What is Close Reading?

When it comes down to reading, children can dip their toes in, test the water and go for a little paddle. Sometimes though, they’ve just got to get right in splash around and get their hair wet.

Exploring what’s under the surface is really important too, so this means putting the goggles and oxygen tank on and taking a deep dive into the coral reef for a good look around.

Close inspection of text is a key reading skill that can often be neglected as children seem to think they always have to read a ‘whole’ book. They don’t need to eat the whole loaf of bread, just take a slice.

Selecting a segment or portion of text and being forensic with it is part and parcel of close reading. Attention to detail is everything.

Close reading is thoughtful, critical analysis of a text that centres on important details or patterns. This helps children develop a deep, precise understanding of the words, meanings and the author’s craft.

Close reading is reading a portion of text several times in order to analyse and uncover layers of meaning that lead to deep comprehension. Children’s primary obligation is to understand the text and it is their responsibility to be active participants in constructing their understanding of the read text.

Close reading includes:

  • zooming in on short passages and extracts that are complex, comprehensive and considerate
  • exposes children to a wide variety of genres
  • reading a text above a child’s comfort level
  • getting straight into the text with little or no pre-reading activities
  • converging on the text itself and pondering ideas
  • slowing down and engaging with the text in different ways
  • re-reading a text thoroughly and methodically tracking a concept or theme
  • looking at what the text says, how the text says it, and what the text means
  • piecing together layers of meaning to arrive at a sophisticated interpretation of the text as a whole
  • the teacher reading the text and live modelling text analysis guiding children through the meaning of text layer by layer
  • considering the decisions made by an author such as purpose, word choice, and text structure
  • spotting techniques that writers use to get their ideas and feelings across
  • closely analysing the material and explaining why details are significant
  • breaking down the language and structure of key lines to establish and analyse their meaning
  • purposefully rereading and responding to text-dependent questions
  • picking apart and closely looking at the what argument an author makes
  • questioning ideas, word choices and things that are unclear
  • discussing the text with others and co-creating understanding
  • regular ‘Think-Pair and Sharing’ the big ideas
  • children asking lots of questions with a discerning eye
  • children interpreting their own observations

Close reading can be done in small groups but it is perfect for whole-class guided reading sessions so that everyone can explore together.

Selecting a text for close reading needs a lot of thought as it needs to be a rich and complex passage with layers of meaning not easily uncovered in just one reading. It is a high quality text with depth and potential for discovery worth reading multiple times so that children will benefit from critically engaging with it.

Closing In

There is no specific structure in a close read but the following steps might be helpful as a possible guide.

  1. First read – get the gist

    Share the text and encourage everyone to read either independently or share the reading in pairs to get the feel and sentiment of it.

    Ask them to focus on what they think are the key ideas and details of the text. Think-Pair-Share and assess what level of sophistication they are working at to determine next steps.

  2. Second read – rip

    The teacher rereads and then selects a chunk of the text and takes it apart. As a class examine the grammar, punctuation, vocabulary choices, sentence structure, text features, writing devices and organisational patterns. This reading looks at the building blocks and how the text works. Help children dig deeper by setting a specific purpose.

    Get under the skin of the text and interpret author intentions, craft and style. Encourage children to engage in careful observation of how an author has engineered text to communicate meaning. Let them use annotations to mark the text to encourage deeper thinking. Scaffold and model throughout and demonstrate how to glean essential information from the text.

  3. Third read – go the extra mile

    Reread the passage and ask text-dependent questions and test for depth of understanding using discussion prompts. Encourage children to evaluate the quality and value of the text.

    Recap, revisit and reassess what children know and don’t know and help to build their strata of understanding through deeper questions that focus on context, discerning patterns, evidence, analysis and reading between the lines for hidden meanings.

    Go for a deeper dive into rhetorical devices, technical skills and features of an author’s craft, perspective, purpose and themes. Questions should require re-analysis and the formation of opinions and arguments.

Close Call

Close reading isn’t designed to be easy. It should be challenging so that children have to wrestle with the text and know that re-readings are necessary and act as stepping stones towards fuller comprehension.

Making a habit of close reading helps children learn new strategies and builds their stamina and resilience for managing more rigorous texts at greater lengths. It develops language sensitivity, reading sense and an eye and ear for word, syntax, rhythm and structure.

Regular close reading opportunities helps children interpret the meanings of words and the structure of texts to determine how they affect meaning or tone, and how points of view and purpose shape content and style.

Close reading of different texts will gradually promote children’s ability to read complex texts independently. Through a gradual release of responsibility, children will be able to determine what texts say explicitly and be able to summarise them making logical inferences, and citing textual evidence to support conclusions.

Navigating a text competently is a real skill and that’s why close reading should be a weekly feature of literacy lessons. The expectation is that children will communicate the fruits of their close reading endeavours to others in written and spoken forms naturally.

One More Thing…

Remember that close reading doesn’t just focus on fictional texts but needs to incorporate poems, auto/biographical excerpts, diaries, lyrics, primary source documents, speeches and ‘stretch’ texts such as essays. It is a cross-curricular reading strategy that can be used in many ways as a foundation for critical thinking.

What does close reading look like in your classroom? Do you have any tops tips to share for doing close reading?

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