By Diane Lapp, Barbara Moss, Maria Grant, and Kelly Johnson
As elementary teachers begin to implement the Common Core State Standards, they are experimenting with close reading as a dimension of their balanced reading programs. Those in grades K–2 wonder how it is possible for not-yet-fluent readers to engage in close reading. Their colleagues in grades 3–5 ponder what has to be cut to make space in the daily schedule for close reading.
There is no single way to engage students in close reading, but the major difference between close reading in the primary and upper grades is that in the primary grades the teacher reads the text aloud because the children are not yet fluent readers. Even at an early age, students can engage in partner conversations that push their understanding and allow them to struggle a bit to succeed with comprehension.
Regardless of the grade, however, there are some key principles of close reading that should be part of every lesson. Here are a few tips from our book A Close Look at Close Reading: Teaching Students to Analyze Complex Texts, Grades K–5.
Choose Short, Engaging, Challenging Texts from a Variety of Genres
Close reading is most appropriate for repeated reading and intense study of a short, worthy texts. A good close reading text is like a great poem or painting. Each time you reread a great poem or resee a great painting, you notice something new. The same is true of a great text for close reading. Whether a story, poem, picture book, or book excerpt, students deepen their text understanding with each reading or listening. They continually discover more about what the text says, how it works, and what it means. Good sources for close reading texts include excerpts from the text exemplars in Appendix B (PDF) of the Common Core State Standards, ReadWorks, and Appendix D from Teaching Tolerance.
Create Quality Text Dependent Questions
Text dependent questions (TDQs) are the heart of the close reading strategy, and the success of your lesson will depend in large part on the quality of these questions. TDQs for the first text reading should be literal, focusing on general understanding (what the text says). Questions could include the following:
- What was this story about?
- What did you learn about ____ [the text’s topic]?
- What happens when ____ [key details]?
TDQs for the second text reading should focus on how the text works, the text organization, vocabulary, and the author’s purpose. Questions could include the following:
- What does ____ [selected vocabulary] mean?
- How does the ____ [selected punctuation] help you?
- What voice is the author using? What parts made you think this?
TDQs for the third reading should dive deeper into the text to determine what the text means. Questions could include the following:
- Look at the pictures of ____ [text-specific element]. Do they match what you think they author is telling you? Why or why not? Provide text evidence to support your answer.
Engage Students in Collaborative Talk About the Text
Text conversation is one of the most powerful ways to help students, especially English language learners, engage in learning about a text. When doing close reading, your classroom should be alive with conversations where students talk to partners, tablemates, and the larger group. Just asking students questions or having them write answers to a list of questions won’t create the student understanding you want for a good close reading lesson. Verbal rehearsal supports students as they explore challenging texts by sharing ideas with others and provides a foundation for later writing extensions in response to text.
Provide Scaffolding for All Students, Especially Ones Who Need Additional Support
For some students, rereading or listening again to a text is not enough to compensate for limited background knowledge about the text topic, lack of academic vocabulary, or a lack of language to express their knowledge. They will need additional scaffolding that can occur in smaller groups. Paired texts can be great scaffolds to support striving readers. For example, if students in the primary grades are struggling to comprehend Starfish: The Stars of the Sea (Lexile 410) by Peter and Connie Roop, sharing the less complex Starfish by Edith Thacher Hurd (Lexile 170) can give them some background knowledge and language that is easier to understand.
Once they have explored the less complex text, students will be ready to revisit the text exemplar, armed with foundational knowledge about the topic. 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 K–5.
Diane Lapp, Barbara Moss, 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 K–5. Diane Lapp is distinguished professor of education in the Department of Teacher Education at San Diego State University (SDSU), where she teaches both preservice and graduate courses in literacy education. Barbara Moss is a professor of literacy education at SDSU, where she teaches courses at the credential, masters, and doctoral levels in children’s literature, content area literacy, and elementary literacy. 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.