Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and thinking about the process of close reading and use of text dependent questions. I often receive questions via email or in person about how to conduct a close reading, how to write effective text dependent questions, and which ABE/ESL levels close reading is most appropriate for. This article is part one of a short series that will examine the practice of close reading and the use of text dependent questions in our instruction, so please…hold tight and read closely!
Q. What is close reading?
A. Close reading is the deliberate, repeated reading of a text to get at its multiple levels of meaning, accompanied by text dependent questions generally focused around the following:
- What does the text say? (First read)
- How does the text work? (Second read)
- What does the text mean? (Third + reads)
Text can be graphics, images, music, read-alouds, speeches, dialogues, charts, maps, video, art, narratives, informational, literary, and the list could go on! The point is that we can “read” the text for what it says, how it says it and what it means. The text is central to the lesson, and repeated readings with text dependent questions aligned to the CCR reading standards help to build student knowledge so that each consecutive reading is done with greater understanding. In addition, a goal of close reading is to promote persistence in reading complex text, which is especially valuable for adult learners who must engage with all kinds of complex texts outside of our classrooms.
Q. Is every text meant for close reading?
A. No! Close reading is only one instructional routine out of many we use in the course of instruction. Sometimes we want our learners to read for pleasure, to practice fluent reading, or to practice skimming for information. Other times a text may be very simply structured or easily understood and could not hold up to repeated readings. Short passages work best and can range from a few paragraphs to a few pages. Sometimes I do a close read of a particularly dense or important piece of text within a larger reading assignment because I want students to dig in for deeper comprehension or focus on a writer’s word or structure choices.
Q. Is close reading for higher-level students only?
A. Absolutely not. Depending on the level of students, teachers may read text aloud, have students work with images, use cooperative learning activities, provide sentence starters and frames, and pre-teach crucial ideas and/or vocabulary that would block comprehension of the text. At lower levels, close reading with text dependent questions might look different from higher levels, but the goal of reading for layers of meaning is the same. I have seen some innovative, locally developed close reading lessons designed for the lowest levels of ELLs up to the highest levels of diploma learners, and students at all levels are fully engaged in their learning! As teachers, we must locate the complexities of the text and scaffold instruction so that all students can access the complexity during a close read.
Q. How much should I preteach before a close reading?
A. I read an article once that said that teachers should not always do the “heavy lifting” with a text. This is a key idea when it comes to preteaching a text meant for close reading. Have you ever spent more time preteaching a text or activating prior knowledge than having students actually work with the text? Or pretaught the text so well that students don’t really need to read it themselves? I certainly have! We must find a balance between preteaching to fill student gaps in knowledge and allowing students to productively struggle with text to construct meaning. For close reading, frontload only that vocabulary or background knowledge that is necessary, and then move into the text as soon as possible. In addition, consider how your prior instruction with students has built context for the close reading experience.
Q. Isn’t connecting to prior knowledge valuable for students when reading?
A. Of course! Helping students connect with their prior knowledge and experience is well established in the research; however, consider times when sharing of opinions or experiences or random questioning can also take us away from the text. As with the preteaching question, when engaging students in a close reading, we want to keep the focus on the text. Once students build some knowledge through the repeated reading of a text, they can create deeper connections between what they know and what they’ve learned and provide stronger evidence when asserting opinions. Moreover, when all students are relying on the same text with the same evidence in a close read, everyone has an opportunity to participate regardless of prior knowledge.
Q. How does close reading fit into the College and Career Readiness Standards?
A. Close reading is an excellent way to work with multiple CCR reading standards in a single lesson and is an instructional routine that can occur in all content areas. Reading Anchor 1 asks students to read closely and cite evidence, and Reading Anchor 10 requires students to read and comprehend complex texts, with a goal that they will eventually be able to do so independently. Reading anchors 1-9 break down into the following groupings and help to guide the text dependent questions we ask:
- What does the text say? (Key ideas & details: Reading anchors 1-3)
- How does the text work? (Craft & Structure: Reading anchors 4-6)
- What does the text mean? (Integration of knowledge & Ideas: Reading anchors 7-9)
In the next article in this series (coming soon), we will take a closer (ahem!) look at writing text dependent questions. Stay tuned!