Close Reading Strategies That Work

Close reading strategies for the secondary classroom. High school close reading. Middle school close reading.

Close reading is an integral and essential component of the common core standards. Close reading asks students to not only read a text for basic comprehension and understanding, but to really read the text, dig deeply into the text, and make connections with the text. 

This can be a difficult and daunting task for a generation that grew up bubbling a scantron and moving on to the next task. 

Close reading strategies for the secondary classroom. High school close reading. Middle school close reading.

1. Don't rush them.
When my students closely read a text, I make sure to not rush them. We as educators have to keep in mind that this is their first exposure to the text. We can't take for granted that they will understand every word, metaphor, and rhetorical device in the text. Close reading is a process that takes time, patience, and multiple readings. There is no such thing as reading a sentence, a paragraph, or a composition too many times. To begin the close reading process, I like to teach my students how to annotate text.

My Annotation Bookmarks will help keep students focused when they are annotating. Sometimes students just need some time and a guideline to get used to annotating.

Close reading strategies for the secondary classroom. High school close reading. Middle school close reading.

2. Focus on a new concept for each reading.
Even the brightest and most advanced students will be overwhelmed when they are given too many concepts and/or rhetorical devices to look for and analyze in one reading. Sure, they may complete the task, but it won't be at the depth in which they are capable. Instead, just work on one close reading focus at a time. Not only will this help students be more engaged with the text and really understand the concept, they will also build a better understanding of the text because they will have more exposure with it. 

If you are focusing on analyzing a piece of nonfiction for rhetorical devices, just focus on one at a time and start with the easier to understand rhetorical devices. This strategy will allow students to gain a better understanding of the text, which will then allow them to closely read the text for more difficult concepts. When I closely read short stories with my students, I use focused sticky note graphic organizers that help students identify key literary elements. 

I rely on short story close reading assignments to help me guide my students through this step of the process. These units focus on just one literary element at a time. For example, if we are reading a short story, we might focus on just identifying suspense first. Then, after students are able to identify, quote, and explain examples of suspense, we will move to a new literary focus. This really provides students the opportunity to understand the text and the literary elements we are focusing one.

Click HERE to see this close reading resource!

Close reading strategies for the secondary classroom. High school close reading. Middle school close reading.

3. Don't forget about vocabulary.
Whenever we do a close reading in my classroom, I am always amazed at the words students do not know. Even if a word seems like an easy, common word, we cannot simply assume that our students are familiar with it. For this reason, I do not like assigning vocabulary lists when I do close readings. Instead, I prefer to rely on my students and their existing vocabulary. One of our close reading focuses is just on vocabulary. I have the students box any words with which they are unfamiliar, and then write the definitions in the margins. 

Taking time to do a vocabulary close read is essential. Students gain such a better understanding of the material once they become familiar with the unknown words. To make this activity even more meaningful, I like to have them partner up after completely an individual vocabulary close read. Many times students will overlook words they do not know. Providing them with an opportunity to partner up for a second vocabulary close read really enforces this activity. I urge the students to not copy each other's work. Instead, they are to read the definitions to their partners. Once this is complete, the student read a document, identified unfamiliar words, defined these words, wrote down the definitions, and spoke the definitional aloud. All of these different interactions with the once unfamiliar words really provides the students with an opportunity to genuinely learn new words. 

Close reading strategies for the secondary classroom. High school close reading. Middle school close reading.

4. Place an emphasis on collaborative learning.
Close reading strategies for the secondary classroom. High school close reading. Middle school close reading.
Close reading is not and should not be an individual effort. Every single student brings a unique perspective to the table, and we should embrace these unique perspectives. When we do close readings in my classroom, I like to have the students read individually, but I also like them to partner up, work in small groups, work in larger groups, and then start the process all over again, but this time with new partners and new groups.

One way to incorporate group work into close reading is to assign each group a specific task. For example, if your students are analyzing figurative language within a text, you can assign each group a specific type of figurative language. After a set amount of time, have the students either share their finding aloud and on the board or through a document reader. Similarly, you can also have the students change groups and share their findings with other students. This type of collaborative activity generates excellent classroom discussion. 

Close reading strategies for the secondary classroom. High school close reading. Middle school close reading.

5. Give the students time to work.
One of the most vital aspects of teaching close reading is providing students with the opportunity to complete the task. Once you teach the student how to closely read and annotate a text, you will need to model the skill using a small portion of the text. After that, you will need to step back and be a facilitator. You will spend the majority of your instructional time fielding questions and witnessing authentic learning at its best. 





Incorporating World Issues in your ELA Classroom

Today’s students have the world’s knowledge at their fingertips. Everything about anything they could ever possibly what to know is just a click, swipe, or tap away; and yet, it seems as if so many students are disconnected from worldly issues.

When we have students who are #smh at non-issues (like who is dating whom and who is wearing what) and declaring #fml when they encounter the smallest, ever-so-minute first-world issues, we as educators are faced with a monumental task: helping our students become more aware of the world around them.

To do this, I look to outside reading sources. After reading articles about some of the very real hardships that others around the world deal with on a daily basis, I notice that my students complain a little less about not having the newest something or other.

With the implementation of common core, many secondary teachers are including more nonfiction text into their curriculum. Finding authentic, engaging nonfiction text that actually speaks to our students can be somewhat challenging though.

Recently, I invested in a classroom set of The New York Times Upfronta magazine published by Scholastic, and I could not be more pleased. (I am not a paid endorser for, nor do I work for or receive any profit from Scholastic or the New York Times). This publication is amazing, and my students look forward to reading it. Yes, they want to read it!

You might be wondering why I love this publication so much and why I am singing its praises from the mountaintops. This magazine has it all: relevant, timely, engaging content written just for teens. If there is a controversial topic in the news, chances are it will be covered in an upcoming issue.

So far this year, my students have read about police officers and whether or not they should be required to wear body cameras, the background of and the pros and cons of the Iran deal, teenagers who work long hours in the dangerous conditions of the tobacco fields, and the confederate flag.

To make these lessons meaningful and standard-driven, I focus on many of the reading informational text standards while incorporating these articles in my classroom. Primarily, I focus on three very important English language arts skills: paraphrasing, quoting, and summarizing.

To help students really understand the difference between these three concepts, I use my Paraphrasing, Quoting, and Summarizing lesson. This lesson comes with a completely editable, 27-slide PowerPoint presentation and 11 pages of student resources (including handouts and graphic organizers to use while reading). Once you teach the lesson, your students will know the difference between the three and they will be able to apply it to the articles in the magazine. Even better: once your students are familiar with the concept, you can easily save an article or two along with some of the student resources for an emergency sub plan!

As educators, it is our responsibility to help mold our students into productive, well-meaning, aware, and responsible members of society. It’s not an impossible task; we just have to look outside of our comfort zones and borders to do so.


Five Simple Steps to Make the Most of Your Student Teaching Experience

Making the most of your student teaching experience.
You’ve completed your course work, passed all of your tests, and finished all of your paperwork, and now the time has finally come. You are about to begin student teaching.

A million different emotions are probably swirling through your head as you begin anticipating and daydreaming about what this experience will be like. What will your students be like? What will your master teacher be like? What will your routine be like? And most worrisome of all: Will you thrive or fail?

More than likely, you will probably find your student teaching experience a little anticlimactic. While being a student teacher will help prepare you for your career as an educator, there really is no substitute for learning on your own two feet the first few years in your own classroom.
So how can you make the most of your student teaching experience?

1. Get as involved as you can. Attend meetings. Go to school functions. Help with any extracurricular activities, clubs, organizations, and sports that you can. Like so many things in life, student teaching will be the experience that you make. The more you put into it, the more you will get out of it.

2. Observe as many different teachers as possible. Every teacher has his or her own unique teaching style, and your master teacher’s teaching style may not mesh well with the type of teacher that you want to be…and that is okay! That is why it essential to observe as many different teachers as possible. Additionally, observing many teachers lets you figure out exactly what kind of teacher you want to be.
Making the most of your student teaching experience.

3. Do your homework. In order to do well during your student teaching experience, you will need to take time to prepare your lessons and become familiar with the content. If the students are reading a novel, you will want to read it (multiple times) ahead of time. The more time you spend preparing, the more prepared you will feel. Having that extra bit of confidence will help get you through those first few lessons.
Making the most of your student teaching experience.

4. Ask questions. Your master teacher is there to help guide you and prepare you to the best of his or her ability. However, your master teacher is not a mind reader. Something that is second nature for an experienced teacher might be a bit complicated or confusing to a beginning teacher. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, ask for clarification, or ask your master teacher to slow down.

5. Become a substitute teacher in the district. If you are a substitute teacher in the district, you can occasionally get paid to do your student teaching. If you are able to take over the classroom for the day whenever your master teacher is out sick, you will get more of an idea of what it is like to have your own classroom.

Following these five simple steps will help you make the most of your student teaching experience.
Making the most of your student teaching experience.