I don’t want to get in to the debate of whether scaffolds are a good thing or not, nor do I want to examine alternatives in this post. I simply want to share 14 subtleties of the analytical method below that you may or may not have taught before. Hope they’re of interest/use!
1.The balance between a tentative and confident style in analysis.
Phrases like ‘perhaps’ ‘suggests ‘ implies ‘ indicates’ ‘could’ are all obviously preferable to ‘This shows’ or ‘This means’, but when is too much? When do students start to sound uncertain within analysis?
I have emphasised to my groups the need to sound confident and ‘assured’ to begin with in the PEA in analysis with phrases like ‘Character X is clearly feeling the effects of ____ ‘ or ‘Here, the writer is emphasising‘ or ‘The writer presents the character as _____ and ______’.
It is no good saying ‘Mercurio seems angry and upset when he declares ‘A plague on both your houses‘ when he surely just is? The tentative wording is usually more effective in my opinion when used to probe the writer’s technique, character’s use of language, or more ambiguous feelings -often in the latter part of the analysis, once the point has been persuasively established first.
So to sum up my tip here to students: be assertive in what you have identified to begin with in an analytical structure. Use tentative wording in the deeper exploration.
At the top end of analysis is the ability to move from specific to overview seamlessly. Only a small handful of students are able to do this well. It involves the ability to maintain a sense of the bigger picture, a character at different points, a comment on a writer’s larger purpose.
Shakespeare presents Romeo as once again focusing closely on one thing, like scene 1, but here his vision is unimpaired: he is looking at his bright angel and the heavens, rather than looking blindly into the smoke of his lost love with Rosaline. It is interesting to note later in the play his tendency towards obsessive focus costs him dear…
or the second part of the following example:
Later, the short clauses add to the tension and the way that things are on a knife edge; the character could break down at any second:“Footing sallow as a mouse / Between the cabbage-roses”. Clearly, the depth of paranoia and suffering is presented by Plath as a terrifying way of living at many points throughout the poem.
3. ‘Stepping out’
Often students can simply focus on the character and ideas rather than the writer’s intention. In this typical example, the student has focused on the narrator and the specific child mentioned in the poem. However, a better answer comes in the box where the student has not only acknowledged the writer’s broader intention, but their point about babies in general.
- EXAMPLE – In the line “New statue” the narrator explores how they see the new child as something almost to worship. The metaphor also conveys something that is precious or even religious.
| In the line “New statue” Plath explores how parents often see new babies as something almost to worship. The metaphor also conveys how, for Plath, children can be something that is precious or religious.
4. Integrating not plonking quotes in!
No-one likes to see the clunky PEA where the point, evidence and analysis are in separate sentences. Here are some ways to link the point and evidence more seamlessly, whilst the phrase ‘which suggests’ after the quote, is a fantastic one to help ensure the analysis flows out after.
- The character/writer introduction: When character X says”____” / The writer states “______” which suggests…
2. Using 3 simple words to introduce: in the line “______”
3. Identifying the natural link that either seamlessly links a point with the evidence, or simply offers a few words to introduce the evidence:
The boy was furious as he “punched his friend” which suggests…
The need for a new “bright angel” in Romeo’s life at this point is clear…
5. Analysing content/context first and foremost, the technique much less so.
Here’s a quote. The first analysis example is a typical one that gets bogged down in the technique without analysing the content (the purpose for its inclusion).
“Aunt Pegg’s eyes were on sticks”
- The metaphor of her eyes being on sticks is effective as they’re not actually on sticks but it powerfully suggests the eyes are taller than normal on sticks, showing the size of them and their power.
The second analysis example tackles the metaphor but illustrates the impact of it on the content -Aunt Pegg’s role, and also offers a bit of nice, often forgotten context, ‘in her supervisory role‘.
2. The metaphor of her eyes on sticks emphasises how Aunt Pegg is able to keep an incredibly close watch on the children, and the image indicates her almost supernatural ability to see over walls and round corners in her supervisory role, spotting misbehaviour quickly.
6. The power of EA in exams, and practising cutting excess words within analysis – Where does the tick come from the examiner?
Rather than the laborious PEA, in the quick reading response questions in Eduqas and AQA where they have 15 mins to respond to a question, succinctness and precise analysis is key. EAs (Evidence/Analysis) are far more productive in accumulating a high number of points/quantity of evidence in the short time frame.
What impressions do you get of the character, Joe Bloggs in Lines 4-11?
The first example totals 82 words and many are redundant. A good task is to encourage students to spot the words where the ticks would come -where the analysis is nailed, that I have put in bold, and then cut out as many redundant, waffley words as possible. I give them a target number of words which they enjoy.
Joe is portrayed to the reader in a powerful way which creates a strong picture for us of his various characteristics. He seems to be positive in the line “happy-go-lucky fellow” and this adds to our understanding of his outlook. The reader learns more about him in that he cares about things, in particular his personal hygiene and appearance. This is well shown in the line “shaves three times a day” which tells the reader how many times he shaves.
The second example is half the number of words at 41 but uses the EA system – (I am using a few words to introduce the evidence, but there is no point as such), would earn the same marks and contains the same analysis.
Joe is described as a ‘happy-go-lucky fellow’ which suggests he has a positive disposition, and is not easily dispirited, while the reader learns he ‘shaves three times a day’ reflecting a strong preoccupation with personal hygiene and his appearance.
7. Avoiding waffle within analysis
When they come up with ‘cop out’ phrases, ones that offer no specific understanding of the content of the quote, I refer to it as waffle. It’s hugely prevalent in students’ work! Much easier to say ‘it creates a picture in the reader’s head!’ than engage with the image!
Spot the Waffle Challenge!! N.B. Some are not waffle!
The use of the word ‘desert’ may symbolise how the night is uncomfortable for the character.
|The use of the word ‘desert’ has a lasting impact on the reader.||Poets write their poems to capture their thoughts and perceptions which help the reader understand them.||The use of the image ‘Carbon paper’ conveys a sense of what is happening to the reader, creating a picture in their head.|
|A grown adult should be out looking after herself, not living on baby food. This makes the reader want to help her.||A variety of emotions are expressed in a passionate manner which makes it appear real for the reader here.||I think Plath is very good at hiding meaning of lines in order to affect the reader.||By using specific word choices, this helps messages and emotions be transferred to the reader|
The use of the image ‘Carbon paper’ could convey the night sky as thin and insignificant.
The line ‘elaborate rituals’ has a lot of impact on what she’s feeling.
The phrase ‘elaborate rituals’ makes the reader feel helpless and nervous.
The phrase ‘elaborate rituals’ emphasises the excessive care Mrs Drake feels she has to take as she walks through the room.
|The language can tell you a lot about the poem and this line ‘your moth breath’ emphasises what the poet is trying to say
|The language can tell you a lot about the poem and this line ‘your moth breath’ emphasises the fragility of the baby’s cry.||I am talking absolute waffle and earning no marks by saying nice things about my friend, Sylvia Plath who is very meaningful.||There are many hidden meanings in Plath’s poems and this is one of them.|
8. Avoiding repetition within a PEA. The need for something new each time.
We’ve all seen it:
The girl was furious in the line “she wanted to attack” which suggests she really wanted to attack her friend.
The analysis element of this PEA here is entirely redundant. I encourage students to simply move on if they feel there is nothing else they can add that is not repetition.
Another method to guarantee a richer PEA that shows understanding is to look for synonyms. After all, that’s where analysis often starts -by providing the ‘literal meaning’.
This example is a bit better:
The girl was furious in the line “she wanted to attack” which suggests she really wanted to confront and hurt her friend.
9. Stopping technique spotting / technique leading
I strongly dislike the analytical methods which encourage students to lead their analysis by spotting techniques – use of metaphors / rhyme / etc, and for it to form the topic sentence.
Metaphors are found in the first line and the third line…
The poet uses similes and a strong rhyme scheme throughout the piece…
Far better to lead with content points and weave in technique analysis where appropriate, in my view. I encourage my students to think of the techniques toolbox as things they might reference at some point in their analysis, but not in a pre-determined, awkward order.
The poet presents her view of the countryside as a bleak place, and the simile “_____” emphasizes how…
10. Challenging the conventional idea – seeking out the original.
Going against the grain/the masses (albeit still logically!) is a clear marker of a top level student. Here’s an example:
11. Avoiding reader obsession
I know we need to acknowledge the intended effect on the reader, but my fear here is that the following results:
The reader is terrified at this point, and wondering what’s next.
The reader recovers from their shock, and is then reassured.
It starts to sound a bit silly in my opinion, and I rarely read critical essays where they bang on about the reader. I think we can implicitly acknowledge the impact on the reader by shifting the focus of the analytical sentence to the writer’s intention or the tone. Here are a couple of examples:
The writer presents a terrifying scene, and creates a strong sense of anticipation with the cliff hanger.
The writer’s style here is shocking with its focus on “_____” before the tone becomes more reassuring as_____________.
12. Linking/Bridging / Development within analysis
Too often students make a good piece of analysis, then are on to something totally different. Top students develop analysis with more than one linked PEA, or at least attempt cohesion between points, which is what I try and share with these example phrases below:
Furthermore, the metaphor of light is used again…
This is true of the character later in the scene
This symbol of light is also used by character X who looks at the way..
OR the sophisticated, connected ‘bridge’:
Whilst light is a common symbol, darkness is also utilised by the playwright when…
13. Using the key word from the question in each paragraph within the topic sentence or at the end of the paragraph to ensure focus
Kind of an obvious one, but nonetheless important. So many students start analyzing anything they see fit from an extract rather than the focus provided in the question. Using the key word from the question in each analysis segment (PEA/EA -whatever!) is a guarantee that they are staying on track.
14. Being sufficiently precise in analysis
Sometimes students are just not close enough with their analysis to the meaning. A task I have done before is to encourage students to identify which analysis word from 5 possible choices is the most precise one.
Sharp and Precise Analysis Task
- Rank order each word within the following groups in order of strength. 1 being the strongest through to 5 being the weakest.
- Identify the most precise word (the closest to the meaning conveyed in the quote) to analyse each quote provided.
- Skeletal , Slim, Thin, Skinny, Slender
The girl looked like a bag of bones.
2. Angry, furious, annoyed, irate, irritated
The boy was getting restless and impatient with his friend’s constant tapping.
I hope these ideas are useful, and I am sure there are many subtleties of the analysis method I have forgotten about. Ultimately, it’s our bread and butter – I probably talk about an element of analysis every single working day, so it’s good to consider different dimensions.
Thanks for reading!