Once students enter the upper grades of primary school and all through high school, they are expected to think more critically about the texts they are reading rather than just recalling basic information and restating the obvious. More often than not, they are required to demonstrate this high order thinking by writing essays.
Wang et al. (2017) suggest three strategies for helping students develop this skill.
The table to the side outlines common areas of weakness and effective feedback that can be provided to help students focus more critically on writing analytically.
Show how individual events, setting, characters or character’s actions are related.
Help students to focus on the cause and effect of elements in the story by asking, “How does _____ make the character feel?” or “Why does______ influence the character’s actions?” or “How does the character change over the course of the story?” or “How does _______ relate to the bigger theme of the story?”
The following sentence templates may be a useful starting point:
The ________ (setting) causes _______ (character) to __________.
_______(character) feels ________ because _________.
________(character) ________ (describe action) because ________.
Compare and contrast events, characters or settings. This requires moving past focusing on the elements that are clearly visible and obvious and considering implied similarities and differences that are not explicitly stated in the text.
Help students consider larger ideas by prompting them to focus on the form or function of particular features or elements. For example, “What features do two plants or animals have in common that enable them to survive in a particular environment?” or “Why do two plants or animals have different features that help protect them from enemies?”
Identify the theme. Again, this requires students to think beyond what has been explicitly written and to determine a generally applicable (but often abstract) concept about life.
Help students identify themes by asking, “Who was the main character? What was his/her problem or how did they first appear to others? What did the character do or how was the character actually different to how they first appeared? What key events happened to the character throughout the story and what did he/she do?” It is also useful to ask students to apply the theme to a real-life or personal experience.
The following sentence template may be a useful starting point:
_______(character) learned that he/he should (not) _________.
Wang, E., Matsumura, L.C., & Correnti, R. (2017). Written Feedback to Support Students’ Higher Level Thinking About Texts in Writing. The Reading Teacher. doi: 10.1002/trtr.1584