What exactly is "close reading"? How does it relate to the study of literature? Are there any instructions about how to do a close reading of a text/passage?
In literary criticism, close reading is the careful, sustained interpretation of a brief passage of a text. A close reading emphasizes the single and the particular over the general, effected by close attention to individual words, the syntax, and the order in which the sentences unfold ideas, as the reader scans the line of text.
Close reading expects readers to focus on the information that a text provides, without relying on a lot of information or support. This is different from other kinds of reading lessons you teach, in which you may start out by introducing teacher-set purposes, discussions of students’ life experiences, picture walks, and so on.
Close reading discourages such front-loading. The goal of close reading instruction is to foster independent readers who are able to plumb the depths of a text by considering only the text itself.
We all know that it’s not enough to just understand what a text says. Close readers not only grasp an author’s message, but they also take a look under the hood, so to speak. They try to recognize the author’s tone or perspective, the implications of the author’s word choices, and why a text is structured or organized as it is. Additionally, readers should go beyond a text, evaluating its quality or value, comparing it with other texts, or determining its implications. It’s a lot to ask of students, but with appropriate scaffolding and support, they can do it.
I think that means that when doing a close reading one examines writing by moving slowly through the text, examining very small distinctions such as the choice of a single word.