Close Reading

Scientists use magnifying glasses to look at things up close. The magnifying glass allows them to note small details that they might have overlooked if they did not look so closely. Similarly, close reading enables readers to see the critical details of a text that they might have missed if they did not read small passages with careful, sustained attention. Close reading helps readers comprehend texts, develop literary analysis skills, and build vocabulary. 

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    Close Reading, Magnifying Glass Illustration, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Closely reading a text is like using a magnifying glass to observe all its key details.

    Close Reading Definition

    Close reading is a reading strategy in which readers focus on specific details and elements such as sentence structure and word choice. The process requires strong concentration and is the opposite of skimming a text. It is typically accomplished with short passages.

    Close reading is the focused reading of a short passage of text with careful attention to detail.

    Importance of Close Reading

    Close reading is important because it helps readers understand a text in-depth. The strategy helps readers comprehend how an author purposefully used certain words and literary techniques to elucidate overarching ideas. Understanding the text on such a detailed level informs critical analysis.

    For example, imagine students have to write an essay analyzing William Wordsworth's use of imagery in his poem "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" (1807). The students could skim the poem and note important images, but they would not understand how Wordsworth created those images and what meaning they convey. If the students closely read certain stanzas in the poem, they will begin to see how the poet used particular words, word order, and sentence structures to create impactful imagery.

    Steps in Close Reading

    There are three main steps in the close reading process.

    Step 1: Read the Text for the First Time

    The first time readers review a text, they should try to understand its most important ideas and elements. For instance, they should ask themselves the following questions:

    • What is the main topic or idea of this passage?

    • Are there characters or people in this passage? If so, who are they and how do they relate?

    • What is happening in this passage? Do characters exchange dialogue? Is there internal dialogue? Is there action?

    • How does this passage relate to the rest of the text? (If the reader has read the passage's full text).

    Readers should annotate the passage while they read. Annotating a text includes highlighting main ideas, noting questions, and looking up unfamiliar words.

    Step 2: Note Patterns and Techniques

    After reading the text for the first time, the reader should reflect on what patterns and techniques they observe. For instance, they can ask themselves the following questions:

    • How is this text structured?

    • Are any main ideas, words, or phrases repeated? If so, why might the author have done this?

    • Is there any contradictory information in this text? What is the effect of that contrast?

    • Does the author use any literary devices such as hyperbole or metaphor? If so, what images do these evoke, and what meaning do they create?

    Close reading can also help readers develop their vocabulary. While closely reading a text, readers should note unfamiliar words and look them up. Researching the words helps the reader understand the text and teaches them new words.

    Step 3: Reread the Passage

    The initial reading of the text familiarizes the reader with what it is about. Once the reader has noted patterns and techniques, they should read the entire passage a second time with a more intentional focus on organizational patterns. For instance, if the reader notes a certain word repeated several times in the passage, they should pay close attention to that repetition during the second read and reflect on how it shapes the meaning of the text.

    When reading a text closely, readers should read it at least twice. However, it often takes three or four read-throughs to pick out all the key elements!

    Close Reading Methods

    There are several methods that readers can use while conducting a close read, all of which help readers attentively interact with the text.

    Readers should read the passage with a pencil or pen in hand. Annotating while reading promotes interaction with the text and allows readers to note key details. While reading, readers can underline, circle, or highlight what they find important and jot down questions or predictions. For instance, they should note:

    • Details they think are important concerning the main idea of the text.

    • Information that surprises them.

    • Details that connect to other parts of the text or other text.

    • Words or phrases they do not understand.

    • The author's use of literary devices.

    Close Reading, Glasses and a pencil on top of two open books, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Having a pencil in hand is useful for doing a close read.

    Close reading is similar to a strategy called active reading. Active reading is the act of engaging with a text while reading it with a specific purpose. It involves using various strategies while reading a text, such as highlighting important phrases, asking questions, and making predictions. Readers can actively read all types of texts of any length. They can apply active reading strategies when performing a close read of a brief passage to stay attentive to critical details.

    Close Reading Examples

    The following example demonstrates how a reader might do a close read of the last passage of Chapter 1 in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925).

    Example of Reading the Text for the First Time

    The reader annotates the text and notes the main elements and ideas during the first reading. For instance, they note that the only characters present are the narrator and Mr. Gatsby. They also note important context, such as the time of year and where the characters are. The reader also highlights literary devices that stick out. Even if the reader doesn't understand something perfectly, they glean that phrases like "pools of light" contribute to the ambiance of the scene and the relaxed tone of the passage.

    Close Reading, Example text that highlights context, literary devices, characters and important action, StudySmarterFig. 3 - This is an example of step 1 of close reading.

    Example of Noting Patterns and Techniques

    After reading and annotating the text for the first time, the reader reflects on important elements and patterns. In this example, the reader notes the passage features a character whose name is in the title of the work. Even if the reader has not read the book, the fact that the text is named after the character suggests his importance. This realization prompts the reader to reflect on how the author introduces the character in the passage.

    They note the passage starts with a depiction of the natural world, which makes the world alive and almost magical. They note the character's entrance alongside meaningful words such as "heavens," which suggests there is a connection between the mysterious, powerful elements of nature and this man.

    Example of Rereading the Text

    Now that the reader has reflected on important elements in the text, they can go back and read the text with a focus on those details.

    Close Reading, Example text that highlights context, literary devices, characters and important action, StudySmarterFig. 4 - This is an example of step 3 of close reading.

    The reader goes back and underlines information connected to the patterns observed in the previous step. Here they note parts of the passage that seem to mythologize the speaker. They see their observations about the character's larger-than-life persona are true.

    Try to close read a passage from a book or story you want to write about!

    Close Reading - Key takeaways

    • Close reading is the focused reading of a short passage of text, with attention to distinct elements.
    • Close reading is important because it helps readers understand a text, strengthened literary analysis skills, and builds vocabulary.
    • To conduct a close reading, readers should first read and annotate the text with a focus on the main ideas and elements.
    • After reading the text for the first time, readers should reflect on patterns like repetition and structure and reread and annotate again with a focus on technical details.
    • While close reading, readers should note the use of literary devices and techniques, organizational patterns, unfamiliar words, and important details.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Close Reading

    What is close reading?

    Close reading is the focused reading of a short passage of text with attention to distinct elements.

    What are the steps of close reading?

    Step 1 is reading and annotating the text with a focus on the main elements and important details. Step 2 is reflecting on organizational patterns and literary techniques in the text. Step 3 is reading the text again with a focus on the elements from step 2. 

    What is the importance of close reading?

    Close reading is important because it helps readers understand a text, develop their literary analysis skills, and build their vocabulary. 

    What are close reading questions?

    While close reading readers should ask themselves questions like how is this text structured? Does the writer use literary techniques like repetition?  

    How do you end a closing reading essay?

    To end a close reading essay the writer should restate the main point of their analysis of the passage. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of the following is a strategy for close reading?

    What is the minimum number of times a reader should read a passage during a close reading?

    What is the first step in close reading?

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    Team Close Reading Teachers

    • 8 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
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