Using Textual Analysis to Aid Interpretation

Sometimes students have a hard time moving beyond a literal answer, especially when a story offers a literal reason for a metaphorical part of the text. Textual analysis can help students understand the significance of a passage and delve more deeply into why a character has certain reactions or behaviors.

Begin by asking students to identify the confusing passage, reading it aloud, and reviewing the context by asking what happens. Thinking of textual analysis as a mini-discussion of a short passage can help you keep it purposeful and dynamic. In working through the passage try not to ask isolated questions without regard to the interpretive issues you’re pursuing in the larger discussion. Lend coherence to the exploration by keeping the interpretive context in mind and asking questions about the passage in an order that make interpretive sense to you.

If students have trouble understanding the passage, perhaps because of unfamiliar vocabulary, use a factual question as an entry to an interpretive one. For example, you might need to help them visualize a scene by asking, “What is a _______?” A natural follow-up question, “How does (the character) feel when she is ___­­­­­____”? will enable students to make connections between a world they don’t completely understand and a character’s feelings.

Also consider questions that help students visualize what the characters are saying or doing. Listening to their responses will help you better determine what they’re struggling to understand and formulate follow-up question that will unlock their confusion. Asking students to put themselves into a character’s place can help them understand the character’s feelings and draw inference to what they think the passage means.

Textual analysis shouldn’t be a boring mechanical exercise for students. By keeping it purposeful and coherent you’ll help students see through the outer cloak of facts and into the interpretive heart of a passage.

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