Pass it on – a literary analysis activity for groups

Trying to find new ways to get my students to (a). Analyse texts and (b). Work together is a constant struggle. But then I remembered the ‘Pass it on’ game. This game usually involves drawing a picture- one person draws a head, passes it on, the next draws the body and so on. What usually results is a weird and wonderful monster of different ideas and linked parts. This sounded like a winning combination for literary analysis to me so I decided to give it a whirl in the classroom.

You need:

  • to put your students into groups of four
  • four different coloured pens for each group
  • a photocopy of the same passage for every student


Begin by reading the passage together and discussing it. Then each student (with a different coloured pen) underlines what they think is the most important word in each sentence/line. The passage is then passed on to the next student. They then annotate the underlined words, explaining why they are important, the layers of meaning etc. The passage is then passed on to the third student. They annotate any remaining words and add to the previous annotations. Pass it on. The fourth student adds points about anything they disagree about on the page (e.g. why an underlined word is not really important or a misreading in the layers of meaning). Finally the passage is passed back to the ‘owner’, who reads the annotations and writes a paragraph summing up the significance of the word choices in the passage.
What I really like about this activity is that it makes the students engage with the text but also with each other’s ideas. It forces them to make choices about what they think is important in the text but also to try to justify another person’s choices. It is a great way to start exploring alternative interpretations in the classroom which will hopefully lead to the creation of some weird and wonderful monsters in your students’ essays.

Naomi Hursthouse

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