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Close Reading Strategies: How to Help Students Take a Closer Look

Having students tackle challenging texts can feel like an overwhelming task, but close reading is the perfect way to get students to dive into texts while also developing a deeper understanding of them.  Close reading allows students to move beyond their first impression of a text as they peel back the layers with each reading.  Through repeated readings, students are actively reading and are able to show their understanding through thoughtful and precise answers to questions. Diving into repeated readings allows students to read carefully to examine texts and draw evidence and knowledge from them. Close reading helps build foundational skills for reading that will help with critical thinking skills and beyond.

Strategies for close reading. Taking a closer look

As you are getting started with close reading, you can consider:

  • What is the goal of the reading?
  • Is the passage a high-interest passage for students? 
  • Is it a complex passage that students can benefit from multiple readings?
  • And what purpose does close reading serve for this topic?

Here are a few ways to keep close reading interesting, purposeful, and stress-free in your classroom:

What is close reading?

Close reading is not just a quick read of a passage, but a deep dive through multiple readings. It is careful and purposeful reading through rereading a short amount of text.  When a student reads closely, they dig deep into the text through multiple readings that lead to deeper comprehension. 

The first reading should focus on the main idea and details of the text.  The second reading digs deeper and focuses on the vocabulary and text structure and the third reading dives deep into the student's comprehension by making inferences, determining themes, and studying the author’s craft.

Close reading helps build foundational skills for reading that will help with critical thinking skills and beyond

By reading closely, students will have a better understanding of the text, leading to deeper and more meaningful discussions of the text.  Students learn to annotate text, reread the text for meaning, answer text-dependent questions, and respond to the text in writing.

Giving a Purpose for Reading

To really help students understand and give a purpose for WHY they are close reading, model, model, model before getting started.  

What is close reading? Reading a text multiple times to really understand it.

A great way to do this is to display an enlarged text for the students to see.  You can do this on your interactive whiteboard, with a document camera, or create an oversized poster version of the text by copying and assembling or by using a poster maker (if that is available to you).

When you model on an enlarged text students can watch as you annotate, stop to take notes, and pause to think. And when you add in a little bit of flair for the dramatic while modeling, they probably won't forget watching your close reading demonstration.

The First Reading

The first read is a true cold read.  Students do not have any background knowledge about the text, but you can set the purpose for the reading, which is determining the main idea.  Determining the main idea in the first reading will set them up for success in their repeated readings as well.  

First reading is to understand the main idea of the text. The big picture.

To model the first reading of the text, read the text slowly aloud.  Do not make any marks or stop to think aloud as you are reading, but read it all the way through.  After reading, write down some of your thoughts about the main idea on a sticky note.  Invite students to help put thoughts into words, “Let's think out loud!”  Prompt their thinking with questions such as, “What is this text mostly about?”  “How can we think of the big picture?”  

After you have modeled reading the passage for the first time, thinking about the “big picture,” students can then work on the first reading of their own passage.  As you come back together you can discuss the first reading and the main idea of the passage they have read.

The Second Reading

The second read is when you can really start to get focused on specific skills and pull out tools that will help your students as they read.  Having sticky notes, annotating bookmarks or pages, highlighters, or anything that will help students can be beneficial if your students know how to use them. 

Before beginning your second reading as a whole group, set the purpose for reading: vocabulary and text structure. Understanding the text structure is an important skill that will help students as they answer questions about the text.

Second reading focuses on vocab and text structure. Dig deep.

Before reading, number the paragraphs of the text in the left margin.  This helps students read the text in “chunks.”  It seems less overwhelming to students when they are presented with a longer text and it also encourages them to stop and think as they read.

After you have numbered the paragraphs, model reading and annotating the text.  Track your reading, stop, and stop often, to circle words that are unfamiliar or phrases that are important. 

Anchor chart for annotating the text

It is also important to reread sentences to understand the meaning.  Many times when students do not understand words, phrases, or chunks of text, they just continue reading. This can greatly affect their comprehension.  When there is something that is confusing, an unknown word, or just something you’d like to come back to, leave a sticky note as a reminder to go back.  

Stop and think aloud about the text structure.  Use phrases such as, “I notice the author…”  After reading, go back to the words that you circled and think aloud about the meaning and encourage students to do the same.  Write down thoughts on a sticky note and discuss them together.  While modeling, encourage student participation throughout the process.  

Close reading allows students to move beyond the first impression of a text as they peel back the layers of the close read.

After you have modeled and discussed the second reading, vocabulary, and text structure, students can then work on the second reading of their own passage.

Close reading materials and starter pack of supplies for reading comprehension

The Third Reading

The third read is when you can really dig deep!  First, set the purpose for reading: making inferences, the author's craft, and theme.  This really encourages deeper thinking and after reading the text a couple of times, students should be able to dig deep and use their prior knowledge about the subject. 

Third reading anchor chart focuses on theme, make inferences, and use evidence from the text

You can continue to annotate as you read through the text with students for the third time. Stop often for deeper thinking this time; making connections, asking questions, noticing important parts of the text.  

Model how you can use your schema as you read.  Write down thoughts on sticky notes after reading and make inferences about the text.

You can then model looking for evidence in the text that supports your thinking.  It is sometimes a difficult concept for students to choose the right evidence.  But with each reading that you've done, you've built your knowledge of the text with the main idea, vocabulary, text structure, inferencing, and theme.  This knowledge will help students determine what the question is really asking, which makes finding the evidence a less daunting task.

Sentence starters to use evidence from the text anchor chart

Students can then complete the third reading of their text. When you come back together as a group you can discuss what they have read.

Close reading bookmarks to read, think, write, and talk about what you read.

After the hard work and modeling that you’ve done with your shared text, students have a clear purpose for each reading of the text.  While the purpose may be the same time after time, the text will be different.  When you choose high-interest text, students will look forward to what they will read next!  If you have a subscription to a classroom magazine such as Scholastic News, National Geographic, or Time for Kids; you can use those passages for close reading as well. Students love reading about current events and these magazines are perfect for repeated readings too.

I am a firm believer in modeling before diving in.  And when you take the time to go through the process with your students, they will have a clear purpose for close reading that they will remember.  And with high-interest passages, you can't go wrong.  Your students will be actively reading and analyzing text while remaining engaged.

Free close reading starter pack with close reading materials

I hope you found some new ways to engage your students with challenging and meaningful close reading activities!

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Happy Teaching!

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