6th Grade - Write Responses To Literature

Write responses to literature
Write responses to literature: Develop and justify the interpretation through sustained use of examples and textual evidence
Write a response to literature that includes a well-developed and well-justified interpretation, using multiple examples from the text.

Sample Problems


What is the purpose of a response to literature essay? (to respond in writing to a piece of literature)


What is an interpretation? (An interpretation is an individual response that addresses meaning)


What does it mean to “develop” your interpretation? (to build it up with your ideas and examples)


What does it mean to “justify” your interpretation? (to prove it with evidence)


What does it mean to include “sustained” use of examples and evidence? (to continue to present them throughout the essay, not just in the beginning)

Learning Tips


Guidelines to focusing/organizing a response to literature (adapted from http://www.nvcc.edu/home/ataormina/eng256/support/analyzelit.htm)

Providing Multiple Examples for a Literary Response Essay

The body of your paper will explain and support your thesis (your interpretive ideas). You will use specific examples and references from the work to support your thesis.

Use the following strategies:

  1. Arrange your notes and evidence to support your argument.

  2. Use language from the text as evidence.

  3. Tie each piece of evidence into your discussion. Explain your choice of examples.

Follow the general rules for organizing an essay:

  • One idea to a paragraph. Summarize that idea in the topic sentence of the paragraph.

  • Relate each topic sentence to your thesis statement.

  • Every paragraph should include details from the work(s) that support your topic sentence and an explanation of those details showing the reader how they support your thesis.

  • Supply transitions between paragraphs.

  • Be sure to write a concluding paragraph that gives closure to the essay by demonstrating that you have proved what you set out to prove in your thesis.


(Tips #2-6 adapted from http://drake.marin.k12.ca.us/staff/doherty/litanalysis.htm)

One way to structure body paragraphs:

In EVERY paragraph, include (order can vary):

a. Evidence 

(1) What happened (context)

(2) Citations

b. Commentary

(1) Connect evidence to thesis


Evidence—on two levels: one, support your thesis with events that happened in the book (This is to show the context of your citations). Stay focused: don’t summarize the book unless it’s as evidence for an idea of yours.


Use citations (with page numbers) from the book. Try to blend them in with your context, by having quotes and context share sentences. For example:

Not blended: 
Janie’s images for romantic happiness come from nature. “Life should be more 
like a pear tree in bloom, she thinks.” (p. 67) She thinks this when she is unhappy in her relationships.

Because Janie’s image for romantic happiness comes from nature, she thinks, “Life should be more like a pear tree in bloom” (p. 67) when she is unhappy in her relationship.

Notice, in the examples above, how to punctuate around citations, and how to mark the page numbers. For marking page numbers, put (p. ___ ) in parentheses after the citation ends, and don’t follow it with a period or a comma; you already used your period or comma in the quote.


Commentary. Make sure that before or after each citation, you point out how it connects to the thesis. As with blending in quotes, you can do this with variety and finesse. (You don’t have to mention the word “thesis,” or say the term, “proves my point.”)



For as Long as We Both Shall Live…

Is love purely a feeling – or something more? If each person’s interpretation of love is unique, then how do we know what someone is saying when they say “I love you”? In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, we watch the romantic tragedy of the mysterious Jay Gatsby and beautiful Daisy Buchanan through the eyes of Nick, a common friend and young businessman. Their story would make anyone reconsider what love really means. Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby to show that in relationships, love or compassion does not necessarily imply a sense of commitment to a person, and vice versa.

Tom Buchanan is a grown up version of your typical high school jock. He’s big and strong, but no too smart. He’s married to Daisy, but is actively having an affair with a woman named Myrtle Wilson. This relationship is filled with irony: Daisy is beautiful and charming, while Myrtle is neither. It is also ironic that Tom still feels some sort of commitment to his wife, even while with Myrtle. At a party in Manhattan, when a drunken Myrtle cries out, “Daisy! Daisy! Daisy!... I’ll say it whenever I want to!” (p. 41) Tom actually gets so angry that he strikes her and breaks her nose. Even while choosing to be with Myrtle over his wife, he feels the need to protect his wife. It actually seems that he cares for both women, but does not feel committed to either.

This theme against commitment is not just connected with the main characters. Fitzgerald portrays it as the common behavior for many married couples during the 1920s, when the book is set. Nick, attending one of Gatsby’s elaborate parties, notices that “most of the remaining women were now having fights with men said to be their husbands.” (p. 56) One such husband “was talking with a curious intensity to a young actress, and his wife after attempting to laugh at the situation in a dignified and indifferent way broke down entirely and resorted to flank attacks…” (p. 56) Flirtation and even pursuit of other relationships, even in the presence of one’s spouse, is common in the world Fitzgerald creates. But why would someone cheat on the person they had vowed to love for eternity? It again brings up the point that their love and commitment do not always go hand in hand, so to speak.

The main affair that takes place in the book is between Daisy and Gatsby. Having been separated for years, their new time together is truly magical for both of them. Both Daisy and Tom attend a party at Gatsby’s home. Nick watches Gatsby and Daisy dance with each other: “I remembered being surprised by his graceful, conservative fox trot – I had never seen him dance before. Then they sauntered over to my house and sat on the steps for a half hour while at her request I remained watchfully in the garden…” (p. 112) Daisy leaves Tom for a long period of the evening to be with Gatsby, a man Tom doesn’t even know really anything about. Neither Gatsby nor Daisy appear to care much about the suspiciousness and bluntness of their behavior. This attitude intensifies later in the book when Gatsby is at Daisy’s, and as Tom leaves the room, “she got up and went over to Gatsby, and pulled his face down, kissing him on the mouth.” (p. 122) She is not afraid to show public affection toward Gatsby, even so close to her husband. This is because although she has vowed her commitment to her husband, she really seems to love Gatsby, and not Tom.

Finally, the love triangle has it out. Daisy confesses to Tom that she loves Gatsby, not him. And for a moment, it seems that Gatsby has won. He will keep Daisy. But then Gatsby insists on hearing that she never loved Tom – that, in effect, commitment and love can be entirely separate. She was committed to Tom, but always loved Gatsby. This is where Fitzgerald gets tricky with his theme: he doesn’t let commitment and love get entirely separated. Daisy admits she had once had feelings for Tom; she’d loved them both. “You loved me too?” (p. 133) Gatsby asks, looking as if he’d been punched in the stomach. It turns out, while love and commitment are not necessarily connected, keeping them entirely separated is like going outside and not getting dirty. You can’t count on it.

Later, Gatsby in the passenger seat, Daisy runs over Tom’s mistress, Myrtle, killing her. Gatsby says he’s willing to take the blame for her – “Of course I’ll say I was [driving],” he tells Nick. Yet despite a night-long vigil outside her window, he never gets so much as a thank you from her. In fact, he gets killed for his troubles, when Mr. Wilson takes his revenge – and she does not even attend his funeral. This was the man who, days earlier, she “loved.” She and Tom leave town, retreating into their “vast carelessness” and heading to “wherever rich people go to be together,” according to Nick’s bitter observations.

There is such a thing as commitment. Recently, thousands of people in New Orleans waited out floodings, lootings and other hardships out of a commitment to their sense of home. Similar sacrifices have been made since time began, by parents, soldiers, lovers and “saints.” But commitment needs an object – one is committed to something; to simply “be committed” is actually a euphemism for going crazy and getting sent to a mental institution! Daisy turned out to be committed not to love, in the end, but to her own riches and comfort. If you are to fall in love with someone, Fitzgerald is suggesting with Gatsby, you should make sure your lover is committed to you. Or else you are what Gatsby turned out to be – and what Daisy once said she hoped her daughter would be, in this cruel, noncommittal world: a fool.

Extra Help Problems


Try one of the following literary analysis activities on a story, poem, play, or novel of your choice. (For a list of recommended novels for your grade level, see http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/sr/readinglist.asp) Choose any three for which to find at least four strong examples from the text.


[Gender Issues] Consider the gender of the characters in your novel. How are male and female characters portrayed? How does the work portray their roles in society? How does gender influence the choices that are available to the characters and the decisions that they make? Write a paper that explores how gender affects the plot and character development in the novel.

[Positive/Negative Characters] In the novel that you've read, some of the characters are given positive, sympathetic portrayals. Others have negative, perhaps even villainous portrayals. Still others may begin with negative qualities and gradually become more and more positive. Rarely does an author rely on the reader's personal sense of morality to determine which characters are positive and which are negative. Instead, there are details, actions, and characteristics that help define who is "good" and who is "bad." It's easy to know the difference in old westerns — good guys wear white hats; bad guys wear black hats. But even then, there are other details that help you know what it going on, details that even help you construct hierarchies (e.g., slightly bad to fully evil). Think about your novel. How does the author indicate which characters are positive and which are negative? In your essay, explain how you can tell the difference.

[Dreams & Reality] Take a look at the characters in the novel that you've read. Each of the main characters in the novel is introduced to you with certain dreams, plans, and expectations. In the course of the novel, these main characters must come to terms with the difference between their dreams and the reality of the world around them. Write a paper on your novel that examines how the main characters navigate the journey from dreams to reality — What kind of course do they follow, and how are they changed for their journey?

[Realism and the Setting] Do a close examination of the setting in your novel. What are the primary locations? How are these places made realistic — how does the author use extended description, background information, and specific detail to make the setting come alive for readers? How do the main characters fit in the settings — do they seem at home? out of place? How do their reactions and interactions with the setting affect the realism of the locations? In your paper, discuss the way that the techniques that the novelist uses to make the setting vivid and real to readers, and the extent to which these techniques are effective.

[Literary I-Search] Find a single significant detail in your novel. Look for a specific passage, a pivotal event, or an important symbol. Find something that grabs your interest and that you want to examine carefully. For your paper, investigate your detail completely — Make it your own. Learn everything you can about it. Why is it there in the story? How does it relate to the particular scene in the novel? How is it important to the overall theme or plot? Write a paper that explains your personal search to understand the detail, beginning from the moment that the detail grabbed you and working toward your analysis of details and its relationship to the novel.

[Setting & Characters] Consider the relationship between the characters and the setting for your novel. Think about the way that the characters are described, their characteristics, the conflicts that they face, the actions they take, and their emotional reactions. Compare these qualities to the setting — to the way that it is described, to the particular things that are described, and to the words that are used to describe the place(s) where the novel takes place. In your paper, explain how the setting of the novel is representative (or not) of the characters. 

[Title] How does the title of the novel that you've read relate to the novel itself? Is the title descriptive? somewhat of a moral for the novel? a statement of the theme? something else altogether? Why has the writer chosen this title over other possibilities? In your paper, analyze the relationship between title and novel, paying attention to the reasons that the title highlights something that the author wants readers to know or come to understand about the novel.

[Class Issues] Think about the role that social class plays in the novel that you've read. What social classes are represented in the novel? To what extent is each class depicted? Are all the classes given equal representation? How do the classes shown in the novel relate to the classes that realistically existed in the time and place where the novel takes place? As you go through your novel, consider two important questions: how does the author feel about the different social classes, and how can you tell the author's opinion? Write a paper that explores the way that social class and class issues affect the characters and plot of your novel.

[Passion to Write] In The Tale of the Genji, Murasaki Shikibu said that the novel "happens because the storyteller's own experience of men and things, whether for good or ill—not only what he has passed through himself, but even events which he has only witnessed or been told of—has moved him to an emotion so passionate that he can no longer keep it shut up in his heart." What is the passionate emotion that is communicated in your novel? Why was the author of your novel moved to write? What is the thing that the novelist had to communicate? In your paper, explain the author's motivating emotion and how it is explored in the novel.


Questions for Analyzing Poetry

How would you describe the poem's speaker (sometimes called the persona or the voice)? (The speaker may be different from the author.) What tone or emotion do you detect--for instance, anger, affection, sarcasm? Does the tone change during the poem?

What is the structure of the poem? Are there stanzas (groups of lines separated by space)? If so, how is the thought related to the stanzas?

What is the theme of the poem: what is it about? Is the theme stated or implied?

What images do you find--evocations of sight, sound, taste, touch, or smell? Is there a surprising pattern of images--say, images of business in a poem about love? What does the poem suggest symbolically as well as literally?


Questions for Analyzing Drama

What kinds of conflict are in the play? How are the conflicts resolved? Is the resolution satisfying to you?

How trustworthy are the characters when they describe themselves or others? Do some characters serve as foils, or contrasts, for other characters, thus helping to define the other characters? Do the characters change as the play proceeds? Are the characters' motivations convincing?

What do you make of the setting, or location? Does it help to reveal character or theme?

Do certain costumes (dark suits, shawls, stiff collars) or properties (books, pictures, candlesticks) strike you as symbolic?

If a film has been made of the play, what has been added? What has been omitted?

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