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Close reading is not one of those skills learners acquire naturally, but close reading strategies will help.

When a learner comes across a new reading assignment, their goal is often to read through to the last sentence rather than seeking a deeper engagement with the text.

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Close reading strategies

Every teacher wants learners to slow down, engage with the text as much as possible, and reflect as they read the material. These are the building blocks of the Common Core English Language Arts standards. And while there is no magic way of turning your learners into instant top-notch readers, there are specific close reading techniques that you can teach to help your students now and in the long run.

One of the best close reading strategies is learning how to annotate effectively. According to experts, learners acquire higher reading and comprehension skills after concluding annotated texts. And as their annotation improves, they begin noting instances when characters in the story are making critical decisions or when the author uses a specific literary tool.

Building these high-level skills requires time and effort to master close reading techniques. The following ten expert tips can help teachers strengthen close reading in their classrooms.

1. Master close reading yourself

It would help if you mastered your text backward and forward as you teach close reading. This way, whenever you ask a question or bring an issue up for discussion, you will know how to help your learners identify textual evidence and where it is located within the text.

Modeling close reading within the class discussion setting is just as important as direct instruction in close reading. Here are a few close reading steps that can get you on the right path to becoming a careful reader:

  • With a pencil in hand, read and annotate your text
  • Look for patterns in the things you have noticed about your text – contradictions, repetitions, and similarities
  • Ask questions about the patterns you have noticed – especially why and how

2. Explain what close reading means

If your learners are just getting introduced to close reading techniques, it is important that you spend more time modeling how to argue points and annotate the texts. You may use a document camera to project the text’s pages as you read through and annotate the passages around key questions that model your thinking.

After doing a few passages, release the work to your learners and let them take the lead. Here are a few tips to help you model your text:

  • Break down the text into parts
  • Look for definitions or explanations within the text
  • Look out for synonyms
  • Provide examples
  • Look for analogies

3. Explore reading further

After your learners have gone through the text for the first time, help them explore it by setting a specific purpose for the second reading. This could be tracking down a theme or concept or analyzing how the author is using literally elements. Giving your learners something specific to focus on will compel them to get back to the text and dig deeper in search of it. Here are a few tips to help you set the purpose for reading:

  • While reading, compare and contrast similar as well as dissimilar texts
  • Try to establish the text’s framework, theoretical basis, as well as supporting rationale
  • Look into different perspectives and alternative theories within the text
  • Try to identify the context
  • Explore the causes and effects

4. Ask students questions

Here is a simple technique you might want to consider: tutors start by putting together learner and teacher questions that originate from the text during Great Books discussions. Once the questions have been put together, the tutor supports the learners in reviewing each of them, identifying and answering identical questions that require brief answers.

Together, learners get to discuss the questions and vote on the most interesting ones that require further exploration. This simple yet powerful close-reading strategy will help learners learn to ask high-order questions and compose quality thesis statements.

5. Push the limits of their reading

According to experts, the purpose of training your learners to master close reading strategies is to enable them to comfortably read and accurately comprehend complex texts. As you select texts to use for training your learners to close read, think about your reason for selecting every text. Find stories or articles that raise critical questions that could be interpreted differently based on each learner’s background knowledge or prior reading.

If you are using a novel to teach a specific, close reading strategy, identify and emphasize a section that lends itself to ambiguity and interpretation. It helps when you occasionally assign “stretch texts” while teaching. There are texts you do not expect your learners to read and understand without help, such as pieces of philosophy or critical essays. Generally, these are difficult texts that require more time to study and understand. Here are five simple tips that can help you teach “stretch texts” to your learners:

  • Preview and build anticipation before reading
  • Set the purpose for the text before reading
  • Synthesize the text as you read it
  • Routinely pause to ask questions
  • Explain the text after reading

6. Investigate the text

Consider your objectives realized if your learners leave your class understanding how to pinpoint evidence from a text. According to experts, this is one of the most critical Common Core standards skills. The Common Core focuses on what content the text is helping the learner to gain.

Push your learners to go beyond recounting facts to plotting the points. As you plan your lesson, think about the higher-order questions you can ask your learners during class discussions or written assignments. Here are five tips that can help your learners identify key points from a text:

  • Identify the main arguments for these
  • Itemize each argument’s key supporting facts
  • Trace how arguments are organized through the text
  • Tease out each argument’s premise and assumption
  • Interrogate the argument’s premise and organization

7. Assign passages

Even if your learners cannot read through the entire text independently, they can still apply close reading strategies to sections of the passage. Learners may listen to an oral reading of the novel, work in small groups with their teacher’s support, or work with a partner to reread the passage in preparation for a discussion.

If the majority of your learners are not ready to close read on their own, keep in mind that the overarching idea is to get them to think about different ways they can interpret the text and build their arguments around it. This can be done with the aid of picture books or loud reading, as well as short stories and novels. Here are four tips to help you build arguments around a text:

  • Cite statistics
  • Provide examples
  • Use analogies
  • Cite authorities

8. Include other areas of the text

Once your learners have familiarized themselves with close reading in one section of the text, expand the process to other areas of study.

Close reading can be applied in every subject, from science to math, social studies, and other subjects. Learners can spend time delving into graphs and charts in science, discussing mathematical concepts, or attempting to understand a speech’s various interpretations during social studies.

9. Show patterns, teach connections

Rather than asking your learners a myriad of comprehension questions, try to focus on their reading experiences around connecting with and memorizing the text. Plan and ask questions to help you establish whether your learners have understood the text and where they need to dig deeper for more ideas.

Try to help the learners relate the text to what they have read previously and anything else they might learn about the topic after reading this section of the text. Here are helpful tips:

  • Identify the text you want to read with your learners
  • Guide your learners through text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world
  • Debrief – let the students share their responses with their partners or groups

10. Mistakes are important

If some of your learners have misinterpreted the text, allow them to explain or help you understand their points of view. This will give them an excellent opportunity to practice finding textual evidence. It is okay to let your learners chime in with other interpretations.

Remember, getting your learners to clarify and refine their thinking approaches rather than striking the right answers is key. Some useful tips for refining your learners’ thinking:

  • Narrow the scope
  • Encourage evidence-based arguments
  • Teach paraphrasing
  • Use think-aloud

Close reading strategies summary

Close reading is important, and using close reading strategies will help you and your students succeed. Sometimes teaching can be tough, but persistence will inspire students to learn.