There are a few different types of literary essays that may be assigned to students. Younger students may simply be assigned expository literary essays, in which the student will report on the plot and content of the book, mostly to make sure that he or she has read it, and understood the material. More advanced students may write critical literary analysis papers, where students will focus on one aspect of the text, such as theme or symbolism, and deconstruct it. These often involve additional research. A literary review is another possible type of literary essay, in which students will offer more advanced critical opinions of the text without the benefit of additional research.
It is important for teachers to get started early with students, encouraging them to read and think critically about what they are learning. Though few people would think of book reports written in elementary school as literary essays, they are often the first chances students get to read something and then write about it. As students progress through school, the reports they produce should be less expository, and more critical. In high school, students will often be expected to write literary essays made up of analysis.
Similar to literary reviews, these critical analysis papers are often written without the benefit of a great deal of additional scholarly research, if any. Instead, students are expected to turn a critical eye to the piece they have read and write a response to it. Some teachers will want students to focus on a specific aspect of literary technique, such as theme or symbolism, to help students develop the skills of identifying these techniques; others will be seeking to persuade the reader to see his or her point of view. Students who are talented at this may find they enjoy writing literary reviews for a school newspaper or web site.
Literary essays written in college or beyond will be much more complex. These will nearly all require the use of multiple sources to back up a thesis statement. Students will either be seeking to answer a question, or to prove a point based on their own opinion of a text. It is important for students to develop this advanced skill as well, to use the research of others to help prove their own points without plagiarizing. These are a few of the most common literary essays; keep in mind that some people choose to publish these essays in books or magazines whether or not they are students in school as well.