The Power of Literacy Narratives

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I first learned to read at the age of three while sitting on my grandmother’s lap in her high-rise apartment on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, IL. While flipping casually through Time magazine, she noticed how I took a keen interest in the blur of black and white shapes on the page. Soon, I was following her wrinkled finger from one word to the next, sounding them out, until those words came into focus, and I could read. It felt as though I had unlocked time itself.

What Is a “Literacy Narrative?”

What are your strongest memories of reading and writing? These stories, otherwise known as “literacy narratives,” allow writers to talk through and discover their relationships with reading, writing, and speaking in all its forms. Narrowing in on specific moments reveals the significance of literacy’s impact on our lives, conjuring up buried emotions tied to the power of language, communication, and expression.

To be “ literate ” implies the ability to decode language on its most basic terms, but literacy also expands to one’s ability to "read and write" the world — to find and make meaning out of our relationships with texts, ourselves, and the world around us. At any given moment, we orbit language worlds. Soccer players, for example, learn the language of the game. Doctors talk in technical medical terms. Fishermen speak the sounds of the sea. And in each of these worlds, our literacy in these specific languages allows us to navigate, participate and contribute to the depth of knowledge generated within them.

Famous writers like Annie Dillard, author of "The Writing Life," and Anne Lammot, "Bird by Bird," have penned literacy narratives to reveal the highs and lows of language learning, literacies, and the written word. But you don’t have to be famous to tell your own literacy narrative — everyone has their own story to tell about their relationships with reading and writing. In fact, the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers a publicly accessible archive of personal literacy narratives in multiple formats featuring over 6,000 entries. Each shows the range of subjects, themes, and ways into the literacy narrative process as well as variations in terms of voice, tone, and style.

How to Write Your Own Literacy Narrative

Ready to write your own literacy narrative but don’t know where to begin?

  • Think of a story linked to your personal history of reading and writing. Perhaps you want to write about your favorite author or book and its impact on your life. Maybe you remember your first brush with the sublime power of poetry. Do you remember the time you first learned to read, write or speak in another language? Or maybe the story of your first big writing project comes to mind. Make sure to consider why this particular story is the most important one to tell. Usually, there are powerful lessons and revelations uncovered in the telling of a literacy narrative.
  • Wherever you begin, picture the first scene that comes to mind in relation to this story, using descriptive details. Tell us where you were, who you were with, and what you were doing in this specific moment when your literacy narrative begins. For example, a story about your favorite book may begin with a description of where you were when the book first landed in your hands. If you’re writing about your discovery of poetry, tell us exactly where you were when you first felt that spark. Do you remember where you were when you first learned a new word in a second language?
  • Continue from there to explore the ways in which this experience had meaning for you. What other memories are triggered in the telling of this first scene? Where did this experience lead you in your writing and reading journey? To what extent did it transform you or your ideas about the world? What challenges did you face in the process? How did this particular literacy narrative shape your life story? How do questions of power or knowledge come into play in your literacy narrative?

Writing Toward a Shared Humanity

Writing literacy narratives can be a joyful process, but it can also trigger untapped feelings about the complexities of literacy. Many of us carry scars and wounds from early literacy experiences. Writing it down can help us explore and reconcile these feelings in order to strengthen our relationship with reading and writing. Writing literacy narratives can also help us learn about ourselves as consumers and producers of words, revealing the intricacies of knowledge, culture, and power bound up in language and literacies. Ultimately, telling our literacy stories brings us closer to ourselves and each other in our collective desire to express and communicate a shared humanity.​

Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein is a poet, writer, and educator from Chicago, IL (USA) who currently splits her time in East Africa. Her essays on arts, culture, and education appear in Teaching Artist Journal, Art in the Public Interest, Teachers & Writers Magazine, Teaching Tolerance, The Equity Collective, AramcoWorld, Selamta, The Forward, among others.

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  • How to write a literary analysis essay | A step-by-step guide

How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay | A Step-by-Step Guide

Published on January 30, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on August 14, 2023.

Literary analysis means closely studying a text, interpreting its meanings, and exploring why the author made certain choices. It can be applied to novels, short stories, plays, poems, or any other form of literary writing.

A literary analysis essay is not a rhetorical analysis , nor is it just a summary of the plot or a book review. Instead, it is a type of argumentative essay where you need to analyze elements such as the language, perspective, and structure of the text, and explain how the author uses literary devices to create effects and convey ideas.

Before beginning a literary analysis essay, it’s essential to carefully read the text and c ome up with a thesis statement to keep your essay focused. As you write, follow the standard structure of an academic essay :

  • An introduction that tells the reader what your essay will focus on.
  • A main body, divided into paragraphs , that builds an argument using evidence from the text.
  • A conclusion that clearly states the main point that you have shown with your analysis.

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Table of contents

Step 1: reading the text and identifying literary devices, step 2: coming up with a thesis, step 3: writing a title and introduction, step 4: writing the body of the essay, step 5: writing a conclusion, other interesting articles.

The first step is to carefully read the text(s) and take initial notes. As you read, pay attention to the things that are most intriguing, surprising, or even confusing in the writing—these are things you can dig into in your analysis.

Your goal in literary analysis is not simply to explain the events described in the text, but to analyze the writing itself and discuss how the text works on a deeper level. Primarily, you’re looking out for literary devices —textual elements that writers use to convey meaning and create effects. If you’re comparing and contrasting multiple texts, you can also look for connections between different texts.

To get started with your analysis, there are several key areas that you can focus on. As you analyze each aspect of the text, try to think about how they all relate to each other. You can use highlights or notes to keep track of important passages and quotes.

Language choices

Consider what style of language the author uses. Are the sentences short and simple or more complex and poetic?

What word choices stand out as interesting or unusual? Are words used figuratively to mean something other than their literal definition? Figurative language includes things like metaphor (e.g. “her eyes were oceans”) and simile (e.g. “her eyes were like oceans”).

Also keep an eye out for imagery in the text—recurring images that create a certain atmosphere or symbolize something important. Remember that language is used in literary texts to say more than it means on the surface.

Narrative voice

Ask yourself:

  • Who is telling the story?
  • How are they telling it?

Is it a first-person narrator (“I”) who is personally involved in the story, or a third-person narrator who tells us about the characters from a distance?

Consider the narrator’s perspective . Is the narrator omniscient (where they know everything about all the characters and events), or do they only have partial knowledge? Are they an unreliable narrator who we are not supposed to take at face value? Authors often hint that their narrator might be giving us a distorted or dishonest version of events.

The tone of the text is also worth considering. Is the story intended to be comic, tragic, or something else? Are usually serious topics treated as funny, or vice versa ? Is the story realistic or fantastical (or somewhere in between)?

Consider how the text is structured, and how the structure relates to the story being told.

  • Novels are often divided into chapters and parts.
  • Poems are divided into lines, stanzas, and sometime cantos.
  • Plays are divided into scenes and acts.

Think about why the author chose to divide the different parts of the text in the way they did.

There are also less formal structural elements to take into account. Does the story unfold in chronological order, or does it jump back and forth in time? Does it begin in medias res —in the middle of the action? Does the plot advance towards a clearly defined climax?

With poetry, consider how the rhyme and meter shape your understanding of the text and your impression of the tone. Try reading the poem aloud to get a sense of this.

In a play, you might consider how relationships between characters are built up through different scenes, and how the setting relates to the action. Watch out for  dramatic irony , where the audience knows some detail that the characters don’t, creating a double meaning in their words, thoughts, or actions.

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Your thesis in a literary analysis essay is the point you want to make about the text. It’s the core argument that gives your essay direction and prevents it from just being a collection of random observations about a text.

If you’re given a prompt for your essay, your thesis must answer or relate to the prompt. For example:

Essay question example

Is Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law” a religious parable?

Your thesis statement should be an answer to this question—not a simple yes or no, but a statement of why this is or isn’t the case:

Thesis statement example

Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law” is not a religious parable, but a story about bureaucratic alienation.

Sometimes you’ll be given freedom to choose your own topic; in this case, you’ll have to come up with an original thesis. Consider what stood out to you in the text; ask yourself questions about the elements that interested you, and consider how you might answer them.

Your thesis should be something arguable—that is, something that you think is true about the text, but which is not a simple matter of fact. It must be complex enough to develop through evidence and arguments across the course of your essay.

Say you’re analyzing the novel Frankenstein . You could start by asking yourself:

Your initial answer might be a surface-level description:

The character Frankenstein is portrayed negatively in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein .

However, this statement is too simple to be an interesting thesis. After reading the text and analyzing its narrative voice and structure, you can develop the answer into a more nuanced and arguable thesis statement:

Mary Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to portray Frankenstein in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as.

Remember that you can revise your thesis statement throughout the writing process , so it doesn’t need to be perfectly formulated at this stage. The aim is to keep you focused as you analyze the text.

Finding textual evidence

To support your thesis statement, your essay will build an argument using textual evidence —specific parts of the text that demonstrate your point. This evidence is quoted and analyzed throughout your essay to explain your argument to the reader.

It can be useful to comb through the text in search of relevant quotations before you start writing. You might not end up using everything you find, and you may have to return to the text for more evidence as you write, but collecting textual evidence from the beginning will help you to structure your arguments and assess whether they’re convincing.

To start your literary analysis paper, you’ll need two things: a good title, and an introduction.

Your title should clearly indicate what your analysis will focus on. It usually contains the name of the author and text(s) you’re analyzing. Keep it as concise and engaging as possible.

A common approach to the title is to use a relevant quote from the text, followed by a colon and then the rest of your title.

If you struggle to come up with a good title at first, don’t worry—this will be easier once you’ve begun writing the essay and have a better sense of your arguments.

“Fearful symmetry” : The violence of creation in William Blake’s “The Tyger”

The introduction

The essay introduction provides a quick overview of where your argument is going. It should include your thesis statement and a summary of the essay’s structure.

A typical structure for an introduction is to begin with a general statement about the text and author, using this to lead into your thesis statement. You might refer to a commonly held idea about the text and show how your thesis will contradict it, or zoom in on a particular device you intend to focus on.

Then you can end with a brief indication of what’s coming up in the main body of the essay. This is called signposting. It will be more elaborate in longer essays, but in a short five-paragraph essay structure, it shouldn’t be more than one sentence.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often read as a crude cautionary tale about the dangers of scientific advancement unrestrained by ethical considerations. In this reading, protagonist Victor Frankenstein is a stable representation of the callous ambition of modern science throughout the novel. This essay, however, argues that far from providing a stable image of the character, Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to portray Frankenstein in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as. This essay begins by exploring the positive portrayal of Frankenstein in the first volume, then moves on to the creature’s perception of him, and finally discusses the third volume’s narrative shift toward viewing Frankenstein as the creature views him.

Some students prefer to write the introduction later in the process, and it’s not a bad idea. After all, you’ll have a clearer idea of the overall shape of your arguments once you’ve begun writing them!

If you do write the introduction first, you should still return to it later to make sure it lines up with what you ended up writing, and edit as necessary.

The body of your essay is everything between the introduction and conclusion. It contains your arguments and the textual evidence that supports them.

Paragraph structure

A typical structure for a high school literary analysis essay consists of five paragraphs : the three paragraphs of the body, plus the introduction and conclusion.

Each paragraph in the main body should focus on one topic. In the five-paragraph model, try to divide your argument into three main areas of analysis, all linked to your thesis. Don’t try to include everything you can think of to say about the text—only analysis that drives your argument.

In longer essays, the same principle applies on a broader scale. For example, you might have two or three sections in your main body, each with multiple paragraphs. Within these sections, you still want to begin new paragraphs at logical moments—a turn in the argument or the introduction of a new idea.

Robert’s first encounter with Gil-Martin suggests something of his sinister power. Robert feels “a sort of invisible power that drew me towards him.” He identifies the moment of their meeting as “the beginning of a series of adventures which has puzzled myself, and will puzzle the world when I am no more in it” (p. 89). Gil-Martin’s “invisible power” seems to be at work even at this distance from the moment described; before continuing the story, Robert feels compelled to anticipate at length what readers will make of his narrative after his approaching death. With this interjection, Hogg emphasizes the fatal influence Gil-Martin exercises from his first appearance.

Topic sentences

To keep your points focused, it’s important to use a topic sentence at the beginning of each paragraph.

A good topic sentence allows a reader to see at a glance what the paragraph is about. It can introduce a new line of argument and connect or contrast it with the previous paragraph. Transition words like “however” or “moreover” are useful for creating smooth transitions:

… The story’s focus, therefore, is not upon the divine revelation that may be waiting beyond the door, but upon the mundane process of aging undergone by the man as he waits.

Nevertheless, the “radiance” that appears to stream from the door is typically treated as religious symbolism.

This topic sentence signals that the paragraph will address the question of religious symbolism, while the linking word “nevertheless” points out a contrast with the previous paragraph’s conclusion.

Using textual evidence

A key part of literary analysis is backing up your arguments with relevant evidence from the text. This involves introducing quotes from the text and explaining their significance to your point.

It’s important to contextualize quotes and explain why you’re using them; they should be properly introduced and analyzed, not treated as self-explanatory:

It isn’t always necessary to use a quote. Quoting is useful when you’re discussing the author’s language, but sometimes you’ll have to refer to plot points or structural elements that can’t be captured in a short quote.

In these cases, it’s more appropriate to paraphrase or summarize parts of the text—that is, to describe the relevant part in your own words:

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The conclusion of your analysis shouldn’t introduce any new quotations or arguments. Instead, it’s about wrapping up the essay. Here, you summarize your key points and try to emphasize their significance to the reader.

A good way to approach this is to briefly summarize your key arguments, and then stress the conclusion they’ve led you to, highlighting the new perspective your thesis provides on the text as a whole:

If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

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By tracing the depiction of Frankenstein through the novel’s three volumes, I have demonstrated how the narrative structure shifts our perception of the character. While the Frankenstein of the first volume is depicted as having innocent intentions, the second and third volumes—first in the creature’s accusatory voice, and then in his own voice—increasingly undermine him, causing him to appear alternately ridiculous and vindictive. Far from the one-dimensional villain he is often taken to be, the character of Frankenstein is compelling because of the dynamic narrative frame in which he is placed. In this frame, Frankenstein’s narrative self-presentation responds to the images of him we see from others’ perspectives. This conclusion sheds new light on the novel, foregrounding Shelley’s unique layering of narrative perspectives and its importance for the depiction of character.

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Literacy Definition and Importance Essay

  • To find inspiration for your paper and overcome writer’s block
  • As a source of information (ensure proper referencing)
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Education is an important aspect in the economy of a country. It is a measure of a country’s potential human capital. Compared to their counterparts-illiterate people, literate people in a community not only have higher social status but also enjoy better employment and wealth prospects. The higher the literacy level, the better placed is a country in terms of its ability to spear head its set development goals/objectives. This paper seeks to give a backbone of the term ‘literacy’ and its justification.

Literacy is the process of learning whereby an individual gains the ability to understand and convey written information, gain new skills from the information, teach those skills and apply the acquired knowledge and skills for the benefit of the society. Here the key words are gain, ability to understand, teach, apply, and for a benefit. However, different people have defined literacy differently in different periods. Traditionally, people defined literacy as the ability to read, appropriately use written information and appropriately write in a range of contexts (Winch, 2007, p. 20). However, there have been new aspects arising from the definition.

This definition does not involve critical thinking in the application of the information retrieved from the written sources. It remains insufficient since it does not account for several aspects that are significant as far as literacy is concerned.

Most people perceive that literacy comprises of a set of several tangible skills, which include the cognitive skills of reading and writing. These skills ought to be independent of the context of acquiring them and the background of the individual who acquires them (Adams, 1993, p. 24). The individual should be able to decode phonetics, spelling, word recognition and vocabulary. This implies that one should not depend on pictures to denote meaning. There is emphasis on both the ability to understand orally given information and the ability to present it as written literature.

In the recent past, various scholars have started using the term ‘literacy’ in a much broader metaphorical sense to refer to other skills and competencies, for example ‘information literacy’, ‘visual literacy’, ‘media literacy’, ‘computer literacy’ and ‘scientific literacy’ (Hills, 2006, p. 6). The introduction of these concepts has brought a shift from the view of literacy as a set of words but also the interpretation of signs, symbols, pictures and sounds, which vary by social context (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000, p. 5). These skills enable an individual to gather and apply knowledge in different contexts.

An addition to the contemporary definitions of literacy is that it should be a learning process in which, individuals continually acquire knowledge and skills and use those skills for the benefit of the society (Rogoff, 2003, p. 6). According to National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy, learning to read and the teaching of reading is usually included within the broader area of literacy (2005, p. 7). Therefore, the literacy learning system should focus on strategies that are investigative, reflective, tailored, tested, embedded, purposively practiced and shared.

In conclusion, literacy includes gaining knowledge, being able to understand, to teach, to apply, and to use for a specific benefit. These aspects are equally important and therefore absence of either may translate to illiteracy. For this reason, when assessing literacy level, it is important to consider all the aspects. It applies in all fields.

Adams, R. P. (1993). Juniperus: Flora of North America North of Mexico , Vol. 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Web.

Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (2000). Multiliteracies: Literacy learning and the design of social futures. London: Routledge. Web.

Hill, S. (2006). Developing early literacy: assessment and teaching . Vic: Eleanor. Web.

Curtain Pub. National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy. (2005). Report and Recommendations . Australia: Common Wealth of Australia. Web.

Rogoff, B. (2003). The cultural nature of human development . Oxford: Oxford UniversityPress. Web.

Winch, G. (2007). Literacy: reading, writing and children’s literature 3 rd Ed. Victoria: Oxford university press. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2020, May 29). Literacy Definition and Importance.

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Home ➔ What's an Essay? ➔ What is a Narrative Essay? ➔ Literacy Narrative

Literacy Narrative Essay Guide

A literacy narrative essay is a first-person account of learning how to read or write. It often discusses the significance of books and other written materials in a person’s life and the role of literacy in society.

Most literacy narratives discuss memories, which means they are based on actual events from the writer’s life. However, some may choose (if possible within the assignment requirements) to fictionalize their stories to explore the theme of literacy more deeply.

The purpose of a literacy narrative is to reflect on the role of literacy in your life and to examine how it has affected you as a reader, writer, or thinker. In some cases, a literacy narrative may also be used to teach others about the importance of literacy, using your or someone else’s personal literacy story.

What is a Narrative Essay? – learn more about narrative essays in general.

Key characteristics of literacy narratives:

  • Genre – A literacy narrative is usually a short, first-person story about a significant event in the writer’s life, which can be a rough and exciting journey. It is usually non-fictional.
  • Tone – The tone of a literacy narrative is usually reflective and introspective.
  • Purpose – A literacy narrative is written to reflect on the role of literacy in the writer’s life. It may also be used to teach others about the importance of literacy.
  • Audience – A literacy narrative is typically written for a general audience.
  • Structure – A literacy narrative typically has a chronological or linear structure.
  • Language – Vivid language and concrete details create a strong sense of place and time.

Common themes and topics examples in literacy narratives:

  • The importance of literacy in society
  • The power of books and other written materials
  • The role of literacy in the writer’s life
  • How literacy has affected the writer as a reader, writer, or thinker
  • The challenges and triumphs of learning to read or write
  • The significance of a particular book or writing experience
  • How culture affects writing (based on your experience)

The following are some questions you may want to consider as you write your literacy narrative:

  • What are some of the most important moments in your journey as a reader or writer?
  • What has literacy meant to you in your life?
  • How has literacy shaped who you are as a person?
  • What challenges have you faced as a reader or writer?
  • How have you overcome these challenges?
  • What role has literacy played in your success or failure in school or your career?
  • In what ways has your literacy level affected your personal or professional relationships?
  • What are your hopes for the future of literacy in our society?

What is a Personal Narrative? – learn more about personal narrative essays.

Features of a Literacy Narrative

Several key features are often found in a literacy essay:

First-person point of view: A literacy narrative is typically told from the first-person point of view, which means that it is written in the first person (I, me, my, we, us). This point of view is used to personalize the story and to give the reader a sense of the writer’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

The theme of literacy: As mentioned previously, the central theme of a literacy narrative is usually the importance of books and other written materials in a person’s life. However, some writers may also explore how literacy has affected them personally, such as how it has shaped their identity or their view of the world.

A focus on a particular moment or event: A literacy essay often focuses on a specific moment or event in the writer’s life that was significant to their development as a reader or writer. This event could be something as significant as learning to read for the first time, or it could be a more mundane event, such as realizing the importance of reading to one’s education.

Reflection: A literacy narrative often includes reflection on the writer’s part. This reflection can take the form of discussing the writer’s current relationship to literacy or a more general discussion of how literacy has affected the writer’s life.

A message or moral: Many literacy narratives end with a message or moral, usually about the importance of literacy or the power of words. This message may be explicit, or it may be more subtle.

Short Literacy Narrative Example

Below is a very simple and short essay example of a literacy narrative to give you a basic idea about this assignment.

I remember the first time I ever read a book. I was in kindergarten, and my teacher had us all sit in a circle on the rug. She then brought out a big book and began to read it to us. I was fascinated by the story and the pictures, and I remember thinking to myself, “I want to learn how to do this.” From that moment on, I was hooked on reading, and it changed my life for the better.

Reading has always been an important part of my life. It has helped me to imagine new worlds, learn about different cultures, and understand the world around me. It has also been a source of comfort and escape during difficult times in my life. Whenever I feel stressed or overwhelmed, I can always count on a good book to help me relax and escape my problems.

Books have also played an important role in my success in school. I have always been a good student, but I credit much of my success to my love of reading. Reading has helped me to improve my writing skills and to understand complex concepts better. It has also allowed me to develop a love of learning that has stayed with me throughout my academic career.

While reading has always been important to me, it wasn’t until recently that I realized how much it had shaped my identity. I have always considered myself shy, but I now realize that my love of reading has helped me become more confident and outgoing. Reading has given me the courage to express my own ideas and to share my thoughts with others. It has also helped me connect with people with similar interests and find my voice in the world.

Reading has indeed been a lifelong journey for me, one that has taken me to places I could never have imagined. It has taught me about the world, myself, and the power of words. I am grateful for the role that literacy has played in my life, and I hope that others can find the same joy and satisfaction in reading that I have.

Famous Literacy Story Examples

Here are some original and famous examples of one’s literacy journey that you can read to get inspiration before writing your own story.

“Learning to Read and Write” by Frederick Douglass

Short description: In this essay, Frederick Douglass describes his experiences learning to read and write as a slave in the United States. He discusses how literacy gave him a sense of power and freedom and how it ultimately helped him escape slavery.

“The Lonely, Good Company of Books” by Richard Rodriguez

Short description: In this essay, Richard Rodriguez discusses his love of reading and how it has helped him overcome his life challenges. He describes how books have given him a sense of companionship and how they have helped him to develop his own identity.

“The Writing Life” by Annie Dillard ( Excerpt )

Short description: In this essay, Annie Dillard discusses the joys and challenges of the writing life. She describes how writing can be both a source of great satisfaction and a frustrating endeavor. She also reflects on how her own writing has changed over the years and how her life experiences have shaped it.

“The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me” by Sherman Alexie

Short description: In this essay, Sherman Alexie discusses how reading and writing helped him to overcome the challenges of growing up on a Native American reservation. He describes how literacy allowed him to connect with the world outside his community and find his place in it.

We hope these literacy narrative examples will help you write one on your own.

Writing Tips for Literacy Narratives

No matter what your experience with reading and writing is, you can write your personal essay on literacy that is meaningful and interesting to you. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Start by brainstorming your experiences with reading and writing. What are some moments that stand out to you? When did you first start learning to read and write? What did you find challenging about it? What were some of the highlights for you?
  • Once you have a list of experiences, start thinking about how they relate to each other. What is the overall story you want to tell? What are some of the themes you want to explore?
  • Start writing your personal literacy story. Don’t worry about making it perfect; just write your thoughts down. You can always revise and edit your essay later.
  • Make sure to include sensory details in your essay. What did you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel during your experiences? This will help your readers to connect with your story.
  • Be honest and open in your writing. Tell your story from your own perspective and allow your personality to shine through this interesting journey.
  • Have fun with it! Writing a literacy narrative can be a great way to reflect on your own journey with reading and writing. Allow yourself to explore your memories and emotions as you write.

How to Write a Narrative Essay – essential steps required to write a good narrative essay.

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What is a literacy narrative?

According to the Literacy Narrative Essay assignment, a literacy narrative is a story you write about your own "stories, anecdotes, memories, experiences, readings, and other events and descriptions" that paint the best picture of your experiences learning to be a reader and writer.

In other words, how did you become the literate person you are?

Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives

  • Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives The DALN is an open public resource made up of stories from people just like you about their experiences learning to read, write, and generally communicate with the world around them. Read or listen to others people's literacy narratives to get inspiration for your own.

Featured Narratives from DALN

  • Marcus Jackson Marcus Jackson discusses his entry, introduction, and travels through poetry.
  • College and Baby Mariah, an incoming Freshman in Columbus, Ohio, describes her literacy narrative and her journey with her daughter.
  • Sports Addict Josh Brodesky talks about being a young athlete growing up with an English professor father, and how he stopped reading at nine years old to play sports all the time.
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  • Last Updated: Apr 11, 2024 3:44 PM
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Chapter 1. What is Literacy? Multiple Perspectives on Literacy

Constance Beecher

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” – Frederick Douglass

Download Tar Beach – Faith Ringgold Video Transcript [DOC]

Keywords: literacy, digital literacy, critical literacy, community-based literacies

Definitions of literacy from multiple perspectives

Literacy is the cornerstone of education by any definition. Literacy refers to the ability of people to read and write (UNESCO, 2017). Reading and writing in turn are about encoding and decoding information between written symbols and sound (Resnick, 1983; Tyner, 1998). More specifically, literacy is the ability to understand the relationship between sounds and written words such that one may read, say, and understand them (UNESCO, 2004; Vlieghe, 2015). About 67 percent of children nationwide, and more than 80 percent of those from families with low incomes, are not proficient readers by the end of third grade ( The Nation Assessment for Educational Progress; NAEP 2022 ).  Children who are not reading on grade level by third grade are 4 times more likely to drop out of school than their peers who are reading on grade level. A large body of research clearly demonstrates that Americans with fewer years of education have poorer health and shorter lives. In fact, since the 1990s, life expectancy has fallen for people without a high school education. Completing more years of education creates better access to health insurance, medical care, and the resources for living a healthier life (Saha, 2006). Americans with less education face higher rates of illness, higher rates of disability, and shorter life expectancies. In the U.S., 25-year-olds without a high school diploma can expect to die 9 years sooner than college graduates. For example, by 2011, the prevalence of diabetes had reached 15% for adults without a high -school education, compared with 7% for college graduates (Zimmerman et al., 2018).

Thus, literacy is a goal of utmost importance to society. But what does it mean to be literate, or to be able to read? What counts as literacy?

Learning Objectives

  • Describe two or more definitions of literacy and the differences between them.
  • Define digital and critical literacy.
  • Distinguish between digital literacy, critical literacy, and community-based literacies.
  • Explain multiple perspectives on literacy.

Here are some definitions to consider:

“Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.” – United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

“The ability to understand, use, and respond appropriately to written texts.” – National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), citing the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)

“An individual’s ability to read, write, and speak in English, compute, and solve problems, at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job, in the family of the individual, and in society.” – Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), Section 203

“The ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.” – Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), as cited by the American Library Association’s Committee on Literacy

“Using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.” – Kutner, Greenberg, Jin, Boyle, Hsu, & Dunleavy (2007). Literacy in Everyday Life: Results from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NCES 2007-480)

Which one of these above definitions resonates with you? Why?

New literacy practices as meaning-making practices

In the 21 st century, literacy increasingly includes understanding the roles of digital media and technology in literacy. In 1996, the New London Group coined the term “multiliteracies” or “new literacies” to describe a modern view of literacy that reflected multiple communication forms and contexts of cultural and linguistic diversity within a globalized society. They defined multiliteracies as a combination of multiple ways of communicating and making meaning, including such modes as visual, audio, spatial, behavioral, and gestural (New London Group, 1996). Most of the text’s students come across today are digital (like this textbook!). Instead of books and magazines, students are reading blogs and text messages.

For a short video on the importance of digital literacy, watch The New Media Literacies .

The National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE, 2019) makes it clear that our definitions of literacy must continue to evolve and grow ( NCTE definition of digital literacy ).

“Literacy has always been a collection of communicative and sociocultural practices shared among communities. As society and technology change, so does literacy. The world demands that a literate person possess and intentionally apply a wide range of skills, competencies, and dispositions. These literacies are interconnected, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with histories, narratives, life possibilities, and social trajectories of all individuals and groups. Active, successful participants in a global society must be able to:

  • participate effectively and critically in a networked world.
  • explore and engage critically and thoughtfully across a wide variety of inclusive texts and tools/modalities.
  • consume, curate, and create actively across contexts.
  • advocate for equitable access to and accessibility of texts, tools, and information.
  • build and sustain intentional global and cross-cultural connections and relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought.
  • promote culturally sustaining communication and recognize the bias and privilege present in the interactions.
  • examine the rights, responsibilities, and ethical implications of the use and creation of information.
  • determine how and to what extent texts and tools amplify one’s own and others’ narratives as well as counterproductive narratives.
  • recognize and honor the multilingual literacy identities and culture experiences individuals bring to learning environments, and provide opportunities to promote, amplify, and encourage these variations of language (e.g., dialect, jargon, and register).”

In other words, literacy is not just the ability to read and write. It is also being able to effectively use digital technology to find and analyze information. Students who are digitally literate know how to do research, find reliable sources, and make judgments about what they read online and in print. Next, we will learn more about digital literacy.

  • Malleable : can be changed.
  • Culturally sustaining : the pedagogical preservation of the cultural and linguistic competence of young people pertaining to their communities of origin while simultaneously affording dominant-culture competence.
  • Bias : a tendency to believe that some people, ideas, etc., are better than others, usually resulting in unfair treatment.
  • Privilege : a right or benefit that is given to some people and not to others.
  • Unproductive narrative : negative commonly held beliefs such as “all students from low-income backgrounds will struggle in school.” (Narratives are phrases or ideas that are repeated over and over and become “shared narratives.” You can spot them in common expressions and stories that almost everyone knows and holds as ingrained values or beliefs.)

Literacy in the digital age

The Iowa Core recognizes that today, literacy includes technology. The goal for students who graduate from the public education system in Iowa is:

“Each Iowa student will be empowered with the technological knowledge and skills to learn effectively and live productively. This vision, developed by the Iowa Core 21st Century Skills Committee, reflects the fact that Iowans in the 21st century live in a global environment marked by a high use of technology, giving citizens and workers the ability to collaborate and make individual contributions as never before. Iowa’s students live in a media-suffused environment, marked by access to an abundance of information and rapidly changing technological tools useful for critical thinking and problem-solving processes. Therefore, technological literacy supports preparation of students as global citizens capable of self-directed learning in preparation for an ever-changing world” (Iowa Core Standards 21 st Century Skills, n.d.).

NOTE: The essential concepts and skills of technology literacy are taken from the International Society for Technology in Education’s National Educational Technology Standards for Students: Grades K-2 | Technology Literacy Standards

Literacy in any context is defined as the ability “ to access, manage, integrate, evaluate, and create information in order to function in a knowledge society” (ICT Literacy Panel, 2002). “ When we teach only for facts (specifics)… rather than for how to go beyond facts, we teach students how to get out of date ” (Sternberg, 2008). This statement is particularly significant when applied to technology literacy. The Iowa essential concepts for technology literacy reflect broad, universal processes and skills.

Unlike the previous generations, learning in the digital age is marked using rapidly evolving technology, a deluge of information, and a highly networked global community (Dede, 2010). In such a dynamic environment, learners need skills beyond the basic cognitive ability to consume and process language. To understand the characteristics of the digital age, and what this means for how people learn in this new and changing landscape, one may turn to the evolving discussion of literacy or, as one might say now, of digital literacy. The history of literacy contextualizes digital literacy and illustrates changes in literacy over time. By looking at literacy as an evolving historical phenomenon, we can glean the fundamental characteristics of the digital age. These characteristics in turn illuminate the skills needed to take advantage of digital environments. The following discussion is an overview of digital literacy, its essential components, and why it is important for learning in the digital age.

Literacy is often considered a skill or competency. Children and adults alike can spend years developing the appropriate skills for encoding and decoding information. Over the course of thousands of years, literacy has become much more common and widespread, with a global literacy rate ranging from 81% to 90% depending on age and gender (UNESCO, 2016). From a time when literacy was the domain of an elite few, it has grown to include huge swaths of the global population. There are several reasons for this, not the least of which are some of the advantages the written word can provide. Kaestle (1985) tells us that “literacy makes it possible to preserve information as a snapshot in time, allows for recording, tracking and remembering information, and sharing information more easily across distances among others” (p. 16). In short, literacy led “to the replacement of myth by history and the replacement of magic by skepticism and science.”

If literacy involves the skills of reading and writing, digital literacy requires the ability to extend those skills to effectively take advantage of the digital world (American Library Association [ALA], 2013). More general definitions express digital literacy as the ability to read and understand information from digital sources as well as to create information in various digital formats (Bawden, 2008; Gilster, 1997; Tyner, 1998; UNESCO, 2004). Developing digital skills allows digital learners to manage a vast array of rapidly changing information and is key to both learning and working in the evolving digital landscape (Dede, 2010; Koltay, 2011; Mohammadyari & Singh, 2015). As such, it is important for people to develop certain competencies specifically for handling digital content.

ALA Digital Literacy Framework

To fully understand the many digital literacies, we will look at the American Library Association (ALA) framework. The ALA framework is laid out in terms of basic functions with enough specificity to make it easy to understand and remember but broad enough to cover a wide range of skills. The ALA framework includes the following areas:

  • understanding,
  • evaluating,
  • creating, and
  • communicating (American Library Association, 2013).

Finding information in a digital environment represents a significant departure from the way human beings have searched for information for centuries. The learner must abandon older linear or sequential approaches to finding information such as reading a book, using a card catalog, index, or table of contents, and instead use more horizontal approaches like natural language searches, hypermedia text, keywords, search engines, online databases and so on (Dede, 2010; Eshet, 2002). The shift involves developing the ability to create meaningful search limits (SCONUL, 2016). Previously, finding the information would have meant simply looking up page numbers based on an index or sorting through a card catalog. Although finding information may depend to some degree on the search tool being used (library, internet search engine, online database, etc.) the search results also depend on how well a person is able to generate appropriate keywords and construct useful Boolean searches. Failure in these two areas could easily return too many results to be helpful, vague, or generic results, or potentially no useful results at all (Hangen, 2015).

Part of the challenge of finding information is the ability to manage the results. Because there is so much data, changing so quickly, in so many different formats, it can be challenging to organize and store them in such a way as to be useful. SCONUL (2016) talks about this as the ability to organize, store, manage, and cite digital resources, while the Educational Testing Service also specifically mentions the skills of accessing and managing information. Some ways to accomplish these tasks is using social bookmarking tools such as Diigo, clipping and organizing software such as Evernote and OneNote, and bibliographic software. Many sites, such as YouTube, allow individuals with an account to bookmark videos, as well as create channels or collections of videos for specific topics or uses. Other websites have similar features.


Understanding in the context of digital literacy perhaps most closely resembles traditional literacy because it is the ability to read and interpret text (Jones-Kavalier & Flannigan, 2006). In the digital age, however, the ability to read and understand extends much further than text alone. For example, searches may return results with any combination of text, video, sound, and audio, as well as still and moving pictures. As the internet has evolved, a whole host of visual languages have also evolved, such as moving images, emoticons, icons, data visualizations, videos, and combinations of all the above. Lankshear & Knoble (2008) refer to these modes of communication as “post typographic textual practice.” Understanding the variety of modes of digital material may also be referred to as multimedia literacy (Jones-Kavalier & Flannigan, 2006), visual literacy (Tyner, 1998), or digital literacy (Buckingham, 2006).

Evaluating digital media requires competencies ranging from assessing the importance of a piece of information to determining its accuracy and source. Evaluating information is not new to the digital age, but the nature of digital information can make it more difficult to understand who the source of information is and whether it can be trusted (Jenkins, 2018). When there are abundant and rapidly changing data across heavily populated networks, anyone with access can generate information online. This results in the learner needing to make decisions about its authenticity, trustworthiness, relevance, and significance. Learning evaluative digital skills means learning to ask questions about who is writing the information, why they are writing it, and who the intended audience is (Buckingham, 2006). Developing critical thinking skills is part of the literacy of evaluating and assessing the suitability for use of a specific piece of information (SCONUL, 2016).

Creating in the digital world makes the production of knowledge and ideas in digital formats explicit. While writing is a critical component of traditional literacy, it is not the only creative tool in the digital toolbox. Other tools are available and include creative activities such as podcasting, making audio-visual presentations, building data visualizations, 3D printing, and writing blogs. Tools that haven’t been thought of before are constantly appearing. In short, a digitally literate individual will want to be able to use all formats in which digital information may be conveyed in the creation of a product. A key component of creating with digital tools is understanding what constitutes fair use and what is considered plagiarism. While this is not new to the digital age, it may be more challenging these days to find the line between copying and extending someone else’s work.

In part, the reason for the increased difficulty in discerning between plagiarism and new work is the “cut and paste culture” of the Internet, referred to as “reproduction literacy” (Eshet 2002, p.4), or appropriation in Jenkins’ New Media Literacies (Jenkins, 2018). The question is, what kind and how much change is required to avoid the accusation of plagiarism? This skill requires the ability to think critically, evaluate a work, and make appropriate decisions. There are tools and information to help understand and find those answers, such as the Creative Commons. Learning about such resources and how to use them is part of digital literacy.


Communicating is the final category of digital skills in the ALA digital framework. The capacity to connect with individuals all over the world creates unique opportunities for learning and sharing information, for which developing digital communication skills is vital. Some of the skills required for communicating in the digital environment include digital citizenship, collaboration, and cultural awareness. This is not to say that one does not need to develop communication skills outside of the digital environment, but that the skills required for digital communication go beyond what is required in a non-digital environment. Most of us are adept at personal, face- to-face communication, but digital communication needs the ability to engage in asynchronous environments such as email, online forums, blogs, social media, and learning platforms where what is written may not be deleted and may be misinterpreted. Add that to an environment where people number in the millions and the opportunities for misunderstanding and cultural miscues are likely.

The communication category of digital literacies covers an extensive array of skills above and beyond what one might need for face-to-face interactions. It is comprised of competencies around ethical and moral behavior, responsible communication for engagement in social and civic activities (Adam Becker et al., 2017), an awareness of audience, and an ability to evaluate the potential impact of one’s online actions. It also includes skills for handling privacy and security in online environments. These activities fall into two main categories: digital citizenship and collaboration.

Digital citizenship refers to one’s ability to interact effectively in the digital world. Part of this skill is good manners, often referred to as “netiquette.” There is a level of context which is often missing in digital communication due to physical distance, lack of personal familiarity with the people online, and the sheer volume of the people who may encounter our words. People who know us well may understand exactly what we mean when we say something sarcastic or ironic, but people online do not know us, and vocal and facial cues are missing in most digital communication, making it more likely we will be misunderstood. Furthermore, we are more likely to misunderstand or be misunderstood if we are unaware of cultural differences. So, digital citizenship includes an awareness of who we are, what we intend to say, and how it might be perceived by other people we do not know (Buckingham, 2006). It is also a process of learning to communicate clearly in ways that help others understand what we mean.

Another key digital skill is collaboration, and it is essential for effective participation in digital projects via the Internet. The Internet allows people to engage with others they may never see in person and work towards common goals, be they social, civic, or business oriented. Creating a community and working together requires a degree of trust and familiarity that can be difficult to build when there is physical distance between the participants. Greater effort must be made to be inclusive , and to overcome perceived or actual distance and disconnectedness. So, while the potential of digital technology for connecting people is impressive, it is not automatic or effortless, and it requires new skills.

Literacy narratives are stories about reading or composing a message in any form or context. They often include poignant memories that involve a personal experience with literacy. Digital literacy narratives can sometimes be categorized as ones that focus on how the writer came to understand the importance of technology in their life or pedagogy. More often, they are simply narratives that use a medium beyond the print-based essay to tell the story:

Create your own literacy narrative that tells of a significant experience you had with digital literacy. Use a multi-modal tool that includes audio and images or video. Share it with your classmates and discuss the most important ideas you notice in each other’s narratives.

Critical literacy

Literacy scholars recognize that although literacy is a cognitive skill, it is also a set of practices that communities and people participate in. Next, we turn to another perspective on literacy – critical literacy. “Critical” here is not meant as having a negative point of view, but rather using an analytic lens that detects power, privilege, and representation to understand different ways of looking at texts. For example, when groups or individuals stage a protest, do the media refer to them as “protesters” or “rioters?” What is the reason for choosing the label they do, and what are the consequences? 

Critical literacy does not have a set definition or typical history of use, but the following key tenets have been described in the literature, which will vary in their application based on the individual social context (Vasquez, 2019). Table 1 presents some key aspects of critical literacy, but this area of literacy research is growing and evolving rapidly, so this is not an exhaustive list.

Table 1. Key Aspects of Critical Literacy

Reading includes the everyday texts students encounter in their lives, not just books assigned at school.

Students write down the messages that they see in public, take photographs of graffiti or signs, or collect candy wrappers to bring to class.

Diverse students’ knowledge (coming from the classroom and the children’s homes) (Gonzalez, Moll, & Amanti, 2006) and multilingual/modal practices (Lau, 2012) should be used to enhance the curriculum.

Invite children to bring and share meaningful objects, stories, and language from home.

Students learn best when learning is authentic and connected to their lives.

Provide a wide variety of texts in the classroom to represent children from many different backgrounds.

Texts are never neutral but reflect the author’s social perspective. On the flip side, the way we read texts is not neutral either.

Maps are based on selections of what to include and exclude. Putting north at the top and Europe at the center implies that those regions are more important.

Critical literacy work focuses on social issues, including inequities of race, class, gender, and disability, and the ways in which we use language to form our understanding of these issues.

O’Brien (2001) asked children to analyze a catalogue promoting Mother’s Day. They discovered that the mothers in the photographs were all youthful (age), White (race), well-dressed (class), and able-bodied (disability).

Literacy practices should be transformative: Students should be empowered to investigate issues that impact them and then to engage in civic actions to solve problems.

Students take photographs of trash in their local park. They interview people in the neighborhood about the park conditions, and then they create a slideshow to present at a city-council meeting.

An important component of critical literacy is the adoption of culturally responsive and sustaining pedagogy. One definition comes from Dr. Django Paris (2012), who stated that Culturally Responsive-Sustaining (CR-S) education recognizes that cultural differences (including racial, ethnic, linguistic, gender, sexuality, and ability ones) should be treated as assets for teaching and learning. Culturally sustaining pedagogy requires teachers to support multilingualism and multiculturalism in their practice. That is, culturally sustaining pedagogy seeks to perpetuate and foster—to sustain—linguistic, literary, and cultural pluralism as part of the democratic project of schooling.

For more, see the Culturally Responsive and Sustaining F ramework . The framework helps educators to think about how to create student-centered learning environments that uphold racial, linguistic, and cultural identities. It prepares students for rigorous independent learning, develops their abilities to connect across lines of difference, elevates historically marginalized voices, and empowers them as agents of social change. CR-S education explores the relationships between historical and contemporary conditions of inequality and the ideas that shape access, participation, and outcomes for learners.

  • What can you do to learn more about your students’ cultures?
  • How can you build and sustain relationships with your students?
  • How do the instructional materials you use affirm your students’ identities?

Community-based literacies

You may have noticed that communities are a big part of critical literacy – we understand that our environment and culture impact what we read and how we understand the world. Now think about the possible differences among three Iowa communities: a neighborhood in the middle of Des Moines, the rural community of New Hartford, and Coralville, a suburb of Iowa City:

essay on literacy in english

You may not have thought about how living in a certain community might contribute to or take away from a child’s ability to learn to read. Dr. Susan Neuman (2001) did. She and her team investigated the differences between two neighborhoods regarding how much access to books and other reading materials children in those neighborhoods had. One middle-to-upper class neighborhood in Philadelphia had large bookstores, toy stores with educational materials, and well-resourced libraries. The other, a low-income neighborhood, had no bookstores or toy stores. There was a library, but it had fewer resources and served a larger number of patrons. In fact, the team found that even the signs on the businesses were harder to read, and there was less environmental printed word. Their findings showed that each child in the middle-class neighborhood had 13 books on average, while in the lower-class neighborhood there was one book per 300 children .

Dr. Neuman and her team (2019) recently revisited this question. This time, they looked at low-income neighborhoods – those where 60% or more of the people are living in poverty . They compared these to borderline neighborhoods – those with 20-40% in poverty – in three cities, Washington, D.C., Detroit, and Los Angeles. Again, they found significantly fewer books in the very low-income areas. The chart represents the preschool books available for sale in each neighborhood. Note that in the lower-income neighborhood of Washington D.C., there were no books for young children to be found at all!

Now watch this video from Campaign for Grade Level Reading. Access to books is one way that children can have new experiences, but it is not the only way!

What is the “summer slide,” and how does it contribute to the differences in children’s reading abilities?

The importance of being literate and how to get there

“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope” – Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary-General.

An older black man with a goatee speaks at a podium for the United Nations in a suit.

Our economy is enhanced when citizens have higher literacy levels. Effective literacy skills open the doors to more educational and employment opportunities so that people can lift themselves out of poverty and chronic underemployment. In our increasingly complex and rapidly changing technological world, it is essential that individuals continuously expand their knowledge and learn new skills to keep up with the pace of change. The goal of our public school system in the United States is to “ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live.” This is the basis of the Common Core Standards, developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center). These groups felt that education was too inconsistent across the different states, and today’s students are preparing to enter a world in which colleges and businesses are demanding more than ever before. To ensure that all students are ready for success after high school, the Common Core State Standards established clear universal guidelines for what every student should know and be able to do in math and English language arts from kindergarten through 12th grade: “The Common Core State Standards do not tell teachers how to teach, but they do help teachers figure out the knowledge and skills their students should have” (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2012).

Explore the Core!

Go to and click on Literacy Standards. Spend some time looking at the K-3 standards. Notice how consistent they are across the grade levels. Each has specific requirements within the categories:

  • Reading Standards for Literature
  • Reading Standards for Informational Text
  • Reading Standards for Foundational Skills
  • Writing Standards
  • Speaking and Listening Standards
  • Language Standards

Download the Iowa Core K-12 Literacy Manual . You will use it as a reference when you are creating lessons.

Next, explore the Subject Area pages and resources. What tools does the state provide to teachers to support their use of the Core?

Describe a resource you found on the website. How will you use this when you are a teacher?

Watch this video about the Iowa Literacy Core Standards:

  • Literacy is typically defined as the ability to ingest, understand, and communicate information.
  • Literacy has multiple definitions, each with a different point of focus.
  • “New literacies,” or multiliteracies, are a combination of multiple ways of communicating and making meaning, including visual, audio, spatial, behavioral, and gestural communication.
  • As online communication has become more prevalent, digital literacy has become more important for learners to engage with the wealth of information available online.
  • Critical literacy develops learners’ critical thinking by asking them to use an analytic lens that detects power, privilege, and representation to understand different ways of looking at information.
  • The Common Core State Standards were established to set clear, universal guidelines for what every student should know after completing high school.

Resources for teacher educators

  • Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education Framework [PDF]
  • Common Core State Standards
  • Iowa Core Instructional Resources in Literacy

Gonzalez, N., Moll, L. C., & Amanti, C. (Eds.). (2006). Funds of knowledge: Theorizing practices in households, communities, and classrooms . New York, NY: Routledge.

Lau, S. M. C. (2012). Reconceptualizing critical literacy teaching in ESL classrooms. The Reading Teacher, 65 , 325–329.

Literacy. (2018, March 19). Retrieved March 2, 2020, from

Neuman, S. B., & Celano, D. (2001). Access to print in low‐income and middle‐income communities: An ecological study of four neighborhoods. Reading Research Quarterly, 36 (1), 8-26.

Neuman, S. B., & Moland, N. (2019). Book deserts: The consequences of income segregation on children’s access to print.  Urban education, 54 (1), 126-147.

New London Group (1996). A Pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures.  Harvard Educational Review, 66 (1), 60-92.

O’Brien, J. (2001). Children reading critically: A local history. In B. Comber & A. Simpson (Eds.), Negotiating critical literacies in classrooms (pp. 41–60). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Ordoñez-Jasis, R., & Ortiz, R. W. (2006). Reading their worlds: Working with diverse families to enhance children’s early literacy development. Y C Young Children, 61 (1), 42.

Saha S. (2006). Improving literacy as a means to reducing health disparities. J Gen Intern Med. 21 (8):893-895. doi:10.1111/j.1525-1497.2006.00546.x

UNESCO. (2017). Literacy rates continue to rise from one generation to the next global literacy trends today. Retrieved from

Vasquez, V.M., Janks, H. & Comber, B. (2019). Critical Literacy as a Way of Being and Doing. Language Arts, 96 (5), 300-311.

Vlieghe, J. (2015). Traditional and digital literacy. The literacy hypothesis, technologies of reading and writing, and the ‘grammatized’ body. Ethics and Education, 10 (2), 209-226.

Zimmerman, E. B., Woolf, S. H., Blackburn, S. M., Kimmel, A. D., Barnes, A. J., & Bono, R. S. (2018). The case for considering education and health. Urban Education, 53 (6), 744-773.U.S. Department of Education. Institute of Education Sciences.

U.S. Department of Education. Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2022 Reading Assessment.

Methods of Teaching Early Literacy Copyright © 2023 by Constance Beecher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

National Council of Teachers of English

  • Career Center

essay on literacy in english

Literacy is More than Just Reading and Writing

NCTE 03.23.20 Diversity

From the NCTE Standing Committee on Global Citizenship

This post was written by NCTE member Amber Peterson, a member of the NCTE Standing Committee on Global Citizenship.

“History is written by the victors.” —Unknown

As committee members, we regularly wrestle with pinning down a comprehensive definition of literacy. The common definition, “the ability to read and write,” gets increasingly complex upon closer examination. What does mastery of reading and writing look like? How do we measure it? How do we weigh digital and technological proficiency? Where does numeracy come in? How do the values of our communities and cultural practices come into play? sWhen measuring literacy, which languages and dialects count and which do not?

Despite the complexity, literacy is the global metric we use to assess the health and competence of communities. High literacy rates have been found to correlate to everything from better access to economic opportunity, to better nutrition, to environmental sustainability.

In fact, bolstering global literacy underpins all of UNESCO’s 2030 Sustainability Goals, acknowledging the fact that ideals like gender equality, sustainable infrastructure, and eradicating poverty and hunger are not possible without literate populations. Correspondingly, UNESCO’s hefty definition of literacy is “a means of identification, understanding, interpretation, creation, and communication in an increasingly digital, text-mediated, information-rich and fast-changing world.” (UNESCO)

This focus on literacy as a tool for meaningful engagement with society makes sense. As our population expands and technology breaks down ever more barriers between us, the ability to communicate and interact with those around us becomes even more important. In our consideration of literacy, however, it is impossible to ignore the myriad ways that imperialist and colonialist systems shape gender and regional disparities in access.

Many historians propose that written language emerged at least in part as a tool for maintaining power. One’s class status dictated one’s access to literacy education, and often those without power were prohibited from learning to read and write at all. Colonialism, imperialism, and the sprawl of anglo-european, male-centered ideology from the 15th Century onward have created global power structures that still dominate today.

When considered from that perspective, it is no surprise that women make up two thirds of the world’s illiterate population, and that sub-Saharan Africa, the region arguably hit hardest by many of those inequitable power structures, has some of the lowest literacy levels in the world.

While our focus must and should be on providing everyone everywhere with the tools to “identify, understand, interpret, create, and communicate in an increasingly digital, text-mediated, information-rich, and fast changing world,” those persistent inequitable power structures dictate that progress will always be lopsided and slow.

As we slog onward, perhaps we also need to examine and consider more closely the world and experience of the “illiterate” as well. Only relatively recently has literacy been expected or even possible for the vast majority of society. For centuries, people have lived, laughed, traded, communicated, and survived without being able to read and write. Even today, though illiteracy can be a literal death sentence (studies have shown that female literacy rates can actually be a predictor of child mortality rates (Saurabh et al)), it is most certainly a metaphorical one wherein the experiences had and contributions made by those so afflicted are devalued both by design and by conceit.

We doom entire cultures and erase the experiences of entire populations by embracing the superiority of those who are literate, but illiteracy doesn’t mean ignorance. We can and should learn from everyone and we must provide other avenues to global citizenship for those who can’t read and write.

So what does this mean for our definition of literacy? At its simplest, literacy is the way that we interact with the world around us, how we shape it and are shaped by it. It is how we communicate with others via reading and writing, but also by speaking, listening, and creating. It is how we articulate our experience in the world and declare, “We Are Here!”

In my work as the director of program innovation for LitWorld, I get to interact with young people all over the world and examine the idea of literacy from many different angles. Resources for literacy education differ dramatically from one place to another, as do metric taking procedures and general best practices.

What does not change is the inherent drive for people to express themselves, to learn, and to grow. I see the enthusiasm with which young people jump at the chance to share stories of themselves and of the world, to be listened to and to absorb. I also see firsthand the devastating effect of being told that your story, your community, and your culture do not matter. I have witnessed the loss of confidence, the dwindling self-esteem, and the cycle of hopelessness that comes with the silencing of voices.

It is our charge as educators and as global citizens to embrace literacy in ALL of its forms.

5 Suggestions for Embracing Literacy for Global Citizenship in the Classroom

  • Focus on students’ own stories . Find ways to center their experiences and lean in to opportunities to share them both informally and formally.
  • Embrace ALL of the languages your students speak. Being multilingual is an asset, not a deficit! Many of our students are multilingual in ways we never acknowledge. Mastery of formal and standardized language structures is an important tool that every student deserves access to, but life often happens outside of and around those structures. Those everyday interactions are important, valuable, and valid as well.
  • Provide regular access to diverse stories, images, experiences, and perspectives. The world is enormous and that diversity is beautiful. Help your students to see it as such. Providing access to underrepresented narratives and accounts helps to decolonize your classroom and normalize embracing the unfamiliar.
  • Place value on reading, writing, speaking, listening, and creating in your students’ work. Ensure that reading and writing are not the only ways in which students are acknowledged and celebrated for taking in ideas, expressing their thoughts, or demonstrating understanding. Encouraging multiple modes of expression not only provides more opportunities for students to explore and display their own intelligence, it also primes them to seek information, inspiration, and knowledge from diverse sources.
  • Read aloud together, and often . Reading aloud is effective across grade levels, despite the fact that this critical practice usually stops in elementary school. Reading aloud can provide access to content that students might not be able to access on their own. It is also a way of creating community and building a shared experience as a whole class.

The Standing Committee on Global Citizenship works to identify and address issues of broad concern to NCTE members interested in promoting global citizenship and connections across global contexts within the Council and within members’ teaching contexts.

Literacy. (2018, March 19). Retrieved March 2, 2020, from

Saurabh, S., Sarkar, S., & Pandey, D. K. (2013). Female Literacy Rate is a Better Predictor of Birth Rate and Infant Mortality Rate in India. Retrieved March 2, 2020, from

The Sustainable Development Agenda—United Nations Sustainable Development. (n.d.). Retrieved March 2, 2020, from

essay on literacy in english

Interesting Literature

How to Write a Good English Literature Essay

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

How do you write a good English Literature essay? Although to an extent this depends on the particular subject you’re writing about, and on the nature of the question your essay is attempting to answer, there are a few general guidelines for how to write a convincing essay – just as there are a few guidelines for writing well in any field.

We at Interesting Literature  call them ‘guidelines’ because we hesitate to use the word ‘rules’, which seems too programmatic. And as the writing habits of successful authors demonstrate, there is no  one way to become a good writer – of essays, novels, poems, or whatever it is you’re setting out to write. The French writer Colette liked to begin her writing day by picking the fleas off her cat.

Edith Sitwell, by all accounts, liked to lie in an open coffin before she began her day’s writing. Friedrich von Schiller kept rotten apples in his desk, claiming he needed the scent of their decay to help him write. (For most student essay-writers, such an aroma is probably allowed to arise in the writing-room more organically, over time.)

We will address our suggestions for successful essay-writing to the average student of English Literature, whether at university or school level. There are many ways to approach the task of essay-writing, and these are just a few pointers for how to write a better English essay – and some of these pointers may also work for other disciplines and subjects, too.

Of course, these guidelines are designed to be of interest to the non-essay-writer too – people who have an interest in the craft of writing in general. If this describes you, we hope you enjoy the list as well. Remember, though, everyone can find writing difficult: as Thomas Mann memorably put it, ‘A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.’ Nora Ephron was briefer: ‘I think the hardest thing about writing is writing.’ So, the guidelines for successful essay-writing:

1. Planning is important, but don’t spend too long perfecting a structure that might end up changing.

This may seem like odd advice to kick off with, but the truth is that different approaches work for different students and essayists. You need to find out which method works best for you.

It’s not a bad idea, regardless of whether you’re a big planner or not, to sketch out perhaps a few points on a sheet of paper before you start, but don’t be surprised if you end up moving away from it slightly – or considerably – when you start to write.

Often the most extensively planned essays are the most mechanistic and dull in execution, precisely because the writer has drawn up a plan and refused to deviate from it. What  is a more valuable skill is to be able to sense when your argument may be starting to go off-topic, or your point is getting out of hand,  as you write . (For help on this, see point 5 below.)

We might even say that when it comes to knowing how to write a good English Literature essay,  practising  is more important than planning.

2. Make room for close analysis of the text, or texts.

Whilst it’s true that some first-class or A-grade essays will be impressive without containing any close reading as such, most of the highest-scoring and most sophisticated essays tend to zoom in on the text and examine its language and imagery closely in the course of the argument. (Close reading of literary texts arises from theology and the analysis of holy scripture, but really became a ‘thing’ in literary criticism in the early twentieth century, when T. S. Eliot, F. R. Leavis, William Empson, and other influential essayists started to subject the poem or novel to close scrutiny.)

Close reading has two distinct advantages: it increases the specificity of your argument (so you can’t be so easily accused of generalising a point), and it improves your chances of pointing up something about the text which none of the other essays your marker is reading will have said. For instance, take In Memoriam  (1850), which is a long Victorian poem by the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson about his grief following the death of his close friend, Arthur Hallam, in the early 1830s.

When answering a question about the representation of religious faith in Tennyson’s poem  In Memoriam  (1850), how might you write a particularly brilliant essay about this theme? Anyone can make a general point about the poet’s crisis of faith; but to look closely at the language used gives you the chance to show  how the poet portrays this.

For instance, consider this stanza, which conveys the poet’s doubt:

A solid and perfectly competent essay might cite this stanza in support of the claim that Tennyson is finding it increasingly difficult to have faith in God (following the untimely and senseless death of his friend, Arthur Hallam). But there are several ways of then doing something more with it. For instance, you might get close to the poem’s imagery, and show how Tennyson conveys this idea, through the image of the ‘altar-stairs’ associated with religious worship and the idea of the stairs leading ‘thro’ darkness’ towards God.

In other words, Tennyson sees faith as a matter of groping through the darkness, trusting in God without having evidence that he is there. If you like, it’s a matter of ‘blind faith’. That would be a good reading. Now, here’s how to make a good English essay on this subject even better: one might look at how the word ‘falter’ – which encapsulates Tennyson’s stumbling faith – disperses into ‘falling’ and ‘altar’ in the succeeding lines. The word ‘falter’, we might say, itself falters or falls apart.

That is doing more than just interpreting the words: it’s being a highly careful reader of the poetry and showing how attentive to the language of the poetry you can be – all the while answering the question, about how the poem portrays the idea of faith. So, read and then reread the text you’re writing about – and be sensitive to such nuances of language and style.

The best way to  become attuned to such nuances is revealed in point 5. We might summarise this point as follows: when it comes to knowing how to write a persuasive English Literature essay, it’s one thing to have a broad and overarching argument, but don’t be afraid to use the  microscope as well as the telescope.

3. Provide several pieces of evidence where possible.

Many essays have a point to make and make it, tacking on a single piece of evidence from the text (or from beyond the text, e.g. a critical, historical, or biographical source) in the hope that this will be enough to make the point convincing.

‘State, quote, explain’ is the Holy Trinity of the Paragraph for many. What’s wrong with it? For one thing, this approach is too formulaic and basic for many arguments. Is one quotation enough to support a point? It’s often a matter of degree, and although one piece of evidence is better than none, two or three pieces will be even more persuasive.

After all, in a court of law a single eyewitness account won’t be enough to convict the accused of the crime, and even a confession from the accused would carry more weight if it comes supported by other, objective evidence (e.g. DNA, fingerprints, and so on).

Let’s go back to the example about Tennyson’s faith in his poem  In Memoriam  mentioned above. Perhaps you don’t find the end of the poem convincing – when the poet claims to have rediscovered his Christian faith and to have overcome his grief at the loss of his friend.

You can find examples from the end of the poem to suggest your reading of the poet’s insincerity may have validity, but looking at sources beyond the poem – e.g. a good edition of the text, which will contain biographical and critical information – may help you to find a clinching piece of evidence to support your reading.

And, sure enough, Tennyson is reported to have said of  In Memoriam : ‘It’s too hopeful, this poem, more than I am myself.’ And there we have it: much more convincing than simply positing your reading of the poem with a few ambiguous quotations from the poem itself.

Of course, this rule also works in reverse: if you want to argue, for instance, that T. S. Eliot’s  The Waste Land is overwhelmingly inspired by the poet’s unhappy marriage to his first wife, then using a decent biographical source makes sense – but if you didn’t show evidence for this idea from the poem itself (see point 2), all you’ve got is a vague, general link between the poet’s life and his work.

Show  how the poet’s marriage is reflected in the work, e.g. through men and women’s relationships throughout the poem being shown as empty, soulless, and unhappy. In other words, when setting out to write a good English essay about any text, don’t be afraid to  pile on  the evidence – though be sensible, a handful of quotations or examples should be more than enough to make your point convincing.

4. Avoid tentative or speculative phrasing.

Many essays tend to suffer from the above problem of a lack of evidence, so the point fails to convince. This has a knock-on effect: often the student making the point doesn’t sound especially convinced by it either. This leaks out in the telling use of, and reliance on, certain uncertain  phrases: ‘Tennyson might have’ or ‘perhaps Harper Lee wrote this to portray’ or ‘it can be argued that’.

An English university professor used to write in the margins of an essay which used this last phrase, ‘What  can’t be argued?’

This is a fair criticism: anything can be argued (badly), but it depends on what evidence you can bring to bear on it (point 3) as to whether it will be a persuasive argument. (Arguing that the plays of Shakespeare were written by a Martian who came down to Earth and ingratiated himself with the world of Elizabethan theatre is a theory that can be argued, though few would take it seriously. We wish we could say ‘none’, but that’s a story for another day.)

Many essay-writers, because they’re aware that texts are often open-ended and invite multiple interpretations (as almost all great works of literature invariably do), think that writing ‘it can be argued’ acknowledges the text’s rich layering of meaning and is therefore valid.

Whilst this is certainly a fact – texts are open-ended and can be read in wildly different ways – the phrase ‘it can be argued’ is best used sparingly if at all. It should be taken as true that your interpretation is, at bottom, probably unprovable. What would it mean to ‘prove’ a reading as correct, anyway? Because you found evidence that the author intended the same thing as you’ve argued of their text? Tennyson wrote in a letter, ‘I wrote In Memoriam  because…’?

But the author might have lied about it (e.g. in an attempt to dissuade people from looking too much into their private life), or they might have changed their mind (to go back to the example of  The Waste Land : T. S. Eliot championed the idea of poetic impersonality in an essay of 1919, but years later he described  The Waste Land as ‘only the relief of a personal and wholly insignificant grouse against life’ – hardly impersonal, then).

Texts – and their writers – can often be contradictory, or cagey about their meaning. But we as critics have to act responsibly when writing about literary texts in any good English essay or exam answer. We need to argue honestly, and sincerely – and not use what Wikipedia calls ‘weasel words’ or hedging expressions.

So, if nothing is utterly provable, all that remains is to make the strongest possible case you can with the evidence available. You do this, not only through marshalling the evidence in an effective way, but by writing in a confident voice when making your case. Fundamentally, ‘There is evidence to suggest that’ says more or less the same thing as ‘It can be argued’, but it foregrounds the  evidence rather than the argument, so is preferable as a phrase.

This point might be summarised by saying: the best way to write a good English Literature essay is to be honest about the reading you’re putting forward, so you can be confident in your interpretation and use clear, bold language. (‘Bold’ is good, but don’t get too cocky, of course…)

5. Read the work of other critics.

This might be viewed as the Holy Grail of good essay-writing tips, since it is perhaps the single most effective way to improve your own writing. Even if you’re writing an essay as part of school coursework rather than a university degree, and don’t need to research other critics for your essay, it’s worth finding a good writer of literary criticism and reading their work. Why is this worth doing?

Published criticism has at least one thing in its favour, at least if it’s published by an academic press or has appeared in an academic journal, and that is that it’s most probably been peer-reviewed, meaning that other academics have read it, closely studied its argument, checked it for errors or inaccuracies, and helped to ensure that it is expressed in a fluent, clear, and effective way.

If you’re serious about finding out how to write a better English essay, then you need to study how successful writers in the genre do it. And essay-writing is a genre, the same as novel-writing or poetry. But why will reading criticism help you? Because the critics you read can show you how to do all of the above: how to present a close reading of a poem, how to advance an argument that is not speculative or tentative yet not over-confident, how to use evidence from the text to make your argument more persuasive.

And, the more you read of other critics – a page a night, say, over a few months – the better you’ll get. It’s like textual osmosis: a little bit of their style will rub off on you, and every writer learns by the examples of other writers.

As T. S. Eliot himself said, ‘The poem which is absolutely original is absolutely bad.’ Don’t get precious about your own distinctive writing style and become afraid you’ll lose it. You can’t  gain a truly original style before you’ve looked at other people’s and worked out what you like and what you can ‘steal’ for your own ends.

We say ‘steal’, but this is not the same as saying that plagiarism is okay, of course. But consider this example. You read an accessible book on Shakespeare’s language and the author makes a point about rhymes in Shakespeare. When you’re working on your essay on the poetry of Christina Rossetti, you notice a similar use of rhyme, and remember the point made by the Shakespeare critic.

This is not plagiarising a point but applying it independently to another writer. It shows independent interpretive skills and an ability to understand and apply what you have read. This is another of the advantages of reading critics, so this would be our final piece of advice for learning how to write a good English essay: find a critic whose style you like, and study their craft.

If you’re looking for suggestions, we can recommend a few favourites: Christopher Ricks, whose  The Force of Poetry is a tour de force; Jonathan Bate, whose  The Genius of Shakespeare , although written for a general rather than academic audience, is written by a leading Shakespeare scholar and academic; and Helen Gardner, whose  The Art of T. S. Eliot , whilst dated (it came out in 1949), is a wonderfully lucid and articulate analysis of Eliot’s poetry.

James Wood’s How Fiction Works  is also a fine example of lucid prose and how to close-read literary texts. Doubtless readers of  Interesting Literature will have their own favourites to suggest in the comments, so do check those out, as these are just three personal favourites. What’s your favourite work of literary scholarship/criticism? Suggestions please.

Much of all this may strike you as common sense, but even the most commonsensical advice can go out of your mind when you have a piece of coursework to write, or an exam to revise for. We hope these suggestions help to remind you of some of the key tenets of good essay-writing practice – though remember, these aren’t so much commandments as recommendations. No one can ‘tell’ you how to write a good English Literature essay as such.

But it can be learned. And remember, be interesting – find the things in the poems or plays or novels which really ignite your enthusiasm. As John Mortimer said, ‘The only rule I have found to have any validity in writing is not to bore yourself.’

Finally, good luck – and happy writing!

And if you enjoyed these tips for how to write a persuasive English essay, check out our advice for how to remember things for exams  and our tips for becoming a better close reader of poetry .

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30 thoughts on “How to Write a Good English Literature Essay”

You must have taken AP Literature. I’m always saying these same points to my students.

I also think a crucial part of excellent essay writing that too many students do not realize is that not every point or interpretation needs to be addressed. When offered the chance to write your interpretation of a work of literature, it is important to note that there of course are many but your essay should choose one and focus evidence on this one view rather than attempting to include all views and evidence to back up each view.

Reblogged this on SocioTech'nowledge .

Not a bad effort…not at all! (Did you intend “subject” instead of “object” in numbered paragraph two, line seven?”

Oops! I did indeed – many thanks for spotting. Duly corrected ;)

That’s what comes of writing about philosophy and the subject/object for another post at the same time!

Reblogged this on Scribing English .

  • Pingback: Recommended Resource: Interesting & how to write an essay | Write Out Loud

Great post on essay writing! I’ve shared a post about this and about the blog site in general which you can look at here:

All of these are very good points – especially I like 2 and 5. I’d like to read the essay on the Martian who wrote Shakespeare’s plays).

Reblogged this on Uniqely Mustered and commented: Dedicate this to all upcoming writers and lovers of Writing!

I shall take this as my New Year boost in Writing Essays. Please try to visit often for corrections,advise and criticisms.

Reblogged this on Blue Banana Bread .

Reblogged this on worldsinthenet .

All very good points, but numbers 2 and 4 are especially interesting.

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Reblogged this on rainniewu .

Reblogged this on pixcdrinks .

  • Pingback: How to Write a Good English Essay? Interesting Literature | EngLL.Com

Great post. Interesting infographic how to write an argumentative essay

Reblogged this on DISTINCT CHARACTER and commented: Good Tips

Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner and commented: This could be applied to novel or short story writing as well.

Reblogged this on rosetech67 and commented: Useful, albeit maybe a bit late for me :-)

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such a nice pieace of content you shared in this write up about “How to Write a Good English Essay” going to share on another useful resource that is

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A well rounded summary on all steps to keep in mind while starting on writing. There are many new avenues available though. Benefit from the writing options of the 21st century from here, i loved it!

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Literary Analysis Essay

Literary Analysis Essay Writing

Last updated on: May 21, 2023

Literary Analysis Essay - Ultimate Guide By Professionals

By: Cordon J.

Reviewed By: Rylee W.

Published on: Dec 3, 2019

Literary Analysis Essay

A literary analysis essay specifically examines and evaluates a piece of literature or a literary work. It also understands and explains the links between the small parts to their whole information.

It is important for students to understand the meaning and the true essence of literature to write a literary essay.

One of the most difficult assignments for students is writing a literary analysis essay. It can be hard to come up with an original idea or find enough material to write about. You might think you need years of experience in order to create a good paper, but that's not true.

This blog post will show you how easy it can be when you follow the steps given here.Writing such an essay involves the breakdown of a book into small parts and understanding each part separately. It seems easy, right?

Trust us, it is not as hard as good book reports but it may also not be extremely easy. You will have to take into account different approaches and explain them in relation with the chosen literary work.

It is a common high school and college assignment and you can learn everything in this blog.

Continue reading for some useful tips with an example to write a literary analysis essay that will be on point. You can also explore our detailed article on writing an analytical essay .

Literary Analysis Essay

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What is a Literary Analysis Essay?

A literary analysis essay is an important kind of essay that focuses on the detailed analysis of the work of literature.

The purpose of a literary analysis essay is to explain why the author has used a specific theme for his work. Or examine the characters, themes, literary devices , figurative language, and settings in the story.

This type of essay encourages students to think about how the book or the short story has been written. And why the author has created this work.

The method used in the literary analysis essay differs from other types of essays. It primarily focuses on the type of work and literature that is being analyzed.

Mostly, you will be going to break down the work into various parts. In order to develop a better understanding of the idea being discussed, each part will be discussed separately.

The essay should explain the choices of the author and point of view along with your answers and personal analysis.

How To Write A Literary Analysis Essay

So how to start a literary analysis essay? The answer to this question is quite simple.

The following sections are required to write an effective literary analysis essay. By following the guidelines given in the following sections, you will be able to craft a winning literary analysis essay.


The aim of the introduction is to establish a context for readers. You have to give a brief on the background of the selected topic.

It should contain the name of the author of the literary work along with its title. The introduction should be effective enough to grab the reader’s attention.

In the body section, you have to retell the story that the writer has narrated. It is a good idea to create a summary as it is one of the important tips of literary analysis.

Other than that, you are required to develop ideas and disclose the observed information related to the issue. The ideal length of the body section is around 1000 words.

To write the body section, your observation should be based on evidence and your own style of writing.

It would be great if the body of your essay is divided into three paragraphs. Make a strong argument with facts related to the thesis statement in all of the paragraphs in the body section.

Start writing each paragraph with a topic sentence and use transition words when moving to the next paragraph.

Summarize the important points of your literary analysis essay in this section. It is important to compose a short and strong conclusion to help you make a final impression of your essay.

Pay attention that this section does not contain any new information. It should provide a sense of completion by restating the main idea with a short description of your arguments. End the conclusion with your supporting details.

You have to explain why the book is important. Also, elaborate on the means that the authors used to convey her/his opinion regarding the issue.

For further understanding, here is a downloadable literary analysis essay outline. This outline will help you structure and format your essay properly and earn an A easily.


Types of Literary Analysis Essay

  • Close reading - This method involves attentive reading and detailed analysis. No need for a lot of knowledge and inspiration to write an essay that shows your creative skills.
  • Theoretical - In this type, you will rely on theories related to the selected topic.
  • Historical - This type of essay concerns the discipline of history. Sometimes historical analysis is required to explain events in detail.
  • Applied - This type involves analysis of a specific issue from a practical perspective.
  • Comparative - This type of writing is based on when two or more alternatives are compared

Examples of Literary Analysis Essay

Examples are great to understand any concept, especially if it is related to writing. Below are some great literary analysis essay examples that showcase how this type of essay is written.





If you do not have experience in writing essays, this will be a very chaotic process for you. In that case, it is very important for you to conduct good research on the topic before writing.

There are two important points that you should keep in mind when writing a literary analysis essay.

First, remember that it is very important to select a topic in which you are interested. Choose something that really inspires you. This will help you to catch the attention of a reader.

The selected topic should reflect the main idea of writing. In addition to that, it should also express your point of view as well.

Another important thing is to draft a good outline for your literary analysis essay. It will help you to define a central point and division of this into parts for further discussion.

Literary Analysis Essay Topics

Literary analysis essays are mostly based on artistic works like books, movies, paintings, and other forms of art. However, generally, students choose novels and books to write their literary essays.

Some cool, fresh, and good topics and ideas are listed below:

  • Role of the Three Witches in flaming Macbeth’s ambition.
  • Analyze the themes of the Play Antigone,
  • Discuss Ajax as a tragic hero.
  • The Judgement of Paris: Analyze the Reasons and their Consequences.
  • Oedipus Rex: A Doomed Son or a Conqueror?
  • Describe the Oedipus complex and Electra complex in relation to their respective myths.
  • Betrayal is a common theme of Shakespearean tragedies. Discuss
  • Identify and analyze the traits of history in T.S Eliot’s ‘Gerontion’.
  • Analyze the theme of identity crisis in The Great Gatsby.
  • Analyze the writing style of Emily Dickinson.

If you are still in doubt then there is nothing bad in getting professional writers’ help.

We at can help you get a custom paper as per your specified requirements with our do essay for me service.

Our essay writers will help you write outstanding literary essays or any other type of essay. Such as compare and contrast essays, descriptive essays, rhetorical essays. We cover all of these.

So don’t waste your time browsing the internet and place your order now to get your well-written custom paper.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should a literary analysis essay include.

A good literary analysis essay must include a proper and in-depth explanation of your ideas. They must be backed with examples and evidence from the text. Textual evidence includes summaries, paraphrased text, original work details, and direct quotes.

What are the 4 components of literary analysis?

Here are the 4 essential parts of a literary analysis essay;

No literary work is explained properly without discussing and explaining these 4 things.

How do you start a literary analysis essay?

Start your literary analysis essay with the name of the work and the title. Hook your readers by introducing the main ideas that you will discuss in your essay and engage them from the start.

How do you do a literary analysis?

In a literary analysis essay, you study the text closely, understand and interpret its meanings. And try to find out the reasons behind why the author has used certain symbols, themes, and objects in the work.

Why is literary analysis important?

It encourages the students to think beyond their existing knowledge, experiences, and belief and build empathy. This helps in improving the writing skills also.

What is the fundamental characteristic of a literary analysis essay?

Interpretation is the fundamental and important feature of a literary analysis essay. The essay is based on how well the writer explains and interprets the work.

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  • DOI: 10.1002/trtr.2352
  • Corpus ID: 270670067

A Window into Multilingual Students' Worlds: Using Multimodal Writing to Support Writing Growth

  • Hongye Zeng
  • Published in The Reading teacher 21 June 2024
  • Education, Linguistics, Computer Science

10 References

Assessing multimodal literacies in practice: a critical review of its implementations in educational settings, creating and navigating a transborder writing space: one multilingual adolescent’s take‐up of dialogue journaling in an english‐medium classroom, honouring esl students' lived experiences in school learning with multiliteracies pedagogy, across languages, modes, and identities: bilingual adolescents’ multimodal codemeshing in the literacy classroom, a pedagogy of multiliteracies designing social futures, developing a sociocritical literacy in the third space, “impossible is nothing”: expressing difficult knowledge through digital storytelling, i’m here for the hard re-set: post pandemic pedagogy to preserve our culture, when our students voice their truths: “this i believe” multimodal essays in action, emergent bilingual students and digital multimodal composition: a systematic review of research in secondary classrooms, related papers.

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Edited Collection CFP for "William Wells Brown: A Man Of Letters"

Call For Papers

Williams Wells Brown: A Man of Letters

William Wells Brown is the author of many firsts in African American literature – the first play, novel, and travel narrative – that did much to establish the tropes and motifs which would become its conventions. While Brown’s most taught and studied writings continue to be his autobiographical Narrative (1847) and his novel Clotel (1853), his literary career and political activism should not be reduced to these two works and the antebellum period. Indeed, as a prolific man of letters who published in five separate decades, Brown merits greater scholarly engagement with the breadth and influence of his literary works.   

This call for  papers seeks contributors for a volume of essays devoted to the richness of  William Wells Brown’s literary contributions. Editors April Logan (Salisbury University) and Joe Conway (University of Alabama in Huntsville) are most interested in considerations of Brown’s less studied writings and speeches. They also welcome papers that chart new approaches to his antebellum work, such as how Brown — an obsessive reviser of his own writing— adapted it to fit the new historical, cultural, and socio-political contexts of the Civil War and Reconstruction. The goal of this essay collection is to do critical justice to the length, eclecticism, and legacy of Brown’s literary career. 

Some texts and contexts to take up  might include but are not limited to the following:

  • Brown’s oratory in America and and his late 1877 speaking tour through England and Scotland
  • Brown’s engagement with music and poetry, such as in The Anti-slavery Harp (1848)
  • Brown as a playwright and performer (ex., The Escape (1858))
  • Brown’s interest in visual culture, such as in his Original Panoramic Views (1849)
  • Brown and the Black Atlantic, including his travel narratives such as Three Years in Europe: or, Places I have Seen and People I have Me t. (1852); “Visit of a Fugitive Slave to the Grave of Wilberforce” in Autographs for Freedom (1854); and American Fugitive in Europe. Sketches of Place and People Abroad  (1855)
  • Brown’s historical imagination and the archive, his development as a historian, and/or his place in the Black historiographical tradition in works like St. Domingo: Its Revolution and Its Patriots (1855); The Black Man (1862); The Negro in the American Rebellion (1867); and The Rising Son (1873)
  • Brown’s innovations in traditional genres, such as his mixture of autobiography, politics, and humor in My Southern Home: or, The South and Its People (1880)
  • Brown’s many revisions, such as  Miralda’s 1860-1 publication in The Anglo-African and Clotelle ’s 1864 publication in Redpath’s “Books for the Campfire Series”

A university press has shown strong interest in this project. The editors seek proposals of 250-300 words as well as a short C.V. describing the scholarly work of potential contributors. Proposals from graduate students and contingent faculty are very much welcome. Please submit proposals to [email protected] and  [email protected] by October 15, 2024. Final essays will be expected by June 15, 2025.


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