Close Reading Through Repetition

To students, annotating a text is just underlining a bunch of random words and phrases.  However, underlining does not indicate a close reading.  It might indicate comprehension, it might indicate completion, but it doesn’t provide clear evidence that the student knows the intricacies of the passage.

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In the beginning of the year I like to give them as much guidance and support as needed.  I don’t want them to interact with the text in a personal way, questioning how it makes them feel or a time when they felt the same way as the speaker.  Those text-to-text questions are important, but, ultimately, they don’t get them any closer to having a deep understanding of the author’s message or purpose.

To me, one of the keys to annotating for a deep close reading is to look for repetition.  I remind kids that this might be repeated words, but it also might be repeated images, and repeated sentence structures.

  • First, I give them a passage and read it aloud.
  • While I’m reading aloud, their task is to find as many examples of repetition as possible.  This makes it more like a competition, which always gets kids amped up.  This also requires multiple readings of the text; for the students to “win the competition” they need to read the passage several times to find as many instances of repetition as possible.  To the students this is a game, but, in reality, it gets them much closer to the text than just reading it once for comprehension.
  • I ask them to circle everything they saw being repeated.   Then, they draw lines linking all the words and phrases being repeated.

To pull out analysis, I ask the students to think about what the words mean and why they are repeated.  Depending on the passage, I ask the students to think about how the meaning or function shifts from one use to the next.  By drawing the lines it helps makes the shift and main idea much more tangible and concrete for them to see.  Since these are instances of repetition they are also words and phrases being emphasized, which might also help draw out deeper understanding of main idea or argument of the passage.

Below is a passage from The Things They Carried that illustrates what this type of annotating looks like.  Even though it is a relatively short passage, the students are able to engage in a meaningful discussion about the shifting mental state of the speaker by examining the repetition that exists within the excerpt.






  1. Susan says:

    One thing I’m going to do with my 6th graders is to have them choose 4-6 words that best give meaning to the text. When they underline they go crazy with that highlighter.
    I really like your connection between words.

    • Aubrey & Emily says:

      Sounds great. Let us know how your sixth graders do with annotating. It’s great to see teachers having high expectations for students of all ages!

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