Friday, February 8, 2013

Close Reads

We are super pumped to share with you one of our favorite strategies to use with our students while reading, and the coolest part is that you can do this during science, social studies, math, or reading time! If you haven't heard of Close Reads yet, please let us introduce you!

What are Close Reads?

Close Reads is an instructional strategy that focuses on the "four corners of the text". Students have to read a selection of text carefully, reflect, and answer questions that require a deeper level of thinking. The answers lie solely in the text itself, without the students having to possess prior knowledge. Would prior knowledge make it easier to answer the questions? Possibly, but if the questions being asked can be answered using the text itself, then students who lack that prior knowledge will not be at a disadvantage. Close Reads can be used not just during reading, but during science or social studies. If you know the Common Core Reading Standards, then you know how important integration is. If you have always wanted to bring your science or social studies into your reading block, Close Reads will make the transition easier! As you begin using Close Reads, you will find that it becomes more of a discussion about the text. Close Reads go beyond what is written on the pages of the text. It includes all facets of a text, which is what the CCSS Anchor Standards are.

How Do You Use Close Reads?

Close Reads can be done whole group or small group depending on the purpose. You can choose to give your students a copy of the text or display the text on a white board. You can choose to have students read the text independently, with a partner, or you may want to read it to them and they follow along. If you want to see assess your students' listening comprehension, then you can read the text to them to take away the potential obstacle of having to read the text themselves. Close Reads can take anywhere between 20 to 45 minutes, depending on the age level of your group. There are also different ways for students to respond to the questions. I have had a class discussion by writing the question on chart paper or the white board and then recording student responses, had students write their answers independently, posted the questions on sentence strips in a pocket chart and give each student a sticky note to write their answers on and then stick in the pocket chart, or place 2-3 pieces of chart paper around the room with a different question written on each one and have the students travel to each question in a small group and write their answers/add to the answer already written. By mixing it up, students don't get bored, and they are constantly being challenged. You could also give your students the opportunity to write the questions themselves. You can give them question stems that guide them in the direction you want them to go, and then let them finish the question. So many possibilities!

How Do You Select the Text?

Well, that depends on your purpose. Are you wanting to integrate science or social studies? Then you might choose a scientific or historical text. Are you wanting to focus on a specific reading skill such as character analysis? Then you would choose a text excerpt that has a strong character and is rich with details that can be used to analyze that character. I ask myself this simple question: Why am I using this particular text? If my answer is, "I already have it in the basal"...well, that answer is not validating why the text should be used. Always ask your self, "What is the purpose for the Close Read?" and "Does this text fit this purpose the best?" So many times teachers reach for that stand-by text that has been read every year, or the story of the week from the basal. Not saying there is anything wrong with that, but if that is your reasoning, you may want to look for another text to use because clearly that text is not a good fit for your Close Read. Some teachers like to select the text first and then find or write questions that can be used. I think it's easier to look at what standards I am teaching, pull out questions that would fit the purpose of teaching those standards, and then look for a text that would be a good fit. You can't just whip out a book and grab some questions to ask. You MUST read the text before hand and really think about what questions are most appropriate for the purpose you have chosen.

How Are Close Reads Different From What You Already Do?

Chances are, you already have your students reading and answering questions about a text. I have found the biggest difference to be the quantity of questions I ask and the depth at which my students go. In the past I use to have my students read a passage, and then I had several questions I would ask. When my students gave me an answer, I would ask them to read from the text the clues or the sentences that gave them that answer (you know, prove your answer!), and then I would move to the next question. With Close Reads, you want to continue to have your students dig into the text. Having them share where in the text they found the answer is only the BEGINNING! Asking "How did that inform your answer?" or "Why do you think the author used those words?" are only two of the many questions you can continue to ask. We know the CCSS are rigorous, and to really get the students to think deeply requires asking them the right questions....questions that may stump them, and will most likely need to converse with other students and you in order to determine the answer. Often times one student will give an answer, and another student will add, and so on. Many times I end up only getting through 2 questions in a 30 minute segment because of how deeply we discuss the text. Another big difference is the wait time. Don't jump in to save your students! Allow them time to think and then share. Waiting can be the hardest part because we don't want our students to struggle, but giving them time to fully think about what to say lets them know that they don't have to rush an answer. I have modeled several Close Read lessons for the teachers at the school where I teach. Almost all of them have told me that it isn't that much different from what they are already doing, but those key differences are the ones that are always brought up. I myself have found it hard to dig deeper into the text, but with Close Read questions, it becomes much easier!

Eventually we want students to be able to answer Close Read questions on their own, but until my students are ready, I am using the gradual release model. At the beginning of the year it was a lot of me modeling for them the thinking that I have while I read, the types of answers I am looking for, and then we transitioned to them working in small groups with the questions, and now we are at working with a partner. My goal is that by March my students will be answering Close Read questions independently and successfully! It certainly hasn't been an easy path...most students aren't used to being asked these types of questions or having to dig deep, but like all things, with practice and guidance, it becomes more natural and easier for them, and for you!

How Do I Know What Questions to Ask?

Purpose, purpose, purpose! Are you noticing a trend here? First you must know what your purpose is. What is the focus of your lesson? Then select the text that will most readily lend itself to teaching those skills. Finally you can write questions that will guide students toward the discussion that you would like to have with them. Usually I look at the specific standard and the text, and then I write the question using the language of the standards. There are 3 domains in the reading CCSS: Key Ideas and Details, Craft and Structure, and Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. You may want to choose a question that will address each domain, or you may want to stick with one domain at a time. Again, it depends on your purpose and your students. 

We Can Help!

We have a product called Comprehension Question Stems for Literature, Informational Texts CCSS. This product contains over 60 question stems that you can easily use to help you write those Close Read questions. The question stems are color coded by domain, labeled with the anchor standard (since all K-12 reading standards originate from the anchor standards) AND they include the Bloom's Taxonomy Level of thinking. There is a literature set and an informational set. Some of the question stems are the same depending on the specific standard, but the frames for each type are different for organizational purposes. There are also recording sheets for tracking your students progress during Close Reads. There are recording sheets specific for EACH grade level. There are recording sheets that have all the standards on one page, and there is a set that is domain specific. Many ways to choose how to record your students' performance! This is a paid product. Please click the link for additional information.

Need More Information?

Here are some of the sites we used to learn more about Close Reads. Check out this YouTube video to gain more information on Close Reads and the CCSS, and then watch this video that gives an example. Once you are ready to begin planning, provides some great information and tools (for not just reading but also math!) You can check out Close Reading Exemplars if you need ideas of types of texts you can choose, or the Common Core's Appendix B for additional text excerpts that you can use. You can read guidelines for writing questions if you want to create your own. 

We know that once you begin using Close Reads, you will fall in love just like us!

Don't forget about our All Things Upper Elementary Blog's First Paid Linky Party tomorrow! Make sure you stop back here tomorrow to either link up or find some awesome resources by some amazing teacher-authors! There will be activities for V-Day and other February themes, activities teachers just LOVE, and more! We hope to see you here!

Until next time,
2 Brainy Apples


  1. Heather and Miranda, this post was amazing! I have learned a valuable tool to use in my classroom. I am off to watch the video and take a look at the questions you have available. Thank you for sharing!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. As our school is moving into Common Core (officially next year, but I am dabbling at it this year to get some of the trial and error stuff out of the way!), I love this idea! It will be a great tool to have to help teach and practice "close reading." Thank you for sharing it in such a detailed way!

    1. You are so welcome! Close Reads is definitely something you can dabble in while you are still teaching your current standards. I love how you can use Close Reads in science and social studies for seamless integration of reading and science/SS.

  4. I really appreciate the detailed information in your post! Thanks so much for sharing this with us. It is really helpful! :)

    1. So happy that you were able to gain some information from our post! Thanks for your comment :)

  5. Great post! Very informative. I am just beginning to get into "close reading." I am really interested in learning more about it.

    Eclectic Educating

    1. Thanks for your comment! Close Reading is something that is new, but, at the same time, similar to what many of us have been doing for years. I have really enjoyed implementing it in my classroom and learning more about it. I can't wait to be able to start out next school year using them!

  6. Thank you so much for your informative post. I really appreciated all the resources you provided. In my district, like many places, we are expected to figure our how to implement the CCSS on our own. Your post gave me lots of places to explore and share.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. The great reminders I took away from your sharing is to remember the importance of wait time in questioning. I know I tend to dive in too quickly to move an idea or lesson along. The other key idea I loved is to focus on the purpose for what to question.

  8. Thanks for the great post! I am going to pin your product...looks great!! I am your newest follower!!

    Kathy O.
    Third Grade Doodles


Thank you for your comment! We appreciate your input!

-All Things Upper Elementary

Blogging tips