Nine Yardsticks for Deeper Reading

Readings: Responding Deeply

While the Nine Yardsticks of Value originally were written for use in evaluating fictional works, they can be adapted for deeper reading of more kinds of writing.  Take a look below, then download Responding to Reading for use in your classroom to aid students in reaching Common Core Standards in reading, writing, and discussing published works.

 Responding to Reading

Use the chart below to evaluate the assigned piece of reading.  Feel free to refer to the handout, “Nine Yardsticks of Literature”, that defines each yardstick.  Once you’ve completed your evaluation, write a 3-4-page essay that explains your choice for ranking each yardstick of value as you do.  Make specific references to the literary work or essay, but use quotations sparingly.  Incorporate them seamlessly into your paragraphs.  (There are no incorrect responses, just unsubstantiated claims.) Cite quotations by writing in parentheses the page number on which the quotation appears.

In the opening paragraph, include the title and author of the work as well as your general response to the reading.  Your thesis statement should suggest the direction your essay will take, but not give away all the details. Remember to use quotation marks around title of short stories and essays; underline or Italicize book titles.

Use the following questions to guide your brainstorming.

How will you state your general response to this piece of writing? Use a value or emotion word.  See vocabulary for writing strong thesis sentences at the link.

  1. Why have you ranked the work as you have?  Refer to each specific yardstick.  Feel free to use key words from the Nine Yardsticks handout as you substantiate your position.
  2. What specific references from the literary work or article will you cite to substantiate your position?
  3. What is the best way to organize your essay?  Strong to weak?  Weak to strong? More subjective to less subjective?  Vice versa?  Some other way?
  4. What quotation or startling statement can you use to enhance the introduction to your essay?
  5. Will your concluding paragraph summarize or reflect on the observations you’ve included in the body of your essay?

   Nine Yardsticks of Value

CLARITY The yardstick of clarity is a very simple standard of measuring according to which everything that resists reasonably careful reading is considered poor writing.

ESCAPE If you measure by the yardstick of escape, the literary work that causes you to forget yourself and the circumstances of your own life is by that fact good.

REFLECTION OF REAL LIFEThe work that reports actuality in a flawless manner is good; the one that distorts the facts as we know them is bad.  The yardstick of realism will not admit any change as good unless at least three elements have been attended to:  (1) a temperament that makes the change possible, (2) circumstances that motivate the change, and (3) sufficient time for such a change to take place.

ARTISTRY IN DETAILS – By the standard of pleasure in artistic details, a work is good if it provides enough pleasurable moments through effectively handled details to compensate for the time spent on it. 

INTERNAL CONSISTENCYThe problem here is to discover what the relation of the parts is to the whole and to one another.  The competent work, presumably, is one in which the parts are so consistent and harmonious that the work as a totality is an organism in which no part can be changed without detriment to the whole work.

TONE (The emotional quality of literature achieved by language, appropriate form, imagery, words, and rhythm.) The basic premise of those who use the yardstick of tone is that a fundamentally significant aspect of a literary work is the personal quality given the material as it passes through the mind and emotions of the author. 

EMOTIONAL IMPACTThe basic premise of this yardstick is that the most important aspect of a literary work is its effect upon the reader.  Its concerns, therefore, are chiefly psychological, and they deal with the type of effect, its intensity, its components, its duration, and its universality.

PERSONAL BELIEFS – By the yardstick of personal beliefs a literary work is considered good if it states or implies ideas that are already congenial to the reader.  In considering such a yardstick, we could range through the whole gamut of human qualities, for to one degree or another everything we have opinions about affects our judgment.  Here we can discuss only those concerns that most radically affect these judgments: morality, religion, politics and economics, philosophy, and literary criticism.

SIGNIFICANT INSIGHTSThe basic premise of those who use the yardstick of significant insights in making literary judgments is that literature should be the repository of the best that has been thought and said.  In the highest sense, it should be a “criticism of life,” for in making us conscious of the best it provides us with a standard against which we can measure our own thoughts and actions.  A work, then, is great to the extent to which it provides us with insight into what is best – what is true, good, and beautiful.  To apply this yardstick, the reader should consider every aspect of the work to determine what is the totality of its insight into life.  The core of the answer is likely to fall in one of four fields – the psychological, the sociological, the ethical, or the metaphysical.

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2 thoughts on “Nine Yardsticks for Deeper Reading

  1. Have you ever had to simplify these definitions? I love the categories but need to simplify the explanations for my students.

    1. Thanks for asking. I have done just that in my new book GETTING STARTED due out this November, published by Rowman and Littlefield Education.
      If you email me directly, I’ll be glad to share with you that section of the book designed for using this approach with younger students.

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