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Part 1: Review Setting and Introduce Close-Reading

17 November, 2015 - 12:21
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Teachers might begin by reviewing the concept of setting to help students closely read details of landscape and environment. Consider working through an example, such as the following passage from Stephen Crane's 1895 The Red Badge of Courage:

The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting. As the landscape changed from brown to green, the army awakened, and began to tremble with eagerness at the noise of rumors. It cast its eyes upon the roads, which were growing from long troughs of liquid mud to proper thoroughfares. A river, amber-tinted in the shadow of its banks, purled at the army's feet; and at night, when the stream had become a sorrowful blackness, one could see across Mt the red, eyelike gleam of hostile campfires set in the lower brows of distant hills. (1)

After reading such a passage, teachers can ask their students some of the following questions: What do we know so far about this story? What words stuck out to you? What did you learn about the historical and physical background of this story? When and where does this story take place? What type of language does the author use to describe the place and time? (Ask students to consider, for instance, adjectives, verb tenses, etc.). Students should be able to draw some conclusions from this passage, such as: this novel takes placing during a time of war and the current setting is outside at dawn break. However, teachers can push students to go further than this: what is the atmosphere of this landscape? ("tremble with eagerness," "hostile campfires," and "sorrowful blackness") What sounds, smells, or other sensory details does the novel provide? ("cold" and "noise of rumors,") What details or words reveal the physical landscape? In other words, if you had to draw a picture from what you learn in this passage what would it look like? ("retiring fogs," "changed from brown to green," "roads," "long troughs of liquid mud," "lower brows of distant hills"). What don't we know so far? What type of a description in this? This simple exercise can cue students into the basic skill of close-reading a text: listening, searching, and questioning the details provided by the author.