Tutorial on How to Write a
Response to Literature Essay
Ms. Carole LeCren
La Jolla High School
2002-2003
Writing to the Standards
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Find a standard that interests you.
Find a standard that expresses some of the
ideas you were already writing about in
your journal while you read the book.
In short, find the book you have read that
matches a standard, or, find a standard that
matches the book you want to write about.
The Standards
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There are three sets of standards:
 Structural features of literature
 Narrative analysis of grade-levelappropriate text
 Literary criticism
Structural Features of Literature
3.1
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Articulate the relationship between
the expressed purposes and the
characteristics of different forms
of dramatic literature (e.g.,
comedy, tragedy, drama, dramatic
monologue).
3.2
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Compare and contrast the
presentation of a similar theme or
topic across genres to explain how
the selection of genre shapes the
theme or topic.
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Both of these standards require that
you read more than one piece of
literature.

3.1 is good for drama students.
3.2 is good for students who like to
read lots of different things about the
same topic or theme.
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For 3.1, you need to read more than one
type of play. For instance, you could read a
comedy and a tragedy by Shakespeare, and
then compare/contrast the characteristics of
those types of plays and the expressed
purpose that occurred in those plays. For
those of you who have to read plays for
drama, this is a good possibility for you.
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For 3.2, you need to read several pieces of
literature about a similar theme or topic, for
instance, losing family members at a young
age. The genres of the pieces have to be
different (a poem, a novel, a play, etc.).
Then, in your essay, you would
compare/contrast how the different genres
presented the theme or topic. You would
also need to discuss how a particular genre,
for instance, maybe poetry, is better at
presenting a particular topic or theme than
another genre might be.
Narrative Analysis of GradeLevel-Appropriate Text
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These standards are the ones that cover the
types of essays you are most familiar with:
essays that analyze the way a book is put
together.
Most of you write journal entries on these
types of topics, so it should be easy to find
journal entries that match one of the
following standards.
•
On the other hand, if your journal entries
are mostly plot summaries, you may want
to take a closer look at these standards and
consider changing how you write journal
entries to help you focus on the type of
information requested by these standards.
3.3 Analyze interactions between main and
subordinate characters in a literary text (e.g.,
internal and external conflicts, motivations,
relationships, influences) and explain the way
those interactions affect the plot.
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This standard focuses on characterization,
so if you like to write about characters, and
how the interaction between characters
changes or drives the plot, then this is the
standard for you!
3.4 Determine characters' traits by what the
characters say about themselves in narration,
dialogue, dramatic monologue, and soliloquy.
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What are character traits? They are similar
to personality traits--emotions or actions
that cause people to be who they are and
act the way they do. Most authors do not
spell out the personality of a character:
“She was paranoid, rude, evil, and obsessed
with money.” Instead, the author lets you
come to that conclusion after you see how
she acts in the book.
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This standard is simply asking you to find
out the traits of a character based on what
the author has put in the book, either in the
narration (the descriptive storyline), the
dialogue (what the character says, or what
other characters say about him/her, or what
the character says about him/herself.
3.5 Compare works that express a universal
theme and provide evidence to support the ideas
expressed in each work.
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This is a standard that also requires you to
read more than one piece of literature.
If you’ve read a few books that have the
same theme, for instance, 1984 and Brave
New World and The Giver, then this essay
asks you to provide evidence (quotes from
the text, plot, etc.) that explain/support the
theme.
3.6 Analyze and trace an author's development
of time and sequence, including the use of
complex literary devices (e.g., foreshadowing,
flashbacks).
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This standard is good for a book that plays
with the timing in the plot. Like The
Odyssey, which starts in the middle of the
story and then flashes back to the
beginning, any book that doesn’t tell the
plot in chronological order is a possibility
for this standard.
3.7 Recognize and understand the significance
of various literary devices, including figurative
language, imagery, allegory, and symbolism, and
explain their appeal.
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This standard covers any literary device
you can think of, not just the four listed
here. So you can include essays analyzing
characterization, or plot, or theme, or
metaphors, or anything else you can find in
a list of literary devices.
3.8 Interpret and evaluate the impact of
ambiguities, subtleties, contradictions, ironies,
and incongruities in a text.
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For those of you who like to read novels
that are a little unusual, crazy, modern, etc.
this is the standard that you could use to
focus on the use of language and the
structure of the plot.
3.9 Explain how voice, persona, and the choice
of a narrator affect characterization and the tone,
plot, and credibility of a text.
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This is a good standard if your book has a
strong narrator with a voice you can “hear”
as you read.
The standard asks you to discuss HOW the
narrator affects the characters, and affects
the storyline and how believable the story
is.
3.10 Identify and describe the function of
dialogue, scene designs, soliloquies, asides, and
character foils in dramatic literature.
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This is another standard that is good for
those of you who like to read plays, or who
must read plays for drama class.
Although it says “and” in this standard, you
could probably focus your essay on just
one of the techniques listed.
Literary Criticism
3.11 Evaluate the aesthetic qualities of style,
including the impact of diction and figurative
language on tone, mood, and theme, using the
terminology of literary criticism. (Aesthetic
approach)
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This standard is more appropriate for
Advanced Placement English (11th grade)
where students analyze the choice of words
by an author, but if you feel ready to talk
about a book word by word, then feel free
to try it.
3.12 Analyze the way in which a work of
literature is related to the themes and issues of its
historical period. (Historical approach)
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This one seems to be popular for students
who read books set in historical time
periods, especially the Holocaust.
In this type of essay, you must be familiar
(and may even need to research) the history
of the time period, in order to be able to
compare it to the themes in the literature.
Writing the Response to
Literature Essay
Writing the Essay
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After you pick a standard to use as your
writing prompt, then you need to prepare to
write the essay.
Pre-Write
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Re-read your journal entries.
See if any of them give you ideas to go
with one of the standards.
Notice that if you have not been quoting
from the text of your novel, you may want
to start doing that in the future, in order to
give you some helpful material to use in
your essay.
Write Your Thesis
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After you have chosen the book and chosen
the standard, take a close look at what the
standard is asking you to do.
Think of the standard as a question, and
your thesis as the answer.
Write your thesis stating it as the answer to
the question in the standard.
Example of a Thesis
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Standard 3.5 Compare works that express
a universal theme and provide evidence to
support the ideas expressed in each work.
Thesis: The universal theme of a society
gone wrong is clearly expressed in 1984 by
George Orwell and Brave New World by
Aldous Huxley, through the use by each
author of strong characters and a futuristic
plot.
Introduction
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Writing the introduction is simply a matter
of leading your reader to your thesis.
Introducing the concept, the idea, the
things that writers do, etc. until you get
down to specifics is one way of starting an
introduction. Another way is to use a quote
from the book that capture the idea or
evidence that you are planning to present.
Example of an Introduction
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Many authors like to explore the possibilities, the “what
ifs” and the outcomes for the future that could happen to
our planet. Some of these writers express such ideas in
science fiction. But other authors have another agenda: to
warn us of what might happen if we don’t watch out. By
setting their books in futuristic settings and giving their
characters strong voices, they are not trying to predict the
future, but instead portray how horrible the future might
be if we don’t watch what we are doing.
The universal theme of a society gone wrong is clearly
expressed in 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New
World by Aldous Huxley, through the use by each author
of strong characters and a futuristic plot.
The Body
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With a clear thesis, the body of your essay
simply follows the blueprint set out by the
thesis.
Where do you think you would go with this
thesis?
The universal theme of a society gone wrong is clearly expressed in
1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley,
through the use by each author of strong characters and a futuristic
plot.
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Introduce 1984 by George Orwell
Introduce the strong character and the futuristic
plot
Point out how the universal theme is explained by
these two elements: character and plot
Introduce Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Introduce the strong characters and the futuristic
plot
Point out how the universal theme is explained by
these two elements: character and plot
Conclusion
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With the previous six paragraphs mapped out for
you, all you need is a conclusion.
A conclusion should restate the idea presented in
the introduction.
It should make or restate some of the most
important points you made.
It should not introduce any new ideas that you
thought of while you were writing--if you want to
include those, you should rewrite the essay to
include them, or save them for another essay.
That’s It!
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Now go out there and try it!
Works Cited
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Standards from the California English
Language Arts Standards
http://www.cde.ca.gov
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Tutorial on How to Write a Response to Literature Essay