Imagine this scenario where your high school professor comes into class and says, “students, let’s learn how to close read ‘To Kill A Mockingbird.”

You’ve already read that book, so you know it wouldn't be much of a problem.

But then, as your professor starts explaining to the class what close reading a text is and what it is required to do, you realize that this isn’t just a piece of cake and requires critical thinking and analysis.

Don’t worry. In this article, you will learn more about some essential close reading exercises for high school students.

What is Close Reading

So, what is close reading?

Close reading is a thoughtful, deep, critical analysis of a text that focuses on important details or patterns in the text to develop a profound and precise understanding of a story or text’s meaning, form, word usage, tonality, etc.

It delves deeper into the text to analyze, infer and interpret using a variety of literacy skills. Through this, students learn the purpose behind reading that specific text.

Close reading includes the following:
  • focusing on the text itself;
  • rereading deliberately;
  • noticing confusing concepts;
  • making notes;
  • discussing texts with others;
  • reposing to text-focused questions;
  • using short passages and excerpts.

Students don’t have to be told to close read every kind of text. For example, comics, children's books, or other texts with simple storylines and easy-to-understand vocabulary don’t need to be analyzed critically.

Texts that are appropriate for close reading should leave the students with thought-provoking messages that go beyond and above the text. These close-read-worthy texts should include complex ideas, information, words, and meanings that can be explored and discussed with other students in a classroom.

Close reading is extremely beneficial for high school students because it:

1. Helps students read and evaluate texts that are above their comfort level. This is a skill that is fundamental to succeed in academics.

2. Defends against “gist” or “compact” reading, where the students work on the main idea of the text and interpretations that are based on it rather than understand the meaning of it comprehensively.

These texts are actually a lot more than just the main idea and should be explored further.

3. Develops ‘language sensitivity’ and an ear for vocabulary, structure, rhythm, and syntax that is used throughout the text.

Here are 8 Close Reading Exercises for High School Students

Now, you know what close reading is and how important it is. Let’s take a look at eight effective close reading exercises for high school students.

Use movie stills

When you're told to analyze and “close read” a film, you should not only deconstruct the media still but should also understand and appreciate all the techniques and elements that go into creating the film.

In this case, your professor will cover the movie still with post-its and slowly reveal portions of the movie still.

You would then need to decipher what you think is happening in the scene of the movie. The goal in this situation is to close read the movie still without relying on the content or spoken words.

You might be further asked a few questions, such as:
  • What genre do you think this movie is categorized in?
  • Describe the scene taking place in the background.
  • What do you understand from the context of the movie image?

Make sure that you elaborate and explain the movie still at a deeper level, using the clues available, along with prior knowledge. Always avoid blindly making any assumptions.

Consider more complex texts

Your professors can prompt an analytical approach by giving you more complex texts to analyze. For example, they may provide you with a period piece that has different or unfamiliar words, accents, or dialects and needs to be deciphered.

Through this exercise, you’ll be challenged to read closely, pick out words or phrases that you don't understand or aren’t familiar with, and work towards clarifying what they mean.

Adding to this, you can also find the meanings, synonyms, or antonyms of these words, concepts, or dialects and be able to relate to the content of the text even better.

This exercise is crucial for knowing how to close read, as this will not only help you recognize words or concepts that you don't know but also encourage you to find out the meaning of these specific words or an appropriate solution to any issue.

Here’s a useful video by McGraw Hill on how to do a close reading of complex texts

Collect song lyrics for analysis

Song lyrics, like poetry, can mean completely different things to different people. If your professor tells you to critically examine song lyrics, choose a variety and start analyzing.

Work with your peers in groups of 3 or 4 and answer questions related to understanding the lyrics for a clearer process.

Start a discussion based on these lyrics and explain to your teachers what you understood from it, why certain terms were chosen by the songwriter, what the songwriter is trying to get across to their listeners, or if there's a negative or a positive impact that is evaluated through the lyrics, etc. In other words, understand why the songwriter wrote what they wrote.

This exercise helps you remain more engaged because, in this case, you’re trying to correctly describe song lyrics that you may not have ever heard, or have heard too many times but never understood exactly what the lyrics meant.

Encourage asking questions

While reading the story content, you may come across some questions that were left unanswered. Discuss why these questions were not clarified by the end and the conclusions that you’re coming to by using your imagination.

It’s good practice to read other people’s responses or interpretations and understand how to close read on a deeper level.

Viewing samples of other people’s close reading will not only help you identify where you are in the process but also know what you are required to do further and what you should be looking for when performing a close reading.

The ‘Article of the Week’ approach

One of the reasons why students struggle with reading and understanding a particular concept or text is because they have no prior knowledge or background information about it.

You can try to decipher these concepts or texts and understand them at your own pace, but if you have no foundation of knowledge on that subject, it becomes a task, and the words in the story or text remain incoherent.

Kelly Gallagher has a solution for this. He assigns his students an Article of the Week every Monday.

This was majorly designed to provide students with weekly critical reading practice to gain knowledge about the world and earn a different perspective. This approach can be used for understanding the background of your subject matter and getting enough prior knowledge for a successful close reading process.

Have study group sessions

When you’re assigned reading materials by your professor, study and discuss in groups of 4-5. Examine the content, decode it and understand the piece of text coherently.

Through these group discussion sessions, you would hear the opinions and the thought process of your peers and examine how they come to that conclusion. You could also compare and contrast your ideas and thoughts with the rest of your group.

Students who work in a group grasp information faster and understand concepts and assignments better than when they study independently at their desks.

“Need it or leave it” exercise

In this exercise, the focus questions are your guide. While reading, you should pick out words from the story that can help you in answering the focus question, then decide and categorize these words as “leave it” or “need it”, or put it for later to be discussed.

Creating an argument about why a word should be used and kept in the “need it” category or dump it in the “leave it” category, will make you prioritize concentrating on the focus question and analyzing the words from your reading material.

Deep Reading Chart

In this exercise, divide your paper down by the middle into two columns. For the first column, if appropriate to the reading material, respond to the selected prompts.

In the second column, elaborate on the responses that you’ve given while examining the given prompt and why you came to this conclusion.


Close reading has been practiced by professors and students alike for many, many years as multiple universities support it and use it for their classes.

It’s beneficial to students and is a necessary life skill that one should have when analyzing texts for assignments and projects.

Close reading exercises for high school students make the process of it all much more engaging and interesting to analyze and take away the stress that can befall students when examining complex texts.

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Custom Essays:

Crafted from Scratch for You.

Plagiarism Removal:

Ensuring Your Work’s Originality.

Rewriting & Paraphrasing:

Transform Your Draft into Excellence.

Editing & Proofreading:

Perfecting Your Paper’s Grammar, Style, and Format (APA, MLA, etc.).