First-Year Preceptorial

Guide for Close Reading Literary Texts

Critical Reading Handouts

anupama jain                                                                          Fall 2006


Read a passage (or poem) a few times, assuming that all words and ideas are significant to the author’s meaning.

  1. Circle important words and phrases in the selected piece of text.
  2. Determine the meanings of all words and references unfamiliar to you.
  3. What impression does the piece initially give you?
  4. Examine the language of the passage.
    1. Diction or word choice:  is the language formal, simple, unusual, etc.?
    2. Connotations:  do words have more than one meaning?  what moods/attitudes do you associate with the words?
    3. Allusions:  are there references made to historical events, myths, other works of literature, etc.?
    4. Imagery:  Are there metaphors, similes, analogies, personifications, metonymy, etc.?  What do these images have to do with one another?
  5. Examine the structure of the passage.
    1. Form:  Consider the presentation of the passage.  How does it look on the page?  Does this relate to the meanings?
    2. Development:  How does the piece develop?  Examples include:  through chronology, by cause and effect, by free association, by repetition, by mood.
    3. Punctuation:  What kinds are used in the passage?  Does it affect how you read it? 
  6. Connect the images, language, and structure together to describe how they collectively contribute to a broader meaning for you.
  7. What do you think the overall significance of this passage is?  For example, what is the author’s attitude towards the themes in the passage?  What makes you think this?
  8. What does the piece convey about issues that may be of significance to all or many people? 
  9. What is the piece’s overall mood, purpose, intent, or conclusion?
  10. How does this text help you understand common literary themes or ideas?