ENGL 610 Guidelines

How do we as teachers read literature? How do our students read literature? What is the difference between the two? And how can we teach our students the process of interpretation–of transforming a naive reading of a literary work into a critical reading? This course addresses these questions by considering abstract, theoretical approaches to the teaching of literature as well as practical techniques and tools that teachers and students alike can use. Among these strategies we will emphasize the role of writing as a means to deepen students’ understanding of what they read. ENGL 610 is designed for current teachers, those considering careers in teaching, and anyone drawn to the experience of reading and analyzing literature. Most of our course readings are relevant to high school and college English classrooms, but many ideas we consider may be adapted for the teaching of younger readers.


  • What do we mean by “reading”?
  • What are the differences between expert readers of literature and novice readers?
  • What is the role of writing in understanding literature?
  • What are the political and social implications of literary interpretation?



In addition to the written work detailed below, I expect everyone to carefully read and consider the weekly reading. Most of our class time will be given to discussion, both as a class and in small groups, and it is essential that everyone attends and participate. If you cannot attend ENGL 610 regularly, staying until each session ends at 7:10 pm, please reconsider your decision to enroll.

The required work for ENGL 610 takes several forms: (1) weekly blogging, (2) a “think aloud” analysis, (3) a literary interpretation and reflection essay, and (4) a teaching presentation. Each component will be worth a quarter of your final grade.

  1. Each student will contribute to the weekly class blog, posting an approximately 500-word response to the week’s readings. Sometimes I will provide specific prompts for you to consider in your post. Other times your blog entry may be more open-ended. There are a number of ways to approach these open-ended posts: consider the reading in relation to your own experience as a teacher or reader of literature; write about an aspect of the day’s reading that you don’t understand, or something that jars you; formulate an insightful question or two about the reading and then attempt to answer your own questions; or respond to another student’s post, building upon it, disagreeing with it, or re-thinking it. In any case, strive for thoughtfulness and nuance. To ensure that everyone has a chance to read the blog before class, post your response by 10 am the morning of class.
  2. The “think aloud” analysis will be an entirely new experience for most students. I will provide more details in due course, but here is a brief sketch of the assignment. On February 6, I will present an unfamiliar poem to several groups of three students each. I will ask each group to formulate an interpretation of their poem, verbalizing every thought that occurs to them while they figure out the poem-the “think aloud” part of this exercise. I will videotape this session, which should last about ten minutes. The next step involves each student watching the video and analyzing the think aloud, outlining its core parts, annotating moments of confusion, negotiation, or understanding, and devising a rubric that accounts for the different reading strategies the group members used. The analysis is due in class on February 13.
  3. The literary interpretation and essay reflection is a chance to formally analyze a work of literature using the strategies we discuss throughout the semester. I will suggest possible poems or short stories from the Norton Introduction to Literature, but you may propose an alternative text from the collection. Your analysis should be 5 pages long, and it should draw upon appropriate and relevant literary theory and practices that we’ve encountered in the class. The reflection component of this assignment is a 2-3 page essay on your experience of interpretation. What problems did you encounter in analyzing your text and how did you solve them? What theories, processes, terms, or concepts did you use? Where did they especially help or hinder you? The interpretation and reflection are due in class on March 26.
  4. The presentation is a kind of mini-lesson, in which you “teach” (or rather, walk through the teaching of) the poem or short story that you analyzed in your literary interpretation. Before your presentation, design a teaching plan, which considers the following questions: the group of students whom you imagine teaching; your learning objectives and why they are important; and a concrete and specific description of what you would ask students to do with this text, including all reading and writing activities you would introduce in class or assign as homework. Be clear about how these activities are connected to your learning objectives, and situate the activities you describe in the context of the pedagogical approaches we’ve read this semester. This 4-5 page paper is due on the night you present your plan to the class. The presentations will take place on the nights of April 16, April 23, and April 30.


Remember that all written assignments must follow MLA research guidelines. Never take credit for someone else’s ideas or words and always document your sources. If you do not own a style guide that covers MLA format, I recommend getting one. I also encourage you to use EndNote, a reference manager for Windows and Mac, which is offered free to all GMU students.


If you are a student with a disability and you need academic accommodations, please see me and contact the Disability Resource Center (DRC) at 703-993-2474. All academic accommodations must be arranged through that office.