Close Reading: What is it really?

So...I have read a lot of professional books over the years.  A lot.  I am always happy when the information I read supports my beliefs about best practice or reinforces what I do in my classroom.  Even better is when I find a new nugget of information that I can take and try for myself.  

When a book changes me as a teacher, it's something I just have to share.  Nancy Boyle's book "Closer Reading. Grades 3-6" did that for me. It forced me to think about what I believed to be true about reading instruction--and to reassess my own practices.  It's easy to look for "quick fixes" and "programs" to try to reach our students.  I get it.  We're swamped.  We're overworked.  We don't have time.  Nancy does an amazing job of making quality reading instruction ACCESSIBLE to us--and she is realistic about what it looks like.  Reading is authentic--and "close reading"needs to be authentic as well.  I reached out to Nancy a while back and asked if she would be willing to share her ideas with my readers because I think her ideas are so important, and she graciously agreed.  What follows is her guest post...and I think you'll agree that her ideas are spot on.  Enjoy!


When close reading gained prominence a few years ago I was frankly a little insulted that as a professional developer in the area of literacy, anyone could think that the instructional strategies I shared with teachers did not help students to read “closely.” Then I learned more about close reading and saw that it truly did push teachers and students to a whole new level of rigor. Over time I’ve also learned that there are a few principles and practices that when applied well, will make teaching the process of close reading doable for teachers and the outcomes of close reading meaningful for students.

First, close reading needs to be authentic. To me this means that it should fit organically into our curriculum with texts we are already reading with students, or other sources that can enhance our units of study. Yes, the complexity of a text is important because it gives us more opportunities to think deeply about its content and craft. But a factor equally important that we sometimes overlook in our instructional planning is coherence: how things fit together. I believe that the goal of close reading is not just to teach the skills involved in reading closely, but to help students acquire robust bodies of knowledge and insights into issues capable of transforming their thinking. For this reason, my go-to sources for close reading are often high quality picture books both literary and informational, classic poetry, short stories such as fables and myths, and articles. I also like to add video clips, photographs, and illustrations when applicable. I do not put random close reading worksheets and lists of follow-up questions in front of kids because I think these miss the mark in their authenticity, the depth of thinking they inspire, and the connections students can make between their reading and their world.

Which bring me to my next critical close reading component: the questions we ask students—or the ones they ask themselves. Close reading is not simply getting the evidence from a text. When you think about it, that’s a fairly low level of understanding. Close reading should help students dig deeper—into both content and craft. Questions we could ask that empower students’ reasoning might be: What evidence in this [article] is most relevant to the author’s claim? Why do you think the author included this paragraph? What detail on this page do you think is the most important? How is the problem related to the setting? Of course there are many other questions we could also ask as well. Here are a couple of guidelines to keep in mind as you ask questions.

For the purpose of close reading, questions such as those above are better served through oral discussion during reading rather than written response after reading. Of course students will eventually need to respond in writing to questions about their reading. But that is testing, not teaching. For more impactful teaching of close reading, ask these questions as you proceed through a text, pausing at strategic points, and then engaging students in conversation. Even better, in pursuit of close, independent reading, provide students with these four “good reader” questions which allow them to lead the learning each time you pause:

·         What is the author telling me? (This assures they are monitoring the text’s literal meaning.)

·         Are there any hard or important words? (This alerts them to key vocabulary that may be problematic or significant.)

·         What does the author want me to understand? (This highlights inferential thinking, what the author is showing, but not telling.)

·         How does the author play with language to add to meaning? (This addresses elements of the author’s craft like similes and metaphors.)

(These questions are provided in “poster” and “bookmark” format in my book Closer Reading, Grades 3-6 published by Corwin, 2014.)

What I’ve discovered over these past few years is that students thrive with close reading when it is implemented thoughtfully. For me in the intermediate grades, this means teaching a well-designed close reading lesson once a week for about 30 minutes with text-dependent questions I devise or the four “good reader” questions noted above. Teachers using a core program with questions already embedded could add a few “reasoning” and “text connection” questions to push for deeper thinking. All teachers could incorporate close reading into their social studies and science curriculum where insights into issues and problems are particularly needed.

I’ve found that students really enjoy close reading because they feel oh-so-smart when they find meaning in a text that they would not have recognized without reading closely. Even struggling readers do well with close reading because the approach is systematic and thorough. Close reading is explicit teaching at its best. It’s no wonder that the research has found that it’s the close reading of complex text that leads to college and career readiness.


Want to see more from Nancy Boyles?  Here are the links to some of her wonderful resources--and I hope your find them as inspiring as I do!  



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  1. Thank you for this post. I've been struggling all year with reading instruction. I just bought one of her books.

  2. Interesting article-I liked the idea of using more oral discussion during reading and less questioning after reading.

    1. I agree...the process is more important than the end product!