Close reading is one of those big buzz words in literacy education. But what is close reading, anyway? This post will tell you exactly what it is, plus how to teach it!
Have you heard the term close reading? If you’re not sure what it means, you’re in good company.
Maybe this definition will help: “The primary objective of close reading is to afford students with the opportunity to assimilate new textual information with their existing background knowledge and prior experiences to expand their schema.” -Douglas Fisher & Nancy Frey
What is close reading?
Close reading is a strategy in which children read and reread short, complex texts to improve comprehension.
Close reading is reading a text enough times that you can explain it to someone else and answer questions about it.
What’s the point of close reading?
Students will not always have a parent or teacher alongside them when tackling a tough text. Close reading gives them the tools to read complex texts all on their own.
What’s the procedure for close reading?
You’ll find a different set of steps everywhere you look! I find the following procedure a good starting point for children in grades 3-6.
Tips for teaching close reading
- Model first!
- Make sure the text is above your students’ regular reading level, but not so much that every sentence is difficult.
- Don’t give your students a lot of background knowledge before they read. Set a purpose for reading, and leave it at that.
- Make sure your students have a chance to mark up the text with a highlighter and pencil. If they may not write on the text, provide small sticky notes.
- Ask questions whose answers your students can find within the text.
- Incorporate discussion. Pause after each step for students to talk to a partner or small group.
- Be patient. Close reading isn’t easy! It takes a lot of practice to think critically about a text.
- Don’t overdo it! Students need many opportunities to practice close reading, but if you do it too often you’ll wear them out.
Close reading is far from a simple task, but don’t be afraid to try it! Today I’m sharing a set of free close reading bookmarks and a close reading lesson to give you the confidence you need.
How to teach a close reading lesson
1. Choose your text.
My daughter is a strong fourth grade reader, so I knew I’d need to look above her grade level to find a text that would challenge her. We used an interesting factsheet from the free Hungry Pests Invade Middle School curriculum. This curriculum is designed to raise awareness about 19 invasive species that destroy trees and plants, threaten our food supply, and more.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has provided this standards-based curriculum for teachers of grades 6-8, but you’ll find that you can modify many of the activities for younger grades.
2. Gather your materials.
I printed the factsheet and trimmed its edges before I glued it to a sheet of yellow legal paper, since it’s helpful for kids to have a border on which to write annotations. I also grabbed a highlighter, pencil, and close reading bookmark.
3. Explain the purpose of close reading.
With our materials in front of us, I explained what we were going to do.
“Do you know how some things are easy to read, and other things aren’t? Sometimes you have to read something quite a few times to understand it. I feel that way when I’m reading something technical about blogging, or when I’m doing research about how to be a better teacher. As you get older, you’ll be doing research for reports and find that some of the text is hard for you to understand. Today I’m going to teach you a strategy that will help you with those harder texts. It’s called close reading. We’re going to read the same text a few different times and do something different each time.”
I read aloud the first section of the factsheet from the Hungry Pests curriculum as a fourth grader might do it. As I read, I talked aloud about marks that I made.
“The United States is under attack from alien invaders, but they’re not from outer space. (That’s funny! I’m going to put a heart here because I like this part.)… They are causing or are likely to cause harm to the economy, the environment, or human health. (I can’t remember what the economy is. I’m going to circle that word.)… Some pests, such as the imported fire ant, threaten plant, animal, and human health. (Oh, I know about fire ants! I’ll put a ‘C’ there because I can make a connection.)“
And so on.
After I read, I stated the point of the article.
“It sounds like certain bugs and weeds cost our country a lot of money when they get to the wrong places.”
I read it a second time, for a different purpose.
“I’m going to read this part again. That will help me understand it a little better. I’ll mark anything else I notice and think about why the author wrote this article.”
I read the piece a second time.
“It sounds like invasive species are a really big problem for country. The author is writing about it because he wants us to know about the problem. I think that the rest of the article might tell how we can prevent it.”
4. Give your students a chance to try it.
I told my daughter to read the next section, and I showed her what annotations she might make using her close reading bookmark as a guide.
“Now it’s your turn! I want you to read this next section. It’s okay if you don’t know for sure what’s important. Just highlight or star what you think are the important parts. Circle words you don’t know or parts that are confusing. Write a ‘?’ if you have a question, a ‘!’ if you’re surprised, a heart if you like something, and a ‘C’ if it reminds you of something.”
5. Support as needed.
Since this was my daughter’s first time doing a close read exercise, she needed a lot of support and reminders. She read without making any annotations at first; I reminded her to back up and highlight the important parts.
After she read the first time, we talked about the marks she made and why. Then, I told her to read the section another time.
“It’s time to read this a second time. Imagine that you’re reading with a magnifying glass. You’re trying to learn even more than you learned the first time. As you read, feel free to make more marks. I also want you to think about why the author wrote this.”
6. Provide opportunities for discussion.
In a classroom, I’d have students meet in pairs to talk after each reading. Since it was just my daughter and I, we talked together after each reading.
“Why do you think the author wrote this?”
“So that we know that invasive pests are a big problem and so we do something about it.”
7. Make sure you ask text-dependent questions after the second reading.
We continued the procedure through several sections of text. After studying the section How do They Get Here? I asked, “How do Hungry Pests travel?”
She reread the text to herself and answered, “They get here on accident. They come in the mail. They can travel on flowers and timber.”
After studying What you can do to fight these invaders? I asked, “How can you – a fourth grader – fight the invasion of Hungry Pests?”
“I can report when I see Hungry Pests. I can make sure we don’t move firewood when we go camping. I can make sure I don’t walk through infested areas.
“And how can you know when you see Hungry Pests or infested areas?”
“I guess I’d have to learn what they look like.”
“That’s true! I have some pictures of Hungry Pests that come with this curriculum. We can look at those later.”
8. Finish by having your students paraphrase the text.
After our intense reading session, I asked, “What did you learn today?”
With some prompting she answered, “Hungry Pests cause a lot of damage. We should try to stop them from spreading.”
And now you’re ready to try a close reading lesson!
*Fisher, Douglas & Frey, Nancy. (2012). Close Reading in Elementary Schools. The Reading Teacher, Volume 66. p. 179-188.
Get your free close reading printables!
BUILD COMPREHENSION WITH OUR RESPONSE PACK!
Help your readers find chapter books they’ll love with these leveled book lists. Then use the 75 reading response sheets to help them make sense of what they read. The response sheets focus on character, setting, plot, and vocabulary.