By Barbara Moss, Diane Lapp, Maria Grant, and Kelly Johnson
How can close reading be a part of my discipline? Am I doing close reading correctly? Questions like these are on the minds of many secondary teachers. Close reading can and should be a part of every discipline, and there is no one single way to do close reading. There are however, some key principles of close reading that should be considered. Earlier this week we shared ideas for designing lessons for grades K–5. Here are a few from our second book, A Close Look at Close Reading: Teaching Students to Analyze Complex Texts, Grades 6–12.
Choose Thought-Provoking and Challenging Texts
Select texts or passages that contain thought-provoking language, ideas, and challenging information that is best understood when reread and discussed. Selected texts could be a complete poem, a section from a science text, a math problem, or a historical letter. The text must contain enough information to be worthy of being read several times. Good sources for close reading texts include the excerpts from the text exemplars in Appendix B (PDF) of the Common Core State Standards, ReadWorks, and Appendix D from Teaching Tolerance.
Assess Areas of Complexity in the Text for Deeper Analysis
Assess the areas of the text that might be complex for your students. Then, create quality text-dependent questions (TDQs) that focus on the identified areas of complexity. View TDQs as scaffolds that help students analyze the text’s meaning, language, and structure. Remember that there is no set number of rereads or questions that should occur. You should determine the number of questions and rereads based on the complexity of the text as it relates to your students.
Initially, TDQs should promote a literal understanding of what the text says:
- What was this passage about?
- What was the setting of the story?
Next, TDQs should promote an understanding of how the text works by focusing on things like organization, vocabulary, the author’s purpose:
- How would you describe the organization of this text?
- Why do you think the author wrote this text?
Finally, TDQs should promote a deeper analysis of what the text means:
- Do you agree with the author’s argument? Why or why not?
- How does the author feel about ____? How do you know?
Foster Collaborative Discussion About the Text
Talking about a text helps students, especially English learners, expand their understandings. There is no single configuration that works best for collaborative talk. Depending on the question, responses might be appropriately shared with partners, tablemates, or larger groups. The traditional practice of posing a list of questions to which students write responses does not stimulate the same understanding, language development, and risk taking about ideas and new questions as does collaborative conversation. Collaborative annotating and note taking support the ways in which students later choose to share and explore their newly acquired understandings.
Provide Scaffolds as Needed Throughout the Lesson
Providing supports and structures eliminates the need to frontload the vocabulary or concepts that you identify as complex. Allow students the opportunity to independently engage with the text. Support their analysis with scaffolds that include TDQs, multiple rereads, annotations, and collaborative conversations. When these do not compensate for limited background knowledge about the text topic, lack of academic vocabulary, or a lack of language to express their knowledge, use contingency scaffolds such as paired texts. If middle grade students are struggling with reading the text exemplar Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself (Douglass, 1845/2001) because they lack background knowledge about the time period in which Douglass lived, the picture book Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass (Cline-Ransome and Ransome, 2012) can give them the background they need using a format and language that is easy to understand. Once they have explored this title, students will be ready to revisit the text exemplar, armed with foundational knowledge about the subject and the time period.
Additional ideas for scaffolding learning during close reading can be found in A Close Look at Close Reading: Teaching Students to Analyze Complex Texts, Grades 6–12. For more close reading resources, click here.
Barbara Moss, Diane Lapp, Maria Grant, and Kelly Johnson are the authors of the ASCD book A Close Look at Close Reading: Teaching Students to Analyze Complex Texts: Grades 6–12. Barbara Moss is a professor of literacy education at San Diego State University (SDSU), where she teaches courses at the credential, masters, and doctoral levels in children’s literature, content area literacy, and elementary literacy. Diane Lapp is distinguished professor of education in the Department of Teacher Education at SDSU, where she teaches both preservice and graduate courses in literacy education. Maria Grant is an associate professor in secondary education at California State University, Fullerton. Her most recent work focuses on the Common Core State Standards for English language Arts. Kelly Johnson is a faculty member in teacher education at SDSU and a classroom teacher at Health Sciences High and Middle College (HSHMC). She teaches reading methods, classroom management, and liberal studies at SDSU and 9th grade English at HSHMC.