Literature Response

Why are we doing this?

  • Being aware of literary elements will increase your appreciation and enjoyment of literature!
  • Learning "the art of questioning" will serve you well in all academic areas. Many people feel that asking good questions is more important than the answers.
  • Literature Circle Skills: Lit Circles are a way for you and your classmates to discuss and connect with literature on your own, and are good pracrice for adult "Book Clubs," which give joy to many a grown-up.
  • Being able to respond to literature in a number of ways, formulate questions, and develop your own interpretations will help you discuss books with others in an erudite way!

Learning Targets:

  • I can define the following literary elements and identify them in my reading: plot, setting, conflict, use of time (flashback, foreshadowing), characterization, imagery, symbolism, theme, mood, tone, person, point of view, author's style.
  • I can formulate different types of discussion questions as I read - comprehension, interpretive, and philosophical.
  • I can develop my own interpretations of literature.
  • I can keep track of my questions and responses to literature by annotation, keeping a literature response journal, or using sticky notes.
  • Literature Circle Skills: I can fulfill the following "roles" in lit circle reading and discussion: summarizer, discussion director, connector, powerful passage picker, literary luminary, etc.
  • I can write literary analyses in which I discuss literary elements, back up my claims by quoting from the text, and explain my own reactions to and interpretations of literature.


Lit Response Journal

  • Write at least a page a week.
  • Writing must show evidence that you read or listened to the required text.
  • Writing must include 1) a discussion question, 2) a personal response, and 3) discussion of a literary element (see below). (This is the "default option," unless something else has been assigned.)
  • Text must be quoted; preferably for each of your three points, but at least once.
  • Challenge yourself; stretch your thinking. Do not make the same type of comment week after week.

1) Discussion question. Remember these need to be:
  • Open-ended (can't be answered by "yes" or "no")
  • Purposeful (considering the question will help classmates think more deeply about the reading or a philosophical issue)

  • Interpretive (the text supports more than one reasonable answer) Ex. "Why did the character (do something)?" "What is the significance of ...?"
  • Evaluative / Philosphical / Essential (related to beliefs, values or societal controversies raised by the book) Ex. "Is it necessary to take risks - as Jack did - to grow up?"

2) Personal response (scroll down for explanations):
  • Connections
  • Vocabulary
  • Powerful passages
  • Feelings
  • Learning
  • Effects on your life
  • Research
  • General reaction
  • Factual or "don't get it" questions

3) Literary Elements. (scroll down for explanations):
  • Genre
  • Setting - if implied, what are the clues?
  • Person & Point of View
  • Plot, Conflict or Use of Time
  • Mood or Tone
  • Characterization
  • Quotation
  • Imagery
  • Symbolism or Motif
  • Author's craft
  • Figurative Language (see "Literary Terms" page)
  • Theme


Book Club Questions

  • Lit Lovers book club site has terrific generic lists of questions for any book Teen Questions or Adult Questions
  • "One Book" is a project of the San Diego Library in which they're trying to get the entire city to read a selected book each month; they also have an excellent guide with questions One Book


Characteristics of questions:
  • "Open-ended vs. Closed - open-ended questions cannot be answered with "yes" or "no"; closed questions can
  • "High-Consensus vs. Low-Consensus" (or "convergent" vs. "divergent") - a high-consensus or convergent question is one to which most people would give the same answer; a low-consensus or divergent question is one to which there are many possible answers or perspectives, and not necessarily any "right" or "wrong." Low consensus questions promote critical and creative thinking.
  • Purposeful, relevant, thoughtful - considering the question will help classmates think more deeply about the reading or a philosophical issue.

Types of questions:
  • Factual - based on something knowable or observable; there is a right and wrong answer
  • Comprehension - related to understanding what is happening in a story; well enough to be able to summarize the plot
  • Interpretive - related to different interpretations of the story - the text supports more than one reasonable answer to this type of question. The question could relate to a character's motivation, relationships between characters, etc. Ex. "Why did (main character) do ..." "What is the significance of _?" Definitions from Great Books Foundation Great Books
  • Philosophical (also called evaluative or essential questions) - related to values or controversial issues that have been raised by the book. (Though discussion may center more on the values, beliefs and expriences of participants than to the text.) Ex. "Is it necessary to take risks - as Jack did - in order to grow up?" "Is euthanasia ever justified?" "What does it mean to be a friend?" See the library's "Opposing Viewpoints" database (website link is on the Persuasive Writing page) for a list of controversial issues. See this site for lots of material about Essential Questions, plus many more question types (scroll up to click on grid of questions near the top) Essential
  • Socratic - questions designed to reveal errors in another person's reasoning or beliefs, or expose logical fallacies.
  • Bloom's Taxonomy - questions can be based on this model of knowledge - comprehension - application - analysis - synhesis - evaluation Bloom's

Personal Response explanations


  • Personal Connections: text-to-self. "This reminds me of ... (an experience you've had or someone you've known)"
  • Book, TV or Movie Connections: text-to-text. "This reminds me of another book I read ..."
  • Subject Connections: text-to-world. "This reminds me of ..... that we read about in history class." or "This reminds me of ..... that I learned from Dad's friend."

Vocabulary. Devote the first few pages of your Literature Response Journal to ongoing lists of vocabulary. Use this three-column format:

  • Word (unfamiliar word) - 1st column
  • Guess (guess the definition from the context) - 2nd column
  • Check (look up the word in the dictionary - write a short definition of synonym) - 3rd column


  • Does the reading make you feel glad, sad, mad or scared? Or any of the other endless varieties of feelings? Why?

Powerful Passages

  • Cite a passage that you find particularly interesting, insightful, powerful, moving, well-written, funny, puzzling controversial or descriptive, and why you find it so.

General Reactions

  • Do you love or hate this book? Why? Does it make you feel enthusiastic, angry, or anything else? Why? Be sure to give reasons.


  • What are you learning from this reading? Discuss either factual or cultural information, or something about people, life or yourself.

Effects on Your Life

  • Reading a book can be such a powerful experience that our lives or ways of thinking may be changed forever. Do you feel that way about this book? Are you learning about people, events or conditions you never knew existed? Has the book inspired you to be a better person? Has it caused you to have a dream you didn't have before? Has it simply given you joy by entertaining you?
Comprehension Questions
  • Is there something you're not understanding? Go ahead and ask! (a classmate may be able to answer it)

Research. Do a web search on anything that the book makes you curious about. Answer some of your own factual questions. Some examples:

  • Author - biography of, other books he or she has written.
  • Places mentioned in the book.
  • Historic events described in the book.

Literary Element definitions

Genre external image msword.png [[file/view/Genres.doc|Genres.doc]]


  • Time & Place
  • Stated or Implied

Person. Who is telling the story?

  • First person. The narrator is one of the characters in the story. "I did this, I did that."
  • Second person. Rarely used.
  • Third person. The narrator is outside of the story. "He did this, she did that."

Point-of-View. Whose inner thoughts and feelings are being described? In first person, the point-of-view is that of the narrator. In third person, there are two possible points of view:

  • Limited - the narrator describes the thoughts and feelings of one character only.
  • Omniscient - the narrator describes the thoughts and feelings of all characters.

Plot: Plot Map

  • Setting
  • Problem or Challenge
  • Suspense / Complications (rising action)
  • Climax
  • Resolution (falling action)
  • Ending

Conflict type:

  • Person vs. Person
  • Person vs. Self
  • Person vs. Nature
  • Person vs. Society

Use of Time

  • Foreshadowing
  • Flashbacks


  • Reader's emotional response to a book. Usually one descriptive and emotional word. Examples: Scary, tragic, merry, dark, comical. See "Tone & Mood Man" Man and "Tone & Mood Words" Words
  • Author's attitude toward the story and readers, conveyed by the author's style. Tone

Characterization - the way an author indirectly reveals a character's personality and character traits through describing his outer person, inner person and social person.

  • Round (dynamic) vs. Flat (static). Round characters are fully developed, and change and grow throughout the book. Flat characters are like "props" for the round characters. They are less developed and don't change.
  • Inner character - thoughts, feelings, and character traits.
  • Outer character - appearance and actions.
  • Social character - how does the character relate to others? How do others react to him or her?
  • Change - how does the character change and grow? This is the point of most books.
  • What virtues and talents are your characters displaying? There are endless varieties of virtues.
  • What vices or flaws are the characters displaying or struggling with? Unfortunately there are an endless variety of character flaws too!


  • Something stated by a character, the narrator or author that you feel says something important about a character, the story or life.


  • Descriptive passages that create vivid word pictures or "mind movies" in the reader's mind


  • Something in the story stands for something else, which affects the reader subconsciously, and adds to the mood, impact or message of the story. Symbols stand for abstract ideas. Anything can be symbolic: the name of a person or place, colors, the weather, an object ...


  • Motifs are recurring events, ideas or literary devices that help develop the book's theme.

Author's Craft.

  • What is unique about this book? Examples: surprise endings, extensive dialogue.
  • What do you notice as far as metaphor, similes, personification, etc.?
  • What is the author's message?
  • This should be written as a single sentence that states a truth about human behavior.
  • You don't have to agree wtih it. but describe what the author is trying to demonstrate.

Theme (second definition)
  • The word "theme" is also used to mean "universal themes," or important issues in life that are common to all people or large groups of people
  • A common topic of literary analysis is to compare how universal themes are treated in different books.

Creative book projects – individual

1. Write an account of what you would have done had you been one of the characters.
2. Pretend you are the main character and retell the story.
3. What Did You Learn? Each student writes a summary of what he or she learned from a book just completed. The summary might include factual information, something learned about people in general, or something the student learned about himself or herself.
4. Tell what way this book has added to your life. What has it taught you? Did you discover anything about yourself or other people by reading this book? Be specific!
5. Write about the most interesting part of the book.

Creative book projects – do individually or in a pair or small group

1. Turn a favorite scene into Reader’s Theater
2. Compare the book to the TV or Movie version of the book (get together with your group to watch it after reading the book)
3. Compare book to a movie related to the same subject, ex. Lord of the Flies to Castaway. What are three common themes? How do they differ?
4. Find a song or a poem that relates to the theme of your book. Explain the similarities.
5. List five of the main characters from the book you read. Give three examples of what each character learned or did not learn in the book.
6. Write a parody of the book.
7. Write a scene that could have happened in the book you read but didn't. After you have written the scene, explain how it would have changed the outcome of the book.
8. Write a different ending for the book.
9. You are a prosecuting attorney putting one of the characters from the book you read on trial for a crime or misdeed. Prepare your case on paper, giving all your arguments.
10. Do the previous activity, but find a buddy to help you. One of you becomes the prosecuting attorney; the other is the defense. If you can't find a buddy, you could try it on your own.
11. Write about one of the character's life twenty years from now. Maybe tell it from the character’s point of view – how his experiences during the book affected his life to come.
12. Select one character from the book you read who has the qualities of a heroine or hero. List these qualities and tell why you think they are heroic.
13. Write a paragraph telling about the title. Is it appropriate? Why? Why not? Decide on an alternate title for the book. Why is it appropriate? Is it better than the one the book has now? Why or Why not? (this is short and would need to be in addition to another of these assignments)
14. Prepare a monologue from the story.
15. Exaggerate either characteristics or events and write a tabloid-style news story related to your book.
16. You have been asked by the chairman of your political party to nominate some of the characters for high government positions. Tell which one would make the best president, governor, judge and ambassador. Explain the reasons for your choices and don’t take age into consideration. If some are unfit for any offices, explain why.
17. You have been asked by one of the main people in your book to write a letter of recommendation for him/her for a college admissions committee. Describe good and bad points as honestly as possible.
18. Write about 3-5 artifacts (objects) that were central to the story.
19. Transform the major characters in your book to animals. Decide upon an animal for each based upon personality traits. Write a letter to each telling why he/she is similar to the animal selected.
20. Make a list of 10 or 15 rules that the main character in the book lives by. Compare this to a list of rules that other people want him/her to live by. In what ways is he/she being forced to conform? In what ways is he/she rebelling.
21. Make a list of at least ten proverbs or familiar sayings. Now decide which characters in the book you read should have followed the suggestions in the familiar sayings and why.
22. Choose any topic from your book and write a 1-2 page research report on it. Include a one paragraph explanation as to how it applies to your book (not in the paper itself--on your "title page.")
23. Write and perform an original song that tells the story of the book.
24. Complete a series of five drawings that show five of the major events in the plot of the book you read. Write captions for each drawing so that the illustrations can be understood by someone who did not read the book.
25. Write a comic book version of your book.
26. Make a collage that represents major characters and events in the book you read, or the mood or theme. Use pictures and words cut from magazines in your collage.
27. Create a Flash game with quiz questions about plot, characters, etc.

28. Compare and contrast two of the book's characters who are alike in some ways but different in others.

Close reading

Online Study Guides

Literary Criticism

  • Burris Summary of different approaches to literary criticism
  • Fletcher How to study and judge literature


  • AP Essays AP literary analysis essay prompts from 1970 to 2009 - for those who would like a challenge
Optional: comment for page history

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