Writing and reading analytically

Writing and reading analytically

As you progress through your secondary English studies, you will need to develop your ability to think and write analytically about texts. In this post, Insight writer and EAL teacher Michael E. Daniel looks at some practical ways you can improve your analytical skills.

While Year 12 is still a few years away, this is the perfect time to develop the analytical skills that will help you to achieve a positive outcome in your final year of English study. You do not need to be a genius to get a good study score for English. All you need is to be committed to study and to work consistently.


Practising wide reading

One of the best ways to hone and practise your analytical skills is through regular wider reading; that is, by continuing a pattern of reading books that you developed in your primary and junior secondary years. By reading regularly, even reading for enjoyment, you are developing your critical-thinking abilities. When reading for pleasure, choose the sorts of books that most interest you, regardless of whether they are considered ‘literary’ or the sorts of texts you might study in your English class. For example, if you’re a big football fan, read books about footballers. It is never too late to become an enthusiastic reader, or to restart the habit if you have become an irregular reader.

Finding time to read for pleasure can be a challenge for many students once they reach Years 9 and 10 because school and life become a lot busier. The best way to maintain your practice of wider reading is to set aside a period each day just to read, such as before you go to bed, even if it is only for 15 minutes.


Reading and discussing your set texts

You will most likely study three or four texts this year in English. These could include novels, plays, films and possibly other types of multimodal texts such as graphic novels. When studying a set text, it is best to read it through once before you begin discussing it in class. This is called a ‘familiarisation reading’. As the name suggests, in this first reading (or viewing, if you are studying a film) you will be familiarising yourself with the plot or storyline, the characters and some of the main ideas.

Make sure you read the section or sections of the text that you will be studying in a class the evening before. Make annotations in the margins of your text and note down anything you think is significant. Write down any questions you have about the text so you can raise them in class – this will help you to clarify important information, as well to contribute to class discussions. Never be afraid to ask questions. Chances are that if you are uncertain about something in the text, other students will be as well.

During class, pay attention to others’ ideas and aim to contribute your own thoughts when you can. This will help you to develop your own interpretation of the text. If a passage from the text is read during class, have the book open to the page. Note down as many points as possible, including what is written on the board and any points that come up during discussion. Underline any significant quotes that your teacher or other students draw your attention to.

While you are not required to display the depth of knowledge and understanding of a text that a Year 12 student might, study guides on your text might also help to deepen your understanding. However, they are not a substitute for reading the text yourself, thinking carefully about the text you are studying and forming your own ideas about it.


Taking notes

Learn to be an active reader. If you simply read or view a text, you retain about 10% of the information. The moment you start writing down ideas, your retention increases to about 35%. After you read each chapter (or read/view each scene of a play or film), jot down a dot-point summary in a notebook or on your computer. It will also be helpful to write down significant quotes.

When you have finished reading through and discussing the text in class, you will have consolidated your knowledge of characters, themes, values and structural features. As part of your homework, review the notes you made in class and add to them if any new ideas have occurred to you.

It is also useful to organise your notes into categories. For example, under the heading ‘Characters’, you might create profiles of the main characters and any important minor characters. Using dot points, note the main attributes of each character, the significant things that happen to them and the ways in which they develop over the course of the text. You might also like to draw a diagram mapping the relationships between the characters. Under the heading ‘Themes’, you might jot down the major themes in the text and relevant information about plot and characters. You should also record key quotes relating to each theme.


Planning a text response essay

All of your thinking, discussing and note-taking on the text will help form the basis of your written response. You should begin by making a plan. A common mistake students make when writing a text response essay is that they do not plan their response carefully enough.

When you first view the topic, think carefully about what it is asking. Check the meaning of any unfamiliar words in your dictionary and try to restate the essay topic in your own words.

Brainstorm any ideas you have about the text that relate to the essay topic by writing them onto a piece of paper. Put similar ideas and information near each other. For each main idea, identify an example from the text you could use as supporting evidence.

Once you have completed your brainstorm, read over your notes and decide what your point of view will be in response to the essay topic. This is your contention. Write it down in a single sentence. Select the three or four best ideas and examples from your brainstorm and number them from most important to least important. These will form the basis of your paragraphs. Next, write topic sentences that concisely state the main idea in each paragraph.

You should now be ready to write your essay. Good luck!


Need help getting to grips with one of your set texts? Each of our Insight Text Guides provides a clear, comprehensive analysis of a text, including chapter-by-chapter analysis, discussion of characters and relationships, in-depth analysis of themes, practice essay topics and much more! Head to our website to view our list of Insight Text Guide titles.

Insight Text Guides are produced by Insight Publications, an independent Australian educational publisher.


Image credit: fizkes/shutterstock

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