Now read something written by a student. In her 2018 winning entry, Isabella Levine reviews “Anthem of the Peaceful Army,” the debut album by the rock band Greta Van Fleet. Here’s the sentence at the end of the first paragraph that best captures her opinion of the album:
The seeds of a potential rock revival are chewed up and spit out in an overproduced bastardization of rock that romanticizes the hippie era without any of its relevance or defiance.
To support her claim, this writer piles on the evidence about why “they don’t lack talent, just authenticity.”
Packaged in vagueness, themes about love or peace simply lack resonance for a modern audience. Climate change is touched upon in “Watching Over” when Kiazka sings, “And it’s our demise/With the water rising,” but the overtness found here is the exception rather than the rule. A more typical lyric borders on the ridiculous, like, “March to the anthem of the heart,” found on the album’s opener, “Age of Man.” Or try, “And every glow in the twilight knows/That the world is only what the world is made of,” the fluff of the acoustic tune “Anthem,” a song that might have been their “Dust in the Wind” or “Tangerine” but instead, devoid of nuance, falls flat. The track titles alone make Greta Van Fleet’s Achilles’ heel painfully clear: They are too unqualified to address these themes comprehensively yet not self-aware enough to realize it.
Now read the full review, then answer these questions:
What evidence does the writer use to support her opinion of the album?
Much of this review examines lyrics. How does Ms. Levine use those lyrics to prove her point?
The review isn’t a complete pan of the album. What redeeming qualities does she notice?
How does Ms. Levine organize the evidence into different paragraphs? What choices did she make about organization? How does each body paragraph build on the previous one to support her overall claim about the album?
Now Try This:
With a friend or a small group, or even a whole class, listen to a new song or watch a music video for the first time. As you listen, repeat the “Before Reading” exercise and generate as many adjectives, descriptive words and phrases as you can to describe what you hear (and see). Listen or watch a few more times, adding to your list.
Push yourself to come up with interesting, fresh words and precise descriptions.
Then, see if you can make a claim — state an opinion — about the music. This can be a simple statement (“this album gets you dancing”) or something more vivid, like Ms. Charlton did in her review (“‘The Modern Lovers’ is an album for being young and driving to nowhere in particular at 2 a.m.”) But whatever opinion you assert, now pull from your list of descriptions to write a paragraph full of supporting details.
Then, exchange your work with others, or take turns reading them aloud. What commonalities are there? Whose work defends a claim best, and how does that paragraph do it? What ideas can you borrow from others for your own writing?
More Review Mentor Texts for Supporting a Claim
We have suggested a range of texts here, but we also hope students will find their own by searching The Times or other media sources for reviews of the art and culture that matters most to them.
Times Review: “Standing Up for Humanity in a World of Screens,” a 2019 art review by Jason Ferago
One of Europe’s leading museums has devoted its biggest show of the season to someone who saw the future more clearly than any artist of his century. He was a restless traveler and a keen student of anatomy who danced across the boundaries of art and science. He blended ancient religion with new forms of representation, and sketched strange new machines that would be realized long after his death.
You thought I meant that lefty at the Louvre? Forget Leonardo: I’m talking about the Korean-American conjurer Nam June Paik (1932-2006), who appears as pioneering as ever in a broad retrospective at Tate Modern in London, and more urgent than ever as a defender of human life in a world dominated by technology.
Student Review: “Listening to The (Not So) Modern Lovers Forty Years Later,” by Maya Charlton
With mainly irreverent, but at the same time strangely relatable, lyrics and consistently good beats (shout out to drummer David Robinson, who went on to join The Cars!), “The Modern Lovers” is an album for being young and driving to nowhere in particular at 2 a.m. It’s the rare album that is an ode to every aspect of life. It has songs like “Roadrunner” that make you sing along at the top of your lungs and do awkward Hillary shoulder shimmies while try to keep your hands on the steering wheel (“Roadrunner, roadrunner/going faster miles an hour”).
Times Review: “Stephen King Visits an ‘Institute,’ Where the Kids Who Enter Can’t Escape,” a 2019 book review by Dwight Garner
King’s new novel — it is roughly, depending on how you count, his 61st — is titled “The Institute.” It’s a big shank of a book that reminded me instantly of many of the reasons I loved (love?) him. His characters are the kind of people who hear the trains in the night. The music is always good. He swings low to the ground. He gets closer to the realities and attitudes of working-class life in America than any living writer I can think of. In “The Institute” people worry about taking their Prilosec. They’re happy to notice that the Denny’s and the bowling alley are right next to each other.
Student Review: “‘The Good Place’: Astute, Heartwarming and Relevant All at Once,” a winning TV review from our 2018 Student Review Contest, By Helen Deng
Through existential crises and unexpected revelations, viewers are increasingly shown that nothing is black-and-white — this world even features a literal Middle Place. The plot may be unpredictable, but its overarching theme of ethics becomes consistently more important and insightful in this age. As our current nation confirms a man onto the Supreme Court because he sexually assaulted a woman while only being “a boy in college” and school shootings continue due to contentious beliefs around our “right to bear arms,” the ethical battle between the overall good versus personal values rages on.
Times Review: “A Brave Graphic Memoir of a Childhood Shadowed by a Parent’s Addiction,” a 2018 book review by Patricia McCormick
… “Hey, Kiddo” is a testament to the power of art and creativity — and a chain-smoking grandfather — to save your life.
Rendered in shades of gray with touches of burnt orange, the drawings are not lovely, but they are perfect. Their hectic lines convey the chaos and complexity of a life where addiction is a backdrop. The crowded panels portray the constant drama. And the characters’ facial expressions communicate a world of confusion, anger, shame and, ultimately, resignation. They are eloquent in a way that mere words are not.
Related Questions on Evidence for Any Review
What is this reviewer’s opinion of the work? How do you know? What words and lines from the review reveal that especially well?
How does the reviewer support his or her claims about this work? What descriptive details does he or she use?
How does the reviewer organize the evidence into different paragraphs? What choices did the reviewer make about organization?
What else do you notice or admire about this review? What lessons might it have for your writing?