Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Writing a literary essay on an e-text

I have been asked about the experience, for a student, of writing an essay on an e-text.

Let me break down the process and compare the paper student to the e-text student.

Thesis development: This is usually discussion based.  Students are sometimes consulting notes or active reading.  We often brainstorm as a class or in groups.  We bounce ideas around.  Students sometimes work alone.

  • Paper: Flip through the book and skim over active reading.  Re-read highlighted passages.  Read notes in margin, notice themes, trends and big ideas.  
  • E-text: On the Kindle for PC app, a list is generated of all marks and notes on that book.  It appears on the left hand side next to the text.  (See video below.)  Read through the list of notes and marks.  All notes are links to the text they are attached too.  Click links to highlighted text to review the context.  

Quote selection for 3 points: Students must select 6-9 quotes to support their thesis, or 2-3 per point/body paragraph.  

  • Paper: Flip through the book and try to locate all quotes relating to your topic.  This could mean you have to skim through notes in the margin, ask a friend, use visual memory, or just a slow methodical reading of all active reading to find a quote that may fit the topic.
  • E-text: If a part of the quote is remembered, the student types it into the search bar and goes to that page in the text by clicking.  The student can read the list of notes and marks on the left.  The note attached to the text may contain a theme, motif or big idea related to their thesis.  If the student is writing on a topic that appears frequently, that word or words can be typed into the search bar and any instance of that word can be located.  A list of links appears and each takes the student to that word in the text.  

Integrating the selected quotes into the essay itself: Students need to insert their quote into their essay and cite it parenthetically.  

  • Paper: The student locates the desired quote, usually with a post-it or a note on the page number, holds the text open, often with a heavy object, and retypes the selected quote into their word document, followed by the parenthetical page number.
  • E-text: Click the desired quote from the list of notes and marks, or by searching the text by typing the words of the quote into the search bar and clicking the resulting link.  Highlight the text.  Copy, and paste into the word document.  A citation is provided automatically.  It is not in MLA format, but it contains the page number for the parenthetical.  


  1. This is a brilliant post. Thank you. You really demonstrate the advantages of using e-texts and Kindle apps. After all, the hardest part (I think) of writing an essay is rediscovering good excerpts and organizing them to support a thesis. My students often give up on this step. You really show how this step can be easier.

    Specifically, I like how you use the Kindle app. Do you agree with me that this process wouldn't be as easy on a Kindle itself?

  2. Thanks for your comment! No, the Kindle alone is trickier. Copying the quote from a Kindle device is as slow as a paper book, and navigating the notes and marks is slower. But, I think that phones using the Kindle for iOS or Android apps might offer another avenue, if you aren't in a 1:1 school. If your students are already using their phones quite a bit, perhaps that is an avenue. The problem comes with the fact that you own the e-books, not the students, so it is tricky to get them onto their phones. Here is an area for some thinking!