Leap into Literacy

January/February: Grade 4

Reading: Interpretively

The prerequisite to writing a strong literary essay is to read the text one will write about carefully and thoughtfully. The best literary essays are the ones built upon strong interpretations. When reading a text in order to write about it, there are some ways that students can interact with the text at various points in order to move effectively and efficiently toward growing big ideas. As is recommended in Lucy Calkins’s literary essay work, I strongly recommend that students write about short texts, particularly when they are first learning how to write literary essays. The short texts could be short stories, picture books, or even excerpts from larger books.


Organize students into clusters of 3-4, and, during a Read Aloud, stop at various points to coach them through asking and answering some of the below questions in these small groups to lead them toward growing big ideas about the text.


In the beginning of a text, students can ask themselves questions such as:

  • Whose story is being told?

  • What kind of person is the character

  • What does the character want?

  • What are some of the feelings in this part of the text?


Toward the middle of a text, students can ask:

  • What gets in the character’s way?

  • What are the people & things that add to how the character is feeling?

  • Are the feelings changing? How?

  • What are the issues that are emerging?


At this point, it’s helpful to include a bit of whole-class discussion to support students’ analysis. There is a huge leap in thinking to move from naming a character’s feelings to analyzing some of the issues that are emerging in a text. But it is in this leap that true interpretation begins to take place, and the groundwork for lovely big ideas or thesis statements is laid. For example, if a character is feeling picked on or ostracized because he is different from his peers, an issue that students may recognize as starting to emerge could be “people often don’t accept differences in others, but they should.” Or, “people are often afraid to be true to themselves because they don’t want to be made fun of.” Feel free to interject some of your own suggestions as models, particularly if students are struggling.


At the end of a text, students can ask:

  • What does the text seem to be saying about an issue?

  • What life lesson is the text teaching?

  • As students talk in their clusters, listen in and try to capture some of what they are saying on a chart or SmartBoard. These statements can easily be turned into lovely thesis statements.


from Two Writing Teachers

Writing: Literary Essay

Literary essays require students to read closely to come up with opinions that can later turn into thesis statements. As your students begin their literary essay unit, it is important for them to understand that reading and writing go hand in hand. Below are some anchor charts and blog posts that you might find helpful as you support your students in doing this kind of thinking.

Check out the Two Reflective Teachers Blog for more resources.

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