When we read through the first standard in the ELA common core, we see that the first two words are “Read Closely”, which has brought “close reading” to the forefront of literacy education. There is a growing body of literature and much discussion about close reading, but understanding what close reading really is is somewhat difficult because it is so new and has been interpreted to mean different things to different sources.This is neither good nor bad, but more just reflective of the nature of the common core state standards, since they are written to state the end goal, but leave the what and how to teach in order to reach the goal up to educators. With that in mind, please know that this presentation represents a collection of the ideas from the close reading literature currently available, but that our understanding of close reading will certainly evolve over time as educators gain experience and refine their practices based on what works and doesn’t for student learning.For our purposes, we will understand close reading to be the “mindful, disciplined, sustained reading and interpretation of text in order to answer big questions and/or formulate opinions for the purpose of debate, discussion, research, argumentative writing, action stimulus, etc.” The key word in that definition is purpose!(It is digging to the “bones” of a text, picking it apart at each layer (from the text structure and language to the juicy ideas) to fully comprehend how the important ideas fit together to support the author’s central ideas, and how those ideas fit or conflict with the statements in other texts, our own schema, and the larger world.)So when I think about what this means, I realized this was exactly what I did when I adopted a vegan diet. I began by reading a couple of books to make sure I was meeting my nutrient needs – I was reading carefully to answer the big question “How can vegans meet their nutrient needs?”. As I was reading, though, I discovered that research suggests that plant-based diets can prevent a great many diseases, and became fascinated by this idea. So I gathered more books and articles and re-read the books I had already read, this time to answer the question, “How are vegan diets and disease correlated?”. Then I discovered that plant-based diets may also have a positive environmental impact, and I thought “wow, not only is it good for my body, but it may also be good for the Earth!?”. So I gathered even more information, this time reading to find out “If and how different dietary patterns affect the environment”. The same thing happened when I wanted to know more about the ethical implications of our dietary choices and how the food we consume may effect athletic performance and so on – each time I was gathering new information and re-reading the old through a new lens in order to answer new big questions and to refine my opinions on the topic. As a result, I was motivated to change my behaviors, able to engage in lively discussions and informed debate, participate in online forums and blogs where I could exchange ideas, and even educate others on the topic.This, ultimately, is what we want our students to be able to do – to be able to dig deep into a topic, to understand it thoroughly and create informed opinions about it, and then to be able to do something with their understandings and opinions (even if it’s just engaging in lively discussions about the ideas in a text). We want them to be able to do this for their own personal fulfillment (as in my example of my vegan diet), but they also NEED to be able to do so to be successful in college and to be prepared to participate and excel in their careers. This deep understanding, interpretation, and action is college and career readiness.
In order for our students to take those purposeful actions (debate, discussion, argumentative writing, etc.) we need to provide them with instruction and guided practice in using language skills that support them in communicating their ideas effectively. The CCSS includes speaking/listening, writing, and language standards that will foster their ability to take action with their ideas from text. The first cluster of supporting standards are oral communication standards. Speaking and Listening Anchor Standard 1 (Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own persuasively) and Speaking and Listening Anchor Standard 3 (Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning and rhetoric) are comprehension and collaboration standards. Speaking and Listening Anchor Standard 4 (Present information, findings, and supporting evidence so listeners can follow the line of reasoning so the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and evidence) is a presentation of knowledge and ideas standard.Written communication standards also directly support a student’s ability to achieve the lofty goals set forth in close reading. Writing Anchor Standards 1 (Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and sufficient evidence) and 2 (Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content) deal with text type and purpose. Writing Anchor Standard 8 (Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism) is within the realm of researching to build and present knowledge. Close reading activities are a perfect vehicle for providing our students with instructional and practice opportunities in these standards that are otherwise somewhat difficult to “fit in”. Note that many of the remaining speaking and listening and writing anchor standards involve digital literacies. I did not include them in the supplemental skills listed here, but digital literacies can easily and effectively be implemented in close reading activities as well! We will discuss this more in-depth later.
In addition to the supplemental anchor standards, close reading requires students to draw from their bank of foundational literacy skills and cognitive strategies.First, the CCSS require the teaching of PA, phonics, fluency, and other foundational skills in grades K-5. The introduction to the CCSS Reading Foundational Skills states, “These foundational skills are not an end in and of themselves; rather, they are necessary and important components of an effective, comprehensive reading program designed to develop proficient readers with the capacity to comprehend texts across a range of types and disciplines.” Therefore, early, systematic and explicit teaching of the foundational reading skills is required. The International Reading Association agrees and states that “to meet the requirements of the Standards, teachers will need to continue to provide high-quality explicit and systematic instruction in these foundational skills if students are to succeed in learning to read” Additionally, comprehension skills and strategies are essential to close reading activities, since they require students to focus intensively on meaning and engage in critical discussions of the ideas presented in text. Students must be able to independently employ an extensive range of comprehension skills and cognitive strategies in order to gain the deep understanding and inferential thinking called for in close reading. However, as noted by the IRA, The Common Core State Standards for Reading emphasize the ultimate learning targets, but leave it up to educators to determine what students need to be taught in order to achieve these goals. So, since we know that comprehension skills and strategies are essential to achieving the Standards, but the Standards don’t articulate the comprehension skills and strategies needed to achieve them, we must rely on the conclusions drawn from existing literature. There is an extensive body of research indicating the effectiveness of explicit and systematic instruction in specific comprehension skills and strategies following the gradual release of responsibility model, which suggests that this must continue to be a major focus of core reading instruction if students are to achieve the lofty goals set forth in the CC Reading Standards. The International Reading Association continues to recommend that educators “teach research-proven comprehension strategies using gradual release of responsibility approaches” (p.2)
So, thinking about all the different skills, strategies, and standards close reading involves, we must keep in mind that not all texts warrant the kind of attention called for in close reading. For example, I read closely when I am preparing for a meeting or presentation, reading periodical articles about issues that are important to me, comparing product descriptions and reviews before making a big purchase, reading a literary text for a book club or church group, and so on. I do not read closely when I am skimming the headlines in a newspaper, reading a leisure novel or biography, surfing the web, etc. There are, indeed, “different reads for different needs”, especially in the elementary grades!Sometimes, elementary students need to read to build foundational skills. Reading for foundational skills will incorporate decodable text and high-frequency words. Other times, elementary students will need to read to learn and practice specific comprehension skills and strategies that are essential to their ability to understand what they read. Reading for comprehension skill and strategy work will continue to be a major focus of core reading instruction in the elementary grades. Elementary students will also spend time immersed in leisure reading, for example when reading books they pick out from the library or when they are browsing the web. While undirected, this is an important inclusion in a literacy program (either at home or as part of the school day), as it allows students a safe place to practice independently applying the repertoire of skills and cognitive strategies they have been learning.Finally, the CCSS call for students to selectively draw on their bank of skills and strategies in order to read with purpose and for deep understanding. Close Reading can be done with simply a literary passage or applied across academic disciplines. Fascinating, authentic debates, discussions, and inquiries are present in STEM and Social Studies issues and integrating what kids discover through text with technological presentations is powerful in building college and career readiness. Remember, not all texts warrant this close, sustained attention. Choose wisely and keep authenticity and engagement in mind when deciding which texts and topics to use for close reading activities with your students!
Now that we have a better idea of what close reading is (and isn’t), let’s look more closely at how it works. These “Key Features” are from Fisher and Frey’s article “Close Reading in the Elementary Grades”.Short passages – allows you to really dig into the text itself, and, more importantly, the big ideas presented in the text.Complex texts – texts used in close reading activities should be above the independent level of most students. That can mean the text itself is more difficult, or even better, it can mean that the ideas in the text are more complex (and often controversial) and force students to really chew on the big ideas in it. (As Fisher, Frey, and Lapp wrote in their book Teaching Students to Read Like Detectives: Comprehending, analyzing, and discussing texts), Complex texts lend themselves to being analyzed under many lenses, including language, form, argument, and ideologies within the texts, and emphasize the particular over the general.Limited frontloading – Building background has long been considered an essential prereading routine, but our goal of college and career readiness makes us re-evaluate the prominence of frontloading. (When you think about it, when have we as adults ever been frontloaded? Was there ever a time a newspaper reporter called you to ask what you know about the electoral college before you read his article on voter redistricting in that morning’s paper? Or a time a contractor called to activate your schema about home improvement before you started reading kitchen remodeling manuals to teach yourself how to DIY your kitchen?). What tends to happen with frontloading is that kids get so much “up front” information that they either don’t need to read the text at all in order to understand the gist of it, or that they focus so heavily on their own experiences that they remove themselves from the text. The one piece of frontloading that is very important is to pre-teach text- and content-specific vocabulary that cannot easily be understood from context clues or structural analysis and that would interfere with students’ ability to understand the big ideas of the text if the meaning of those words were unknown.Repeated readings – Students should read the text multiple times, ideally before the teacher reads it aloud. Each time students read, they read for a different purpose (to analyze the text structure or language, to evaluate the author’s arguments or ideologies, or to answer or find support for an answer to a big question) or through a different lens (for example, to build on or dispute ideas generated through conversation with others). With each reading, students gain deeper understanding because they have more background knowledge from the schema activated when they previously read, and because they are armed with ideas from the discussions, debates, etc. they may have participated in. Consider, also, the benefit of not just re-reading a passage, but reading a series of texts to offer different perspectives and build even deeper understandings of the topic.Text-dependent questions – just as we don’t want to eliminate the need to read the text when we frontload it, we also don’t want to eliminate the need to refer to the text when we ask questions. Many times, the questions in core programs ask about students’ personal experiences or ask easily understood recall questions. In close reading, the goal is to ask interesting questions about the big ideas in the text so that students are motivated to go back and re-read looking for evidence to support their response or argue against others’ responses to the question. (more info later)Annotation – highlighting, underlining, circling, coding, writing notes or questions in the margins, etc. are all tools students can use to help them process the textual information while reading. Additionally, these marks are like bread crumbs that they can use to quickly find the evidence they need to support their ideas later during discussion, debate, writing, further research, and so on.
Let’s dig into annotations. It’s been said that annotating text is “reading with a pencil”…or, really, a pencil, some highlighters or colored pencils, maybe sticky notes, and so on. Kids usually love to highlight and write up text, but be cautioned that, when given free reign, students may end up with a whole page yellow text or margin notes that tell personal connection stories that have no real relevance to the text itself, etc. It’s important to set a specific procedure that you will use in your school or district so that students can carry it with them through their educational career. Arizona’s Department of Education created a sample annotation procedure, asking students to use a pencil for margin notes, vocabulary, questioning, and coding symbols, and to use highlighters for the central idea and text evidence to support their answers to the text dependent questions. Another option is to use the tools available on Reading A-Z to develop an annotation routine: Using colored pencils or highlighters to pick out specific information, writing margin notes with a pencil, and developing a code with the symbols. For example, students could annotate key vocabulary words with the star, use the arrow to make connections to other texts or background, the stop sign to show confusion/needing to re-read, emoticons to show surprise/excitement/etc., the checkmark to show that there is text evidence for a question, and the question mark to show that they do not know what this word/phrase/sentence/text portion means even after re-reading. It could be anything, but just make sure it is clear and consistent!For primary students or students who are new to close reading/annotating text, consider focusing on just a couple annotations, like the ! and ?. Then, add in another annotation with each new close read.Once your annotation procedure is developed, it is important to teach it to students and then model the heck out of using it appropriately. Again, we don’t want a page colored in yellow and filled with personal stories that do nothing to help kids dig deep, pick apart, and interact with text. Instead, we want this to support their cognition of the text to promote deep understanding – so it needs to be simple and useful for them!
Remember, in close reading, the goal is to ask interesting questions about the big ideas in the text so that students are motivated to go back and re-read looking for evidence to support their claims or argue against others’ responses to the question.Fisher and Frey (2012) suggest six categories of questions that can lead to deep understanding and critical discussionsGeneral Understandings – draw on the main ideas or argumentsKey detail questions – who/what/when/where/why/how questions essential to understanding the meaning of the passageVocabulary and text structure – include word learning strategies as well as comprehension skills (problem/solution, cause/effect, compare/contrast, etc.)Author’s purpose – genre, point of view, author’s credibility, etc.Inferential questions Opinion and intertextual questions – use of text evidence to support their claimsProfessors Lapp, Grant, Moss, and Johnson recommend that text-dependent questions move in a series from the surface-level to the deep as students read and re-read. They have found success in having students respond to a foundational text-dependent question after their first read and allowing students discuss it. Then, they recommend offering a deeper level text-dependent question that requires students to return to the text for a second reading. For additional readings, ask questions that require students to draw on prior knowledge, make connections to learned content, infer ideas, argue a position, and speculate on extensions of the text. These types of deep-level questions will prepare students to write about their thinking, which as you’ll see in the next slide is the last step in close reading. (When we think back to my vegan example, the questions I was seeking followed this order as well. I began reading to find out what nutrients I needed to be healthy on a vegan diet [a right-there “understand” question], and then applied my learning. Then, I re-read to analyze the research that compared disease rates in vegans versus disease rates for people that follow the standard American diet. Finally, I re-read to evaluate the ethical implications of my diet (such as animal rights and the environmental impact), and to try to make connections between diet and athletic performance. With each read, I could answer more complex questions because I had a deeper understanding of the topic from my previous reads and discussions.Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy closely aligns with the sequence of questioning recommended, and may help simplify and provide examples for the text-dependent questions you may choose to ask. The highest level, creation, comes into play when students take purposeful action with the information from what they read.
So how do we get students to that high level of purposeful action – of creation from text?The Arizona Department of Education suggests these routines for teachers and students to engage in close reading. The teacher’s routine begins by re-emphasizing the importance of short but complex passages. Remember that complexity refers to either the vocabulary and syntax of the text, or the themes, concepts, arguments, and ideologies of the text, or both. It again re-emphasizes text-dependent questions and annotation. Notice, too, that the first read of the passage is done by the students, and then students write independently and discuss their ideas. Only after students have worked through the text does the teacher read it aloud, and then read it aloud again to model thinking about the text and annotations. Then the teacher sends kids back to the text (any number of times) to answer the text-dependent questions. Finally, students arrive at the “creation level” where they are asked to write about the big ideas of the text. The student routine aligns with the teachers’. It begins with students reading first, then writing independently, and then discussing the text. Next, the students listen to the teacher re-read and refines their writing, then listens again and refines their annotations. They are then sent back to the text any number of times to answer text-dependent questions, thereby re-reading again. Finally, they Write about the Text, where they are elevated to the creation level.Please strongly consider Multimodal Composition for Step 8! The CCSS call for students to “analyze and create a high volume and extensive range of print and nonprint text in media forms old and new” (CCSS-ELA, p. 4). The options seem endless: blogs, powerpoint presentations, digital book trailers, video essays, digital storytelling, classroom-based chat rooms (Ponder), vocabulary/concept mapping on Wordle or Tagxedo, photo journaling on Flickr, etc. (Dalton, 2012). Two great list of ideas to get you started is on the website “50+ Web 2.0 Ways to Tell a Story” (http://50ways.wikispaces.com/) and “Top 100 Tools for Learning” (http://c4lpt.co.uk/top100tools/). The American Association of School Librarians also has a great list of 21st Century sites at http://www.ala.org/aasl/standards-guidelines/best-websites/2013. Information communication technologies and media are no longer considered supplementary, but are essential to being digitally literate and prepared for school, work and life in a technological world.
There are many options to try out when you’re ready, and several are totally ready-to-teach!Let’s look first at the close reading lessons on www.readworks.org. On the ReadWorks home page, navigate to Comprehension Units. Select your grade level and book. Click on “Read-Aloud Lesson”. Notice that ReadWorks recommends you read the book ahead of time, which can be the first teacher read where you are modeling prosody. For the second read-through, ReadWorks provides you with lots of text-dependent questions for discussion throughout the read-aloud. Many of the questions are general understanding, key detail, language and text structure questions, but there are also some inference and argument questions infused as well. (Even if you don’t teach any of the ReadWorks lessons, it may be worth your while to read through a few of the lesson plans to get some great examples of text-dependent questions). Then, the guided practice portion provides additional questions to ask to guide students through completing a graphic organizer. This is a perfect opportunity to model the importance of returning to the text and to think-aloud how to do so! Toward the end of the guided practice section, there are some extension questions, which usually bring students to the higher-order thinking domains of analysis and evaluation. Consider having students answer these questions in small groups to introduce and allow practice participating in group discussion.The Independent practice is basically a quiz on the story, which I don’t necessarily think needs to be done at this point. Remember, our purpose of close reading is to get students thinking about and discussing the big ideas in texts so that they can do something purposeful with it, and I would argue that taking a quiz over a story would not be most of our students’ purpose. Of course, if your students would benefit from doing it, go right ahead. Or, you could choose to select just one or two of the open-response questions to provide an opportunity to teach and practice writing about text.Finally, there is a paired text lesson that provides a reading passage to compliment the big ideas of the read-aloud text. This is the place where you can follow the AZ close reading routine. Next, Reading A-Z has Close Reading Packs that follow the AZ Close Reading Routines very well. Please click on “Reading A-Z Close Reading Packs” and then click on “tips video” to view a short video that explains the packs. Also, if it would be helpful to see where each step in the routines occur in a sample close reading pack lesson plan, please click on the “here” above.The Science A-Z Investigation Packs (or iPacks) are very similar to the close reading packs, but have a science emphasis. Please click on “Science A-Z Investigation Packs” and then click on “tip video” to view a short video that provides an overview of the iPacks and how they fit with close reading.After you and your students are feeling comfortable with close reading, you may choose to create your own close reading materials. You could do so by following a structure similar to that in ReadWorks, where you would closely read a selection from your science, social studies, or reading core text (providing lots of discussion of the text-dependent questions you ask), and then follow it up with students closely reading a supplemental article. Or, you could follow the system of Learning A-Z and select several articles related to your curricular topic, follow the close reading routine, and then do another close read of the selection from the core text. Or, you could go a totally different route. There are lots and lots of options. Remember, the CCSS provide us with the end goal, and allow us as educators to choose what and how to teach to best get our students there. Give yourself permission to try some things out, see what works, and enjoy the learning curve – both yours and your students’!
Close reading in the elementary grades
What is Close Reading?
• R.CCR.1: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly
and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual
evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions
drawn from the text.
• It is the mindful, sustained, disciplined reading and interpretation
of text in order to answer big questions and/or formulate opinions
for the purpose of debate, discussion, research, argumentative
writing (i.e., blogs, periodicals), drive to action, etc.
Speaking and Listening Standards
• CCRA.SL.1: Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and
collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their
• CCRA.SL.3: Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of rhetoric.
• CCRA.SL.4: Present information, findings, and supporting evidence so listeners can
follow the line of reasoning and so the organization, development, and style are
appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
• CCRA.W.1: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics
or texts using valid reasoning and sufficient evidence.
• CCRA.W.2: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex
ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection,
organization, and analysis of content.
• CCRA.W.8: Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources,
assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information
while avoiding plagiarism.
• Common Core State Standards Foundational Skills include:
Phonics and Word Recognition
• Comprehension Skills and Strategies
“The Common Core State Standards for Reading emphasize the
ultimate learning targets, but leave it up to educators to
determine what students need to be taught in order to achieve
[It is recommended to] teach research-proven comprehension
strategies using gradual release of responsibility approaches.”
-International Reading Association 2012
Different Reads for Different Needs
• Foundational Skills – Explicit, systematic instruction and practice in
phonological awareness, phonics and fluency.
• Core program, Intervention instruction, Spelling/Word Work, Partner
• Comprehension – Explicit and systematic instruction, guided practice
and application of specific skills and strategies essential to text
• Core program, Small-groups/Leveled readers, etc.
• Leisure Reading – Reading of a variety of texts for pleasure or to gain
information, and to independently apply skills and cognitive strategies.
• Independent reading of fiction or nonfiction text in print or digital
media, reading the morning paper or a magazine, etc.
• Close Reading and Cross-Curricular Reading – Purposeful, sustained
reading of one or more texts (including digital media, primary
sources, etc.) to gain a deep understanding and interpretation of ideas
surrounding a particular passage or topic.
• Literary or expository passages, STEM and Social Studies
topics, Technology and/or library science
integration, Application/Culminating projects from core reading
Key features of Close Reading
• Short passages
• Complex texts
• Limited frontloading
• Repeated readings
• Text-dependent questions
Source: Fisher & Frey, 2012
Text Box for Margin Notes
Evidence for text-dependent questions
Source: Fisher, D. and Frey, N. Close Reading in Elementary Schools.
2012 The Reading Teacher, v. 66, p 185.
Close Reading Routines
Source: AZ DoE: http://www.azed.gov/azcommoncore/files/2013/06/1_close_reading_routines_poster_2_.pdf
How Can I Get Started?`
• Ready-to-go Lessons
• Each unit begins with a read-aloud lesson for modeling and guided
practice of close reading, and then follows that with a paired text lesson .
• Especially great for students who are new to close reading.
• Reading A-Z Close Reading Packs
• pair close reading with comprehension skill(s)
• teacher tips follow the AZ routine very well
• Lessons assume that students are able to independently
annotate, participate in group discussion, support claims with text
• Science A-Z Investigation Packs
• Similar to Reading A-Z Close Reading Packs, but with science emphasis
• Include many passages in each science curricular topic
• Science, social studies , or reading core text w/ supplemental articles and
digital sources (i.e., Scholastic/Weekly
Reader, KidsKnowIt.com, kids.nationalgeographic.com/kids, FOSSweb, etc.)
• Also check out the Common Core exemplar texts in Appendix B
• American Association of School Librarians. Best websites for teaching and learning.
• Arizona Department of Education. Close Reading Routines Posters. Retrieved from
• Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2010). Common core state standards for
English/language arts and literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects
[PDF document]. Retrieved from
• Dalton, B. (2012). Multimodal composition and the common core state standards. The
Reading Teacher, 66(4), 333-339.
• Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2012). Close reading in elementary schools. The Reading
Teacher, 66(3), 179-188.
• Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Lapp, D. (2012). Teaching students to read like detectives:
Comprehending, analyzing, and discussing texts. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
• Learning A-Z. All rights reserved.
• Hart, J. Top 100 tools for learning. http://c4lpt.co.uk/top100tools/
• International Reading Association. (2012). Literacy Implementation Guidance for the ELA
Common Core State Standards. Available at http://www.reading.org/Libraries/associationdocuments/ira_ccss_guidelines.pdf.
• Lapp, D., Grant, M., Moss, B., & Johnson, K. (2013). Students; close reading of science texts:
What’s now? What’s next? The Reading Teacher, 67(2), 109-119.
• Levine, Alan. 50+ Web 2.0 Ways to Tell a Story. http://50ways.wikispaces.com/
• ReadWorks.org. All rights reserved.