I remember the first time I saw the phrase “close reading”. I wondered if it was something new or if it was a misspelling of “cloze reading”, which is an entirely different teaching method where students fill in the blanks to make meaning from the text. I also wondered if it was another passing fad in reading education. Either way, it didn’t sound like something that would later dramatically affect how I would teach reading.
Enter an incredible new administrator who really taught me what rigorous and effective teaching truly is.
A few years ago, when my school adopted the Common Core standards for ELA. Our first PLC task was to read and analyze the standards CLOSELY. I noticed the very first anchor standard for reading said “Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it.”
Yep, “read closely” and “close reading” ave VERY related phrases.
It was like a lightbulb went on in my head. Over the year, through a ton of PD and reflection, I realized that my past reading instruction had some elements of close reading but that more than anything, I had been teaching my students pretty basic comprehension techniques that did not have the depth needed for the heavy reading expectations they encounter just a few years after my 2nd grade class.
It was time to dig deep – in my learning, in my teaching, and in my students understanding. Here are some of the big ideas that have stuck with me.
There is no “formula” for close reading.
There is no rule that says students MUST read the text three times in three specific ways. There are recommended techniques for digging into those details and some of those methods follow a systematic approach. But in reality, close reading flows much more than that. The student is going to go back to the text multiple times to reflect in different ways. Why did the author write it this way? Is the author saying something more than just what is written in words? How does this text build upon what I have read elsewhere? These (and many more) are the close reading questions we want to teach our students to use NATURALLY. So sometimes, a structured “three readings” rule is too limiting.
Close reading is reading WITHIN the text and BEYOND the text.
When I think of the kinds of readers I want my students to be ten years from now, I hope they will be thoughtful readers who make connections and make sense of what they are reading. I don’t want them to be stuck on reading something only in the literal sense. That means for the younger grades, we are teaching skills to be THOUGHTFUL and reflective while reading.
It is supposed to be challenging.
Close reading is not about quickly finding the “answer”. The text should be complex enough that the students are working out their thinking as opposed to us spoon-feeding them. Remember, we are expecting them to be reading comprehending text independently and proficiently at a Lexile Level of 1,000 by the 5th grade. That means we have a lot of work to do before then! For my second graders, that means the text falls within the Lexile Level of 450-790 which are the same levels for a third grader. My guidance and teaching comes in when I am showing them the techniques of digging deeper vs. pointing them in the direction of the “answers” in an overly simplified text.
Close reading and class wide discussions go hand in hand.
When strong readers read, they are thinking. They are naturally making connections to, within, and beyond the text. Since we don’t all do this in exactly the same way, there is usually some variation in how a text can be interpreted. A good close read discussion will have multiple ways of looking at a text.
What does close reading look like in my classroom?
I teach in a reading workshop format. We always start with an Interactive Read Aloud where I model a reading strategy. Oftentimes, these are close reading strategies. Following the read aloud, my students will either head to read independently or they will meet with me for Guided Reading or Strategy Groups. For two days of the week, I do not have Guided Reading groups because I am conferring with students independently. This is when I check in with them to see how they are applying the strategies we have learned (or are learning) in their independent reading (books they have chosen themselves). The other three days a week, I work at my group table. Occasionally, I will be teaching a straightforward Guided Reading lesson. But more often than not, this is the time I teach reading strategies in a smaller group.
- I took each of the Common Core standards (for each of the separate grade levels) and wrote FIVE original passages that could be used for that particular standard. I did this so my students could have plenty of practice applying close reading strategies to these standards they are expected to master. Then I gave plenty of opportunity for my students to practice reading closely and apply those Common Core standards on each of the texts.
- I also included a spiral of other close reading strategies for each of these passages. That way, my students would have plenty of opportunities to practice past strategies all throughout the year – not just during a specific unit. I did this because these are the reading strategies that I want to become ingrained in my students so they can use them forever in their reading lives.
- I included a variety of text levels. All of the passages included have been carefully leveled and labeled with a Lexile Level on the top of each page. They are sorted in order from the least complex level to the most complex level so that your students can continually be challenged. ALL of the passages fall within the 450-790 Common Core standards Lexile Level expectation (which is the expected 2nd and 3rd grade reading level range).
- Even the tricky standards get plenty of practice. In second grade, we have a standard where the students have to “describe how words and phrases (e.g., regular beats, alliteration, rhymes, repeated lines) supply rhythm and meaning in a story, poem, or song.” This can be tricky to find text examples in your classroom library! It is even trickier to find multiple copies so that you can do this in a group setting. This product covers all the bases. Like the rest of the standards, there are five passages and activities that align perfectly with this standard.
- Students must justify and PROVE their understanding and thinking with text evidence. Most of the activities in the packs are open ended BUT must be backed up with textual evidence. That means your students are highlighting in multiple colors or circling and underlining text to show you what part of the text influenced their response.
- A complete Answer Key/Guide is included. As I said above, in close reading most of the responses should have multiple interpretations. I still went through every question in these products and gave a possible response so that you can have a starting place. Sometimes, the “answers” I have provided are a great discussion starter!