PARCC Prep: Literary Analysis Writing Lesson Cycle UPDATED, 1-28-2020

[The original version of this post can be found here.  I’ve added some new resources and updated explanations.]

As many of you know, I have written numerous posts on how to teach literary analysis writing HERE. You will want to review this post on Essential Literacy Work Before You Begin Test Prep. You can also find an array of useful tools on the TLC “Analyzing Literature,” “Literary Response Paper Guide,” and “PARCC Prep” pages, among others.***

Following is a sample lesson cycle for teaching the PARCC (AKA NJSLA in NJ) Literary Analysis Writing Task. It familiarizes students with that genre of writing and builds needed reading and writing skills. You will note that it mirrors the Research Simulation Task in many respects, albeit with literature as opposed to nonfiction (and uses only two texts instead of three).

As with all instruction, I must add the caveat that test prep should not be done 24/7, and while it is necessary, it is not sufficient to prepare students for academic and career success.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please chime in!



Lesson #1

Objective: SWBAT turn a statement into a question in order to unpack PARCC writing prompts.

Time Frame: 50 minutes


As we prepare for PARCC, the MOST IMPORTANT thing you need to be able to do is what we are working on today: turning the prompt into a question. 99% of the time, the prompt is not worded as a question and it does not end with a question mark. If you don’t know what the question is, you probably won’t answer it! But if you DO turn it into a question, you should be able to answer it.


As a reminder, when we take the PARCC ELA portion, the FIRST THING YOU SHOULD DO is click forward to the writing prompt so that you can turn it into a question and write it on your scrap paper. Why? Because the question(s) will guide your reading. You will take notes on the texts looking for answers to the question(s).


1.     To unpack the prompt, find the “question verb” (such as “describe” or “explain” or “analyze” or “evaluate” or “compare/contrast”) and either “how” or “why.”

2.     HINT: If there is no “how/why,” begin your question with “How.”

3.     Ask the question using the verbiage that follows the question verb (or as one of my colleagues likes to say, “Recycle, recycle, recycle!”)

4.     Note: Do NOT include the question verb (describe, explain, etc.) in the question (like “How can you describe…?” NO!). It is merely a signal that you are about to start your question. And you definitely should not include “compare/contrast” in the question because it is implied by the task involving two texts.

PS: You can find PARCC-released prompts and items here. You can also find one file with all of the updated Literary Analysis Prompts on the TLC “PARCC Prep” page.

Example Prompt: Think about how the structural elements in “Emergency on the Mountain” differ from the structural elements in the poem “Mountains.” Write an essay that explains the differences in the structural elements between the passage and the poem. Be sure to include specific examples from both texts to support your response.

-> Question: How do the structural elements in “Emergency on the Mountain” differ from the structural elements in the poem “Mountains”?


99% of the time, you will easily find HOW or WHY.   If you don’t see HOW or WHY, find the verb and insert HOW:

Example Prompt: Where the Red Fern Grows and “The Lighthouse Lamp” are written from different points of view. Write an essay analyzing the impact of point of view on events in the passage from Where the Red Fern Grows and the impact of point of view on events in the poem, “The Lighthouse Lamp.”   Use specific examples from BOTH texts to support your answer.

-> Question: How do the different points of view in Where the Red Fern Grows and “The Lighthouse Lamp” affect the events in each text?


Look at prompts from various grades. On the TLC “PARCC Prep” page, you will find “PARCC Literary Analysis Writing Prompts-1-29-19,” a file containing dozens of prompts, along with model lesson materials on “unpacking the prompt.” Follow “I Do,” “We Do,” then “You Do.”

Students practice turning given prompts into questions.

NOTE: If prompts require students to infer theme, check out this helpful post on how to infer themes.

Lesson #2

Objective: SWBAT close read text #1 in response to the unpacked prompt in order to take notes for an essay response (untimed).

Time Frame: 40-50 minutes


[Do Now: Practice turning prompts into questions.]

Yesterday we practiced turning the prompts into questions. Today we’re going to practice pulling notes out of the texts to ANSWER the question.   This is a REALLY IMPORTANT LITERARY ANALYSIS SKILL, not just for the PARCC, but for college and life!


1.     Review the question for this task.

2.     Create T-chart on blank paper to take notes.

3.     Model taking notes on ONLY information that answers the question (relates to the prompt) in the first two paragraphs/stanzas (first column).   Notes should be SUPER-BRIEF—NOT COMPLETE SENTENCES—because this is a TIMED test. But remember to include the paragraph number (or line number in a poem) so that you can find that section again.

4.     Partners read and discuss what should be placed in the notes in next paragraph. Not every paragraph/stanza has relevant information!!!

5.     Share out ideas; check for understanding that information is most relevant.

6.     Record those notes on the organizer.

7.     Continue reading paragraph by paragraph (or stanza by stanza).


Lesson #3

Objective: SWBAT close read text #2 in response to the unpacked prompt, in order to take notes for an essay response (untimed).

Time Frame: 40-50 minutes


[Do Now: 1) Practice turning a prompt into a question. 2) When taking the PARCC, why do we ONLY take notes on the question?]

Let’s go over the Do Now. By now, we should all be experts at turning prompts into questions. What about question 2, though? Why is it so important to only take notes on the question? (Discuss)

Today our goal is to get better at taking EFFICIENT notes when reading a text.   Because we don’t have all the time in the world!


Practice taking notes again on Text #2. (I Do, We Do, You Do)


Lesson #4

(NOTE: For more thoughts on Compare/Contrast writing, see here.)

Objective: SWBAT:

●      Identify similarities among texts in order to address those commonalities when you write your body paragraph.

●      Write thesis statement in order to introduce a literary analysis essay.

Time Frame: 30-40 minutes


Most of the Literary Analysis prompts ask us to compare and contrast in some way, so we will need to identify similarities in our notes. We’re going to use a simple approach: using checkmarks to identify those similarities. Today we’re also going to practice using a simple fill-in-the-blank sentence for our thesis statement….


Using the T-chart you have been working on, model how and why to put checkmarks next to notes that show similarities between both texts. Ask students to evaluate why you put checkmarks next to particular notes.

Consider providing a pre-completed T-chart on some other topic and have students insert checkmarks for practice.

Show students the thesis statement template:

Both [Text 1] and [Text 2] deal with __________________________________ [TOPIC/THEME], but they do so in different ways.

Model this with the titles and topic. Give them another prompt to practice with (You should be able to generate this thesis without even reading the texts).   PS–You can go back to the original prompts for this.


Lesson #5

Objective: SWBAT use notes in order to write effective body paragraphs.

Time Frame: 50 minutes


How do we move from notes to writing? This is one of the hardest things we have to do as readers and writers. Let’s look at how to do this…


The overall structure of the essay will be:

●      Paragraph 1: Thesis statement (see Lesson #4)

●      Paragraph 2: Body paragraph dealing with Text 1

●      Paragraph 3: Body paragraph dealing with Text 2

●      Paragraph 4: Body paragraph dealing with similarities

●      Paragraph 5: One-sentence punchy conclusion

Today, we’ll work on the first two body paragraphs. Show students a completed model of Body 1 and explain how you went from each note to each sentence. See this blog post about moving from notes to sentences. (PS–Even though it’s about RST writing, the strategy is the same.)

Work on Body 2 together.


Lesson #6

Objective: SWBAT:

●      Pull ideas from notes in order to draft body paragraph #3.

●      Identify what both texts have in common in order to write a body paragraph explaining these similarities.

●      Draft a punchy conclusion sentence in order to complete the essay effectively.

Time Frame: 40-50 minutes


Let’s review what we did yesterday… Then we will work together on the “What they all have in common” paragraph.


Body #3 = what they have in common. This needs to be modeled: Instead of drafting this on the spot, show them a completed version in which you have left various phrases out. Enlist students to help you determine what could logically fit in the blanks. Once the paragraph is complete, direct them to rewrite it in their own words.

The last sentence = punchy conclusion sentence that DOES NOT restate the thesis. This formula works nicely:

“Ultimately, both texts help us realize that __________________.”


Lesson #7 (optional)

Objective: SWBAT analyze PARCC-released items in order to evaluate them through the lens of the PARCC writing rubric.

Time Frame: 50-60 minutes

Materials: PARCC-released RST items (see here), scored student examples, and User-friendly PARCC Writing Rubric from the TLC “PARCC Prep” page.


What does PARCC really expect when we do the Literary Analysis Task? Let’s look at the rubric and some student examples that were scored….


●      Analyze the PARCC writing rubric (see the TLC “PARCC Prep” page for User-friendly versions and click HERE for more info on rubrics), and apply it to several scored student responses (see PARCC-released items).

●      I Do, We Do, You Do evaluation of sample student responses using PARCC writing rubric.


Lesson #8

Objective: SWBAT write a timed Literary Analysis response (blank paper and typed writing of tasks) in order to prepare for PARCC.

Time Frame: 70-90 minutes

Material: Laptops (see note below*), blank paper, PARCC-released items.

Intro: Let’s see how we do!


*Insert the passages into a Google Doc/form so that students can simulate the PARCC test-taking experience.

The timeframe you allot for this timed practice depends on several factors. If you work with grade 3, on the actual test, students have 75 minutes to read and take notes (say, 25), answer multiple-choice questions (20), and type their essay (30). In grades 4 and up, students have 90 minutes to read and take notes (say, 30), answer multiple-choice questions (20), and type their essay (40). If you want to save time (owing to scheduling limitations), you can assign the MC questions separately.

PRO TIP: When students are finished, you can print out all of their essays at once using using PDF-Mergy (an app). Here’s a simple 3-min YouTube video explaining how to use PDF-Mergy. Then you can sort through them, determining strengths and needs, and figure out how to design your reteach lesson plan(s).


Lesson #9

(NOTE: Skip a day after Lesson #8 so students who were absent can make up the practice timed test.)

Objective: SWBAT revise their Literary Analysis timed essay response in order to improve their writing.

Time Frame: 40-60 minutes

Material: Laptops

Intro: Today we’re going to see how we did and look at ways to improve. We’ll look at some models and use a revision checklist to strengthen our writing. You will have time to revise your work and meet with me if you have any questions. Our purpose here is not just to get better at PARCC writing but to get better at writing, period.


Phase 1 [First round of revisions, most important stuff]

1.     Answers the question(s) raised by the prompt.

2.     Has a clear introduction/thesis statement.

3.     Paragraphs are focused and logically organized.

4.     Cites relevant evidence from ALL texts.

5.     Explains how evidence answers the question(s).

Phase 2 [Second round, also important]

1.     Proper sentence structure (no run-ons or fragments)

2.     Effective use of transitions

3.     Strong vocabulary

4.     Punchy conclusion that does NOT repeat the thesis


Lesson #10

Objective: SWBAT revise their Literary Analysis timed essay response in order to improve their writing.

Time Frame: 40 minutes

Material: Laptops (optional)

Intro: More time to revise!

Lesson: More time to work on revisions if needed.

Going forward, you will of course want to revisit skills that students need more practice on. For information/resources on the texts and multiple-choice questions typically associated with PARCC Literary Analysis sections, see the TLC “PARCC Prep” page.

***As a bonus for TLC Blog followers, here is the 50%-off discount code for yearlong access to the 2,000-plus teacher-friendly tools found on The Literacy Cookbook Website: TLCBOOK50 (Note: ALL CAPS).

About theliteracycookbook

In addition to this blog, I am the creator of THE LITERACY COOKBOOK Website ( and ONLY GOOD BOOKS Blog (, and the author of THE LITERACY COOKBOOK: A Practical Guide to Effective Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening Instruction (Jossey-Bass, 2012), LITERACY AND THE COMMON CORE: Recipes for Action (Jossey-Bass, 2014), and USING GRAMMAR TO IMPROVE WRITING: Recipes for Action (BookBaby, 2018). Check out my Website for more information about my consulting work.
This entry was posted in Assessment(s), Close Reading, Compare and Contrast, Demo Lesson, Lesson-planning, Literary Analysis Writing, Note-taking, Organizing an Essay, PARCC, Rubrics, Test Prep, Thesis Statements, TLC Website Resources, Writing, Writing Feedback and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to PARCC Prep: Literary Analysis Writing Lesson Cycle UPDATED, 1-28-2020

  1. Pingback: PARCC Prep: Research Simulation Task Writing Lesson Cycle UPDATED 2-2-2020 | The Literacy Cookbook blog

  2. Ann says:

    Do you have any sample literary essays?

  3. Ann says:

    Do you have any samples?

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