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The Beginner's Guide to Close Reading Strategies

Remember when reading fast meant reading well?

It was only a few years ago that fluency was considered the hallmark of a good reader. But today it feels synonymous with a time with Walkmans and floppy disks were all the rage.

 

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The shift in standards for young readers has been swift and drastic. “Good” reading no longer means reading quickly. In fact, today “good” reading with CCSS-centered texts is really more about reading slowly.

This shift in priorities isn’t only a shock to students whose early years of reading experience focused on reading quickly and efficiently. It also means educators like you have to dramatically alter the way you teach reading and literacy.

That means it’s time to slooowwww down — and embrace the power of close reading!

Making the Shift to Close Reading

Making the change to close reading instruction can be a tricky process. It involves replacing what you’ve always done with something new — a new way to ask students to read and a new way of looking at your materials.

The good news though is that it’s worth it!

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Close reading – though not a core standard in-and-of-itself – is a by product of critical thinking and a great way to ensure students comprehend what they read. When implemented correctly, it can be an extremely effective way for students to evaluate higher-order questions and recognize the deeper meanings in complex texts.

Of course, the rise of close reading doesn’t mean fluency should be ignored. Just the opposite. Being able to read with ease makes the transition into close reading and the absorption of content simpler and more effective.

The real trick to making it work is choosing the right books for your students to read!

Why You Can Judge a Book by Its Cover

Think about it like this – when you paint, you use a paintbrush, not a pencil. When you play tennis, you use a racket, not a bat.

When you engage in close reading, you need to use a very specific type of book, because not just any basal reader or student textbook will do.

Ideally close reading texts are short and complex, allowing space for students to:

  • think critically,
  • recognize literary nuances,
  • and connect more deeply with the author.

There is a very thin line here though…

If the text is too short, it will likely lack the substance needed for close analytical thinking. If it is too long however (like a chapter book) it can become unwieldy during your time-compressed days and fatigue students over the course of multiple reads.

When it’s time to focus on close reading instruction, it’s important to choose texts that lean towards being shorter in length, are layered with meaning, and can inspire peer discussion. For this reason, it can be beneficial to organize your classroom texts by purpose and choose books based on their format, rather than strictly on their content.

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Doing this will ensure students are operating with the right tools, make lessons easier and more effective, and keep readers engaged while they analyze texts.

But even with the right tools, close reading skills must be taught in the right way. And just as the rise of close reading has changed how students read, it has also changed how educators must teach.

A New Norm for Close Reading Instruction

Guided reading is one of the most powerful ways to deliver targeted close reading instruction to students within a small group. But, the same old instructional routines teachers have been using for years might not be good enough anymore.

The old “Norm” for traditional guided reading sessions tends to look a lot like this:

Students are assembled into a small group for a 20-minute session. After being pre-taught vocabulary from the text, they spend some time talking about their personal experiences and building on their prior knowledge. Then the group does a picture walk and predicts what the book will be about. This usually only leaves about 5 minutes to actually read.

That's just not enough time. 

The “New Norm” for guided reading puts less of an emphasis on the preparation-to-read portion and focuses more on having students build meaning while they read.

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That means turning those 15-minute discussions and book-walkthroughs into quick, 1-minute previews. This allows students more time to develop a deep understanding of the text and its meaning.

Here are a few ways to ensure that happens:

  • Steer clear of telling students what the text is going to be about before they read it.
  • Rather than asking for predictions and doing your picture walk, limit yourself to a one sentence synopsis that sets the stage for the day’s reading (e.g. “Today, we are going to read a book about conserving water).
  • Limit the number of vocabulary words you pre-teach (i.e. only teach words that aren’t defined within the reading).

When it’s all said and done, paring down your up-front preparation will lead to slower, deeper reading and allow more time for end-of-text discussions.

This can also provide more time for another critical part of the post-reading process — student discussions.

The Trick to Boosting Close Reading Success: Student Collaboration

While close reading is, by nature, an independent, up-close rereading of a text, that doesn’t mean it should discourage you from emphasizing collaboration between students after they read.

As Dr. Timothy Shanahan puts it, “collaboration leads to insights that we wouldn’t have without the contribution of others.”

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For the sake of time and continuity, some teachers may foster fewer interactions and fewer discussions, which leads the class in the opposite direction— away from great connections and great thinking.

A better approach may be to plan for both activities during close reading instruction. You can do this by:

  • Alternating between independent reading and peer collaboration each day for close reading practice.
  • Offering students a 5-minute wrap up for discussion after every independent close reading session.
  • Suggesting safe online or blogging venues for close reading conversations about texts read independently.
  • Inviting students to take part in cooperative projects or activities about the close reading texts they practice.

By weaving collaboration into more activities throughout the day, including close reading, students think deeper and more meaningfully about the texts they read. Ultimately, that leads to a deeper understanding of information.

Get a Close Up on Close Reading

So there you have it -- the strategies you need to successfully implement close reading in your classroom. Ready to give it a shot?

If so, remember to make sure you have the right materials when you do! Our Book Blog can help...

Our Book Blog is a one-of-a-kind close reading program that combines independent and collaborative reading instruction with an awe-inspiring digital format that is more effective and engaging for young readers. 

With Our Book Blog, students are able to interact directly with the text, share their thoughts with peers, and participate in rich discussions about the text in a safe, monitored blog-style forum just for your class! 

Want to see what else makes Our Book Blog so amazing? Just click here