My Literacy Journey

Implications for Teaching: Reading Texts with a Critical Eye

Posted on: May 4, 2010

Reading the World in the Word:

Key Linguistic Features for a Critical Analysis of Texts

Linguistic feature Explanation of the linguistic feature Example of the linguistic feature

Lexicalization The selection/choice of words. Different words construct the same idea differently.
Overlexicalization Many words for the same phenomenon
Relexicalization Renaming
Metaphor Used for yolking ideas together and for the discursive construction of new ideas.
Euphemism Hides negative actions or implications
Transitivity Processes in verbs: Are they verbs of …

  • Doing—material process
  • Being or having—relational processes
  • Thinking/ feeling/ perceiving—mental processes
  • Saying—verbal processes
  • Physiological—behavioral processes
Voice Active and passive voice constructs participants as doers or as “done-tos.” Passive voice allows for the deletion of the agent.
Nominalization: a verb is turned into a noun A process is turned into a thing or an event without participants or tense or modality.

Central mechanism for reification.

Modality: degrees of certainty Logical possibility/ probability

Social authority

Modality created by modals (may, might, could, will), adverbs (possibly, certainly, hopefully), intonation, tag questions (right?).

Pronouns Inclusive we

Exclusive we/ you

Us and them

Sexist/ non sexist pronouns:                  generic ‘he’

The choice of first/ second/ third person.

Definite article: the

Indefinite article: a

‘The’ is used for shared information—to refer to something mentioned before or that the addressee can be assumed to know about. Reveals textual presuppositions.


Janks, H. (1999). Key linguistic features for critical discourse analysis. Workshop presented at Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.

As I critically read texts personally, I really try to utilize this chart as a way to frame my thinking about the texts. I can definitely see the many benefits of using an organizer such of this in my own classroom, as I want students to be fully aware of all of the features of the texts they are reading. I never want them to fully accept a text as neutral of “right”. Being that I will be teaching first grade, I plan to make this organizer into a kid-friendly source for students to use/refer to when they are “reading” anything. Not only do I think this is important for literature, I plan to invite students to read all different kinds of texts so that they see and are aware of the world around them.

I also found the framework Jones (2006) uses for critically reading texts with her girls extremely powerful. i plan to do a lot of this kind of work with my students as well and feel that many of the questions she considers, are accessible for students everywhere to answer if this kind of thinking is scaffolded and explained beforehand.

Questions about Perspective

Readers can ask themselves…

  • Who could have created this text?
  • What can I guess about the perspective of the writer (designer/ speaker)?
  • Who are the intended audiences—how can I tell?
  • What does the author think about the intended audiences?
  • What readers might think the same as the author?
  • What readers might think something different?

Writers can ask themselves…

  • From what perspective am I creating this text?
  • What experiences are included and why?
  • What experiences are excluded and why?
  • Who will my readers be and what do I think about them?
  • How might a reader feel about this text if she/he has a different perspective?
  • Is there a way to create this text that is inclusive of more perspectives?

Questions about Positioning

Readers can ask themselves…

  • Who does the writer make her/himself out to be?
  • What perspectives, practices, and/or people are centered or valued in the text?
  • What perspectives, practices, and/or people are marginalized or devalued in the text?
  • What readers might feel like “insiders” reading this text?
  • What readers might be positioned as “outsiders” by this text?
  • How does this text position me?

Writers can ask themselves…

  • How do I position myself in this text? How might my readers envision me as the writer?
  • What perspectives, practices, and/or people are privileged, or centered, in my text and why?
  • What am I doing to readers with perspectives similar to those in this text?
  • What am I doing to readers with perspectives different from those in this text?
  • Is there a way that I can write this text to make more people feel like “insiders”?

Questions about Power

Readers can ask…

  • How is the author using power in this text?
  • Does the author use his or her power to repeat stereotypes or to challenge them?
  • Does the author invite readers to critique the text or is the text positioned as so-called truth?
  • Who, or what benefits from the power in this text?
  • Who, or what would not benefit from the power in this text?
  • What power relations might the author have had to negotiate through the publishing of this text?

Writers can ask…

  • What power relations do I negotiate as I write this text?
  • How do I use my power as author?
  • Do I use my power to repeat stereotypes or challenge them? Repeat social injustices or challenge them?
  • How can I make a text that doesn’t claim to represent the so-called truth but acknowledges that there are multiple truths or perspectives?

Source: Jones, S. (2006). Girls, social class, and literacy: What teachers can do to make a difference. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


1 Response to "Implications for Teaching: Reading Texts with a Critical Eye"

I think using a chart on linguistic features, such as the one I gave the class, with elementary school students would probably not be helpful unless you had devoted lots of time to exploring various features in the context of real reading and writing. Without meaningful experiences, a chart like this could easily become a meaningless worksheet rather than the tool you intend it to be. What I regard as important is the concept that language choices make a difference to how a writer constructs a particular version of the world on paper. Do female characters only use “feeling” verbs or do they also use “thinking” and “doing” verbs? If you are interested in this, I can show you curriculum materials from Australia that incorporate this kind of linguistic analysis but I would caution you about using it with primary grade children the way I used it with our class!

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  • None
  • Marjorie Siegel: This can be the greatest lesson of all to take into your career as a teacher!
  • Marjorie Siegel: This is such a powerful way to make critical literacy work meaningful in local settings and to focus on deconstruction, reconstruction, and social act
  • Marjorie Siegel: Another book that offers an excellent guild to critical literacy in a primary grade classroom is Vivian Vasquez's exploration of her own teaching with



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