Monthly Archives: February 2016

Literary Analysis – A Habit of Mind (or ‘Spidey-Sense)?

I introduced A Level Language and Literature a number of years ago and initially found it a liitle difficult to adjust to. I had always taught A Level Literature and the close, forensic analysis (stylistics) required by this new syllabus demanded a mental gear shift, which my education had not prepared me for. There followed a crash course in grammar, with which I had only a passing aquaintance, and linguistics, which strengthened my teaching not just KS5, but at every Key Stage and all ability levels.

However, this new found knowledge was not in itself enough. In order to become competent in stylistic analysis, it was necessary to cultivate what I have come to think of as ‘analytical habits of mind’ and, over the years, these habits have become ingrained. The trouble is that having achieved a level of expertise (at least relative to my starting point), I found it hard to break down the steps I took each time I analysed a sentence. In the early days, I would encourage pupils to ‘use their Spidey-sense.’ When reading a text, if their ‘spidey-sense’ tingled, they were to identify the source of the ‘tingling’ and then attempt to explain what caused the sensation, using the language of stylistic analysis. (I know. Don’t judge me)!

Needless to say, I soon realised that I was not teaching little, literary metal detectors. I had to find a new approach.

My solution was to encourage the development of this analytical habit of mind in my pupils, so that thinking about the mechanics of the sentence they had just read became second nature.

The first step, of course, was a crash course in lexis, grammar, semantics and phonology. The next step was to break down the processes of analysis and the final step was ‘practice’ and lots of it.

In order to break down the processes of analysis and to scaffold practive I made flow charts and I thought I’d share them with you. I have called them Mr. Lynn’s Analytical Engines and in my mind they are 3D and would not look out of place in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. The reality is a little more mundane. The first includes a worked example. The second is intended for pupils to use to process their chosen quotations.

Mr Lynn's Analytical EngineClick here for the full sized PDF Mr Lynn’s Analytical Engine

Mr Lynn's Analytical Engine Minus ExampleClick here for the full sized PDF Mr Lynn’s Analytical Engine Minus Example

Please, comment if you feel that I am wrong in my analysis or application of grammatical terms. I love to talk about stylistics and I am always learning. Please let me know if you have found interesting ways in which to encourage pupils to engage with theh close analysis of texts.