Deep thinking in English Literature

Do you want to help your students develop deep thinking skills? Then this blog post is for you. In it, I share 2 visual strategies for developing deep thinking skills.

Strategy 1: Shallow, Deep, Profound

Here’s the story of how I use “shallow, deep, profound” to help my students who struggled with creating deep and detailed analysis of the literature texts.

Real-talk time: my students really struggle with analysis. Any kind of analysis. Instead of analysis, my students tend to act as Google Translate. They take the language of our lit text and ‘Google Translate’ it into their own words. They think this is what I mean by analysis. Even when I model it. Or when we talk in detail about the connotations and implications in the language.

So for the last few months, I have been using the stages ‘shallow, deep, profound‘ to help them visualize moving their understanding to a more profound place. We walk through these steps to ensure their analytical is deep and detailed.

Shallow, deep, profound

These 3 words “shallow, deep, profound” are the key. I have them printed, chopped up, laminated, and up on my wall. My students are so used to these terms now, that all I need to do is point to them and they get what I’m saying.

Here’s how I introduce and define the process for my classes:

Shallow – this is when you are just giving me a surface reading of the text. You are essentially re-wording the text into your own words or showing that you understand what it is about.

Deep – this is when you explore the deeper meaning suggested by the language, techniques, or structure. You read into the implied meaning behind the words. These are the connotations of the language.

Profound – this develops on your deep reading above (that’s the first step). You have explored already the connotations of the words used, now you consider how the author is shaping the readers’ thinking. How does it link to the themes in the text? How does it confirm or subvert accepted thinking?

If you like the idea of using “shallow, deep, profound” in your classroom – then all you need to do is click here to download a pdf with the colour and blackline versions of this file.

Strategy 2: Why and Because

I think I must use these two words 100 times a day. My students are great at having ideas – but I have to push them to tell me why they decided on that particular idea, or to give me the evidence to justify it. This is where my “why” and “because” reminder cards come in!

I have laminated these 2 words, enlarged to poster size, inside speech bubbles. I have them on my desk, ready to go! Sometimes I tack them to the wall, sometimes I wander around just holding them.

They are big and visible. Now I can just wave the laminates, point to them, even just nod in their direction, and my students know they have to develop their answers for me.

Here’s how I explain them to my classes:

Why – why is important because you have to justify to me the reason you made that decision. What did the author do? Write a metaphor. Why? The word “why” in itself forces deeper thinking. What is the best idea we’ve had today? Why?

Because – teaching my students to use the word ‘because’ in their classroom dialogue and their analytical writing has been transformational. Just like moving from shallow to profound thinking – it forces them to move from the ‘what’ in a text to the ‘why’. It is the gateway to discussions concerning authorial intent, motivations, and purpose. The word ‘because’ nearly always follows a ‘why’ discussion, so it’s great to have on hand!

Again – if you like the idea of using these “why and because” prompts in your classroom, then all you need to do is click here to download the pdf file with them in.

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Deep thinking skills in English and ELA

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