Analyzing Short Stories

Thursday, January 5, 2012

My ninth grade son will be doing a unit on famous short stories this month for his literature studies.  I spent part of Christmas break setting up the unit. I am planning on having him read about 10 stories and then discussing them with him.  Short stories are great because, well, they are short!  You can really analyze a story in depth since you haven't had to spend all that time reading.  Here are some tips on how to do literature analysis with you high schooler using a short story:

-Read the story!  Depending on length it could take a few short minutes or a half hour to read a short story.  By doing this you get to see what is important in the piece of literature and make a decision on what you will focus on with your student.

-Go online a briefly read about the life of the author.  Create a few important questions that your student can research about the author like...
When did the author live?
What country is he/she from?
What experiences in his/her life influenced his or her writing?
What significant historical events took place during his/her lifetime that might of influenced the stories?

-Create a list of questions to discuss with your student.  There are three main types of questions that I use (see below for examples):

Plot line questions (To verify that the student understands what happened in the story)
Analysis questions (Questions that analyze the characters, setting, literary devices, etc.)
Application questions (Questions that help the student connect the themes of the story to real life)

-After you have created your questions have your student read the story, research the author, and then discuss your questions with them.
{Scene from "The Continuity of Parks" by Julio Cortazar}

Here are some examples of the different types of questions:

Plot Line Questions (Examples Taken from "The Fall of the House of Usher")
What is wrong with Roderick Usher?
Who is Madeline?
What do they do with Madeline when she dies?
In the end what happened to Roderick? The house?

Analysis Questions (Examples taken from "The Gift of the Magi")
What is the source of the conflict in the story?
There are at least three Biblical allusions in the story. What are they?
Find some examples of alliteration in the story.
How are Della and Jim rich and poor at the same time?

Application Questions (Examples taken from "The Tell-Tale Heart)
Describe the narrator's pride.  How is it his downfall?  Why does pride make us fall? How can we guard against it?
How do our hearts "give us away" when we have done something bad?
Why is it hard to truly get away with a sin and not have to deal with the consequences?

If you need ideas on what kinds of questions to ask see this or this book/DVD might help.

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