Saturday, May 25, 2013

Close Reading - Scratching the Surface

As a member of the International Reading Association, each month I receive a copy of their journal The Reading Teacher.  If I had to name one professional journal that most impacts my teaching and thinking, this would be the one.  Perhaps one of my favorite issues is from November 2012.  It was replete with articles that directly relate to what I am doing in the classroom. I find myself going back to this issue and rereading often.  I thought I would share some information and thoughts I had on a couple that were particularly relevant.  Today, I'm thinking about the article Close Reading in Elementary School by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey.
                                      Reading Fluency

The article defines close reading as, "an instructional routine in which students critically examine a text, especially through repeated readings."  Until the common core put a spotlight on the importance of comprehension of complicated texts, I'm not sure how many of us were doing it in this manner.  We certainly have our students go back and reread to locate information, confirm predictions, etc.  However, I don't think the strategy of rereading a text in its totality two or three times to make meaning and synthesize their thinking is used regularly in elementary classes.

Fisher and Frey make a lot of compelling points in the article and if you were looking for more information on why you should and how you can incorporate close reading in your class, I would recommend reading the article. I've provided a few thoughts on some of what stuck with me.

Use short, complex passages for close reading.  Immediately, I thought of the social studies and science text books we use that have pages and pages of complex text that we often expect our students to understand with one reading.  If we took the most significant passage from that text and used it in a close reading lesson, it would provide our students the opportunity to know, not just read,  the information.  They would be making meaning in a purposeful way that actually makes sense to the student.  Using those content subject texts in reading is a great cross-curricular way to teach more material. However  the texts need to be complex and short.  If it is something they can understand in a single reading, it is not something to use in close reading.  It needs to be short so that enough information is given, but students are not overloaded.  It also needs to be manageable for rereading in a timely manner.

Limit the Frontloading.  This really made me think.  Don't we always want to activate schema prior to reading?  Don't we sometimes provide anticipatory sets to help preview the material?  Don't we often explain unknown and difficult vocabulary prior to reading?  This idea of not providing this type of support to the nth degree prior to reading was something to think about.  Fisher and Frey make the point that sometimes we can  provide too much information.  Ideally, we might highlight really obscure reference or vocabulary, but we don't need to prepare them so much that we almost remove the need to read the text.

Another reason Fisher and Frey like the idea of limiting the frontloading is that our students will often hijack (my word, not theirs!) the introduction you provide with connections to personal experiences that actually take away from the text.  So true!  If we are going to talk about Florida, when introducing the topic I know I would have four different students telling me how they rode a horse on vacation in Florida and went really fast or how they went to Disney and rode a roller coaster. That's all fine and well, but if my intent is to teach about the climate of Florida my students are not really making relevant connections.If connections are made after an initial reading of the text once the child has more information, chances are the connections will be more relevant and become even more so after repeated readings. Also, in my frontloading, if they are going to run into the unknown word of humid, rather than tell them what the word means I could just say be on the lookout for this word and see if you can figure out what it means.  I may need to explain the word after one reading, but it just may be that I don't.  That they were able to figure it out requires the application of reading skills, and I didn't remove that learning experience by telling them.

Guide the readings with text-dependent questions.  Fisher and Frey write that these questions are "specifically focused on the text and allowed students to consider evidence from the text."  I believe this is a critical component of close reading.  The article goes on to give six different categories of text-dependent questions: general understanding, key detail, vocabulary and text structure, author's purpose, inferential, and opinion/intertextual question.  For examples of each, you should read the article.  It explains how to use them across all grade levels.

One reason I found this to be a critical component because it directly relates to the standardized tests our students take.  If they are to do well on these tests, they must have the experience, skills, and knowledge of how to answer text dependent questions.  Practicing with shorter passages that your have had a chance to reread is a great way to practice this skill.  But more importantly, using text-dependent questions to guide student reading and thinking provides that scaffolding, that focus that our students need to make meaning of more complex texts.

Read with a pencil!  I know I've posted before on how my students are taught to annotate text as they read. I've even gone so far as to have custom ordered sticky notes to help guide my more struggling readers.  If you could see my copy The Reading Teacher, you would see that the articles are all marked up.  I underline important information, I circle words I don't know, I make notes next to the text, I write down questions I have while reading.  It's not something I think about.  I do it automatically because I know it helps me to understand the text.  My notations guide me in rereading the text to areas I didn't understand, or help me locate information I know is important.  Well, isn't that what we want our students to be able to do? It's a learned practice that can easily begin in the elementary classroom.

While I've shared some thoughts on the close reading article, there is much more to it than I have mentioned.  Please read the article if you have the opportunity.  It is well worth the read.  What I have here barely scratches the surface on close reading.  If you want more information, below are a few links I like:

  • Here are two short videos, part 1 & 2, by Douglas Fisher himself.  He explains a bit more about close reading and CCS.  They run about three minutes each.

Part 1
Part 2

  • Educational Leadership, a journal published by the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development, has a very nice article called Closing in on Close Reading that further explains the concept and provides examples of questioning.  You can see the article by clicking HERE.

  • Here is a video introduced by Lucy Calkins that shows the close reading of a non-fiction read aloud in a 4th grade classroom.  Now, what happens in this text differs somewhat from the type/style of close reading given in the Fisher and Frey article.  Students do not have a copy of the text as it is a read aloud, and students are provided with other texts and maps to help them synthesize the information.  One of the things I like about the video is the accountable talk the teacher requires of the students   She does ask them several text dependent questions and the students comments and answers are all relevant.  This video runs about ten minutes.   Click HERE for this video.  For some reason I couldn't embed it.  (For those of you who viewed this post earlier, please note this link has been edited.  I initially had a different video linked.  It wasn't until after I posted that I realized it wasn't the exact one I had meant to link to.)

  • Of course, there always Pinterest!  THIS LINK will take you to their page of Close Reading Boards.  If you know Pinterest, you know anyone can pin anything so I can't verify how reliable the information is.  However, more often than not I find some very reputable links and great ideas.
Are you using close reading in your classroom?  
Any thoughts on the topic?


  1. WOW! What an AMAZING post! You share so much valuable information here it's like a mini professional development opportunity.

    After reading your post, I am sad to say that I do not do enough close reading in my classroom -- but that is something I will change for next year. I teach my students in writing that we need to reread as we write, so it would be a natural connection to reread while we read. :)

    You've given me some great things to think about. I can't wait to look around at your other posts. Thanks SO much!

    Mrs. Laffin's Laughings

    1. Thanks, Jennifer! I also haven't been doing enough close reading, but am planning to do a lot more. :-)

  2. Thanks for such an informative post! This past school year I really began focusing more on using close reading in my intervention groups. (I am a Title 1 intervention teacher.) I really enjoyed reading Fisher and Lapp's book - Text Complexity: Raising Rigor in Reading. From the work I have already done, I am already hooked on close reading!

    Eclectic Educating

    1. Amy, I have seen the Fisher and Lapp book and wanted to read it. You just tipped the scales for me! I will be picking it up for some summer reading. I am also an intervention teacher and feel that close reading is so perfect for our struggling readers.

  3. In my opinion, I think it will greatly on the student. Students may vary in terms of ability, intelligence and attitude. This approach in my own opinion aims to focus and measure the ability of kids in valuing reading and vocabulary. For me, the approach is okay but I don’t it’s necessary for every student.

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