No Series: Text Analysis: Questions & Symbols


Common core State Standards

  • ELA:  English Language Arts
  • RL:  Reading Standards for Literature 6-12
  • 11-12:  11th & 12th Grades
  • 1: 
    Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

Download Common Core State Standards (PDF 1.2 MB)


Common core State Standards

  • ELA:  English Language Arts
  • RL:  Reading Standards for Literature 6-12
  • 11-12:  11th & 12th Grades
  • 4: 
    Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text,
    including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)

Download Common Core State Standards (PDF 1.2 MB)

Text Analysis: Questions & Symbols

Lesson Objective: Analyze literature through questions, discussion, and symbols
Grades 9-12 / ELA / Evidence
ELA.RL.11-12.1 | ELA.RL.11-12.4


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Discussion and Supporting Materials

Thought starters

  1. Think about the steps students go through to generate discussion questions. Why is each step important?
  2. Where do you see students using textual evidence?
  3. How does working with symbols deepen understanding of the text?


  • Private message to Sandhya Seshan
Loved this lesson and all of her approaches! I’m having a hard time finding the documents on the site? Also, Maia—where do you go from here with the archetypes? Would love to know as I’m hoping to teach that next month, along with fairy tales!
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  • Private message to lourdes durand
Muy interesante
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  • Private message to nina guerrero
student generated questions is a great lesson because the students feel that they questions matter even though the questions what the teacher was going to originally discuss. This lesson was a great way to get the students engaged in the lesson
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  • Private message to Cheryl Seeley
Thank you! I loved the symbolism in color guides! Very helpful!
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  • Private message to Joeline Wells
Excellent lesson!
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  • Maia Goodman – Text Analysis: Questions & Symbols
    Video transcript

    MAIA GOODMAN INTERVIEW: Hi, I’m Maia Goodman. Join me in my

    Maia Goodman – Text Analysis: Questions & Symbols
    Video transcript

    MAIA GOODMAN INTERVIEW: Hi, I’m Maia Goodman. Join me in my senior level English class.

    MAIA GOODMAN INTERVIEW: So I split this lesson into two parts. The first part is a discussion run by me, based on student-generated questions. The second part is a focused look at a particular piece of text through the lens of symbolism. We want good, difficult, challenging student questions to be the basis of the discussion. So they spend the first five to ten minutes writing, to give them some fodder for their discussions later.

    MAIA GOODMAN INTERVIEW: So we went from that to groups of four. They discussed what they’d written in their warm-up.

    STUDENT 1: What is the dream?

    STUDENT 2: So, like, he’s watching her, his mom, out of the window as she gardens, and then, like, tulips start sprouting.

    STUDENT 1: What page is that on?

    STUDENT 2: Um, it’s on… 104.

    MAIA GOODMAN: So take a white sheet of paper, and write down either something you wanna discuss as a whole class, or something that was interesting that came up in your discussion.

    MAIA GOODMAN INTERVIEW: I think the reason to have student-generated questions run your lesson is that students are inherently interested in what they select out of the text. And actually, normally what they select out of the text is what I would have them select out of the text as well, and so it's not like you’re losing your autonomy as a teacher. You’re just taking their interests and using that as a way to read the text.

    MAIA GOODMAN: Someone observed, “Tony Morrison writes Milkman like a twelve-year-old, even though he’s 22, or 17, or 31. Why?”

    STUDENT: His character’s innocent, and then as the story goes on and he gets older, he has all these different experiences.

    MAIA GOODMAN: Paula, what was the point you were making about gender?

    STUDENT: Like, how Pilate dresses and acts like a man.

    MAIA GOODMAN: So what evidence do you have for that?

    STUDENT: We see, like, she takes control, like how a man would with his woman.

    MAIA GOODMAN: I want to talk about the weird dream that’s not actually a dream where Milkman watches his mother get beat to death by tulips. I’m gonna read it aloud, and as I do I want you to take note of anything that could be a symbol. So, remember a symbol is something that’s an object or a color or a thing that means something larger.

    MAIA GOODMAN: From a raised hand, give me a symbol.

    STUDENT 1: Soft, jagged lips.

    STUDENT 2: Pouring the coffee down the drain.

    STUDENT 3: Butterflies.

    MAIA GOODMAN: There’s actually, there’s two types of symbols going on here. The first is sort of universal symbols. Right. Like, if I asked you, what does red symbolize?

    STUDENTS: Blood… anger…

    MAIA GOODMAN: Blood, love, death, passion, all of—right? These are things that we know. What does red symbolize in the book? That’s called a contextualized symbol. But I don’t wanna go there yet, I wanna talk about the universal meanings.

    MAIA GOODMAN INTERVIEW: So this is the beginning of a longer lesson that’s actually going to span a couple days looking at archetypes. And so I want them to start looking at the symbols that they would associate with each character. So what I did was I passed out a series of handouts identifying different meanings of different colors, meanings of different seasons and objects. And I asked them to identify which symbol in each of these categories would map best onto your character.

    STUDENT 1: Are we starting with color? …Blue.

    STUDENT 2: Any evidence?

    STUDENT 1: Where is she blue in the book?

    STUDENT 2: Where she stabs the guy, she’s in power, so…

    STUDENT 1: She stabs the guy on page 93.

    MAIA GOODMAN: Alright, guys. I’m gonna get your attention back up here. Your homework is to fill out the chart for that character. Alright? So you need to be writing down what the thing is, and then the page number where you’re gonna find the evidence—because when you come back to class, I want your homework to inform what you’re doing with the symbols. And then we’re gonna get into archetypes.

    MAIA GOODMAN INTERVIEW: Common core reaffirmed something that I really believe about teaching, which is that we come back to the same standards at different levels. What we’re doing when we get them each new year is reemphasizing and deepening their understanding, rather than just getting a new term or a new vocabulary word. And I really do believe that that’s how learning works. That that’s how we, as human beings, experience the world and how we learn, is through deepening our understanding.


School Details

Fremont High School
1279 Sunnyvale-Saratoga Road
Sunnyvale CA 94087
Population: 1965

Data Provided By:



Maia Goodman Young
English Language Arts Social Studies / 6 / Researcher


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