Text Analysis: Says, Does, How

Lesson Objective: The purpose of this exercise is to practice literary analysis. Students must be able to understand thematic elements and recognize the complexity of a literary text. Students must also be able to write a critical analysis of such literature. Please note that this strategy can be used for informational text as well.


  1. Read an assigned text. 
  2. Complete the chart below. Cite three or more quotes from the text (SAYS), analyze the meaning of each quote (DOES), and explain the strategies or devices the author uses to create this meaning (HOW). 
  3. Write literary analysis paragraph: How does the author use language to convey meaning? The topic sentence should be a clear thesis statement that makes a claim. Support with examples from the text. Use the sample paragraph below as a guide. 

Summarize what happens or is said.
Choose 3 or more significant quotes from the text. Include the quote, the page and/or the paragraph numbers. 
Interpret the meanings of what happens or is said.

For each quote, respond as follows: How does the quote contribute to the setting and character development, set the tone or mood, reveal point of view, introduce a conflict, reveal theme? Be specific. 

 Describe the strategies/devices the author uses to create meanings.

For each quote, identify the strategy used. Be specific.

Examples: multiple/first person/third person narrators, figurative language, symbols, allusion, imagery, etc.


Student Example: Says, Does, How (Grendel, by John Gardner, Chapter 1):

 1. “Flanks atremble, eyes like stones, he stares at as much of the world as he can see and feels it surging in him ...with the same unrest that made him suffer last year at this time, and the year before, and the year before that. (He’s forgotten them all.)

"Pointless, ridiculous monster crouched in the shadows ... I am neither proud, nor ashamed, understand."
(Ch 1, p. 6)
 Grendel describes the ram as unintelligent and forgetful, living only in the moment and lacking any dignity. Grendel uses this description to reveal that he is different from the ram - his brains “are not squeezed shut.” He is a thinking and feeling being, but his existence has no meaning.  Grendel’s first person narration reveals an angry and profane creature. The author uses simile to compare the ram’s eyes to stones showing the ram’s inability to think intelligently. The parentheses are used for Grendel’s side commentary to the reader.
2. “‘Why can’t these creatures discover a little dignity?’ I ask the sky. The sky says nothing, predictably.” (p. 6)  This quote develops Grendel’s character and reveals how he is observant and desires interaction with others. Unfortunately, Grendel is shunned by God and has no one to talk to.  Personification is used for Grendel to have a conversation with the sky (representing God) and God doesn’t answer.
 3. “Space hurls outward, falconswift, mounting like an irreversible injustice, a final disease” (9).   For Grendel, time moves swiftly and out of his control. Grendel is growing up and facing the realities of adulthood.  A simile is used to compare the passing of time to the growing of a disease. The passing of time is not good for Grendel.

Student Example: Literary Analysis Paragraph

In Chapter 1 of the novel Grendel, John Gardner uses first person point of view and figurative language to reveal Grendel as an angry and lonely outcast. As Grendel observes animals and nature, he stomps around angrily and declares himself a “pointless, ridiculous monster” (6).  Grendel explains, “Space hurls outward, falconswift, mounting like an irreversible injustice, a final disease” (9). For Grendel, time moves swiftly but is unkind and unpleasant like a growing disease. Grendel also references the “ancestral crime” (11) of his birth and the fact that his mother won’t discuss it with him. Grendel longs for interaction with others, but he is shunned by God and all other living creatures. Finally, Grendel’s colorful and inappropriate language shows Grendel to be “neither proud nor ashamed,” (6) but a miserable and suicidal monster who struggles to understand his place on earth. 

To scaffold the literary analysis paragraph, provide students with the following template:

  • Topic sentence - Make a claim/argument (the does)
  • Analysis: Provide quotes/evidence from the text as support (the says)
  • Explanation: Explain what the quotes mean (the how)
  • Anchor - Concludes/summarize the main idea of the paragraph

*Students will need to practice this skill in order to master it. Some recommendations include starting with shorter text, allowing students to work in pairs or small groups before working independently, and modeling how to read text analytically (resources may include How to Read Literature Like a Professor, by Thomas C. Foster or other textual analysis resources)

Return to top