Close reading is an integral and essential component of the common core standards. Close reading asks students to not only read a text for basic comprehension and understanding, but to really read the text, dig deeply into the text, and make connections with the text.
This can be a difficult and daunting task for a generation that grew up bubbling a scantron and moving on to the next task.
1. Don’t rush them.
When my students closely read a text, I make sure to not rush them. We as educators have to keep in mind that this is their first exposure to the text. We can’t take for granted that they will understand every word, metaphor, and rhetorical device in the text. Close reading is a process that takes time, patience, and multiple readings. There is no such thing as reading a sentence, a paragraph, or a composition too many times. To begin the close reading process, I like to teach my students how to annotate text.
My Annotation Bookmarks will help keep students focused when they are annotating. Sometimes students just need some time and a guideline to get used to annotating.
2. Focus on a new concept for each reading.
Even the brightest and most advanced students will be overwhelmed when they are given too many concepts and/or rhetorical devices to look for and analyze in one reading. Sure, they may complete the task, but it won’t be at the depth in which they are capable. Instead, just work on one close reading focus at a time. Not only will this help students be more engaged with the text and really understand the concept, but they will also build a better understanding of the text because they will have more exposure to it.
If you are focusing on analyzing a piece of nonfiction for rhetorical devices, just focus on one at a time and start with the easier to understand rhetorical devices. This strategy will allow students to gain a better understanding of the text, which will then allow them to closely read the text for more difficult concepts. When I closely read short stories with my students, I use focused sticky note graphic organizers that help students identify key literary elements.
I rely on short story close reading assignments to help me guide my students through this step of the process. These units focus on just one literary element at a time. For example, if we are reading a short story, we might focus on just identifying suspense first. Then, after students are able to identify, quote, and explain examples of suspense, we will move to a new literary focus. This really provides students the opportunity to understand the text and the literary elements we are focusing one.
3. Don’t forget about vocabulary.
Whenever we do a close reading in my classroom, I am always amazed at the words students do not know. Even if a word seems like an easy, common word, we cannot simply assume that our students are familiar with it. For this reason, I do not like assigning vocabulary lists when I do close readings. Instead, I prefer to rely on my students and their existing vocabulary. One of our close reading focuses is just on vocabulary. I have the students box any words with which they are unfamiliar, and then write the definitions in the margins.
Taking time to do a vocabulary close read is essential. Students gain such a better understanding of the material once they become familiar with the unknown words. To make this activity even more meaningful, I like to have them partner up after completing an individual vocabulary close read. Many times students will overlook words they do not know. Providing them with an opportunity to partner up for a second vocabulary close read really enforces this activity. I urge the students to not copy each other’s work. Instead, they are to read the definitions to their partners. Once this is complete, the student read a document, identified unfamiliar words, defined these words, wrote down the definitions, and spoke the definitional aloud. All of these different interactions with the once unfamiliar words really provides the students with an opportunity to genuinely learn new words.
4. Place an emphasis on collaborative learning.
Close reading is not and should not be an individual effort. Every single student brings a unique perspective to the table, and we should embrace these unique perspectives. When we do close readings in my classroom, I like to have the students read individually, but I also like them to partner up, work in small groups, work in larger groups, and then start the process all over again, but this time with new partners and new groups.
One way to incorporate group work into close reading is to assign each group a specific task. For example, if your students are analyzing figurative language within a text, you can assign each group a specific type of figurative language. After a set amount of time, have the students either share their finding aloud and on the board or through a document reader. Similarly, you can also have the students change groups and share their findings with other students. This type of collaborative activity generates excellent classroom discussion.
5. Give the students time to work.
One of the most vital aspects of teaching close reading is providing students with the opportunity to complete the task. Once you teach the student how to closely read and annotate a text, you will need to model the skill using a small portion of the text. After that, you will need to step back and be a facilitator. You will spend the majority of your instructional time fielding questions and witnessing authentic learning at its best.