Simple Steps for Close Reading

Close Reading or Explication de texte operates on Mrs. Arable's (Charlotte's Web) premise, "I don't understand it, and I don't like what I don't understand." Following these simple steps before writing a Reading Response will encourage understanding.

  1. Select one very short passage (In some cases, the passage may already be chosen for you.)

  2. Look for similes first. If there are similes there might be metaphors as well. A metaphor that continues throughout the book, in a number of different modalities? Just how does this metaphor or simile work?

  3. Look up key nouns and verbs in a good, desktop dictionary. Look for multiple meanings (blue-bottle?) Don't assume you know the word's complexity, the phrase's depth, complexity, and quality.

  4. Provide a very brief context for the passage.

  5. Style and structure. Remember that prose can be as complicated as poetry. Anaphora? Polysyndeton? length of sentences, narrative voice, descriptive passages, use of similes, metaphor, and symbols, and dramatization, chronological time sequence or flashbacks, rhetorical tropes, syntax, depth, complexity, and quality

  6. Characterization. What new or culminating insight does this passage give about a character?

  7. Ideas or concepts. Concentrating on the text only, what ideas or concepts does this passage generate? (Avoid truisms and cliches.)

  8. Thesis. Formulate a thesis statement to begin your Reading Response.