Teaching Close Reading

Each year, one of our most popular lightning lunches is on the topic of teaching close reading. Reading, after all, is at the heart of a liberal arts education. Teaching students to read carefully and critically–to discern arguments, analyze literature, assess evidence, and generally to make meaning of the text before you–is necessarily a part of what many of us will do in the classroom. Properly understood, teaching close reading is intricately connected to the ways we use writing and discussion in the classroom.

Generally, one of the most effective ways of teaching close, careful, and/or deep reading is to assign questions or topics for students to keep in mind when reading. The sooner students get in the habit of reading with questions–reading with an agenda, so to speak–the better. Especially with first-year students and sophomores, we encourage faculty to explicitly teach the practice of writing while (or immediately after) reading. Reading notebooks, reader-responses, and in-class writing in conversation with a text read outside of class are effective ways to model this habit. Setting up reading groups to meet outside of class (perhaps with questions to ponder together) is a way to encourage students to simply spend time with the texts.

For first-year students, or for anyone struggling with the reading process, Mortimer Adler’s “How to Mark a Book” is a valuable resource. This short essay, combined with some in-class writing in which students reflect on their reading practices, can inspire a rich conversation about the nuts and bolts of how we read and take notes. 

Below, we offer a series of documents shared by faculty during recent lunch discussion and follow-up workshops. (If you have any handouts you would be willing to share, please send them along.)

Adhaar Desai shares three handouts he uses in his Introduction to Literary Studies (Lit 103) course: Close Reading Instructions, a Reading Poetry Worksheet, and Reading Response Guidelines.

Brooke Jude shares two handouts focused on reading scientific papers: a “how to” guide to approaching primary papers and a General Worksheet on Reading.