Analytic Essay Lesson Plan Parcc Testing

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).

It’s a simple two-step process. Scan the writing prompt for a VERB indicating what you need to do (such as explain, describe, analyze, evaluate) and a QUESTION WORD such as HOW or WHY.

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”? Write an essay explaining the differences.

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? Write an essay explaining the impact of the point of view on events in each text.

Look at prompts from various grades (HANDOUT NEEDED). 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.

This post about preparing for Common Core assessments offers new material developed by Sarah Tantillo, the author of Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action (Jossey-Bass, 2014) and The Literacy Cookbook (Jossey-Bass, 2012). Be sure to browse her links to other PARCC Prep articles at the end of this post. And check out her website, The Literacy Cookbook, and her TLC Blog.

by Sarah Tantillo

In the PARCC literary analysis task, students must closely analyze two literary texts—often focusing on their themes or points of view—and compare and contrast these texts.

In previous posts, I’ve proposed a lesson series to tackle this task and a tool for teaching students how to infer theme, which is a common requirement since Common Core Reading Anchor Standard #2 isDetermine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.”

This post deals with the challenge of how to organize a compare-and-contrast essay. Many students struggle with this task, I believe, for two reasons:

(1)  Teachers often rely on Venn diagrams to teach the concept of “compare and contrast,” and Venn diagrams are not a useful way to organize writing. They were meant for discussions around set theory, not for essay writing. Seriously. Could you write an essay from notes inserted into this?

(2) Teachers tend to assume that students can transfer their “understandings” from Venn diagrams into full-blown essays, so they don’t spend enough time explaining how to outline and develop the evidence and explanation needed.

Use charts, not Venns

As I’ve noted previously (here and here), instead of trying to fill in Venn diagrams, students should annotate texts with charts that have either two or three columns, depending on the number of texts. For literary analysis, it’s two; for research writing, it’s two texts and a video. Students then put checkmarks next to items that the texts have in common. What remains unchecked should be dealt with in the “contrast” paragraphs.

But you can’t easily write an essay from those notes. You have to organize your ideas.

Here is a simple graphic organizer to help students turn those notes into an outline for writing (click on the image to download a student-friendly PDF version).

As always, students will need lots of modeling and practice to master this step.

Editor’s note: Sarah Tantillo has agreed to share her other PARCC Prep materials with our readers. Just click to access these various posts at her blog. Visit her TLC “PARCC Prep” page to stay up to date with her Common Core assessment materials.


General Information:


General Information:

Research Writing Tasks:

Narrative Writing Tasks:

Literary Analysis Writing Tasks:


Sarah Tantillo writes frequently for MiddleWeb about literacy and the Common Core. She is the author of Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action and The Literacy Cookbook: A Practical Guide to Effective Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening Instruction. Sarah consults with schools on literacy instruction, curriculum development, data-driven instruction, and school culture-building. Sarah has taught high school English and Humanities in both suburban and urban public schools, including the high-performing North Star Academy Charter School of Newark. Visit her website.

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