3 Go-To Close Reading Strategies

3 Go-To Close Reading Strategies


Abi Frost

With the shift to Common Core State Standards, there has been lots of talk of “close reading.”  As a reading specialist, my responsibility is to help my students reach toward grade level with their reading skills, which most certainly involves having them read texts closely. But, what does close reading look like? And how do you get a reluctant and struggling adolescent reader to read the same text more than once and pay close attention to the details?  It is quite a challenge, but these go-to strategies have helped me enable my students, across grades 7-12, uncover the multiple meanings of text.

1.  Illustrating

High School

My high school students are reading Ulrich Boser’s The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft, a book they chose because of their interest in art and the mafia.  In a chapter about the valuable artwork that was stolen, I asked students to re-read different short excerpts that described a painting and use these descriptions to draw the painting themselves.  After they finished drawing, I showed them the actual paintings so they could assess their own close reading skills.  For the excerpt below, the student initially drew a café scene and later realized that the actual painting was a portrait. Without any prompting, he re-read the excerpt a third time to see why his drawing did not match the painting.   Below is the text, a student’s illustration and, then, the actual painting by Manet.

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Middle School

When my seventh graders were reading The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, I asked them to illustrate the scene when the Socs try to drown Ponyboy and Johnny kills the Soc— a turning point in the novel that includes many important details that students might otherwise skim over.  The scene is only one page, but I required students to pause four times to illustrate the events.  The text does not explicitly state that Johnny killed the Soc so the very close reading of it was critical for their understanding of the plot.

Here is one student’s illustration.  I love the perspective of Ponyboy underwater with his head in the fountain.

Ponyboy Illustration

2.  Reading with a Focus

Middle School

Before any independent reading time (which is almost every class), I set a very clear reading focus that is written on the board and ask students to highlight, write in the margins or on post-it notes, color code, or complete a graphic organizer/tracker (all active steps while reading).  For example, while my eighth grade girls read a chapter of Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin, I asked them to collect examples that proved how Lizzie and Owen felt about each other.  They picked up on some very subtle details that showed the characters falling in love.  I’m sure you can imagine that these eighth grade girls were very engaged with the reading and had strong opinions about the characters’ budding relationship.  Here is an example tracker:

Heart Graphic Organizer

Sometimes I have students read the same text again with a new focus.  For example, after reading and illustrating the scene from The Outsiders I describe above, I asked students to identify on small post-it notes diction the author used to build suspense.  We collected the post-its on the board and discussed the author’s word choice, including foreshadowing clues.  In this one lesson, students were reading the text for both understanding and author’s craft.

High School

When my high school students read the allegory “Terrible Things” by Eve Bunting, I asked them to read the text three times.  For the first reading, I asked students to highlight the animals’ reactions to the Terrible Things. After reviewing what they had learned about the Holocaust in history class and watching a short clip from “Schindler’s List,” students read the text a second time looking for connections between the story and the Holocaust.  During the third and final reading, the reading focus was about how the author conveys a theme.  These reluctant high school readers did not complain once when I asked them to read the same text three times and they uncovered its many layers of meaning, the real objective of close reading.

3.  Reading for Signposts

Signposts BookMark

High School

I have been experimenting with a new strategy this year and it has completely transformed how I teach literature.  This comes from Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst.

While my high school students were reading Caucasia by Danzy Senna, I asked them to identify and analyze significant passages using “signposts.”  Check out the signposts bookmark below:

After lessons about each of these signposts and some guided practice, I was blown away by how independently and successfully my struggling high school readers were identifying and analyzing the text.  I interpreted this chapter to be a big “Aha Moment” for the protagonist, Birdie, but the student below found other layers of meaning.  Don’t you love it when you learn from your students?

Middle School

I have also begun teaching my eighth graders some of the signposts, but we are still working through the guided lessons on each of them.  All the students in my group read below grade level and have difficulty making inferences, but, they were able to use the signposts to identify significant passages in Elsewhere.  In fact, the guided questions associated with the “tough questions” and “memory moment” signposts really helped students make inferences about character emotions and the author’s purpose.

Notice and Note


Recently, I asked my students to JUST READ without writing on post-its, highlighting, illustrating, completing an organizer or re-reading.  I wanted them to simply enjoy the chapter.  The group cheered “YESSSSS!!!!” and jumped right into the assignment. While close reading is most certainly a valuable practice for making students strong readers and helping students meet the demands of the Common Core Standards, it is not the only priority in experiencing reading.  My ultimate goal is to instill in students a love of reading, and sometimes, the best way to do that is to just let them read.

3 responses to “3 Go-To Close Reading Strategies

  1. Pingback: 3 Go-To Close Reading Strategies | ELA Connecti...·

  2. Pingback: 3 Go-To Close Reading Strategies | Critical and...·

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