There is a lot of dialog in the reading world right now about a strategy called, “Close Reading.” Close reading is an instructional routine in which students critically examine a text through repeated readings. It teaches children to look for story structure patterns, new and specific vocabulary, key details, arguments, and inferential meanings. Close reading can help children develop the habit of dissecting stories and information to understand the critical concepts and how the information contributes or relates to the child’s life. Close reading is not currently happening in many classrooms, but it is becoming a strongly suggested method with the advent of the Common Core State Standards Language Arts skills. Close reading can provide a wonderful opportunity to teach the difference between narrative (in story form) and informational (just the facts) texts and their uses. The key components of close reading include:
- Who Is Reading? For preschool through first grade classrooms, most close reading experiences will begin with the teacher reading the story to the children. For older grades, it usually begins with the students independently reading the texts prior to the close reading discussion.
- Frontloading. Background knowledge could be useful to children prior to reading the story. The teacher should determine when this is appropriate and when the children should experience the text without any background information.
- Developing Text-Dependent Questions. We often use books to begin a discussion about a subject. However, during close reading, the questions generated should be answered within the text. Those questions should be divided into general understanding questions, key detail questions, vocabulary and text structure, author’s purpose questions (informational/narrative, etc), inferential questions, and opinion questions.
- Annotation. Reading with a pencil, whether it is conducted by the teacher or individually with older readers. Making notes about critical information during the reading.
I strongly believe that close reading can be a wonderful teaching tool, even in early childhood settings and special needs situations. I use close reading in preschool and kindergarten classrooms to help children think about the story or information beyond just listening. I was once teaching a kindergarten group and was using a book called “The Stupids Have a Ball” by Harry Allard. It is a silly book about a family named Stupid who decide to have a ball. My purpose for reading the text was to help the children understand that there are narrative books that are meant exclusively for entertainment. At one point in the picture book, Grandfather Stupid comes down the chimney, dressed as the Easter Bunny, carrying a pumpkin, and saying “Ho, Ho, Ho!” As we were discussing the book, one little girl yelled, “I can’t believe you are reading us that book! His bum is hanging out!” After using that book with groups for many years, I admit it was the first time I noticed that the only pink on the page was Grandfather Stupid’s face and the pink fluffy tail on the bunny costume. Before I could respond, one of the boys in the group said, “No, no, look really closely. It is his pink bunny tail. You just have to pay very close attention.”
A strong reason for using close reading with children is to help them develop the habit of paying very close attention. Using close reading in preschool and kindergarten will help build a foundation for the Common Core standards in Language Arts that the child will need to develop during elementary school. For special needs children, it may open up additional doors to help them decode that difficult task of reading.
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For further information on close reading, check out the following resources:
Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2012). Close reading in elementary schools. The Reading Teacher, Vol 66(3), pp. 179-186. International Reading Association.
Paul, R. & Elder, L. (2003). Critical thinking…and the art of close reading (part 1). Journal of Developmental Education, 27(2), 36-37, 39.
Phillips, E.C. & Scrinzi, A. (2013). Basics of developmentally appropriate practice: an introduction for teachers of kindergartners. National Association for the Education of Young Children.