Saturday, February 7, 2015

Close Reading: What's It All About?

Hey everyone! It's Meredith from Creativity to the Core. Close reading is the big hype these days with Common Core (or "Florida Standards" in my state!) and the push to expose ALL students to complex texts. I've recently done a lot of research on it for my Master's, so I decided to share it with you and hopefully answer some questions that are floating through your minds!

5 Essential Topics
1. What is close reading?
2. Background Knowledge
3. Complex Texts & Text Dependent Questions
4. Repeated Readings
5. Annotation
Close reading: “an instructional routine in which students critically examine a text, especially through repeated readings” (Fisher & Frey, 2012a). 

Close reading was used in high school and college in the past, BUT the implementation of Common Core has pushed teachers to use close reading in elementary school. So, there must be some modifications made in elementary schools. The teacher must build students toward independent reading. As teachers help students dig through reading passages, they are helping students to build habits of great readers. 

I think this quote explains it perfectly: “The teacher’s goal in the use of Close Reading is to gradually release responsibility to students – moving from an environment where the teacher models for students the strategies to one where students employ the strategies on their own to when they read independently” (Brown & Kappes, 2012). 
First graders work on annotating and finding
main idea during repeated reading.
Close reading gives kids the opportunity to take NEW information from the text and add it to their background knowledge and experiences. When they do this, they increase their schema (what they already know).

Close reading can be used with different genres, various formats, literature, and informational text. BUT, {This is a biggie!} it is only appropriate with some texts. Close reading does not work with everything. It should not be used with long chapter books or even some multiple page passages. It is not an appropriate strategy for everything and anything. You have to be thoughtful and purposeful when you choose a passage. AND, {This is a second biggie!} it should go along with other instructional practices throughout the school day. This is simple. Just don't make it the only thing you do. Yes, there's a huge push for it in schools. Yes, it is great for students in certain environments. I love how Brown and Kappes (2012) explain it, "Close Reading of text is one important strategy for fostering independence and analytic skills."

Remember: It is only one strategy. It is not the only strategy to use in the classroom. There are many others that are successful in the classroom. Choose a strategy that fits your students, your topic, and your teaching style.
This is perhaps the biggest debate in close reading. Period.

Here's why in simple terms:
Teachers have sometimes given students SO much background knowledge, that they were able to answer questions about the text before even reading it! {I mean, really, that sounds just plain crazy!} What is the point in reading if they kids already know the answers? It is boring for kids. It is a waste of time for teachers. walks Common Core...
I have heard so many times that Common Core says a big fat "NO!" to background knowledge. This is not true by any means. But I do know where the idea stems from. Educators were afraid that TOO much background knowledge was given before reading. So they started encouraging teachers to pull back.

However, background knowledge has been proven to have an impact on student comprehension. Many researchers believe that you do not have to instruct kids on the topic before reading because it can be very easily done during reading. I agree with this. I would rather jump into reading and tackle questions as they come rather than spoon-feeding the kids before they have a chance to think!

During close reading (or any type of reading), it is important to:
-set a purpose for reading
-give definitions of unknown words that are essential to understanding the text
-not tell students what to expect from the reading
-allow students to interact with the text
-address clarification as needed throughout

Think about this:
“For the purposes of Close Reading, it is essential to distinguish between the background knowledge that is required to understand the text and the knowledge sought to be gained from reading the text” (Brown & Kappes, 2012). 

Remember: Some students may only have to ADD information from the text to their schema (what they already know) so that they understand. On the other hand, some students will lack background knowledge and are less likely to accurately understand.

You know your students. You know what they have absolutely no clue about. You also know what they are familiar with. Use that to your advantage and help those who need it!
Brief, high-quality, & complex text.
Reading lessons should match this description if you are implementing close reading. In my research, it was recommended that passages should be anywhere from 3 paragraphs to 2 pages.

Why shorter passages?
-Teachers can teach specific skills.
-Teachers can focus on specific ideas in the text.
-Students can practice really digging into the text. 
-Students of ALL reading levels can closely read demanding texts.
-Young students have time to gradually build up to independent reading because they are not overwhelmed. 

Time Consuming!
Close reading can take a very long time. So...teachers should choose smaller passages in order to be able to get through everything. When students are reading on their own, they can enjoy longer passages. For close reading, keep it short!
Modifications must be made when using close reading in the elementary grades. Common Core calls for ALL students, regardless of reading level, to interact with complex texts. But how can kindergarteners and young firsties do this, you ask??? Answer: Modify!

Students in primary grades have a higher ability to comprehend while listening. So, it may be important for teachers to expose students by reading aloud to them and promoting independent reading. If you teach K or 1, you may even try a close read in which you read aloud to students. This modification will help kids to move from listening to reading independently in the upper grades.

Text-Dependent Questions
Common Core is focused on text evidence. So, teachers should form text-dependent questions for students. In other words, the questions MUST require students to use the text. 

In close reading, students are asked to go back to the text to find something that confirms their opinion or answer. Focusing on these questions causes students to reflect on the text rather than just quickly getting the gist of the passage (Brown & Kappes, 2012). 

Questions should be about and include:
-General understanding of the text
-Key details
-Text structure
-Author's purpose
-Intertextual connections
A struggling third grader came to understand new
vocabulary by interacting closely with the text.
Using many types of questions helps students to develop diverse discussions about the text. Think about it. If you keep asking the same key detail questions, kids will only talk about key details. But, if you ask questions that have them recall, talk about text features, infer from the images, form opinions, and make connections to their lives, they will have A WHOLE LOT to talk about!

Think about this: "Students who learn to ask themselves such questions are reading with the discerning eye of a careful reader. We can also teach students to read carefully with the eye of a writer, which means helping them analyze craft" (Boyles, 2012).

Have students participate in active discussions to share their background knowledge and ultimately apply what they have learned. Eventually, students should begin to ask themselves the same questions while reading independently.
Repeated reading is a BIG part of the close reading process. Each time students interact with the text, they come to a deeper understanding of it. Each time, they have more background knowledge than before. Each time, their conversations deepen.

Struggling Readers or English Language Learners
Struggling readers and English Language Learners (ELLs) may need extra time when reading. Each has his/her various challenges. However, close reading is great for struggling readers and/or ELLs because of this repeated reading. It gives kids time and many different opportunities to process information and make connections. 

Who is reading?
The text is being read over and over. But who should read the text each time? Many times, the reader changes. It is usually suggested that the students tackle the text independently through silent reading the very first time. However, modifications must be made for younger students. This may mean that a teacher reads aloud as shared reading for the very first time. 

Types of Repeated Reading
Repeated readings of this passage helped this
first grader to be able to write about Meerkats.
Remember that the type and number of repeated readings depends on the specific passage and students in the classroom. You do not need to use all of those listed above. Choose what works for you and your kids.
Annotation is sometimes known as "Reading with a pencil". In simple terms, that's all it is. Students use a pencil while they read to note specific things. Annotation is extremely important when analyzing a text.

Types of Annotation
-Noting unknown words
-Noting challenging sections
-Writing margin notes
-Writing on bookmarks
-Writing on sticky notes
annotations for unknown vocabulary
annotations on sticky notes during a novel study
In high schools and colleges, students always annotate in text when participating in close reading. Elementary students have very little experience with this. {Most elementary teachers may have very little experience teaching it!}

So, how do you annotate in an elementary classroom? 
Can you guess? MODIFY! 

Ways to Modify Annotation
-Use wiki sticks to underline
-Use colored pencils or highlighters to show unknown words
-Number paragraphs or draw lines to separate paragraphs
-Use only a limited number of annotations
Highlighters make annotations instant fun!
Why Start So Young?
1. It is so important to teach students to do this at a young age. Start in primary! Use some of the modifications above to help you explain "reading with a pencil" to the little ones. As you model a few types, students will begin to use them in the close reading process. I recommend choosing just a few to focus on so that students become comfortable using them and understand why they are using them.
2. THEY CAN DO IT! Believe in them. They are capable of GREAT things!

This is an example of what I would say to students in my classroom last year (high achieving first grade) once we were comfortable with our annotations. I stuck to just 3. Keep in mind that we went over these one at a time earlier in the year.
1. Number the paragraphs to the left of each paragraph.
2. Circle any unknown or tricky words.
3. While answering questions, go back to the text and highlight the evidence. Make sure you have the question number next to your evidence and the paragraph number next to your answer. 

I have linked some of my close reading resources here. Check them out if you are interested in implementing close reading in your classroom. Or grab a FREEBIE hereEach pack comes with a weekly layout, CCSS alignment, passages, vocabulary activities, reading responses, visualizing & questioning handouts, graphic organizers, and writing prompts. Click the preview link under the images to see more before you buy!

I hope that this mini-series gave you ideas to bring back to your classroom! Please feel free to email me with any questions at

If you would like to read more about close reading, please see the references below. I promise you, they are not boring. :)
Fonts by KG Fonts & Hello Literacy. Backgrounds & Borders from Teaching in a Small Town. Clipart by Melonheadz.

Thank you! Wishing you many great close reading successes in the classroom! Happy Teaching!


  1. Thank you so much for this amazing blog post. It is exactly what I needed. I was reading and kept wanting to read every word. So interesting and insightful. I'll definitely be coming back to read this again :)

    1. Thank you, Sheri! I am so happy that this has helped you learn more about close reading. :)


  2. AWESOME post girl!!!! You got it all in there! Great job:-) xoxo

    1. Thank you! :) Coming from you, that means a lot!