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How to write a text response

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how to write a text response,text response | WHAT IS A TEXT RESPONSE | How to write a text response |

In this guide, we will cover everything you need to know about writing a text response. Let’s start at the beginning.

A text response is a style of writing in which you are sharing your reaction to something.  It is an opportunity to let the world know how you feel about something.

A text response can also be referred to as a reader response which is accurate, but you may also confuse them with a literacy narrative. This is not an accurate comparison, as a literacy narrative is more an assessment of how you became literate. In contrast, a text response is a specific response to a specific text.

A text response is specifically a response to a book you have read. Still, it can also be a response to a film you have just seen, a game you have been playing, or for more mature students; it could be a response to a decision the government is making that affects you or your community that you have read from a newspaper or website.

When writing a response, it is vital that you get the following points across to your audience.

  • How do you feel about what you are reading / saw / heard?
  • What do you agree or disagree with?
  • Can you identify with the situation?
  • What would be the best way to evaluate the story?

Some teachers get confused between a book review and a text response. Whilst they do share common elements, they are unique genres. Be sure to read o ur complete guide to writing a book review for further clarification.


Often when we talk about the development of language skills, it is useful to discuss things in terms of four distinct areas. These are commonly grouped into the two active areas of speaking and writing and the two so-called passive areas of listening and reading. Learning to write a text response bridges this gap as it requires our students to not only develop high-level writing skills but also to consider reading as much more than a mere passive activity.

Writing a text response hones the student’s critical thinking skills and ability to express their thoughts in writing. It gives students an opportunity to engage in reading as an active exercise, rather than something that is analogous to watching TV!


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KEEP IT FORMAL This is a calculated and considered response to what you have read or observed.

USE EVIDENCE Frequently refer to the text as evidence when having an opinion. It becomes the reference point for all your insights within your text response.

HAVE AN OPINION This is not a recount. This is your OPINION on what the author or film producer has created. Don’t shy away from that.

TENSE & STYLE Can be written in either past or present tense. Feel free to use your own style and language but remember to keep it formal.


YES or NO? Essentially you are making a recommendation. Ensure your audience know where you sit.

LET US INSIDE YOUR MIND How did it make you feel? What did you learn from it? Did you engage with the characters?

SHOW SOME BALANCE Even if you passionately loved or hated the text your audience will view you as biased if you solely focus on one angle. A little balance will give you credibility.


As with much of the formal school experience, students can greatly benefit from undertaking a methodical approach in their work. The following process outlines step-by-step how students can best approach writing their text responses in the beginning.

The keyword in the phrase writing a text response is not writing but response . The whole thing starts with the reading and how the student considers the text they are engaging with. Whether the text they are being asked to respond to is an unseen piece in an exam situation or a piece of coursework based on something studied over a semester, the structure remains the same. This is true, too, regardless of age and ability level. Younger students should be taught to approach writing a text response using the same concepts but in a simplified and more scaffolded manner.

Read for Understanding:

Students should read the text they are responding to initially for a basic comprehension of what the text is about. They should read to identify common themes and narrative devices that will serve to answer the question. Often, the question will demand that the student consider and explain the author’s use of a specific literary device or how that literary device develops a central idea and the author’s purpose. In preparing our students to write competent text responses they must first be familiar with the literary devices and conventions that they will be asked to discuss.

Students may instinctively know what they like to read, but what is often not instinctive is the expressing of why they like to read it. They may acknowledge that the writing they are reading is of a high quality, or not as the case may be, but they may lack the vocabulary to express why the writing is successful or unsuccessful. Take the opportunity in class when reading, regardless of the genre, to point out literary devices , techniques, and stylistic considerations that will help your students when it comes to writing a text response.

As humans, we are hardwired to understand the world around us in terms of the stories we tell ourselves and others. We do this by employing comparisons and drawing parallels, we play with words in our everyday use of idiom and metaphor, alliteration and rhyme. Encourage students to keep an ear out for these techniques in the music they listen to, the comics they read, and the TV they watch. Even in the advertising they are exposed to.

how to write a text response,text response | anne frank text reponse | How to write a text response |

Be sure too to offer your students opportunities to practice writing their own metaphors, similes, alliterative sentences etc. There is no better way to internalize an understanding of these literary techniques than by having a go at writing them yourself. And, it doesn’t have to be a dry academic exercise, it can be a lot of fun too.

Teaching alliteration? Have the students come up with their own tongue twisters. Want them to grasp simile? Have them produce Not! similes, for example, give them an adjective such as ‘cuddly’. Tell them you want them to write a simile using the simile structure employing ‘as’. Tell them too they must use the word ‘cuddly’ about someone who is not cuddly at all. Offer them the example He is as cuddly as a cactus to get the ball rolling. They can do this for any adjective and they will often achieve hilarious results!

Read Directions Carefully:

It should go without saying to read the directions carefully, but experience teaches us otherwise! Often it is not the best writers among our students who receive the best grades, but those who diligently respond to the directions of the task that has been set. Students should be sure to check that they have read the directions for their text response question closely. Encourage them to underline the keywords and phrases. This will help them structure their responses and can also serve as a checklist for them to refer to when they have completed writing their text responses.

Have students pinpoint exactly what the question is asking them. For older or stronger students, these questions will likely comprise several parts. Have the student separate the question into these component parts and pinpoint exactly what each part is asking them for.

A good practice to ensure a student has adequately understood what a question is looking for is to ask the student to paraphrase that question in their own words. This can be done either orally or as a written exercise. This helpful activity will inform the student’s planning at the prewriting stage and, as mentioned, can provide a checklist when reviewing the answer at the end.

The Process:

  • To ensure students fully understand the question, have them underline or highlight keywords in the sentence or question. Distribute thesauruses and have students find synonyms for the keywords that they have highlighted.
  • Have them rewrite the question as a series of questions in their own words. This will allow the teacher to assess their understanding of what they are being asked to do. It can also serve as a structured plan for writing their response.
  • Allow some time for students to discuss the question together, either in small groups or with talking partners. After the allotted time, students must decide on a yes , no , or maybe response to the central question.
  • Their response to Step 3 above will formulate their contention, which will serve as the driving force behind their text response as a whole.
  • On their own, students brainstorm at least three arguments or reasons to support their contention.
  • For each of the reasons, students should refer to the text and choose the best evidence available in support of their contention.
  • Students should not be overly concerned with forming a logical order for their notes gathered so far. This activity aims to let ideas flow freely and capture them on paper.

When completed, it is at this point that they are ready to begin the writing process in earnest.


As with writing in many other genres, it is helpful to think of the text response in terms of a three-part text response essay structure. It is a simple process of learning how to write a response paragraph and then organizing them into the ubiquitous beginning, middle, and end (or intro, body, and conclusion) that we drill into our students will serve us well again. Let’s take a look:

The Introduction:

The first paragraph in our students’ text responses should contain the essential information about the text that will orientate the reader to what is being discussed. Information such as the author, the book’s title or extract, and a general statement or two about the content will provide the reader with some context for the discussion.

The SOAPSTONE acronym is useful when considering which information is essential to include in the intro: Speaker, Occasion, Audience, Purpose, Subject, and TONE. Students should reflect on which aspects should be addressed in the introductory paragraph. The genre of the text will largely determine which of these should be included and which are left out. However, it is important the student does not get too bogged down at this stage; these orientation sentences usually require only three or four sentences in total.

Be sure to check out our own complete guide to writing perfect paragraphs here .

The tone of a text response should be such that it assumes the reader does not understand the text that the writer does. It is useful to tell them here to picture one person in their life they are writing to. Someone that would not be familiar with the text, perhaps a family member that they are explaining what they read. Remind them, though, the language should be formal too.

Once the student has established some context in the reader’s mind, they will need to address the central idea forming the ‘eye of the storm’ of their argument.

how to write a text response,text response | How to write a text response |

When learning how to write a text response body paragraph, one of the most common pitfalls students fall into is engaging in a straightforward retelling of the text. Discussion of the text is the name of the game here. Students must get into the text and express their opinions on what they find there. It is quickly apparent when reading a student’s response when they are merely engaging in a retelling and delivering a thoughtful response. Be sure students are aware of the fact that this fools nobody!

The notes students have made in the prewriting stages will be extremely useful here. Each of the arguments or reasons they have produced to support their contention will form the basis for a body paragraph. The TEEL acronym is useful here:

Topic Sentence : Students should begin each paragraph with a topic sentence. This sentence introduces the point that will serve as the main idea of the paragraph – the central riff, if you like. It will engage directly with an aspect of the question or writing prompt .

Expand / Explain: The purpose of the next few sentences will be to narrow the focus of the topic sentence, often by referring to a specific character or event in the text and offering a further explanation of the central point being developed in the paragraph.

Evidence / Example: At this point in the paragraph, it is essential that the student makes close reference to the text to support the point they have been making. Having an opinion is great, but it must be based, and be shown to be based, on the actual text itself. Evidence will most often take the form of a quotation from the text – so make sure your students are comfortable with the mechanics of weaving quotations into their writing!

Link: The end of each body paragraph should link back to the student’s central contention. It restates the argument or reason outlined in the topic sentence but in the broader context of the central contention which usually is the yes , no , or maybe uncovered at the prewriting stage.

As the student moves through their essay, it is important that they reference the main theme of the text in each and every paragraph. The structure of the essay should illustrate an evolution of the student’s understanding of that theme.

References should be made to how the writer employs various literary techniques to construct meaning in his or her text. However, reference to literary techniques should not be made merely in passing but should be integrated into a discussion of the themes explored in the essay.

Writing a text response conclusion:

how to write a text response,text response | Social INFLUENCERS are frequently paid TO provide their opinions on books films and products as people value THEIR opinion 1 | How to write a text response |

Writing the conclusion involves essentially restating the contentions made already, as well as summarizing the main points that were discussed. Though the conclusion will inevitably have much in common with the introduction, and some repetition is unavoidable, make sure students use different wording in their conclusion. The paraphrasing exercise in the prewriting stages may be helpful here.

Encourage students too to link back to their reasons and arguments developed to support their contention in the body paragraphs. The conclusion is no place to introduce new ideas or to ask rhetorical questions. It is the place for gathering up the strands of argument and making a statement about the relevance of the text in relation to the wider world.


●     In essays of this type, students should mostly write in the present tense.

●     Encourage students to vary the length of their sentences to maintain the reader’s interest. But be careful too, students should avoid using overly long sentences as longer sentences can be more difficult to control. A good rule of thumb is that when expressing complex thoughts use several short sentences. Simpler thoughts can be expressed through longer, more complex sentences.

●     Tie everything back to the question. The dissection of the question during the prewriting stage of the text response should remain at the forefront of the student’s mind at all times. If what the student writes doesn’t link back to the original question then it is deadwood and should be discarded.

●     Writing a text response requires the student to analyze the text and responds personally with their own thoughts and opinions. They should not be afraid to make bold statements as long as they can make references to the text to support those statements.

●     The prewriting stage is essential and should not be skipped. But, even with a well thought out prewriting session, where time allows, opportunities should be given for students to draft, redraft, and edit their writing.

We often teach our students that writing is about expressing our thoughts and ideas, but it is also about discovering what we think too.


In a response paper, you are writing a formal assessment of what you have read or observed (this could be a film, a work of art, or a book), but you add your own personal reaction and impressions to the report.

The steps for completing a reaction or response paper are:

  • Observe or read the piece for an initial understanding
  • Record your thoughts and impressions in notes
  • Develop a collection of thoughts and insights from
  • Write an outline
  • Construct your essay

Once you have established an outline for your paper, you’ll need to respond using the basic elements of every strong essay, a strong introductory statement.

In the case of a reaction paper, the first sentence should contain the title of the object to which you are responding and the name of the author/creator/publisher

The last sentence of your introductory paragraph should contain your stance or position on the subject you are writing about.

There’s no need to feel shy about expressing your own opinion in a response, even though it may seem strange to write “I feel” or “I believe” in an essay.


how to write a text response,text response | How to write a text response |

  • I felt that
  • In my opinion
  • The reader can conclude that
  • The author seems to
  • I did not like
  • The images seemed to
  • The author was [was not] successful in making me feel
  • I was especially moved by
  • I didn’t get the connection between
  • It was clear that the artist was trying to
  • The sound track seemed too
  • My favorite part was…because

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English Works

Writing a text response essay: notes, tips and sample paras

In a text response essay, you will be assessed on your ability to develop an argument/discussion relating to a prompt, your ability to analyse themes, issues and characters in an insightful way, your ability to identity an author’s intentions and unpack their narrative devices.

text response essay questions

Remember, the reason you are studying your particular text is because it contains complex and thoughtful themes. You must discuss the text’s complexity, but in a systematic way. Start with the simple and obvious points and then show a progression of thoughts.

If you are getting around a mid-range C-B, you may need to work on:

Topic sentences

  • Sharper and more analytical topic sentences. Make sure they directly answer the question and set up a paragraph that will develop the main theme in a thoughtful and profound way.
  • Make sure that each topic sentence has a different focus so as to avoid repetition. In a B-range essay there is often considerable repetition of ideas.
  • Evidence: you must be as analytical as possible and avoid general statements. Show an insightful knowledge of the text by choosing key evidence/insightful/ ambivalent examples in the text to support the topic sentence.
  • Build your discussion around the author’s intentions, purpose, narrative devices. These will keep the focus on analysis rather than summary.
  • Be sure to show readers/assessors that you are capable of precise and accurate analysis of characters, themes and significant moments/turning points in a text’s narrative. 

The flow of ideas throughout the paragraph

  • Take each topic sentence and brainstorm the points/quotes/insights that you must include in the paragraph. Group together similar ideas and then delve deeper.
  • Make sure that your paragraph flows. Do not just cobble together a list of statements or quotes. Make sure that each point follows and adds to the previous point.
  • Make sure you give priority to the narrative devices.
  • Do not just add irrelevant details in order to pad the paragraph; or if there are two perspectives/views on the statement, include them separately.
  • Please see sample  paras on Romeo and Juliet.
  • Awkward phrases: work on sophistication of expression. Avoid clumsy verb phrases. Use nominals. Work at incorporating quotes  into the grammatical construction of your sentence. Use a combination of short, snappy sentences and longer sentences. Do not lose control of the subject. See Notes on Improving Expression.

Write a 1-2 page summary of the “most important” or key points/issues in the text.  Ask yourself, if you had to write a response on this text, what could you absolutely not leave out, or omit to mention (taking into account that given the prompt, you may make a short or longer reference to this key piece of evidence/quote/views/values.)

  • See Writing a Comparative Essay
  • See Romeo and Juliet : Study Page
  • See Macbeth: Study Page

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The Five Types of Text Response Prompts

June 4, 2012

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Planning is an essential part of any successful text response essay. It helps you ensure that you’re answering the prompt, utilising enough quotes and writing the most unique and perceptive analysis possible! The hard part of this is that you only have about FIVE MINUTES to plan each essay in the Year 12 English exam… (more info on the best way to tackle that challenge in this video !)

So, I developed the FIVE TYPES of essay prompts to help students streamline their planning process and maximise every minute of their SACs and exams.

By identifying the type of prompt you’re being challenged with immediately, a number of parameters or guidelines are already set in place. For a specific type of prompt, you have specific criteria to meet – for example, in a metalanguage-based prompt , you immediately know that any evidence you brainstorm in your planning stage should be based around the literary techniques used in your given text.

If you’d like the full picture on our best FREE advice on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response here .

1. Theme-based prompt

‘Ambition in the play Macbeth leads to success.’ Discuss. ( Macbeth )

When you’re presented with a theme-based prompt, you can automatically shift your brainstorming and planning towards the themes mentioned in the prompt along with any others that you can link to the core theme in some way.

In regard to this Macbeth prompt, for example, you could explore the different ways the theme of ambition is presented in the text. Additionally, the themes of guilt and power are intimately related to ambition in the text, so you can use those other ideas to aid your brainstorming and get you a step ahead of the rest of the state come exam day.

2. Character-based prompt

‘Frankenstein’s hubris is what punishes him.’ Discuss. ( Frankenstein )

These prompts are pretty easy to spot – if you see a character’s name in the prompt, there you have it; you have a character-based prompt on your hands.

Once you know this, you can assume that each example you brainstorm has to be relevant to the specific character named in the prompt in some way. Also, you can explore how the actions of characters don’t occur in isolation – they’re almost always interrelated. Remember, however, that the actions of characters are always connected to the themes and ideas the author is trying to convey.

This type of prompt also grants you some freedoms that other types don’t give. For example, unlike a Theme-based prompt, a character-based prompt means that it’s perfectly fine to write about characters in the topic sentences of your body paragraphs.

3. How-based prompt

‘How does Grenville showcase Rooke’s inner conflict in The Lieutenant ?’ ( The Lieutenant )

Unlike other prompts, the ‘How’ positions you to focus more on the author’s writing intentions. This can be achieved by discussing metalanguage – language that describes language (read my blog post about it here ). These prompts tell you immediately that you need to be thinking about the literary techniques explored in the text and explain how they affect the narrative.

Rather than using specific techniques to frame your specific arguments, it’s best to use them as evidence to support arguments that attack the main themes/ideas mentioned in the prompt.

4. Metalanguage or film-technique-based prompt

‘Hitchcock’s use of film techniques offers an unnerving viewing experience’. Discuss. ( Rear Window )

This type of prompt is very similar to How-based prompts, specifically in the fact that the discussion of literary techniques is essential.

For this type of prompt specifically, however, the actual techniques used can form more of a basis for your arguments, unlike in How-based prompts .

5. Quote-based prompt

“Out, damned spot!” How does Shakespeare explore the burden of a guilty conscience in Macbeth ? ( Macbeth )

Countless students ask me every year, “What do I do when there’s a quote in the prompt?!” My reply to these questions is actually fairly straightforward!

There are two main things that you should do when presented with this type of prompt. Firstly, contextualise the quote in your essay and try to use it in your analysis in some way. Secondly, interpret the themes and issues addressed in the quote and implement these into your discussion. The best place to do both of these is in a body paragraph – it weaves in seamlessly and allows for a good amount of analysis, among other reasons!

When faced with unknown prompts in a SAC or your exam, it's reassuring to have a formulaic breakdown of the prompt so that your brain immediately starts categorising the prompt - which of the 5 types of prompts does this one in front of me fall into? To learn more about brainstorming, planning, essay structures for Text Response, read our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .

Get our FREE VCE English Text Response mini-guide

Now quite sure how to nail your text response essays? Then download our free mini-guide, where we break down the art of writing the perfect text-response essay into three comprehensive steps. Click below to get your own copy today!

text response essay questions

Struggling to answer the essay topic?

Has your teacher ever told you:

"You're not answering the prompt"

"You're going off topic"

Then you're not alone! If you struggle to understand and stay on topic, learn how to answer the prompt every time with our How To Write A Killer Text Response study guide.

text response essay questions

Extinction by Hannie Rayson is usually studied in the Australian curriculum Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .

[Modifed Video Transcription]

This is the prompt that I have decided to approach for this video and blog post:

Heather Dixon-Brown and Piper Ross’s dynamic is fuelled by competitiveness unique to the female experience in contemporary times. 

Let’s break it down!

Different Interpretations of Extinction

Today I’ll be talking about different interpretations of texts , specifically the feminist lens, which is a critical lens for you to know if you’re wanting to get those top marks. Even if you’re not there yet, and you want to amp up your essay, this is it. So keep watching (or reading)! 

I won’t be talking about the feminist lens in detail in this video/blog, but know that this is one of the must-know VCAA criteria points I discuss in my How To Write A Killer Text Response ebook. It is particularly relevant to Extinction because by viewing your text through a feminist lens, you’ll be able to get so much more out of your discussion. Think about it this way, you can wear all sorts of ‘glasses’ (i.e. lenses) when you’re reading a text: a feminist lens, a pro-sustainability lens, an ecocritical lens. If you were to put these lenses on, how would it change your interpretation of the text? By adopting this advanced way of approaching a text, you’ll undoubtedly wow examiners because you’re able to discuss your texts on a level that the majority of students aren’t even aware of! I touch more on feminist and ecocritical lenses at the end of the video above :)

How To Break Down This Extinction Essay Topic

Whenever you get a new essay topic, you can use LSG’s THINK and EXECUTE strategy , a technique to help you write better VCE essays. This essay topic breakdown will focus on the THINK part of the strategy. If you’re unfamiliar with this strategy, then check it out in How To Write A Killer Text Response .

Within the THINK strategy, we have 3 steps, or ABC. These ABC components are:

Step 1: A nalyse

Step 2: B rainstorm

Step 3: C reate a Plan

Character-Based Essay Prompt: Heather Dixon-Brown and Piper Ross’s dynamic is fuelled by competitiveness unique to the female experience in contemporary times. 

Not sure what we mean by ‘Character-Based Essay Prompt’? Then, you’ll want to learn more about the 5 types of essay prompts here . 

Step 1: Analyse

This prompt specifies two characters – Dixon-Brown and Piper – and therefore mandates an in-depth discussion of them within your essay. However, it is important to be careful of focusing exclusively on the explicitly mentioned characters when given a character prompt. After all, while Dixon-Brown and Piper are both very important to Extinction, they are not the only relevant characters! In order to ensure that your discussion covers enough of the text, make sure your brainstorming stage includes the ideas and themes exemplified by the unmentioned characters , and how they relate to the ones that are specified. 

Step 2: Brainstorm

  • Agree to the prompt, but not entirely – Dixon-Brown and Piper do experience competitiveness between themselves, as two women in the twenty-first century, but it is not the only factor impacting their relationship dynamic
  • Female competitiveness in relationships and desirability – e.g. having sex with Harry without the other knowing (make sure to use DB’s quotes about competition!) 
  • Make this more specific – competition in terms of sex, sexuality and whether or not one is desired (can link this well to the young/old dichotomy) 
  • ‍ Young/old – related to female competitiveness, but more specific – tension between what is wanted and considered attractive versus what is no longer given value
  • ‍ Idealism/pragmatism – separate from the sphere of gender; has more of its roots in politics and contrasting schools of thought
  • Adopt traits from a feminist lens – focusing on women, power, relationships with men, when they can speak versus when they can’t, etc. 

Step 3: Create a Plan

Body Paragraph 1: Contemporary demands for female competitiveness undoubtedly underlie the dynamics between Dixon-Brown and Piper Ross.

  • Under the modern-day patriarchy , women are encouraged to compete over social resources – reputation , desirability , and, crucially to Extinction, one’s sex and sexuality against the context of men . Both women are attracted to Harry, and eventually, both engage in 'covert sexual relationship[s]' that 'compromise the integrity' of the tiger quoll project. Beneath the veneer of assertiveness, Dixon-Brown’s underlying insecurities expose her treatment of Piper as a rival.
  • Although she openly denounces Harry’s assumption that 'You thought I wanted to compete for your affections', she nevertheless demands to know if Harry is 'quite smitten with Piper'. Dixon-Brown tries to distance herself from such romantic bindings, insisting that she 'do[esn’t] need a relationship' and thus subconsciously pitting herself as Piper’s opposite – in other words, a competitor for the different instances of Harry’s affection. 
  • Rayson is quick to highlight and consequentially reject this modern female infighting, arguing that the insecurities as birthed from the patriarchy directly and unnecessarily demean the relationships between women.  ‍

Body Paragraph 2: The primary source of female conflict between Dixon-Brown and Piper is that of their incongruent ages; Rayson maintains that the tension between ‘younger’ and ‘older’ individuals contributes massively to the wider tenseness in their dynamic. 

  • Patriarchal values dictate that the value of a woman decreases with age : Dixon-Brown claims that Harry 'would prefer a younger woman', implying that her desirability has decreased with the increase of age.
  • The professor’s obsession with appearances and reputation as a woman is almost completely absent in Rayson’s consideration of Piper, who is actively pursued by both Andy and Harry throughout the play. She is 'adore[d]' by the former, and the latter is enthusiastic at the prospect of 'mak[ing] love like that…again' during Act Two, Scene One . Rayson attacks the systems of patriarchal value that have driven both women to resist and distrust each other in the first place.

Body Paragraph 3: Conversely, while the spheres of politics certainly overlap occasionally within feminism and the question of female competition, they nevertheless form a largely distinct motivation behind the conflict between Piper and Dixon-Brown.

  • Piper and Dixon-Brown’s dynamic is perhaps most aptly summarised in Act One, Scene Two , with the introduction of the Dixon-Brown Index. Dixon-Brown claims that 'five thousand' is the 'latest magic number' with which to determine what animal populations are most feasible to make conservation efforts towards. Piper criticises the index immediately, pointing out the ridiculousness of having it 'apply to every mammal on earth', regardless of any other relevant factors. To Piper, every animal life is 'worth saving', whether they be 'killer whales or teeny potoroos' – Dixon-Brown, by contrast, must 'liv[e] in the real world' and exists at the mercy of funding, of which there is 'only so much… to go around'. The tension within their dynamic thus bears this underlying current of idealism versus pragmatism, and persists even after the primary establishment of the tiger quoll project. 

For further reading see our Extinction blog post where we cover themes, characters, symbolism and more! And for more essay help, you'll definitely want to take a look at Risini's fully annotated Extinction essay.

If you're studying Extinction yourself, then LSG's A Killer Text Guide: Extinction study guide is for you! In it, we teach you to think like a 50 study scorer through advanced discussions on things like structural feature analysis, views and values, different interpretations and critical readings. Included are character breakdowns, a play summary, 5 A+ fully annotated essays and so much more!

1. Summary 2. Themes 3. Symbols and Analysis 4. Quotes 5. Sample Essay Topics 6. Essay Topic Breakdown

Alice Munro is a Canadian Nobel-Prize-winning author of short stories , and Runaway , first published in 2004, is a collection of eight such stories (though kind of actually only six, because three of them are sequential). These stories examine the lives of Canadian women throughout the last century, but not all of them are necessarily realistic to what daily life actually looks like. Rather, Munro uses borderline-supernatural events (which some critics say feel staged or contrived) to shed light on the tensions and challenge s of gender in modern life.

This can mean that some of the stories are quite hard to follow; they go through all these twists and turns, and the lines between stories start blurring after a while. Let’s go through each in a bit more detail before jumping into our analysis.

2. Story-by-Story Characters and Summary

The titular story is about a woman Carla , her husband Clark , their goat Flora , and their elderly neighbour Sylvia Jamieson . There are many runaways in the story: Carla ran away from her middle-class home to marry Clark, Flora the goat literally runs away, a scandalous lie about Sylvia’s late husband gets a bit out of hand, and now Sylvia is helping Carla run away once again, this time from Clark. Few of these runaways are really very successful: this story is really interrogating why and how.


The next three stories are sequential, and revolve around Juliet , a well-educated classicist who is working as a teacher in the first story, ‘Chance’ - it is set in 1965 and she is 21. In this story, she meets her lover Eric Porteous on a train, then finds him again six months later. Eric is sleeping around with a few women in light of his wife’s declining health and eventual passing, but by ‘Soon’ he and Juliet have settled down and had a baby together - Penelope .

‘Soon’ focuses more on the relationship between Juliet and her parents, in particular her mother Sara . Juliet feels a bit out of place now at home, and feels guilty about not being more present for Sara. In turn, ‘Silence’ depicts her own daughter running away from her. Juliet returns to her studies and only hears about Penelope’s life through a chance encounter with a friend who reveals that Penelope is now a mother herself.

The next story is about Grace , an older woman revising the family home of her husband Maury Travers . Their marriage never had a lot of passion in it really - Grace was always more interested in Maury’s family - but both of them were just doing what was expected of them. The contrast comes from Maury’s brother Neil , a doctor who accompanies Grace on a hospital trip when she cuts her foot. This trip becomes longer and more sensual, feeling adulterous even though very little actually transpires between them - the story raises questions around what counts as cheating, and what marriages should entail. 

‘Trespasses’ is slightly deliberately disorienting from the start (which is actually the end of the story). We go on a flashback in the middle to learn about a father, Harry , and his daughter Lauren . One day when moving house, Lauren finds a cardboard box - Harry explains that it contains the ashes of a dead baby who he and his wife Eileen (Lauren’s mother) had had before Lauren. This leads to Lauren questioning if she was adopted, which is further complicated by Delphine , a worker at a hotel who seems to think Lauren is her biological daughter. The ending (which was teased at the beginning) is the evening of confrontation between the four characters where the truth is finally revealed. 

Conversely, ‘Tricks’ has a more linear plot to follow. Robin is a carer for her asthmatic sister Joanne , but she’s taken to watching Shakespeare plays in the next town once a year. One year, she meets a European clockmaker Danilo who plans to meet her next year when she is back in town - but this doesn’t go to plan at all. It’s only 40 years later that Robin finds out Danilo had a twin brother, which is why the plan had gone downhill.

The last story in the collection is arguably the most complex, and it’s broken into 5 parts to reflect that complexity. It follows Nancy as she ages from a fresh high school graduate to an old woman by the end of the sequence, including her marriage to the town doctor Wilf . Importantly, the stories also cover her friendship with Tessa , who has the supernatural powers mentioned in the title. However, by the third story, Tessa has been abandoned in a mental hospital and she has lost her powers. Throughout the stories, we also see Ollie , Wilf’s cousin (or a figment of Nancy’s imagination according to this analysis), who seems to be responsible for Tessa’s demise.

Let’s start tracing some of the common themes between the stories.

A key theme explored throughout many of the stories is marriage and domesticity . There’s a strong sense that it’s an underwhelming experience : it doesn’t live up to expectations and it particularly dampens the lives of the women involved. Nancy’s marriage to Wilf in ‘Powers’ only happens because she feels guilty - 'I could hardly [turn him down] without landing us both in…embarrassment' - but, as a result, she loses her fun, intellectual streak as he tells her to put down her book, 'give Dante a rest'. A similar fate befalls Juliet, who gives up her study in the process of becoming married.

 Marriage is also sometimes explored as a deliberate choice , even if it might have unintended consequences - for example, Carla’s marriage to Clark is described as a life that she 'chose'. This interpretation is more unclear though, and is contradicted in other stories like Passion, where Grace’s marriage is described as 'acquiescence ', acceptance without protest. It’s even contradicted to some extent in the same story: Munro compares Carla’s marriage to a 'captive' situation, where she might’ve chosen to enter the marriage, but after that has little say in how it goes.

This sounds a bit trite, but the title is a key theme as well - just not necessarily in the physical sense . Consider all of these different definitions and how they pop up in the stories. In ‘Runaway’, Carla and the goat run away, but also the lie Carla tells Clark about Leon, a runaway lie that taints his relationship with Sylvia completely. Some runaways are described as accidents - 'she – Flora – slipped through' - while others are much more deliberate. The question here is how much control we actually have over our own lives . Not a lot, it would seem.

The other side of runaway/s is to think about who the victim in each runaway is. Does somebody run away because they are 'in a bad situation, the way it happens', a victim of circumstance , or do they run away because they feel guilty , or because they’re abandoning someone else, the true victim of being left behind? Carla does seem like more of a victim of circumstance with good reason to run away, but think about Nancy leaving Tessa behind in ‘Powers’: ‘“I’ll write to you”, she said…she never did.’

This question about who the real victim is might be the hardest to answer for ‘Silence’. Juliet’s daughter abandons her, but it’s not like there’s a strong history of positive mother-daughter relationships in their family: Juliet wasn’t able to give Sara what she needed ( 'she had not protected Sara') and in turn isn’t able to quite give Penelope what she needs either (Penelope having a 'hunger for the things that were not available to her in her home '). At the same time, Penelope’s abandonment does feel quite callous and inexplicable , even if Juliet feels like it’s what she deserves; Munro suggests at the end of the story that a reunion would be an 'undeserved blessing[]'. The intertextuality with Aethiopica reveals Juliet’s good intentions, her similarity to the 'great-hearted queen of Ethiopia', but it doesn’t quite give us the satisfaction of a neat resolution either.

Ethics and Morality

Finally, Munro’s stories also raise questions around morality . Besides what we’ve already covered - adultery, runaways - there are further questions raised around parenthood , particularly in ‘Trespasses’. Harry seems to share a bit too much information with his child, who really doesn’t need to know about the dead baby just yet. Lauren is 'not short of information', and it’s worth questioning where that boundary should be for a child of her age.

But not all ethical questions have simple answers : as in ‘Tricks’ they can sometimes just have 'outrageous', cruel punchlines that don’t reveal themselves for decades. Munro doesn’t necessarily have all the answers on this one. She brings up complex moral situations but does not pass judgment on any.

4. Symbols & Analysis

Greek elements.

Throughout the stories, Munro brings in a few elements of Greek mythology or literature . The intertextuality in ‘Silence’ is one example, drawing on the classical text Aethiopica , but there are a few more scattered throughout the stories: the constellations of Orion and Cassiopeia in ‘Chance’ and an oracle-like figure in Tessa, a main character in ‘Powers’. All of these elements have some significance:

  • Cassiopeia is known for her arrogance and vanity, which parallels with the way Juliet detaches herself from her life ('she had made herself into a rather superior, invulnerable observer' - despite her very real vulnerabilities)
  • Orion is known for his forbidden romance with the virgin goddess Artemis, which parallels with Eric’s romance with Juliet (Juliet being relatively inexperienced with men herself, with all of her experiences being 'fantasy')
  • Oracles in mythology are like mouthpieces of the gods who can prophesy about the future. They were often women, so oracles were unusually influential in their male-dominated societies. The question is whether this parallels with Tessa at all: even though she has these supernatural powers, are there other forms of power she might lack instead?

In general, intertextuality is a way to enrich a text by drawing parallels and linking characters to existing stories or archetypes. Here, Munro uses classical texts to add dimension to her characters in a way that is almost-but-not-quite commentary. Pre-existing Greek myths are a way for us to see what’s really going on .

(Rail)Roads and Transit

The other symbol that comes up a few times in the stories is roads or railroads - basically places where runaways might happen . ‘Chance’ is set in the middle of a train journey, ‘Tricks’ involves a couple of train journeys, ‘Runaway’ maps the roads leading in and out of Carla’s home, and almost all of ‘Passion’ takes place on the road. If we broaden ‘places where runaways might happen’ to include planes as well, then we can add ‘Powers’ and ‘Silence’ to the list.

All of these spaces are what might be called liminal - they’re ‘in-between’ spaces with an air of suspense about what can happen. It’s probably most prominent in ‘Passion’, where Grace describes the events of that road trip as a 'passage” in her life, both physically and metaphorically. In general though, they’re the settings where the wildest and most significant events tend to happen.

  • 'She—Flora—slipped through.'
  • 'She (referring to Carla) chose this life with Clark.'
  • 'She is just in a bad situation, the way it happens.'
  • 'She saw him as the architect of the life ahead of them, herself as the captive, her submission both proper and exquisite.'
  • 'She might be free.' - this is the second last line in the story. Note the ambiguity here (and through all these quotes, to be honest) about which ‘she’ is being referred to (Carla, Flora or even Sylvia)
  • 'Juliet was twenty-one years old and already the possessor of a B.A. and an M.A. in classics.'
  • 'The problem was that she was a girl. If she got married—which might happen…—she would waste all her hard work.'
  • 'She had made herself into a rather superior, invulnerable observer.'
  • '…the two of them (referring to Sara and Juliet) intertwined. And then abruptly, Juliet hadn’t wanted any more of it.'
  • 'But she had not protected Sara. When Sara had said, soon I’ll see Juliet , Juliet had found no reply. Could it not have been managed?…She had put everything away.'
  • Penelope supposedly had a 'hunger for the things that were not available to her in her home.'
  • 'Penelope does not have a use for me.'
  • 'She hopes as people who know better hope for undeserved blessings, spontaneous remissions, things of that sort.'
  • Grace, watching a movie with Maury, felt 'rage…because that was what girls were supposed to be like. That’s what men - people, everybody - thought they should be like. Beautiful, treasured, spoiled, selfish, pea-brained. That was what a girl should be, to be fallen in love with.'
  • 'It was not in her nature, of course, to be so openly dumbfounded, so worshipful, as he was.'
  • 'Describing this passage, this change in her life, later on, Grace might say - she did say - that it was as if a gate had clanged shut behind her. But at the time there was no clang - acquiescence simply rippled through her.'
  • Lauren 'had been brought up to believe that children and adults could be on equal terms with each other.'
  • 'How could she be sure that they had not got her as a replacement? If there was one big thing she hadn’t known about, why could there not be another?'
  • 'Forgive us our trespasses' - note the ambiguity of ‘trespasses’ (does it mean sins as in the prayer, or overstepping boundaries, or both?)
  • 'Some of the best-looking, best-turned-out women in town are those who did not marry.'
  • 'A means to an end, those tricks are supposed to be.'
  • 'I couldn’t stand for the poor man (referring to Wilf) to have had two girls turn him down’
  • 'I used to have a feeling something really unusual would occur in my life, and it would be important to have recorded everything. Was that just a feeling?'
  • 'She could be upset to see you leave without her. So I’ll give you an opportunity just to slip away.'
  • 'He has nearly forgotten that he ever believed in her powers, he is now only anxious for her and for himself, that their counterfeit should work well.'

Having great quotes is one thing, but you also want to make sure you know How To Embed Quotes in Your Essay Like a Boss !

6. Sample Essay Topics

  • What does Runaway teach us about romance?
  • Carla, Grace and Tessa are more similar than different in terms of their relationships with the men in their lives. Do you agree?
  • How does Munro contrast younger and older women in Runaway ?
  • What does the setting contribute to the overall effect of Runaway ?
  • 'Forgive us our trespasses.' What types of boundaries are created and overstepped in Runaway ?

7. Essay Topic Breakdown

Whenever you get a new essay topic, you can use LSG’s THINK and EXECUTE strategy , a technique to help you write better VCE essays. This essay topic breakdown will give you a brief glimpse on the THINK part of the strategy. If you’re unfamiliar with this strategy, then check it out in How To Write A Killer Text Response .

‘Forgive us our trespasses.’ What types of boundaries are created and overstepped in Runaway ?

This quote is from ‘Trespasses’ and captures the double meaning of the word as both overstepping physical boundaries and sinning in the moral or religious sense . It’s likely we’ll want to talk about both interpretations - physically trespassing but also encroaching on boundaries in immoral ways. Note that the prompt also includes the action words ‘created’ and ‘overstepped’, meaning that there’ll be a pretty diverse range of examples that we’ll need to use to answer this prompt comprehensively.

Let’s start with physical boundaries : Carla’s marriage and the fences on her property and the US-Canada border in ‘Powers’ come to mind. Then, we’ve got non-physical boundaries: emotionally as in ‘Chance’ and ethically as in ‘Trespasses’. This is where we start getting into whether these boundaries are created or overstepped .

Clark creates boundaries for Carla and her attempts to break free from them are unsuccessful. The border in ‘Powers’ is more of an excuse for Nancy to neglect Tessa, a boundary she creates and never makes the effort to overstep. Finally, the ethical boundaries in ‘Trespasses’ are overstepped from the get-go. How can we synthesise these ideas into one essay?

I think the trick with questions like this is not to just allocate different types of boundaries and/or different action words to each paragraph. Try to think of creative ways to string these ideas together that also build towards a bigger picture or overall contention about the text as a whole. This example plan explores physical and emotional boundaries but makes a bigger argument that they are often associated with regret in Munro’s stories.

‍ Paragraph 1 : Physical boundaries are both the most intentional and the most difficult to overstep.

  • Carla’s farmstead is isolated and bordered by roads; her marriage to Clark and her life on this farmstead is likened to a 'captive' situation, with Clark being the 'architect' of it all
  • Munro ends Runaway on a pessimistic note about Carla’s ability to leave this boundary: 'She might be free'
  • International borders also constitute physical barriers, and these are used by Nancy in ‘Powers’ to avoid responsibility; because this is an active decision (‘“I’ll write to you”, she said…she never did.’), it’s a barrier that never really gets broken. Similar to Penelope in ‘Silence’

Paragraph 2 : Munro’s stories, however, focus more on emotional boundaries , and the way these are applied varies greatly. This variation underscores their complexity .

  • Emotional boundaries when created can prevent intimacy: Juliet 'ma[kes] herself into a rather superior, invulnerable observer' so as to avoid commitment. These boundaries come back to bite when she has a daughter
  • Conversely, they cause a great deal of harm when overstepped: for example, ‘Trespasses’ sees 'crazy and dangerous' adults toy with the life of a child, constantly assuming that she 'can take it' when in fact this is not the case

Paragraph 3 : Regardless, Munro’s characters often come to regret the boundaries they erect or overstep.

  • Carla’s ambivalence about her marriage is tinged with regret either way: when she’s there, she wants to escape, and when she escapes, she questions if she has 'anything left in [her]'
  • Juliet reflects on the boundaries she puts up between herself and Penelope and realises that 'spontaneous remissions' between them are undeserved and impossible
  • In ‘Powers’, Nancy struggles with the guilt of abandoning Tessa: many years later, she still wants to 'open [the past] up' and understand her motives. However, it is too late, and the boundaries are already there
  • Munro does not suggest that boundaries are inherently good or bad, but her stories show how they can be sources of regret when treated improperly

Runaway is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Creative Response. Check out Audrey's blog on how to approach Runaway as a Creative Response for more.

For a detailed guide on Creative Response as a whole, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Creative Writing .

The Erratics is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .

‍ Setting is a literary element that refers to the context of where a story takes place, usually alluding to the time and location. Your expectations of a story that takes place in Victorian England would differ greatly from a story set in late 2000s Australia, showing us that the historical, social and geographical aspects of the setting shape the meaning of the text.

In the memoir The Erratics, the setting plays a vital role in Vicki Laveau-Harvie's storytelling. From the beginning of the novel, Laveau-Harvie uses both the title and prologue to foreground the importance of the Okotoks Erratic (a geographical phenomenon in Alberta, Canada) to establish the role that place and belonging have played in her life. Further reinforcing the importance of the setting, the memoir’s narrative follows Laveau-Harvie’s experience flying back to Alberta, Canada (her hometown), after having moved to and started a new life in Australia. 

Why Focus on Setting When Writing a Text Response?

The setting can be useful evidence to have in your repertoire as it helps you show that you not only have an understanding of the ideas of the text but also how those ideas are constructed . When looking at the criteria you will be marked against in the end-of-year exam you will see that to score a 7 and above in Section A you need to consider the ‘construction’ of the text ( read more here ). Construction refers to your ability to discuss the parts that make up a text through the use of metalanguage as evidence to support your views. The setting is just one of the ways you can address construction in The Erratics, but, as a text so focused on physical environments, it’s a good type of metalanguage to start with.

Famous for producing Justin Bieber and maple syrup, Canada has a similar history to Australia. Canada has an Indigenous population who inhabited the land for thousands of years before British and French expeditions came and colonised the land. In the 1700s, due to various conflicts, France ceded most of its North American colonies while the United Kingdom stayed. Over time the country gained greater autonomy and, like Australia, it is now a constitutional monarchy with a prime minister but recognises the British royal family as its sovereign. Further mirroring Australia, Canada also has a colonial past that it is still reckoning with as recent headlines about the human remains of hundreds of Indigenous people at a residential school reminds us. 

Vicki is specifically from Alberta, and the majority of the novel is about her experiences returning there after having moved to Australia (at the start of the memoir she had been estranged from her parents for 18 years). Known for its natural beauty and its nature reserves, Alberta is a part of Western Canada. Alberta is one of only two landlocked provinces in Canada which is interesting considering that Vicki leaves it for a country famous for its beaches and coastal cities. 

When annotating the text , highlight the descriptions of the setting. You’ll notice that when  Laveau-Harvie describes Alberta or Canada as a whole she presents the country as being dangerous and hostile. An example of this is the blunt statement that the ‘cold will kill you. Nothing personal’. However, Laveau-Harvie does find some solace in the landscape, observing the beauty of the ‘opalescent’ peaks and the comfort in predictable seasons. 

Vicki’s Parent’s Home

The first description Laveau-Harvie gives us of her family home is to call it ‘Paradise, [with] twenty acres with a ranch house on a rise, nothing between you and the sky and the distant mountains.’ The idyllic image foregrounds the natural landscape but is then immediately juxtaposed with the description of the home as a ‘time-capsule house sealed against the outside world for a decade’. This description heightens Vicki’s mother and father’s isolation from the outside world and alludes to the hostility of the home that is reaffirmed with the doors that ‘open to no one’. The family home becomes an extended metaphor for Vicki’s parents themselves, with the description of it as a ‘no-go zone’, hinting at the sisters’ estrangement from their parents who have shut them out. 

Moreover, the land the house sits on does not produce any crops despite it being such a large expanse of land, heightening the home’s disconnect from the natural world. This detachment from the natural world is furthered by her labelling her parents as ‘transplants from the city’ and contrasting them to locals who ‘still make preserves in the summer’. Vicki’s mother in particular is at odds with nature due to materialism, such as her wardrobes being full of fur coats.

The Erratics + Napi

In the prologue we are introduced to the Okotoks Erratic as being situated in ‘a landscape of uncommon beauty’ with the Erratic itself being something that ‘dominates the landscape, roped off and isolated, the danger it presents to anyone trespassing palpable’. The memoir then immediately shifts to Vicki’s experience in the hospital trying to convince the staff that she is her mother’s daughter, drawing a parallel between the dominating and dangerous landscape to the dominating and dangerous mother. In the memoir, the Erratic is an extended metaphor for the mother with both the land and the mother being described as ‘unsafe’, ‘dominat[ing]’ and a ‘danger’. Moreover, the structural choice of opening the novel with the Erratic makes its presence felt throughout the novel even though it is not mentioned again until the end of the text. 

In contrast to the prologue, the epilogue has a feeling of peace and reconciliation as the mother and what she has represented to her family is reconciled with the landscape. This is particularly pertinent as the geographical and spiritual origins of the rock revealed in the epilogue is a story of stability after a rupture. This alludes to the ability of Vicki’s family to heal after the trauma inflicted on them by the mother. The epilogue could also be understood as a reminder of humanity's insignificance in the face of nature and larger forces, as represented by Napi.

While Laveau-Harvie does not directly address Canada's colonial past in her memoir outside of the inclusion of Napi, the colonial presence is felt throughout the memoir through the setting of both Australia and Canada. These settings allude to how living on stolen land means that while individuals - particularly middle-class, white individuals - may not always recognise and address the colonial history of the land they live on, the fact that land was never ceded is still felt. 

As discussed before, Canada and Australia are similar as they are both former British colonies that are now constitutional monarchies, so why would Vicki want to move to a place that is similar to where she already lived and experienced trauma? 

There are a few potential answers, the first being the geographical distance. There are over 1300kms between Sydney and Alberta and, considering the trauma Vicki and her sister have experienced, it stands to reason that she would want to put distance between her childhood home and her adult life. This leads to the second reason, travelling to ‘Far flung places’ as a method to deal with trauma. While in Canada, Vicki reminisces about the ‘boozed-up Brits on Bondi’ that embodies her life in Australia. The evocative, alliterative image creates a stark contrast between warm and carefree Australia and cold and emotionally taxing Canada, reinforcing how travelling provides individuals with a means to survive their traumatic childhoods and create new lives for themselves. 

When writing about setting you do not need to be an expert in geography. As this blog post has shown, to understand Laveau-Harvie’s use of setting in The Erratics you only need to know about two countries, so next time you write a text response, consider using your understanding of setting to show your teacher or examiners that you’ve thought about the text’s construction.

If you'd like to dive deeper into this text, Zac breaks down key themes and quotes in The Erratics over on this blog .

  • Introduction

Poetry. Students tend to have strong feelings about it, some love the melodic rhythm and the eloquent way in which it encapsulates life and others hate it, either because they find it a snooze-fest and would rather read the dictionary, or they simply don’t know how to approach analysing it. Whatever boat you may be in, by the end of your study of Peter Skrzynecki’s New/Old World poems, you’re bound to have a new appreciation for the art that is poetry and find analysing poems less of a daunting prospect and more a something easy to nail.

Before we begin diving into Skrzynecki, I’d highly recommend that you check our LSG’s Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response . It’s jam-packed with awesome, FREE advice for how to ACE Text Response.

Analysing Poetry in Old/New World

Unlike other forms of text, a collection of poems is not one continuous body of writing, instead a poetry collection is more like a series of vignettes, snapshots into poignant moments, in this case, of an author’s life. Whilst many students may struggle with this form and ask “How many poems do I analyse? Do I need to know all of them?”, poems are easier than most texts to prioritise and categorise into themes and often have a significant amount of metalanguage. And in answer to your questions, whilst its best you analyse the whole collection to some extent, knowing 10 or so strategically chosen poems really well, covering all themes and types should hold you in good stead for any question thrown at you in the exam.

Peter Skrzynecki wrote his poems over a significant amount of time, starting in 1970 and ending in 2006. This has given the collection a unique perspective, not only demonstrating a migrant’s journey through narrative, but also by providing the different attitudes and feelings of belonging, experienced by one individual as they try to assimilate in their new world over a period of time. This gives us, as students, a wonderful opportunity to look deeper into the text and identify Skrzynecki’s differing positions in regard to identity, family and belonging, through the perspective from which he writes his poems at different stages of his life.

To learn more about the importance of context in VCE English, check out this blog post .

The Structure

Skrzynecki’s collection tends to feature three types of poem, by identifying these, analysing each piece can be made easier as similar types of poem often focus on similar themes. The three categories of poetry to look for are:

Nature Poems

Peter Skrzynecki showcases his connection to Australia through poems that depict often idyllic landscapes, or the lives of common fauna of Australia, such as birds and fish.

The Immigrant Experience

These poems such as Immigrants at Central Station, Migrant Hostel and The Polish Immigrant offer an insight into the emotionally turbulent and difficult journey migrants go through to live in Australia. These poems also demonstrate the experiences of relief and joy felt when arriving, as well as emotions of fear, trepidation and disconnect in regards to both their new home and their old world.

Family Poems

Often the most emotionally pulling, these poems tug at the heartstrings and showcase the relationships between Peter Skrzynecki and his family, as well as his exploration of his heritage, his ties to his Polish background.

The new/old world structure, similar to the old and new testament of the bible are used to highlight the old world of Skrzynecki’s Polish roots and childhood, whilst the new world is his new life in Australia.

Recurring Characters in Old/New World

Peter skrzynecki.

The author of this text, as well as a character in his own right, Peter describes his triumphs and struggles of immigrating to Australia in his poems.

Feliks Skrzynecki

The Polish adopted father of Peter, a “gentle man” who immigrated to Australia with him family from Germany often demonstrates the struggle of the older generation to fully ‘belong’, as they have grown up amongst different customs. This difference in the two generations’ assimilation is depicted in the poem Feliks Skrzynecki , as we see Feliks as attached to his Polish customs and traditions, as he “reminisce[s]” with his Polish friends. We also discover that he struggles with the English language, is a hard worker and has had cancer twice in his foot. Peter in comparison is seen to have far more of a disconnect with his Polish ancestry he “inherited unknowingly” and forget his “first Polish word” as he learns of a culture “further South of Hadrian’s Wall”.

Themes in Old/New World

As we all know, themes are an integral part of Text Response overall, and that still rings true for Skrzynecki’s poetry. To learn more about how to implement themes into different types of Text Response prompts, check out our blog on LSG’s Five Types of Text Response Prompts !

One of the most central themes of Skrzynecki’s poems is that of belonging. As the poems detail an immigrant’s emotional journey, alternating between feeling that they belong and don’t belong, we are invited to grapple with what it means to belong both mentally and physically as well as what elements are required to feel a sense of belonging in community and country.

Identity is another central theme, one that runs closely to that of belonging, as a main part of one’s identity is the culture/place/family to which they feel they belong. Old/New World: New and Selected Poems explores the formation and changes in a migrant’s sense of identity as they try to find belonging in their new Australian home as well as later, when they try to reconnect with their European heritage. To explore the theme of identity it’s best to break it down into several influential factors, which are listed below:

The surroundings in which a person finds themselves, as well as the place they call home is an essential part of identity, as it showcases what place one identifies with and feels safe in.  Several of the poems are set in places of transition, such as at a train station, this helps to emphasize the displacement some migrants may feel as they struggle to acclimatise to their new home. In poems such as Immigrants at central station Skyznecki illustrates an environment of anxiety and trepidation, however, he finishes the poem with sentiments of hope of the new future, the new world the immigrants were travelling to, along “glistening tracks of steel”.

An individual’s heritage, that is the places and people from which they come to identify with, is seen to have a profound impact on the characters in Skrzynecki’s poems. There are several poems set in graveyards or in Europe where Peter questions his knowledge of where he came from, and his sense of connection to these people and places. One of the most interesting set of poems regarding heritage is the poems regarding the different sections of a graveyard for the different groups, through this Skrzynecki touches on how most will never fully part with their heritage, instead, even in death, most will reconnect with their upbringing and hold on to their roots.

The difference in a cultures’ customs is a struggle seen throughout the text. However, customs are also seen to be the way in which migrants make themselves at home whilst being able to still identify with their past. Through the generational gap between Peter and his father, we can identify the difficulty older generations may have in letting go of customs, whilst the younger new Australians often find it far easier to attach themselves to new traditions.

An integral part of identity and in cultivating a sense of belonging is the language that we speak, as the way in which we are able to communicate ourselves and who we have accessible conversation has a large impact on one’s sense of belonging or disconnect from a culture . This is due to language barriers’ ability to foster or inhibit connection. We see this as Peter demonstrates his struggle at times to identify with his Polish roots, symbolised in his loss of Polish language as he “forgot [his] first Polish word”. Despite his father repeating it until he never forgets, this forgetfulness illustrates the effort which is often required to remain connected to heritage when physically distant from it. Language’s ability to also expose the differences between people and make them feel like outsiders is also explored in First day of school and The Polish Immigrant as people such as teachers struggle with the pronunciation of Polish names and inevitably have to ask “boy, how do you pronounce that?”. We see through these poems how disconnect can be fostered due to the struggle of communication as the picking apart of their names make the new immigrants feel “tired”, “embarrass[ed]” and as if their name was that of a “European disease”. Language is also seen to hold migrants back as seen in Migrant Bachelor where a lack of a familiar language relegates a migrant to “factory chimneys and punch card clocks” which “ask no proof of speech”.  This struggle with language, both the disconnect and joy that comes with communicating and the opportunities it affords individuals, is essential in determining how one identifies themselves.


How connection to family members and knowledge of ancestry impacts sense of identity is investigated through many family poems and through Skrzynecki’s somewhat frequent admissions of remorse in regard to not knowing the history behind objects or people. We also see how a difference in sense of belonging can affect relationships, in that we see Peter and his father don’t have the closest of relationships, likely due to Peter feeling he belongs to Australia whilst Feliks still had strong connections to his Polish upbringing.  We also see this regret of disconnect when Skrzynecki writes about his mother and the photograph he has of her and the man that was his father, and how he wishes he had asked about it more. Whilst Skrzynecki mainly describes the immigrant experience in his poems, we can also find an overarching warning to not take loved one, and their knowledge for granted, as often we don’t have them for as long as we would hope.

Skrzynecki often reminisces about his childhood and uses it as a way to explore both his experience in his new world of Australia, and his old world of his Polish roots. We see Skrzynecki in Migrant Centre Site, revisiting the location where he first lived after arriving in Australia, noting that there was nothing to “commemorate [their] arrival”, this perhaps demonstrates his desire for a legacy, to leave a footprint of the journey so many “thousand” migrants travelled and not just a “slab of cement” as if his home was a dead “cemetery”. He also reminisces in Old Hostel Site where he explores the “immense souvenirs” and “unclaimed baggage” that is one of the first sites in Australia his parents arrived at. Using this jargon regarding travel, Skrzynecki reminds readers of the many miles migrants often have to travel to reach Australia.

Skrzynecki often uses nature to symbolise the migrant experience, as demonstrated by the birds in his poem Migrant Hostel . In this poem migrants are compared to a “homing pigeon/circling to get its bearings” as Peter remarks on the struggle of taking someone out of their previous home, like an animal out of its natural habitat.

Nature is also a major element in Skrzynecki's effort to become an Australian poet, his frequent referencing of Australian landscapes signposting his journey to identify as an Australian, as well as an Australian poet.

Hope and Loss

Not only does Skrzynecki detail the hope for a new future and loss of home common in a migrant’s experience, his poems also cover other common situations of love and loss, such as his emotional poem Leukemia which details the journey of his father as a leukemia patient. This shows belonging and identity in a far different light, not in relation to a country but being identified by your sickness which “owns your name”. This explores the common experience where a patient feels defined by their condition and struggles to imagine/remember what life is like as a healthy individual.

Metalanguage, Symbols and Motifs in Old/New World

• Feliks Skrzynecki’s garden: due to his strong bond to his Polish roots Feliks arguably never felt a sense of belonging in Australia. Instead we find he creates a sense of belonging by cultivating a home of his own, a garden.

• Skrzynecki often uses the natural world such as fish and birds to mirror the migrant journey.

• Skrzynecki litters his poems with heirlooms such as watches, hammers and photos, often to illustrate how despite having these possessions Peter frequently finds that he doesn’t know the full story of his heritage and his parent’s life. In his rediscovery of the heirlooms we often see his disconnect from his background and his regret of not learning more about it.

• The use of a colloquial idiom of “kept pace only with the Joneses'' in Feliks Skrzynecki , to reference how his belonging only feels surface deep. However, as they are only the Joneses of “his own mind’s making” it also showcases his commitment to not simply copy and to still be individual.

• Skrzynecki often uses places of transit such as train stations or hostels to showcase the uncertainty often experienced in a migrant’s journey.

  • Research the places referenced in Skrzynecki poems such as Mt Warning
  • Learn to spell the authors last name
  • Don’t just analyse the poems individually, try and see the big picture and apply the overarching themes

For a more detailed guide on how to ACE VCE Text Response, I think you’d love the free sample of our top-rated eBook, How To Write A Killer Text Response ! To download, simply fill out the form below!

Updated 24/12/2020

Ransom is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .

  • Plot, Analysis, Important Passages and Quotes

1. Characters

Priam is an elderly king of Troy. As a child, his sister Hesione saved him from slavery, and had his named changed from Podarces to Priam, the name meaning ‘the ransomed one’ or ‘the price paid'. After the death of his son Hector, Priam envisions himself in plain clothing, riding a plain cart to Achilles who is effectively holding Hector ransom. His vision is the catalyst for the novel’s events, for his journey is one of learning and self-development. Though the royal family is doubtful of his plan to save Hector, Priam is resolute and insists that he needs to try his best to confront Achilles as a father, rather than as king. After many decades as king of Troy, Priam is determined to reinvent how he will be remembered; as a king who performed an extraordinary act of heroism in order to save his beloved son.

Achilles is known as the greatest warrior of the Greeks. The death of Patroclus, his closest companion and hinted lover, drives Achilles to insanity. Hector murdered Patroclus and, as a result, Achilles takes revenge by killing Hector. He then drags Hector’s dead body along the walls of Troy for the next 11 days. Achilles loses his sense of humanity as he is possessed by his rage, hatred and grief.

Somax is representative of the ‘common man’ in Ransom . He is chosen to escort Priam to Achilles. His simple and plain presence is contrasted with Priam’s royal status. He often engages in useless chatter and performs daily activities in a way that is foreign to the king. Although Somax is far from royalty, his great deal of affection for his daughter-in-law and granddaughter teaches Priam about love, family and life.

Beauty is Somax’s favourite mule. She accompanies Priam and Somax on their journey to the Greek camp where Achilles resides.

Somax’s other mule who carries the cart to Achilles’ camp.

Hecuba is Priam’s beloved wife and mother of Hector. She is initially uncertain of Priam’s vision to save Hector. However, after hearing Priam’s sentimental reasons, she shows support and urges him to first share his plan with their family and the kingdom’s council before he departs.

Hector is Priam’s son and also the leader of the Trojan army. He is kind, brave and noble without any cruel intentions, unlike his rival Achilles. During a battle between the Trojans and the Greeks, Hector kills Patroclus. This results in Achilles challenging Hector to a battle, resulting in Hector’s death and Achilles’ triumph.


Neoptolemus is Achilles’ son. Although he is mentioned throughout Ransom , he makes his first appearance at the end of the novel where he savagely slaughters an old and defenseless Priam in an effort to avenge his father’s death. ‍

By the way, to download a PDF version of this blog for printing or offline use, click here !

‍ 2. Themes

Ransom explores who we are and what it means to have an identity. As the leader of Troy for many decades, Priam has always viewed himself as a king. It appears as though Priam has been unhappy with his identity for quite some time, is physically weak, and feels as though he cannot protect his kingdom as efficiently as he used to. However, the death of Hector is a catalyst for Priam as he realises that he needs to become a ‘father’ rather than the ‘king’ he had become so accustomed to. His search for Hector is also a search for himself, to reinvent who he is and how he wishes others to remember him.

Meanwhile, Somax is designated as the king’s herald, with the name Idaeus. He secretly notes his unhappiness with this name appointment, since he is ‘Somax, not Idaeus'. The name ‘Somax’ is associated with many significant events in his life including his marriage and family, yet the new unfamiliar name strips him of this identity. Somax’s confidence and pride in his identity is starkly contrasted with Priam’s pursuit for an identity transformation.

Malouf demonstrates that it is never too late to change one’s ways. Priam’s determination to change how he is remembered – from just another king leading a regal life to a hero who went to extraordinary lengths to regain his child – demonstrates that change is within our grasp. Even though his beautiful wife Hecuba and the rest of his family have reservations about his desire to confront Achilles, Priam is resolved in taking a ‘chance', rather than achieving nothing by remaining within the walls of his home. Unexpectedly, this one idea propels Priam into a multitude of other changes. His journey with Somax teaches Priam a far greater deal than he had anticipated, for he learns to appreciate the value of the human connection and other daily simplicities in life.

Although Achilles is driven by hatred and anger after Patroclus’ death, as with Priam, he manages to change his ways. He is touched by Priam’s pleas and consequently accepts the ransom and returns Hector’s body. He is able to reach this state of peace by releasing his immoral intentions and even offers to hold a ritual for Hector’s body in the Greek walls that very night. This transformation, from a human who responds to grief with vengeance to someone who releases and forgives, demonstrates the benefits we can gain from amending our ways.

Revenge, Guilt and Peace

Revenge is portrayed as a never-ending vicious cycle until both parties reach a negotiation or peace. After Patroclus’ death, Achilles hunts down Hector in order to avenge his best friend’s early death. Although he is successful in murdering Hector, Achilles does not follow the custom of leaving the body for the grieving family to bury. Instead, Achilles feels the need to mutilate the body day after day without any sense of remorse or regret. His additional need to inflict harm on Hector’s body indicates that revenge will not bring closure. His sense of loss is shown as he reflects feeling empty inside, to the point where he no longer feels like himself, but someone else altogether.

Although Achilles and Priam ultimately find peace within themselves, many years later Achilles’ son Neoptolemus murders Priam, bounded by the same hatred and pain depicted by Achilles. Neoptolemus’ subsequent guilt and regret is carried with him throughout the rest of his life, demonstrating that again, revenge is not the answer to any problem.

Chance and Fate

The role of the gods is heavily woven into the events that unfold in Ransom. Priam only begins his transition and journey after envisioning the goddess Iris, who suggests that he take a ‘chance’ and try to save Hector from Achilles’ camp. During his journey, a jovial young man who joins the travellers is revealed as Hermes, a god who has come to safely guide the elderly men to Achilles. The power of the gods in controlling human fate is illustrated during the scene where Hermes saves the travellers from being swept away by a stream.

Nevertheless, it can also be argued that it is the characters’ decisions that lead them to their fate. Although the gods may have instilled in Priam the idea that he should rescue Hector, it is the king’s determination which is a main driving force for the journey. Even when confronted with doubt and hesitancy from his family, it is Priam who pushes onwards to fulfil his vision. Whether his actions were already predestined or of his own agency is up to you to decide.

Nature Versus Man

Man’s presence on earth is shown to have little significance in comparison to the power of nature. While the events in Ransom teach the characters many valuable lessons, ultimately these meaningful moments in the humans’ lives disappear as one reaches their fate – death. Time moves on beyond our lives as we are forgotten over decades and centuries while nature prevails. Priam’s desire to be remembered by others highlights how little significance a life possesses unless one behaves extraordinarily. Malouf demonstrates that in the end, life just is – we are granted by nature to have a brief existence, yet in the end, nature and time will move forward without us.

Commoners Versus Royalty

Although royalty is portrayed to be blessed with power and authority, it is ironically the commoners in Ransom who appear to have the ‘richest’ (and more fulfilling) lives. For the first time, Priam is exposed to the different interests and values of the common man and is intrigued by the simplicities of life. It is Somax, a mere old man from the marketplace, who teaches Priam more about life than he had imagined possible.

Jove’s Eagle

Jove’s eagle is a representation of a bird renowned for its keen sight. The presence of Jove’s eagle during Priam and Somax’s departure hints that the gods will safely guide their journey as the bird behaves as a lookout. Furthermore, the symbol of the eagle’s powerful vision is contrasted with Priam’s ‘blindness’ at the beginning of the journey since he is yet to experience the outside world. It is during the journey that he learns about himself and others, and thus, improves his ‘sight.’ Coincidently, Jove’s eagle is no longer mentioned when Priam is endowed with his new insight.

The royal cart is ‘a fine new one, the marks of the adze still visible on its timbers. The twelve-spoked wheels are elaborately carved and painted, a wickerwork canopy covers the tray'. On all occasions, the king had used this elegant cart to alert others that royalty was present. The use of this cart demonstrates how Priam has been encapsulated in his own royal sphere since everything is meticulously chosen and designed specifically for the king. Nevertheless, his demand for a ‘common work cart’ depicts his determination for a simple approach to Achilles, as a father to another father. This simplicity highlights Priam’s desire to become just another man and father, anonymous in the plain cart with the hopes of retrieving Hector.

Priam as a Child

At the beginning of the journey, Priam is characterised with childish traits. When Somax urges Priam to dabble his feet in the stream, words such as ‘obedient toddler', ‘three uncertain steps', and ‘happy smile’ reflect the actions of a young child trying new experiences. This childish nature is contrasted with Priam’s old and frail age, which demonstrates that although he has lived a life in royalty, his lack of exposure to ‘real life’ has left him crippled of the simplest experiences such as the cooling effect of feet in water and eating delicious homemade cookies.

The cakes Somax brings along during the journey highlight Priam’s lack of knowledge of even the simplest things. For Somax, the little griddlecakes are a regular and delectable snack, yet Priam 'ha[s] never seen them before'. Priam’s unfamiliarity with the cakes represents his isolation from the ‘real world’ since he has been deprived from things that even commoners view as ordinary.

Futhermore, Somax’s lengthy chatter about his daughter-in-law cooking the cakes with the ‘batter bubbling and setting and turning a golden brown’ prompts Priam to think about the activities in his kingdom that occur behind closed doors. He had previously never noticed that there was so much preparation and work that went into the food that appeared at his table, let alone the ingredients and thickness of a batter. These matters had been of little concern to Priam, yet he realises that even the ‘common and low…activities and facts of life, had an appeal'.

Hector’s Body

Although Achilles drags Hector’s body across the walls of Troy for eleven days, each morning he would return to find Hector’s body healed of any wounds, and absent of any physical damage to his body. This is a cruel reminder of the god’s ability to ‘toy around’ with the Ancient Greeks’ lives. Hector’s body also symbolises how revenge is not the answer to any conflict, since dealing with a tragic loss through revenge does not gain anything but more pain and suffering.

Although Priam initially believes he understands the distress of losing a son, Somax’s experience of losing his son is driven with emotions that Priam had never previously experienced. When sharing the story of his son’s death, Somax sniffles, an ‘odd habit’ according to Priam. The use of ‘odd habit’ to describe Somax’s sadness demonstrates how Priam has never truly felt the loss of his son, but only the loss of a royal relationship between king and prince.

Later on, Somax once again ‘snuffles’ and ‘rubs his nose’ at the thought of the ending to their journey. Similarly, Priam makes ‘small sounds', presumably crying as well. The transformation of Priam from someone who failed to empathise with Somax’s tears at the beginning of the journey to a man filled with emotions demonstrates that Priam undergoes both a physical and metaphysical journey where he undergoes self-development and appreciation of the world around him.

4. Plot, Analysis, Important Passages and Quotes

Achilles, the greatest warrior of the Greeks, stands next to the sea while reminiscing about the past. After his mother’s death he had ‘entered the rough world of men’ (p. 6) where wars and battles prevail. Every morning, he feels the need to ‘tramp to shore’ (p. 10) since he is haunted by the death of his ‘soulmate and companion’ Patroclus, and his raging hatred towards Hector, killer of Patroclus and thus, the ‘implacable enemy'.

When Achilles was a child, his cousin Patroclus came to live with the young Achilles since the former had killed the son of a high official of the royal court due to a ‘quarrel over a game of knucklebones’ (p. 11). In need of asylum, Patroclus came to live with Achilles’ family. As the years passed, the pair grew closer to the extent where Achilles believes that ‘he had mated with Patroclus’ (p. 15).

When the tide of the battle was against the Greeks, Patroclus disguises himself in Achilles’ armour in order to instill fear in the Trojans and cause them to return to the safety of their walls, thus providing temporary relief for the Greeks. In his last act for his closest friend, Patroclus is killed in battle*. The death of Patroclus left Achilles with an overwhelming sense of loss and also burning animosity. Achilles whispers that he will join Patroclus soon, but firstly, he has to avenge Patroclus’ killer, Hector.

Hector, the son of Trojan king Priam and leader of the Trojan army, wore Achilles' armour as a sign of triumph and disrespect for the Greeks. In a dramatic battle between Hector and himself, Achilles was successful in killing his enemy. Achilles’ Myrmidons then stripped Hector of his armour and ‘without pity…plunged their swords into Hector’s unprotected flesh’ (p. 24). For Achilles however, this was not enough. Still fuelled by his pain, Achilles ties Hector’s body to a chariot and drags it ‘up and down under the walls of Troy’ (p. 26) as the dead warrior’s royal family devastatingly watches on. Achilles feels like a ‘dead man…feeling nothing’ (p. 26), unable to seal the void left by his beloved friend.

The next day, Achilles is furious to find Hector’s body ‘smoothly sealed and the torn flesh made whole again'. His men cannot bear to look at him as he drives the chariot with Hector’s body along the walls of the Trojans once again. Afterwards he quickly falls asleep, into ‘oblivion’ (p. 35) as he struggles with the shame and guilt of his actions. He is ‘waiting for a break…something new and unimaginable’ in his life.

The Human Side

Along with the conflict between Greece and Troy, Ransom also delves into the consequences of those affected by the war. As the greatest warrior of all Greeks, Achilles has lived his life as a fighter. Nevertheless, his pathway in life has led him to believe that ‘such a life is death to the warrior spirit’ (p. 7). While warriors are known for sacrificing their lives in the battlefield, Achilles does not literally refer to warriors confronting death each time they fight for their team. In fact, ‘death to the warrior spirit’ means to metaphorically lose what it means to ‘live’ when one experiences bloodshed in each war. Growing up surrounded by ‘the rough world of men’ (p. 6), Achilles develops traits of aggression, cruelty and vengefulness in order to become an implacable man of war. As a consequence, Achilles only knows how to deal with Patroclus’ death with a fighter’s mindset. Instead of grieving openly, ‘he never permit[s] himself to betray to others what he [feels]’ (p. 5), thus detaching himself from the natural human process of grieving. In order to deal with his friend’s tragic ending, Achilles' ‘soul chang[es] colour’ as drags Hector’s body for eleven days without any sense of regret or remorse, and thus, is referred to as ‘death to his human spirit’ since he was no longer ‘a living man’ (p. 27). He faces Patroclus’ death with the same warrior traits of aggression, cruelty and vengefulness, depriving himself of any ability to humanely mourn his close friend’s death.

Furthermore, Achilles grieves for his mother in the opening passages of Ransom . During this time of loss, his mother symbolises Achilles’ need to be nurtured. The imagery of the sea surface as a ‘belly’ and ‘a membrane stretched to a fine transparency’ (p. 3) represents his mother’s pregnancy where he ‘had hung curled in a dream of pre-existence’ for ‘nine changes of the moon’ – or in other words, nine months of pregnancy. Achilles is characterised as a foetus, for his position is ‘chin down, shoulders hunched’ as though he is inside a womb. Although Achilles is a fighter, he hides the fact that he wishes to be ‘rocked and comforted’ by his mother, thus demonstrating that even beneath the surface of a cold-hearted warrior, the current of human emotions can cripple a man’s confident veneer.

If you'd like to read more of my analysis, feel free to access a sample of our ebook A Killer Text Guide: Ransom . In this ebook, I cover Plot, Analysis, Important Passages and Quotes so you can prepare for your SAC and exam. I've also included 5 Sample A+ English essays on Ransom , complete with annotations so you know exactly what you need to do in your next essay to achieve an A+.

All the best for your studies in Ransom!

Download a PDF version of this blog for printing or offline use

2. Historical Context

3. Main Characters

4. Minor Characters

5. Dissecting an A+ Essay using 'The Golden Age'

6. Creative Essay Topic Brainstorm

7. Essay Topics

The Golden Age is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our VCE Text Response Study Guide.

Even though this hasn’t been one of the more popular choices on the VCE text list, Joan London’s The Golden Age is a personal favourite of mine for a number of reasons. This is a novel about the experiences of children recovering from polio inside a convalescent home in Perth. With a sympathetic and warm approach, London tells the tragic yet brave stories of these children, as well as the stories of their parents and carers.

The novel essentially revolves around Frank Gold, a Hungarian Jew and a war refugee, and London blends his mature voice with the innocence of a coming-of-age narrative, all set against the backdrop of World War II.

As you’re reading the book, watch out for her literary or poetic language, and keep track of the story’s overall mood. These will be important considerations for text study, particularly if you are to write a creative response on this text for your SAC. With this in mind, I’ve included writing exercises throughout this blog post for you to practise writing creatively on this text.

If you are writing analytically on this text, either for your SAC or for your exam, you may still complete the exercises—each one should still be insightful for your writing in some way. Also, feel free to check the video below; it breaks down an analytical prompt for this text.

Historical Context

This novel is set in Perth during the early 1940s, which gives rise to a couple of interesting historical elements all intersecting in the book.

Crucially, the events of the novel take place for the most part while World War II is raging in Europe. This is important for understanding the backstory of the Gold family: they are Hungarian Jews who have escaped their war-torn home of Budapest to seek safety in Australia. In particular, we know that at some stage, Meyer had been taken away to a labour camp, and that Frank had had to hide himself in an attic.

Their Hungarian heritage, however, is something that distances them from other Australians, and they never really get a good chance to settle in, always feeling like they just weren’t on the same wavelength as the locals. In many ways, the story of the Golds is underpinned by tragedy—not only are they war refugees, but young Frank then contracts poliomyelitis (known to us just as polio), which forces the family to reassess all the plans they had for him to settle into an ordinary, Australian life.

However, Frank was far from the only victim of polio at the time—the entire nation was rocked by a wave of polio , with major outbreaks during the 1930s-40s. This was quite a nerve-wracking, and causing great fear for our country and its active, outdoors-y culture. The prospects of death, paralysis and permanent disability were understandably terrifying. About 70,000 people were affected, and almost half of them eventually died as a result. Almost every Australian at the time knew or knew of someone who had polio.

Task: You are Ida, composing a letter to Julia Marai after Frank’s diagnosis. Convey succinctly (in 250 words or less) what you think and how you feel. ‍

Key themes & implications.

I like to think that a lot of the themes in this book exist in diametric or opposing pairs. For instance, London gives Frank a voice that is wise beyond his years, yet uses it to tell a tender story of first love. She also plays on the paradox that while some characters have become isolated due to the unfortunate events that have befallen them, these very events end up becoming the thing that unite them.

Essentially, London plays with a lot of these thematic tensions, showing us that life isn’t really ever black and white, but there are whole lot of grey areas in every day life.

Central to the novel are ideas of innocence or childhood . These ideas are really explored in the friendship between Frank and Elsa, who are both on the cusp of adolescence. While they are set up as young lovers in the eyes of readers, we know that they are far too young to truly have romantic feelings for each other. In actual fact, their interactions are permeated by a sense of innocence.

However, these interactions are also punctuated by a sense of maturity , a desire for more. This is evident to the extent where nurses are getting hesitant about leaving them alone with each other (even though their parents still trust them entirely). In actual fact, these parents serve as an important point of contrast. Some manage to recapture the magic of youth even as adults—consider Ida reigniting her love for the piano, or Meyer jumping on opportunities to start anew. In this sense, innocence and maturity are a pair of themes that are interestingly not always found where one might expect.

Another key thematic element of the novel is tragedy or adversity , which are relevant to a far wider gamut of characters. Considering the story’s geographical and historical setting, it seems evident that these ideas will play a major role in the story. A particularly poignant example lies in Sullivan, who contracts polio right on the cusp of adulthood, and readers can’t help but feel a sense of loss for what might have been.

However, on the other end of this spectrum is the strength required to cope with their suffering. While Sullivan had his indefatigable sense of humour, other characters have developed different mechanisms to stay strong in the face of adversity. In some cases, you might say that they’ve transcended or risen above their tragedies, and become stronger for it.

Finally, London also tackles the idea of isolation , which can be seen as a consequence of tragedy—characters become isolated because they lose their ability to relate to others, and others feel unable to relate to them. Symbolically, the Golden Age hospital is surrounded by four roads and therefore cut off from the world, almost as if quarantined. However, the solidarity and unity of patients inside becomes a great source of strength—I’ll leave it to you to think about what London was trying to say with this!

Task: Selecting one of the above themes, write a poem from the POV of an imaginary spectator in the novel, outlining how you perceive/experience these themes in other characters. Use all five senses(how you see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, and touch/feel it)

Major characters.

I haven’t written too extensively about characters for a range of reasons: on one hand, it’s important for you to form your own interpretations about what they’re like and why they do the things they do, but on the other hand, I wanted to leave you with some key points to consider and/or some essential points about their characters to incorporate into your writing. This will allow you to hopefully feel like you’re capturing them accurately when writing your creatives, but without feeling restricted by an extensive set of traits that you have to invoke.

  • the central character, he is cerebral, intelligent and mature (which we can tell from his narrative voice, or how he ‘sounds’)
  • he is, however, still very young, wide-eyed, inquisitive in spite of the tragedies which have befallen him (consider how he sees his relationship with Elsa)
  • also significant is the motif of his poetry; not only does it highlight his maturity, but it also acts as a way for him to voice or articulate his feelings and experiences in the hospital—you could try incorporating some poetry in your writing (either original poems or quoted from the novel)

Elsa Briggs

  • another central character who becomes quite attached to Frank (they are the two eldest children in the Golden Age)
  • she is warm, caring and selfless, demonstrating an emotional maturity beyond her years (because of having to bear the metaphorical albatross of polio)
  • a lot of what we know about Elsa comes from Frank’s perspective (though we do get some insight from her own, and some from her mother’s)—how does this shape the way we see her? Consider London’s use of imagery, portraying her as an angelic figure.

Ida & Meyer

  • Frank’s parents, Hungarian Jews, and war refugees who come to Australia to cleanse them of their pasts and to have a fresh start; some of this is purely by circumstance, but there are parts of their past that they willingly and actively eschew e.g. Ida’s piano
  • note that Hungary is a landlocked country in the midst of European hustle and bustle with easy access to other nations/cultures/peoples, but Australia is an island on the other side of the world—consider how this affects their sense of isolation
  • on the other hand, they do form new connections with people here and in their own individual ways; Ida by reclaiming her pianist talents and Meyer by taking up a new job

Task: You are Elsa, Ida, or Meyer and you’ve just discovered Frank’s poem book. What are your thoughts and feelings towards his writing? Consider the context of your chosen character’s own experiences

Minor characters.

I’m sure you’ve heard it by now, but any piece of text-based writing (creative or analytical) can be strengthened by diversifying the range of characters that you write about. Even though you’ve already differentiated yourself from most VCE students by even doing this text at all (very few people choose it, so props to you!), some inclusion of more minor characters might help to distinguish yourself further. I’ve picked some that I think are interesting to talk about, but feel free to experiment with others as well!

  • a young man who contracts a severe strand of polio right on the cusp of adulthood, thereby exemplifying the theme of tragedy—however, his sense of humour remains active in spite of his immobility, so perhaps he not only exemplifies this theme but subverts it as well
  • London poses the complex question of whether or not he’s actually unhappy or defeated as a result of polio; there’s no clear answer, since there’s many ways to interpret his humour (is it a sign of strength or is it a front for inner turmoils expressed through poetry?)
  • in addition to his humour and poetry, his relationship with his family could also be an interesting point of discussion to address some of these questions
  • a young girl in the hospital who is quite close to Elsa (almost in a sisterly way)—how have they developed this relationship, and how does this relate to the theme of unity/companionship/human connection?
  • notably, she wanted to rehabilitate herself after polio took away her ability to feed the brumbies in her desert town—think about how this might represent strength as well

Julia Marai & Hedwiga

  • Ida’s former piano teacher and her flatmate/partner who live at the top of an apartment block in Budapest; they shelter Frank in their attic under no obligation whatsoever, but purely out of the kindness and selflessness of their hearts
  • again, there’s this subversion of what it means to be isolated: on one hand, their apartment is so cut off from the rest of the world below, and they lead a largely self-sufficient life together, but on the other hand, the fact that they’re together means that they’re not entirely isolated consider the power of human connection in this context as well

Task: Pick a minor character from this list and a character from the above list of major characters, and write about them meeting each other for the first time. Pick two that do not already interact closely within the novel e.g. Elsa meeting Sullivan

I hope this gives you some ideas or starting points about writing creatively on this text!

Download the PDF version of The Golden Age study guide   here .

Dissecting an A+ Essay using 'The Golden Age'

Picture this: you’re sitting down at your desk, fumbling your fingers, inspecting the new stationary that you convinced yourself you needed for year 12, resisting the urge to check your phone. Your text response SAC is in two weeks. You’re freaking out because you want, no, need an A+. You decide to write a practice essay for your English teacher. Practice makes perfect, right? You stay up for hours, pouring your heart and soul into this essay. The result? B+. Where did I go wrong?

That’s where I come in! Writing an A+ essay can be really tough without examples and specific advice. Before reading on, make sure you've read our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response so you are up to scratch.

I will be explaining some basic dos and don’ts of writing an essay on The Golden Age , providing a model essay as an example.

The following prompt will be referenced throughout the post;

‘The Golden Age’ shows that everyone needs love and recognition. Discuss.

Planning: the silent killer of A+ essays

I’m sure your teachers have emphasised the importance of planning. In case they haven’t, allow me to reiterate that great planning is compulsory for a great essay . However, flimsy arguments aren’t going to get you an A+. The examiners are looking for complex arguments , providing a variety of perspectives of the themes at hand. From the above prompt, the key word is, ‘discuss’. This means that you should be discussing the prompt, not blindly agreeing with it . Make sure you don’t write anything that wouldn’t sit right with London. ‍

Don’t plan out basic arguments that are one-dimensional. This may give you a pass in English, but won’t distinguish you as a top-scoring student.

For example:

  • Paragraph 1: The children at TGA need love and recognition.
  • Paragraph 2: Ida and Meyer need love and recognition
  • Paragraph 3: Sister Penny needs love and recognition.

The above paragraphs merely agree with the statement, but don’t delve into the many aspects of the novel that could contribute to a sophisticated essay.

Do create complex arguments, or paragraphs with a twist! If you can justify your argument and it makes sense, include it in your essay. There are many ways that you could answer this question, but my plan looks like this:

  • Paragraph 1: Frank Gold yearns for mature, adult love, not recognition from onlookers or outsiders
  • Paragraph 2: Ida Gold does not seek recognition from Australia, but love and validation from herself
  • Paragraph 3: Albert requires love from a specific kind of relationship – family, and Sullivan may view love from his father as pity which he rebukes

See the difference?

The introduction: how to start your essay off with a BANG!

Personally, I always struggled with starting an introduction. The examiners will be reading and marking thousands of essays, so if possible, starting your introduction with something other than Joan London’s ‘The Golden Age’… is a great way to make you stand out from the crowd. Having a strong start is essential to pave the way for a clear and concise essay. You could start with a quote/scene from the text! This is not essential, but it’s a great way to mix things up. This is my start:

Perhaps nothing exemplifies the power of love and recognition more than the bond between Albert Sutton and his older sister, Lizzie, in Joan London’s ‘The Golden Age’. Many of London’s characters exhibit suffering that requires compassion and support to heal and grow, to distinguish present from past. However, London explores the perspectives of such characters from different aspects of trauma, and emphasise that love and recognition do not always work to heal and mature. Frank Gold, the novel’s resident “sneaky” boy who adjusts to newfound life in the Golden Age Convalescent Home seeks love as an adult, rather than eliciting sympathy as a supposed victim. Here love and recognition are unsuccessful in amending Frank’s troubles when given from the perspective of an outsider, a judgemental onlooker. In a similar sense, Ida Gold seeks recognition not from Australia, who she views as a ‘backwater’, but validation in herself after having been ousted from her Hungarian identity. London, however, makes sure to emphasise the impact that Sullivan has on Frank Gold’s life. Sullivan, a boy only a few years older than Frank, seems content with his future, with his fate, despite his sacrifice of rugby and conventional life.  There is a lacking sense of urgency for love and recognition in Sullivan’s life, rather, it appears that Sullivan accepts his fate, regardless of his father’s sympathy or support. Thus, London explores a myriad of ways in which love and recognition may or may not heal wounds inflicted upon individuals.

Remember, there are many other ways you could start your essay.

The body paragraphs: To TEEL or not to TEEL?

I’m sure you’ve heard of TEEL countless times since year 7. Topic sentence, evidence, explanation, link. The truth is that these elements are all very important in a body paragraph. However, following a rigid structure will render your essay bland and repetitive. It is also extremely important to note that you should be using evidence from multiple points in the text , and you should be making sure that your paragraphs are directly answering the question . Write what feels natural to you, and most importantly, don’t abuse a thesaurus . If you can’t read your essay without rummaging for a dictionary every second sentence, you should rewrite it.  If vocabulary isn’t your strong point (it definitely isn’t mine!), focus on clean sentence structure and solid arguments. There’s nothing worse than you using a fancy word incorrectly.

Don’t overuse your thesaurus in an attempt to sound sophisticated, and don’t use the same structure for every sentence. For example:

Prematurely in the paperback London makes an allusion to Norm White, the denizen horticulturalist of The Golden Age Convalescent Home…

That was an exaggerated example generated by searching for synonyms. As you can see, it sounds silly, and some of the words don’t even make sense. I mean, “denizen horticulturalist”…really?

Do mix up your paragraph structure! If vocabulary is your weak point, focus on clean language.

Here’s mine:

Early in the novel, London makes reference to Norm White, the resident groundskeeper of The Golden Age Convalescent Home. Norm White hands Frank Gold a cigarette, “as if to say a man has the right to smoke in peace”. Here, there is a complete disregard for rule and convention, an idea that London emphasises throughout the text. This feature provides a counter-cultural experience for Frank, pushing him to realise that he is a strong human being rather than a mere victim. This is a clear contrast to the “babyishness” of the home, and is used as evidence of true humanity in an era where society judged upon the unconventional. Frank yearns for a traditional Australian life after his trauma in Hungary; “his own memory…lodged like an attic in the front part of his brain”. Hedwiga and Julia Marai’s caring of him pushed him towards fear and reluctance to trust, yet also pressured him to seek acceptance in a world that ostracises him for his Jewish heritage and polio diagnosis. This here is why Frank desires a mature, adult connection – love that regards him as an equal human being. Frank seeks Elsa’s love and company as she too loathes being reduced to a victim, an object of pity. Frank thereafter uses humour to joke of his wounds; “we Jews have to be on the lookout”. Elsa sees “a look in his eyes that she recognised”, thus their bond enables both characters to heal. London alludes that Frank requires love and recognition not from the perspective of a sorrowful onlooker, rather he longs to be recognised as a mature adult.

To learn more about using the right vocabulary, read 'Why using big words in VCE essays can make you look dumber'.

The conclusion: closing the deal

I firmly believe in short and sharp conclusions. Your body paragraphs should be thoroughly explaining your paragraphs, so don’t include any new information here. A few sentences is enough. Once again, write what feels natural, and what flows well.

Don’t drag out your conclusion. Short and concise is the key to finishing well.

Do write a sharp finish! Sentence starters such as, “Ultimately…” or “Thus, London…” are great.

Although trauma is often treated with love and compassion, London details different perspectives on this idea. Whilst Frank Gold requires a specific kind of recognition, Ida and Meyer seek validation in themselves and their relationship, whilst Sullivan is at ease with his fate and does not yearn sympathy from his father.

‍ To learn more about A+ essays, you should also have a read of 10 easy English points you're missing out on .

I'll finish off by giving you an exercise: brainstorm and write up a plan for the essay topic shown in the video below. I'd recommend you do this before watching Lisa's brainstorm and plan. That way, you can see which of your ideas overlapped, but also potentially see which ideas you may have missed out on. Good luck!

The Golden Age Essay Topic Brainstorm

[Video Transcript]

The takeaway message for this video will be to utilise minor characters here and there to deepen your argument. London has really developed all her characters to feel three-dimensional and real, so it’s important not to just write about Frank and Elsa when there are so many others worth touching on.

Let's head straight into background information:

Joan London’sThe Golden Age is a novel about children recovering from polio in a convalescent home in Perth. She tells the stories of these various children, their families, and their caretakers, focusing on FrankGold and Elsa Briggs, the young protagonists who are just starting to develop romantic feelings for each other. Though they, and many of the other children, have faced much hardship and misfortune, London tells a story of hope and human connection in times of misery.

On that note, today’s essay topic is:

The Golden Age  is primarily a tragic tale of isolation. Discuss.

Let’s break this prompt down and define some keywords. The keywords we’ll be looking at first are isolation and tragic. We’ll be defining them quite briefly, but be sure to think about these in terms of how they relate to the novel. In particular, see if any scenes, passages or characters jump to mind.

Isolation is a state of being alone or away from others and can be associated with a sense of powerlessness or insignificance. Tragic can simply just mean sad, depressing and loaded with sorrow or ‘pathos’, but there are also literary implications to this word: you might’ve done a tragic Shakespeare play and learned this before, but in general, a tragic story centres on a hero who encounters misfortune, and treats their demise in a serious or solemn way. Note that a good essay will discuss both these terms, and will address not only isolation but also the question of whether or not it is treated tragically.

The other important word is ‘primarily’. This word in the prompt suggests that The Golden Age is  for the most part  about these ideas - for you, that means you should ask yourself how central you think they are, and make a call on whether they are the  most  central.

Well, it’s definitely true that elements of isolation and separation do exist in The Golden Age, but these themes are not primarily tragic ideas in the novel -London explores the way in which hope can shine through in times of hardship. In fact, the novel overall has a message of kinship and hope, and this would be the primary thematic focus, as well as the main treatment of otherwise tragic ideas. So how might this look in paragraphs?

Paragraph 1: Let’s concede that the novel does evoke sadness through its frequently sombre tone and treatment of isolation

We see this through characters such as Ida and Meyer, who have been cut off from the world in their escape from their war-torn home, and forced to transition from their landlocked Hungary to an island on the other side of the globe. Their struggle to adjust is evoked through symbols - for instance, black cockatoos, which represent a “homely, comforting” omen to locals, sound “melancholy [and] harsh” to Ida. In particular, London’s solemn characterisation of Ida as constantly “frowning”, and as having a “bitter little mouth that usually gripped a cigarette ”works to emphasise her ennui or her dissatisfaction with being cut off from the world. Their homesickness is evoked through this constant longing for home, though sometimes much more literally: Meyer feels that “never again on this earth…would, he feel at home as he once had.”

Similarly, the story of Sullivan Backhouse, confined in an “iron lung” and physically isolated from outside contact, is also primarily tragic. London develops this character and gives him a backstory - he has “just turned eighteen” and had been the “prefect [and] captain of the rowing team.” This gives readers an idea of the life he might have had if not for the tragedy of his condition. Even in spite of his “good-humoured nature”, his poetry belies the pessimism within - his book, morbidly entitled “on my last day on earth”, closes with the line “in the end, we are all orphans.” We can thus see how lonely he must have felt when he tragically passed away.

In this paragraph, we’ve considered three different characters, whereas a lot of people writing on this text might just do a character per paragraph, so this is a good way to really show the examiners that you’ve considered the full extent of what the book offers. Let’s continue this as we move onto…

Paragraph 2: We disagree, however, since the novel includes various other moods and thematic material - in particular, London explores notions of resolve and hope in times of hardship 

Now, the first character that comes to mind would have to be Elsa - London uses particularly powerful imagery, such as her “translucent”, “golden wave” of hair or even her “profile, outlined in light”, to portray her as angelic or elysian. For the children, Elsa evidently represents hope - even in her state of isolation, her “graceful and dignified” demeanour and her quiet acceptance that polio “was part of her” is courageous and worthy of admiration.

Moving onto a minor character who was perhaps inspired by Elsa - the young Ann Lee, who was quite close to Elsa, also has a story which is more inspiring than tragic. When polio first crippled her, she found herself unable to give water to the brumbies in her desert town. As a result, she perseveres, “step after painstaking step” so as to be able to return home and “give a drink to thirsty creatures.” Her compassion and determination to work against her isolation become the focus of her tale.

Paragraph 3: In fact, the  novel ’s focus is on hope rather than tragedy

A range of other characters demonstrate the power of love and human connection in the face of adversity, and London seems to be focusing on these ideas instead. Plus, it’s not just the children who are brave in the face of tragedy, but ordinary people prove themselves to have the potential for strength and courage. Take Julia Marai and Hedwiga, who hide Frank in their attic during the Nazi invasion of Hungary. Even though their apartment is “on the top” of the block, and isolated in its height, suspended from the world, they become “provider[s]” for Frank. London writes that in difficult times, “kindness and unselfishness were as unexpected, as exhilarating, as genius,” and it’s easy to see how these qualities form a counterpoint to the tragedies that permeate the novel, allowing hope to shine through. 

And that’s the end of the essay! Being able to explore minor characters like we did here is a really good way to show examiners that you have a deeper understanding of a text, that you’ve considered it beyond just the main characters on the surface. The Golden Age is a really great one for this because London has done so much with her cast.

Essay topics

1. “Being close made them stronger.” In The Golden Age , adversities are tempered by camaraderie. Do you agree?

2. Despite the grim context, The Golden Age highlights and celebrates the potential of life. Discuss.

3. Memories of past successes and failures have significant lingering effects on characters in The Golden Age . Is this an accurate assessment?

4. “[I would be] a fox, following a Palomino.” How do animals such as these contribute symbolically to The Golden Age ?

5. It is largely loneliness which defines the struggles of the children in The Golden Age . Discuss.

6. In what ways is The Golden Age a novel of displacement?

7. Fear of the unknown is something which permeates The Golden Age . Is this true?

8. What is the role of family in Joan London’s The Golden Age ?

9. Isolation in The Golden Age exists in many oppressive forms. Discuss.

10. Throughout The Golden Age , London draws attention to beauty rather than to suffering. Discuss.

11. In spite of their youth, it is the children of The Golden Age who understand best what it means to be an individual in the world. Do you agree?

12. How do characters from The Golden Age learn, grow and mature as the novel takes its course?

13. Due to the range of different onset stories, each of the children and their families in The Golden Age face a different struggle with their identity. Discuss.

14. “Home. She hadn’t called Hungary that for years.” In spite of all their struggle, the Golds never truly feel any sense of belonging in Australia. To what extent do you agree?

15. Explore the factors which drive Joan London’s characters to persevere.

The Ultimate guide to VCE Text Response

How To Write A Killer Text Response Study Guide

How to embed quotes in your essay like a boss

How to turn your Text Response essays from average to A+

5 Tips for a mic drop worthy essay conclusion

For an overview of the EAL study design plus tips and tricks for language analysis, time management and more, check out The Ultimate Guide to EAL .

EAL Language Analysis Introductions

Both EAL and mainstream English students will need to complete a Language Analysis task as part of the VCAA Exam. The introduction of Language Analysis essays for VCE English is somewhat rigid as there are multiple components that must be included, for instance: issue, form, contention, name, publishing date, tone, etc. However, many of the ‘must have’ components of mainstream English essays are not required for EAL students or the EAL end-of-year examination. Check with your school/teacher to find out their opinion and criteria on this matter though, as they mark your internal assessments/Language Analysis SAC!

The 2019 VCE English as an Additional Language Examination Report states: 

‘Introductions should be limited to showing an awareness of the audience, the context and the overall contention of the piece.’

With this guideline in mind, the advice I am sharing in this blog post is based on the understanding and assumption that EAL Language Analysis introductions DO NOT need background information such as where the article is published, when is it published, style, etc. But again, make sure you check with your school/teacher to find out exactly what criteria YOU need to meet for your assessments/SACs that are marked internally. 

Using Templates in Your EAL Language Analysis Introductions

Since EAL is more flexible than mainstream English, and requires fewer elements, you can adopt a template for introductions that you are comfortable using to save time during the assessments. 

For example, these sentence templates below are really versatile and can be easily adapted and/or combined to suit your essay: 

  • In response to the divisive issue of…(AUTHOR 1) implicitly/explicitly/inadvertently contends that…
  • (AUTHOR 1) takes on a...tone to grab the attention of...(SPECIFIC AUDIENCE)
  • Similarly/contrastingly,...,(AUTHOR 2) implicitly/explicitly/inadvertently contends a...tone.

Using the templates above, here are some examples of what the final product for your introduction may look like. I have bolded the ‘template’ parts so that you can see exactly how the templates have been used, but remember these are just templates, so you can adjust the wording slightly to suit your needs:

And if you want to learn more about tones, head to 195 Language Analysis Tones .

Example 1 (Using Templates 1 & 3)

(1) In response to the divisive issue of building an Apple global flagship store at Federation Square, the COMAAFS implicitly contends in an accusatory and defiant tone that the flagship store should not be built to replace one of Melbourne’s most popular landmarks. (3) Contrastingly , the web post written by the Victorian Government explicitly rejects the accusation from COMAAFS and advocates for the immense benefits that Victorians will receive from the Flagship store in an explanatory and reassuring tone .

Example 2 (Using Templates 1 & 3)

(1) In response to the divisive issue of homeless people camping in the city of Melbourne, Christopher Bantick contends in an accusatory and heated tone that the ‘move-on’ law must be introduced in order to remove the homeless in Melbourne. (3) Contrastingly , Dr. Meg Mundell insists that making it illegal to sleep on the street will only exacerbate the problem in a demanding tone .  

Example 3 (Using Templates 1 & 3)

(1) In response to the recent furore of the increasing use of cars, Tina Fanning contends in an alarming and mobilising tone that cars are no longer a viable mode of transport in the foreseeable future. (3) Similarly, Lucy Manne predicts the catastrophic consequence of excessive car use on Australian society in a composed and authoritative tone .

If you want to take your introduction to the next level, see The Importance of the Introduction for tips!

Comparison of Arguments & Contentions in EAL Language Analysis

Unlike mainstream English, comparison of arguments/contention between the two writers is not essential for EAL, but it will probably earn you bonus brownie points if you do have time to add it in your essay :) For further explanation on comparative analysis, you can refer to this step-by-step guide: Exploring an A+ Language Analysis Essay Comparing Two Articles . Although the guide is aimed at mainstream English students, you can still apply some of the tips and strategies as an EAL student. It will really help to take your Language Analysis to the next level!

Have a go at analysing it yourself first, then see how I've interpreted the article below! For a detailed guide on Language Analysis including how to prepare for your SAC and exam, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Language Analysis .


Author:  Professor Chris Lee

Type of article:  Speech

Publisher:  None

Date of publication:  25 – 27th October, 2010

Contention:  We, as humans must consider our impact on biodiversity and take action to change our lifestyles before we damage the world beyond repair.

Number of article(s):  1

Number of image(s):  2

Source:  VCAA website

Note: Persuasive techniques can be interpreted in many ways. The examples given below are not the single correct answer. Only a selected number of persuasive techniques have been identified in this guide.

Taking Stock Analysis

Persuasive technique:  Reputable Source

Example:  ‘United Nations stated: “It is a celebration of life on earth and of the value of biodiversity in our lives. The world is invited to take action in 2010 to safeguard the variety of life on earth: biodiversity”.’

Analysis:   The use of a reputable source indicates that 1) the author has done his research and is therefore credible, 2) his opinion is supported by an expert group, thus strengthening his reasoning and opinion in regards to biodiversity.

Persuasive technique:  Rhetorical questions

Example:  ‘Has this been a year of celebration of life on earth? Has this, in fact, been a year of action?’

Analysis:  The use of rhetorical questions aims to portray to listeners that the answer is obvious, that humans have not done enough to help biodiversity. As a result, listeners are manipulated into agreeing with the author since if they were to refute the answer; it will appear as though they are nonsensical.

Persuasive technique:  Personal approach

Example:  ‘It is with great pleasure – though not without a tinge of sadness’

Analysis:  By introducing himself with ‘it is with great pleasure’, listeners are invited to reciprocate the feeling of welcome for Lee and hence be open to his opinion. His subsequent, ‘though not without a tinge of sadness’ suggests to listeners that he is disappointed with the current state of biodiversity, which may persuade listeners to feel as though they should help fix the situation.

Persuasive technique:  Statistics

Example:  ‘35% of mangroves, 40% of forests and 50% of wetlands.’

Analysis:  The incorporation of the apparently reliable and credible statistics testifies for Lee’s opinion and thus may persuade listeners to believe that it is indeed, ‘too late for [species]’.

Persuasive technique:  Appeal to sense of guilt

Example:  ‘Due to our own thoughtless human actions, species are being lost at a rate that is estimated to be up to 100 times the natural rate of extinction.’

Analysis:  Since the destruction of biodiversity is ‘due to our own thoughtless human actions’, Lee aims to incite a sense of guilt as listeners appear to be selfish, which may urge them to agree that they need to cease being inconsiderate and do more to improve biodiversity.

Persuasive technique:  Appeal to humanity

Example:  ‘Reversing this negative trend is not only possible, but essential to human wellbeing.’

Analysis:  The appeal to humanity, ‘essential to human wellbeing’ encourages listeners to support Lee since it is our instinctive for humans to nurture ourselves and others.

Persuasive technique:  Appeal to sense of pride

Example:  ‘We are, in truth, the most educated generation of any to date. We have no excuse for inaction.’

Analysis:  Through the appeal to a sense of pride, Lee aims to coax listeners into believing that they have ‘no excuse for inaction’ since only those who are ‘intelligent’ would understand and agree with his stance.

Persuasive technique:  Attack on the listener

Example:  ‘YOUR country – actually done since 2002 to contribute to the achievement of our goals?’

Analysis:  The attack aims to leave listeners in a state of vulnerability since it is clear that many have failed to ‘achieve…[the] goals’. Once in this state, listeners may be more inclined to accept Lee’s stance.

Persuasive technique:  Appeal for sympathy

Example:  ‘Biodiversity loss undermines the food security, nutrition and health of the rural poor and even increases their vulnerability. ‘

Analysis:   Though the reference to ‘the rural poor,’ Lee aims to appeal to listeners’ sympathy and may invite support since it is instinctive to wish for the best for humanity, rather than to see the poor experience a lack of ‘food security, nutrition and health.’

Persuasive technique:  Appeal to pride

Example:  ‘As leaders in the area of biodiversity’

Analysis:   The appeal to pride through positioning listeners as ‘leaders’ invites support since it is innate for humans to wish to be thought of as a person who is respected and powerful.

Persuasive technique:  Inclusive Language

Example:  ‘we know what damage our lifestyle is doing to our world’

Analysis:  The use of inclusive language aims to involve listeners with the issue, thus encouraging support since listeners may feel responsible for the future outcome of biodiversity.

Persuasive technique:  Appeal to sense of urgency

Example:  ‘The time for talk is over: now, truly, is the time for serious action.

Analysis:  By appealing to a sense of urgency, Lee aims to urge listeners to take responsibility since it appears as though the damage to biodiversity will be too late if we fail to take ‘serious action…now.’

Persuasive technique:  A sense of responsibility

Example:  2010 with outlines of nature

Analysis:  The incorporation of a background of ‘2010’ with outlines of animals, plants and humans aims to demonstrate to listeners that earth is shared by all species, with none dominating another in an attempt to gain listeners’ sense of responsibility since they are part of the biodiversity issue, yet can also be the solution to the problem.

Persuasive technique:  Pun

Example:  ‘Taking Stock’

Analysis:  The first meaning used for the pun suggests to listeners that they need to ‘take stock’ or in other words, scrutinise the dire situation of biodiversity in call for much needed attention to the issue. Through referring to the second meaning of ‘stock’ as animals, Lee intends to appeal to a sense of guilt since he projects the idea that humans are cruelly annihilating the environment by ‘taking’ whatever ‘stock’ for their own self-centered purposes.

Persuasive technique:  Appeal to responsibility

Example:  ‘earth is in our hands’

Analysis:  By placing the ‘earth…in our hands,’ Lee aims to urge a sense of responsibility on behalf of the listeners which in turn, may cause them to agree with the notion to take ‘serious action’ in the name of biodiversity.

Persuasive technique:  Use of reputable source

Example:  ‘Biodiversity is the greatest treasure we have . . . Its diminishment is to be prevented at all costs. Thomas Eisner’

Analysis:  The reference to ecologist, Thomas Eisner attempts to persuade listeners to support Lee since experts in the field of biodiversity recommend that the earth needs to be cherished.

The most overlooked aspect of English is probably the actual reading of your English novel. Shockingly, there are some students who believe that they can still do well in English without reading their texts – but that’s a topic for another blog post. Since VCE is about strategy, you should think about how you can maximise your learning while minimising the time spent reading. Some students only read their text once, while others read up to 5 or 6 times! For some one reading may be sufficient but in most circumstances it is definitely not enough. Conversely, reading more than 5 times might be a bit excessive. After asking ex-VCE students who have excelled in English, the overall consensus is that you should read your text 3 times before the English exam. Here’s why:

Reading 1  : The first reading should be done in the holidays prior to your school year. Yes, it is during the holidays but you will be thankful you started early when you’re in the middle of numerous SACs, assignments and homework during the year. You should take your time with the first reading in order to let the information soak in. Focus on exposing yourself to the characters and themes. Since many essay topics are based on characters or themes, this will help you foresee the types of prompts you’ll be asked. If it is a more difficult text to understand (such as Shakespeare), rather than pushing through your reading and trying to understand the plot, have a look at study guides first in order to gain a better understanding from the outset.

Reading 2  : This should be done while you are studying your text at school. Using the new information taught in class (such as character, theme, context and metalanguage analysis), a second reading will help you build on the knowledge from your first reading. During the reading, you should start to take note of key passages and draw out important quotes. This will set you up for the SAC and mean that you have read your text twice before your SAC.

Reading 3  : Your third and final reading is to be completed before your English exam. An ideal time is the term 3 holidays. Since it may have been a while since you studied the text, the third reading is crucial for knowledge consolidation. You should watch out for things that you missed during first two readings – usually small pieces of information that are unique and when used in essays, will separate you from other students. These include: not-so-popular quotes, passages that haven’t been discussed in class, fleeting descriptions of characters etc. Remember that the best essays involve interesting and original discussion of the text.


Reading 1  : Initial exposure to the text and an idea of what prompts may be asked in SACs and the English exam.

Reading 2  : Essential for identifying key details for SAC preparation.

Reading 3  : Vital for consolidation prior to the English exam and finding information that will distinguish yourself from other students.

So with this in mind, figure out how you will approach your readings throughout the year, and most importantly – get started early!

Updated 14/12/2020

  • Definition of Metalanguage
  • Examples of Metalanguage in VCE English

1. Introduction

Although it appears on criteria sheets, many students never really understand the term  metalanguage . Strangely, it is something that is rarely addressed in classrooms. While the word may be foreign to you, rest assured that metalanguage is not an entirely new concept you have to learn. How come? Because you have been unknowingly using metalanguage since the very beginning of high school.

It's a word that is more and more frequently thrown around as you get more advanced in high school. And, it's something that becomes tremendously important in your final year of high school, because the more you include metalanguage discussion in your essays, the more intricate your discussion becomes and the more unique it also becomes.

So, let's find out exactly what metalanguage is.

2. Definition of Metalanguage

Metalanguage is  language that describes language .

So, instead of maybe using the word, "He was sad ", we might say something like, "He felt sorrowful " . The choice in words changes the meaning that is interpreted by the reader, just slightly, but there is still a difference. So, when it comes to studying texts or reading articles, and trying to analyze what the author is trying to do, we look at metalanguage as a way to help give us insight into the ideas that they're trying to portray.

The simplest way to explain this is to focus on part 3 of the English exam – Language Analysis. In Language Analysis , we look at the author’s writing and label particular phrases with persuasive techniques such as: symbolism, imagery or personification. Through our description of the way an author writes (via the words ‘symbolism’, ‘imagery’ or ‘personification’), we have effectively used language that describes language.

Now, if we look at the bigger picture, our analysis of an author’s language can be applied to Text Response, and even Reading and Comparing. To learn more about why metalanguage is important in Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response . Otherwise, for those interested in Comparative, head over to our Ultimate Guide to VCE Comparative .

3. Examples of Metalanguage in VCE English

  • Grammar and punctuation
  • Characterisation
  • Foreshadowing

For example

  • Achilles is  characterised as a foetus, for his position is ‘chin down, shoulders hunched’ as though he is inside a womb. ( Ransom , David Malouf)
  • In the first scene of All About Eve* , Mankiewicz foreshadows Eve's sinful and regretful actions, as a sorrowful expression is emphasized as she accepts her award

As you can see, the word 'foreshadows' pushes us in a new direction. Rather than just saying what has already happened or telling your teacher or examiner something that they already know, it forces you to actually analyze what's in front of you and to offer your own unique interpretation of why this metalanguage or why this technique has been used.

*If you happen to be studying this text, check out our All About Eve Character Profiles .

  • Mise-en-scene
  • Camera angles

When Terry leaves Friendly’s bar, the thick fog symbolises his clouded moral judgement as he decides whether he should remain ‘D and D’, or become a ‘rat’. ( On the Waterfront , Elia Kazan)

  • Stage direction
  • The miniature set Zac creates is designed with a white backdrop, symbolising his desire to wipe away reality since he ‘can’t stand real things'. ( Cosi , Louis Nowra)

In Medea , the motif of animals emphasizes the inhuman and bestial nature of Medea, highlighting how she defies natural norms.

This student has actually given us an analysis of why animal motifs are used. And that is to highlight how Medea defies natural norms, because of her inhuman and bestial nature.

4. Conclusion

As indicated earlier, you should be familiar with many, if not all the terms mentioned above. Take note that some metalanguage terms are specific to a writing form , such as camera angle for films. If you need help learning new terms, we have you covered - be sure to check out our metalanguage word banks for books and our metalanguage wordbank for films .

As you discuss themes or characters, you should try and weave metalanguage throughout your body paragraphs . The purpose of this criteria is to demonstrate your ability to understand how the author uses language to communicate his or her meaning. The key is to remember that the author’s words or phrases are always chosen with a particular intention – it is your job to investigate why the author has written a text in a particular way.

[Modified Video Transcription]

Hey guys, welcome back to Lisa's Study Guides. Today, I'm really excited to talk to you about metalanguage. Have you guys ever heard of metalanguage before? It's a word that is more and more frequently thrown around as you get more advanced in high school. And, it's something that becomes tremendously important in your final year of high school, because the more you include metalanguage discussion in your essays, the more intricate your discussion becomes and the more unique it also becomes. So, let's find out exactly what is metalanguage. Simply put, metalanguage just means language that analyses language. When authors write anything, we make certain decisions when it comes to writing. So, instead of maybe using the word, "He was sad", we might say something like, "He felt sorrowful". The choice in words changes the meaning that is interpreted by the reader, just slightly, but there is still a difference. So, when it comes to studying texts or reading articles and trying to analyse what the author is trying to do, we look at metalanguage as a way to help give us insight into the ideas that they're trying to portray.

Metalanguage comes in really handy, especially if you're somebody who struggles with retelling the story - I have a video on how to avoid retelling the story , which you can watch. Metalanguage essentially takes you to the next level. It prevents you from just saying what happened, and forces you into actually looking at how the ideas and themes are developed by the author through the words that they choose to use. So, let's have a look at a couple of examples to give you a better idea. I'm going to show you two examples. One uses metalanguage and one doesn't, and you'll see how a massive difference in how the student understands the text is really clear.

Number one, foreshadowing.

In the first scene of All About Eve , Mankiewicz emphasizes Eve's sorrowful expression as she accepts her award.

In the first scene of All About Eve , Mankiewicz foreshadows Eve's sinful and regretful actions, as a sorrowful expression is emphasized as she accepts her award. As you can see, as soon as we put in the word foreshadows, it pushes us in a new direction. Rather than just saying what has already happened or telling your teacher or examiner something that they already know, it forces you to actually analyse what's in front of you and to offer your own unique interpretation of why this metalanguage or why this technique has been used. So, in this case, it's foreshadowing. ‍ Let's have a look at another one, motif.

In Medea , Euripides commonly refers to animals when describing Medea's actions and temperament.

See how, in the first example, it was really just telling you what we might already know through just reading the book, but when it comes to the second example, this student has actually given us an analysis of why animal motifs are used. And that is to highlight how Medea defies natural norms, because of her inhuman and bestial nature. So, those are some examples of metalanguage. There are so many more different types of metalanguage out there...

We’ve all been doing Text Response essays from as young as Year 7. At this point in VCE, we should be feeling relatively comfortable with tackling themes and characters in our essays. However, the danger with just discussing themes and characters is that we often fall into the trap of simply paraphrasing the novel, or retelling the story. So how do we elevate our essays to become more sophisticated and complex analyses that offer insight?

Before reading on, make sure you've read our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .

An important distinction to be aware of is that the expectation of Year 11 English was geared more toward themes and characters. However in Year 12, teachers and examiners expect students to focus on the author’s construction of the text . By keeping in mind that the text is a DELIBERATE CONSTRUCTION, this can help eliminate retelling. A good guideline to follow is to include the author’s name at least once every paragraph.

Some examples are:

- (author) elicits

- (author) endorses or condemns

- (author) conveys

Move beyond talking about character and relationships. How are those characters used to explore ideas? How are they used to show readers what the author values?

To explore the text BEYOND characters, themes and ideas, tackle the following criteria:

Social, cultural and historical values embodied in text

In other words, this means the context in which the text was written. Think about how that influenced the author, and how those views and values are reflected in the text. How does the author create social commentary on humanity?

For a more in-depth look into this issue and how to get it right in your essays, read Context and Authorial Intention in VCE English .

Linguistic structures and features

These involve the author’s use of symbols, metaphors, subtext, or genres. Consider why the author chose those particular words, images or symbols? What effect did it evoke within the reader? What themes or characters are embodied within these literary devices? Metalanguage is essential in VCE essays, so ensure you are confident in this field.

If the text is a film, it’s important to include why the director chose certain cinematography techniques . Comment on the mise-en-scene, camera angles, overview shots, close ups, flashbacks, soundtrack, to name a few. Or if it’s a play, examine the stage directions. These contain great detail of the author’s intentions.

How text is open to different interpretations

“While some may perceive… others may believe…” is a good guideline to follow in order to explore different angles and complexities of the text.

Skilful weaving in of appropriate quotes

This is how to create a well-substantiated essay. To weave in textual evidence, don’t simply ‘plonk’ in sentence long quotes. Instead, use worded quotes within your sentences so the transition is seamless.

Do you know how to embed quotes like a boss? Test yourself with our blog post here .

Strong turn of phrase

Ensure your essay is always linked to the prompt; don’t go off on an unrelated tangent. Linking words such as “conversely” or “furthermore” increase coherence within your essay. Begin each paragraph with a strong topic sentence, and finish each paragraph with a broader perception that links back to the topic and the next paragraph. To see what this looks like in practice, check out What Does Improving Your English Really Look Like? for multiple sample paragraphs.

This is also where having a wide range of vocabulary is crucial to presenting your ideas in a sophisticated manner. Create a word bank from assessor’s reports, sample essays, or teacher’s notes, and by the end of the year you’ll have an extensive list to choose from. Also, referring to literary devices contributes to a great vocabulary, exhibiting a strong turn of phrase!

Consider the topic

text response essay questions

What does it imply? Find the underlying message and the implications behind the prompt. There is always tension within the topic that needs to be resolved by the conclusion of your essay. A must-know technique to ensure you actually answer the prompt is by knowing the 5 types of different essay topics, and how your essay structure changes as a result. The How To Write A Killer Text Response ebook is a great way to learn how to identify the type of essay topic you have in front of you immediately, and start writing an A+ essay.

Finally, simply enjoy writing about your text! It will help you write with a sense of personal voice and a personal engagement with the text, which the teachers and assessors will always enjoy.

Can you believe it’s already 2021? To kick off the year in VCE English, you’ll probably be working on your Oral Presentation sometime soon. The past year has flown by, but so much has happened in that year - there are plenty of juicy and controversial topics to get stuck into for your SAC.

Each heading below represents a broad topic and each subheading under it takes you into more specific debates. A more precise topic can make your speech more engaging and current, so feel free to pick a broad issue that resonates with you but don’t forget to zoom in on more specific questions too.

If you haven’t already, check out our Ultimate Guide to Oral Presentations for some general tips and tricks to get you started!

1. Working From Home

ICYMI, there’s been this global pandemic going around for about a year now. It’ll probably come up in a few speeches this year, but let’s work through some more specific ways of using it in yours.

First up is working from home. In 2020, a lot of people spent a lot of time working from home - but this hasn’t been possible for everyone, meaning that it could be worsening certain forms of inequality. ‘Essential workers’ like supermarket clerks and delivery drivers have not been able to work from home, which might put them at a disadvantage when it comes to the flexibility or even the conditions of their work. Conversely, a ‘ tax on remote workers ’ has been proposed which would see people pay a 5% tax if they chose to work from home instead.

Is working from home all that it’s chalked up to be? Is it a positive sign of flexibility, or a widening gap between the manual working class and white-collar professionals? What can we learn about working from home now that we can apply to the future? Is it the environmentally responsible thing to do?

The hidden impact of the coronavirus pandemic is rising urban inequality – 26/11/2020 ‍ Rebound in carbon emissions expected in 2021 after fall caused by Covid – 11/12/2020

Possible Contentions: 

  • All workplaces, especially those with essential manual or physical labour, should provide paid health and safety training to staff who are for example more at risk of disease
  • A working from home tax is a bad idea - it encourages people to commute and pollute. We should look to ways of promoting flexibility and sustainability instead
  • Casual workers in manual professions should be given paid sick leave and other entitlements to make their jobs as flexible as remote office workers

2. Education

You might’ve spent 2020 learning from home too. Everything happened pretty quickly right at the start of the year, but as the months wore on it became clearer that some students were adjusting better than others. In particular, ‘ digital exclusion ’ became a big problem for many students around the country. Inequality is once again a big theme: access to the internet and other technology is vastly uneven, and students who were already dealing with things like mental ill-health were set further back by remote learning. Even though the Victorian government applied special considerations to all Year 12 students in 2020, this is far from a long-term fix.

What can be done about the education system to make it fairer, or even just to make it work better for you? Is it an issue with technology, or are there underlying problems around, say, mental health and wellbeing? Maybe it’s time to axe the ATAR system - would a new scoring system solve these problems?

Coronavirus kept Victorian students out of class. This is what we know about long-term effects of school closures – 21/09/2020 ‍ Government must address barriers to education in rural and remote areas, inquiry finds – 12/11/2020 ‍ The ATAR Benefits No-One: Reflections of a ‘High-Achiever’ – 02/11/2020 (yes this is a shameless plug for my own piece)

Possible Contentions : 

  • The government should supply public schools with tech for every student, including iPads and broadband devices
  • The government should implement a needs-based approach to technology in schools
  • Schools need engagement staff as well as teaching staff: COVID-19 has shown just how easy it is for students to disconnect
  • Replace the ATAR with something that measures skills and interests, rather than just results

The Climate Crisis

1. the paris agreement.

The Paris Agreement is an international agreement that was signed a little over five years ago. It binds every country to a commitment of carbon neutrality by 2050 - this means that everyone will be taking as much CO2 out of the atmosphere as we emit. Part of the Agreement is that countries have to commit to new, increasingly ambitious plans every five years, and this deadline has just passed.

How did we do, you might ask. While the mid-century goal still stands, the five-year increment isn’t looking fantastic - most countries , including Australia , haven’t strengthened their climate targets. The Prime Minister was even snubbed out of a speaking slot at a UN climate summit, some suggest because of his inaction on climate. None of this has really snatched headlines though.

Is this something that you’ve been following? If not, is it a problem that this news isn’t really getting out there? What can Australia do better with regard to the climate crisis?

The Paris agreement five years on: is it strong enough to avert climate catastrophe? – 08/12/2020 ‍ The Paris Agreement 5 years on: big coal exporters like Australia face a reckoning – 14/12/2020 ‍ Australia records fourth hottest year as it risks being isolated globally on climate change – 05/01/2021

  • Australia needs to be proactive on the Paris Agreement, rather than doing the bare minimum
  • Australia needs to transition away from coal
  • Our country’s lack of climate action is a great source of shame, particularly for young Australians who want a better future
  • The Australian media should take the climate crisis more seriously

2. Environmental Racism

One aspect of the climate crisis we’re starting to talk about more now is environmental racism. The term started in the US , where it was used to describe the disproportionate impacts of environmental problems like pollution on working class people of colour. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply in Australia though - earlier in 2020 , a sacred Aboriginal site was blasted by Rio Tinto in order to expand a mine. Now, taxpayer money is being set aside for fracking in the Northern Territory. This will have an adverse impact on not only the climate, but also the local water quality on which First Nations communities depend.

What can be done about environmental racism? Is it about making changes in government, or about activism from outside the halls of power? If environmental racism is the problem, is there a solution that can tackle both problems at once? Is it even accurate to refer to them as two separate problems?

The young Indigenous woman fighting fracking in remote NT – 11/11/2020 ‍ $50 Million Hand-Out to Northern Territory Frackers – 17/12/2020 ‍ Fighting not just to survive, but to flourish – 21/12/2020 ‍ Making sense of Australia’s climate exceptionalism – 01/01/2021

  • Indigenous land rights is not just a social movement: it could help us avoid environmental disaster as well
  • Politicians are too reliant on fossil fuel companies: we need more grassroots activism around climate justice
  • Fracking is dangerous, its impacts disproportionately affect BIPOC communities and as such it should be banned

3. A Carbon Price?

This topic was kind of on our 2020 topic list , but the debate around climate action has changed a little bit since. A carbon price would make the atmosphere a commodity basically - corporations would have to pay in order to pollute.

But maybe that’s still giving them too much power? If you can just pay your way out of environmental responsibility, who’s to stop you from polluting? Maybe there isn’t a capitalistic or free-market solution to carbon emissions - maybe we need to rethink our entire relationship with land and country. What can and should Australia learn from its First People in this regard?

Australia’s plants and animals have long been used without Indigenous consent. Now Queensland has taken a stand – 16/09/2020 ‍ ‘As an Australian it will affect you. It’s your land as well’: Indigenous tourism’s new online travel agency – 03/12/2020 ‍ What is cultural burning? – 31/12/2020 ‍ The barriers to a carbon fee and dividend policy – 07/01/2021

  • A carbon price is still necessary, but it’s a stepping stone in a larger conversation
  • Putting a price on excessive pollution isn’t the same as creating laws to prevent it: as such, it is no longer enough

1. First Nations Justice

You might recall the huge impact that George Floyd’s death had on conversations about race around the world. Though this erupted in a wave of furore last June, the conversation has been shifting ever since. In Australia, we’ve been grappling in particular with First Nations justice. While the Prime Minister ’s made attempts to unify the country through certain words and gestures, First Nations leaders such as Lidia Thorpe , the first Indigenous senator from Victoria, have been calling for something more substantive. In the meantime, police brutality against First Nations people continues.

Where to from here? What does the future of First Nations justice look like in Australia, and what is the role of leaders like Ms Thorpe? Where do non-Aboriginal folks fit into this? What could we do better?

Lidia Thorpe: Victoria's first Aboriginal senator urges end to deaths in custody and mass incarceration – 09/09/2020 ‍ ‘We have the fight in us’: Lidia Thorpe’s incredible journey to historic place in the Victorian Senate – 23/09/2020 ‍ 'Unfinished business': Senator Lidia Thorpe on fighting for Treaty for Indigenous Australians – 10/12/2020 ‍ Can we breathe? – 31/12/2020

  • Reconciliation is an outdated term; it implies two parties are coming together as equals, when history would tell us otherwise
  • Lidia Thorpe’s election is the first step in a longer journey towards representation, truth-telling and self-determination
  • Even after the #BlackLivesMatter movement in 2020, we still a long way to go with anti-racism
  • Australia is far from a multicultural utopia: we need to learn to treat politicians like Lidia Thorpe with more respect

2. Refugees

In 2019, the ‘medevac’ bill allowed refugees to be brought to mainland Australia for medical care. That bill has since been repealed, but it did allow some refugees to leave their detention centres and receive medical treatment. 60 of them have now been detained in various Melbourne hotels for over a year now. In December, they were moved to a former COVID-19 quarantine hotel, where they will continue to be isolated and detained.

What injustices (plural) are going on here? Did medevac force us to confront our out-of-sight-out-of-mind asylum seeker policy? And if this isn’t the impetus we need to shut offshore detention once and for all, what exactly will it take?

The Mantra 60 should be freed from torture. Here’s why the Coalition won’t do it – 15/12/2020 ‍ Former mayor among protesters arrested as police escort refugees and asylum seekers to new Melbourne hotel – 17/12/2020 ‍ Refugees and asylum seekers moved from Mantra hotel in Melbourne – 17/12/2020 ‍ ‘We are human, we are not animals’: Mantra refugees transferred to another hotel – 17/12/2020

  • Bring back medevac: it was a bare minimum policy to begin with, and it’s unconscionable that it would be repealed, thereby denying sick people healthcare
  • Australia’s refugee policy is as lazy as it is harmful: something needs to change
  • The hotel industry is profiting off detention and we should consider boycotting chains like Mantra

3. COVID-Related Racism

This could’ve gone in the first section, but it poses important questions about ongoing and future race relations in Australia. During 2020, Asian Australians and particularly those with Chinese heritage experienced a sharp increase in racially-provoked harassment. Towards the end of the year, Chinese Australians were asked in a Senate committee hearing to condemn the Chinese Communist Party, which many have described as race-baiting. Many Australians with Chinese heritage have no relation to the Chinese government, so it’s jarring that they’d be called upon to give an opinion like this.

How does race still impact civic life in Australia? If you’re Australian, should you be expected to have opinions about or deny loyalties to foreign governments? Does it matter what race you are, and if so, how is that problematic?

Chinese Australians say questions from Senator Eric Abetz about their loyalties are not asked of other communities – 15/10/2020 ‍ Eric Abetz refuses to apologise for demanding Chinese-Australians denounce Communist party – 16/10/2020 ‍ More than eight in 10 Asian Australians report discrimination during coronavirus pandemic – 02/11/2020 ‍ Too many men in pin-striped suits – 10/12/2020 (this is an interesting one that also touches on gender and class in civic life)

  • Politicians are increasingly out of touch with Australia’s diverse communities because they are just so overwhelmingly undiverse
  • Again, Australia is not a multicultural utopia. When times get tough, the racism really jumps out
  • Australians are yet to confront the reality that there are Chinese Australians (which sounds like a joke, but based on these articles isn’t really a joke) - their behaviour continues to ‘other’ people who actually really are Australian, telling them they somehow don’t belong
  • More people of colour should run for public office; this starts with civic empowerment in schools

1. Representation

As it turns out, journalism isn’t a very diverse profession. When issues about disability come up, for example, they’re often covered by abled journalists in a “pity party” or “inspiration porn” manner. When issues about race come up, it’s also often white people who cover them, usually with racist undertones as well. We started seeing a bit of this in 2020: the stories that kept coming up about people breaking COVID restrictions were often targeting minorities - their names and faces would be splashed across newspaper front pages, while their white counterparts were afforded privacy and forgiven for making a mistake.

How fair is the media landscape towards people from minority backgrounds? What different forms might racism and ableism take in the media, and how can we overcome them? Is it as simple as allowing disabled people to tell their own stories, for example?

Muslims, Chinese Australians and Indigenous people most targeted in racist media coverage – 11/11/2020 ‍ ‘Double standard’: Experts weigh in on publicly shaming only certain COVID rule-breakers – 22/12/2020

  • The media landscape isn’t fair towards minorities: stereotypes can be subtle but persistent
  • Journalism schools should create more scholarships for diverse applicants
  • Australian media should adopt a code of ethics around representation of minorities

This may or may not come as a surprise to you, but young people are also one of the groups that are likely to be underrepresented in the media. A report from the Foundation for Young Australians found that there were not only less stories about young people in the media in 2020, but barely half of them actually quoted a young person.

Again, we return to questions around representation - does the media have an ethical obligation to let young people tell their own stories? How much do you, as a young person, trust the media to accurately depict you? What can be done about this?

Young People Have Been Pretty Much Ignored By The Media During COVID – 28/10/2020 ‍ Research Report: mainstream media either ignores young Australians or castigates them – 21/12/2020

  • Young people can no longer trust the media, and this is detrimental to civic society
  • There needs to be a national youth broadcaster, kind of like the ABC, run by young people for young people

Remember Kevin Rudd? The former Prime Minister has been making waves recently for starting a parliamentary petition for a royal commission into media diversity. The petition was signed by a record 501,876 people, and it looks like the commission - a bit like a government inquiry - will go ahead. The ‘media diversity’ in question isn’t about race or disability though - it’s more about media ownership. In Australia, Rupert Murdoch owns almost two-thirds of metropolitan media circulation. He’s also a climate sceptic , which means a large chunk of his media output is also climate-sceptic.

What is the role of media in democracy, and can it still fulfill that role if one person gets to own so much of it? What are some ways Murdoch has used his influence, and what have been the consequences for the Australian people? What should the royal commission look to now achieve?

Petition calling for media royal commission and setting Australian record tabled in Parliament – 09/11/2020 ‍ Rudd and Turnbull will be called to give evidence at Senate inquiry into media diversity – 11/11/2020  

  • Because the media holds government to account in the eyes of the people, one person owning this much of the media gives them too much power
  • Australia’s climate inaction is a direct result of Murdoch’s media empire, and we need to break it apart to get honest debate and coverage

Pop Culture

In December 2020, the Australian singer Sia was caught in a bit of Twitter beef. She defended casting Maddie Ziegler, an abled actress, in a disabled role for her upcoming film. Disability justice activists argued that autistic people should be able to portray themselves, and that roles for autistic people should be written by them as well. Sia later admitted this was “ableism”, but didn’t back down on her decision.

What is the appropriate way for celebrities and creatives to approach representation? Without debating anyone’s actual identity, how can the film industry do better here?

Sia opens up about lashing out on Twitter to defend her new film – 19/12/2020 

  • Abled people shouldn’t write roles for disabled people, nor should they play these roles; if a disabled person can’t play the role, then it isn’t appropriate in the first place
  • Cancel culture isn’t a thing, given how comfortable Sia feels admitting to ableism and then committing to her decision anyway
  • We shouldn’t cancel people, but we still need new ways to really hold them to account: otherwise, they can still get away with discrimination

The Grammy Awards have been oft-criticised for racial biases, including once again in this year ’s coming ceremony. Black artists like Beyonce are often relegated to subcategories like R&B and rap - of her 24 Grammy Awards, only one was awarded in a major category (Best Music Video in 2017 for ‘Formation’). Meanwhile, she was arguably snubbed for Album of the Year wins in both 2017 (Adele won) and 2015 (Beck won). Now though, the Grammys are hoping to #ChangeMusic and acknowledge the contributions of Black artists to the industry. 

What should this look like? Are award wins all it will take? Is a change for the future enough to fix wrongs of the past? Maybe awards aren’t even that important - is cultural impact what really matters?

#ChangeMusic Roadmap aims to redress racism in music industry – 17/12/2020 

  • The cultural impact of Bla(c)k artists can’t be measured through awards
  • Awards are a necessary first step to acknowledging Bla(c)k talent in the music industry
  • Radios stations should make more of an effort to diversify their sets, particularly when local BIPOC talent in Australia is at an all-time high (think Thelma Plum, Sampa the Great etc.)

Be sure to check out our Ultimate Guide to Oral Presentations for more advice on how to write your speech, presentation tips and more. Or, if you really want to dive in further to make sure you absolutely nail your Oral, then you'll definitely want to check out our How To Write A Killer Oral Presentation ebook - it explores essay structure, the written explanation and even has sample A+ essays so that you can learn from past students who have succeeded in VCE!!

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24 How do I Write a Response Essay?

Pre-writing steps:

  • Read the essay prompt carefully.
  • Activate schema

Actively read the assigned article.

Analyze the article to determine the rhetorical situation.

  • Consider your own thoughts about the article.
  • Decide how you want to respond.

Conference #1

Structure your essay.

  • Outline the essay you want to write.

Draft a working thesis.

Drafting the essay:

Write a summary of the article as your introduction.

Write 3 or more body paragraphs in response to the article.

Review your draft so far.

Write the conclusion to summarize your thoughts.

Revising steps:

Peer review

Conference #2

  • Revise your essay.
  • Proofread your essay.


Read the essay prompt carefully

  • Highlight or note the important points
  • Ask questions for any part that isn’t clear to you.
  • Retrieve your assigned article.

Activate schema.

  • Skim and scan the article to identify the topic and the author(s).  Look for subtitles and boldly printed words.  Read the author’s bio which is often located at the beginning or at the end of the article.  Identify the publication.  Read the first sentence of each paragraph.  Ask yourself, “Am I familiar with this topic?” This will help you to activate your schema.
  • identify the key points and ideas
  • make note of where you agree or disagree
  • highlight impactful sentences to quote the author later
  • paraphrase the author’s words
  • summarize the article
  • What is the message?
  • What is the context?
  • Who is the author?
  • What is the author’s purpose?
  • What is the structure of the text?
  • Who is the audience?

Consider your own thoughts about the author and their message.

  • What do I think about this topic?
  • Is this author trustworthy?
  • Is the article written to inform or persuade me?
  • If it is written to persuade, on which points do I agree or disagree?
  • Is the author biased?
  • Does the article have an objective or subjective tone?
  • What did I like or dislike about what the author has written in this article?
  • What made the most sense to me? What was confusing about this article?

Decide how to respond.

There are several ways in which to respond to an article.  You may choose a type of response from the following list:

  • Before/After- Discuss your thoughts about this topic before you read the article, then explain what you learned from the article using evidence from the text.
  • Persuasion- Discuss which parts of the articles you found convincing and/or which parts of the article you did not find convincing.
  • Agreement or Disagreement- Discuss an idea that the author presented to which you agree or disagree. If there were two points of view that were presented, explain which one you agree with and explain why.
  • Affect- Explain the emotional effect that the article had on you. Explain why you responded that way including your own background and your own thoughts/ experiences.
  • Association- Share something from the article that is similar to your own experience.  Or relate the information to a different article that you have read before this article.
  • Most students wait until they have a draft, but seriously, this is the best time to talk to a writing tutor about your project.
  • HCC has several options for free tutoring. Best choice: after class, drop in at the Composition and Learning Center (CLC) in Duncan Hall 210. This is staffed by current HCC English professors, and you can talk to one for 10-20 minutes about your assignment and your ideas for your topic, and what to include in your essay.
  • There are also drop-in tutors at the Learning Assistance Center (LAC) in RCF 340.
  • an introduction- a summary paragraph of the article
  • a response- 3 or more body paragraphs responding to the author
  • a conclusion- a concluding paragraph summing up your thoughts.

Outline the essay your want to write.

  • Use the structure of the response essay to determine the order of each paragraph.  Gather your notes. Review the way you chose to respond.   Write a main idea statement for each paragraph of your essay.  Then, list (using bullet points) the details that you want to include under each main idea statement. You can also list relevant quotes from the article that support your ideas.
  • A thesis includes your topic and what you are going to say about this topic.
  • A thesis always has two parts: a topic AND something important about this topic that your essay is going to discuss.
  • A thesis is NEVER a question.
  • Use your notes and the rhetorical situation of the article to write a summary.  Begin with an introductory sentence that introduces the publisher, author, topic, purpose, and the main idea of the article.
  • Next, write a few sentences to describe the key points the author made to support the main idea.
  • End your summary with your thesis.
  • During your pre-writing, you decided how you might want to respond to the article.  Use your outline to draft your body paragraphs.  Use your synthesis skills to corporate relevant quotes from the article into paragraphs to support your ideas.
  • Is your summary of the article concise, objective, and accurate?
  • Do your body paragraphs respond to the article?
  • Do you have a main idea for each of the body paragraphs?
  • Do the sentences in each paragraph support each main idea?
  • This question is extremely important.  If you find that you did not respond to the article in the way you had originally planned, revise your thesis.
  • End your essay by summarizing the main points you shared in your body paragraphs.
  • A classmate; a friend; a relative: ask someone to read over your work. Note their questions as they read.
  • At the very least, read your essay aloud to yourself, stopping when you get tripped up in words or sentences. Consider how to make these rough spots easier to read.
  • Schedule a conference with your instructor, or drop in on their student/office hours, or send them a Zoom request to talk about any questions you have about your draft.
  • You can also drop in at the CLC in DH210 or LAC in RCF 340 to have a conference with a tutor.

Revise your essay

  • Look at your outline: have you forgotten anything?
  • Do a paragraph outline of just main idea sentences for each paragraph: you’ll have a 5-7 sentence summary of your whole essay.

Proofread your essay

  • take on an objective tone?
  •  introduce the article properly?
  • capture the main point of the article?
  • respond to the article?
  • capture your thoughts and opinions?
  • begin with a main idea statement followed by detail?
  • include quotes from the article?
  • concisely review your thoughts about the article?
  • Major grammar errors include run-on sentences, comma splices, and sentence fragments.
  • You are responsible for running Grammarly or another grammar/spellcheck before your essay is submitted.
  • Your instructors want to focus on improving your WRITING—not technical errors that machines can catch easily.
  • Use Modern Language Association (MLA) guidelines for formatting your academic essay and for any in-text citations or a Works Cited page.

College Reading & Writing: A Handbook for ENGL- 090/095 Students Copyright © by Yvonne Kane; Krista O'Brien; and Angela Wood. All Rights Reserved.

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text response essay questions

Consider a sampling of the things we might be asked to respond to--an individual event, experience, or feeling; a series of events, experiences, or feelings; a person or several persons; objects, attitudes, trends, art, film, literature, historical artifact, cultural practice-and this is just a beginning. All of these, for purposes of our discussion here, can be thought of as "texts" to be responded to and all of them can provide occasion for the writing of a response essay.

Consider the range of texts that might be grounds for a response assignment, and remember, this is just a sampling.

Primary documents from any period, a moment from history, the biography of an historical figure, an artifact, an autobiography.

Literature and Art

A novel, short story, poem, essay, book, a passage from any piece of literature, a book review, literary criticism, a specialized lexicon, biography, autobiography; any art object, any criticism of an art object, a series of objects by an individual artist.

Film or Theater

A feature-length film, a full theater production, a one-woman show, a commercial advertisement, a clip, an individual performance within film or theater, stage features: scenery, lighting, costuming, etc.

A case study, an observation of a subject, an interview with a subject, a testing procedure, a developmental model, a treatment model, developmental transitions, group practices, individual practices, a statistical analysis.

A cultural practice or tradition, cultural norms or taboos, a case study, an ethnography, a rite of passage, funereal or baptismal practices-rituals, games and play, group processes.

Political Science

A Supreme Court ruling, a political speech, a demonstration, role of the media in public life, definitions in constitutional issues such as the definitions of "obscenity" and "pornography".

Lab report, household experiment, biography of a scientist, history of a scientific notion, lay writings on technical topics, funding sources for research, experimental procedures, science and culture interface/overlap, breakthroughs and slowdowns, research methodologies, professional/technical journal articles on groundbreaking research, data.

Am I Qualified to Respond?

Responses allow writers, even novice writers, the opportunity to do original thinking and writing. In fact, the writing of academic responses is one way to enter the conversation of the academic community. Arguably, it is an obligatory part of being a college student.

Goals of Academic Response

The goal of dialogue in academe, of responses and responses to the responses, is less about ratification, or confirmation of what we already know and more about risk-taking, or what is sometimes called "reading against the grain" or functioning as the "loyal opposition." Implicit here is the assumption that we learn by keeping an open and enlarging mind, and that at the same time we acknowledge the incomplete nature of each of our perspectives. We do the best we can at any given time, with the material and resources available to us, and the way we respond today may differ from the way we respond tomorrow.

Further, because no two people are alike, neither are their ways of responding to "texts." Yet the power to interpret belongs to everyone. So even though we may not feel qualified to respond to a text, may not believe we possess sufficient background or expertise on a topic, nevertheless we find ourselves capable of responding to it and, in fact, often are required to do so.

Becoming Informed and Staying That Way

It has always been challenging to become informed, but as information proliferates and knowledge grows more complex and specialized, it becomes increasingly difficult to stay informed. Therefore, the struggle you are engaged today as a novice is not so much different than the struggle you'll be engaged in throughout your professional career.

Do not despair! More to the point, do not allow your incomplete grasp of all aspects of a situation (or of a text) to deter you from entering the conversation or providing your own best response at any given time.

In a sense, we are all in the same boat, even your professors--and increasingly so given the rapid expansion of knowledge and its transmittal in the Information Age. Embrace your membership in this community-college--which supports an evolution or development of response from basic to sophisticated; further, continue to approach your responses with the candor and openness of the novitiate and you'll go far in academe. You probably are that novice right now, and yet you are simultaneously an important voice whose point of view is valued. As a novice, you do well to approach your role as did the villagers of Ballybran, who entered the conversation out of desire and necessity and then busied to make themselves knowledgeable. Then, as you learn more about subjects, approach your knowledge with the same fresh approach as the learned Stanford anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes, who, in studying the villagers of Ballybran, was unafraid to look at her own area of expertise with fresh eyes. That is the nature of academic inquiry when it is functioning well.

Take Courage From an Example: The Anthropologist and the Ballybrans

Stanford anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes, went to a village in western Ireland, Ballybran, to study the relationship there between longstanding social customs and mental illness. Scheper-Hughes lived amongst the Ballybrans, engaging in a kind of study known as ethnography. As a result of her study, some of the inhabitants of the village became angry about the way Scheper-Hughes depicted them. They spoke out about it, even argued about it. Others began to examine some of the complicated problems of their community and started discussing them. In any case, the inhabitants of this village were changed by having been studied, and they looked at their circumstances with fresh eyes, with a perspective gained from having a foreign observer in their midst.

Similarly, because Scheper-Hughes was concerned about the way her new friends in the village became bitter about her findings, she reexamined the purposes and methods of her field. She began to challenge some of anthropology's ethical obligations to the people it studies.

Thus, both the villagers and the visiting expert were changed; they learned from each other. Further, there can be little doubt that both were qualified to respond to the study, and they did so, though in quite different ways.

Reading to Respond: Encountering the Text

In preparing to respond there's no substitute for coming face-to-face with the text you'll be responding to and opening yourself up to it fully. Don't be one of those people who "reads around" the text, reading criticism of the text but never quite getting to the text itself. Eventually you may want to look at some of the secondary sources, the criticism, but start with the primary text. Immerse yourself in it. Know it, inside and out. Think of "reading" the text, regardless of whether it's a written text or a piece of art or a film or an historical artifact. Resolve from the beginning that this is going to take some time.

Survey or Preview the Text

Try to begin your encounter with the text by surveying or previewing it, which is to say, coming at it with a wide-angle lens, looking it over in its entirety, and activating your schema (your storehouse of accumulated knowledge and experience). Think of this encounter as similar to the strategy you take when downhill skiing at a new location, when shopping at a new mall, or when visiting a city for the first time. You want to get the lay of the land, know what you're getting into before you take a lift at the ski resort, before buying shoes at the mall, or before trying to traverse the city. You could waste precious time taking a lift to slopes you've no interest in; you could spend too much money by not doing comparison shopping; and you could get lost in traffic if you don't know where you're going. A little time up front can save you a lot of time over the long haul, so learn to get the broad view of a text before you try to read, analyze, and respond to it, and know that taking a look at your text this way is one of the most valuable skills you can learn as a writer, as a reader, and as a life-long learner.

Formulate Questions About the Text

Based upon your initial survey and upon the response assignment you've been given, develop questions that are pertinent to the reading you are about to do. These questions should help you focus and stay active during your reading. Use your predictive capabilities to forecast what the text will say and the questions you will have. Think more in terms of "Why" questions than "What" questions. Think of the "connective tissue" of the text, the margins, the movements from point to point, or those areas where relationships among ideas are explored, exceptions taken, distinctions made, and then ask how the text proceeds from point to point, paying particular attention to these boundary areas.

Use Prediction

When an active reader prepares to read and as he or she reads, an act of prediction often occurs. The reader develops expectations, logical guesses about where the text is taking him or her. This predictive capacity is not something to avoid but something to develop. Doing so suggests your engagement with the material, and even a wrong prediction is a valuable one, because the correction to your expectation is often the source of new knowledge that surprises and informs you.

Read the Text

Read the text all the way through, perhaps making some quick checks in the margin for places that surprise or challenge you. As you read, look for answers to the questions you developed after you surveyed the text.

Annotate/Mark theText

Now read the text again with pen in hand, prepared to do some serious marking this time around. This will involve a slower re-reading. Notice that you do not annotate (or highlight for that matter) on the first reading. Doing so tends to produce wanton, or indiscriminate, marking and highlighting, and the pen and highlighter tend to become pacers leading you through the text and turning a nice white page into a nice yellow one. Don't deceive yourself into thinking that this sort of activity is what is meant by textbook marking!

Before you start this more careful re-reading, return again to the questions you formulated after your initial survey. Develop a shorthand for your annotations, perhaps always using a double underline on the text to indicate a thesis or main focusing statement. Try writing marginal summaries as you go along as well, since the ability to summarize a text is the surest way to show your command or "ownership" of the material. Also, respond intuitively in the margins; after all, your feelings as you read are important and sometimes provide the most important insights, even suggesting your overall reaction to the text. The more you interact with the text the better able you will be to do your response to it. You will know the text well.

Special Problems of The Non-Print Text

Doing these activities is a much simpler notion when you have a written text in front of you than if you are watching a film or studying a work of art. However, there are ways to record your reactions even with non-written texts, ways to keep a running log as you experience the "text." (One notable difficulty may be if you're sitting in a dimly lit theater; there it will be difficult to take notes so you'll want to make some mental notes and then record your ideas immediately after the viewing. Keep your notebook handy! Anything you can learn about the production before you see it will also help, so read the reviews and the synopses and the production notes and the handbill before watching a production in film or theater.)

Multi-Pass Reading

Some people refer to the process we're describing here as multi-pass reading. On your first pass, you're getting the lay of the land, thinking about the audience for the text, its apparent approach. On your next pass you're reading all the way through a text but you're not responding but are instead coming to terms with the text as a whole document. On the next pass you're re-reading and responding through annotations and text marking and marginal summary, essentially coming to terms with the text's message. On yet another reading you're skimming and scanning and thinking about the speaker (the name we sometimes give to the human being, the writer, behind the words you're reading). You ask yourself what you know about the speaker in terms of facts, whether directly stated or alluded to, (gender, race, age, affiliations, etc.), emotions (evidence in the text of the speaker's emotional response to his or her topic), and attitudes (evidence from the text of the speaker's intellectual response to his or her topic and conveyed as judgments or conclusions). Think throughout your multiple reading about audience and purpose. For whom did the writer write? What purpose(s) did the text serve? These kinds of questions can help you move from an objective restatement of a text's substance toward more penetrating observation and analysis of the text's aims and accomplishments. How did the writer hope to influence his or her readers' way of thinking or acting? And why?

Write In My Book? No Way!

As a final note here, the idea of annotating a written text sometimes causes consternation among students. They say they plan to return their textbooks at the end of the semester for a refund. This is a foolhardy approach, a false economy of a most dangerous kind. It simply won't work for the serious college student who knows that texts are returned to throughout an education, not read and then discarded. Real encounters with written texts are a messy business. Further, you are building a library, and if that image doesn't appeal to you, think of it this way: you're being invited to deface a published document. Have fun, be a rebel, make it yours! Someday you can show your children the outrageous things you once wrote in the margins of your texts. And by that time you may well appreciate the library you began to build back there during your college days.

Making Inferences

For our purposes, a text will be defined as anything we study closely for purposes of an academic response. When we respond to a text, we make inferences from a text.

Defining Inference

An inference is a conclusion based upon available information. We infer all the time, sometimes less wisely than others. For instance, we are pulled over by a policeman when driving across town and infer that we've made a moving violation. Or this: we receive a phone call from the Internal Revenue Service and infer that we're about to be audited. But we can't properly infer anything from the sketchy information provided here. The policeman could be looking for a lost child and hoping that we've seen her. The IRS could be calling to send us a lifetime achievement award for our conscientious income tax reporting. (All right, so that last one is unlikely, but you get the idea.) In order to convince an audience that an inference is correct, we must provide evidence sufficient to support our claims or suppositions.

The Inferential Thesis

To give a response is a way of talking back to a text-and remember a text can be any number of things, even an experience you've had which can be "read" or interpreted and reinterpreted through response. Notice the use of the phrase "talking back." Think of the response as a way of conversing, of engaging in dialogue, but think also of the slightly rebellious possibilities of talking back to someone. When you "talk back" there is an element of challenge, of healthy questioning, of constructive criticism. Something is out there, a text of some sort, and then there is a long pause, the silence that anticipates a response. The response you give will no doubt be expressive but probably it also will be persuasive. It should reflect what you know or have learned about a topic. It will take the conversation forward, not simply repeat what has already been said in the text itself. It will involve some risk, not mere ratification. It will question boundaries and will suggest a position, or what is sometimes called a "critical stance" or "critical position."

That is why a critical stance or position is the written demonstration of critical thinking, the goal of which is new intellectual territory. When you think critically you view a text in its entirety. You see the text via its parts, but you ask how it all adds up. The result is a thorough examination that captures the essence of the text and responds to it, resulting in a whole new shaping of the topic.

Sometimes in the early stages of developing an inferential thesis we may call it a working message . That sends the message that we're working on it, attempting in our drafts to state clearly and simply the position we're taking in our response and why we are taking it.

More on Evidence: Making Choices

Your response is only as good as your evidence, and your effectiveness as a response writer, your authority as it is sometimes called, will depend in large part upon your evidence. The kind of evidence you choose to use will vary according to the thesis you are proposing and the subject you are addressing. If, for instance, you are comparing two texts, then some of your evidence will be drawn from each of those texts and will no doubt require summary of both texts.

In general, a response is only as good as its understanding of the text being responded to. Therefore, thorough familiarity with the text is absolutely necessary, and the text itself provides the first and most important evidence for your thesis. Beyond that, however, your own experiences, observations, and knowledge can inform your thesis. Information gleaned from additional sources and experts in the field can form a further pillar of support.

When you select the evidence that best contributes to and develops your thesis, remember that simple summary at this point will not do. Rather, analysis of the material is needed. You are always endeavoring to explain how the evidence contributes to or develops your thesis, your line of thinking.

Further, strive to be both concrete and analytical. Refer back frequently to the text itself, providing brief, concrete details from the text to support your thesis. From these concrete pieces of evidence, derive analytical conclusions . As you write from these analytical conclusions, provide ample examples from the text, clarifying how those examples support your thesis. Strive to be thorough but not repetitive.

How Do I Get Started? Preliminary Considerations

Ask questions. Ask questions that probe beyond the obvious, the clearly stated, the facts. Instead the questions should ask "why," "how," "what does this mean," and "how does this connect to (or differ from or relate similarly to)" other things I know or think. You ask yourself about the context of the text and its author, suppositions inherent to that context. Then you go back to the original, skimming or scanning for places that address your questions. You look for specific kinds of information, rather like scanning a telephone book until you find what you're looking for. Once you find an area that looks promising, then you read the text more closely, looking for cues that answer the probing questions you've developed.

Do I Need Outside Sources?

Studying the original alone may be enough for purposes of your response, or you may need to draw upon outside or additional sources to provide the context and the contrast that you need for your analysis. The answer to the question depends upon many factors, including, perhaps most importantly, the expectations of your teacher for this assignment.

It is always appropriate to ask yourself what you know about a topic, activating your schema, your storehouse of accumulated knowledge, perhaps even personal experience with the topic if you have any. Then you ask yourself how the text you're studying challenges your experience, your expectations, your additional sources, your understanding because you're hoping to do something beyond mere reporting. Having found these challenges, these distinguishing features, distinctions, or areas of debate, you have also found the area(s) most promising for a response from you. For here, where you notice either surprise, contrast, movement into new space, or tension, lies the material waiting for a response from you, a response that is authentically yours. And now you get a sense of why response can be a creative and original act, which is not in any way to suggest that creativity and originality cannot also be collaboratively derived. The next step is to mine your response for an inferential thesis that will guide your formal, written response.

The Connection of Summary and Comprehension

To begin a critical stance or position you must first be able to summarize the thing being responded to. Critical thinking and the development of a critical position is movement from true understanding to original statement. You might use reporting expressions such as she "claims," he "recommends," and they "argue" to suggest in summary what the text has seemed to say. Keep in mind, too, that you simply must know the original text well before you can begin to respond in an informed way.

Your Context: The Assignment

Refer to the assignment you've been given. This should clarify the audience and purpose for the response you are giving. Since so much depends upon audience and purpose, it is wise to spend some dedicated time making this evaluation. Ask yourself these kinds of questions: Who is my audience? What is the purpose of this assignment? What can I safely assume about my audience's knowledge? What might I have to offer to the conversation on this topic, or how might I further the thinking on this topic, given what I know and what my audience knows? What are the expectations for this assignment? Is there a specific task implied by the assignment-for instance, a comparison of two texts? There may be other questions that come to mind for you, and since no one knows the context of the assignment better than you, we would expect your questions to differ somewhat from the suggested ones given here.

The Text's Context

Then step back from the reporting and ask some questions about the text, such as "Why would he/she/they say this/do this/make this, etc? What do I know about this source? What is its context? Its author's context? Is the text predictable? What would you expect from this context, or does it somehow surprise? What position would be taken by persons coming from other contexts? These kinds of questions can begin the formulation of your own critical stance or position.

Ideas for Finding and Developing a Critical Stance

Next, think back to your summarization process. If there were places where you had difficulty summarizing, these problematic areas may provide clue as to one or more weaknesses in the text's statement or argument or they may suggest areas of new information for you. With any text, you can ask:

1) Are the connections of the parts to the whole reasonable and clear?

2) Are all the parts of the text easily made to fit, to follow, or developed as logically and reasonably as you might expect

3) Is the evidence appropriate and sufficient?

You might also think of these questions as tests-tests for logical consistency, for inherent assumptions, for degree of examination.

If Your Tests Reveal Weaknesses

If, upon further examination of the text, you are able to discern weaknesses in argument, or use of evidence or something else, then you may well have begun to find your critical stance. There may be questions the studied text failed to respond to fully. There may be an underrepresented or misrepresented side of the story with which you are familiar. There may be one or more faults in logic or use of evidence. You may be aware of these problems from your own life experiences or you may find that in doing further reading there are issues on which the text is inadequate.

If Your Tests Reveal Few Weaknesses or You Essentially Concur With the Text

What if you find yourself agreeing completely with the text you are responding to? Is it still possible to respond? The answer is yes. Even agreement can yield an important critical position or stance. By having looked closely, you should be able to describe what is there, and your reader will appreciate your thorough knowledge of the text. Further, an aggressive counterpoint to the text is not always necessary; sometimes, in fact, you may choose to support and enlarge or amplify a text's claims, rather than to refute them. In other words, perhaps you could extend a text with which you essentially agree, suggest through your own evidence ways to beef up the author's presentation.

Other Ideas for Developing a Critical Stance

  • Construct a different side to the text's position, even if this construction involves some imagination on your part and is not really in keeping with your beliefs. Try writing this conflicting view in a single draft called "The Other Side."
  • Ask yourself what the contribution of the text is to a body of knowledge, the text's contribution to general knowledge. Locate the text within a larger framework. How does this text differ or appear to be the same as previous texts?
  • Read the text for tone. What does the text additionally communicate via subtle (or not so subtle) cues?
  • Read the text for structural decisions and overall intent. Ask yourself: Is this text, as a whole, reflecting, reporting, explaining, persuading? Is it composed of a series of structural decisions-in other words, does it report, then explain, and finally persuade?

The injection of one's own thoughts distinguishes response from summary. Remember that with summary you remain true, or close, to the original text. As such you remind your reader over and over (through author tags, for instance) that the ideas you are representing are not your own but belong to someone else.

When summary ends and response begins, you should provide some clear markers. One clear way to do this is with a paragraph change. Additionally, it is a good idea to declare your presence through use of the first person "I," as in "I believe," "I think," "I have found." Do not be shy about this; despite the familiar advice to keep your academic writing away from the first person, there are occasions where first person is not only acceptable but desirable. A response essay can be one such occasion. If, however, you are nervous about this, the best recommendation is always to check with the individual instructor for whom the response is being completed.

Collaboration and Conversation

When it comes to response there are few strategies more powerful for generating ideas and a solid response than collaboration through conversation. When we converse we engage in a dynamic give and take of minds that is aided by our proximity to others, especially when that dialogue occurs in person and, though to a lesser degree, also when we converse via telephonic or electronic exchange. Talking alongside another we gain the benefit of facial expressions, gestures, interruptions for clarification, inflections of voice, and other nonverbal forms of communication. Additionally, we are the beneficiaries of adjustments and accommodations that are made almost instantaneously as we tailor our response to the audience we confront. Clarification is done almost without thinking, and we are nearly without limitation as to our ability to modify spontaneously.

Negotiated Meaning

Perhaps most importantly, when we converse we reap immediate benefit from the ideas of others around us. Thus, conversation serves a broad social function as we strive in our dialogue with others to work out cooperative understanding, or what is sometimes called "negotiated meaning." We extend our understanding by hearing other voices and alternative perspectives, and, in turn, those others benefit from hearing us. Conversation is thus a powerful mechanism for furthering insight.

Small Groups

When you can, you should seek out small groups for just this purpose, especially when you are initially dealing with new texts. Exploration, divergence, discussion, examination, interpretation, and resolution are some of the things a member of a conversing small group might hope to gain from such an experience. And with both amplification and challenge, your responses will improve-almost certainly.

Internalized Audience: Strive to Develop

By the same token, it will not always be possible for you to engage in conversation regarding every text you respond to in your college career. On those occasions when dialogue is not possible, you lose all the benefits of hearing outside interpretations, and this can be a significant handicap. However, it is possible to develop a voice of dissension, what we might call the voice of the loyal opposition, that voice or internalized audience whose position you are able to imagine and hence profit from. Since your own response will stand up better after being subjected to the imagined criticism of others, it is always wise to engage in dialogue with at least your internalized audience.

Developing a Response

Depending upon the assignment and upon your preferences, one or more of the following approaches to response should get you started on a suitable response.

Development Approaches

Kinds of evidence, structuring the response, inductive and deductive presentations of response, interpolating and extrapolating.

  • Analyze the effectiveness of the text. Here the response focuses on the most important elements of the text and evaluates their effectiveness (the clarity of the main idea, the organization of the argument, the quality of the evidence, the overall effect of the text, conveyed through tone and apparent attitude of the text's author.) We might also think of this option as critique or review.
  • Agree or disagree with the ideas in the text. Here the response focuses on a respondent's reaction to the ideas or effect of the text. It is important to note here that often it is not necessary (or even desirable) to completely agree or complete disagree. In fact, a quite reasonable and credible response will agree with some points and disagree with others.
  • Interpret and reflect on the text. Here the respondent explains, examines, and/or theorizes on the meaning of the whole and the parts of the text, its implications and its contributions to understanding of the topic.

Different kinds of evidence can be chosen to support these response types. You might well use:

  • evidence from the text itself
  • personal experience
  • outside sources
  • or some combination of these.

It is rarely necessary to use all three of these kinds of evidence, but the important thing is to have sufficient evidence to support the ideas you're proposing, the point you're making, and to ensure that you are indeed providing a main, overall point-the inferential thesis--that is coherent. A simple laundry list will not do.

Typically a response will take one of the forms suggested below in outline or skeletal form.

  • Introduction to text(s)
  • Summary of text(s)
  • Point 3, etc.

Or here's another format. Notice the initial focus upon key issues.

  • Introduction to key issues
  • Point 2, etc.

Or here's another, integrating summary and response.

  • Introduction to issues and/or text(s)
  • Summary of text's point 1/response to point 1
  • Summary of text's point 2/response to point 2
  • Summary of text's point 3/response to point 3, etc.

Sometimes it also helps to think of sequencing or arranging your response in either an inductive format or a deductive format. An inductive format builds toward a conclusion, since an inductive process is "emergent," one thing leading to another, building upon another, like scaffolding. The inferential thesis with an inductive approach would come near the end of the essay. With a deductive format, the inferential thesis is delivered at the beginning, right up front. Think of this approach as "spilling the beans," essentially telling all that you know from the beginning and then using the rest of the essay to support or defend (provide evidence for) your thesis. In theory, either development is suitable, but it should also be said that there is a rather strong preference in much of college writing for the deductive approach.

Another way to think about the development of your response is to consider the concepts of interpolation and extrapolation. To interpolate is to bring external ideas to a text so that these external ideas inform, enlarge, elucidate, or even refute the text. To extrapolate is to take what you learn in one place or one text and apply it to a different context, one that perhaps seems to bear little resemblance to the original context.

Example of Interpolation and Extrapolation

Consider an example of Sally Smith, college student. She is taking several humanities courses and has recently learned in a philosophy course that a human's interpretation of experience can vary widely and according to the cultural background and context of the person. Among other things Sally is studying in this philosophy course are Native American representations of the relationship between humans and the earth. At the same time Sally is assigned to read and respond to Moby Dick along with selected secondary sources for her American Lit class. She finds that none of the assigned secondary sources was written from a Native American perspective.

As a point of fact, the philosophy course and Native American culture really have no direct relationship to Sally's American Lit course, but she sees a relationship between what isn't being discussed there and what she is learning in another class. Further, she feels she has been changed by studying a non-European way of looking at and living in nature, and she believes her audience might be newly informed themselves if she were to bring something of her new perspective to her response paper. Increasingly she believes that she can't ignore her increasingly sophisticated ways of viewing the world, is gaining confidence as she learns and connects her learning among classes. As a matter of course, then, Sally finds she can't help but "extrapolate" some of this new-found knowledge, as she reflects upon the novel from what she thinks would be a Native American perspective, or at least as close as she can come to that from her admittedly limited knowledge. During a discussion period of the literature class Sally finds herself wondering how differently the discussion might go if a Native American perspective were articulated.

Sally is extrapolating, applying newfound knowledge to a novel situation.

Then comes the next step, the paper Sally must write. As she applies her newly informed knowledge of the sacredness of non-human living things to her response to Moby Dick (and its secondary sources) she is interpolating, bringing an external idea into the text she's studying. Perhaps she even winds up questioning how "American" this American classic is.

A Process for Writing a Response

There is no one correct process, only approaches and strategies as varied as people. However, some practices seem to work well for many people, and so an example is presented here to get you started. This is not a prescription; adapt and adjust the process to meet your needs, your best practices, and your assignment requirements.

Getting Started

Because response always comes as a result of something, some text that precedes it, which must be read and responded to, the process of writing a response actually begins with reading. Don't shortchange this part of the process because your success throughout the process will depend on your initial attentiveness to the text you are responding to.

One important thing to think about as you begin a response process is the assignment itself. What do you know about the audience and the purpose of the response you are about to write? What more do you need to find out?

A second thing to consider is the deadline for the assignment. Be clear in your own mind about due dates, and then backward plan from that due date to the current date. Divide up the tasks of the response, allowing yourself time to read, react, draft, collaborate, revise, and even seek a full-scale peer response or workshop opportunity.

Don't allow yourself to procrastinate simply because the task seems overwhelming; instead, chip away at it, a little bit at a time, and you may be surprised at how smoothly things go. Among other things, when you address the assignment early and give yourself time to think (and actually do that thinking instead of avoiding it) you actually end up incubating ideas even when you're not fully conscious that you are doing so. This mulling over of your response will tend to make the writing of the response go much more easily and should actually help you produce a better response because of your full engagement with the material. Starting early will help you filter out less good responses over the course of the assignment period.

Just as soon as your initial reading of the text has been accomplished, then critical thinking can begin, and this is perhaps the most essential component of your pre-writing efforts. A good place to start is with a double-entry journal.

Double-entry Journal

Consider using a journal to first explore your initial and individual responses to the text. One particularly helpful form of journal for responses is called the dialectic or double-entry journal. In this kind of journal, you divide a standard piece of notebook paper down the middle and first record your summary of a text in one column and your ideas, questions, and reactions in the second column. If you have trouble getting started or are worried about getting full coverage with a double-entry journal, try thinking of the text in terms of four elements:

  • the text's audience
  • the text's main idea or main effect
  • the text's organization, its forms and features of support used to create, enhance, and amplify the main idea or effect
  • the text's style and tone

Early Collaboration Strategies: The Importance of Peers

Even at this stage it is not too early to begin collaborating and conversing with peers to strengthen and enlarge your response. In fact, you could begin even before you have made your first entry into your journal. Instead, you could read the text in a small group, stopping ever few paragraphs to record together what has happened so far and to predict where the text is going.

Try Collaborative Prediction as a group strategy. With this approach, the group reads a text for the first time together. A member reads two paragraphs aloud and then stops. Members of the group summarize aloud what has happened in the text and discuss what the group predicts will happen next. Then the group reads a full page, stops and predicts again. Do this a third time, reading another full page and summarizing in one sentence what has happened and predicting the next step. Now the group stops and writes a forecast for the whole essay. The group then reads through to the end to see how close they've come to anticipating the text's direction.

Once your initial journal entry is complete, try doing a Collaborative Annotation of the text. First, each member records (probably before class) his or her response in the margins of the individual's text; then each member of the group reads (one paragraph at a time) his or her response aloud and the group collaborates to choose the best of the responses. The group then records a consensus response (selecting best responses as you go along) in the margins of a common copy of the text.

Alternatively, your group could debate the strengths and weaknesses of the text.

No matter how or when you do a collaboration or conversation, however, make sure to record your personal reflections on the collaborative subject. What new responses did you hear in the discussion? How has the conversation affected your initial response? Where might you revise your reactions? How will your focus be altered by exposure to these other responses?

The Exploratory Draft

You're at the point now of trying an exploratory draft, writing just for yourself, to find out how you feel and what you have to say in response to the text at hand. At this stage, you are not thinking about communicating with others so much as you are writing to think, or to discover what you think.

Once you have an exploratory draft, you're at another juncture where collaborating and conversing with a peer may be helpful. When you involve a peer or a small group of peers in reading your exploratory draft, you can direct their reading by asking them to tell you what they find to be your central point as well as what they find most surprising or intriguing. By directing their reading, your peers will be less likely to treat your exploratory draft as a finished product and will seek instead to answer your questions. You might ask your collaborators to name their concerns about the things you have said in the response, to take issue where they disagree and say a bit about their beliefs. Taking into account such additional information will inform and improve your subsequent drafts.

You may find that you need several exploratory drafts before you really know what it is you mostly want to say.

A Rough Draft of Your Response

Perhaps you have now written several exploratory drafts, have collaborated and conversed with peers until you have a fairly good idea of what you want to do in the response paper. Now you can begin to plan your draft, thinking more concretely about your audience, about the work you'll need to do to convey your main idea, to enlarge and amplify the supporting points, to reduce and cut and less important information, to rearrange and sequence your points.

Now you are thinking less about focus because that is clear in your mind. You are beginning to think more about presentation. The goal now is to provide sufficient support of the right kind and to organize it in such a way that you achieve maximum effect.

At this point you will also want to think about your tone in the response, whether you are conveying the attitude you intend. Your collaborators may be better judges of the overall effect of your writing than you are. Ask your peers to read this draft for that issue only. Do I sound smug? Sarcastic? Unnecessarily hostile? Inappropriate humorous or flip? Does my tone fit my message and my subject?

You may also be ready at this point to start putting final touches on things so by all means do the very best job you can with proofreading and mechanics, and then do not hesitate to ask a peer reader to look at your response for these matters as well.

Checking Your Inferential Thesis

Ask yourself if you have an inferential thesis, a statement of your critical stance regarding this text. Remember that an inference is a conclusion based upon available information. Reliable inferences are grounded in the text itself and demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the text. Remember that your audience will not believe your inference, regardless of how true it is, unless you are able to show why the inference is reasonable and accurate. Your job essentially is to persuade your reader, using evidence which supports your conclusion or inference.

Checking Your Development Decisions

A hundred different developments might well be possible for your response, and so it should not be concluded that a rigid format for response is a reliable tool. It's not as simple as taking a formatted approach and simply plugging in your data, your evidence. Rather, the subject, the assignment, the audience, and the text itself should inform your decisions about the development options for your response. Given this caution, however, three of the most common methods of responding include:

  • agree or disagreeing with text's points or presentation
  • interpreting or analyzing the text's points or presentation
  • critiqueing or reviewing the text's effectiveness

Checking Your Evidence

The development of your response is completely dependent upon the kinds of evidence you choose to use to support your inferential thesis. Typical kinds of evidence for responses are drawn from personal experience, from outside sources, and, most importantly, from the text itself. It is not necessary to include all of three of these kinds of evidence for every kind of response, but almost certainly your evidence will include references to the text itself.

Choose the kind of evidence that makes sense for your essay. There is nothing wrong with drawing upon personal experience unless it really doesn't cast light on the topic or unless other forms of evidence would work better. Outside sources can often provide perspectives you might not have possessed before reading them; however, the use of outside sources does not eliminate the need for you to formulate your own conclusions and your own inferential thesis. Use outside sources, if you choose to use them at all, to add credibility and authority to your points.

Most importantly, remember that your primary task in a response is to react to the text itself. Stay close to the text, whatever form it may take, in formulating and delivering your response. Regardless of the other kinds of evidence you select for your response, your first and more important one is always the text itself.

Late Collaboration: Formalized Peer Response

It may not be possible to engage your peers for as many responses to your paper as this process suggests, but having completed your rough draft with all the thoughts of focus, organization, and mechanics at the forefront of your mind, you may wish for one last peer response, and this one might take a more formal, wholistic approach. At this point you might seek out an in-class workshop in which the entire class or a small group responds to your paper, or you might engage in a reciprocal take-home review with a peer, or you may want to send a computer copy to one or more people in your class.

At this stage, since you will probably not seek additional peer assistance after this point, you want to get the most you can from your peers. On your draft, label summary and label response. Underline your thesis statement. Perhaps underline the topic sentences for the paragraphs that introduce the main lines of development or support of that thesis. Accompany the draft with the one or two most important questions you have at this point regarding your paper. Write your most urgent questions for your readers at either the top or the bottom of your response.

Draft One and Draft Two Questions: Another Way to Approach Process

Here's another idea that may help you think further about your response. Try a Draft One that provides your response from the point of view you are inclined to take and then follow this draft with a Draft Two that introduces a new perspective into the discussion. A Draft One/Draft Two approach ensures that you are looking at your topic from multiple perspectives, which is not only good for enlarging your way of looking at things but is also practical and effective at helping you write a better paper. Deep knowledge of another perspective will help you anticipate the possible questions and doubts of your audience. Deep knowledge of another perspective also will tend to help you develop better explanations for your judgments.

The Final Draft

In truth there are no final drafts, only final deadlines, so as you complete the last draft you will be able to do before your deadline, return to your original assignment and goals for the response assignment. Think one last time about your audience. Have you responded to the assignment and its implicit audience?

Review your thesis. Is it clearly stated? Do all of your supporting points really support your thesis? What method of response did you select-agree/disagree, interpret/analyze, critique/review? What forms of evidence or support did you choose to use in addition to the text itself-personal experience, additional sources?

Take a final look at your level of amplification. Did you say enough? Is there proper balance among the parts, or are the proportions right for the points you are making? Did you sequence these points to maximum effect?

How about sentences and paragraphs? Are your paragraphs unified and coherent? Do they all contribute to your points? Are your sentences varied and emphatic? Does each contribute to the paragraph to which it belongs? What about proofreading? Did you use the spell check function on your word processing software and then follow up with a rereading to catch words spell check misses? How about punctuation? Have you gone back over your draft and considered the patterns of mechanical error you typically have problems with and attempted to correct them? If you have printed out your final draft and it's due in ten minutes, pencil in changes rather than turn in a paper that has errors. Most of your professors would rather see that you've attempted to make corrections than see a pristinely typed, though uncorrected manuscript.

Doe, Sue. (2004). Responding. Writing@CSU . Colorado State University.

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Humanities LibreTexts

12.9: Essay Type - Literary Response

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  • Heather Ringo & Athena Kashyap
  • City College of San Francisco via ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative

The Response Essay

The response essay is likely the most informal type of literary analysis essay students will encounter in a literature course. This essay simply asks the student to read the assigned text(s) and respond to said text(s). There are several purposes in writing such an essay. This kind of essay:

  • helps students better understand the reading through informal analysis
  • enables students to practice close-reading in a low-stakes, informal, and more comfortable way
  • prepares students for writing a more formal essay by recording their initial impressions of a text

book, pen, and journal full of reading notes

"Fernando Pessoa" by Jennifer Fred Merchán , 2006. CC BY-SA 2.0

Usually, the requirements for such an essay are more open-ended than what is expected on more formal essay assignments. For example, students are often allowed to use first-person "I" and colloquial (that is, spoken rather than academic) language. A thesis statement and formal organization are also usually not required.

What is always required is a willingness to ask questions and engage with the text. The following are some questions students might respond to when writing a response essay:

  • First impressions: When reading the title and first lines, what impression did you get from the text? How did this impression change as you read the rest of the story or poem? What might the title indicate about the story or poem?
  • Characters: What kind of character is the main character of the story or poem? Are they likable? Trustworthy? Why? Which character do you like or relate to the most, and why? Which character do you dislike the most, and why? What kinds of characters ( dynamic, round, flat, static ) are featured in this story?
  • Tone: How would you describe the tone of the story? What words, phrases, images, or snippets of dialogue indicate this tone?
  • Figurative language: What figurative language or literary devices do you notice? Why do you think certain images appear? What kinds of patterns of language do you notice, and what significance might these patterns or literary devices have on the story or poem?

In addition to these basic literary analysis questions, some helpful tips for writing this kind of essay:

  • Take notes as you read. Use highlighters to mark quotations or passages that jump out at you, along with post-it notes or page clips to mark those pages so you can find them again when writing the essay. Don't be afraid to write notes in the margins of the book. If you must sell back the book to the bookstore, or don't want to mark the book for other reasons, you can use post-it notes to write your responses. Essentially, effective note-taking is like having a conversation with the text.
  • Keep a document or journal open to record your ideas as you read. For example, refer to the image at the top of this page. This way, you can begin responding to the text as you read it, making efficient use of your time. You can then simply develop your reading notes in the essay.
  • Cite passages to support your analyses. Like in an argumentative or persuasive essay, be ready to drop quotations or paraphrase into the essay to support your analysis and show those reading your essay examples of what you are talking about. Be ready to provide page or line numbers to cite the source. For example, if you say Hamlet (the main character of Hamlet by William Shakespeare) comes across as whiny and egotistical, be prepared to quote or paraphrase the play and point readers to the act, scene, and line numbers which show your point.

Example Student Response Essay Prompt

By the end of this assignment, students will be able to engage with a work of literature through analysis and response. They will be able to define and locate examples of at least three basic literary devices within a single literary text.

Audience: instructor & classmates

Purpose: practice analyzing literature in a less formal environment

Content: literary analysis & response, practice for the upcoming literary analysis essay

Students will choose one work of literature to analyze (that is, pick apart, zooming in, and looking closely at the literary devices and narrative elements of the story). Students may choose any of the stories we have read so far in class. As you read the story, respond to anything interesting in the text you notice.

  • Focus on one story
  • Identify & analyze at least three literary devices such as character, plot, setting, metaphor, and so forth
  • Use either objective third-person or first-person “I”
  • Present tense verbs, informal tone
  • Quote & paraphrase the text using MLA Works Cited + In-Text citation
  • Do not to bring in any secondary sources yet: this should be your personal observations and analysis of the text. Avoid using Shmoop, Cliffnotes, or any other plot summary websites. These will tarnish your reading process. I am interested in YOUR thoughts, not Shmoop’s
  • Avoid plot summary, unless used briefly to contextualize analysis. I know what happens in the stories. This is NOT a “summarize the story in your own words” exercise, but a “what patterns or interesting devices did you notice? What stuck out to you? Why do you think the author made the choices they did? In what ways does the story’s form reflect its content?” exercise.

text response essay questions

How to Write a Response Paper: Understanding the Basics

text response essay questions

Writing a response paper is an important task for students. It allows them to critically analyze a text, express their thoughts and opinions, and improve their writing skills. In this comprehensive guide, our ‘ write my essay ’ experts will explore the basics of how to write a response paper, pre-writing steps, and crafting a winning introduction, body, and conclusion. So, let's dive in and discover a flawless response paper at the end!

Defining What is a Response Paper

A response paper is a written assignment that requires the student to read a text and respond to it by expressing their views on the topic. It can be a stand-alone assignment or part of a larger project. When writing a response paper, it is important to remember the audience you are writing for. Are you writing for your professor, classmates, or a broader audience? This will help you tailor your writing style and tone accordingly.

Moreover, this kind of academic assignment should not only summarize the text but also provide a critical analysis of its main arguments and ideas. It should demonstrate your understanding of the text and your ability to engage with it in a thoughtful and meaningful way.

Purpose of Crafting a Response Paper

Writing response papers aims to demonstrate your understanding of the text, give your opinions and thoughts, and provide evidence to support your claims. In addition, this type of paper can help you develop critical reading skills and formulate coherent arguments. By engaging with the text, you can identify its strengths and weaknesses, evaluate its claims, and form your own opinions about the topic.

Furthermore, crafting response paper examples can be a valuable exercise in self-reflection. It allows you to articulate your thoughts and feelings about a particular topic and can help you better understand your values and beliefs.

Types of Response Papers

There are various types of response papers, each with its own unique characteristics and requirements. These include:

How to Write a Response Paper

  • Personal response : Here, you express your personal opinions, thoughts, and emotions about the text. This type of paper allows you to engage with the text more personally and explore your reactions to it.
  • Critical response : Involves analyzing, evaluating, and interpreting the text to provide a critique. This type of paper requires you to engage with the text more objectively and analytically, focusing on its strengths and weaknesses and providing evidence to support your claims.
  • Research-based response : Research-based response paper examples involve using external sources to support your claims. This type of paper requires you to engage with the text and supplement your analysis with evidence from other sources, such as scholarly articles, books, or interviews.

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How to Write a Response Paper: Pre-Writing Steps

Before diving into the writing process, laying a strong foundation through effective pre-writing steps is crucial. These initial stages not only provide clarity and structure but also enhance the overall quality of your response. And if you aren’t sure how to write a reaction paper , these steps can also be employed for your assignment.

How to Write a Response Paper

Carefully Read and Analyze the Text

The first step in response paper creation is to carefully read and analyze the text. This involves more than just reading the words on the page; it requires critical thinking and analysis. As you read, pay attention to the author's tone, style, and use of language. Highlight important points, take notes, and identify the author's main argument and themes. Consider the context in which the text was written and how it relates to contemporary issues.

For example, if you are reading a historical document, think about how it reflects the social and political climate of the time. If you are reading a work of fiction, consider how the characters and plot relate to larger themes and ideas. By carefully analyzing the text, you will be better equipped to write a thoughtful and insightful response.

Take Notes and Highlight Key Points

Another important step is to take notes while reading, as it helps you organize your thoughts and ideas. As you read through the text, jot down your reactions, questions, and observations. Highlight key points, evidence, and quotes that support the author's argument. This will make it easier to refer back to specific parts of the text when you are writing your response.

Additionally, taking notes can help you identify patterns and connections between different parts of the text. This can be especially helpful when you are trying to develop your thesis statement and outline.

Develop a Thesis Statement

A thesis statement is a central argument that you will be making in your paper. It should be clear and concise and provide direction for your essay. Your thesis statement should be based on your analysis of the text and should reflect your own perspective.

When developing your thesis statement, consider the main argument of the text and how you agree or disagree with it. Think about the evidence and examples that the author uses to support their argument and how you might use those same examples to support your own argument. Your thesis statement should be specific and focused and should guide the rest of your essay.

Create an Outline

If you want to unlock the most important tip on how to ace a response paper perfection, it lies in creating a well-organized outline. Identify key points, evidence, and arguments that you want to discuss and organize them into a well-written paper format. Your outline should include an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

Start by introducing the text and your thesis statement. In the body paragraphs, discuss your main points and provide evidence from the text to support your argument. Use quotes and examples to illustrate your points. In conclusion, summarize your main points and restate your thesis statement. In the following paragraphs, we'll delve deeper into writing each section with more details.

Actual Writing Process with a Response Paper Format

Now that you have completed the essential pre-writing steps, it's time to delve into the actual writing process of your paper. In this section of our comprehensive guide, we will explore how to start a response paper along with developing insightful body paragraphs and culminating in a powerful conclusion.

Engage the Reader In Your Introduction

The introduction is the first impression that your reader will have of your paper. It is important to make a good first impression, so you want to engage them right from the start. There are several ways to do this, such as providing context, using a hook, or starting with a rhetorical question.

For example, if you are writing a paper about the effects of social media on mental health, you might start with a hook like:

'Did you know that the average person spends over two hours a day on social media? That's more time than they spend exercising or socializing in person.' 

When working with your paper, this hook immediately grabs the reader's attention and makes them interested in learning more about your topic.

Provide Context and Background Information

Once you have engaged the reader, it's important to provide context for the text you are analyzing. This includes information like the author's name, the title of the work, and the publication date. This information helps the reader understand the context of the text and why it is important.

For example, if you are analyzing a poem by Maya Angelou, you would want to provide some background information about her life and work. You might mention that she was a civil rights activist and a prolific writer and that the poem you are analyzing was written in 1969, during a time of great social and political upheaval in the United States.

Present Your Thesis Statement

Finally, it's important to present your thesis statement in the introduction. The thesis statement is the main argument of your paper, and it should be presented clearly and concisely so that the reader knows exactly what your paper is about.

For instance, if you are crafting a response paper example about the effects of social media on mental health, your thesis statement might be something like:

'This paper argues that excessive use of social media can have negative effects on mental health, including increased anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation.'

By presenting your thesis statement in the introduction, you are setting up the rest of your paper and giving the reader a roadmap for what to expect. This helps them stay focused and engaged throughout your paper.

Meanwhile, you can find out more about how to write an essay format and set the right referencing style for your assignment!

Crafting the Body

One key aspect of ensuring a well-structured and articulate paper is to utilize your typical response paper outline as a reliable roadmap. By following it, you can maintain focus, coherence, and logical flow throughout your response. Moreover, keep the following points in mind as you proceed with crafting the body of your response paper:

  • Use evidence and examples from the text:
  • Incorporate relevant quotes, statistics, or other evidence that supports your opinions and arguments.
  • By using evidence from the text, you can strengthen your argument and demonstrate a deep understanding of the material.
  • Analyze and interpret the text:
  • Demonstrate your critical thinking skills by thoroughly analyzing and interpreting the text.
  • Explain how the text relates to your thesis statement and overall argument.
  • Provide a clear and concise response that showcases your knowledge and understanding of the material.
  • Address counterarguments and alternative perspectives:
  • Acknowledge and address opposing viewpoints to demonstrate your ability to consider different perspectives.
  • Explain why your argument is stronger than the opposing viewpoint.
  • Provide evidence to support your claim and solidify your stance.

Concluding Your Paper

In the conclusion of your response paper example, it is essential to consolidate your reactions, ideas, and arguments regarding the text. Summarize the key points discussed throughout your paper, drawing inferences whenever applicable. 

When uncertain about ​​ how to write a conclusion for a research paper , the first important rule is to refrain from introducing new ideas or reiterating information already presented in the introduction of your paper. Instead, provide a concise and coherent summary that encapsulates the essence of your response, leaving a lasting impression on the reader.

Response Paper Example

To show you how to write a response paper effectively, our essay writer has provided an amazing example below. It will inspire you and help you on your own learning journey. Get ready to explore new ideas and expand your knowledge with our response paper sample.

As we conclude this comprehensive guide on how to write a response paper, you have acquired the essential tools and knowledge to embark on your writing journey with confidence. With a firm grasp of pre-writing strategies, the art of crafting an engaging introduction, organizing a well-structured body, and understanding the significance of supporting arguments and addressing counter arguments with a good response paper example, you are poised to leave a lasting impression.

And if you ever find yourself struggling to find inspiration or facing challenges with any aspect of your essays, order essay online and take advantage of the opportunity to seek assistance from our professional writing service team. By trusting us with your college essays and ordering a response paper, you can confidently navigate your academic journey!

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How to Write a Response Paper: Outline, Steps & Examples

response paper

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Response essays are a frequent assignment in many academic courses. Professors often ask students to share their thoughts and feelings about a variety of materials, such as books, articles, films, songs, or poems. To write an effective response paper, you should follow a specific structure to ensure that your ideas are well-organized and presented in a logical manner.

In this blog post, we will explore how to write a good outline and how it is used to develop a quality reaction essay. You will also come across a response paper example to help you better understand steps involved in writing a response essay.  Continue reading to explore writing tips from professional paper writers that you can use to improve your skills.

What Is a Response Paper?

It is vital to understand the meaning of a response essay before you start writing. Often, learners confuse this type of academic work with reviews of books, articles, events, or movies, which is not correct, although they seem similar.  A response paper gives you a platform to express your point of view, feelings, and understanding of a given subject or idea through writing. Unlike other review works, you are also required to give your idea, vision, and values contained in literal materials. In other words, while a response paper is written in a subjective way, a review paper is written in a more objective manner.  A good reaction paper links the idea in discussion with your personal opinion or experience. Response essays are written to express your deep reflections on materials, what you have understood, and how the author's work has impacted you.

Response Paper Definition

Purpose of a Response Essay

Understanding reasons for writing a reaction paper will help you prepare better work. The purpose of a response essay will be:

  • To summarize author's primary ideas and opinions: you need to give a summary of materials and messages the author wants you to understand.
  • Providing a reflection on the subject: as a writer, you also need to express how you relate to authors' ideas and positions.
  • To express how the subject affects your personal life: when writing a response paper, you are also required to provide your personal outcome and lesson learned from interacting with the material.

Response Essay Outline

You should adhere to a specific response paper outline when working on an essay. Following a recommended format ensures that you have a smooth flow of ideas. A good response paper template will make it easier for a reader to separate your point of view from author's opinion. The essay is often divided into these sections: introduction, body, and conclusion paragraphs.  Below is an example of a response essay outline template:

  • Briefly introduce the topic of the response paper
  • State your thesis statement or main argument
  • Provide a brief summary of the source material you are responding to
  • Include key details or arguments from the source
  • Analyze the source material and identify strengths and weaknesses
  • Evaluate the author's arguments and evidence
  • Provide your own perspective on the source material
  • Respond to the source material and critique its arguments
  • Offer your own ideas and counterarguments
  • Support your response with evidence and examples
  • Summarize your main points and restate your thesis
  • Provide final thoughts on the source material and its implications
  • Offer suggestions for further research or inquiry

Example of an outline for a response paper on the movie

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Response Paper Introduction

The success of response papers is partly dependent on how well you write the introductory paragraph. As with any academic paper, the introduction paragraph welcomes targeted readers and states the primary idea.  Below is a guideline on how to start a response essay:

  • Provide a compelling hook to capture the attention of your target audience.
  • Provide background information about the material, including the name and author of the work.
  • Provide a brief summary of main points to bring readers who are unfamiliar with the work up to task and enable them to follow up on your subsequent analysis.
  • Write a thesis statement at the end of your introductory paragraph to inform readers about the purpose and argument you are trying to relay.

Response Essay Thesis Statement

A thesis statement summarizes a paper's content within a sentence or two. A response essay thesis statement is not any different! The final sentence of the introductory paragraph of a reaction paper should give readers an idea of the message that will be discussed in your paper.  Do you know how to write a thesis statement for a response essay? If you follow the steps below, you should be able to write one:

  • Review the material you are responding to, and pinpoint main points expressed by authors.
  • Determine points of view or opinions you are going to discuss in the essay.
  • Develop your thesis statement. It should express a summary of what will be covered in your reaction. The sentence should also consider logical flow of ideas in your writing.
  • Thesis statement should be easy to spot. You should preferably place it at the end of your introductory paragraph.

Response Paper Body Paragraph

In most instances, the body section has between 1 and 3 paragraphs or more. You should first provide a summary of the article, book, or any other literature work you are responding to.  To write a response essay body paragraph that will capture the attention of readers, you must begin by providing key ideas presented in the story from the authors' point of view. In the subsequent paragraph, you should tell your audience whether you agree or disagree with these ideas as presented in the text. In the final section, you should provide an in-depth explanation of your stand and discuss various impacts of the material.

Response Paper Conclusion

In this section of a response paper, you should provide a summary of your ideas. You may provide key takeaways from your thoughts and pinpoint meaningful parts of the response. Like any other academic work, you wind up your response essay writing by giving a summary of what was discussed throughout the paper.  You should avoid introducing new evidence, ideas, or repeat contents that are included in body paragraphs in the conclusion section. After stating your final points, lessons learned, and how the work inspires you, you can wrap it up with your thesis statement.

How to Write a Response Paper?

In this section, we will provide you with tips on how to write a good response paper. To prepare a powerful reaction essay, you need to consider a two-step approach. First, you must read and analyze original sources properly. Subsequently, you also need to organize and plan the essay writing part effectively to be able to produce good reaction work. Various steps are outlined and discussed below to help you better understand how to write a response essay.

How to Write a Response Paper in 7 Steps?

1. Pick a Topic for Your Response Essay

Picking a topic for response essay topics can be affected either by the scope of your assignment as provided by your college professor or by your preference. Irrespective of your reason, the guideline below should help you brainstorm topic ideas for your reaction:

  • Start from your paper's end goal: consider what outcomes you wish to attain from writing your reaction.
  • Prepare a list of all potential ideas that can help you attain your preferred result.
  • Sort out topics that interest you from your list.
  • Critique your final list and settle on a topic that will be comfortable to work on.

Below are some examples of good topics for response essay to get you started:

  • Analyzing ideas in an article about effects of body shaming on mental health .
  • Reaction paper on new theories in today's business environment.
  • Movies I can watch again and again.
  • A response essay on a documentary.
  • Did the 9/11 terror attacks contribute to issues of religious intolerance?

2. Plan Your Thoughts and Reactions

To better plan your thoughts and reactions, you need to read the original material thoroughly to understand messages contained therein. You must understand author's line of thinking, beliefs, and values to be able to react to their content. Next, note down ideas and aspects that are important and draw any strong reactions.  Think through these ideas and record potential sequences they will take in your response paper. You should also support your opinions and reactions with quotes and texts from credible sources. This will help you write a response essay for the college level that will stand out.

3. Write a Detailed Response Paper Outline

Preparing a detailed response paper outline will exponentially improve the outcome of your writing. An essay outline will act as a benchmark that will guide you when working on each section of the paper. Sorting your ideas into sections will not only help you attain a better flow of communication in your responsive essay but also simplify your writing process.  You are encouraged to adopt the standard response essay outline provided in the sample above. By splitting your paper into introduction, body, and conclusion paragraphs, you will be able to effectively introduce your readers to ideas that will be discussed and separate your thoughts from authors' messages.

4. Write a Material Summary

For your audience to understand your reaction to certain materials, you should at first provide a brief summary of authors' points of view. This short overview should include author's name and work title.  When writing a response essay, you should dedicate a section to give an informative summary that clearly details primary points and vital supporting arguments. You must thoroughly understand the literature to be able to complete this section.  For important ideas, you can add direct quotes from the original sources in question. Writers may sometimes make a mistake of summarizing general ideas by providing detailed information about every single aspect of the material. Instead of addressing all ideas in detail, focus on key aspects.  Although you rely on your personal opinion and experience to write a response paper, you must remain objective and factual in this section. Your subjective opinion will take center stage in the personal reaction part of the essay.

Example of a Response Summary

Below is a sample summary response essays example to help you better understand how to write one. A Summary of The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

The classic film The Adventure of Robin Hood (1938), as directed by Michael Curtis and William Keighley, stars an infamous outlaw, Robin Hood, who "robbed from the rich and gave to the poor''. The charismatic and charming Saxon lord, Robin Hood (Flynn), becomes an outlaw and seeks justice for poor people by fighting Sir Guy of Gisborne (Rathbone), Sheriff of Nottingham (Copper), and Prince John (Rains), who were oppressing people. After assembling an outlaw group, Robin defies the excessive taxes imposed on poor people by stealing from wealthy individuals and redistributing wealth to the destitute in society. Robin Hood is eventually lured into an archery tournament and gets arrested, but survives an execution. He later helps King Richard to regain his lost throne and banish Prince John.

5. Share Your Reaction

After summarizing the original material, the second part of a response paper involves writing your opinion about author’s point of view. After a thorough review of the material, you should be able to express your perspective on the subject.  In this section, you are expected to detail how the material made you feel and how it relates to your personal life, experience, and values. Within the short response essay, you may also be required to state whether you agree or disagree with author's line of thinking. How does the material relate to current issues, or in what way does it impact your understanding of a given subject? Does it change your opinion on the subject in any way? Your reaction should answer these questions.  In addition, you may also be required to outline potential advantages and shortcomings of the material in your reaction. Finally, you should also indicate whether or not you would endorse the literal work to others.

Reaction in Response Body Paragraph Example

Below is a reaction in a response essay body paragraph sample to help you improve your skills in writing the response body paragraph: Reaction Paragraph Example

My main takeaway from watching The Adventure of Robin Hood (1938) is that society should prioritize good and justice over laws if the set rules oppress people. Prince John, Sir Guy, and Sheriff Cooper were cruel and petty and used existing laws to oppress and exploit poor people. In response, Robin Hood employed unorthodox means and tried to help oppressed people in society. I agree with his way of thinking. Laws are made to protect people in society and ensure justice is served. Therefore, when legislation fails to serve its purpose, it becomes redundant. Even in current society, we have seen democratic governments funding coups when presidents start oppressing their people. Such coups are supported despite the fact that presidency is protected by law. Although Robin Hood's actions might encourage unlawfulness if taken out of context, I would still recommend this film because its main message is advocating for justice in the community.

6. Conclude Your Response Essay

Do you know how to write a response paper conclusion? It should be the icing on the cake. Irrespective of how good previous sections were, your reaction essay will not be considered to be exceptional if you fail to provide a sum up of your reaction, ideas, and arguments in the right manner.  When writing a response essay conclusion , you should strive to summarize the outcome of your thoughts. After stating your final point, tell readers what you have learned and how that material inspired or impacted you. You can also explain how your perspective and the author's point of view intertwine with each other.  Never introduce new ideas in the conclusion paragraph. Presenting new points will not only disrupt the flow of ideas in the paper but also confuse your readers because you may be unable to explain them comprehensively.  You are also expected to link up your discussions with the thesis statement. In other words, concluding comments and observations need to incorporate the reaffirmation of the thesis statement.

Example of Response Paper Conclusion

You can use the responsive essay conclusion sample below as a benchmark to guide you in writing your concluding remarks: Conclusion Example

There are a lot of similarities between the film's message and my opinion, values, and beliefs. Based on my personal principles, I believe the actions of the main character, Robin Hood, are justifiable and acceptable. Several people in modern society would also agree with my perspective. The movie has provided me with multiple lessons and inspirations. The main lesson acquired is that laws are not ultimate and that we should analyze how they affect people rather than adhere to them blindly. Unless legislation protects people and serves justices, it should be considered irrelevant. Also, morality outweighs legislation. From the movie, I gathered that morality should be the foundation for all laws, and at any time, morality and greater good should be prioritized above laws. The main inspiration relates to being brave in going against some legislation since the end justifies the means sometimes. My point of view and that of the movie creators intertwine. We both advocate for human decency and justice. The argument discussed supports the idea that good and justice is greater than law.

Proofread Your Response Paper

It is important to proofread your response paper before submitting it for examination. Has your essay met all instructional requirements? Have you corrected every grammatical error in your paper? These are common questions you should be asking yourself.  Proofreading your work will ensure that you have eliminated mistakes made when working on your academic work. Besides, you also get the opportunity to improve your logical flow of ideas in your paper by proofreading.  If you review your work thoroughly before submitting it for marking, you are more likely to score more marks! Use our Paper Rater , it is a tool that can help you pinpoint errors, which makes going through your work even simpler.

Response Essay Examples

If you have never written this type of academic paper before, responsive essay examples should help you grasp the primary concepts better. These response paper samples not only help you to familiarize yourself with paper's features but also help you to get an idea of how you should tackle such an assignment. Review at least one written response essay example from the compilation below to give you the confidence to tackle a reaction paper. Response essay example: Book


Response paper example: Poem

Response paper sample: Movie

Example of a response paper: Article

Sample response essay: Issue

Response Paper Format

It is important to follow a recommended response essay format in order to adhere to academic writing standards needed for your assignment. Formats depend on your institution or the discipline.  A reaction paper can be written in many different academic writing styles, including APA, MLA, and Chicago, with each demanding a slightly different format.  The outlook of the paper and referencing varies from one writing style to another. Despite the format for a response paper, you must include introduction, body, and conclusion paragraphs.

Response Essay Writing Tips

Below are some of the best tips you can use to improve your response papers writing skills:

  • Review your assignment instructions and clarify any inquiries before you start a response paper.
  • Once you have selected topics for response essay, reviewed your original materials, and came up with your thesis statement, use topic sentences to facilitate logical flow in your paper.
  • Always ensure that you format your work as per the standard structure to ensure that you adhere to set academic requirements. Depending on the academic writing style you will be using, ensure that you have done your in-text citation as per the paper format.
  • If you have never worked on this kind of academic paper, you should review examples and samples to help you familiarize yourself with this type of work. You should, however, never plagiarize your work.
  • You can use a first-person perspective to better stress your opinion or feelings about a subject. This tip is particularly crucial for reaction part of your work.
  • Finally, before submitting your work, proofread your work.

Bottom Line on Response Paper Writing

As discussed in this blog post, preparing a response paper follows a two-step approach. To successfully work on these sections, you need to plan properly to ensure a smooth transition from the reading and analyzing the original material to writing your reaction. In addition, you can review previous works to improve your writing skills.  So, what is a response essay that will immediately capture the attention of your instructor? Well, it should have a captivating introduction, evidence backed reaction, and a powerful conclusion. If you follow various tips outlined above and sum up your work with thorough proofreading, there is no chance that you can fail this type of assignment.


Order a response essay from our academic writing platform! Send us a ‘ write my college paper ’ message and our experienced writers will provide you with a top-notch essay according to your instructions. 

FAQ About Response Paper

1. how long is a short response essay.

The length of a short response essay varies depending on topic and your familiarity with the subject. Depending on how long original sources are and how many responsive points you have, your reaction paper can range from a single paragraph of 150-400 words to multiple paragraphs of 250-500 words.

2. How to start a response body paragraph?

Use an argumentative topic sentence to start your responsive paper paragraph. Failing to begin a paragraph with an elaborate topic sentence will confuse your readers. Topic sentences give readers an idea of what is being discussed in the section. Write a responsive body paragraph for every new idea you add.

3. Is reaction paper similar to a response paper?

Yes. Reaction papers and response essays are used interchangeably. Responsive essays analyze author's point of view and compare them with your personal perspective. This type of academic writing gives you freedom to share your feelings and opinion about an idea. People also discuss how ideas, concepts, and literature material influence them in a response paper.


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How to write response essay: guidelines from expert team.

January 31, 2022

How To Write Response Essay

Response writing can be tricky, but if you follow our step-by-step guide, you’ll have no trouble coming up with a great one! We will walk you through exactly how to write a response paragraph, how to properly structure it, and even give you some helpful tips to make your essay shine!

So, let’s get writing!

Table Of Contents

What is a response essay, structure of a response essay, steps to write a good response essay, 5 key features needed in a response essay, tips to write a stellar response essay, response essay example.

First things first – what exactly is a response essay? A response essay is a type of writing that allows the writer to respond to a piece of work. It can be a text, image, or event. It’s essentially a reaction paper – you’re giving your thoughts and feelings about whatever it is you’re responding to.

Response essays allow you to freely communicate your thoughts and feelings about any topic. Unlike summary essays where you just restate what you read, response essays require you to genuinely understand the content and context of the work you’re assigned.

Once you have a strong grasp of the subject material, you have to concisely put forth your insights, opinions, and analysis.

Now that you know what a response essay is, it’s time to learn how to structure one. A good response essay follows a specific format, which allows your ideas to be conveyed clearly and concisely.

Here’s the basic essay response format :

  • Introduction
  • Summary Of The Work
  • Reaction, Response, and Analysis

Let’s take a closer look at each of these elements that form the response paper format.

  • Introduction Your introduction should introduce the work that you’re responding to and mention the name of the author. You should also include your thesis statement in this section – this is your position on the subject matter. Overall, this part should be about 1-2 paragraphs long and it should keep the reader interested to read the rest of the response paper.

For example : “Should America atone for its past sins against black people? This is the question raised by Ta-Nehisi Coates in his powerful article ‘The Case For Reparations’. The author strongly believes that America should make reparations to the African-American community, and after much contemplation, I wholeheartedly agree with him”.

  • Summary Of The Work In your summary, you want to give a general overview of the content without giving away too much. You’ll highlight the main points of the work, provide direct quotations, and keep the writing objective and factual.

For example : “Ta-Nehisi Coates makes many compelling arguments for why America should make reparations to the African-American community. He cites statistics, historical evidence, and personal stories to support his position. According to him, “To celebrate freedom and democracy while forgetting American’s origins in a slavery economy is patriotism à la carte.”.

  • Reaction, Response, and Analysis In this section, you’ll want to go into detail about your reaction to the work. What did you like or dislike? What were your thoughts and feelings? Be sure to back up your claims with evidence from the text.

For example : “I found Coates’ argument to be very convincing. He makes a strong case for reparations by providing ample evidence to support his position. I was also moved by his personal stories about the impact of slavery on African-Americans today. His writing is powerful and emotional, and it made me think about America’s history in a new light”.

Many students struggle with writing a good response essay simply because they’re confused about how to write response essay, where to begin, how to begin, and what to do next. Let’s take a look at the step-by-step process of writing a fabulous response paper that is sure to get the attention of your teachers and professors.

  • Step 1 – Read and Understand the Work Before you can write a good response essay, you first need to read and understand the work that you’re responding to. Whether it’s a book, movie, article, or poem, the quality of your response paper is directly proportional to how well you’ve understood the source material. Take notes as you read and highlight important passages so that you can refer back to them later. This is an important step in learning how to start a response essay.
  • Step 2 – Brainstorm Your Ideas Once you’ve read and understood the work, it’s time to brainstorm your ideas. This is the part of the process where you let your thoughts flow freely and write down any and all responses that come to mind. Don’t worry about making sense or sorting them out yet – just get everything down on paper.
  • Step 3 – Write Your Thesis Statement Your thesis statement is your position on the subject matter – it should be clear, concise, and easy to understand. This is what you’ll be arguing for or against in your essay. Don’t be afraid to genuinely put forth your opinion, whether it’s positive or negative.
  • Step 4 – Support Your Thesis with Evidence Now it’s time to support your thesis statement with evidence from the text. Quote directly from the work and provide a brief explanation of how it supports your argument. Don’t forget to cite your sources! The summary of the work and your personal opinion on the matter will form the core content of your paper.
  • Step 5 – Write a Conclusion Once you’ve finished arguing for your position, it’s time to write a conclusion. Restate your thesis and summarize your main points. You may also want to leave readers with something to think about or a call to action. A solid conclusion can sometimes make all the difference between a great response essay and a mediocre one!

By following these steps, you’ll be able to write some of the best response essays that are well-organized, informative, and persuasive. All it takes is a little time and practice! On the contrary, you can choose buying custom college papers and be free of this assignment.

When writing a response essay, there are certain key features that you need to keep in mind. Whether it’s for school, college, or university, these five features will make your response essay unique and interesting.

  • Summarizing – This is probably the most important feature of writing a response essay. You need to be able to summarize the work succinctly, highlighting the most important points without giving away too much of the plot or story.
  • Paraphrasing/Quoting – In order to support your argument, you’ll need to quote and paraphrase the work extensively. Make sure that you always credit your sources!
  • Organization – Your essay should be well-organized and easy to follow. Start with a strong introduction, then move on to your main points. Wrap things up with a conclusion that reiterates your position. No professor likes reading a haphazardly put-together essay!
  • Transitions – To keep your essay cohesive, you’ll need to use strong transitions and connecting words between paragraphs. This way, the reader can move between different portions of your writing (e.g. Introduction > Summary > Thesis > Conclusion) without losing interest.
  • Argumentation – Last but not least, your essay needs to be filled with strong argumentation. Make sure to back up your points with evidence from the text, and don’t be afraid to state your opinion openly. This is what will set your response essay apart from the rest!

We’ll share with you a few of our tried and tested essay writing tips that will masterfully elevate your response essay.

  • Take your time and read the source material carefully.
  • Write a strong thesis statement that reflects your position on the matter.
  • When stating definitive opinions, cite instances from the text to strengthen your stand.
  • Argument your points persuasively and with conviction.
  • Proofread your essay for errors such as grammar, language, punctuation, and spelling.
  • Have someone else, like a trusted friend or teacher, read it over for you as well – fresh eyes can sometimes catch mistakes that you’ve missed.
  • Use the help of a reliable paper writing service to assist you in the process.

Now that you’ve read all our instructions, there’s only one thing left to do. You have a chance to ged extended response essay sample and see all our tips in practice.

Response Paper In his article “The Militarization of the Police”, James Bouie argues that recent traegy in Ferguson is only one symptom of the broad problem of increasing police militarization in the USA. The purpose of the author is to bring this question into light and warn American citizens about the danger it entails for the whole society, with a special emphasis being placed on racial minorities. Bouie addresses the general public who are concerned with political and social tendencies in the US. The author begins his article with discussion of the photographs from Ferguson demonstration, pointing out the signs of inadequate aggression of the police toward the citizens. He puts the Ferguson tragedy in the context of increasing militarization of the US police force, which he believes to be one of the major problems of the American society. Bouie asserts that this process began with the war on drugs in the 1980s and intensified after the 9/11 attacks and the wars in the Middle East. He estimates that the value of military hardware owned by U.S. police agencies increased at 450 times from 1990 to 2013, despite the falling crime rates. Bouie also discusses the issue of increased SWAT deployment, which is disproportionately utilized in black and Latino neighborhoods. The conclusion the author draws is that the availability of heavy military weapons and a long-standing tradition of punitive policing toward racial minorities are the major factors that are likely to cause repressive reactions of the police. The Ferguson tragedy has recently riveted the attention of the whole U.S. population. While we may lament the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, it is important to view these events in the broader context of police misconduct, as the author does it. Despite numerous changes and advancements in law enforcement over the last decade, such as community policing and recruiting more officers from racial minorities, the society is still staunchly opposed to the police force, and the negative sentiment has predictably grown after the Ferguson unrest. The frequent SWAT raids are definitely an overreaction, given that they are mostly deployed for low-level offenses, such as drug use. Repressive and punitive actions with the disproportionate targeting of racial minorities suggest that positive changes in the police were of purely decorative nature and were not effective to eradicate stereotypes, prejudices and aggression from the mind of law enforcement officers. While the author does not explore this perspective in detail, the increasing militarization of the police is often viewed as a logical consequence of the militarization of the whole US politics, which is obsessed with identifying and eliminating national enemies. Incessant employment of war rhetoric by the officials has the power to alter the mindset of the whole society, not only police officers. The article provides a comprehensive account of the author’s opinion. No doubts arise as to the appropriateness of his observations, largely because they are aligned with the common social reaction to Ferguson tragedy. However, the author does not explore any potential solutions to the problem, thus leaving this question open for the readers to consider. Another overlooked issue, which may interest the readers, is how the situation in the USA compares to other developed countries and what policies they implement to prevent the overreaction of police force. The author has achieved the purpose of persuading his readers that events in Ferguson are linked to a broader social problem, as his arguments appeal to the common sense and show clear causality between acquisition of military equipment and overreaction to offenses and unrest. The author made his article more persuading by referring to Ferguson photographs, statistics and authoritative specialists to support his argument.

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We hope this guide has taught you everything you need to know about how to write a strong response essay. Keep these key points in mind, and you’re guaranteed to produce a top-notch paper! If you want additional advice on how to write a response paper, simply hire someone to write an essay . Our team of professional, educated academic writers will write high-quality papers and essays that will get you in the good books of any of your teachers! It’s fast, affordable, and always 100% original. You won’t be disappointed! Good luck with all of your future academic endeavours!

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  1. Introduction to Text Response (Reading and Creating)

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  6. 'The Dressmaker'


  1. The Five Types of Text Response Prompts

    Regardless of whether you're writing a Text Response, Comparative, or even an Argument Analysis essay, it is easy to see the introduction as something inconsequential, that won't change your overall mark. And as a result, far too many students view the intro as a mere convention of writing that simply needs to 'tick off' certain criteria before they get into the 'meat' of the essay.

  2. How to write a text response

    The Process: To ensure students fully understand the question, have them underline or highlight keywords in the sentence or question. Distribute thesauruses and have students find synonyms for the keywords that they have highlighted. Have them rewrite the question as a series of questions in their own words.

  3. Extended Constructed Response Prompts

    Once you've selected your pair of high-interest texts, you're ready to write the essay prompt. STEP 2: Write an Aligned, Extended-Response Prompt. To write an aligned, extended-response prompt, start by reading an example extended-response prompt from a released state test. Here is a sample prompt from a 7th grade Smarter Balanced assessment:

  4. 5.7: Sample Response Essays

    Sample response paper "Typography and Identity" in PDF with margin notes. Sample response paper "Typography and Identity" accessible version with notes in parentheses. This page titled 5.7: Sample Response Essays is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Anna Mills ( ASCCC Open Educational Resources ...

  5. Writing a text response essay: notes, tips and sample paras

    In a text response essay, you will be assessed on your ability to develop an argument/discussion relating to a prompt, your ability to analyse themes, issues and characters in an insightful way, your ability to identity an author's intentions and unpack their narrative devices. ... Make sure they directly answer the question and set up a ...

  6. The Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response

    Like its name, Text Response is when you respond to a text. The most popular texts are novels and films; however plays, poetry and short stories are also common. Your response will be in the form of an essay, in which you discuss themes, ideas and characters. Recall all the novels and films you've studied since Year 7 (there'll be quite a few!). You should be very familiar with the process of ...

  7. The Five Types of Text Response Prompts

    Rather than using specific techniques to frame your specific arguments, it's best to use them as evidence to support arguments that attack the main themes/ideas mentioned in the prompt. 4. Metalanguage or film-technique-based prompt. 'Hitchcock's use of film techniques offers an unnerving viewing experience'. Discuss.


    This workbook is the first in a series of three workbooks designed to improve the. development and use of effective essay questions. It focuses on the writing and use of. essay questions. The second booklet in the series focuses on scoring student responses to. essay questions.

  9. How to Write a Response Essay Guide: Tips, Topics, Examples

    Introduction. Paragraph 1: The first part of the introduction which needs to be vivid, catchy and reflect the point you are about to make. Paragraph 2: Provide a context to your response essay: details about the source-text and the author and what the main points in the article are. Body.

  10. How do I Write a Response Essay?

    Pre-writing steps: Read the essay prompt carefully. Highlight or note the important points. Ask questions for any part that isn't clear to you. Retrieve your assigned article. Activate schema. Skim and scan the article to identify the topic and the author (s). Look for subtitles and boldly printed words.

  11. Sentence Starters for Reader Response Essays and Journals

    A reader response can be a personal reaction to the text, or it can be a more impersonal analysis of the ideas and writing in the text. In a reader response essay, you can talk about one or more of the following: Your feelings about the topic. Your thoughts about what the author said. What this reminds you about in your own life.

  12. Guide: Responses

    Also, respond intuitively in the margins; after all, your feelings as you read are important and sometimes provide the most important insights, even suggesting your overall reaction to the text. The more you interact with the text the better able you will be to do your response to it. You will know the text well.

  13. English: putting it together

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  14. PDF Pulling it all together: Planning an analytical text resPonse

    resPonse A text response is a structured piece of writing that explains and explores a text. Text responses are usually written in response to a question or topic, and argue a point of view about a text being studied. 16.1 PrerationPa As you study a text, you can take a number of steps to enable you to write a text response with confidence. Be

  15. How to Write a Strong Response Essay

    See all the different steps in action to make writing a response essay a breeze. ... These questions can be modified based on the piece. For example, for a piece of art, look more at the colors or type of art and how this creates different reactions. For a piece of literature or a film, examine the plot devices and characters and how they ...

  16. How to Write a Response Essay With Magazine Article Example

    Conclusion. tell a personal story. finish your personal story. explain the history of the topic. ask the reader what they think. tell why you found this interesting. suggest why this article might interest the reader. explain what you expected the article to be about. tell how you were surprised by the article.

  17. 12.9: Essay Type

    The response essay is likely the most informal type of literary analysis essay students will encounter in a literature course. This essay simply asks the student to read the assigned text(s) and respond to said text(s). ... In addition to these basic literary analysis questions, some helpful tips for writing this kind of essay: Take notes as ...

  18. How to Write a Response Paper: A Comprehensive Guide

    The first step in response paper creation is to carefully read and analyze the text. This involves more than just reading the words on the page; it requires critical thinking and analysis. As you read, pay attention to the author's tone, style, and use of language. Highlight important points, take notes, and identify the author's main argument ...

  19. 20 Reading Response Questions for Any Book

    Ready-to-Go Reading Response Questions to Get Your Students Thinking. Here are 20 "Lit Spark" Reading Response questions for your students. They are perfect for literature circles, individual writing prompts, or even just class discussions. Here are some great ways to use literature response questions: Use alongside your close reading.

  20. How To Start A Response: Step-by-Step Guide

    Remember, analyzing the question is a key step in writing a good response. It helps you stay focused, organize your thoughts, and ensure that your response is complete and well-thought-out. So take the time to analyze the question and you will be well on your way to writing a successful and impactful response. Step 3: Brainstorm Ideas and Key ...

  21. How to Successfully Write Constructed-Response Essays

    In general, essays are usually assessed on writing ability, although they may also be graded on content. Open-Response Writing. Open-response writing is an essay that requires writers to cite text evidence to support their opinion or thesis. In my research, the terms evidence-based writing, text-based writing, and constructed response writing ...

  22. How to Write a Response Paper: Guide With Essay Examples

    A response paper is a type of academic writing that requires you to express your personal opinion and analysis of a text, film, event, or issue. If you want to learn how to write a response paper that is clear, coherent, and engaging, you should follow our guide and use our essay examples. You will find out how to create an outline, structure your paper, and use appropriate language and tone ...

  23. How To Write Response Essay

    Step 1 - Read and Understand the Work. Before you can write a good response essay, you first need to read and understand the work that you're responding to. Whether it's a book, movie, article, or poem, the quality of your response paper is directly proportional to how well you've understood the source material.

  24. Everything You Need to Know About Writing a VCE Text Response

    Section A - Your Analytical Interpretation of a Text. The first text response within your VCE English examination will require you to pick a text in which you have studied thoroughly in Unit 3 and write your own analytical interpretation of the text. The exam will provide two essay questions for each text and you will choose one to respond to.