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The Best Laid Plans: Literary vs. Expository Prompts


Good afternoon, Dr. Louis:

Please see below a prompt that I made for our students this week on Chapter 6 from Of Mice and Men. If you have time, let me know what you think and what changes need to be made to make this an effective writing prompt. Thank you.

Tim B.

Los Angeles County Office of Education


Of Mice and Men / Chapter 6 

Original Prompt: George and Lennie had a friendship that was rare during the Great Depression as it was every man for himself.  Think about the dream George and Lennie shared of having a farm. How did this dream keep the two men going during a difficult time? In a (2+:1) expository paragraph explain what the dream of owning a farm meant to George and Lennie. 

Dear Tim,

I love your background sentences in your prompt and the trigger sentence, the sentence that focuses the students' reading and leads to the task. Here’s my question: Isn’t this a literary analysis? If it is, the ratio would be 1:2+. This prompt gives me a perfect opportunity to illustrate the difference between literary analysis and expository writing!


Let's start with LITERARY ANALYSIS, also known as RESPONSE TO LITERATURE. We'll focus on your prompt, and I'll guide the thinking behind creating a sample one-chunk response to literature paragraph with a 1:2+ ratio.

TS: The dream of owning a farm meant a sense of freedom to George and Lennie.

CD: Here, the students open their novel to Chapter Six and find discussions between George and Lennie, which provide evidence of their dream to own a farm.

CM: What does the evidence above (CD) say about the characters' attitudes. What tone is created within their discussion?

CM: Why is it important for George and Lennie to dream?

CS: Thematic – Why is setting their sights on this dream about owning a farm important Steinbeck's purpose and/or themes in this novel?


An EXPOSITORY piece would ask students to explain a concept (e.g., the meaning of success; the importance of having a dream; how perseverance can make a difference in a person's life). The students would need one or more examples to support their thesis statement. They would also need to write more sentences to explain their selection of evidence within their body paragraphs, and for that reason the ratio for Expository is 2+:1. We train students to access their knowledge or research evidence from history, entertainment, literature, people, sports, or science (HELPSS).

Perhaps, one student decides to use his or her knowledge of how dreaming was an important theme in Of Mice and Men to explain the importance of having a dream.

TS: Dreaming gives a person hope for the future. (Notice how this sentence is about life, not OMM.)

CD: In John Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men, Lennie and George dream of owning a farm. They discuss what will be on the farm, including rabbits . . .

CD: Even Candy, the old ranch worker, considers investing his own money to help buy the farm. He and George put pencil to paper to determine how much they will need.

CM: The dream of owning a farm in gives George, Lennie, and Candy something to think about and hope for during an era filled with struggle and defeat.

CS: Dreaming helps people to get through the mundane and difficult times in life in hopes of a better today and tomorrow.

Next, the student decides to access his or her knowledge of a famous person in history to support the idea in a second body paragraph:

TS: Furthermore, many important changes in history started with a dream.

CD: On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., gave the historical speech, “I Have a Dream” in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

CD: In this speech, he discusses (create a list of what he discusses).

CD: Add more evidence from the speech.

CM: King’s dream was so vivid and convincing that we as Americans believed in it and embraced it.

CS: Sometimes people with dreams can significantly change history.


The final suggestion for high school writers is to teach them how to use the literary present tense when they are writing about literature. Longfellow said, "Time is fleeting/Art lasts forever." So, one hundred years from now, George and Lennie will still be discussing their dream in Chapter 6. So, you might consider writing your prompt in the present tense.


Prompt: George and Lennie have a rare friendship during the Great Depression of the 1930s because this difficult period in history left almost every man for himself. Think about the dream that George and Lennie share about owning their own farm in John Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men. Consider how this dream keeps the two men hopeful during their struggles throughout this harsh economic time in history. Then, in a one-chunk literary analysis (1:2+), analyze what the dream of owning a farm means to George and Lennie. 


So, Tim, the difference between literary analysis and expository writing is that in literary analysis the writer focuses on plot, conflict, setting, social mores, characters, and style devices that reveal the author’s purpose and message. Whereas, expository writing occurs when the writer uses examples from HELPSS to define a concept, in this case -- the importance of dreaming.

Thank you, again, for an important question!

Keep reading and writing!

Warm regards,

Dr. Louis

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