No Series: Learning to Think: A Foundation for Analysis

Learning to Think: A Foundation for Analysis

Lesson Objective: Develop analysis skills by examining advertisements and texts
Grades 9-12 / ELA / Scaffolding


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Discussion and Supporting Materials

Thought starters

  1. How do these lessons prepare students for the Common Core Standards?
  2. Why is it helpful to start with analyzing advertisements?
  3. How does Ms. Wessling scaffold analysis skills?


Private message to Denise Woods
Great lesson- will try to adapt to elementary level. I like that we have to stop thinking of the right answer and think for ourselves. I like the modeling and then allowing students to make connections with partners. Work with smaller texts and move on to more complex pieces. I often use movie clips to model as well. This breaks the barrier if a student can't read. They can watch and discuss. Then apply to the text.
Recommended (1)
Private message to Kyrstin Stehle
It is difficult to move from the literal to abstract meaning of a text. I like the process of observing, finding patterns, and drawing conclusions to analyze a text.
Recommended (0)
Private message to TODD KLEINHANS
thanks for the great tutorial and infomation. This herlp s the students analyze and intrtpret primary documents
Recommended (0)


  • Learning to Think: A Foundation for Analysis Transcript


    Interviewer: What I’m working on right now at the beginning of the school year

    Learning to Think: A Foundation for Analysis Transcript


    Interviewer: What I’m working on right now at the beginning of the school year is cultivating the thinking skills. Underlying almost all of the standards in the Core is this idea of analysis. That students have to be able to think and they have to be able to do more than give a right answer. That’s a pattern, but if I am not explicitly making that largely invisible process very visible to them it doesn’t matter what kind of experiences I put in front of them. They’re not going to be able to analyze if they haven’t had days like this in which they’re learning how to think.

    Here’s the plan. This is a two-day lesson where students are working to acquire those foundational analysis skills. What’s the idea that they’re selling? The concept. On the first day, they’re learning the difference between concepts and topics. This is really helpful because on the second day then they’ll use that skill to help them write more effective thesis statements.

    All right. This is what today’s going to be all about. All right. On day one we are going to focus on getting out of the literal and moving into the abstract by using a process I call observe, find patterns, and draw conclusions. If you can do these three things, you can analyze any text. By any text, I mean what you read, what you see, what you hear. You can even read situations this way.

    We’re going to practice today. Okay? I thought that we could start by using some advertisements and I wanted to use an advertisement instead of a text because it’s brief, right? It also gives us, I think, some nice, visual representation. All right. Here we go. The environmentally conscious car that goes all the way to the environment.

    I’m purposely choosing advertisements that I have not studied in advance so that I am right with them. I can be more present in their process. I just want you to tell me very literally what it is that you see or a phrase that you think is important.

    Female Voice: Electric.

    Female Voice: Gas free.

    Male Voice: Environment.

    Interviewer: Well, there are lots of things within the environment, right?

    Female Voice: Trees.

    Interviewer: You see a tree?

    Female Voice: I have the trees.

    Interviewer: As the students are going around and just making observations of the advertisement—

    Male Voice: That’s really dark.

    Interviewer: - my job is to listen very carefully. My job is to listen for the potential connections and the questions that I will be able to ask as we continue this process. Oh, and so a couple of things that I’ve noticed. Some of my favorite moments in your observations were the moments where you took the same image, but you told me a different detail about it.

    You have the image of the guy, but then you’ve told me different things about him. I think that’s really important because when we think about applying this process to what we read, the text that we read, the observation is really key. Once they make these observations, then we are going to start to look for patterns.

    Female Voice: There’s a lot of things about nature.

    Interviewer: A lot of things about nature. Let’s go through and help me circle the things that have to do with nature. All right? Environment, right?

    Female Voice: Trees.

    Interviewer: Trees. We’ll circle them. We’ll start to label them. These have to do with the car. What’s the role of the car in here?

    Female Voice: [Inaudible 03:25]

    Interviewer: It gets him—

    Male Voice: Out into nature.

    Interviewer: Out into nature. All right. I’m going to push you. What do cars represent for us?

    Female Voice: Freedom. Maybe.

    Interviewer: Freedom. The final step is to really push that thinking to a new place. We want to draw some conclusions and we want to take what’s pretty literal here and we want to pull it into the abstract. We’re looking for words. We’re looking for words that describe the qualities in this case of the advertisement that you can’t touch. That are not concrete.

    One of the ways we do that is something that you naturally did. When we figured out that a car is the tangible, concrete object, but what does it represent?

    Male Voice: Freedom.

    Interviewer: It represents freedom, okay? Now we know that there’s this idea of freedom. They don’t necessarily know that they are using conceptual words, but my job is to point that out to them. What’s the idea that the advertisement is selling?

    Female Voice: Opportunities.

    Female Voice: Escape.

    Female Voice: Solitude.

    Female Voice: Choice.

    Interviewer: Turn to somebody next to you. Tell them. How would you describe the difference between these words and these words? Turn to somebody next to you. How would you describe the difference?

    [04:55] Getting them to talk to teach other is a way for them to not only process what they’re learning and process what their brains are doing, but it also gives them a chance to work on some of those speaking skills. What did you just talk about? What’s the difference between these words and these? Luke?

    Male Voice: We said these are more physical characteristics of it. These are more like symbols. You have to interpret that.

    Interviewer: What else?

    Female Voice: Well, one of them is very surface level. It’s just what you see and the other thing is something deeper and more meaningful so like grade one versus grade three.

    Interviewer: Yeah. Absolutely. Okay, so this is what we’re after. We are after these kinds of words because these aren’t just words. They’re actually concepts, okay? These are concepts and ideas. All right, so I’m gonna ask you to find somebody close to you. I’m gonna put another advertisement up here. I’m gonna ask you then to go through this process and then we’ll come back together and talk about it. Here we go. Start off the year with words at his command. When you send him back to school with a new PC, make sure it has office—

    I don’t have a teacher focused classroom. It’s a very student centered place, but there are days like this in which I have to model this thinking. With somebody sitting next to you, go through the process. All right? You’re working to get to the concepts. [Cross talk 06:14]

    Right. The kid. He’s young. Black hair. All right. Once you feel like you’ve got a pretty good list start to look for some of your patterns. Okay? [Cross talk 06:27]

    Female Voice: Sending your kid back to school.

    Interviewer: All right. You’re gettin’ to the patterns?

    Male Voice: Yep.

    Interviewer: I am constantly assessing, not to find out if they are right or wrong. I am using the information that I’m gleaning from their conversations and their questions in order to figure out how to nudge us in the next direction. What are some words that you can use to describe?

    Female Voice: You are capable of going further in education.

    Female Voice: That’s opportunistic.

    Interviewer: Opportunistic. It’s the concept of opportunity. What are some of the concepts that you came up with? What do you think this advertisement is selling? Remember you can’t give me a thing. Cindy?

    Female Voice: Empowerment for the future generation. [Clapping]

    Male Voice: We said simplicity. What they talk about when they’re just all sounds like trying to be simple.

    Female Voice: Since it’s a kid, I think it—I mean, I guess, it looks like it has confidence in the kid, but I feel like it is also is giving the parents confidence in their own kids’ success.

    Interviewer: It’s not to say that if they get it today, we get to check this off and not come back to it. We will constantly come back to this and there will be iterations of this throughout the year. This is setting the foundation.

    On day two, we continue to practice this process and focus on writing effective thesis statements and then applying different literary frames to those thesis statements to help us analyze the text from different perspectives.

    How do we take all of this that we’re doing? We have this idea. How do we get it into a thesis statement? At your tables, I’m gonna give you a very short story to read. As we are reading it, you’re gonna make observations by underlining, marking, things that you think are important. Then we’ll go through the patterns.

    All right. Waiting by Peggy McNally. All right. I got to take a deep breath for this one. All right. Five days a week the lowest-paid substitute teacher in the district drives her father’s used Mercury to Hough and 79th, where she eases it, mud flaps and all, down the ramp and into the garage of Patrick Henry Junior High, a school where she’ll teach back-to-back classes without as much as a coffee break and all—

    Because she’s promised her father she’d wash his car and promises to her father are sacred since her mother died, besides it’s the las—least she can do now that he lets her drive his car five days a week towards the big lake, to the northeast corner of Hough and 79th and you know the rest. Whew. All right. First thing that makes this interesting—what’s your first observation?

    Female Voice: One long sentence.

    Interviewer: One long sentence. All right. At your pods, okay? Talk about your observations. See if you can identify a couple of patterns.

    Female Voice: I feel like the run on sentence is important because it’s just a cycle. [Cross talk 09:19] Yeah.

    Female Voice: I was wondering why she was using her dad’s car because if she teaches shouldn’t she have her own money?

    Female Voice: Doesn’t she live with him?

    Female Voice: Yeah.

    Female Voice: That’s true.

    Male Voice: It makes a point to say that she’s the lowest paid substitute teacher.

    Female Voice: Yeah.

    Male Voice: Nothing ever changes. I think that’s really the bigger hint behind this.

    Female Voice: Maybe she’s afraid of moving on.

    Male Voice: You’re saying that you think it could be her dad holding her back? She’s made the promises to her father so [cross talk 09:46].

    Female Voice: The promises are holding her back, not the dad.

    [Cross talk 09:49]

    Female Voice: ‘Cause she doesn’t want to leave her dad, I’m saying.

    Male Voice: Yeah. I feel like it’s her—I think her dad enables—her dad enables her to be held back.

    [Cross talk 09:58]


    Female Voice: You got it.

    Female Voice: Yay.

    Female Voice: I want to put safeguard.

    [Cross talk 10:07]

    Male Voice: I don’t agree with that.

    Female Voice: I don’t know.

    Female Voice: She has this promise to her father and it’s really special to her because her mom died.

    Interviewer: Sometimes I’ll sit down with a group and I will just listen until they say something that they don’t realize is really insightful. My job in those moments is to say, “Did you hear what you just said? This is a really insightful thing.”

    Female Voice: Well, I think the street’s important because it says in the beginning and then—besides that’s where she’s going to school and then you know the rest. She’s going down that road again.

    Interviewer: Ooo. Did you hear what you just said? Yeah.

    Female Voice: Going down this road again?

    Interviewer: Going down this road again. It’s that expression and then you talked—but it—what does the expression mean? You’ve been down this road before. Right. Ooo. Did you hear what you just said?

    Female Voice: Psycho?

    Interviewer: Yeah. That’s one of those kinds of words, right? That’s one of those concept kinds of words. It’s cyclical. I think you might have some—

    All right. Let’s see if we can come back together here. If we were going to put a reader response frame on this, what would we be thinking about? Josh?

    Male Voice: Well, I was just thinking with the five days a week and the all that stuff, it was the daily grind feeling going on.

    Interviewer: If that’s the frame that you’re going to analyze this in, then you think, “Okay. Now, when I really dig into it, I’m going to look at all the patterns related to the daily grind.” Okay? Now what if I’m going to a new critical frame on top of it? Now what might I think about?

    Female Voice: The form.

    Interviewer: Could talk about the form. What’s a form? What’s something going on in here?

    Female Voice: Sentence. It has just one sentence.

    Interviewer: Exactly. How does the single sentence create meaning though?

    Female Voice: Well, her life’s just going to continue going without any break, without any real meaning.

    Interviewer: Now what about the archetypal? ‘Cause I heard some of you have it. All right. Steph, do you want to talk about it?

    Female Voice: Yeah. Her dad is a scapegoat because she wants to do all these things and she thinks it’ll lead to something. She uses her dad as an excuse.

    Interviewer: If you’re drawing conclusions about this, do you have some concepts?

    Male Voice: Monotony

    Interviewer: Monotony. Ooo. Let’s write that word down. Okay. Anybody else?

    Female Voice: New perspective.

    Interviewer: Perspective?

    Female Voice: Yeah.

    Female Voice: Repetition.

    Interviewer: Repetition.

    Female Voice: Is ambiguous.

    Female Voice: Aha.

    Interviewer: Nicely played.

    Male Voice: Or the problem that is not ambiguous.

    Interviewer: Or it could be the problem.

    Male Voice: It never changes.

    Interviewer: There is this larger conversation that we’re weaving in and out of and that larger conversation today is about this process and ultimately about how we use all of this thinking to get to writing a thesis statement.

    I’m going to tell you that I do not think there is a single formula for a thesis. The same way that I told you yesterday that I figured out how we analyze by doing it, I grabbed all kinds of thesis statements that worked. I found a pattern. Thesis statements have some kind of a what in them. Some kind of a topic. Now you know what the topic is ‘cause we talked about those yesterday, right?

    Some kind of really good active verb. When you put a word like conveys or represents, you’re more likely to analyze. Then you need some kind of idea or concept. All right? On this side, we’ve got the topic, the pattern, the things that you’re describing and then over here is your big idea. Let’s write a thesis statement for Waiting.

    I could say something like, “In Waiting, the nameless character is in a monotonous existence.” This is my what? Even though I’m using a concept to describe it, it is still something that happens. All right? Now I’m gonna put one of my active verbs, okay? Anybody want to choose one for me?

    Female Voice: Insinuating.

    Interviewer: Insinuating. Good. “Insinuating that life goes on without purpose.” This is my what. ‘K? This is my active verb. Then I have to figure out what does the monotonous existence tell me. What’s the big meaning here? What is this piece all about? ‘K? When you go from one frame to the next, you change your what. ‘K? If I wanted to do a reader response and say, “In Waiting, I connect to the daily grind that this character felt which shows blah, blah, blah.” Then you come up with your—and then you come up with what it shows.

    Female Voice: You’re taking an idea from the actual text—

    Interviewer: I am.

    Female Voice: - and applying it to the world?


    Interviewer: Absolutely. Once we understand what these skills are and once students learn how to turn this on when they come to class and even when they’re not in class, then our work really becomes transferring that to all different kinds of texts, all different kinds of experiences, and we really move to application. It’s when we move to application that we really start to hone in on those Common Core standards because then we will see what it looks like when you generate a series of claims. If you can’t think, you don’t have a claim to make. That’s part of the give and take here at the beginning.

    [End of Audio]

School Details

Johnston Senior High School
6501 Northwest 62nd Avenue
Johnston IA 50131
Population: 1548

Data Provided By:



Sarah Wessling

Social Justice & Equity




Summer Learning


Technology in the Classroom