How to Analyze Literature Better by Watching Football

The analysis of a football game directly relates to the analysis of a piece of literature. As a former English teacher and football coach I’m not sure why this didn’t hit me earlier, but I’d love to get into the classroom and share this model of analyzing literature with my students (and former players). After Thanksgiving festivities (which included a lot of football) this connection hit me right in the face. Here’s how:

Pre-Game (before you read)

  • Experts share their opinion on TV. They cite the historical context of the game, the coaches and teams’ (author and book) past work, and the various impact the game will have on the season (life).
  • These experts also have different backgrounds related to the game in some way and thus there analysis is seen through various lenses (former player, coach, played for team, played against team etc).
  • They preload you with a lot of information about the game so you can understand and analyze the game better as you watch. They also give predictions of what is going to happen- everyone has slightly different opinions.

In literature you need to pre-load students (or anyone reading) with pertinent information before they read the book. When reading a book for pleasure, there might not be a need to have all of this information, but analyzing literature take a look at how the “four corners” (historical context, author’s purpose, literary measures, and connections) of interpretation leads to meaning (theme). Pre-game in football is really setting the stage for how you watch the game. If you knew nothing about football and watched the Patriots come back and beat the Broncos last week, you might say “That was a great game”. But if you had watched the pre-game show and understood the context of the game, you would realize that the history between the two quarterbacks set the stage for one of the greatest comebacks of all-time. Your analysis would completely change. That’s why this pre-loading stage for students is so important. It sets them up to have a meaningful and deep analysis, beyond how it made them feel while reading.

During the Game (reading the book)

  • The announcers are the teachers. They make sure you know what is happening (plot) but also go to a deeper level. They discuss the game (plot), players (characters), coaches and owners (author), and the various implications (context) this game has.
  • During the game the announcers will consistently make connections. They’ll connect the game to other previous games (text-to-text), what they are feeling about the game (text-to-self), and how it relates to other situations going on in the league (text-to-world). These connections form the backbone of our understanding of the game, just as they do when we are reading a text.
  • Finally, we’ll also see some “in-game” analysis: How one play effects another play (sequence and structure); how the players are stepping up and making plays or making mistakes (characterization); how the coaches are calling the game (author’s literary craft); recurring plays or situations that happen (motifs); the rise and fall of action (plot elements) including the turning point of the game (hard to tell sometimes during a game but also is the climax); and the effect of the fans and location on the game as it progresses (the setting’s impact on plot).
  • There are also many side-stories to a football game. The matchup between quarterbacks. They matchup between offensive line and defensive line. The receivers vs the secondary etc. These side-stories are akin to the various off-shoots of plot and character development within a story.
  • The announcers will also take time to review plays (scenes of action) that are important to the game. They’ll closely analyze each play (like a close reading) and discuss what is actually happening and it’s impact on the game (plot), players (characters), and how the coach (author) handles it.
  • The viewers (students) will get to discuss with each other what is happening. They’ll also comment on what the announcers are saying, how the pre-game analysis relates to what is actually happening, and be able to talk in real-time (Twitter) about the game. They’ll each have different levels of analysis, but most of it will be directly related to what they heard in the pre-game show and what they are hearing from the announcers (and other’s online).
  • At some point during the game we’ll get down to who is going to win (the conflict). When this comes into question the game naturally takes on more meaning and every play (action) has a deeper impact on the outcome (resolution). At the end of the game (story) we get to see the players handle their success or loss differently, this too changes our mind on the overall meaning (theme) of the game.

During the game is like reading the actual book. If you read it yourself (without teachers) then it would be like watching a game without announcers. For many advance readers (or football watchers) this could be fine and might be your preferred method of reading/watching. However, for students they usually need a teacher to guide them through the in-book analysis, just as we need announcers to point out the various situations in the game and take us deeper into finding meaning.

Post-game (after reading)

  • The announcers (teachers) will have time to reflect on the game and share their insight. Other experts (analysis found online, in articles, and other pieces of writing) will weigh in on the game’s meaning and how it all played out.
  • The viewers (students) will now get a chance to talk with each other and discuss the game’s overall impact (theme or meaning) on the season. They can get further analysis from “teacher-like” people on TV, online, or on the radio. However, many viewers (students) prefer to discuss with one another who watched the game and debate whether they have the same view (analysis of meaning) based on what they saw (read).
  • Remember, viewers don’t tend to do this with baseball or basketball games as much as they do with football. The lack of games (only 16) provide serious analysis after each game. Basketball and Baseball is more like the reading olympics, it’s difficult to go into serious analysis with each book you’ve read (if you are reading many books per week).
  • When the game is very good, with lots of meaning around it, viewers will often debate their points of analysis with each other, and with the announcers. This is what we want out of our students, to understand (and care about) the game/book so that they form an opinion (like a thesis statement) on the overall meaning (theme).

Analyzing a football game is not easy. There are many ways to analyze it, and there are different levels of analysis. Yet, we like watching football for the action of the game and the analysis before, during, and after the game is over.

Too often I see students who think “reading for meaning” is boring, stupid, or pointless. Yet, they love discussing a football game and can actually get into some serious depth in their analysis. They’ll debate each other before class or in the hallway, and their passion is out there for all to see.

Football is the perfect teaching tool for analyzing literature, and hopefully it will allow students to make the connection between life, literature, and football. I know I’m thankful for all three of those!

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Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Kim says:

    Love this! What a great analysis to use something we all experience! Thanks for the very insightful read.

  • Arpan says:

    I love the analogy and approach but how do I reconcile this with Common Core expectations of doing now ‘pre-loading’ and giving students text with no background or prep?

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Arpan I think it is fine to skip some “pre-loading” for informational texts, but for literature you need to (in my opinion) give students background on author and historical context. Otherwise…their analysis might be way off!

  • Debbie says:

    I love this especially for football lovers. Now, for girls who hate football or those students who don’t understand football, we’ve got to draw them in with another concept. If you have ideas, please give me a heads up.

  • Ed Gillet says:

    Beautifully drawn analogy. And I’d add that the game announcers play the role of omniscient narrators who highlight the drama and irony inherent in the game. So many story frames at work: heroes and villains, redemption, sacrifice, risk, and reward all acted out in front of the crowd/chorus. Fun stuff—compelling narratives created in live performance. Thanks for posting this!

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