The Best Laid Plans: Literary Analysis vs. Expository

Dear Dr. D’

I am a high school English teacher, and because the Writing section of Common Core does not list Literature, I am expected to teach non-fiction for writing purposes. Students need to learn and write about the classics! How do I keep my job and my conscience in tact?

Yours truly,



Dear Distraught, 

While some states, like Texas, have a separate category in their composition standards for Literary Analysis, Common Core does not. However, that does not mean that literary analysis is not important, and if you study the literature section of the Common Core State Standards, it clearly states that students must perform. How do they perform? Writing is one way. So, do not get discouraged. Let me give you a tip on how to achieve what you want.

Let’s say you are teaching John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. You want them to write a literary analysis; yet, you also want them to practice writing about nonfiction. Create a prompt that asks them to write about both.

  • Prompt #1:
  • The Great Depression brought many unlikely people together. Carefully read John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Then In a multiparagraph essay, explain why this historical era brought unlikely characters together (1-2 body paragraphs; 2+:1; 1-2 chunks) and analyze how George and Lennie’s relationship evolves over the course of the novel (2-3 body paragraphs; 1:2+; 1-2 chunks per paragraph).
  • Prompt #2
  • Before you read. Of Mice and Men is about dreams that we have for our lives. In a multiparagraph essay (2-3 body paragraphs; 2+:1, 1-2 chunks), describe one dream of your own or of someone you know, explain how the dream was or will be brought to reality, and discuss the significance of that dream. 
  • Midpoint of the novelOf Mice and Men is about dreams that we have for our lives. In a multiparagraph essay (2-3 body paragraphs; 1:2+, 1-2 chunks), describe one of the character’s dreams, explain how the dream will be brought to reality, and discuss the significance of that dream. 
  • Prompt #3
  • Before you read. The belief in the American Dream–the belief that anyone can achieve a better life through hard work–has always been an important part of the Amercan character. Steinbeck, however, is questioning the reality of this belief in his novel. Write an essay analyzing the current status of the American Dream. Determine whether it is still possible, and if so, discuss the dreams Americans have these days that might differ from previous years. If not, explain what has happened to our concept of achievement through hard work (2-3 body paragraphs; 2+:1, 1-2 chunks).
Keep Reading and Writing!
Warm regards,
Dr. D’


Dr. Deborah E. Louis

Ph.D. in Humanities

Dr. Deborah E. Louis' passion for educational excellence began as a classroom teacher. For sixteen years, Deborah taught On-level, Pre-AP®, and Advanced Placement® English Language Arts to secondary students of diverse ethnicities and learning styles. In 2010, Deborah purchased the Jane Schaffer Writing Program®, and along with her non-profit organization, Center for Educational ReVision (CerV®), her goal and that of her national team of experts is to provide the highest quality professional learning and mentoring to teachers in the areas of writing, advanced academics, high-stakes testing, and educational technology. Through webinars, workshops, job-embedded training, and teaching materials, Deborah strives to ReVision the educational system, combining traditional and flipped approaches to professional learning for teachers of grades K-12; and differentiating for Special Education, English Language Learners, and Gifted and Talented. Although her mission takes her all over the United States and abroad, Deborah lives in Dallas, Texas USA. She loves music, dancing, archetypal psychology, and continuous learning opportunities.

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