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