This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on close reading:
This is a 3-part series on Close Reading. Look for these posts:
Part 1: What is Close Reading?
Part 2: Close Reading Strategies
Part 3: Close Reading Example Lessons
Are Search Engines Subjective or Objective: A Common Core Essay lesson plan includes close reading, as well as writing, speaking & listening, and language standards and tasks for grades 6-12.
Close Reading is a teaching strategy that comes from the New Criticism literary theory of teaching students to understand a text. Traditionally, teachers have taught from various literary criticism foundations. For example, a biographical criticism would have a student learning about Shakespeare’s life, while a historical criticism would emphasize the culture of Shakespearean Britain. For close reading, the continuum of teaching strategies would place the text at the center of the discussion, and if the discussion goes beyond the text, it circles back to the text at its center.
From education theory and practice research, we know some strategies that will not work:
Summarization: Students must be taught explicitly how to summarize effectively and, in fact, is required by the CCSS from 4th grade up. Plan to spend extensive time teaching this technique.
Highlighting and Underlining: Highlighting does little to boost performance and may actually interfere with higher level tasks of inference.
Re-Reading: Re-reading a passage within a short space of time is effective in retaining information; however, re-reading more times adds little to the student’s performance on a number of tasks.
Recommended Close Reading Strategies
In their book, Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading (Heinemann, 2012) ], Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst recommend a series of six questions about the text:
6 Signposts and Anchor Questions:
- Contrasts and Contradictions: Why would the character act (feel) this way?
- Aha Moments: How might this change things?
- Tough Questions: What does this question make me wonder about?
- Words of the Wiser: What’s the life lesson and how might it affect the character?
- Again and Again: Why might the author bring this up again and again?
- Memory Moments: Why might this memory be important?
In Close Reading of Informational Texts: Assessment Driven Instruction in Grades 3-8 (The Guilford Press, 2012), Sunday Cummins PhD recommends these strategies:
“The essential skills for close reading. . . include:
• Tapping one’s prior knowledge related to informational text structure.
• Topical and vocabulary knowledge.
• Setting a purpose for reading.
• Self-monitoring for meaning.
• Determining what is important.
• Synthesizing.” (p. 10)
Most explanations of close reading include some of these strategies:
- Vocabulary: In order for students to understand a text, they must understand the vocabulary.
- Reread: In spite of research that says multiple rereadings are ineffective, many close reading strategies rely heavily on this technique. The research says that re-reading after 15 minutes does have a positive effective, but further re-reading adds little–by itself. Use this strategy in the context of answering questions or other tasks for best results.
- Paraphrase. Sometimes students are asked to rewrite a paragraph in their own words. This does help to find problems with vocabulary and basic understanding of a text. However, it is not as powerful a technique as asking and answering questions.
- Elaborative Interrogation and Self-Explanations: Questions. Research confirms that the more a students asks and answers a variety of questions about a text, the more s/he is required to understand the complexities of the text.
- Practice Testing in a Low-Stakes Environment. Pop-quizzes, end of chapter reviews, and electronic tests are effective in helping students understand a text. These are especially effective if the student is given immediate feedback.
- Distributed Practice. Students perform better and retain information better when learning is distributed over time, instead of crammed into one time period. After a delay of some days, returning to a discussion of issues raised in a text will improve retention and understanding.
- Interleaved Practice. When students interleave various topics or subject matter discussions, retention and performance increases. Cramming for a test does produce short-term benefits; but if the goal is a long-term retention and understanding, a discussion about a text should be returned to in different contexts.