Motif Analysis: Simple Questions to Prompt Better Analysis

Most English teachers would agree that teaching analysis is one of the hardest things, right? I mean, we know how to do it, and sometimes teaching something that may have come naturally to us is the hardest thing to teach.

I've found through the years that giving students the specific words to use and specific things to look for has really helped. It seems so simple, yet we can easily overlook this and then wonder why students cannot put into words the importance or significance of something.

So, during The Great Gatsby unit a few years ago, I went back to the basics with a good, old graphic organizer.

I want students to look beyond superficial analysis and dive into a more meaningful understanding of the motif.

In order to do a few things on the graphic organizer:

  1. Write down any quotations that showcase the motif.

  2. Break down the context of the quotation. What was happening before, during, and after the quotation appeared in the text?

  3. Make greater meaning. What does this example of the motif do? Does it reveal a theme? Conflict? Characterization? Etc. [By giving the students these terms, I've found they're more likely to dive deeper into analysis!]

Here's how I set this up, but there are so many other ways you could use this.

✔ At the start of any text, go over motifs. I like to use motifs from popular movies.

✔ Come up with a list of possible motifs. Assign each student one.

✔ Have students track that particular motif on the graphic organizer throughout the duration of the reading.

✔ At the end of the reading, group students with the same motif together. If it's a longer text, maybe consider grouping midway, too.

✔ Students share their analysis and create a thesis statement together answering the question: "What is the significance of this motif in the text?"

✔ Have each group come up with a product that they can use to teach their motif's significance to the class. You could even do a jigsaw here.

If you are focusing on a shorter text, you could stick with one motif and make it a class discussion to model this analysis before students try independently the next time.

Better yet, you could give the students the thesis statement and have students work backwards. I have yet to do that, yet, but it seems like a good challenge for some of my gifted classes.

If you're interested in grabbing the handout I use, click here.

Happy teaching!


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