Updated Critical Reading Worksheet

Thanks to everyone who commented on the last version of my close reading worksheet, now re-named a critical reading worksheet after it turned out that “close reading” is its own specific kind of thing, and tweaked a bit in response to suggestions from lots of people. In particular, I’ve added some questions to encourage my students to think about what they’re bringing to the text, and to notice their own reactions to it; and some questions which will hopefully get them thinking about the structure of the text and (where relevant) the argument. I think in future I might try to expand it to give some examples of paragraphs from academic texts which show the kinds of critical engagement that might result from asking each of these different questions, but this is the version I’ll be using in my teaching this year:

  1. Who is the text written by and what do you know about them?
  2. What type of text is this (a philosophical treatise, an autobiography, a poem, a lecture, sermon etc)?
  3. Who is the author writing for, and how might their intended audience shape the kind of text they are writing?
  4. Why is the author writing (to persuade, to argue, to describe etc)?
  5. Which parts of the text make you annoyed, excited, uncomfortable? Why?
  6. How are your own ideas and experiences affecting the way you are reading the text?
  7. How is the text structured? How does the author get from one paragraph to another?
  8. What kinds of authority does the author appeal to – reason (if X then Y), tradition (‘this is the way we’ve always done things’), experience, authority (‘the Bible says’, ‘important thinker X says’)? How convincing are these appeals?
  9. What assumptions does the author make?
  10. What binary oppositions does the text set up (good/bad, rational/emotional, civilized/uncivilized, private/public, masculine/feminine)? How does the author use these binaries, and are there points in the text where the binaries break down or become unstable?
  11. What metaphors and images does the author use, and what does this tell you about the assumptions they are making and the things that they value?
  12. What role do ideas about gender and sexuality play in this text, if any?
  13. What role do ideas about race play in this text, if any?
  14. What is the political structure of the society that this text was written in, and how (if at all) is this structure reflected and/or challenged in the text?

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