Helping students to improve their understanding of texts through analytical reading.

by Monica Washington

Grades 9-12


As an English teacher, I see first-hand how important it is for students to be able to read and write analytically. Students read texts every day, in every subject, but too often they can’t tell you what they’ve read, or articulate the deeper meanings of the texts they encounter.

To help kids read beneath the words themselves—and to help them understand not only what they’ve read but how the writer achieved the effect she did–I ask students get at the difference between summarizing and analyzing text by using a simple, three-column worksheet as they read.

I call this strategy “Reading with a Pen,” and I believe this approach has the potential to transform student reading and understanding–no matter what the grade or subject.


What I did well…

One thing that I think I did well was to think about what I’ve taught my students and then deconstruct the pieces for the educators in the workshop.  When I am a workshop participant, it is important for me to know what the overall goal of the professional learning is.  To respond to this, I first explained the importance of building students’ background knowledge about the ways that writers use text to achieve some purpose.  Then, instead of looking at analysis as one big concept, we worked our way through my three columns:  Strategies, quotes, and How/Why/Effect.  I think that this helped educators see how students would then use those three columns to make layers in their writing.  I felt like it was effective because I heard teachers discussing how they could use the columns.  One even asked for additional resources to use at home with his son.  Breaking down large concepts into smaller pieces is vital to helping teachers become familiar with new instructional strategies. 

What I would do more of, better, differently…

If I had the opportunity to introduce this to colleagues again, I would be sure to build in more time for them to have reflective practice both individually and in groups.  I think that the concept is pretty easy for teachers to grasp, but actually having time to go through the steps allows teachers to anticipate strategies for introducing it to their own students.  At the end, I told the group what I would have liked to have done were time not a concern, but they were not able to break into groups to practice the strategies.  I do feel that our conversations about what students could pull from the text were extremely beneficial.

I still want to grow this practice by…

As I continue to use this in my classroom, I would like to have students practice the strategies with other nonfiction texts.  It would be a good opportunity for students to look for strategies that writers use in newspaper and magazine articles.  Having students dig into those texts and identify the author’s purpose could be helpful in getting them to recognize that rhetorical strategies are the tools that all writers use to achieve a purpose.  In addition, in a follow-up lesson, students could share with their classmates about why they chose certain rhetorical strategies.  Having them justify their choices and display their writing visually instead of just orally would help other students to reflect on the strategies in the text as well as their peers’ writing.

About Monica Washington

Monica Washington is an English III and AP English III teacher at Texas High School where she serves as department chair.
She has been in education...

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