Practicing Literary Analysis

Author: Jill Torrey Emmons
Scott R. McDaniel

Time: 2 class periods
15 minutes
Materials: Copies of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Coleridge.


In this lesson, students will have the opportunity to apply what they have learned about literary elements in order to analyze a challenging text. On day one, students will have the opportunity to do an in-depth analysis of excerpts from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” In groups, students will read, discuss, and critique the poem, making sure that they outline the elements of plot and identify any figurative language or stylistic devices. On day two, students will rely on evidence collected during group work in order to compose a short, in-class essay in which they explain how various literary elements enhance the work overall.

Purpose – This lesson allows students to explain how the author’s use of various literary elements enhances a text, and apply what they have learned in order to do an in-depth analysis of a challenging poem.

Students will be able to:
1. Identify the author’s use of various literary elements in a given text.
2. Explain how the use of these techniques makes the text more realistic and compelling.
3. Apply what they have learned about literary devices in order to compose an analytical essay.

National English Education Standard
Standard 6: Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and non-print texts.

Teacher Background
The teacher should already be familiar with various literary terms. No new terms will be introduced in this lesson. Also, the teacher should read and analyze the selected excerpts from “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, as well as the historical context of the poem. Only the first part and a portion of the second part of the poem will be analyzed in this lesson, as the poem is quite long. Only read the first seven verses of the second part, ending with the phrase “Water, water, everywhere / nor any drop to drink”.

Related and Resource Websites
The poem http://www.sangfroid.com/rime/
Useful study guide http://www.eriding.net/amoore/poetry/mariner.htm



Day 1
1. At the beginning of class, explain to the students that they will be applying what they have learned about literary devices in order to analyze a challenging poem: “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

2. Give the class a little background on the author, as well as the poem itself.

3. Have the students find their notes on the literary elements and plot diagramming. Explain to them that they will be working in groups to analyze a section of the poem with the help of their notes and their classmates.

4. Divide the students into groups of 3-4, giving each a copy of the poem. In this first stage of group work, students need to accomplish two things.

  • First, they need to read and discuss the poem. What do they notice first about the poem? What is the poem about? Who is the speaker? Have all students take notes during the process of analysis, writing down their answers to these questions.
  • Second, the group must complete a partial plot line diagram, detailing the exposition, conflict, and rising action. The climax, falling action, and resolution cannot be determined from this section of the poem; however, encourage students to make a prediction about how the poem will end. Allow about 15-20 minutes to complete this first phase of group work.

5. Bring the class together to review their findings from the first stage of group work. Ask the students such questions as:

  • What is the plot of the poem?
  • Who is the main character?
  • What is the setting?
  • Have the class characterize the old mariner - why is he telling this story?
  • Is his meaning literal or figurative?
  • What might the albatross symbolize?

6. For the second stage of group work, the students should complete the following three tasks:

  • First, they must re-read the poem, looking for and underlining figurative language and stylistic devices used by Coleridge.
  • Second, they must identify each example they have underlined and label it with the proper term.
  • Third, students should discuss and be able to explain how these devices used by the author enhance the poem overall. This second stage of group work should take about 15-20 minutes; at the end of the period, students will turn in their group’s notes.

Day 2
1. Return students’ notes (which you, if so desired, have reviewed and assessed) at the beginning of class.

2. Explain to the class that today they will use their findings and analysis of the previous day in order to compose a short essay explaining how the use of literary elements makes Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” more powerful and compelling. Students must choose 3 literary elements to focus on, such as metaphor, symbolism, and rhyme.

3. Explain that the essay must be well organized, with a thesis statement, supporting evidence (such as direct quotes), as well as a clear beginning, middle, and end. Students will have the entire period to compose their essays, which will be collected at the end of the hour.

4. Ask the class if there are any questions. Remind the class that they do not have to summarize the poem; they only need to identify three literary elements in the text and explain how these contribute to the compelling and mysterious nature of the poem. Clarify any other parameters you wish to set, and then allow students to begin writing. The class should have at least 40 minutes of writing time.

5. Collect essays at the end of the hour for assessment.

You may wish to allow students the chance to finish their essays at home, depending on their comfort level with timed writings.

See above.

Embedded Assessment
Group work notes and students’ essays should be evaluated for the ability to 1) outline the plot, 2) identify figurative language and stylistic devices used by the author, and 3) explain how these literary techniques contribute to the mood, setting, and overall power of the text.


PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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