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novel analysis

your dissection checklists


  • Author: Learning a bit about the author’s life certainly helps provide context!  Consider reading some of their other works (poetry, blog posts, short stories, etc.) if available.

  • Era:  The era that the novel was written in will be critical for understanding, if different than our own, as will be the era that the novel is set in. 

  • Culture:  Discuss music, food, dress, religion, language, or any other applicable cultural element showcased.  Doing so in advance will help students connect with the story more deeply.

  • Locations/Geography:  Like culture and era, background knowledge of the setting location is crucial, especially with complex texts that require higher levels of thinking.

  • Specs (Events, People, Etc.):  Are there any additional events or individuals that occur in your novel that require explanation or introduction?


during reading

Once you begin reading, literary elements and techniques are typically discussed as they’re encountered.  Therefore, these guidelines are in no particular order!  As you read, focus on individual words, specific quotes, events, ideas, character motivations and actions, discussing literary elements and techniques as evident in the text.

  • Characterization:   What textual evidence supports specific character traits? What are the characters’ motivations?

  • Settings:  How are the settings serving to tell the story (or support the plot)? 

  • Points of View (both narrative voice and character perspectives):  What point of view is the story told in?  How does this support the story?  What are the characters’ perspectives?  How are they alike?  How do they differ?

  • Conflicts and Crises:  Are the conflicts internal or external?  Who or what is involved and why?  How do they drive the plot?

  • Themes:  What are the themes and what evidence (quotes, characters, events, symbols, etc.) supports them? 

  • Structure:  What structure is used to carry the plot?  Is it chronological and linear or does it manipulate time?

  • Tone and Mood:  How does the author use tone and mood to support themes, characterization, conflicts, etc.?

  • Literary techniques:  How does the author use figurative language to help tell his/her story? Be on the look out for symbols, motifs, metaphors, irony, repetition, and allusions, all of which (among many other techniques) provide additional levels of meaning and complexity.


post reading

  • Author’s Purpose: What were the author’s purposes for writing this novel?  (There’s always more than one, isn’t there?) Be specific – try thinking beyond persuade, inform, and entertain.

  • Plot and Structure:  Why did the author choose this structure to outline the plot?  How did it affect the story?


Regardless of your grade level or novel, there are so many elements of a story that intertwine to strengthen and build upon one another.  Approaching these elements with structure and perspective can bring so much more life into your study!  These guidelines are only scratching the surface for many novels, and you certainly can go as deep as you need to for your students. 


All the good novels were written, in part, to provoke thought and discussion.  Embrace it!  You can pick at the crust on the surface, which is delicious on its own, or you can go deeper and have a taste of the sweet, gooey insides that will leave your taste buds craving more! 


Speaking of delicious treats, get your hands on a fancier version of this list below!  There are two versions for you, as well: A teacher version, and a student version (more appropriate for grades 4-5).  Enjoy!

Note: For helpful guidelines on selecting novels with high complexity, go HERE!  For picture book analysis checklists, go HERE!


Once you’ve found that true gem of a novel to put under the microscope with your students, the next task would be planning your approach.  There are so many ways to analyze a novel, each as unique as the books themselves.  Factors like the age of the students, the skill set of the teacher, the resources and time available, as well as the requirements of the standards, all influence each discussion, lesson, and novel study unit as a whole. 


Some teachers prefer to expose students to novels through literature circles or book clubs.  Others have individual students reading novels independently.  Sometimes books are read and studied whole group.  Usually, classrooms see a variation, for we know our students have diverse needs that cannot typically be met with one specific instructional technique.


Whatever your method for facilitating a novel study, a good novel will always have the capacity to take the reader deeper than what is both expected and initially evident on the page.  With this in mind, as well as the importance of structure and clear expectations during small group or independent novel studies, I’m a big advocate for a whole group novel study in the beginning of the school year to both model discussions and think alouds, and to establish expectations, routines, structures, and skills, regardless of the age.  One year I kept all of our novel studies whole group, simply because it was what my students needed to be successful.  Additionally, I always read and discuss a novel as though I’m reading it for the first time.  This allows my students to feel the power of discovery while also subtly encouraging motivation and engagement through my own excitement.  I mean, if I’m being honest, the excitement is usually completely legit anyways!


I won’t be digging into specifics on instructional techniques here, only analytical elements worth discussing during a novel study (where applicable).  This is by no means a complete list, as novels vary creatively and structurally; however, it is comprehensive!  Also, the list may need to be modified to meet the needs of your students.

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