How to Write a Response Essay in Classic English Literature: What is Expected?

Writing guide
Posted on April 15, 2021

Today students have to deal with so many papers that it is hard to spot the difference. Fortunately, many online guides can help to make out each academic writing assignment. A student has to cope with various types of essays. A response essay is one of the most popular academic assignments in Classic English Literature. First of all, one should find out what a response essay is.

The word ‘response’ means ‘to react to some question, problem, experience, etc’. Consequently, a response essay is a reaction of a student to some literary work. When tutors and professors ask students to write a response essay in Classic English Literature, they want them to sum up the work and provide a personal viewpoint concerning its value. As a rule, students are expected to:

  • agree or disagree with the main idea of the text;
  • connect the described in the text situation or problem with their life experience;
  • analyze the work and compare or contrast it to other works they have read before;
  • analyze the target audience and the author;
  • evaluate the efforts of the author to convince the reader in his or her viewpoint and decide if they were effective.

To sum up, a response essay in Classic English Literature is the ability of a person to react to ideas and messages of the literary work. It shows a student’s ability to estimate the paper and attempts of the author to evoke a response from the reader.

How to Write a Response Essay in Classic English Literature: Pre-Writing Tips

Professionals recommend reading the required for the essay work twice. The first reading will let you understand what you feel about the work (your first impression). You will be not distracted by trying to find symbols, keywords, descriptions, etc. The seconds reading helps you look for the key elements submitted with a critical eye. These might be ideas, quotes, culmination, striking expressions, symbols, etc. Do not forget to underline or jot down literary devices and pay attention to writing style and genre of the paper.
Sometimes the language and the plot of the literary work seem to be complicated and hard for understanding. Experts suggest looking for the keywords and try to find out their meaning. It is a good decision to learn about the background of the paper. For example, young readers can hardly understand the concept of the American dream described in “The Great Gatsby” by Fitzgerald. So, they should search for its notion on the Internet or in books in History to comprehend the novel and later write a response essay on it.
A writer should keep in mind 4 prompt questions when composing a response essay.

  1. What do I feel about the novel/ play/ poem/ story I have read?
  2. Do I agree with the author’s position concerning the core problem and idea?
  3. Have I experienced something alike?
  4. How can I analyze and evaluate the paper?

The main task of a student is not to retell the plot of the book or story but to respond to the assigned literary work.

How to Write a Response Essay in Classic English Literature: Topics

Sometimes college tutors want to check their student’s creativity and do not provide them with the topic for their essay. Tutors give a list of English Classics and ask their students to choose one, suggest a topic, and write a response essay. How to select a topic for such type of writing?
The problem of essays in Classical English Literature is in the lack of novelty. Researchers and students from all over the world have discussed the most popular works a thousand times. Students should try to find unexplored topics or add something new to the existing topics. A team of experts has created a list of topics you can regard as a sample one.

  • Why did Shakespeare ‘Kill’ Key Characters in All His Plays?
  • ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens: Loneliness as the Worst Punishment;
  • ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’: Tom Robinson as s Personification of “Powerless” Afro Americans;
  • ‘Crimes and Punishments’: Have You Met Sherlock Holmes in Your Life?
  • Natural Selection in ‘The Lord of Flies’ by W.Golding: Which Side Would You Take if You Were One of Those Kids?

One should also differentiate between Classic and Classical Literature. Classical literature represents the most prominent works of ancient civilizations. Classic Literature covers more works. There are novels, poems, tragedies, comedies, pastorals, and other masterpieces that deserved to be included in the list. It can be a book that readers regard as a classic of the genre (for example, Stephen King’s ‘Misery’) and TOP classic (e.g., ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ by R.L. Stevenson).

How to Write a Response Essay in Classic English Literature: Structure

The structure of the response essay does not differ from the structure of an average essay. It must have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Experienced students advise to:

  • write a response essay using present tenses;
  • vary long and short sentences to provide good readability of the text;
  • make a plan to structure the paper;
  • connect all sentences and parts of the text logically;
  • devote enough time to writing.

An outline helps to brainstorm ideas and reflect them in the title. It is a perfect assistant in paper structuring, self-organization, and timing.

Now let’s speak about the peculiarities of each part of an essay separately.


Each paper must have a name. The title functions as the name of the paper. Its task is to convey the main idea of the essay. Students must make it laconic (up to 75 characters) and precise.
Bad variant: Tragedy of Hamlet
Good variant: ‘Hamlet’ by W. Shakespeare: Betrayal Provokes Madness or Hamlet’s Tragedy


A response essay includes a summary of the work and a student’s reaction to it. The introduction of the response essay usually consists of three paragraphs.
The first paragraph presents a summary. It must not be subjective. Students briefly retell the plot and mention the author and publication date. They highlight the core idea and supporting points of literary work. Students can give some quotes to emphasize the idea.
The second paragraph informs the reader about the subject of the essay. Students can include keywords taken from the text.
The third paragraph manifests the thesis statement of the paper. A thesis statement has one or two sentences that briefly introduce the idea of the essay and the author’s intentions.
Example: ‘The Trial’ by F. Kafka is the reflection of the contemporary society where ‘small’ people doubt their innocence under the negative impact of authorities.
It is better not to mention your viewpoint concerning classic work at the beginning of the essay. A thesis statement gives a hint but you can change your position to intrigue the reader. Sometimes a writer should say that ‘I agree’ or ‘I disagree’ with the thesis statement and provide facts and information to make the reader take your side. Those, who agree, expand the idea and those, who disagree, provide personal reflection in the body of the essay.

The introductory part serves as an eye-catcher. Consequently, a student should make it startling. Shocking statistics, incredible facts, provocative questions, funny short stories, anecdotes, explanations, and call-to-action sentences can engage the audience and involve them in the reading.

Example: Most people say that they would never join Jack and become aggressive. Is that really so? To be a kid means to be afraid to starve, meet wild animals, and die. Jack was aggressive but he was strong and it was not smart to be his enemy. Famine in the USSR resulted in cannibalism and cruelty. Could weak children’s psychology rebel against the universal natural selection? (‘The Lord of Flies’ by W. Golding)

Professional writers also like to use a writing technique called ‘framing’. They write the first half of the story at the beginning of the essay and the second part of the story at the end of the essay. For instance, you may start with personal experience, then connect it with the content of the literary work, write the body, and finish with the ending of your life story.


This part of the essay reflects the reaction of the writer to the classic work. There are several ways for a student to respond:

  • one can agree with the thesis statement and explain the position;
  • a person can disagree with the idea and explain the reason for that;
  • one can partially agree and disagree with the idea;
  • students can analyze the paper and identify the question that urged them on writing;
  • a writer can reflect personal feelings and emotions and indicate words, phrases, and devices the author has used to influence the reader;
  • students can point to changes they have experienced due to the literary work or relate the subject to the present-day world.

The body should also have several paragraphs. The first paragraph provides the reaction to the topic and the rest ones support the viewpoint with facts, quotes taken from the text, true stories, etc. Professionals recommend turning to the author’s position and cite it in the essay. To avoid repetition, one can use synonyms to the word ‘said’ as the author argues, investigates, explains, suggests, warns, advises, reassures, mentions, comments, defines, concludes, etc.


Students have to conclude their arguments in the last part of the paper. The conclusion should be also striking. Just like in the introduction, a student can conclude with a vivid image, fact, or final part of the framing story. Students can call to action and make readers agree with their position or change their minds.

These are some ideas for the introductory and concluding parts of the essay:

Introduction Conclusion
the beginning of the framing story the end of the framing story
what you expect did your expectations come true
describe expectations how your expectations changed
ask a question answer the question
give a fact how the fact helps to understand the topic
what do we know about the topic
present a quotation how this quotation explains a thesis statement

Students must sound convincing and clear when writing a response essay. If they need help from experts, they can hire a writer for an essay to be completed from scratch in just a few clicks.

How to Write a Response Essay in Classic English Literature: Post-writing Tips

Before a person decides to hand in the paper it is important to do 3 basic things.


A person should read a paper three times before handing it in. Firstly, a student will be able to correct mistakes and improve the structure. Secondly, a writer will see if the essay looks better after the correction. The third time will help to check everything and make sure that it is OK.


The Internet is full of free samples students can study. Unfortunately, some of them decide to copy and paste them. As a result, mentors can reject the paper and blame a student for plagiarism. The college committee can decide to give a second chance but the reputation of the student will be tarnished. Some colleges expel a student because they do not want to have cheaters. One can use online plagiarism checkers to find out the uniqueness of the paper.
Moreover, it is essential to enlist the applied literature. Each source is to be trustworthy. There are some useful and reliable websites students can use when writing a response essay.


Students must pay attention to the demands of the college. These can be the volume of the paper, the number of applied sources, and formatting. The last one deals with spacing, fonts, size of the font, margins, and styles (MLA, APA, Chicago, Harvard).
Students can study free examples online or ask their professors, tutors, and experienced friends to share sample papers.


  1. Lombardi, E. (2019 19). What’s the Difference Between Classical and Classic Literature? Retrieved from
  2. Hulmes, S. (2016 21). What Is a Framing Narrative? Retrieved from
  3. Lab, Purdue Writing. “Creating a Thesis Statement, Thesis Statement Tips //.” Purdue Writing Lab, Accessed 24 Mar. 2020.
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