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Five Rules for Close Reading

Monday, March 16, 2015 -- Scott Sterling

Close reading is one of those buzzwords that we all hear but aren’t quite sure how to implement. We know that students should be reading texts with more intent. It’s the only way for them to understand some of the complex, informational texts that the next generation of standards calls for

So, when it’s time for you to start a close reading lesson, here are the things you need to know:

Close reading isn’t just for English language arts

Educators of various disciplines are all in close reading together. Even though a school’s reading scores reflect more on the appraisals of ELA teachers, it is also important that students learn how to read text in every discipline thoroughly. That doesn’t mean that math teachers have to stop working problems and science teachers have to stop conducting experiments. It just means that whenever students are reading in class (and, if you think about it, it happens more often than you might think), you make sure that they are reading with intent—preferably with a highlighter or pencil in hand.

Thou shalt provide smaller texts

Close reading takes longer than traditional reading. The text should be reread, marked, or highlighted. Unless you are teaching one of those rare courses that only focuses on one novel for the whole year, there is no way your class can close read with long texts. So, do yourself and your students a favor and select smaller passages and articles when you want to exercise their close reading skills. It alleviates a lot of the pressure.

Number lines and paragraphs

When you’re reading closely, you will constantly have to refer back to certain parts of the text, either in discussion or during an assessment. Numbering the paragraphs and lines makes it easier on everyone. You can now say, “But remember what was said back at paragraph 3, line 6”? There’s a reason Shakespearean plays and many religious texts have their lines numbered.

Use the margins

The margins are the most valuable real estate in close reading. They are the only place where big thoughts—What’s the author saying here? What caused this to happen?—can be written out legibly. Make sure that the entire page is covered with notations at the end of a close reading lesson.

Let students see the questions first

Let students “cheat” by allowing them to see the questions that they will be trying to answer at the end of a reading passage. The truth is that seeing the questions greatly helps students understand what to look for in the text by actually knowing what they must answer.

Why spend time reading for a skill like cause and effect if it’s not addressed by the questions associated with the passage? Students’ highlighting will be so much better if they know to be looking for something specific like imagery. Let’s be honest—students are likely to be able to look ahead at the questions on most serious assessments that they will take in their lives.

For many more strategies that help students prepare for assessments, check out our special Assessment section here on the Edmentum blog.