As an avid reader, the twists and turns of the written word have always been an interest to me. Each time I reread a book, I learn something new that I overlooked the time before. Generating this epiphany in students is the hope of most teachers. Re-reading stories is about the discovery of something that was missed the first time around. This deeper understanding leads to better appreciation of the text, as well as a deeper connection to characters and concepts.
Common Core assessments require in-depth analysis of text. To prepare students for this task, many schools have adopted programs that include close reading activities. Close reading involves multiple, in-depth readings of a text (or piece of a text) to identify and discuss important words, concepts, text structure, and overall meaning. Through close reading, students gain a better understanding of a text by recognizing the author’s purpose, analyzing the use of language and word choice, and gaining the ability to make comparisons to other texts, concepts, and ideas.
What is Close Reading?
Close reading is a result of the New Criticism movement (beginning in the late 1920s) which was heavily influenced by literary critic, author, and Cambridge University professor I.A. Richards. He describes his methods in his book, Practical Criticism (1930), from which the practice of close reading developed. During close reading exercises, students analyze a short passage or poem without any prior knowledge of its author, date, or historical background. This practice encourages students to examine the “words on the page” rather than relying on biographical and/or historical contexts. For more information on the history and origins of the New Criticism movement and closer reading practices refer to this article.
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) encourage the practice of close reading in all grades, and not waiting until middle and high school to practice deeper reading skills with students. The College and Career Readiness (CCR) Anchor Standard for Reading states “To build a foundation for college and career readiness, students must read widely and deeply from among a broad range of high-quality, increasingly challenging literary and informational texts…” An article written by educator and author Nancy Boyles, offers more information about the importance of incorporating close reading in classrooms of all grade levels.
Close Reading Process
Close reading practices can be incorporated into the classroom by selecting important sections of a particular text or article for closer examination. In the article Close Reading in Elementary Schools, Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey, give numerous tips for incorporating close reading in the classroom, including the importance of teaching students annotation skills (appropriately modified note-taking that fits student’s ability and grade level) which can be a helpful tool while practicing close reading. The close reading process requires re-reading the text multiple times:
- The first reading should be for general understanding. What does the text say? Who is speaking, and what happened in the text? For early primary grades, the teacher leads students through multiple readings of the text aloud. Teacher-guided or group readings can be implemented in EL classrooms as well.
- The second reading is an opportunity to analyze text structure, looking for further understanding of how the text works. Are there any text features or organizational patterns that the author used in the selected passage (such as cause/effect, compare/contrast, poetic or dramatic devices)? Notice the author’s use of word choice and figurative language. This is also a good time to review new or important vocabulary words and phrases.
- The third reading builds on the first and second readings to determine the meaning of the text, and uses additional background about the author or subject to further support analysis. Who is the author and when was the text written? Does the author have any cultural or historical connections to the text or subject matter? What is the author trying to say? What is the author’s purpose for writing the text? For example: Samuel Clemens’ (Mark Twain) life as a river boat operator provides genuine insight into life on the Mississippi River. Consider thematic meaning and any connections between this text and others like it. Integration of other mediums (e.g., video or audio of the text, drama, or poetry) can further promote a deeper understanding of a text by helping express tone, mood, and diction.
Asking Text-Dependent Questions
When analyzing a text during a close reading, it is important to ask readers text-dependent questions. Limit simple recall questions, if possible. In their article, Fisher and Frey note that students should always refer back to the text for evidence to support their answers and opinions. Text-dependent questions can range from asking the literal meaning of specific words and phrases, to asking questions that refer to the ideas students have made inferences about (such as figurative language, tone, or mood in a text). After the first reading of a passage, questions should be focused on the central ideas and key details of the text. Group discussions can be helpful for students to share their ideas and impressions.
Following the second reading, gear questions towards the structure of the text and how this might help the reader better understand the author’s purpose. Questions following a second reading should also address word choice and vocabulary meaning. Annotations and notes can be helpful for students to single out important vocabulary and phrases. Once students have completed the third reading, ask text-dependent questions about what the text means and its connections to other ideas, themes, and text examples.
Close Reading Tasks & Activities
Once students have a solid grasp on the author’s purpose and the meaning of a text, they are prepared to participate in tasks and activities associated with the text. These might include writing opinion pieces or arguments using evidence from the text as support, creating a narrative written from the perspective of the speaker or character in a novel, or producing essays, research reports, and speeches that reflect the knowledge gained from their now deeper understanding of the selected text. This sample activity is just one of many close reading sample activities provided by AchievetheCore.org.