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An "explication" or "explication de texte" is essentially a close reading of a specific text, usually a poem or short story but possibly something longer. (If you do have to work with something longer, such as a novel or other book, I recommend focusing on just one section and treating that section much like a short story first and then treating it as part of a larger whole.)
So how do you do a close reading? I've given an internet link below that, along with mstultz72's post, may get you started. Both guidelines are good because they both start with a lot of what's called pre-writing.
I recommend reading the text closely and carefully, more than once, and looking for specific things (such as in the SIFTT method). Think about this pre-writing activity as labeling and filling a bunch of boxes (e.g. a box labeled "symbols"). Only put things (your notes) related to symbols from your text in that one box. Once you've filled all the boxes with at least one item each, take an overall inventory and get a sense of which of the categories seem most worth discussing. Be sure to consider each category carefully, but if nothing stands out in terms of one category (e.g. "tone," for example), I would recommend that you not address that category at all in your explication. If there's nothing special to say about something, don't bother to say it (unless you've been told explicitly to address every item on a list, for example).
Finally, if you have time, your best course of action is always to ask your instructor for examples or clarifications. I teach, too, and love getting such requests from students; they give me a sense that students are thinking seriously about the assignments.
There are two types of annotated reading/notetaking: dialectical journal and sticky notes. The first is a chart, done on paper; the second is pasted in the book as marginalia.
A good way to annotate is the SIFTT method:
- Figurative Language (metaphor, personification)
- Tone (of the Speaker)
Most importantly, focus on the speaker/tone. Begin there and discuss the language after.
(See the link below for how to complete a dialectical journal)
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