A few years ago, shortly after the widespread implementation of the Common Core State Standards, Close Reading was a big buzz in literacy education. Mainly, people weren’t sure what it was and how to implement it in their classroom I went to a training on Reading in the Common Core with Dr. Tim Shanahan. As the former head of IRA, I knew he’d be wealth of information and would give good ideas and resources. I didn’t know until that day, that he and his wife were researchers who gave input on the Common Core standards themselves. His training was very thorough and insightful. I learned a lot about how the standards themselves were written, the long standing research behind them, and it gave me a new-found buy-in to the standards. He is an engaging and knowledgeable speaker. And, you know it’s a good training, when one of your favorite trainers is in the audience herself. If you have an opportunity to go and see him, I’d highly recommend it.
One section of our training was on close reading. Dr. Shanahan took us through a close reading on The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Pinkwater. When we finished, my honest reaction was mainly “Oh, that’s all close reading is?” I think there’s a big fear of close reading, mainly because it’s unknown, and there’s no one “right” way to do it. My big takeaway from the day was that close reading is really not all that different from the way good teachers share great, high quality books and is just a couple steps beyond an interactive read aloud. I’m sure I’m not going to give a perfect explanation, and I’d highly encourage you to hear from Dr. Shanahan himself, but I have implemented these strategies in my classroom myself and have been pleased with the higher order thinking I’ve seen from my students.
WHAT IS CLOSE READING?
Close reading is really reading closely. Dr. Shanahan defines it as “an intensive analysis of a text in order to come to terms with what it says, how it says it, and what it means.” It’s looking at the text to not only understand the written text, but to also understand how the text was written. So often, as teachers, we focus on the content of the text and push our students to think beyond the text in measures of comprehension. But we don’t use high-quality texts as mentor texts often enough. Close reading takes reading a step further by having students analyze the choices the author made in making the book. And, of course, it’s making connections between the reader and the text and the text and other texts. Close reading generally has students reading the text 3 times, but there is no definition stating that it has to be three times and it should only be 3 times. It’s really about what works for that specific text and what you want to work on.
STEPS TO CLOSE READING
The most common steps to a close reading are as follows:
First reading- Key Ideas and Details
On the first reading, students are focused on big ideas and whole text comprehension. This is a traditional first read through a text with the focusing being on whole text comprehension. Depending on the text, it may be done as a read aloud, paired or shared reading, or done independently. Students should be able to summarize and retell the text as well as answer text dependent questions.
Second reading- Text Craft and Structure
The focus of the second reading is in how the text is structured and how the author constructed it. Often, it makes sense to work with a smaller portion of the original text. Many texts, especially non-fiction, are constructed with a specific structure and by analyzing a smaller portion of the text, students are able to keep the focus on the structure rather than the content. Students should be looking at and discussing things like text structure, text features, and author’s word choice.
Third reading- Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
The third reading moves beyond just this text, but connecting it with other texts and analyzing the text’s quality and value. These are questions such as “How do the illustrations contribute to the telling of the story?”. To borrow Dr. Shanahan’s words (cite)
“When you read The Great Gatsby did you notice the women’s names? Do you think it was an accident that Tom’s wife was named Daisy or was their some deeper relevance to that? The reason why symbolism, ambiguity, metaphor, juxtaposition, and other literary devices are so important in close reading is because author’s compose or construct texts to do more than just tell a story or describe an image. The author intentionally obscures information or “roughens the surface” of a text so that we have to dig for the meaning—so it can become important to us, so that we will remember it or care about it or so that we will grasp it more deeply. Good readers—in the close reading world—are those who are able to figure out those deeper meanings through a more careful analytical consideration of all the clues in a text. Close readers keep their eyes out for odd comparisons or peculiar choices of words or repetitions and so on. And, then they read and reread these passages to try to figure out how the text worked.”
Close Reading can be implemented using any high-quality text, and should be intentionally implemented with a variety of text types and genres. As a teacher, I know it can be difficult to find the time to prepare texts for Close Reading, much less finding them. I started creating Close Reading Companions to go with well-known books because I know teachers don’t have time to prepare and find texts on their own. My companions focus on a lot of inferential, text dependent questioning during the second reading, which doesn’t always match Dr. Shanahan’s suggestion. In order to fit everything in, I often combine my close reading and interactive read alouds, and so these questions allow me to do both. Plus, it helps keep the first read focused on whole text comprehension.
While I love to do great, engaging discussions with students, I also think it’s important that students document and record their thinking along the way. Often, students aren’t able to hold on to all of their thinking until the end, so graphic organizers help students record not only their thinking but also their text evidence to your guided questions. On top of questions that will help lead your class discussion for all three rounds of close reading, I also provide recording sheets and graphic organizers for many of the questions in my Close Reading Companions.
Please note: Books can be purchased on Amazon using the affiliate links provided. These links allow me to earn a small commission from the sale, that I use to help with the costs of hosting this site, at no additional cost to you.
Miss Nelson is Missing
I created a free unit for Miss Nelson is Missing. It’s a great book that requires students to infer throughout the text, especially with that cliffhanger at the end. With the other texts in the series, you can have students make connections between the texts and analyze the series overall as a close reading. As with all of my Close Reading Companions there are questions for the second and third readings as well as organizers and pages for recording thinking throughout the three readings.
The questions guide you through an interactive read aloud, or chunked independent reading. There are graphic organizers provided for many of the questions. The organizers are designed specific to this text and how it’s structured. This allows you to notice and discuss the author’s craft.
If you don’t have the book in your classroom, you can purchase it from Amazon at the link below.
As a standard text in many classrooms, it’s a great unit to offer for free. It can easily be used in first, second, and third grades with different scaffolding provided. Just click on any of the pictures or click here to head to my TpT store to download it for FREE
If you are interested in checking out that unit, click on any of the pictures or click here to head to my TpT store to see more information.
Patricia Polacco is an amazing author who tells amazing personal narrative stories. I can never get over how she’s able to recall such vivid details from stories told to her as a youth. If I had to pick a favorite author, she would definitely be in the running, but I’m thankful I don’t have to ever pick just one. My Patricia Polacco edition covers The Butterfly and Pink and Say. These two powerful Patricia Polacco books were chosen because of their realness and their way of bringing war alive for readers in age appropriate ways. If you aren’t familiar, Pink and Say connects to slavery and the Civil War while The Butterfly is set during World War 2.
You can purchase my Patricia Polacco Close Reading Companion on TpT by clicking here or the image below.
After creating several Close Reading Companions, I realized teachers need resources to implement close reading using the texts they already have. For that reason, I created a master set of graphic organizers that can be used to do Close Reading with any text. Because they are not text specific, they are best used when trying to analyze a second read as students analyze the author’s craft and text structure. Organizers are included for a variety of comprehension skills and standards, and for analyzing word choices. You can take a closer look at the included organizers in the PREVIEW of the item on TpT. You can access them by clicking here or on the image below.