Close reading lessons have essentially replaced the ways we used to teach reading. When this teaching strategy first came on the scene, teachers started using it everywhere: language arts of course, but also in social studies, science, and even math lessons. As is often the case with teachers, some of us went a bit overboard.
After a few years of using close readings with my students, I’ve finally gotten to what I believe to be the optimal way to use this teaching strategy. I’m excited to share what’s worked for me and my students!
How Does Close Reading Work?
First, let’s define our terms. Literacy expert Timothy Shanahan defines close reading as “an intensive analysis of a text in order to come to terms with what it says, how it says it, and what it means.”
Close reading lessons became all the rage when states adopted the Common Core Standards. Our focus turned from teaching students to memorize a laundry list of literary terms to closely examining a specific piece of a text with purpose.
The Common Core ELA curriculum says:
Students who meet the Standards readily undertake the close, attentive reading that is at the heart of understanding and enjoying complex works of literature.
Exactly how to conduct a close reading lesson is up for discussion. Here’s what one typically includes:
- A short text that students reread several times to interpret meaning and deepen their understanding.
- Minimal pre-teaching so students do the hard work of comprehension and extracting meaning from the text.
- Extensive annotation, where students underline, highlight, and make notes directly on the text.
- A focus on how the reader experiences the text: through analysis, evaluation, or synthesis.
Rather than the old days of teaching long, 45-minute+ lessons on an entire book, short story, or non-fiction article, we zero in on a particular passage. The goal is that our students learn how to interact with a text in a purposeful way, which is a lifelong skill that will transfer into college and career down the road.
Tips for Simplifying Close Reading Lessons
This is where the art of teaching comes in! We want to teach close reading skills in a way that keeps our students engaged in the learning process. The last thing we want is for close reading to become just another chore, which can happen if you try to do too much with your close reading lessons.
Here are my top four tips for simplifying your close reading lessons:
Tip #1: Read the Whole Text for Enjoyment First
Reading should be an enjoyable activity! If you always start with doing the work, your kiddos will get burnt out pretty quickly. I like to do a whole class read-aloud and ask students to share their thoughts and reactions.
Close reading comes later for us. This might seem to contradict the “standard” way of doing close readings, which says to use minimal pre-teaching. There are times when a cold close read might be okay, but my students really benefit from the full context and group discussion. They still have hard work to do when they start to investigate a passage.
Tip #2: Prepare Your Own Close Reading Annotations In Advance
It’s super important for you to prepare your own close reading annotations ahead of time! Even if you’ve taught this same passage the past few years, it helps to have a refresher.
I like to make my own annotations because it helps me anticipate their questions and potential roadblocks. I’m better able to guide my students to apply the particular reading strategy rather than trying to figure it out as we go.
Tip #3: Remember, Mastery Takes Time
You students won’t master the strategy in one lesson. And that’s okay! More than okay, it’s normal. You’ll be teaching close reading skills several times throughout the school year. Let yourself (and your students) off the hook. Tell them that this is a work in progress, and that you don’t expect mastery yet. This will alleviate a lot of pressure all around!
Tip #4: Narrow Your Focus to One Standard
Don’t try to do too much! Yes, there are several standards that could apply to a particular lesson, but you’ll have much better success if you focus on just one.
Curriculums are written with all the different standards listed to give you options, not to mandate that you do ALL the things. Once you identify the one you’re going to focus on, ignore the others. Then, write down your close reading purpose.
- Identify the pages or paragraphs in the text that you’re focusing on
- Determine which strategy you’re applying
- Write out the question you’re trying to answer
Doing all this will make the process crystal clear for your students! Be sure to always establish clarity before diving into a complex text. Without clear goals in mind, it’s easy to get lost along the way!
Markers & Minions Close Reading Companions
If you’d like an easy, low-prep resource to help you work through the Benchmark Advance close reading process with your students, check out my Close Reading Companions.
I’ve designed these with all of my close reading tips in mind.
Each lesson has ONE main standard listed at the top, followed by the close reading purpose.
For example, Standard = Key Details & Main Idea, R.I. 3.2; Purpose: After reading the passage, annotate the text to find key details and the main idea. Then, complete the chart.
There is a graphic organizer with each close reading lesson, so students can record their answers and text annotations. Teachers tell me that this format and level of detail is so much better than the generic “graphic organizers” that come with the Benchmark Advance curriculum. The charts they provide are literally just empty boxes!
Having specific close reading lessons helps you stay focused, makes the lesson feel more intentional, and creates a better experience for your students.
You can shop all of my Close Reading Companions—there are bundles for grades 2-5!