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Step-by-step Guide to Blogging Close Readings
This assignment was designed to get students to practice their close reading skills in a short, condensed format of a blog post. Students sign up to blog for a given class day, chosing a short passage from the assigned reading for that day.
Close reading, presentation,
Wordpess account - with course blog and students as users.
E314J - Introductory Literary Studies Course - Gay and Lesbian Literature
In this course we will question whether we can indeed ascribe a “unity” to gay and lesbian culture or politics. Attending to a diverse array of moments in gay and lesbian history—moments of anger, sadness, triumph and hope—we will consider the how discourses of sexuality at a given time shape and inform the representation of same-sex desire in literature, film and other new media. The course will prepare students for the English major by familiarizing them with formal, historical, and cultural approaches to literature, as a well as by providing them with a sense of the history of sexuality, romantic love, and identity politics.
This assignment was designed to get students to practice their close reading skills in a short, condensed format of a blog post. Students sign up to blog for a given class day, chosing a short passage from the assigned reading for that day. They blog 200-300 words before midnight the night before class, using textual support and images to make a claim about the passage they chose. They present this post in class the next day.
I post the blogging instructions on my website at the beginning of the semester and keep them available for students to consult. There are short instructions containing basic information about the assignment and timeline on the course homepage and then more detailed instructions regarding what the post should entail when students click the link for "Blogging Instructions."
Steps for Completing a Blog Assignment:
1) Blog (200-300 words) by 12:00 noon the day before a presentation. For detailed instructions on what to write see Blogging Instructions.
2) Style your blogpost with appropriate images, formatting and short quotations.
3) Cite the passage you are analyzing (no longer than a short paragraph) at the bottom of your post on a separate line in MLA format. See the OWL at Purdue website to figure out how. Don't forget in-text citations which reference the page number after any quotes!
4) Present in class the day you signed up for (be ready to engage with comments on your post)
1) Choose a short section from the reading/film.
Choose a section that intrigues you. You may be drawn by the language of the passage, the events chronicled, the emotions that it evokes. You may be confused by its appearance in the text, or its placement. You may not understand it. You may be disgusted by it. Bored by it. Find it humorous. Any reason that you are drawn to a particular moment in a text may offer you access into the text. If you are dealing with a narrative, it could be a moment of high action, or a simple description/depiction of a scene or character. If you are dealing with criticism, it could be a crucial point in the argument or a short example. This passage should be no longer than a short paragraph of text.
2) Temporarily forget why you choose it.
Keep your theories in the back of your mind instead of the front while you go through the next two steps. Allow yourself to notice new, contradictory meanings, and to change your mind. Try to get out of your own way by reading against your biases (just noting what they are can be an excellent start...)
3) Make sure you understand the concrete, obvious action and meaning of the passage.
Always start with what you think is “obvious”! This is where all good readings begin — what is obvious to you is very often controversial to someone else. Look up all the words you don’t know. Unscramble difficult syntax. Decipher metaphors. Try writing a “plain prose translation.” Try writing a second, alternative version. Ask your roommate what s/he thinks. Call someone in the class and ask them the same thing.
4) Annotate your passage (i.e. Write all over it!). Note all strange or striking effects and attempt to trace their sources.
Write directly on the page OR type out the passage and comment on it (using Microsoft Word's comment function might be a good idea). First, just underline words that you notice. Read it several times, taking note of where your interest increases, what pleases, distracts, or bores you. Then try to figure out how the author creates these effects. Pay attention to metaphors, contradictions, strange word choices, particularly long or short sentences, alliteration, modes of address (“Gentleman of the jury!”), shifts in pace or diction, the point of view, punctuation and anything else that you think might help the author persuade you to feel the way you did. Make a long list of all this stuff — the longer the better.
5) Take stock of what you’ve found. (Step back #1)
Take a step back. How has your encounter with the text changed what you originally thought? How might you need to re-shape your thesis? Which discoveries seem particularly important to communicate to your reader? How does it all “add up”?
6) Put what you’ve found back into context. (Step back #2, #3)
Now step back even further. Think about how what you’ve found is connected to the rest of the text. Is it a break in the action? A climax? A resolution? Do the images in the passage illuminate or refer back to something that has happened previously, or foreshadow a later event? How is what you’ve found important to our understanding of the characters? Of the plot? Of the main issues the author raises? Can you think of any other moments in the text like this one? Can you make any comparisons? Is it radically different from the rest of the text? Can you contrast the effects?
7) Finally, write.
Write out a few short paragraphs which point out the 2-3 most exciting things this passage does, organizing them into your separate points. How do a series of words convey a certain meaning or feeling? How does a metaphor encourage the reader to make a comparison and why that comparison? Remember, the post should not only identify figures of speech (like a metaphor), grammatical constructions (like lots of gerunds) or other kinds of word choice, but point out a connection between the author's particular choice of words and the rest of the text--what does this passage accomplish that the rest of the text relies on, contradicts, elaborates upon? Remember to quote as you make your claims (those reading probably won't remember this particular passage, so you will have to give them examples of what you're talking about), but do not quote too heavily, as you want to prioritize your interpretation and your words. Quoting the most key words/phrases or maybe a sentence or two should be sufficient.
8) Develop a (new) thesis and write it out in one sentence.
After you have done your reading, recapitulate how what you’ve noticed about language and structure link to the larger themes of the text. This is where your argument should emerge. You want your argument to grow out of what you have noticed in the text rather than noticing in the text only the details that can prove an argument that you would like to make. This is absolutely crucial. If you force a text to fit your preconceived notions you will invariably leave out something crucial that destroys your argument. Even more important, you won’t learn anything new.
9) Re-situate your thesis toward the beginning of your post.
You may not realize what your thesis about a passage is until you finish writing your post, but be sure to re-organize so that your main claim about it appears first, and your detailed analysis follows as evidence of your claim. Your thesis should confidently state what this passage accomplishes and how. Feel free to use 'I' in your blogpost if you like, but remember, as long as you have evidence to back up your argument (quotations and your analysis of them), there is no need to cast your reading as subjective or "just an interpretation." Remember, good readers don't "read between the lines," they read all the lines!
**Assignment adapted from Alyssa Harad's close reading workshop materials. Significant amounts of her language structure have been retained.
I grade the posts with the following template. Students blog twice throughout the semester and the assignment comprises 25% of their final grade.
Completed by noon /5
Textual support /5
200-300 words /2
Visual presentation /2
Completed on day scheduled /2
Oral presentation /2
Final Grade /25
Students are responding positively to the assignment and the skills it allows them to practice before writing a more formal paper. What I like about it is that it allows students who do not normally speak for extended periods in class to take the floor and have completed the prepwork beforehand.
In class, we pull up the post on the projector in class for their reference and the student takes the class through their post. Sometimes students print out the post for their reference as they present. Overall, students seem to like the opportunity to respond to each other's writing in class and it often launches a discussion about the text.