Recently, I've been working with a year 12 student on analysing Cosi and coming up with strategies to help with essay planning. It can be difficult to think up a good line of argument sometimes, and the prospect of writing an essay can be quite daunting to many students. However, if you break the process up into smaller more manageable tasks, you may find the process substantially easier.
For an essay on the exploration of insanity/mental illness, we went through a variety of essay prompts for Cosi and chose three that seemed similar but led us to think about different aspects of the play. The introduction is often the thing that stumps many students. Searching for similar essay questions/prompts can also help you to come up with some ideas for thesis statements and introductory points. At this point, a draft introduction is a lot less difficult, and once the body of the essay has been completed the introduction can be refined further.
The questions/prompts used were:
1. In Cosi, the 'insane' characters are quite normal. Respond to this statement with reference to the text.
2. "They are normal people who have done extraordinary things, thought extraordinary thoughts." Cosi portrays the insane characters as heroes. Discuss this idea with reference to the texts.
3. Ironically, it is through the 'madmen' that Lewis learns what is truly important. Discuss with reference to the text.
We then created a dot point plan for each of these questions:
1. We decided to find examples from the text of responses, relationships, emotions and other characteristics of the patients that appear to be very normal and to discuss these points with analysis of the features and structures of the text (techniques, specific quotes, etc.). To add depth to your argument, respond to the following question: HOW DOES THIS APPARENT NORMALCY HELP US TO IDENTIFY WITH THESE CHARACTERS, AND WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT (in terms of what it tells us about the purpose of the composer)?
2. Ask yourself the following question: In what way could the patients be seen as heroic? For the purposes of this task you could define ‘heroic’ in a way that allows you to more easily apply the term to the actions and characteristics of the 'insane' characters in Cosi. You could also compare them with Lewis and the other ‘normal’ (or, non-mentally ill) characters – the fact that comparatively, they are more heroic, painted in a more positive light, etc. is significant. Discuss why this might be significant, and connect your explanation of this point back to the overarching idea of heroism. This paragraph point also leads nicely into the next paragraph, which focuses on the patients' positive impact on Lewis (which could, perhaps, be related to their 'heroism').
3. Lewis' interaction with the patients changes him (for the better). How? Answer this question with reference to the text. Specifically, Lewis' attitudes and beliefs change as a result of his interaction with Roy and the other mental patients. Go through examples and makes sure that for very example you provide a statement analysing/explaining the significance of that example to the question/statement. You could, for example, compare Lewis' initial attitude towards the patients (think about his early conversation with Nick and Lucy, for example), and how his interaction with the patients changes his attitudes towards them and his attitudes and beliefs in general.
After we identified the main points to discuss it became up to the student to find the appropriate quotes and techniques to use as evidence for their argument and to elaborate on their argument to form a first draft.
This process can be used for any English essay, and (depending on the questions/prompts used) may result in your developing a deeper understanding of the text(s) you are studying.
Our primary contributor is Elissa, who is a qualified high school teacher and Irlen Screener.