PARCC Prep: How to Unpack Literary Analysis and Research Writing Prompts

LITERACY AND THE COMMON COREWhen it comes to test preparation, it’s a good idea to teach students to PARAPHRASE the directions. However, in the case of PARCC Literary Analysis and Research writing prompts, it will help even more to teach them to turn the directions into QUESTIONS. This approach makes it easier to respond to the prompt and helps ensure that students address every aspect of the prompt.

Here’s a simple way to do this: Find a key word/phrase such as “explain” or “describe” or “analyze” or “compare and contrast” in the prompt.  Then write a “How” or “Why” question that includes the verbiage that follows that key word/phrase.  See examples below.  I have underlined the key words.

NOTE: The writing prompts appear in two places: first before the reading passages, then right before the space for writing. In the examples below, I indicate the break with “THEN” to show the different verbiage that students will encounter in those different places. I highly recommend training students to read BOTH PARTS of a prompt BEFORE READING so that they can annotate with the clearest sense of purpose.

Here are a few examples using PARCC Practice Test prompts.*

Grade 3 LITERARY ANALYSIS TASK:
Today, you will read two stories titled “Johnny Chuck Finds the Best Thing in the World” and “Me First.” As you read, think about the actions of the characters and the events of the stories. Answer the questions to help you write an essay….THEN: Old Mother West Wind and the Sandwitch both try to teach important lessons to characters in the stories. Write an essay that explains how Old Mother West Wind’s and the Sandwitch’s words and actions are important to the plots of the stories. Use what you learned about the characters to support your essay.
UNPACKED:

How are Old Mother West Wind’s and the Sandwitch’s words and actions important to the plot of the stories?   Explain with details from the stories.

Grade 4 RESEARCH TASK:

Today you will read two articles and watch a video about the survival of wild horses on Assateague Island in Maryland and Chincoteague Island in Virginia. As you review these sources, you will gather information and answer questions so that you can write an essay….

THEN: Your class has been studying about the survival of the ponies on Assateague Island. Using information from the articles and the video, describe the roles that both the horses and humans play in the horses’ survival. Use evidence from the articles and the video to support your answer.

UNPACKED:

How do the horses and humans help the horses survive? Explain, using evidence from the articles and the video to support your answer.

Grade 5 LITERARY ANALYSIS TASK:

Today you will analyze a passage from the novel Ida B and a passage from the novel Moon Over Manifest. As you read these texts, you will gather information and answer questions about the influence of the narrator’s point of view so you can write an essay….

THEN: The stories titled Ida B and Moon Over Manifest both include events that did not happen exactly how the narrators expected them to happen. Write an essay describing how each narrator’s point of view influenced how these events are described. Be sure to use details from both stories.

UNPACKED:

In both stories, things happen that the narrators did not anticipate.  How do both narrators’ points of view influence how they describe these events?  Write an essay that answers this question with details from both stories.

Grade 6 RESEARCH TASK:

Today you will research how zoos impact animals. You will read one article titled “The Stripes Will Survive.” Then you will read one passage titled “The Zoos Go Wild” and view one video titled “Lions at the National Zoo.” As you review these sources, you will gather information and answer questions about how zoos impact animals so you can write an essay….

THEN: You have read two texts and viewed one video that claim that the role of zoos is to protect animals. Write an essay that compares and contrasts the evidence each source uses to support this claim. Be sure to use evidence from all three sources to support your response.

UNPACKED:

In the two texts and video, how does each source support the claim that the role of zoos is to protect animals?  Write an essay that includes evidence from each source.

Grade 7 RESEARCH TASK:

Today you will research electricity and consider some of the methods used in science texts and videos to support different purposes. First you will read a passage that explains some general principles of electricity. Next, you will watch a video about fun ways to learn about electricity circuits. Finally, you will read an article that explains how different materials conduct electricity. As you review these sources, think about the purpose of each and the role that explanations, demonstrations, and/or descriptions of experiments play in communicating that purpose. At the end of the task, you will be asked to write an essay….

THEN: You have learned about electricity by reading two articles, “Energy Story” and  “Conducting Solutions,” and viewing a video clip titled “Hands-on Science with Squishy Circuits.”

In an essay, compare the purposes of the three sources. Then analyze how each source uses explanations, demonstrations, or descriptions of experiments to help accomplish its purpose. Be sure to discuss important differences and similarities between the information gained from the video and the information provided in the articles. Support your response with evidence from each source.

UNPACKED:

In these three sources about electricity, what purpose does each source serve? What message does each convey? How does each source use explanations, demonstrations, or descriptions of experiments to convey its message?   Write an essay, providing evidence from each source to support your assertions.

Grade 8 LITERARY ANALYSIS TASK:

Today you will analyze passages from two novels. As you read these texts, you will gather information and answer questions about the characters and points of view so you can write an analytical essay….

THEN: In Confetti Girl and Tortilla Sun, the narrators have points of view different from those of their parents. Write an essay analyzing how these differences in points of view create tension in both stories. Remember to use details from both texts to support your ideas.

UNPACKED:

In these two passages, how do the differences in point of view between the narrators and their parents cause tension? Write an essay using details from both texts to support your explanations.

Grade 9 RESEARCH TASK:

Today you will research the development and one-time use of the atomic bomb. First you will read a passage from a speech by Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Manhattan Project, under which the bomb was developed in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Then you will read a letter from a group of eminent scientists to President Harry S. Truman, asking him not to use the bomb. Finally you will read about President Truman and his decision to drop the bomb. As you review these sources, you will answer questions and gather information so that you can write an essay synthesizing what you have learned….

THEN: Write an essay that compares and contrasts a primary argument in each text that you have read regarding the decision to drop the atomic bomb. Your essay should explain how effectively you think each author supported that claim with reasoning and/or evidence. Be sure to use evidence from the three texts to support your ideas.

UNPACKED:

How does each of these three texts deal with the question of whether of not President Truman should have dropped the atomic bomb?   Write an essay in which you explain how well each author supported his argument with reasoning and/or evidence.   Be sure to quote from all three texts.

 

*PARCC Practice Tests can be found at:
http://parcc.pearson.com/practice-tests/english/

PS–Thanks to Daquan Mickens at Great Oaks Charter School for inspiring this post!

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About theliteracycookbook

In addition to this blog, I am the creator of THE LITERACY COOKBOOK Website (www.literacycookbook.com) and ONLY GOOD BOOKS Blog (http://onlygoodbooks.wordpress.com/), and the author of THE LITERACY COOKBOOK: A Practical Guide to Effective Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening Instruction (Jossey-Bass, 2012) and LITERACY AND THE COMMON CORE: Recipes for Action (Jossey-Bass, 2014). Check out my Website for more information about my consulting work.
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12 Responses to PARCC Prep: How to Unpack Literary Analysis and Research Writing Prompts

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  5. taraandkate says:

    Hi, I think turning the directions into questions will be so helpful . The only problem is that when taking the computer based test, it would be difficult to navigate from the directions at the start of the test to the directions that come right before you need to write the essay. How do you suggest dealing with that? Thanks,
    Tara

    • Hi, Tara– Thanks for writing. Schools I am working with are training students to click forward to the directions right before the writing box, then on scrap paper record the question(s) that the prompt is asking. I hope this helps!

  6. Sarah says:

    I am looking for Exemplars for the Literary Analysis Writing. After searching your website for the past 30 minutes, I find none. Could you please direct me to the appropriate place? Thank you.

    • Thanks for reaching out. Sorry I don’t have any exemplars to share yet. Am hoping the PARCC people will release some in October or sooner when they release test results! Cheers, ST. (PS, everything I have on PARCC is on the TLC “PARCC Prep” page.)

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