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The Art of Analyzing

What does it mean to analyze? Simply put, it means breaking down the content. According to the dictionary, analyzing means “examine, methodically and in detail, in order to explain and interpret it.”

Therefore, in order to analyze information, our students must first be able to read and comprehend it. Usually, that is the number one issue students face when being able to analyze. Another struggle that students might have when analyzing information, is that they actually do not know what it means to analyze. As teachers we tell our students to find evidence and analyze it, but if they do not know what it means, then how can we expect them to do it?

So the first thing we need to do is teach our students exactly what it means to analyze. It is always helpful to give the students the definition of analyze and also have them develop their own definition. This way they become familiar with the skill and what they are being asked to do. Another great way to get them used to analyzing is by using the activity see-think-wonder. Since many students benefit from visuals, see-think-wonder is a great activity to help them analyze a picture, and we can then translate the skill to text and writing. In order to run the activity, you will give the students a chart that says See-Think-Wonder. It is helpful to write prompting questions such as what to do you see, what to do you think, what to do you wonder in order to guide their thinking.

So let’s say that we have this image.

First, we will complete the See column. In this picture I see several men in a room, some are sitting and some are standing. I see flags in the background and papers on a table. Next, what I think. I think this has to do with the beginning of America, I think these men are wealthy and I think they are talking about something. Finally, what I wonder. I wonder what they are discussing and I wonder what the flags are for in the background.

If you do this with a class, you can then have them share their ideas with one another or as a whole class in order engage them in discussions and start prompting their thinking about the image. Without even knowing it, the students are analyzing the image and if they are answering one another’s questions about it, they usually identify key pieces of the image to support their reasoning.

By having students complete a see-think-wonder with an image, they are learning how to analyze. We can then translate this to a text. So say a student had the following text from John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government:

When legislators (lawmakers) try to destroy or take away the property of the people, or try to reduce them to slavery, they put themselves into a state of war with the people who can then refuse to obey the laws.

Let’s translate the see-think-wonder activity into what it means when using a text and not an image. So see means, what is the text explicitly saying? Think is, what does this mean? and wonder, how does this connect to the claim or another piece of information?

See → what is the text explicitly saying?

Think → what does this mean?

Wonder → how does this connect to the claim or another piece of information?

A good way to help students organize this is by creating a chart. We can then complete the chart. In the first column or what is the text explicitly saying, we can write, if the lawmakers take away people’s property or make them slaves, the people can fight against them, entering into a war. In the second column, the people can fight against their government if they do not meet their needs. Finally, in the third column, we can connect this to the American war for Independence where the colonists fought against the British government because they were not treated equally and did not have representation in Parliament.

By having a chart with probing questions, students are prompted to think about certain parts of the quote in order to help them dissect it. So instead of just giving the students a quote and asking them to analyze it, this helps students think through the entire process of analyzing. When the students then go to write their answers into a complete sentence, they can use a formula in order to connect the different boxes. A sample formula can be something like this;

In the quote, the author states (What is the text explicitly saying?), which means (What does this mean?). This is similar to/this connects to (How does this connect to the claim or another piece of information?).

Now, the student has dissected and analyzed the quote on a beginner level. In order to enhance the analysis and go more in depth, the student will need to add more to the final section and connect it to multiple quotes, ideas or fully express the “hidden meaning.”

When teaching students to analyze, it is always helpful to start with a picture since they are better able to express what they see and what is going on. Once they are comfortable using the see-think-wonder activity with an image, you can then move on to text and the chart. When you do, make sure you explain what each of the columns mean, and how it relates to the columns from see-think-wonder in order to give them a base and reference point when completing their analysis. Sometimes, you might have students at different levels, and while some are translating their chart into actual sentences others might still be working on successfully completing the chart. Do not rush a student to the next level of analysis if they are not ready because in order to fully understand each level, they need to be confident with the one prior.

Always remember that students need to first comprehend the text, and they need to understand what it means to analyze before they actually are able to.

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