Close reading is one of the most valuable skills a student can learn. Earlier this month I started teaching close reading, and I’m sharing some big ah-ha moments that have made me a better teacher.
Help students recognize the value of close reading
For the past two years I’ve used the Oreo lesson with great success. It’s a simple, fun strategy that allows you to refer back to something all students remember: comparing what it’s like to quickly eat an Oreo to the experience of savoring an Oreo.
For the first eat, students ate the Oreo without much thought. For the second eat, I had kids analyze what the Oreo looked like, smelled like, felt like, and finally, tasted like. I call it “Close Eating.” I love that it’s a common experience we all have, and I refer to it throughout the year. For more details, see this post.
Model what students should do during a close reading
My actual unit started with using one of my favorite short stories, “All Summer in a Day”, by Ray Bradbury. I wanted kids to experience the story without hurdles, so our first read was me reading aloud. Later in the week, I handed each student a copy of the story and a copy of several text annotation symbols that I wanted them to use. Grab this Close Reading Freebie to add to your reading instruction.
I read the story aloud again, this time interacting with the text by thinking aloud and jotting down my thoughts. Students copied me. At a certain point, I partnered students up (stratigically), and they finished close reading the last page, annotating with symbols and discussing and jotting thoughts.
After students completed their read, I had a series of questions on the board. These were questions that were easy to answer after a first read.
We all noticed that each question could be answered quickly and without much thought. In fact, most answers could be pointed to in the text.
Explain and show how to read with a purpose
Next, I showed student how to read for a purpose. I really wanted to focus on the author’s purpose and craft for our second read. Our goal was to analyze all of the dialogue from the two main characters. Here we got out the highlighters, which we rarely do until “highlighter skills” have been taught.
Students read and annotated the story a second time (with their partners). Using different colors for the characters, students highlighted the exact words of each character. While they were reading, I put a second series of questions on the board. As they finished, I directed them toward discussing the answers to this set of “Second Read” questions.
We wrote the characters’ words into a T-chart graphic organizer (which I LOVED having at a quick glance because it really help with character analysis and analyzing the author’s choices). We also analyzed Bradbury’s descriptions of the rain. We pondered why he included the details and figurative language in his descriptions.
One kiddo (my most struggling student, I might add) popped off and said that the rain represented how Margot felt. He even used the word “mood”. We actually got to discuss a story’s mood as a result of our close reading! Talk about a happy teacher!!
Close reading is digging deeper
Students recognized the difference between the levels of complexity in the first set of questions and the second set. I asked them if they could have answered the second questions after a first read. They all realized that they couldn’t have because they didn’t have enough experience with the text. We talked about different levels of questions, and that this second level was of a deeper quality as compared to the first set of questions, which just scratched the surface.
Finally, I put up a third set of questions. This time students read the story without hurdles, which freed them up to really dig deeper and ask questions of themselves.
The kids recognized that there was no way they could have answered these questions after the first read.
Show students what they’ve learned
The next day, I put up all three sets of questions up in front of the room. For dramatic effect, I put them up one at a time. We discussed their experience and they noted the difference in the quality of reading they were able to do the third read.
I left the questions up for the remainder of the week because I wanted students to see the benefits of close reading and have it right in front of their noses each day.
It was a powerful lesson when I revealed all three levels of questions at once, and students really saw how their close reading work led to a deeper understanding of the text.
Ease students into the close reading process
I love teaching close reading, but I’ve learned the hard way that I need to ease students into the process. I like using high-interest text that students find engaging. I keep passages shorter when we begin, and I model the process for them. Here are a few great high-interest reading pieces is use to teach close reading in my classroom. And there’s a freebie linked to the pop up for teachers who are just beginning to use close reading in their upper grade and middle school classrooms.
I’m thrilled with my close reading instruction this year. It’s been two weeks since we finished our work on “All Summer in a Day”, but I’ve left the questions up in front of the room. (This week we took a piece from the social studies text and used our close reading skills to prove a claim.) Next, I think I’ll have us look at the difference between reading fiction and nonfiction and the types of questions we can ask. Does diving deep look similar for different types of text?
There’s power in common learning experiences
My students and I have this common experience as a reference point for the entire year. This is what happens when you have an engaging text and you’re willing to try something new. I’d love to hear one of your favorite strategies for teaching close reading.
Happy Close Reading.
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