You should begin a commentary by jotting down your own reactions to a passage. As a second stage, the following list of features may help you explore further and organise your ideas. These are particularly suited to prose but some ideas could also apply to poetry
What is this passage about? Is it about a decision a character takes, a revelation that he / she comes to, or an event and what that reveals? Or does it reveal a person’s circumstances and character? Or something else?
Is the attitude of the narrator significant? What is the narrator’s attitude to his / her subject? What is the tone of the passage?
Point of View
From whose point of view is the passage told? Does this change in the course of the passage? Is there a shift in perspective? If so, what effects are gained from this change?
Is there a central character? What do we learn about him / her? How do we learn this – through other’s comments, through description, through interior monologue? What? Is there anything significant about his / her relationship to us / the other characters in the passage? How do we feel about him / her?
Is the passage narrated chronologically, or does it look forwards or backwards at any point? In either case, why is this done? What does it achieve? Is time significant?
How is the passage structured? Does itfall into several sections, or is it one unbroken piece of writing? What effect does its structure have? On what rationale is its structure based e.g. different stages of a journey, a progression of thought, something else?
Description / Language
What part does description play? Does it provide setting, add to atmosphere, tell us about the characters, or what? How are diction or images used, and what effect do they create? Comment on images and diction that enhance or create meaning.
Beginning / Ending
Is there anything striking about either or both of these?
Is there anything unusual about punctuation, sentence length, complexity? Pay particular attention to BIG punctuation marks like !, ? or ….
How are we being invited to read this passage?
With empathy, experiencing the thoughts and feelings of the character or narrator? Critically, with judgment? With curiosity? Something else?