Responses to Literature

Page contents

  • Kinds of Responses
  • Immediate and deferred
  • Internal and personal or external and social
  • Physical, Cognitive, Aesthetic
  • Applications
  • Model

The most important response a child can have with a piece of literature is enjoyment. The pleasure a child gets from a story will determine their desire to seek other stories and ultimately if they develop a life long love of literature.

Each student's response is limited by their physical, cognitive, and affective abilities and developmental level, which can be improved with communication.

To facilitate communication it helps to know the kinds of responses a person can have with literature.

Kinds of Responses

Immediate and deferred

All responses are immediate or deferred and the timing of a response can vary considerably. An immediate response can be good or problematic as when it interrupts the flow of understanding and involvement. A deferred response, can be good if it is deferred until a discussion starts. Or sometimes it might be even years later when it might be recalled and related to something else. Deferred until another influence sparks a memory, making those responses valuable. However, sometimes the source, as being literature has been forgotten.

Internal and personal or external and social

A person's response to a piece of literature will always include an internal or personal response, this quality is important for creating and sustaining personal involvement with literature. Without it, people stop interacting, and voluntary involvement with literature is halted. The choice to be involved and maintain involvement, usually lead to a positive emotional responses or positive feelings toward literature, which is required to establish a life long love of literature.

As important as the internal and personal response is the external. An external response is required to communicate information about the piece of literature. Examples include: body expressions, oral remarks, written remarks, drawings, diagrams, webs, creative movement, dramatics, play activities, and many other kinds of activities. It is vitally important for educators as it is the only way to communicate about literature and to assess a person's understandings and feelings about a piece of literature. It provides the information needed for teachers to model critical analysis and appreciation of literature to facilitate an individuals and groups better understandings and appreciation of its value. Therefore, it is critical to learn how to encourage students to share their responses socially so they can develop their self-efficacy to enjoy literature at their choosing alone or with peers.

Physical, Cognitive, Aesthetic

These responses are related to different ways literature is experienced. While a literate adult may wonder about the inclusion of physical it is most likely the physical responses young children enjoy that encourages them to continue to seek literature for enjoyment.


Cognitive or intellectual (literal, interpretive/ inferential, critical analysis/ evaluative)

The response made after mentally manipulating the information from the story and communicated can be classified as literal; interpretive/ inferential, critical analysis; and evaluative. All of these response may also be immediate, deferred, internal, external, or aesthetic/ emotional.


Responses that can be supported directly with evidence from the text, pictures, illustrations, charts, diagrams, music, sound, or action without making an inference.

Interpretive or inferential

Interpretive or inferential responses: Are interpretations that go beyond the specific information provided by the author or illustrator. The reader/ listener/ viewer interpret words, visuals, or sounds singularly and in combinations using his or her experiences to interpret beyond the literal meaning of the story. He or she make inferences about the story and the author's motives usually by reacting to the elements: plot, setting, style, mood, point of view, tone, and the genre attributes of the work. While these responses are interpretive or inferential they are also supported with evidence.

Critical analysis and evaluative

Evaluative responses: an example is when the reader/listener/viewer selects an example or multiple examples and explains why they think the author did ... or what the author should have done based on a standard. If a child says the book is one of the best s/he have ever read and tells why, compared to another piece of literature or a standard, she is giving an evaluative response. If a child says that a character should do something. You wouldn't know if it was an evaluative response unless it's explained in relation to a standard. The standard for being aesthetically beautiful is what we we call art.

Aesthetic (affective or emotional)

People who are involved emotionally comprehend and evaluate their reading/viewing/listening better than those who aren't. Therefore, if we know what the reader/listener/viewer's responses are we can anticipate his or her emotional reactions and interact to facilitate his or her growth.


Personal involvement is required to create meaningful responses and to communicate those responses externally. It is the external responses which are evaluated by others which may result in others desire to increase their involvement with the same literature or to share their personal responses as a result of their interactions with others. It is listening to student's or looking at the artifacts they create that we can gather information to make decisions to offer readers choices to facilitate their literacy by helping them to respond with increased understanding: literal, interpretive, of critical analysis to evaluate and appreciation literature.

These ranges of responses and interactions are illustrated in the following model.

Response model

It is important for educators to celebrate and encourage student involvement with literature. The best time to facilitate better understanding, enjoyment, and appreciation of literature is when students communicate their response from their personal transaction Teachers make and take advantage of these through the questioning strategies they use to encourage and scaffold deeper thinking through critical analysis. As students achieve higher quality responses they will also develop a greater appreciation of literature and desire to communicate with others to share their transactions and ideas. As students have more experiences with quality literature and outstanding teachers their responses can improve from novice to emerging, to mature, to critical responses as described by the outcomes on this scoring guide. Additionally as students are introduced to story elements and genre they will also develop their abilities to use these ideas to understand, interpret, analyze and appreciate literature.

Additional sources related to teaching and literature responses:

Additional information at Teacher Tools for Literature at

Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes