How to Build a Commentary

1.  KNOW THE TEXTS going into the commentary, and have 1-2 major themes in mind before you sit down to do your commentary on a text.

2.  READ, and re-read, and re-read, and re-read your passage/poem.

3.  COLOR-MARK the passage/poem carefully and specifically.


5.  OUTLINE your "oral essay."  A good way to organize your thoughts is as follows:

  • Contextualize/sum up what your passage/poem is about (literally).  Note distinguishing aspects of the passage/poem (this is like the justification you did for your WL2 paper).  For example, if this is the first moment we meet a character, a twist in the plot happens, the poem is distinctly different from other poems you've studied by the poet, etc., you might want to mention that as part of your contextualization.
  • Present your thesis.
  • Prove your thesis, one POINT at a time.  It is pointless to merely mention techniques unless you know what point you're trying to make with them.  Organize your commentary around these points (which, once all put together and explained should build up to a proof of your thesis).  These points will work like topic sentences for your audience.  Build in transitions between points to make the organization even clearer.  Jot down notes on evidence to use (e.g., note line #'s you'll be referencing) under each point you decide to make.  Make small and quick references to other parts of the larger text (or to other poems by the same poet) to bolster your argument.
  • Draw your commentary to a close.  Using your thesis again at the end of your commentary as a final statement of where your argument went is a good way to do this.
6.  BREATHE, a lot.