Promoting Analysis by @SusanSEnglish

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, because with the advent of the new GCSE’s analysis features heavily and students need to be able to show this skill, in the whole of their Lit exam, and apply it in the Lang exam: both Fiction and Non-Fiction. Since analysis is such an integral part of the terminal assessment, for the majority of students we see, then considering how to do it well, how to improve it and how to embed it in the long term memory of the students is the least I can do. I’ve mentioned before, in my blog, that I have moved away from PEA in my teaching of analysis.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Susan Strachan and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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Why have I stopped using this PEA acronym to hook my students into analysis?

As we know PEA means P = Point E = Evidence A = Analyse

First, in my experience some students hold onto this very literally. If they are asked to analyse a text they want to know if we are doing a PEA. Then, they stick rigidly to the brief point, evidence or a quote and then a brief explanation of meaning.

Second, “I want you to do a PEA” was often met with groans, which is not the atmosphere I want to encourage in my classroom. I want students to see the study of a text as exciting and that analysis is a positive challenge, not “another PEA that Miss made us do”. Analysis should encourage students to dig under the surface of a text, dig under the surface of words and to bring their own knowledge to a text. Then when they write their analysis, it should reflect back to the reader, their understanding of the concepts, thoughts and feelings being brought to life by the author.

Third, I find PEA restrictive; in order to make it work for my teaching I developed lots of other questions which hooked around the A of the PEA: see a couple of examples of support guides I have made and used in the past: Using the PEA help sheet effectively and PEEEA Helpsheets and PEEEA Helpsheets. While these resources are probably still useful and valid – they are complicated and I wanted to reduce the complicated thought process down into shorter and easier hooks for the students.

Fourth, I wanted to move away from an acronym that students used and only associated with English. PEA has very much (in my opinion) been the preserve of an English teacher’s repertoire and I want to encourage them to see the wider curriculum benefits of being able to analyse well. There are investigatory benefits to knowing how to analyse well and knowing that you are using skills of analysis in other subjects; Humanity subjects and Science certainly look for students to be able to investigate and analyse what they have found out.

Finally, I was finding it frustrating myself due to the reasons above and I wanted to see if I could develop my students’ knowledge and understanding further by moving away from the PEA acronym.

What have I been doing instead?

Nothing ground breaking or different to what anyone else is doing in their teaching I’m afraid to say or I’m sure. However, I now use the following prompts, which I have tweaked with my classes to work out what teaching language works for them. I have embedded some deepening analysis resources here which are useful to flash up on the board: Deepening Analysis – Suggested structure (again this is more complicated, than the basic prompts and extended prompts below, but I tend to write the prompts on the board and then if students need extra support I have the Deepening Analysis as an extra layer of support for the students).

The Basic Analysis Prompts:

  • Link to the question
  • Link to terminology
  • Link to a short sharp precise quote
  • Link to meaning – obvious and hidden (I also use explicit and implicit meaning to explain)

The more developed and extended Analysis Prompts:

  • Zoom in on words – think about specific words or connotations of specific words
  • Explore the effect – What the text makes you think/feel?
  • Explore the writers’ intentions – What is the writer trying to comment on?

Top Tip for Analysis – Using triplets in your analysis helps you to clearly define what you are trying to say in your analysis.

How did I come to the conclusion that this works for me/my classes or what is my thinking behind each of these prompts?

Link to the question: this seems obvious enough, but it reminds students that they have to ensure right from the start of their analysis paragraph that they have to closely focus on what the question is asking. As a general rule, I no longer get “I don’t understand how to make a point” or “I don’t know how to start” from students as it is really clear that they need to use some of the words from the question to start their answer. It narrows the focus and makes it really clear.

Link to Terminology: with the strengthened GCSE I want to have all my students talking about word classes, writers’ techniques, tone and structure and embedding the technical vocabulary into their answers. If we look for techniques in a piece of writing or annotate, students are able to identify really well what terminology has been used in the writing. It seems like a logical next step to include this knowledge in their answers. If I explicitly make it part of the Analysis structure I am encouraging, then students know that when they select a quote, they need to then think about the terminology that they could link to this.

Link to a short sharp quote: this is developed slightly (from just select a quote), as I find students who are unsure of what to write will select longer, non-specific quotes, which don’t help them to analyse particularly well. However, if I say a short, sharp quote and embed this, then I am encouraging, specific analysis skills. Students are able to do more with shorter quotes than they can with longer quotes.

Link to meaning – obvious and hidden: again if I state that I want the obvious meaning then students know to state simply what is meant and then by stating that I also want hidden meanings students know that they need to think more deeply. To do this I encourage them to use How? Why? What? In their thinking. By using these simple thought prompts when analysing students are developing further than they were before and hopefully embedding strategies for approaching texts.

Zoom in on words: again I encourage students to think about whether there is a key word within a quote that they can use to really focus in on meaning. To do this I encourage them to either focus on connotations of the word or to identify the word class and explain using triplets what they think the word is saying or doing in the context. This encourages students to look closely at the word which is a point of interest in the quote and I find that they are getting better at this as they get more familiar with word classes.

Explore the effect: this is one which can confuse and I encourage students only to do this if they have something specific to say about how this makes them think or feel. I don’t want them to only tell me they have sympathy for the character, I want them to tell me how and why they have sympathy for the character. I encourage students to think of the range of emotions that have been created and to use this to explain the effect on the reader.

Explore the writers’ intentions: again this is another one that can confuse students and I encourage them only to do this if they can be sure that they are a) not repeating their analysis and b) exploring what issues/thoughts/ideas the writer is commenting on. I’ve found the comments on writers’ intentions have improved as a result of the guidance with this.

With all of the above I do ensure that I model and prompt and use questions to help the students and I also make it clear that each step is not always going to be appropriate when they are analysing. The idea is by offering tailored guidelines about how to analyse and breaking it down into steps, students will gain confidence in their ability to analyse well and they will understand when to include the writers’ intentions (for example). Then, as their confidence gains I begin to pull back the guidance and the steps become: question link, terminology, quote, meanings, zoom in, effect, intentions until I don’t give any structure or support and just give them the question.

Has this worked?

I haven’t got any specific evidence to state that this has worked, but I’m finding students less resistant to analysis. I no longer get groans if I say we are going to focus closely on a text, the quality of students thinking is developing and I think the really clear structure has worked for all abilities. It will be interesting to evaluate this process fully relating to the data for my classes at the end of the year. I have been using it with all year groups that I teach, with the exception of sixth form and I will think carefully and tweak it based on student voice that I plan to undertake with my classes. I’d be interested to hear how others have approached tweaking analysis to fit the rigours of the new GCSE system and hope my ramblings are at least interesting, if not useful.

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