This a brief collection of slides I use when introducing educators to close reading as both an annotation task and discussion task. The text is included in the sides (Loren Eiseley's "the Hidden Teacher."
Annotating" means underlining or highlighting key words and phrases—anything that strikes you as surprising or significant, or that raises questions—as well as making notes in the margins. When we respond to a text in this way, we not only force ourselves to pay close attention, but we also begin to think with the author about the evidence—the first step in moving from reader to writer.
Close Reading: from Text Annotation to Talk
Close Reading: From
Annotation to Talk
Close Reading Focus
1. Analyze paragraphs on a sentence by sentence basis and sentences on a
word by word basis to determine the role played by individual
paragraphs, sentences, phrases, or words .
2. Investigate how meaning can be altered by changing key words and
why an author may have chosen one word over another .
3. Probe each argument in persuasive text, each idea in informational
text, each key detail in literary text, and observe how these build to a
4. Examine how shifts in the direction of an argument or explanation are
achieved and the impact of those shifts .
5. Question why authors choose to begin and end when they do .
6. Note and assess patterns of writing and what they achieve .
7. Consider what the text leaves uncertain or unstated.
1. Read with a pencil in hand, and annotate the text
(surprises, significance, questions, word
choice, definitions for unknown terms).
2. Look for patterns in the things you've noticed
about the text—
repetitions, contradictions, similarities.
3. Ask questions about the patterns you've
noticed—especially how and why.
4. Jot down a response to this question: What
unexpected lesson did Loren Eiseley learn?
Close Reading Process
“The Hidden Teacher”
. . . I once received an unexpected lesson from a spider. It happened far away on a rainy
morning in the West. I had come up a long gulch looking for fossils, and there, just at eye
level, lurked a huge yellow-and-black orb spider, whose web was moored to the tall spears of
buffalo grass at the edge of the arroyo. It was her universe, and her senses did not extend
beyond the lines and spokes of the great wheel she inhabited. Her extended claws could feel
every vibration throughout that delicate structure. She knew the tug of wind, the fall of a
raindrop, the flutter of a trapped moth's wing. Down one spoke of the web ran a stout ribbon
of gossamer on which she could hurry out to investigate her prey.
Curious, I took a pencil from my pocket and touched a strand of the web. Immediately there
was a response. The web, plucked by its menacing occupant, began to vibrate until it was a
blur. Anything that had brushed claw or wing against that amazing snare would be
thoroughly entrapped. As the vibrations slowed, I could see the owner fingering her
guidelines for signs of struggle. A pencil point was an intrusion into this universe for which
no precedent existed. Spider was circumscribed by spider ideas; its universe was spider
universe. All outside was irrational, extraneous, at best raw material for spider. As I
proceeded on my way along the gully, like a vast impossible shadow, I realized that in the
world of spider I did not exist.
We are going to try something a little different today. It’s called
“snowballing,” and it gives you a chance to think and talk a variety of
configurations. Recall the question posed before: What unexpected
lesson did Loren Eiseley learn?
Begin this activity by gathering your thoughts on these questions in
private reflection. Jot down some of these reflections if you wish.
After five minutes of solitary thought, you will begin a dialogue on
the questions with one other person.
After another five minutes, you and your partner should join another
pair to form a group of four. You will continue the discussion for ten
Think about how your understanding changed as you discussed and
listened to others.