How To Teach the Difference Between Plot Summary and Analysis

Teaching the difference between plot summary and analysis is something that comes up pretty quickly in the school year if you teach 9th or 10th grade students. And getting the distinction clear is critical for your students’ success in being able to analyze literature in high school and beyond. Fortunately there are a few fun and simple strategies you can use to help your students grasp this so that they can build on it for the rest of the year. In this blog post I want to share with you a step-by-step lesson that can help your students see the differences and work with these concepts in multiple ways.

Begin with an Engaging Warm-Up

It can work well to teach the concept of literary analysis after reading a short story or an accessible poem, but even before you get into that, there are a few ways you can introduce the concept by drawing on things that are familiar to students. One warm up that is an easy go-to for this lesson is to have students jot down characteristics of a superhero who has the best set of skills.  They don’t realize it, but even in this short exercise they are starting to analyze. Soon we will make this explicit in the rest of the lesson.

Review the Definitions

After students think about a character from a movie that they remember and chat about that person, you can make a few definitions explicit. Here you will break down exactly what plot summary is and what analysis is. Students can write down the concepts on guided notes for future reference. It’s key that they have this somewhere they can access because they will use these concepts all year (and beyond your class). Check out our free guided notes at the end of this post.

Bullet list of what analysis is for high school English

Go Over Examples

Now is the time you give students examples to make the concept clear (few things make sense until you get into the examples). Read aloud to students a paragraphs and have them point out the plot details they notice. How can they tell it’s plot and not analysis? Then, do the same with the same or a different paragraph, but focus on analysis. Since the warm-up exercise uses superheroes as the topic, you can stick with that in the examples. Most students have seen some type of superhero movie, read a comic, or seen a cartoon with the hero trope, so it’s a fairly universal topic for class discussion. 

Spiderman analysis example.

Let Students Test Their Knowledge

Now is the time to have students begin working closer to independence. You can use a “turn and talk” activity and have students discuss the differences between writing focused on plot details versus on analysis. You might review the activity as a class or in larger groups as well so you can jot down ideas together and refer to those examples as a class later.

Use A Sorting Activity For Better Understanding

Even our “big kids” don’t want to sit and write notes every class. It can be helpful, when possible to work on a concept with a hands-on activity. One activity that is simple and works well with any age is sorting. You can use our hand-held cards with examples of plot details and analysis at the bottom of this post for this activity. Students separate into two piles based on whether the sentence on the card is analysis or plot. You can walk around and offer feedback while students complete this activity which allows for some informal assessment of who is understanding the concept. 

card sorting activity for plot details and analysis

Follow-up With Paragraph Coding

You can do this before or after the card sorting game, but it is critical that you give students a few model paragraphs and either as a full class, in partners or individually, have students “code” the paragraph by highlighting the use of analysis in one color and highlighting the use of plot details in another color. 

They should be able to see pretty quickly that a well-written paragraph for high school English is mostly analysis with only a few plot details that are essentially used to back up the analysis.

coding for analysis paragraph

Check for Understanding

Take some time at the end of the lesson to check that your class understands the differences between plot summary and analysis. The simplest way is to create an exit ticket. Simple is better, you’re just getting an idea of who might need review or extra practice. This way you can decide if you need to find more examples or alternate activities.

Don’t Forget to Touch Base

As with any concept, we can’t just teach it once and never talk about it again. It doesn’t have to be something complicated and time intensive. You might use an example as a warm-up and ask students if it is an example of a plot summary or analysis, or throw in an exit ticket now and again to make sure they remember. It’s really about keeping these terms fresh and continuously rotating through their brain as useful information because as they navigate all their high school English classes they will be asked to analyze in both formal and informal ways. 

If this lesson sounds like it could work with your students, feel free to download it for free today! We’d love for you to try it out, and let us know how it goes. If it goes well, you can join the English Teacher Vault and get the entire unit, plus instant access to over 100 other resources!

Your free resources for teaching plot summary and analysis:

Note: these are free downloads! If you are using Chrome and it blocks the download, try using another browser, or contact us at missy@englishteachervault.com.

Character Analysis and Plot Details Slideshow

Student Guided Notes: Plot Details and Analysis

Card Sorting Activity For Analysis and Plot Details

Google Links:

Hands-on Sorting Game (forced copy)

Analysis vs. Plot Summary Slideshow (forced copy)

Student Guided Notes for Slideshow (forced copy)

Get the entire character analysis unit when you join the English Teacher Vault! 

Get access to all the lessons.


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