3 Tips For Teaching Close Reading

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3 Tips For Teaching Close Reading

by Dan Henderson, Author of That’s Special: A Survival Guide To Teaching

Here are some best practices for close reading. Below I’ve included three strategies to support your close reading lesson, and beneath these tips I have shared a story about a close reading lesson in which a student had an interesting interpretation.

3 Tips For Getting Started In Close Reading 

1. Emphasize to your students to read the passage multiple times

As simple as this sounds, it can be difficult to have a student read the text two, three or more times. At first students can view this intense investigation into the text as punishment. Have the students read the passage silently during the first read, the second time have students read the text aloud pausing after each paragraph to paraphrase the paragraph with simple notes, and the third time have the student break down and define key vocabulary so they can inference the author’s point of view. Make sure the passage is only 1-2 pages long at most.

2. Promote comprehension through vocabulary

Once you get to the vocabulary portion, have students define vocabulary they believe that are linked to the understanding of the article and highlight vocabulary they are having problems comprehending the meaning. Have a class discussion on the vocabulary meanings.

Time permitting, have students create a sentence with the vocabulary word and if time, draw a picture depicting of the vocabulary word. Afterwards, go back to ask the students how the author uses the vocabulary words to support the author’s point of view and the students predictions.

3. Use Text dependent questions and graphic organizers

I am a proponent of graphic organizers to coincide with my text dependent questions. Close reading questions need to direct the student back into the article to find the answer. What is hard is having students cite the article and not their own opinions. By using a graphic organizer you are asking a student to tap into those executive functioning skills and look at the authors point of view with text directed questions.

The close reading lesson is really a guidebook to text comprehension. Close reading can also look at syntax, tone and a myriad of other topics. If you are overwhelmed and need a basic guide to start a close reading lesson, follow these 3 close reading steps to get started.

(For a more in depth look at close reading, check out this article close reading by Grant Wiggins.)

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A Story About Close Reading From My Classroom

(This is a long read.)

Close reading seems to be as popular as the Starbucks drive through or the hot doughnut sign in the Krispy Creme window. When I returned from summer break, a fellow colleague was concerned that I had no plans to teach close reading lessons. I barely had heard the term. How close do the children’s eyes need to be to the book to focus, would a cyclopes have an advantage, and would eye exams be required with the same level of debate as school vaccinations? What is close reading I pondered?

Primarily, I had taught intervention groups or special education students. Close reading was in my opinion, the general education teachers job. My principal enthusiastically announced that all staff would go to aclose reading PD during the beginning of the school year. On a whim of our supreme leaders initiative and no regard to what was successful last year, we collectively drank the close reading Kool-Aid and hoped for the best. I attended the training and found re-reading the text plus text dependent questions is a major component. My trainer described close readingas a literal definition of the text. My student Jill would take a literal definition of a text on slavery a bit to fervently.

Jill was a energetic girl of 10. Opinionated and extroverted as well as lacking some social cues, Jill had landed in detention multiple times this year with a tendency to bully her opinions to the point of defiance. If you have taken the Myer’s Bridge test on personality types, you are aware that there are multiple personality types. If Jill took this test, she would most likely have scored a “J” for judgement. I was tasked with teaching close reading during my RTI (Response to Intervention) groups. Jill was a RTI student along with being one of my special education students. Jill already started off the close reading lesson on slavery with a series of questions and was not willing to answer my questions.

We begin reading the passage the first time. The passage was about the invention of the cotton gin and how it actually increased the need for slaves in America. The theme was that the cotton gin and several other inventions which were originally intended to decrease the need for slaves led to more slavery. One key in close reading is the vocabulary and the phrase westward expansion was used at the end of the article. These vocabulary terms try to point out the theme of the story, but instead Jill’s response was just her own reasoning.

Half way through the article I see Jill’s energetic hand go up in the air. “Why didn’t the slaves just run away? Why was the only thing slaves do was pick cotton?” I had barely had a chance to begin the lesson and Jill was already casting her analysis. The other five children silently waited for the teacher to come up with an answer.

I cleared my throat and signaled Jill to listen by asking, “Jill we need to find the author’s purpose, what the author had to say, and what the story is trying to tell us using the structure and vocabulary of the story. We need to read the story all over again to discover what the author’s point of view is.” I take a deep sign hoping that I have explained close reading adequately to my group.

Instead my response from Jill was “We have to re-read the story twice! Come on Mr. Henderson, really.”

“Yeah, why do we have to re-read it again.” Another student begrudgingly echoed.

I guess from the student’s perspective they assumed they were being punished or I had implied they were not intelligent enough to find the answers the first time. Patiently, I tried to explain close reading mechanics 101.

“We will always read a close reading article at least twice. Notice these are short articles. I am not saying you did not gather great information the first time you read the article. However, the purpose of reading the article at least twice is for you to find the answers for my text dependent questions. I will put it this way, for the first lesson if you can’t quote your answer from the article, then I don’t want your answer. I want the author’s point of view, not yours Jill. I need to know you comprehend other people’s point of views and the question I am asking.” I see the students slouch in their chairs realizing they only heard the words, read the article twice.

I further explained the lesson adjusting my posture and gaining eye contact from my students. “I have a graphic organizer for you to use to define the vocabulary. I want you to write down either the vocabulary you don’t know or vocabulary that supports the text dependent questions I am asking.”

I placed a graphic organizer in front of five students. The pupils begin grinding lead into the bleached white paper writing their names. The graphic organizer I supplied had spaces to indicate the paragraph and line numbers to support their paraphrased work. Then to the right another section where students can write the vocabulary definitions. After I explained paraphrasing to the students for two minutes, I redirected slouching students to start their work.  I rushed this explanation because I saw their attention was gone. However, Jill sat upright with her pencil ready to write the author’s point of view…I hoped.

We began reading the article a second time. The article was about the cotton gin and westward expansion. The question was did the cotton gin increase or decrease slavery in the US? The students were armed with highlighters and the graphic organizer. Jill took a deep breath and diligently re-reads while also paraphrasing in the graphic organizer. My students begin to realize the advancements in cotton gin technology lead to more slaves who needed to pick cotton.

More cotton could be manufactured with the new technology of the cotton gin. Thus, this led to an actually increase in slavery since more cotton could be produced at a quicker pace. Cue light bulbs, choir of heavenly angels singing with this new enlightenment. Neurons have expanded in my pupils minds, and the teacher is happy. I did not get a chance to view Jill’s work so I asked if she needed help and she replied “no.”

“Pencil’s down,” I announced as we prepared to discuss the paraphrased student work.

“Great, Who can tell me the central message the author is trying to relay in each paragraph? Let’s being in paragraph one.”

Jill enthusiastically raised her hand. I point to Jill.

“White people are mean.” She says with confidence.

“What. What are you talking about?” I asked intently.

“White people kept on making more inventions that they said would require less slaves, but they actually needed more slaves. They were greedy. Then there was this westward expansion thing. They were to lazy to go on their family trip alone, so they brought the slaves with them to do the work and why didn’t they leave them in Africa? Why did they have to make so much cotton?” I raised my hand to politely silence Jill.  Although some of her opinions were justified she was not sticking to the assignment.

“Jill, Jill I am not going to say you are entirely wrong in you interpretation. However, I am going to say we need to look at the author’s point of view. Again we are talking about the question, did the cotton gin increase or decrease slavery in the US, that is it.Period. Maybe I should rephrase the question. How did the cotton gin and similar advancements in technology increase slavery? Quote your answer from the text.”

Jill ponders my question, reads the text and writes down a revised statement on her graphic organizer.

“Got it.” She says with confidence. “White people are mean because they used technology to make more cotton stuff and needed more slaves.”

Shaking my head and thankful for the upcoming staff happy hour I do my best to patiently reply.

“Remember I said you had to quote vocabulary or portions of the text. Where did you find the exact words white people are mean.” I persist.

“Ok I didn’t find it, but the white people were mean right? Isn’t slavery wrong?” Jill asks.

“Slavery is wrong; it’s just you are not answering the question I am asking. You are focused on your opinion on slavery.” Jill looks at me blankly, and I realize I need to go back and explain author’s point of view. Then I realized I should do another close reading on making political correct statements in elementary school.

When teaching Jill, I left out a thorough definition of the author’s point of view and examples of text dependent questions. I should of modeled some examples before letting my student undertake the assignment. I often tell stories of how my lessons go wrong in an attempt for teachers to not make similar mistakes.

If you enjoyed these teaching mishaps and want to read similar stories visit my blog athttp://danhendersonthatsspecial.blogspot.com. You can find out more about Dan’s book at That’s Special: A Survival Guide To Teaching or go on Dan’s website on thatspecial.co

3 Tips For Teaching Close Reading; image attribution flickr user usdepartmentofeducation and prathambooks