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How to Develop Close Reading Skills

Close reading is more than just a careful reading of a text. It is a technique that helps students to develop important thinking skills that are essential for getting the most out of education and out of life. It is a way of understanding, not only the text, but also the purpose for reading it. The student goes beneath the surface level to engage with the text, its structure, its language, and the ideas within it in an in-depth way. This is the basis for analysis, which is a critical learning skill. Approaching the text with awareness of five basic processes can help a student to develop this ability.

First Impressions
Before diving into a book or story, it is helpful for the student to take a step back and approach the text one piece at a time with purposeful attention. While reading a single block of text, the student begins by giving attention to the first thing that is noticed, and then the second thing. This leads to questions about whether the noteworthy things in the text are complementary or contradictive, and the effect this has on the student’s thoughts and feelings about the text.

This linguistic step of close reading takes the attention of the student to the level of the individual words. At this level, the student determines which words are immediately noticeable, how the diction affects the sense of the words, and how the words relate to each other. Any oddly used words or words with double meanings are noted, and unfamiliar words are looked up and defined.

Point of View
The point of view of any text is the perspective, opinion, or way of thinking of the speaker in the text. The student should consider who the speaker is and how the speaker’s presentation of the story or information may affect a reader’s reaction. The student should also be aware of his or her personal point of view and the effect this may have on the text. While this is a critical element of literary analysis, it is also a practical skill for reading news stories and other nonfiction texts.

Uncovering Patterns
As the student continues to read, repetitive images and themes are noted within each passage, and comparisons and connections drawn between passages in order to identify important symbols. Repetition of images and themes includes structural elements such as punctuation, sentence rhythm, and types of writing, as well as omissions and paradoxes.

Uncovering the patterns of the text is frequently the secret to discovering the symbolism. Recurrences of objects and elements such as colors or animals in the text may have deeper significance to the story. Noting these and asking what else they might represent is a significant step in discovering the symbolism. The student should also note what metaphors appear, if they are recurring, how many there are, and whether they come in any particular order.

Learning to approach any text with an awareness of these five steps is the basis for close reading. This provides the key that can open a world of information, so learning this skill early and developing the ability to apply it in all areas of learning can change the course of the student’s education.

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