In the age of ChatGPT and other AI, using close reading strategies doesn’t come naturally to students. When students get a new assignment, their first instinct may be to race to the finish line rather than engage with text. This means students will miss a lot of nuance and meaning as they move through school.
On the other hand, a close reading of text requires students to slow down, think, annotate, and reflect. The ultimate idea? We get more information and enjoyment from reading and working with the text when we use close reading strategies.
What is close reading?
Close reading is a way to read and work with text that moves beyond comprehension into interpretation and analysis. Put another way, close reading helps readers get from literal to inferential understanding of text.
After a close reading, students should understand what the text says and understand ideas embedded in the text, like a cultural perspective or religious opinion. They’ll also have an idea of what the text means to them, and what their opinion about it is based on more than just an offhand feeling. In class, close reading may take multiple class periods to complete and should have a goal at the end—a discussion or essay or some way for students to share what they’ve learned.
Read more: What is close reading anyway?
Here is our step-by-step guide with strategies for teaching close reading:
1. Choose the perfect passage
Image: Jennifer Findley
As you’re planning texts for a lesson or unit, start with what you want students to get out of what they’re reading. So, if you’re studying text structure, choose books or articles with interesting text structures. If you’re studying character development, find a passage that shows how a character changes or evolves. The point: There has to be something to find in text so that students aren’t grasping at straws.
Tip: Texts should be at or just above students’ grade and reading level, but they don’t have to be dense with text. Here’s how to use picture books in close reading lessons.
2. Prepare students by teaching annotation
Source: The English Classroom
Close reading will require some prep work. Students have to know how to annotate effectively, pulling out and making notes on the most important parts, i.e., not highlighting everything. Spend some time at the start of the year or unit teaching students how to identify and mark the most important parts of a text (new or key words, main ideas, pivotal plot points).
3. Students read the text for literal comprehension
First, have students read the entire text. The text should take less than one class period to read through once, so a chapter or article or even a few paragraphs could be enough. The first time students read, they’re reading for a general understanding and the main idea. They can think through:
- What is this story about?
- What information does this article contain?
- What is literally happening?
- What is the message or purpose?
4. Check in
After the first reading, check in with students to make sure they have a clear, literal understanding of the text. If they don’t, clear up misconceptions. If they do, move on to the second reading.
5. Chunk text in preparation for read 2
Image: iTeach. iCoach. iBlog.
Before the second reading, have students separate the text into paragraphs or chunks. Number each chunk. This way, when students review the text, they can easily refer back to paragraph 1 or chunk 2 and all be on the same page.
6. Work with text-dependent questions
Image: Instructional Coach
Now that students have a clear understanding of what the text is about, introduce the text-dependent questions that students will be working with in their close reading. Text-dependent questions are those that can only be answered using the text. For example, a question like “Why did Jeremiah eat a bullfrog?” rather than “Why is it not a good idea to eat a bullfrog?”
Questions that you work with should also range in their complexity. If the passage is more complex in terms of structure, content, or vocabulary, the questions may be less complex. But if a passage is easier for students to work with, the questions can be more advanced.
7. Set the end goal
Students shouldn’t be reading just to read. Explain the end goal—a Socratic seminar discussion, a partner discussion, an essay, a project. Once students know how they are going to respond to the questions, they’re better able to think through how they’re going to show what they know.
Here are creative ways to use close reading.
8. Time for reads 2 and 3
Image: Reading Ladies
Now that students have the question, the text, and the end goal, they’re ready to reread. The second time students read the text, they’re reading it to annotate for their own understanding. This is also the point where you’ll want to break students into groups—which students can work independently and which need some, or a lot of, support to complete the read?
Some texts will require a third reading for students to fully prepare, or students may need to reread chunks or paragraphs even more to get what they need. The important part is that students understand that rereading is an important part of close reading.
9. Respond to the text
This is it! The final close reading discussion. In this response, students will:
- Summarize what they read.
- Answer the text-dependent questions.
- Include evidence to support their ideas.
- Draw conclusions about the meaning of the text.
Have some way for students to plan out what they are going to say or write, and have them turn in their annotated reading so you can refer back to it if you’re confused about how they got from point A to Z.
Every so often, reflect on how close reading is changing what students are taking away from what they read. Close reading should shape their reading skills and how they approach text beyond your class, but students may need support seeing the connection.
11. Level up
As students get more comfortable with close reading, you can level up their discussions by:
- Having students develop their own questions after they read a text or as you progress through a longer text.
- Using texts that are more complex in terms of content or structure.
- Challenging students to do a close reading of a picture book or graphic novel, rather than full-on text.
What strategies do you use to teach close reading in your classroom? Share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.