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How to Rock Your Close Reading

‘Close Reading' has been used as an educational “buzzword” for the past few years but the Common Core Standards don’t do a very good job of explaining exactly what close reading is.

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The technical definition of a close reading according to Timothy Shanahan is:

“an intensive analysis of a text in order to come to terms with what it says, how it says it, and what it means.”

Timothy Shanahan

Let’s break that down. A close reading is a three step process.

  1. Read and comprehend the text.
  2. Reread and understand the style and structure of the text.
  3. Reread again and analyze the text for theme, central idea, and other fun literary terms!

So, a close reading is what we do whenever we read a text and pull everything we can out of it. Simple. Easy.

You probably do this weekly if not daily. But are your close readings rocking the socks off your students? Do you want them to?

Follow this guide to rocking your close reading and your students will be begging for another piece of text.

'Close Reading' has been used as an educational “buzzword” for the past few years but the Common Core Standards don’t do a very good job of explaining exactly what close reading is. (Visit to Read More) Click To Tweet

Find It!

The first step to rocking your close reading is finding good close reading passages. The good news is a close reading passage can literally be anything from song lyrics to a news article.

You want to be sure the passages are short texts that would not be overwhelming to read again, and something that students would not need a lot of background information on.

If you are teaching ESL students or students who have a limited experience set, you may need to front load with some background information before diving into a text.

What should you consider when you are deciding on a passage?

  • Content
  • Length

You want to ensure the content is something students are familiar with. Try activating prior knowledge by pulling texts that are related to previous lessons. For example, if you talked about Lewis and Clark in class, maybe read a story about Pocahontas.

The length of the close reading passage is important. You want to make sure it’s something students could read again without it being too time consuming. A good rule of thumb for a close reading passage in terms of length is to think of it in terms of a class period.

If you can read and discuss or answer questions within the time you allot for reading, you’re good to go! You do not want the first reading to take more than one day.

If you are choosing a passage from a book or novel you are reading in class, you may want to choose a close reading passage based on:

  • Pivotal plot points
  • Character changes
  • High-density passages (only if they develop the plot)
  • Passages with a good visual (aesthetics)

By focusing on these parts of the text, you are drawing students’ attention to the most important parts of the text and giving yourself a good opportunity to point out word choice, structure, and more which are all great techniques for a close reading.

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Prior to Reading:

Before you begin reading, tell your students you are going to be reading the passage more than once. You don’t want your students to think you are making them read it again because they missed something or did something wrong.

Each time you read, you will be using strategies you have used in past reading lessons. Putting all of the strategies together for three readings is what creates a rockin’ close reading experience.

Start Reading!

Close readings are not a “one and done” deal. When completing a close reading, you are reading for three different reasons therefore you should plan on reading a close reading passage a minimum of three times. So how do you complete a close reading?

First Reading

The first reading is essentially a comprehension strategy. You can have students use the Pencil in Hand and STAAR Reading Response sheets to ensure students are comprehending. (Read about these below)

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Second Reading

When you read the second time you are looking at the structure and the style of the text. A graphic organizer is a good close reading technique to use for this read through.

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When you talk about the structure or organization of the text, you can compare it to other texts that you have read.

Final Read

When you evaluate the close reading, you will look at theme, central idea, character development, and more!

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Rocking Your Close Reading Activities

You’ve completed step one and you’re onto step two. After finding a good close reading passage, what do you do next? You use strategies and activities to create fun close reading experiences for your students.

  • Modeling: A great way to teach a close reading is to model how to do a close reading for your students. Sometimes the biggest hurdle is the “I don’t get it” hurdle. If you show students HOW to complete a close reading, they will be more confident going into the process themselves.
  • Pencil in Hand: Teach students to read with a pencil in their hand. (If you are reading a novel or from a textbook, make sure students have sticky notes as well). As students read, have them put a question mark next to things they don’t understand or have a question about. In addition, have them put an exclamation point when something is surprising or important in the text.

This close reading technique helps students pay attention while they are reading and tells you what they need help understanding. It will also show you if students can identify some of the most important parts of the text.

  • STAAR Reading: For my Texas teachers, another activity to use, especially when students are being asked to read independently, are STAAR reading response sheets. These response sheets ensure your students understand what they are reading and can apply the standards being taught for the state exam.
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Close reading is so important in all classes. Because close readings can be informational, sections of a novel, songs, or any form of text, challenge yourself to put close reading in a variety of subjects. One way to ensure you are doing close readings all year round is with a Close Reading Year Long Bundle.

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Available in my shop, this bundle gives you 300 passages differentiated for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade. In addition to close reading passages, it also includes 8 graphic organizers, an annotation key, color coded text evidence questions, and differentiated comprehension questions for each passage.

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Close readings can help students become great independent readers. Giving students the challenge of reading and rereading a text can not only help their comprehension, it can also teach them how to look deeper into a text and truly understand the author's intent and overall meaning of the text.

Final Thoughts…

Are you ready to ROCK YOUR CLOSE READING lessons? Do you have a additional technique or strategy that you love using with your students? Share below so other teachers can find the best methods to use with their students.

Don't forget to join our Members Only section where you can get some close reading passages for your students for FREE!

Looking for other articles for helping you SHAKE UP YOUR TEACHING:

Spiral Review: Making It Work For You
Sustained Silent Reading
Test Prep Survival

Until Next Time Educational Rockstars,

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