Tutor profile: Brett M.
How do I "use quotes from the text to support my analysis?" How do I even "analyze" in the first place?
I want you to imagine for a second that you're having an argument with a friend. You usually have one main point to make: that your friend is being a bad friend. Throughout your argument, you are saying vague things like "you're never there for me when I need you" and you're super mean." Defensively, your friend says "prove it." Do you usually go on to prove it with specific instances and examples of abandonment and bullying? You bet. And that, my friend, is exactly what using quotes ( specific examples) from the text (history of your relationship) to support your analysis (argument) is all about. So why can't we write the same way we argue? Well, things get foggy when there's a google doc and deadline involved. But allow me to explain how it's all really the same. And no, I won't be doing so in terms of the dreaded T-BEAR method (Thesis- Background/Evidence/Analysis/Reflection). Your thesis statement (main argument) is the heart of your essay; everything pumps back to the purpose of it. It is why you're writing in the first place, after all. Your body paragraphs simply break down the main reasons (topics) as to why your thesis statement is true. You're a bad friend because [insert reason 1 and reason 2]. Super simple. However, what starts to trip students up is that these reasons have reasons. Well, why are your reasons true? THAT is where the quotes come in, or the most specific elements of your essay. So when you're in the body paragraph explaining reason 1 as to why your friend is being mean, you want to come up with crystal clear examples to support that sentiment. This is where referring to the notes you have in your book is so crucial. The better your notes, the more quotes/evidence you'll have to leverage. After you've stated your quote, you'll want to briefly explain/qualify why/how it proves your friend is mean. For example, the quote could be something along the lines of "you look ugly today," and your explanation could be "subjectively rating your friend on the basis of a downward social comparison is mean in any context, let alone one in which the opposite treatment- exchanges of compliments- is normally given. Great! Now that we've proven why this example is mean, we have to answer a common rebuttal your friend might give- "so what?" This is where linking back to your thesis statement makes your argument extremely hard to rebut. Because your friend is mean, and we have an exact example to prove it, all we have to reiterate now is how that evidence is, in fact, one reason as to why your friend is bad. Ex: "It's the cold-hearted nature of your speech that negatively affects my mental health and blurs my understanding of what a friend should be. You are a bad friend, therefore, because you cross the boundaries, for worse, within which a friendship normally plays. And that is the very basic breakdown of how we analyze and use quotes to your advantage. It truly is just like arguing, but with the thoroughness of a lawyer pleading his case.
What are some reading strategies I can use to understand my book better?
The first thing to understand is that every word in your book is intentional; everything is there for a reason. The author has created this intricate world, and you are its visitor. As such, every word is technically significant and noteworthy. Because of this, my first piece of advice is to slow down. I know you have other homework and want to get through it, but taking your time ensures that you fully absorb the complexities of the characters and their environment. The protagonist in your book is going through some type of conflict. Take note of how he or she changes throughout the book, and if this conflict is internal or external. Your teacher will definitely ask you about character development. Underline important narrative moments/whenever the narrator describes the mind, not merely the behavior or action, of certain characters. These are typically the most important moments of the book simply because they are the most revealing. It's in these moments the author is actually showing you WHO this person is, not just WHAT they're doing. In other words, this is the closest you'll get to the author's mind. Jot down a very basic plot summary at the top of each page that starts a new chapter. When you're flipping through the book looking for that quote you can't find, knowing what happens in each chapter will help you narrow your search. This is particularly helpful when you're writing an essay and need a lot of quotes for analysis! Refrain from underlining anything that merely advances the plot. There will be sentences, for instance, that say "she walked up the stairs." Yes, everything is technically significant, but the only thing that's potentially important in this sentence is HOW she walked up the stairs. This leads me to my next point: adjectives are key. Put circles around words or phrases that explain HOW things are unfolding. Try to analyze each chapter when you finish it. Treat it as though it's a book in itself. Take notes in the margin below if the chapter ends halfway through the page. Remember, there's a specific reason why the author chose to end it there. He/she has purposefully segmented this book. Lastly, a good reader is a re-reader. Even college English professors don't understand books the first time they read them. To ace your class and truly understand the subtleties of the literature before you, give it a second chance! Go back and read certain passages that struck you. Re-read the beginning and ends of chapters (and of the book itself) multiple times. Look over your notes. This recalibration is the true key to ultimate understanding.
What's the #1 tip for passing my English class this year?
With this tip, you can kiss Sparknotes goodbye! Most books assigned in high school- and even college, for that matter- are famously the best of all time. They are quite simply worth discussing. How does this help you? Well, all these novels, from Catcher in the Rye to The Great Gatsby, are so historic because of how relatable and applicable they are to everyday life. As a student reading these stories, the best tip is to search on every page for the life lesson that the author is trying to tell. It's as if these authors are trying to give you life advice through the cracks of a long-winded story. That's why it's important to interpret every page figuratively, not literally. Whenever the protagonist sneezes, the author is trying to tell you something. Consider yourself a mystery solver whenever you sit down to read your next 20 pages, and your perspective on reading for English class will change for the better. Still stuck? Don't worry. You've been reading for 200+ pages, and you have no idea what the theme is. But what you do know, most likely, is what the general idea of the book is about. Love? Revenge? Pride? Ambition? Whatever that one word is, put it on the countertop. Now, what ABOUT this word does the book emphasize? That love is futile? That pride kills? That revenge is a dish best-served cold? Once you can come up with a few answers to this incredibly helpful question, you'll have a few different themes to potentially use for your thesis statement, your next class discussion, etc. And as for why the protagonist kept sneezing- that's what's called a motif, or a clue that points to what the theme is (maybe the main character's allergies were meant to figuratively illustrate her moral incompatibility with her hometown environment, continually hinting at her destiny to be elsewhere). With a little less focus on following the plot- and a little more focus on what the details within the plot are telling you about life in general- you'll be mastering your reading and essays in no time! [My aim in answering my hypothetical question was to offer some alternative conceptualizations of a common practice in high-school English: analyzing a story. Most students aren't taught how to think abstractly, especially when history (rote memorization) and math (only-1-answer problem solving) were just a few periods ago. Yet, to pass English you need to be able to reach beyond summary to write a substantive essay. That's why wielding them with the strategies on how to mentally approach these books is what I will always preach as a tutor.]
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