In the age of ChatGPT and other AI, using close reading strategies doesn’t come naturally to students. When students get a new assignment, their first instinct may be to race to the finish line rather than engage with text. This means students will miss a lot of nuance and meaning as they move through school.
On the other hand, a close reading of text requires students to slow down, think, annotate, and reflect. The ultimate idea? We get more information and enjoyment from reading and working with the text when we use close reading strategies.
What is close reading?
Close reading is a way to read and work with text that moves beyond comprehension into interpretation and analysis. Put another way, close reading helps readers get from literal to inferential understanding of text.
After a close reading, students should understand what the text says and understand ideas embedded in the text, like a cultural perspective or religious opinion. They’ll also have an idea of what the text means to them, and what their opinion about it is based on more than just an offhand feeling. In class, close reading may take multiple class periods to complete and should have a goal at the end—a discussion or essay or some way for students to share what they’ve learned.
Importance of Close Reading Strategies
Close reading is important because it helps readers understand a text in-depth. The strategy helps readers comprehend how an author purposefully used certain words and literary techniques to elucidate overarching ideas. Understanding the text on such a detailed level informs critical analysis.
For example, imagine students have to write an essay analyzing William Wordsworth’s use of imagery in his poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” (1807). The students could skim the poem and note important images, but they would not understand how Wordsworth created those images and what meaning they convey. If the students closely read certain stanzas in the poem, they will begin to see how the poet used particular words, word order, and sentence structures to create impactful imagery.
How to Teach Close Reading
Model the skill:
It’s crucial that we as teachers show the students exactly what we expect their close reading to look like. Model the skills over and over, multiple times. Show the students what close reading looks like by doing a “live” close read of a passage on the board. Project the text onto the whiteboard and use markers to annotate for students, so they can see what you are writing, but also hear your thought process as you are annotating. I typically use The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant as an example as there is a lot to work with at the beginning of the story.
A collaborative process:
We might think of close reading as being a solitary activity. I like to think of close reading as a collaborative process that moves into an independent process. Begin by working together on these skills as a class. Provide scaffolding in the form of supports and structures with group or paired work that is slowly taken away to eventually be an independent practice.
There are three main steps in the close reading process.
Step 1: Read the Text for the First Time
The first time readers review a text, they should try to understand its most important ideas and elements. For instance, they should ask themselves the following questions:
Steps of Close Reading Strategies
- What is the main topic or idea of this passage?
- Are there characters or people in this passage? If so, who are they and how do they relate?
- What is happening in this passage? Do characters exchange dialogue? Is there internal dialogue? Is there action?
- How does this passage relate to the rest of the text? (If the reader has read the passage’s full text).
Readers should annotate the passage while they read. Annotating a text includes highlighting main ideas, noting questions, and looking up unfamiliar words.
Step 2: Note Patterns and Techniques
After reading the text for the first time, the reader should reflect on what patterns and techniques they observe. For instance, they can ask themselves the following questions:
- How is this text structured?
- Are any main ideas, words, or phrases repeated? If so, why might the author have done this?
- Is there any contradictory information in this text? What is the effect of that contrast?
- Does the author use any literary devices such as hyperbole or metaphor? If so, what images do these evoke, and what meaning do they create?
Close reading can also help readers develop their vocabulary. While closely reading a text, readers should note unfamiliar words and look them up. Researching the words helps the reader understand the text and teaches them new words.
Step 3: Reread the Passage
The initial reading of the text familiarizes the reader with what it is about. Once the reader has noted patterns and techniques, they should read the entire passage a second time with a more intentional focus on organizational patterns.
For instance, if the reader notes a certain word repeated several times in the passage, they should pay close attention to that repetition during the second read and reflect on how it shapes the meaning of the text. When reading a text closely, readers should read it at least twice. However, it often takes three or four read-throughs to pick out all the key elements!
Tips for Close Reading
- Use short passages that are interesting and meaningful. Long passages may cause students to lose their focus.
- Use questions to stimulate thinking and analysis. While teaching the strategy, you can frame questions to direct students’ thinking. But with practice, students should be taught to frame their own questions and seek the answers from the text.
- Combine Close Reading with other strategies like the Think, Pair,Share strategy to facilitate discussion among students. In doing so ideas are transferred.
By encouraging Close Reading in the classroom, we are helping our students to be independent readers as well as improving their readiness for colleges and careers.
Methods of Close Reading Strategies
There are several methods that readers can use while conducting a close read, all of which help readers attentively interact with the text.
Readers should read the passage with a pencil or pen in hand. Annotating while reading promotes interaction with the text and allows readers to note key details. While reading, readers can underline, circle, or highlight what they find important and jot down questions or predictions. For instance, they should note:
- Details they think are important concerning the main idea of the text.
- Information that surprises them.
- Details that connect to other parts of the text or other text.
- Words or phrases they do not understand.
- The author’s use of literary devices.
Texts for Close Reading
Text complexity is an important factor as you choose a strategy for close reading. When choosing a text or passage for close reading, consider if there is enough happening in regards to language and craft of the text to warrant multiple readings and if the understanding of the text benefits the student in regards to the larger goals of your lesson or unit.