Close Reading/Critical Thinking

The Art of Close Reading

Close reading is reading with an emphasis on:

  • understanding your purpose in reading
  • understanding the author’s purpose in writing
  • seeing ideas in a text as being interconnected
  • looking for and understanding systems of meaning

To read closely, students must get beyond impressionist reading. They must come to see that simply deciphering words on a page and getting some vague sense of what is there does not translate into substantive learning.

To read well is to engage in a self-constructed dialog with the author of a text. Close reading requires one to formulate questions and seek answers to those questions while reading. It requires connecting new ideas to already learned ideas, correcting mistaken ideas when necessary. 

Avoiding Impressionistic Reading and Writing

The impressionistic mind follows associations drawing no clear distinction between its own thinking and the author’s thinking. It is fragmented, uncritical, self-deceived, and rigid, it does not learn from what it reads.

Whatever knowledge the impressionistic mind absorbs is uncritically intermixed with prejudices, biases, myths, and stereotypes. 

Reading Reflectively

The reflective mind seeks meaning, monitors what is being said from paragraph to paragraph, draws a clear distinction between the thinking of an author and its own thinking. The reflective mind adjusts reading to specific goals. It interrelates ideas in the text with ideas it already commands. It assesses what it reads for clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, significance, and fairness. Being open to new ways of thinking, values new ideas and learns from what it reads.

One of the most important abilities that a thinker can have is the ability to monitor and assess his or her own thinking while processing the thinking of others. 

 In reading the work of others, you enter their minds. In coming to terms with the mind of another, you can come to better discover your own mind — both its strengths and its weaknesses. 

To do this, you must recognize that there are eight basic structures in all thinking. 

This article adapted from How to Read a Paragraph: The Art of Close Reading by Richard Paul and Linda Elder.


The Five Levels-

Paraphrasing- paraphrasing the text, a sentence at a time

  • State in your own words the meaning of a sentence.

Explicating- explicating the thesis of a paragraph

  • State the main point of a paragraph in one or two sentences.
  • Elaborate on what you have paraphrased (“In other words…”).
  • Tie the meaning to concrete real-world examples (For example)
  • Generate metaphors, analogies, pictures, or diagrams of the basic thesis to connect to meaning you already understand.

Analysis- analyzing the logic of what we are reading

Evaluation- assessing the logic of what we are reading

Role-playing- speaking in the voice of an author

Adapted from How to Read a Paragraph: The Art of Close Reading by Richard Paul and Linda Elder.