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  • Writer's pictureScott Cameron

Close Reading Passages in Novels

There’s nothing like close reading.  A bunch of colorful annotations on a poem is a beautiful thing.  Close reading is a valuable skill and appeals to math and science students who like formulas, logic, and problem solving.  Students love to find patterns and link the syntax of a sentence with its meaning which is why close reading prose can be just as fun as close reading poetry.  Some novels function like long poems – think of Woolf, Faulkner, and Morrison.  Some novels contain little moments of poetry, wonderful sentences and paragraphs that build on ideas and images as they move along. 


Close reading a passage in a novel can be challenging because students need to connect the various literary devices and ideas to the entire story.  They have to consider the context of the passage and character development when determining its meaning, not just the words in front of them.  While they think about these larger motifs and themes, students must link them to the use of techniques like similes, parallel structure, symbolism, metaphor, personification, repetition, lists, and punctuation.  I print out each short passage or quote on a piece of paper and ask students to annotate them up with markers so that the rest of the class can easily see their comments projected from a document camera. 


During whole-novel activities, students can close read as many as twenty passages related to the same topic.  In The Kite Runner, Hossieni explores how memory can either silence or inspire.  Amir attempts to forget many of his memories, but they have a life of their own.  His experiences trigger memories throughout the book, sometimes because he conjures them up and sometimes because they instantly appear in his mind.  His memories, positive or negative, either motivate him to do the right thing, or fill him with self-doubt and insecurity.   


Here is one example on page 123 in The Kite Runner:


“I only knew the memory lived in me, a perfectly encapsulated morsel of a good past, a brushstroke of color on the gray, barren canvas that our lives had become.” 


Hosseini, Khaled. The Kite Runner. Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 2018.

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