A great text for introducing analysis

Disclaimer: this is a non-Covid-19 post; I needed a break from it and from re-planning and re-organizing, though I’m sure some of it is adaptable to remote learning activities.

I’ve been using the following passage from The Sport of Kings by CE Morgan ever since I read it because it gets so many things right and it has so many uses in the work we do of urging our students to become more thoughtful consumers of information. The passage is stripped of context and can stand alone as one person’s argument:

I like to use a pretty simple frame to work through analysis with students: we start by figuring out what the text says or claims, we consider how it’s said, then we formulate our opinion or response to the text.

What she says: an argument for analysis

This is a perfect first-day-of-class reading to establish the kind of mindset we want students to have. It provides a language to come back to (avoid “the quick easy answer” and don’t sleepwalk) and sets a lofty goal. I’ve been using the text to introduce our analysis unit because Morgan defines the need for analysis so clearly–for slowing down to think and notice and not just consume. She essentially establishes the problem–our sleepwalking culture–and tees up the mental work of analysis as the solution. It’s a great way to set up why analysis matters in the big scheme of things, and why it should matter to us individually.

Once students understand her claims and position, we move on to noticing how the ideas are built.

How she says it: a chance to practice analysis

This passage is short but offers good entry points for discussing the choices authors make. For example:

  • Students can pinpoint the two most interesting words in the passage.
  • They can define the tone of the passage (and which word choices contribute).
  • They can identify the claims she makes, then argue the validity.
  • They can discuss and debate what elements are left out of the argument.

What do we say?: our response

I like the progression of moving from what an author says and how they say it to considering what we think about it. Once we have accurately interpreted or analyzed the message we can better decide if or how to consume it. This small excerpt can work as a mentor text by using a couple of different starters:

  • ask students to replace “sleepwalking” with a different metaphor to describe their culture
  • use the sentence frame “America has no greater ill than…”

The text could also be used to respond in an argumentative essay or students could write a short analytical paragraph. You can add a Covid-19 connection here…maybe something about whether or not Americans are mindlessly consuming Covid-19 coverage. Are we settling for easy answers?

A final idea is to use this text at the end of the year as a way to evaluate the course. Do students feel like our reading, thinking, and writing experiences have made them more awake? Have they been equipped with tools to think longer and harder, to become choosers and not merely receivers? Are they truly independent readers? 

Nathan Coates teaches junior English at Mason High School, a large suburban district near Cincinnati, Ohio. He is currently reading the second book in the Wrinkle in Time quintet aloud to his kids while they are practicing social distancing.

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