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Close Reading Defined/Themes

Close Reading

Close reading is the practice of paying careful attention to all elements of a text (content, organization, tone, style, format, sentence structure, grammar, and such) in order to analyze, as well as comprehend the text and to become familiar with effective writing practices to be transferred into one’s own writing.

Recommended Steps for Close Reading

In an ideal reading process, the student will make multiple passes through the text and read for different elements on each pass.

1.  Review or skim the text for basic features: genre, structure, sections, headings, diagrams, title, purpose, and the like. Discuss what information these features provide to readers and how we should approach the text.

2.  Read the text for basic comprehension. Discuss purpose, main and supporting ideas, vocabulary, and be able to recall the fundamental ideas from the text.

3.  Read the text critically. Consider and discuss the author’s point of view and potential biases, assumptions made about readers’ knowledge and beliefs, consider what is unsaid or excluded from the text, and consider implications and possible interpretations of the material presented.

4.  Focus on a smaller passage and discuss the writer’s style and strengths of language, punctuation, and syntax.

Applying Close Reading to Student Writing

Understanding and articulating views on a text in writing puts into students’ writing practice the elements of strong writing identified through close reading. Direct imitation of good writing’s style and features, as well as indirect practice through high faculty expectations will help these elements of strong writing become habit and manifest in other written work.

Options for Direct Imitation Practice:

1.  For informational texts, have students imitate the tone, language, and structure of the text read in a piece of writing on a subject they know well. Another option is to have them summarize/paraphrase the text at the same level using the same tone.

2.  For argumentative texts, ask students to respond to the argument with their own point of view, either following the patterns and evidence use in the text read or directly rebutting the argumentative text using the author’s own evidence.

3.  Have students write a project or paper proposal that implements the requirements and genre conventions of the field as identified through close reading.

Close-Reading Habits of Skillful Readers

When reading, try asking yourself and/or your fellow readers (in the classroom or group) the following questions:

  • Why has the author chosen to write in this particular form (GENRE) and not another? Is this fiction or nonfiction? Is it an essay, a letter, a case study? Is this poetry or prose?
  • Who is speaking? In what “person” is the passage predominantly written? NOTE: Narrative voices/perspectives may change within a text.
  • To whom, to which AUDIENCE(s) is the author speaking? What is his or her TONE or STYLE?
  • Is the author saying things directly or with some degree of irony?
  • In what context (social, historical, literary) does this work belong?
  • What should readers do about puzzling vocabulary? Should readers stop to look up words?
  • Did this work fulfill your expectations?
  • Did this piece of reading make you see something new about a familiar subject? Did it make you understand something about life in a new way?


Common Reading Assignment for Effective Writing, 2018 – 2019

The CREW Pilot Study courses are HIS 101, SOC 101, ENG 101, and ENG 102. For Common Reading Assignments for Effective Writing, the Committee discussed several authors who could span those courses and stimulate the interest of the students, included the following:

  1.   Toni Cade Bambara, Gorilla, My Love
  2.   Arna Bontemps, “A Blackman Talks of Reaping”
  3.   Countee Cullen, The Black Christ and Other Poems
  4.   W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk
  5.   Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
  6.   Langston Hughes, “Let America be America Again”
  7.   Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
  8.   James Weldon Johnson, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”
  9.   Gayle Jones, Corregidora
  10.   Festus Claudius "Claude" McKay, Home to Harlem
  11.   Toni Morrison, Beloved
  12.   Jean Toomer, Cane
  13.   Alice Walker, The Color Purple
  14.   W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”