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Investigating Nonfiction Part 2: Digging Deeper With Close Reading

By Genia Connell on April 25, 2013
  • Grades: 3–5

The very first Common Core Anchor Standard for Reading states that students will:

Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Confession: I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that until the onset of the Common Core, I had never even heard of close reading. It obviously had to be quite important to be the number one anchor standard, but no one that I asked in my school seemed to know much more about it than I did. Therefore, I set out to learn exactly what close reading was, how it looked in the elementary classroom, and most importantly, how I could use it to teach my students to become better readers.

This week I'll share with you some of the questions that I had about close reading and the answers I came up with in this post, which I could have easily titled, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Close Reading but Were Afraid to Ask!


What Is Close Reading? 

After reading everything I could find about close reading from the educational experts, think tanks, and close-reading posts by teacher bloggers like my friend Shari Edwards, I realized close reading wasn’t really new at all.

To put it simply in my own words:

Close reading is purposefully reading a text several times in order to analyze and gain a deep understanding of the text.

The kid-friendly (and right on target!) way my 3rd graders describe close reading is:

Reading something enough times so you can understand it, explain it to someone else, and ask and answer questions about it using evidence from the text.

close reading anchor chart

When I first introduced close reading in our class, we used an analogy of digging a hole in their yards. The idea of "digging deeper" every time they read really stuck with my students after I described close reading like this:

The first time you dig your shovel in (read), you just scrape the surface off the ground. The second time you dig in (read the text again), you get a little more dirt (meaning). And every time you dig in (read) after that, your hole gets bigger and bigger until it’s just right and you get the full meaning.


When Should I Use Close Reading With Informational Text?

Close reading isn’t meant to be used all the time with all text. It’s a scaffolding methodology designed to help students of all levels of ability understand complex text. The actual goal of close reading is to teach your students strategies for approaching text that allow them to successfully read the same sort of text independently.

Last week, I shared with you how I introduce and familiarize my students with nonfiction text features and vocabulary. Once my students have that knowledge and are better able to discuss text in terms of its structure (paragraphs, chapters, stanzas) and text features (headings, diagrams, captions, etc.), then I feel it’s time for close reading to begin.

smartboard close reading

Before my students do close reading on their own, I like to model it whole class using our interactive whiteboard. The lessons you see above come from Text-Marking Lessons for Active Nonfiction Reading (Grades 2-3) by Judith Bauer Stamper. I purchased this through Teacher Express so I could download it to my computer to use immediately. You can even purchase separate pages to cover a certain area you want to focus on, like main idea or cause and effect. Below are a few lessons from the book that I received permission to share with you. Click each image to download a PDF to save to your computer. 

sample main idearead for details

cause and effectsequence of events


What Steps Should Close Readers Follow With Informational Text?

I think one of the ways close reading is most different from traditional reading instruction is that students mimic the real-life reading that mature readers do: They dive right in without any prereading activities. While there isn’t a specific sequence to follow, here are the guidelines I follow keeping the Common Core strands in mind.

Before Reading

Before reading, I set the purpose for my students by letting them know exactly what I expect them to do. They are armed and ready with our classroom’s tools of close reading: a highlighter and two different colored pencils.  If I am not directly involved (like I am during guided reading), I provide an organizer with specific directions for them to follow. 

Close reading graphic organizer

Click each of the images to download a copy.


First Reading: Key Ideas and Details

  • Students “scrape the surface” in this reading, connecting their background knowledge with the text and focusing on key ideas and details.
  • After a first reading, I either discuss the text with my small group or have them discuss with their turn-and-talk partners while I listen. This allows me to determine if they understand the main idea of what they have read. 

small group close readingSecond Reading: Craft and Structure

  • This time, students dig a little deeper, rereading a paragraph or meaty “chunk,” focusing on text features, organizational patterns, and content vocabulary the author included. I normally give my small groups one or more text dependent questions to focus on before they begin their second reading.
  • Listening to discussions following the second read, I can normally assess understanding and who needs to dig deeper and more carefully.

Third Reading: Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

  • The third close reading goes even deeper, requiring students to synthesize and analyze information from another text or media such as a video.
  • Students record their thinking in written form using graphic organizers, reading journals, sticky notes, etc.  
  • Seeing the students' thoughts in writing is the best way for me to assess whether they have a thorough, usable understanding of the text, or if they are still stuck at the simplistic or literal level.

girl working on close reading


What Informational Text Works Best for Close Reading?

With my 3rd graders, my first rule of thumb in working with complex text is to keep the text short — four paragraphs or fewer is my rule of thumb. I like to choose text that not only allows my students to learn how to approach and analyze the text over several readings, but also allows them to be successful at it. I recommend beginning with text that:

  • Is at the appropriate instructional reading level and will be interesting to students
  • Offers new ideas or information that will help students gain a deeper understanding of the text
  • Has common text structure (describe, compare/contrast, cause/effect) with identifiable text features
  • Has clear main ideas and supporting details
  • Has conventional sentence structure and grammar
  • Requires minimal background knowledge for success

girl doing close reading

On the left is an example of how we used text when we were researching our disaster reports. The notebook on the right was done during the second and third close reading steps on a similar article about tornados. 

Confession number two of this post: I like to make my life as easy as possible whenever possible. Therefore, instead of searching for text to teach this very important concept, I frequently use passages from books I already have in my professional resource library. My number one resource is Nonfiction Passages With Graphic Organizers for Independent Practice by Wiley Blevins and Alice Boynton. It includes 30 lessons on content area topics that include all of the features listed above plus text-based questions and graphic organizers — all in one nice reproducible package.

close reading resources

I have noticed a huge change in how my students approach informational text since I began using close reading techniques with them. My 3rd graders this year have much deeper (there’s that word again!) conversations about text, and in their conversations with one another, I frequently hear phrases like "text evidence" and "Where did you see that in the text?" They now know “going back to the text” isn’t just something they should do, it’s something they need to do to become better readers, and that’s exactly what is happening.

Is there anything about the Common Core you find mystifying? How are you helping your students adjust to close reading and all of the new standards? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!


Resources I Like to Use for Close Reading Practice


Comments (24)

I found this to be very helpful as this is my first year teaching an intermediate grade in a number of years. Close reading has become a hot topic in my district and the resources presented here are priceless. Thank you!

I love your article! So much of our instruction has been focused on close reading and I love how you use it as a strategy but not something that has to be done EVERYDAY with EVERY text! That can be so overwhelming!

I tried to open one of the PDF's - the link for the U.S. Coins (main idea and details) isn't coming up, however the Read for Details - White House Pets pdf comes up for both links??? I would really like the U.S. Coins lesson if possible.

Great article! Where is Part 1?

I downloaded your Informational Reading pages (2) for the steps to do a close read on a piece of text. Under your section on "Answering the Questions," you refer to Q1, Q2, Q3, etc. Are those questions I have made up or are they listed somewhere?

Helpful information. I'm currently working on a reading endorsement while teaching two classes of 5th grade reading and language arts. Thank you for providing two printables for teachers to use in the classroom.

What resource would you use for first graders to complete a close read?

In the younger grades, you could use any section of text that has some "meat" to it. If you subscribe to a news magazine like Scholastic News, the articles are perfectly suited to do close reads with your first graders. Hope that help! Genia

Try using the "Pledge of Allegiance" or the words to a patriotic song for close reading in primary grades. The kids know and say the words, but the meaning often eludes them. In a good second or average third grade classroom, you can read the pledge aloud (first reading), then read it again, one line at a time, leaving time to have your students circle words they do not completely understand. Later, discuss and give synonyms for those words. Then read the pledge for the third time. Students will be amazed at how much more they get out of it. We also have them read the pledge with the synonyms substituted in lieu of the tougher words. It's a great lesson in close reading, and it serves a good purpose!

I use Scholastic's Storyworks magazine to teach common core reading skills. It is a wonderful resource! My students dive into that complex text with enthusiasm because the Storyworks staff do such a great job writing articles that are really interesting to them. The printables are so helpful and can be used in a variety of ways and our classroom discussions are incredible. Storyworks is definitely challenging to my 3rd graders but the material is so good they are always eager readers.

What suggestions do you have for close reading with kindergarten students?

What is the suggestion for practicing close reading with text book passages? -Copy the pages? It turns into a lot of copies. I've also thought about taping clear sheets (left over from projector days?) over pages as well so students can mark.

Hi D,

That's a great question. In third grade we tend to do text book passages whole group by projecting them onto our interactive white board using a visual projector. I have also used old transparencies as an overlay on the pages--dry erase markers work pretty well on those. If anyone else has suggestions on how you manage this in your classroom--please share! ~Genia

Your article was wonderful. CA is just now rolling out the Common Core and our first assessment is concerning informational text and Close Reading. Thank you for a right on time article about this technique. You have demystified it for a lot of thrid grade teacher and probably upper grade teachers as well. I hope you have a fabulous third grade year.

Thanks so much for your comment. I know I was "mystified" by the concept at first so I'm hoping this piece did indeed make it clearer for others. Thanks so much for reading! ~Genia

You are a true wealth of knowledge. It would be fantastic if I could keep in touch with you throughout the year from one third grade to another. I am a veteran teacher of almost 30 years. I am always looking for new ways to engage my students and help them grow as learners in an ever-changing learning environment.
Thanks for sharing all of your wonderful and useful ideas here. All are truly appreciated!!!!!

This article is wonderful! It explained close-read beautifully. One of the pdf documents is not loaded correctly. The picture does not match the document. Could you please post the Cause and Effect: Volcanoes, pages?


I love, love, love this article! We are transitioning to the common core this year and the idea of close reading was a bit confusing. Especially the way we introduce the stories. I was so used to doing all of the pre-reading activities. However, it does makes sense for children to dive right. I have two questions regarding the article for the author or the community. First question: Is there a strategy to identify the key vocabulary? Do the children choose whats important or do we present them to the children? Also, how soon should we begin a lesson as such? Can I begin the first week of school with third graders? This is my first year teaching third grade and Im not sure what skills they are coming with.

Thank you for putting "Close Reading" in simple terms that I can use in my 4th grade Reading classes.

This was so very, very, helpful. I just finished a week long workshop where close reading was discussed and modeled a lot. However, I walked away with many questions that you answered in this article. After 34 years of teaching, my brain is still on fire for new knowledge. Thanks for making this so teacher friendly. Keep it coming!

Thanks for a fabulous article! I love to see how you use close reading in your classroom.

I love this article and will use this in my classroom next year. I was wondering about the sheets the students were using in the photos. Are these sheets you created? If so is there a link in the article where they can be accessed?

Great article! Also, Tim Shanahan, professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago, has written multiple blogs about close reading. I just recently heard him as well at a conference in New Orleans, and he really knows his stuff. You might want to give a look at his explanations too.

Your articles have truly fascinated me. I was searching for something that would help me, help my students delve further into the text. I teach 6th grade Social Studies and at times am so frustrated that they don't see the value in reading something a second time. I will start using some of your techniques on Monday!

Hi Monica, thanks so much for your comment! You're right--it is so important, and sometimes so tough to impress upon students the importance of going back to the text . I find presenting it in this manner really helps. If you gave it a try with your social studies class, I'd love to hear how it's going!

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