What is Close Reading?

  • Close reading Reading comprehension Common Core State Standards
  • 18 June, 2012
  • 39 Comments

Re-posted on August 3, 2017. Up to this point, this blog entry is the one that has been read, cited, and distributed most often. Obviously a lot of people have found it to be useful, so I have reposted it for those who might not have seen it before.

First published on June 18, 2012.

 

The Common Core State Standards are encouraging teachers to engage students in close reading. Much of the focus of discussions of close reading have emphasized what teachers should not do (in terms of pre-reading, or types of questions). I am being asked with increasing frequency what close reading is. 

Close reading requires a substantial emphasis on readers figuring out a high-quality text. This "figuring out" is accomplished primarily by reading and discussing the text (as opposed to being told about the text by a teacher or being informed about it through some textbook commentary). Because challenging texts do not give up their meanings easily, it is essential that readers re-read such texts (not all texts are worth close reading). A first reading is about figuring out what a text says. It is purely an issue of reading comprehension. Thus, if someone is reading a story, he/should be able to retell the plot; if someone is reading a science chapter, he/she should be able to answer questions about the key ideas and details of the text.

  However, close reading requires that one go further than this. A second reading would, thus, focus on figuring out how this text worked. How did the author organize it? What literary devices were used and how effective were they? What was the quality of the evidence? If data were presented, how was that done? Why did the author choose this word or that word? Was the meaning of a key term consistent or did it change as one progressed through the text? This second reading might be a total re-reading or a partial and targeted re-reading of key portions, but it would not be aimed at just determining what the text said (that would have already been accomplished by this point).

  Finally, with the information gleaned from the first two readings, a reader is ready to carry out a third reading—going even deeper. What does this text mean? What was the author’s point? What does it have to say to me about my life or my world? How do I evaluate the quality of this work—aesthetically, substantively? How does this text connect to other texts I know? By waiting until we have a deep understanding of a text – of what it says and how it works—we are then in the right position intellectually and ethically to critically evaluate (valuing) a text and for connecting its ideas and approach with other texts.

  Thus, close reading is an intensive analysis of a text in order to come to terms with what it says, how it says it, and what it means. In one sense I agree with those who say that close reading is about more than comprehension or about something different than comprehension since it takes one beyond just figuring out an author’s stated and implied message. On the other hand, many definitions of reading comprehension include more than just determining a stated and implied message; such definitions include the full range of Bloom’s taxonomy in one’s thinking about and use of a text. If one subscribes to such definitions of comprehension, then close reading is just a description of a process one uses to arrive at such comprehension. 

I think with this brief description of the essentials of close reading (e.g., intense emphasis on text, figuring out the text by thinking about the words and ideas in the text, minimization of external explanations, multiple and dynamic rereading, multiple purposes that focus on what a text says, how it says it, and what it means or what its value is), teachers can start to think clearly about a number of issues in close reading.

Should I give the students a preview of a text? 

No, you probably should not do this At least not in the ways that we often do in classrooms--doing thorough picture walks, guiding the kids' steps through the text, pointing key things out to them and so on. But it is not unreasonable to have students do their own previews, allowing them to get the lay of the land prior to reading if they want to.

Is it okay to set a purpose for student reading? 

Yes, it is very reasonable to give students a purpose for reading (read to find out the differences between lions and tigers, or read to find out how this character deals with hard choices). But these purposes should not reveal a lot of information about the text that the students can find out by reading the text. Of course, if you are reading a text multiple times, each time for a different purpose, you might provide a lot more information on later readings. (This text used a lot of metaphorical language to describe how the characters felt, let's re-read those sections and discuss what the author accomplished by doing it that way.)

Does close reading require that every text is re-read? 

Yes, it really does, but that doesn't mean that every text should be given a close reading. Some texts should still be read only once; that is all they would be worth.

What if I am unsure whether to discuss prior knowledge before reading a text? 

If you think there is key information that students need to know before they read the text (something necessary for making sense of the text that isn't stated in the text), by all means, tell it. If there is no pre-information necessary, then don't make such a presentation or discussion. If you are uncertain, then let the kids have a chance to make sense of it. If it goes well, fine. If not, then add the information to the second reading. (I was just looking at an article on forest fires. "It is only partly true that 'only you' can prevent forest fires." That is a cute beginning, but I'm not sure all of the second-graders will recognize that it is referring to a Smokey the Bear line from a once-common public service announcement. I might want to clarify the source of that before students dig in. But if I didn't do that, I would definitely ask a question about this sentence and would tell that info during the discussion. Sometimes I will anticipate and tell, but whether I do or not, I can always clarify it later in the discussion.

Comments

See what others have to say about this topic.

Anonymous
Jul 01, 2017 09:07 PM

2/24/2013


This article is wonderful and meets my needs perfectly. Thank you for posting a straight forward, easily understood article. I plan to reference it in Professional Development classes in the near future.

Tim Shorrt
Jul 01, 2017 09:07 PM

4/16/2013

I think it is also important to remember that close reading doesn't replace interactive read- aloud, shared reading, or strategy groups (or guided reading). People misinterpret close reading and its place in the literacy block. Skills such as predicting can be addressed in those other areas of reading instruction.

Timothy Shanahan
Jul 01, 2017 09:08 PM

4/16/2013

Something that i've stressed over and over in this space is that close reading is an outcome, not an instructional technique. You certainly can guide kids into doing a close read, but there are lots of ways of doing that. we need to be more strategic as teachers, rather than just meekly following some scheme without any consideration for what we are trying to accomplish. Means and ends, means and ends.

Grace Ladd
Jul 01, 2017 09:09 PM

5/10/2013

Let's not forget that close reading of "text" can also apply to education in the arts. However, it is important to note that "text" must be broadly interpreted to include works of visual art and literature in terms of music. We are struggling with a literal interpretation of the term "text" as it applies to common core and implementation in other subject areas. Including, physical education, visual arts, music, technology, etc. The literal interpretation of "text" is not necessarily applicable to all areas.

Angela M.
Jul 01, 2017 09:09 PM

6/13/2013

I sat in on a Read 180 overview presented by Scholastic. As the presenter explained the computer-based student practice component of the program, she said that before the student reads a passage, he is shown an "anchor" video that serves to "introduce the reader to background information and important vocabulary". (Based on the example, it appeared the video covered the information that would then be portrayed in the passage.) This same type of frontloading is also used during the teacher-led component of instruction; every lesson begins with a video overview. When one of the faculty members commented that this seemed contrary to what the CCSS calls for, she countered by saying that Scholastic takes the position that the anchoring is necessary because we are talking about an "intervention" and we are targeting students who are significantly below grade level expectancy. She said that the Common Core "says very little about intervention" and, basically, that the regular rules about text complexity and background knowledge wouldn't apply for this student population. Can you share your thoughts on this? What is best for our below-grade level students? Do they learn optimally with anchoring and frontloading, or do they too learn best when presented with complex texts that are perhaps closer to a "frustration" level (provided adequate teacher scaffolding and support are given)?
Thank you.

Anonymous
Jul 01, 2017 09:10 PM

6/24/2013

This is a very clear, concise definition of close reading. How do you feel about the strategies Beers and Probst share in their book Notice and Note as it relates to close reading? If I were to use these strategies to teach close reading to 3rd or 4th graders, would I give the passage first as a cold read (aloud or independent), then introduce the strategy, then using gradual release, invite students to apply the strategy during a 2nd read?

Anoymous
Jul 01, 2017 09:11 PM

9/25/2013

OK, to piggy back off your comment that close reading is separate from strategy teaching. I am posing the action research question: How will explicit teaching of close reading strategies improve comprehension in 4th graders? My intent was to teach the strategies in the book Notice and Note, but now I'm reconsidering. You mentioned annotating the text. That is a great strategy for close reading.

Timothy Shanahan
Jul 01, 2017 09:11 PM

9/26/2013

I would stay to comprehension strategies that have a strong research record (summarization, visualization, questioning, monitoring, thinking about text structure) rather than spending lots of time on strategies that you may or may not be able to make work.

The big idea of close reading is not to inculcate a whole new set of strategies but to engage students deeply in the reading of particularly meaty and high quality texts.

There are two theories at work here: One posits that readers will comprehend better if they have a collection of cognitive or metacognitive strategies that they can use intentionally when they interact with text. These strategies will engage them in thinking in particular ways (and to be mindful in particular ways while reading).

The other is that to be a good reader you have to be well practiced in reading. This theory claims that by engaging various texts deeply and coherently the reader comes away with greater knowledge (of language and the world as well as a greater sense of how text conveys ideas) and this insight is applicable to future readings. It is like a very sophisticated practice effect.

Both have research behind them. To be fair big strategy proponents have always cautioned teachers not to lose sight of the text when emphasizing strategies, but that advice is difficult to honor in the classroom. (While close reading proponents have stressed the idea of emphasizing the text, they often have kids coming away with generalizable insights--like names matter, or titles matter, so nobody is entirely pure on this).

I think it is easier for teachers and kids if they have times that they are entirely focused on close reading and other times when they are focused on trying to master reading techniques that they can use again and again (knowing that you should still try to get the text across when kids are focused on strategies, and that general insights about text should be developed when a text is being read closely).

Anonymous
Jul 01, 2017 09:12 PM

9/27/2013

I am honored to have your thoughts on this topic and appreciate your taking the time to respond. Your insight is invaluable. Thank you.

Anonymous
Jul 01, 2017 09:12 PM

10/20/2013

This is wonderful; thank you! I am wondering...

1. We have a strong emphasis on making connections throughout the grade levels. Is the research showing that the teachers' great focus on making connections actually takes student's away from the meaning of the text?

2. Do you know of any kid-friendly graphic organizers that will help guide students through the three purposeful readings?

Thanks so much!

Timothy Shanahan
Jul 01, 2017 09:13 PM

10/20/2013

In fact, there is research showing that not all connections are equal. The issue is whether the connections lead you to think more deeply about the text or whether they lead you to think more about the connections. Thus, if the reader says, "My bicycle was stolen, too, so I know how this character feels. Given that, I think he won't trust the kids in his neighborhood as much so that explains for me why he talked to his friend the way he did. Now I wonder whether his friend will be understanding or just angry himself." There is a good chance that the connection will have led to better comprehension.

But what if instead the discussion goes like this: "My bicycle was stolen too, and it was a real pain. I had forgotten to lock it up, and boy was my dad mad about it. I didn't get a new bicycle until the next summer. What a pain." That connection is a distraction and instead of leading the student to think more about the ideas in the text, they became a replacement for the ideas in the text. Texts are not just reminders of what we already know. They need to serve as more than just jumping off points for reverie. (Merle Wittrock summarized the research on this back in the 1970s, in Review of Educational Research--text elaborations that get you to think about the text improve comprehension, elaborations that get you to think about something else than the text undermine comprehension).

I don't know of any graphic organizers for close reading.

Anonymous
Jul 01, 2017 09:13 PM

10/20/2013

Thank you so much for your timely response! So, would you say that by taking the students through the three stages of close reading in order (with connecting being last)helps with this?

Timothy Shanahan
Jul 01, 2017 09:14 PM

10/20/2013

If it is done well, that should be the outcome. That's the idea anyway. Of course, close reading doesn't need to be done in three reads. Connections could actually be made throughout a series of text discussions--as long as the teacher/guide recognizes the difference between those connections that engage the students deeply with the text and those that are an excuse for ignoring it.

Anonymous
Jul 01, 2017 09:14 PM

11/13/2013

I think reading all the previous posts has somewhat helped me understand close reading a bit more. My concern is that I keep hearing from the powers that be that I should only use a short text when doing a close read. And that I need to use only "text-dependent questions"? How much truth is there to this?

Timothy Shanahan
Jul 01, 2017 09:15 PM

11/13/2013

Close reading does NOT require short text, though it is can be more practical in a classroom.... it usually takes more time for a longer text, but that isn't always the case. (I think the idea comes from the idea that the text will be re-read. However, re-readings can be in entirety or can be more targeted. So if you were close reading the Gettysburg Address, it would make sense to read the speech several times. However, if you were guiding students to re-read a 20-page chapter, you would dip into particular pages or paragraphs to focus attention on those parts.

In terms of questions, indeed, the idea is to ask questions that require knowledge of the text to answer. However, text-dependent questions are not necessarily literal questions or "right there questions."

Scienceteacher1991
Jul 01, 2017 09:15 PM

3/23/2014

How is close reading really any different from the old SQ3R which calls for re-reading?

Timothy Shanahan
Jul 01, 2017 09:16 PM

3/23/2014

Science Teacher--

Rereading and taking notes on what one reads are definitely part of close reading, but as you point out, they really aren't hallmarks of it since these are common practices in other kinds of reading as well.

Close reading has two hallmarks: First, the entire emphasis is on focusing on the text that the author has provided. It is really important to shut out other sources of information while you engage in a close read. (Those sources might include information that the teacher tells you, but it also might be ignoring the illustrations which probably didn't come from the author--this can be really important in science reading, since illustrations like photographs often are inaccurate or inappropriate to the texts).

Second, close reading emphasizes the accomplishment of multiple interpretive goals.

1. Readers have to understand what the text says (just like in SQ3R).

2. Readers have to understand how a text works... how the author's choices of words and structure support, extend, and reinforce the author's message. (Something not a focus in SQ3R). Thus, the teacher might ask students, why the author expressed the following idea using a passive sentence: "Excess sodium ions are released from the osmoregulatory organ under hypertonic conditions."

3. Readers have to critically respond to text and connect it up with other texts (in science, this might involve making connections across different parts of a text--like connecting a table of data up with a paragraph). Again, this isn't highlighted in SQ3R or other approaches to reading.

Your students will definitely need to reread and take notes to accomplish these three interpretive goals only using information from the text, but rereading and note-taking are just superficial aspects of the process.

Anonymous
Jul 01, 2017 09:16 PM

4/22/2014

can you suggest a good professional development book and what do you suggest for doing it with the basal

Timothy Shanahan
Jul 01, 2017 09:17 PM

4/22/2014

Anonymous--

I know of no books about teaching close reading with basal readers/literature anthologies/core programs. However, there is nothing special about those sources. You still will have to focus on texts that have a depth of meaning (e.g., layers of meaning, alternative interpretations, symbolism, worthwhile content), and you will have to focus your questions on the texts themselves (rather than on the kids' background knowledge, etc.). You will likely spend more time on such selections than the publisher recommends, but in such a case you would just be using it as a source of texts anyway, so that shouldn't be a problem.

Anonymous
Jul 01, 2017 09:17 PM

5/20/2014

What is the connection between annotation and close reading? We are in the 2nd yr of teaching all-annotation, all the time, and we've seen a big improvement in student involvement with the text. now I see "close reading " on the horizon. Compatible or not?

Timothy Shanahan
Jul 01, 2017 09:18 PM

5/20/2014

Annotating text and close reading are two very different things. The connection between them is that annotating can be a helpful tool when one is doing close reading (it is much easier to mark up the text than to just remember patterns or images that you noticed when reading). As such, workshops on close reading often spend a lot of time teaching annotating--which is fine, but often distracting. Annotating is useful during close reading, but it is not necessary. it is not a hallmark or distinguishing characteristic of close reading (and it is a useful tool in many non-close reading approaches, too).

Anonymous
Jul 01, 2017 09:18 PM

6/2/2014

This sounds like why I hated reading in school. I was beyond high school level in elementary school but never enjoyed reading because they analyze it way too much in English class. This close reading sounds redundant and boring to me. Your article explained what it is well but I think literacy has become out of control at the elementary level. There is already too much time spent on it and the way it is being dealt with is so geared to the learning styles of girls as is this close reading nonsense. It sounds like English majors have too much influence on school curriculum. IMO science and math are much more important as that is where the paying jobs are....

shawn
Jul 01, 2017 09:19 PM

6/10/2014

How does close reading fit in developmentally for a kindergarten room?

Timothy Shanahan
Jul 01, 2017 09:19 PM

6/10/2014


Close reading does not fit in very well in kindergarten. Even in many of the children are reading, the texts rarely are deep enough to make close reading worthwhile. It is possible to involve kids in some close reading style interpretation of texts that are being read to them, but I wouldn't go crazy with this. At kindergarten I would worry more about covering a lot of ground in terms of content (both exposing kids to information about their world and to their literary heritage), rather than trying to involve them in deep analysis (some of that is fine, but I would NOT seek balance with the exposure noted above).

too many to list
Jul 01, 2017 09:19 PM

7/17/2014
I'm a year or so behind in leaving a comment, but new(er) to learning how to teach reading skills. I'm tutoring an adult learner who has dyslexia. I was interested in using close reading with him, but concerned with re-reading as reading two pages once tires him out. I would appreciate any advice you could give. Thank you very much!

Timothy Shanahan
Jul 01, 2017 09:20 PM

7/17/2014

Given your description of this reader, I would not emphasize close reading at this time. I would work hard at building up this reader's stamina. That could best be done with lots of fluency work (lots of oral reading with repetition and timed silent reading--start short and expand) and intensive discussion (sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph--ask all the questions you can think of). Help this reader to sustain attention and concentration over longer periods of time and longer texts--stretch him/her out.

Emily M
Jul 01, 2017 09:20 PM

8/28/2014
I actually read this blog and the comments for my English class. After reading this i have come to understand the purpose of close-reading and how to close-read, which should hopefully help my annotations on future texts. But while reading i had several questions that didn't seemed to be fully answered. While i understand the purpose of close-reading i don't understand why you should take the time to read deeper into a document. Some things were written simply and what we now interpret as a symbol, may not have been intended to be a symbol. how can we as readers determine what is meant to be read into and what is to be left alone?

Another thing that was mentioned in several of the comments was annotating being a strategy for close-reading. it is a great strategy i am not sure how to annotate, most of my annotations are personal reactions and summaries. How can i branch out and include more analysis annotations? i am never certain of what to read into and what to accept as it is. Another comment that was made was in regards to close-reading giving you the ability to question the text, but i am never sure what questions to ask and how to ask them. i had a lot of thoughts about this article, and while it was very insightful it left me with more questions about close-reading than i had in the beginning.

when you commented "these strategy's will engage them in thinking in particular ways" my only thought was "why put your mind in a box" by saying you can only think a 'particular' way you close yourself of from looking at things in a different light, an alternate angle.

Anonymous
Jul 01, 2017 09:21 PM

3/17/2015
"Thus, close reading is an intensive analysis of a text in order to come to terms with what it says, how it says it, and what it means"
As a reading specialist, I would argue this is developmentally inappropriate for most elementary students. Just because supposed rigor is absent at the end of high school does not warrant increasing rigor at the primary level without consideration of development. Why exactly do children under ten need to be intensively analyzing text? Frankly, the introduction of "close reading" into elementary classrooms is perpetuating a growing hatred toward the reading process altogether.

Timothy Shanahan
Jul 01, 2017 09:21 PM

3/17/2015


No one expects (or is requiring) that young students analyze text as intensively as they will be expected to when they are in high school. However, you have to start somewhere, so doing things like analyzing the relationship of the pictures with the text (look at your standards) is not crazy or inappropriate. If your teaching is "perpetuating a growing hatred toward the reading process altogether" then you are not a very good teacher, and the problem is with the implementation rather than with the standards. I was recently teaching close reading to second-graders and they were asking the teacher when they could do it again. Clearly, you must be doing a horrid job of this. I suggest that you ask for help from your school district because your teaching skills are inadequate in this area.

Anonymous
Jul 01, 2017 09:21 PM

5/19/2015

Close reading of texts require more time with students, particularly in small groups. I find it challenging to find this time, but agree it is critical for students to become close readers of text. I also like that you included the comment that not every text needs to be closely read.

Anonymous
Jul 01, 2017 09:22 PM

9/25/2015

Tim,
In your opinion, when preparing to close read a text, should student preview, the questions before reading? It seems to me previewing the questions prior to reading would tend to limit the information students look for, rather than "gleaning" all of the information possible from the text. It defeats the purpose of close reading. What are your thoughts?

Timothy Shanahan
Jul 01, 2017 09:22 PM

9/25/2015

Giving kids specific purposes for reading is anathema to close reading. The idea of close reading is that the students will figure out the text based on the text itself. When you tell students what they are looking for they have a very different negotiation with the text (one likely to advantage the cued information, while distracting from the rest of the author's message). I'm with you.

Anonymous
Jul 01, 2017 09:23 PM

7/31/2016

We just started close reading in our district last year. Our second graders were given text that was a grade level above their reading level. We were told to let them figure it out. They could not even read the first sentence it was too hard for their reading level. The reading coaches said they will learn to read it by letting them struggle with it. The kids would become so upset and began to hate reading because of they were so frustrated at how the district was making us implement close reading. For it to be of any value should the text not be on their instructional reading level?

Timothy Shanahan
Jul 01, 2017 09:23 PM

8/2/2016

Your district leadership obviously knows very little about close reading or complex text (two different issues actually). Close reading only makes sense with texts that are complex, but complex does not mean hard for students to read (decode); the notion of placing students in texts they can't read so they can do close reading reveals a lack of knowledge (on the part of the adults making the decisions). When kids are placed in texts that are hard for them to read, they need scaffolding/support to learn to handle such texts. I think I'll write a blog entry on this soon... but your leaders are leading you in the wrong direction according to your note.

Becky Pennington
Jul 01, 2017 09:24 PM

8/8/2016

Amen! District leaders must know enough about reading theory, practice, and "best practices" to responsibly create and implement policies. As a teacher educator, I see so many harmful practices in place in real schools.

Becky Pennington
Jul 01, 2017 09:24 PM

8/8/2016

Amen

healthylivingtipsforyou
Jul 01, 2017 09:25 PM

8/11/2016

That was a regular part of reading in my community.

http://www.brillassignment.co.uk/
Jul 01, 2017 09:26 PM

10/3/2016

Understanding on what is that kind of reading seems good for many students and kids to know about especially that they can build some necessary technique on how to read well and on how are they going to apply it into some of their work in the future.

Assignment Writers Help
Jul 01, 2017 09:26 PM

3/4/2017

Reading is kind of essential for the students, they don't only develop their professional English but they see how the World is and what is really awaiting them in future!

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What is Close Reading?

39 comments

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