How To Write An Essay Responding To A Quote

Every time you walk into my classroom, there will be a quotation written on the board. As soon as you come in, sit down, take out your notebook, and write a response to the quote.

You don't need to copy the quote into your notebook, especially if it takes a long time. You won't get any credit for doing that, and you won't lose credit if you don't. Make sure you write the date, and the letter "Q," (example: 9/12/05 Q) to label the entry so I know it's there when I grade the notebook.

Let's use the following quote, from the rock opera "Tommy," as an example:

"Come on the amazing journey, and learn all you should know." - Pete Townshend

Now, the quote is not a riddle, or a puzzle for you to "solve." You don't have to try to "figure it out." There's no "right answer," nothing specific that I'm looking for. It's not a test. All you need to do is write what you think; not necessarily what you think it means, or what the person was trying to say, but whatever it means to you, whatever it makes you think of. The quote is just there to get you thinking, to give you ideas, a place to start.

As I said, there's no right answer, but there are some wrong ones:

I have no idea what this quote means.
I don't know what to write.
I don't understand this quote.
This quote makes no sense to me.

Obviously, anything like that is not acceptable, because it shows that you're not thinking. Don't let your mind go this way. You can find meaning, if you just let it make you think. But don't just sit there "thinking." You need to do your thinking in the notebook, not in your head. Let the writing make you think, not the other way around. Like Sean Connery said in the movie Finding Forrester, "The first key to writing is to write...not to think."

Also, you shouldn't begin your entry with anything like:

What I think this means is…
I think what Mr. Townshend was trying to say is…
This quote means…

Other than this being a terrible waste of time and space, and the fact that you won't get credit for it, is there really any difference in meaning between

What I think this quote by Pete Townshend is trying to say is that learning is a journey, and it can be an amazing one if you want it to be.


Learning is a journey, and it can be an amazing one if you want it to be.

?  Of course not. The second one says the same thing in half as many words. There is one important difference, however: in the first example, the idea the writer had is the end of a train of thought, a "fill-in-the-blank" question, but in the second example, it's the beginning. As such, you can't really be "done" responding to a quote. Again, the quote is there to get you thinking and give you an idea; you need to begin with that idea and keep exploring whatever ideas come up. Keep writing until I bring your attention to something else, such as a discussion, mini-lesson, etc.

Here is an example of a strong. thoughtful response to this quote:

Learning is a journey, and it can be an amazing one if you want it to be. I guess it's up to the individual to learn anything on the journey. Maybe if you do learn something, then the journey will be amazing; or if it's an amazing journey, you'll learn more. Everything in life is a journey, really, but does anyone ever really learn all they should know? Hopefully I'll learn all I should know before I graduate, though high school so far hasn't really been all that amazing. It's been more of an arduous journey than an amazing one, especially when I think about…

As you can see, this entry could go on forever. If you get on a roll like this, you know you're doing well. The key is to just start writing and don't let yourself stop. Don't think; just write.

*** IMPORTANT*** When we are working on a writing project, there will still be a quote on the board each day, but you only need to respond to it if you are finished with a draft or revision and are waiting for me to respond. Otherwise, ignore the quote and go straight to work on your current draft or revision.

When we are reading a book, the quotes will come from the book, from the reading that was assigned for that day. Click here for a demonstration of how to respond to quotes that come from books we're reading.

Essays in response to quotations are pretty common. This is a special way of presenting a topic to students that calls for their reaction and comments. Use the following hints while writing your paper.

  • Mind your first impressions.
  • Read the quote, and focus on the immediate impression it makes on you. Think about the context in which you were given this assignment. It might concern your current unit, the topic you discussed in class, or the book you’ve read recently. Decide whether you agree or disagree with the phrase, and what associations it brings up.

  • Find the keyword.
  • Sometimes it’s very difficult to grasp the meaning of a saying. Read it over and over and determine the keyword. It should be the most important word that provides the foundation on which you write your essay.

  • Know the purpose.
  • By knowing the purpose of your task, you’ll have a clear understanding of what to write about. Remember that this type of writing is not just about giving your opinion. The underlying thing is having a deep background knowledge on the topic, and the ability to match it with the quotation. Always try to figure out why you were suggested this particular fragment and what you are expected to explain.

  • Do a bit of free-writing.
  • As soon as you read your task and get the idea of how it corresponds to the general topic you’re currently discussing with your teacher, jot down everything that comes to your mind. You should analyze why the author said what they did, what side they took, or what pushed them to say so. Then decide whether you support them or completely disapprove of their words. Write non-stop for about 5–10 minutes, and after that, reread your notes, highlighting the most relevant comments.

  • Take a stand.
  • Usually you have to give persuasive arguments to support your ideas, so make sure you are confident about your position. Otherwise, you will sound unconvincing.

  • Write the introduction.
  • Your first sentence should state the quote and the author. Also note that, “So many men, so many minds”; that’s why this phrase can be interpreted differently. Introduce what it means to you. Choose three main points that will clarify the keyword and write them in your thesis statement.

  • Stick to the essay structure.
  • Scrutinize each of the main points in the body paragraphs: one point for each paragraph. Start your concluding part with the phrase “In conclusion”, and write how the main word is understood by the author and by you. Then paraphrase your thesis statement.

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