Style: Defining and Exploring an Author's Stylistic Choices
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Exploring the use of style in literature helps students understand how language conveys mood, images, and meaning. In this activity, students first find examples of specific stylistic devices in sample literary passages. They then search for additional examples and in a whole-group discussion, explore the reasons for the stylistic choices that the author has made. The examples for this lesson plan include passages from Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston; however, passages from any literary work can be used for the activities.
Checklist: Elements of Literary Style: This page provides a checklist students can use to analyze an author's use of style in literary passages.
From Theory to Practice
Every piece of literature is composed of words, phrases, and clauses. Pieces of literature may even talk about the same basic themes or events. What sets these pieces apart is the particular language that they use. Kelly Byrne Bull contends that "Examining the author's style of writing enables readers to look closely at particular literary elements to consider how the writer crafted the story." This lesson plan asks students to be conscious and analytical about the language shifts that others make by exploring the use of words, phrases, and clauses in a literary passage.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
- 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- Defining Style
- Demonstrating a Way to Analyze Style
- Exploring Zora Neale Hurston's Style, or a teacher-chosen excerpt from another text for students to analyze
- Style Analysis
- Students will need to have a working knowledge of the authors who are discussed in this activity. (See resources in the Websites section for Zora Neale Hurston.) The activity here uses excerpts from Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God; however, a passage from any text will work for this activity.
- Make copies of the handouts.
- Prepare for the think-aloud portion of this lesson with Demonstrating a Way to Analyze Style.
- define style and explore the ways the literary element is used.
- explore examples of different literary styles in given excerpts.
- analyze the purpose of the chosen style in the pieces explored.
- Hand out copies of the Defining Style handout and the Elements of Literary Style checklist.
- Explain that in their groups students will look for examples of stylistic devices in a sample passage and discuss the possible reasons that the author uses these literary devices.
- Demonstrate how to find and hypothesize the purpose of the stylistic devices using the passage and explanation on the Demonstrating a Way to Analyze Style sheet.
- Hand out copies of the passage to analyze and the Style Analysis worksheet, and explain the activity. Students will read a passage from Their Eyes Were Watching God (or another passage that you have selected) and outline the stylistic choices that the author has made. They look at the context and meaning of the section to determine the significance of the use of the stylistic devices.
- Answer any questions pertaining to the example or the assignment.
- Divide students into small groups and give them the remainder of the class to work on their analysis. Circulate among students as they work, offering support and feedback.
- Review the activity with students and answer any questions. Give students another 20 to 30 minutes to complete their exploration of the passage.
- Once students have worked through the paragraph on the handout, ask them to search through the novel or short story to find additional examples and note the details on their worksheets. You may point students to pivotal points or significant passages in the text to help them focus their exploration. In addition to recording stylistic devices, students should think how the author's stylistic choices affect the work.
- Circulate among students as they work, offering support and feedback.
- After you're satisfied that students have had a chance to explore the author's stylistic devices, assemble as a class and share observations about the activity. The following questions can generate discussion:
- What stood out the most about the kinds of words that the author used?
- What kind of sentence patterns did the author use?
- How did the words and sentence patterns relate to the characters involved in the passage?
- Overall, how would you describe the author's style?
- What stood out the most about the kinds of words that the author used?
- After discussing the specific author, encourage students to draw conclusions about style in general.
- Follow this lesson with the ReadWriteThink lesson Style: Translating Stylistic Choices from Hawthorne to Hemingway and Back Again.
- Have your students complete a Zora Neale Hurston author study using Thomson-Gale's Zora Neale Hurston article and the Library of Congress Today in History page.
- You can extend this lesson by asking students to consider this checklist and draw conclusions about the style of the author whom they have examined.
Student Assessment / Reflections
Informal assessment works well for this activity. As students analyze the passage, circulate among groups, observing students' identification of the various techniques employed in the passage. Provide support and feedback as you move from group to group.
After the class discussion about the author's style, ask them to reflect on their exploration of the passage in their journals or in a freewrite. To help them get started, ask students to write on the following questions: What did you notice about the way that an author can use language and the reasons for the author's choices? What surprised you the most about the author's language choices, and why?
Read the pieces and comment on the self-reflections, noting important observations that students make and asking provoking questions where they need to think more deeply.