in which a character talks to himself, revealing internal thoughts without addressing a listener. A dramatic monologue is a character's speech to the audience, in which the character reveals key elements of her personality or history.

Each of these elements of characterization--from the character's use of words to the character's interaction with setting--affect the way the story unfolds. Plot, the sequence of action or events in the story, depends on the relationships of the characters.

Ask students to think about how their interactions with one another, teachers, family, friends, employers and strangers shape the course of their day. Like literary characters, the events we experience are all affected by our conversations, relationships and emotions. The influences that characters have on one another shape each component of a story's plot, from introduction to resolution. Discuss with your students how character interaction shapes a narrative:

  • Introduction: An author often provides information about the story's characters and setting at the beginning of the story. We form first impressions of people, only to shift or deepen our understanding of these people once we know them better. Similarly, our opinions and knowledge of characters' traits and motivations may change and expand as we move through the plot.
  • Conflict: Characters often have problems or struggles, either internally or with others. A story's plot is often based on a problem and a solution unfolding. These events frequently occur because of some tension in the story. A story's conflict often develops in one of three ways: a conflict between characters (character vs. character), a conflict that causes an internal struggle (character vs. self), or a conflict between a character and his society or environment (character vs. society).
  • Climax: When the conflict reaches an important or intense moment, the story peaks and the characters reach a turning point.
  • Resolution: The plot continues after the climax, as the plot reaches its end. In a closed ending, the author explains what happens to the characters, tying together all parts of the plot to complete the story. At times, however, authors leave readers with an open ending; we don't know what will happen next and are left with our own questions to explore.

Character development within a story often results from the character's efforts to resolve conflict and reach resolution. When personalities, viewpoints or goals collide, an opposition develops between characters. A conflict between characters often reveals something about human nature. As we analyze the conflicts that surface between characters, we sometimes find similarities to our own encounters with other people.

Some conflicts between characters are complex, as people tend to be multifaceted. When your students encounter characters in conflict, you might ask such questions as:

  • How did these characters feel about each other before this problem? What happened to lead up to this conflict?
  • What traits do these characters share? How are they alike?
  • How are these characters different and how do their differences contribute to the conflict?
  • How do their actions reveal how they feel about each other?
  • If you experienced this conflict with another person, how would you solve it?

It is important that readers determine the traits, feelings, and motives of characters who are locked in a struggle because much of the story's plot may unfold from the way characters react to each other.

Literary characters often face tough decisions. Frequently authors create difficult situations in which characters question or strengthen their beliefs. The struggle of the individual is a familiar theme both within books and in our own lives.

Though authors allow us to follow this process of self-discovery through a character, analyzing an inner conflict is a difficult task. Literature can give a reader a window through which to view herself, but the reader must first develop tools to understand a character's internal struggle. Questioning the self is quite different from questioning another character. To aid your students' understanding, have them pursue such questions as:

  • What does the character feel about himself or herself?
  • What challenges or problems does this character face?
  • What traits does this character possess to help him or her solve this problem?
  • Based on how this character has solved other problems, how do you think he or she will deal with this particular feeling or conflict?

An individual is subject to the rules and norms of the society and environment in which she lives. Sometimes people disagree with those rules and they challenge the way things are. These stories of struggle sometimes bring about change, and we learn much from individual dissent. In many literary texts, the solution to a problem between characters and their society forms the plot.

Click here to view an annotated item from the 2005 Ohio Graduation Test that addresses this benchmark.

Click here to view an annotated item from the 2005 Ohio Graduation Test that addresses this benchmark.


Benchmark B: Explain and analyze how the context of setting and the author's choice of point of view impact a literary text.

Benchmark B: Explain and analyze how the context of setting and the author's choice of point of view impact a literary text.

It's helpful to look at characters in context to establish a sense of what's going on in the story as a whole, where the story takes place, and who is telling it. Much of what we know about characters depends on where they are and through whose viewpoint the author presents them. Review questions like the following to establish students' understanding of character and plot before analyzing the impact of setting and point of view.

  • What is this story mostly about? What are the major events?
  • Who are the key characters involved in these events? What are their roles?
  • Does one of these characters seem to be the story's main character (or protagonist)?
  • Can I briefly describe each character? (How old is he? What does he do for a living? How does he relate to the other characters in particular situations?)

Discuss with your students some ways in which place affects people. How we speak, how we dress, what we eat, how we travel and what we do is determined by the places we live. For example, a person living in an apartment in New York City might have a certain accent, might experience the foods of many cultures and may take the subway to work in a large, crowded office building. On the other hand, a person living on a farm in rural Iowa might have a completely different manner of speaking, may eat a lot of basic farm staples and drive a tractor. We are formed by place, just as characters are formed by the setting in which they were created.

The setting, the time and place where a story occurs, can be specific (Chicago in 1935) or ambiguous (a large city during economic depression). Regardless of the level of detail an author provides to describe a setting, characters are products of their time and place. The story of a woman living in turn of the century France would be quite different from the story of a woman living in America in 2020. Language, career, cultural norms and historical significance are a few of the many factors that are affected by setting.

Ask your students to pay attention to the elements of setting that form character. You might have groups of students determine how the following elements of the story are influenced by the story's time and place:

  • How does the character feel about where he lives?
  • Is the character happy in her work?
  • Does the character interact with many people throughout the day or is he isolated?
  • How does the character dress and speak?
  • Describe a typical day in the life of this character.
  • What parts of the character's society limit or frustrate the character? What elements of the character's society are celebrated by the character?

In addition to establishing settings that define characters, authors determine who will tell their stories. Point of view indicates who is narrating the action and influences the information given to the reader. This shapes the work itself because readers see the events of the story through the narrator's eyes.

The point of view refers to an author's choice of narrator and helps readers explain who is telling the story.

In first-person writing, the narrator tells the story's events, using pronouns such as I, me, my, and we. First-person narrators are characters in the story. The knowledge and insight of this one character affects what the reader learns. We can only see things from her point of view.

In second-person writing, the narrator addresses the reader as you, effectively making him or her a character in the story. This technique is the least common in fiction.

In third-person limited writing, the narrator tells a story about other characters, referring to them with pronouns such as he, she, and they. With a third person limited (or limited omniscient) point of view, the narrator knows everything about one character, including thoughts and feelings, but knows the other characters only through that one person. A third person limited narrator will not be able to reveal the innermost thoughts and feelings of other characters.

When a writer adopts the omniscient point of view, the vantage point in which a narrator is removed from the story and knows everything that needs to be known, Unlike the third person limited narrator, the omniscient narrator is able to express the thoughts and feelings of all the characters involved in the tale. The narrator uses third person viewpoint, but knows all of the characters' thoughts.

The omniscient narrator and the objective narrator are not participants in the story. These voices do not represent characters who are part of the action, therefore these narrators are not influenced by personal prejudice or feelings; the objective narrator represents a neutral point of view, portraying all views in the story without bias. While the omniscient point of view represents a narrator who has an inside view to the characters' private experiences, an objective narrator does not give the reader any details of the characters' private experiences. Instead, the objective narrator tells the reader the kinds of facts that might be observed by an outsider. Therefore, an objective point of view differs from an omniscient point of view because the objective narrator reports action impartially, without telling us what the characters think or feel.

Ask students to consider why an author chooses to tell a story through a particular person's point of view.


Benchmark C: Identify the structural elements of the plot and explain how an author develops conflicts and plot to pace the events in literary text.

Benchmark C: Identify the structural elements of the plot and explain how an author develops conflicts and plot to pace the events in literary text.

As characters interact with one another within a specific place and time, something inevitably goes wrong. Conflict or struggle between opposing forces is the driving momentum of a story. Differences can exist between individual characters, between groups of characters, between a character and society, or between a character and the ideas he or she holds. The ending of a story provides a resolution to the conflict, and the plot keeps the reader turning pages to the end.

The plot is structured to follow an arc, beginning with the exposition (the introduction of the main characters and setting) and moving through the rising action (as one or more characters engage in conflict). When the story reaches the climax, or turning point, the action falls, moving towards an end. Denouement is the "untying of plot threads" to end the story, or to bring resolution of the character's crisis.

Using this structure, authors teach readers a particular lesson or impart a specific message through the characters' experiences. As characters come into conflict with one another, with society, and with themselves, readers make connections to their own lives and discover truths about human nature. The events of a story portray key themes in our lives.

Ask your students to think about the choices characters make. The following questions may help to frame class discussions about the role of character and setting in plot structure:

  • Do the characters make certain choices because of the time and place?
  • What factors in the character's personality lead to a specific event?
  • Does a specific event lead to a decision or action on the part of a character?
  • If x had not occurred in the novel, would y have taken place?
  • What is the turning point of the novel that drives the action of the story from conflict to resolution?
  • What events in the plot contribute to changes in the characters?

Click here to view an annotated item from the 2005 Ohio Graduation Test that addresses this benchmark.


Benchmark D: Identify similar recurring themes across different works.

Benchmark D: Identify similar recurring themes across different works.

Theme is the set of ideas conveyed through the characters and events of a literary text. Students understand theme when they are able to pinpoint that a text is about alienation, rather than just summarizing a story about a man who goes to live alone on an island. Authors tell stories to convey some truth about our experiences, presenting the details of plot and conflict to express larger ideas.

Authors aim to tell stories that speak to readers. Because literature reaches across so many boundaries, there are some universal themes that your students should find when they encounter various works of literature. A universal theme is a truth that applies to all people, regardless of language, culture, geography, race, gender, class or religion. Certain ideas in literature are universal because they represent patterns common to all human experience. These are the ideas that affect humanity and society, questions with which we all struggle at some point in our lives. Powerful literature helps readers connect with these truths through the lives of the characters. A character's situations may be unique and particular, but often authors address experiences to which we can all identify or relate.

As you study various works of literature with your students, consider the following universal themes. Discuss how various novels, poems, and plays that you study address these common ideas:

  • The use of technology in society;
  • The dilemma of war;
  • The power of nature;
  • Respect for the environment;
  • Isolation/alienation;
  • The importance of family/community;
  • Companionship/search for partnership;
  • Relationship with authority;
  • Establishing identity.


Benchmark E: Analyze the use of a genre to express a theme or topic.

Benchmark E: Analyze the use of a genre to express a theme or topic.

Why does a writer express an idea or theme through the events of a story, the dialogue of a play, or the images of a poem? Genre, the type of writing, affects the ideas expressed in the text.

You might guide your students to conduct close readings in order to uncover essential truths about the works they study. A close reading is a re-reading, a careful examination of words in order to uncover how the author has used a particular genre to express a larger theme. A close reading of a passage requires that a reader be aware of style in prose and poetry. By examining the author's techniques, a reader can uncover meaning.

Use the following guidelines to lead your students in close readings of various types of texts:

  • Identify what this passage contributes to the work's overall theme.
  • Come up with a thesis or idea about how the choice of words or use of language in this particular form contributes to your understanding of the theme.

Click here to view an annotated item from the 2005 Ohio Graduation Test that addresses this benchmark.


Benchmark F: Identify and analyze how an author uses figurative language, sound devices and literary techniques to shape plot, set meaning and develop tone.

Benchmark F: Identify and analyze how an author uses figurative language, sound devices and literary techniques to shape plot, set meaning and develop tone.

As an author tells a story, she uses certain methods for organizing the text. A writer must convey a character's history while carrying us through a certain period in a character's life and development. All of the relevant information about characters and events must be disclosed within the frame of the story, so authors must make decisions about how they will illustrate key events of the character's past, how they will plant suggestions about the character's future, and how they will reveal the perspectives of the characters. Authors use various tools and devices to shape plot, set meaning and develop tone.

Authors have the power to predict the future of their characters. They often give us a glimpse, hint or suggestion about what will happen in the future events of a text. Sometimes future events in a story, or perhaps the outcome, are suggested by the author before they happen. Foreshadowing, the technique of giving clues to coming events in a narrative, can take many forms and be accomplished in many ways, with varying degrees of subtlety.

Talk with students about the prefix fore- and the root word shadowing. As evidenced by such related words as forewarn (to give advance warning) and forecast (to predict), fore- indicates that something is to come. A shadow is the image cast by an object blocking the light. Brainstorm why this root word is fitting to the act of casting an image that the reader will look back on once she understands the full story.

They say that hindsight is 20/20. Ask your students to think of something they experienced that may have seemed unexpected at the time. Can they look back at events in their past that might have led to this particular event? For example, a student who won an unexpected reward might recall some praise from the organization that granted her the award. Or, someone who was surprised by a birthday party might look back on all the small hints from friends that might have foreshadowed the surprise.

Students might be familiar with flashbacks in television or movies. The screen might spin or shake, indicating that the character is remembering something that occurred in the past. In literature, as in visual media, flashback is the technique of stopping the chronological action in a story and shifting to an earlier period to introduce additional information. Authors often change from the present tense to past because an image or experience triggers a memory. The author will choose to describe a particular memory because of the relevance to the development of the character, theme or plot.

Ask your students to try to remember something they experienced as a young child. Have them describe the memory with as much sensory detail as possible. Encourage them to extend the description by considering how this memory or experience has influenced them today. What role did this event play in the story of their life?

We have all experienced situations in life that do not turn out the way we expected. Irony is the recognition of the difference between reality and appearance; it includes situational irony in which there is a contrast between what is intended or expected and what actually occurs; verbal irony in which there is a contrast between what is said and what is actually meant; and dramatic irony in which words or actions are understood by the audience but not by characters.

Poet Andrew Marvel uses irony in his poem "To His Coy Mistress." The speaker in the poem woos a lady with the knowledge that he is not sincere. The promises the speaker makes in the poem follow the first line, which suggests that he would try to romance the lady only if there were "world enough and time." In other words, if they could live forever, the speaker would profess his love. Of course, they won't live forever, and the speaker knows this before he flatters his love interest with the following lines:

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love's day.

Ask students to identify examples of verbal irony--situations in which authors convey meaning that is intended to be the exact opposite of what the words actually mean. Sarcasm is a tone of voice that often accompanies verbal irony. As students determine ironic dialogue between characters, ask the students to read these scenes aloud, indicating the tone the author suggests.

You might also draw students' attention to situations in which the reader is aware of something important but the characters in the story are not. This is called dramatic irony. Discuss why an author might empower his readers with knowledge of a situation, leaving his characters in the dark.

Students already know how to create a mood. For example, when friends are coming over for a Friday night viewing of a scary movie, your students might lower the lights in the TV room.

You might explain to your students that authors have the same job. Authors gather readers to enjoy a story. While writers can't physically arrange the pillows or adjust the lighting, they choose words to establish a certain tone, build settings, and assign character traits that influence both the characters and the readers of a text. Mood is the feeling or atmosphere that a writer creates for a reader. At the start of a play, poem or novel, the mood creates an expectation about what is to follow.

Tone is the reflection of an author's attitude toward his or her subject. For example, an author might deal with a subject in a serious or a humorous way. You might introduce the idea of tone by asking students to think about the tone or attitude of people they know in various situations. For example, you might ask such questions as What is the teacher's tone of voice on a Friday afternoon just before Spring Break? What is the attitude of a student explaining that she did not complete her paper on time? What is the tone in the building on the day of the state tests? What tone do you hear when Dad explains that you have broken your curfew? Your students will easily describe the atmosphere in these situations. Ask them to elaborate by trying to figure out how they understand, or read, a person's tone. What elements are present when a specific tone is generated? How does the tone of voice or the atmosphere of a place contribute to the mood?

Readers can recognize the author's attitude from the kind of syntax and vocabulary used. You might ask your students How does the author sound? Discuss whether the tone of a text is formal, informal, serious, humorous, amused, angry, playful, gloomy, sad, resigned, indifferent, cheerful, suspicious, pompous, witty, critical or matter-of-fact.

Setting also establishes mood. As soon as you walk through the gates of an amusement park, you immediately feel the excitement in the air. The swoosh of the coasters above your head, the scent of sugary sweets, the laughter of families, and the candy colors of the rides all contribute to the change in your mood. Planners have made choices about where they want to put certain rides, food stands and seating areas because they want the patrons of the park to have fun and enjoy the mood. Likewise, authors build settings that give readers clues about what the characters are thinking and feeling as they navigate the setting. Characters respond to the physical environment of a story in the same way we react when we move into environments that are designed to establish a certain mood.

Just as setting affects the moods, thoughts and actions of characters, the feel of a place in a story affects how readers react. Sometimes we respond to a setting because it is familiar. We are reminded of a place we know and we connect with how we have felt in that place. For example, as an author describes a lazy summer day on the back porch, you might connect with your own summer experiences. Other settings are strange or unfamiliar. It might be hard to understand the mood of Massachusetts during the witch trials of the 1600s, and thus difficult to understand parts of Arthur Miller's classic play The Crucible.

Images of a setting are conveyed through an author's use of sensory description. Authors ask us to see, hear, smell, taste and touch elements of the story by choosing words that evoke the reader's five senses. As students identify the mood of a text, direct them to the sensory details. Ask students to determine what the characters sense and how this affects their mood in the setting. Have readers identify which words the author uses to create a sensory description.

Ask your students to consider how they would label a text's mood. Overall, is the piece fantastic, imaginary, idealistic, romantic, realistic, optimistic, pessimistic, sorrowful, joyous or celebratory? Extend the discussion by establishing how the mood shifts in the text from one major event to another. What setting or descriptive clues indicate a change in the mood?

Sometimes authors describe objects and images to represent larger ideas. This is called symbolism. A symbol is a concrete thing used to suggest something larger and more abstract. For example, a wedding ring is not only a ring. It's a symbol of mutual love and commitment.

Ask the following questions to help students understand symbols:

  • Can you say what this represents? Students should be able to draw conclusions about the symbols that authors use in their stories. For instance, when the retired detective puts on his badge again, what does that represent?
  • Can you think of common symbols? Part of what makes a culture is a common set of symbols. Can students think of symbols that the class has in common? For instance, what does it mean to wear a particular type of clothing or listen to a certain kind of music?
  • Can you make up symbols of your own? Students might write autobiographical narratives in which they describe an object or event that symbolizes something in their own lives. Or, they might choose evocative objects like a watch or an empty notebook, and try to write a story in which the symbolism of the object is clear. As students' understanding of symbolism develops, they might choose not to specify what something symbolizes, and instead leave it to their classmates to figure out.

The sounds, rhythms and patterns of literary language are important ways authors stress ideas and create mood. Ask your readers to pay attention to the way authors use the following in their language:

  • Repetitions of consonants (alliteration) or vowels (assonance);
  • Onomatopoeia (sounds of words imitating the action);
  • Caesura (a break or pause);
  • Emphasis through change of rhythm.

Click here to view an annotated item from the 2005 Ohio Graduation Test that addresses this benchmark.


Benchmark G: Explain techniques used by authors to develop style.

Benchmark G: Explain techniques used by authors to develop style.

To introduce the topic of style, you might ask your students to define the style of their favorite musician, the style of a friend who is known for how well he dresses, or the style of the President. What choices do these individuals make in their clothing, accessories and other modes of expressing themselves? How do these individual choices set them apart?

Authors are also known for their style. In literary works, authors choose certain words or kinds of words to convey the desired message. Extend the analogy of fashion to your class discussion of word choice. For example, the President might choose a red tie for a national speech to convey strength, confidence and patriotism. Why does an author use a certain word? What message is the author conveying with the words he chooses?

Ask students to think of the words they choose as writers and speakers. How do the kinds of words they use in friendly e-mails differ from the words they use in college applications? Are the word choices and sentences in an English paper the same as the word choices and sentences in an instant message? Would they choose certain words to tell their friends a story about their weekend while relaxing in the cafeteria? Would these words differ from their style of speaking when interviewing for a job? Why? The message in all these situations differs, so the kinds of words your students choose would change as well.

Ask your students to do a close reading of a literary passage. You might select a single passage based on the way it reflects the author's style, or you might assign different passages to various groups to determine the way an author's words define his style. Instruct the class to look at the words, sentences, and kinds of language the author uses, and have them consider the following questions:

  • Word choice: Are the words easy to understand or do students find themselves reaching for the classroom dictionaries?
  • Syntax: Look first at the sentences the author writes and define them. Are they long and descriptive, or short and to the point?
  • Use of language: Does the author use many kinds of figurative language, such as similes, metaphors and idioms?

After students have answered questions about the pattern of word order in the author's sentences and the kind of vocabulary and language the author uses, ask them to define the author's style. Is the writer descriptive, figurative, literal, concise, humorous, etc.? Make a list of the descriptive words your students use to describe the author under study. Refer to this list as you compare and contrast authors' styles.

As a follow-up, ask students to choose passages that they think reflect the author's style. Have them explain their selections in terms of word choice, syntax, and use of language. Students will begin to look at how their favorite authors distinguish themselves and will compare one author's style to another.



Help With Fundamentals

These activities can help you address the fundamentals of Literary Text with your students.

Activity 1

Point of View

Photographs that show a lot of people can be especially useful in working with point of view. Ask students to pick out someone who interests them, and either assume his identity (first person), give him advice or ask him questions (second person), or describe him from outside (third person).

Or, you might have students try writing from all three points of view, and then discuss the differences:

  • How did it feel to write from each perspective?
  • Which perspective allows the reader to get closest to the characters?
Activity 2

Conflict and Plot

Ask students to consider all of the interactions they have with others in a typical day. Encourage them to keep a journal entry of the conversations, conflicts and relationships that develop with people they know and strangers they encounter. Have them reflect on how these interactions affected the outcome of their day and connect their observations to the ideas you discuss about character, conflict and plot.

Activity 3

Painting a Mood

Use paintings to spark discussion about how certain settings and colors influence mood. Ask your students to look at several paintings that generate a mood, such as Edward Hopper's Automat. This American masterpiece features a girl, alone, drinking coffee in a relatively empty restaurant. Encourage your students to discuss how the color scheme might also contribute to the mood of loneliness in the painting.

Activity 4

My Voice

Ask students to choose a brief excerpt from favorite song lyrics. Have them choose a phrase or refrain that is important to them, then challenge them to think about why they like the lyrics or why the song is meaningful.

Each student will write down the chosen lyric with an explanation of why the words are important. Ask each student to read her chosen lyric aloud to the class. How does each person's voice reflect her attitude about the spoken words? How can we tell when someone says something that is important to her?

Activity 5

I am a...

Ask your students to choose symbols to represent themselves. Your students may bring in a three-dimensional object or design the symbol using paints, markers, etc. Have each person explain why this symbol represents her. Encourage reflection by asking students to think about their interests, values, attitudes, and beliefs.

Activity 6

Character Bookmarks

Ask your students to create bookmarks for each major character in a literary work the class has read. Represent the character by using colors and symbols that best illustrate the character's personality, interests and traits. On one side, include colors, symbols, patterns and images, but no words. On the other side, use colors, symbols, patterns, images and a quotation that illustrates the character's philosophy.

Additional Instruction and Practice

These activities are useful for students who require additional instruction and practice with Literary Text.

Activity 1

Fairy Tales Revisited

To help students consider how point of view affects how a story is written, ask them to study a popular fairy tale and rewrite it from a different character's point of view. For example, they might write the story of "The Three Little Pigs" from the Wolf's point of view, "The Emperor's New Clothes" from the Emperor's point of view, or "Jack and the Beanstalk" from the Giant's point of view.

Ask students to choose which tale they want to revisit. Then, have them outline the events of the original story before preparing a new outline from their character's point of view. What events and description would have to change, and why?

Students can present their stories in essay form or as picture books if they have time to illustrate their work. Ask them to read their new versions to the class and have the class discuss the new version. What else did they learn about the story when it was told from this character's point of view? Were they convinced by this new version?

Activity 2


Ask each student to bring in an early photograph from the life of an adult friend, family member or personal hero. The picture should in some ways represent the beginnings of who the individual became in adulthood. For example, an early picture of a pianist might feature her crawling beneath the piano or a baby picture of a baseball player might show the future athlete with his first glove. Ask students to describe how this picture foreshadowed some element of the adult's life.

Activity 3

Mood Role-Plays

Begin this group activity by asking each student to state one word that describes how he is feeling at that moment. Then divide the class into groups according to the general feelings. For example, you might group students together according to who feels anxious, tired, grumpy, happy, angry, annoyed, etc.

Each group discusses their mood and creates a role-play or short skit that illustrates that mood. If your actors are nervous about performing or need some inspiration, you might suggest a few possible scenarios, such as a beauty pageant, a sports practice, a library during finals week, etc. Each group then takes turns performing the role-play before the class. The audience can discuss how the group created the desired mood through the setting and dialogue of the skit.

Activity 4

Walking in the Shoes of a Character

Assign each student a character from a novel or story that you are exploring in class. The student must pay close attention to this character, noting how the character speaks, how the character dresses, and how the character changes throughout the story. Upon completion of the novel, hold a gathering of the characters, such as a dinner party or lunch date. Ask each student to bring or design a costume piece and to write a question or comment to share with the other characters at the gathering. The question or comment must be written in a style and delivered in a voice fitting to the character.

Activity 5

An image a day, an image a week

Begin each class period or meeting with a reading of a powerful image from literature. At the end of each week, ask students to describe an image that affected them. Perhaps a student watched the sun set into a blaze of crimson one evening, or witnessed a young boy helping an older man trim his hedges. Have the student describe the image by stimulating the audience's senses. Discuss why these images might have stayed with the students who witnessed them.

Activity 6

A Little Mood Music

Play various musical pieces in class, such as classical, jazz and world music. Ask students to describe the mood of each piece. Based on the mood they have established for a particular piece of music, have writers compose a dialogue to accompany the music. In their writing, ask them to refer to colors and symbols that seem to fit the sounds.

Advanced Work

These activities can help your students reach the next level in their understanding of Literary Text.

Activity 1

Write Flashbacks for the Author

Toward the end of your study of a novel in class, ask students to think back to earlier events. Challenge them to write a flashback to this earlier scene.

Activity 2

Isn't it Ironic?

Shakespeare often uses dramatic irony, revealing information to the audience that remains hidden from the characters. Use such plays as Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth to illustrate scenes in which the audience possesses more knowledge than the characters, such as when Romeo comes to Juliet's grave or when the witches decorate Macbeth with the surprising title of "Thane of Cawdor."

Based on these models, ask students to craft one-acts or scenes that use the device of dramatic irony. The characters in the student-written dialogues should have less insight into the events than the members of the audience. Students might perform their pieces, opening up a discussion of the choices they made as authors who consider the perspectives of both the characters and the audience.

Activity 3

Choose Your Own

What if Hester and Dimmesdale had lived happily ever after? Imagine what would have happened if Chinua Achebe's Okonkwo led his tribe to rebel against the British. How would things be different if Atticus had won the trial? Allow students to rewrite the endings of a few literary classics. Based on evidence from these stories, students can predict a different set of circumstances that seem plausible for the characters. Be sure that the writers support their new endings with evidence from the text.

Activity 4

A Variation on a Theme

Ask students to discuss a story's theme and how its parts -- characters, settings, events -- contribute to that theme. Then have students come up with a way to vary the theme. Perhaps they want to illustrate the opposite theme (for example, The early bird gets the worm instead of Slow and steady wins the race). Or, perhaps they want to substitute a new setting or a different character. How would one simple variation change the scope of the story, and why?

Activity 5

All Together Now

Ask students to study how an author's use of repetition relates to a text's main idea and theme. For example, you might have students study the chorus of a popular song. How well does it illustrate the song's theme? Or, you might have the class discuss the refrain of a poem. How would the main idea of the poem change if you eliminated all instances (or just the final instance) of the refrain?

Activity 6

Mimicking Style

Ask students to write a piece in a particular author's style. You might have your writers describe a friend in the style of Hawthorne, tell about a family vacation as Hemingway would, or narrate an account of a day at school in the voice of Dickens. Remind your students to choose words that reflect the choices these authors might have made.