The Point of the PEEL

By Robyn Goyette

(English Literature, English Language Tutor at The Edge Learning Center)

Depositphotos_15863689_xl-2015

If you’d like to know how to write a better PEEL, a PEEL that begins strong, ends strong and takes just minutes to write, this might just be the blog for you. Yes, you too can write a great PEEL, and I will show you how. But if you can’t wait, go ahead and check-out the exemplar at the end of this blog.

Let’s begin

A common practice among many students is to begin their commentary by showcasing a literary device:

Ex: Macbeth’s diction shows his regret from the start.

Now, while devices have their place in a PEEL paragraph, they shouldn’t be the Point of a PEEL. Like never. I mean. Ever.

#PEEL devices cannot be the Point of the PEEL

The Point, the sentence that opens the paragraph, has 2 jobs:

  • it introduces the reader to the topic of the paragraph, and
  • it announces how that topic will be evidenced, explained, and linked to the writer’s intention.

Now, the topic of the PEEL is a literary element, which is quite different from a literary device. (I think this is where all the confusion arises, to be honest.)

Bottomline, devices are not meant to be the Point of a PEEL. Elements are.

Writers, like painters, create their masterpieces through elements. For writers, these elements are literary, such as setting, tone, and character (Psst. Things you find on a plotline.) And these, in turn, are created through language devices.

  • elements setting, character, tone, theme, . . .
  • devices sensory imagery, irony, syntax, . . .

Now, that relationship is expressed as the Point of the PEEL. For example,

  • The writer creates a solemn tone through sensory imagery.
  • The writer constructs the theme of duality through irony.
  • The writer reveals the main character’s motives through syntax.

Writer ● Element ● Device

Writer, element, and device are the 3 basic concepts of commentary writing. They form the Point of your PEEL, and they can occur in any order.

  • Gebbie presents a sense of realism through metaphor.
  • Through metaphor, Gebbie presents a sense of realism.
  • A sense of realism is presented in Gebbie’s work through metaphor.

From here on in, the rest of the paragraph pretty much writes itself because the 3 concepts represent the talking points, your sole focus from here on out.

Once you’ve written the Point, it takes only a few minutes to finish the PEEL. The idea is to focus on the element, like this:

  • Point → writer, element, device
  • Evidence → show the element
  • Explain → explain how the device presents the element
  • Link → link the effect of the element to the writer’s intention

Carrying the element through your PEEL doesn’t mean you have to mention it 4 times. No. The idea here is to keep the element in mind. Now, follow through like that and your ideas will flow easily. This is why writing your PEEL will take just minutes to write.

Unfortunately, some student PEELs showcase the device instead of the element, and the resulting PEEL not only begins weak, ends weak, and seems to take what seems like forever to write, it also misses the mark. Literally.

Don’t do this:

  • Point → writer, device
  • Evidence → show the device
  • Explain → explain the device
  • Link → link the device to the writer’s intention

Pointless PEELs are, well, pointless. Let sound good but lack a purpose. Consider this analogy: you’re part of a museum tour, and the guide comments: “da Vinci in painting the Mona Lisa chose free-flowing strokes.” Now, while it’s an interesting observation, it doesn’t tell us the reason da Vinci used free-flowing strokes. Was it a whim?

A much more interesting Point would connect the brushstrokes, the device, to an element. Perhaps something like this:
da Vinci in painting the Mona Lisa, his celebrated masterpiece, created a solemn tone through his masterful use of free-flowing strokes to reflect the Renaissance ideals of realism at the time.

Now that’s a better Point. Not only did it take a minute or less to write, it began strong and ended stronger.

If you want to generate an even higher score, add a fourth concept to the Point, the rationale.

Writer – Element – Device – Rationale

To find the rationale, all you have to do is turn the Point into a question:

Step 1 Point → da Vinci creates a solemn tone through free-flowing strokes.
Step 2 Question → Why did da Vinci choose a solemn tone?
Step 3 Rationale → to reflect the Renaissance ideals of realism.

As you can see, the rationale connects the writer’s intention to context. In other words, the rationale introduces the Link, the L of PEEL. And that’s why it’s a stellar Point: it houses 4 concepts, each a talking point that helps you write the rest of the paragraph.

(Vanessa Gebbie’s “Kettle on the Boat”, 2008)

To illustrate the impact of abject poverty, Vanessa Gebbie, in the unseen extract from her short story “Kettle on the Boat”, about a 6-year-old Inuit girl abandoned by her parents, creates a sense of realism through her expert use of metaphor. As the mother removes the ‘curtains’ from the kitchen window “two cracks” are revealed to the reader. Here the noun ‘cracks’ emphasizes the family’s state of poverty whereas the fact that there are the ‘two’ cracks visually illustrates the foreshadowing of the fractured family unit, which, in turn, evokes empathy in the reader for the mother as well as for the child she is forced to abandon. The sobering truth Gebbie poignantly illustrates is that parents are left with no choice but to sacrifice one child so that their other children might have a chance to survive.


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