ELA Regents: Session Two, Part A

On this task, you will be given two short texts (for example, a poem and a short narrative, or two poems, or two short narratives) in the test booklet. The texts will have a common topic; they'll both be about the same thing. The instructions will tell you what the topic is. You'll have some multiple choice questions to answer, then you'll be given a writing task.

Your task is
NOT to summarize each passage, or explain what each passage is about.
Your task is
NOT to present your opinion; you are not being asked whether you like the passages or not, or which one you think is better.

What you're being asked to do is to develop a thesis (a main, controlling idea) about the topic based on a reading of the texts, then write a response to each text showing how you got that idea from the reading, referring to the specific literary elements and techniques used in the piece.   

The most important thing you need to do is establish a
controlling idea. The controlling idea is what the authors seem top be telling us about the topic. It should be broad enough to cover both texts, but specific enough to be unique to those texts. I'll give you an example: Let's say the topic is  "boyhood friendships," as it was on the June 2000 Regents exam. The instructions will tell you that the topic is boyhood friendships ("...write a unified essay about boyhood friendships as revealed in the passages.")

The two passages are about boyhood friendships. This is NOT a controlling idea.
Both of these authors have something important to say about boyhood friendships. This is NOT a controlling idea.
Both passages present boyhood friendships in different ways. This is NOT a controlling idea.

None of these are controlling ideas, because they are, frankly, obvious. We already know these things; they are given to you in the instructions. Your controlling idea needs to be a conclusion you have drawn; what the authors seem to be saying about the topic. It has to be valid, something you can support with evidence from the texts, something for which you needed to read the texts to determine, but also something that, theoretically, could be disputed. For example:

Each writer considered his boyhood friendship to be the most important thing in his life. (good)
Boyhood friendships provide meaningful life lessons that last long into adulthood. (better)
Boyhood friendships rely more on implicit trust than on common, superficial interests.

In the first paragraph of your essay, the introduction, you need to discuss the topic (which, again, will be established for you in the instructions) in very general terms, then narrow it down to your specific controlling idea. DO NOT cite any specific examples from the texts in your introduction. The controlling idea (thesis statement) should be placed at the end of your introductory paragraph, and should include a full TAG (title, author, genre) identification of each passage along with a direct, explicit statement of your controlling idea.

You then need two
discussion paragraphs, one covering each passage. Some writers prefer to break their discussion of each text into two or more paragraphs, which is fine. Just make sure you cover both passages in your essay, and finish discussing one before moving on to the other. For each passage, you need to:

- Summarize the piece
BRIEFLY; give the reader an essential idea of what it's about, then provide a general statement of how the piece illustrates your controlling idea.

  - Choose a specific literary device (element
or technique) from the text which effectively demonstrates how the author conveys the controlling idea (expressed in your thesis statement), or how you got that idea from the reading. State briefly what that device accomplishes. IMPORTANT: If the device is a literary element, such as theme, point-of-view, tone, or setting, make sure you describe what it is; e.g., specify what point-of-view the piece is written from, what the theme or tone of the piece is, the time and place of the setting, etc.

  - Provide an example of the author's use of that literary device by quoting directly from the text, using quotation marks and appropriate annotation. QUOTE SPARINGLY; don't quote whole sentences and then merely "translate" or paraphrase them. Select only the words that you need and incorporate them into your own sentences. And, most importantly,
make sure the example matches the literary term. In other words, if you're discussing metaphor, make sure the example actually is a metaphor; if you're discussing point-of-view, make sure the example actually indicates what the specific point-of-view is.

  - Explore the meaning of the example you cited, both the text itself and the literary device(s) involved, in the context of your controlling idea. Illustrate its purpose, as well as its effect on the piece as a whole, and on the reader. This may take 3-4 sentences or more.

  - Repeat the previous three steps using a second literary device.

  - The
concluding sentence should explicitly connect these literary devices, and the text as a whole, to your controlling idea. This is the most important part. How do these specific examples lead to the general conclusion that the piece says what your controlling idea claims that it says about the topic? 

Remember, your discussion paragraph must not simply summarize each text or "explain what it's about." You need to cover what it's about,
how it's written, and how it proves your thesis. If you want to score above a 3 (out of 6), your response must contain references to literary devices, and must connect those devices, and the text as a whole, to your controlling idea. You need to make sure that the controlling idea actually controls the essay, and show how.

In your
conclusion, try to find a larger, real-life significance to the topic and your controlling idea. What should this all mean to the rest of us? What can the reader learn from your essay?

Click here for a printable, step-by-step Plan of Action for this task.

Click here for an example of a complete Literary Response essay, from the June 2002 Regents Exam. The exam itself can be found here; past Regents exams can be found here.

Click here to read the same sample essay, with step-by-step instructions and comments.

Click here for a sentence-by-sentence breakdown of one discussion paragraph, taken from a Level-6 (highest possible score) Anchor Paper from the January 2000 Regents exam.

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