Investigating Nonfiction Part 2: Digging Deeper With Close Reading
- 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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
Second 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.
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
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.
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