Elevating Reading Development With Close Reading

An Approach to Increase Reading Comprehension

Tiara Smith

By Tiara Smith, Copywriter & Content Strategist

The success of a reader is not defined by their ability to read, but by their ability to comprehend the text and apply the concepts they’ve learned. In order to do so, one must possess the ability to assign meaning to circumstances, scenarios, and occurrences within the text. As students encounter new, more complex texts, they’ll need a strategy in place to produce a deeper understanding of the text, and hence, increase reading comprehension. To aid in this mission, schools of varying grade levels are engaging in close reading around the world.

What is Close Reading?

Founded by I. A. Richards in the 1920s, close reading is a skill encouraged by the new Common Core State English Language Standards that is essential to the development of successful readers. Close reading is defined as a representation of the differing approaches to teaching reading comprehension, and can look quite different depending on the teacher or classroom. When put in practice, close reading encourages students to slow down, engage with the text differently, and reflect on the content they’ve read. As students refine their close reading skills, they will be able to read more complex texts over time, helping them pick up on new vocabulary, engage in knowledge building, and prepare themselves for their lifelong learning journey.

Close Reading Strategies

Outside of the desired outcome, close reading strategies look different for each classroom. When selecting a close reading strategy, it is important to pick what best suits your classroom, which includes the text being examined. Close reading activities include, but are not limited to:

  • Selecting an excerpt from a text for students to annotate with information about key vocabulary, phrases, or analyses of literary elements
  • Decomposing complex sentences into important parts
  • Asking students to summarize the key concepts present in the text
  • Encouraging students to annotate the text with questions about the text

Engaging in these activities will allow students to look beyond the text to understand the true meaning of its language, provide a foundation for students to find text-based evidence, and encourage higher-order thinking to be able to answer deeper questions about the text.

Tips to Implement Close Reading

  1. Lead by example: In order to deliver superb reading instruction by way of close reading, it is helpful to exhibit those characteristics and put strategies in place yourself. To do so, it is important to know the text inside out to gain understanding and be able to use textual evidence in classroom discussions. Being familiar with the text will allow you to find and refer to textual evidence with ease and model close reading during classroom discussions.
  2. Expand student horizons: The intention of close reading is to allow students to understand increasingly complex texts over time, which has the potential to expand students’ minds and skills. When selecting texts to read as a class, it is important to select texts that are challenging and raise authentic questions that can produce varying answers depending on students’ level of background knowledge and understanding. Though these texts may be a little difficult, this is intentional. The texts you select aren’t intended for independent reading, as they are intended to be difficult. As you select what texts will suit your classroom, keep this in mind, as it will challenge students and act as the catalyst for growth.
  3. Teach students to become detectives: Searching for textual evidence is a key aspect of close reading. Help your students find textual evidence with ease by asking thought-provoking questions such as:
    • What happened when [insert character name] [insert action taken]?
    • How did [insert character name] know [insert detail about the text]?
    • What do you think the author meant when they wrote [insert thought-provoking quote from the text]?
    • What do you think was the point of this story?
    • What did the author want you to learn from [insert character name]?

    All of these questions are intended to help students recognize important themes, interpret occurrences, and apply the knowledge they’ve learned in the hopes that they will gain a deeper understanding of the text.

  4. Set the tone: As students explore the text, it will be helpful for them to understand what the purpose is for reading the text. Whether it is to analyze how an author uses literary elements or to understand a theme within the text, this knowledge will give students an understanding of what to focus on.
  5. Use student-driven questions: Engage students in the process by allowing them to provide questions about the text. Upon compiling a list of questions, you can decide which questions to discuss with the class, encouraging a deeper understanding of the text while promoting higher-order thinking simultaneously.
  6. Diversify reading material: Once students become familiar with close reading about a particular topic, it is important to continue to challenge them with new, complex topics. Close reading can span across all subjects from social studies to math, but remains consistent in terms of the goal of achieving a deeper understanding of the text and increased reading comprehension.

Close Reading Examples

Close reading, when consistently practiced, can make a huge difference in reading development in your classroom. One example of a program that supports close reading is Raz-Plus. Offering close reading packs that feature cross-disciplinary content for student practice, this solution has everything you need for close reading. Using this program, teachers encourage students to read individual passages and allow students to come together in groups to discuss what they read by finding evidence to support their answers to key questions. Following this process, teachers can facilitate a classroom discussion to allow students to discuss the connecting passages evidence for supporting or changing their class answer to key questions. Close Reading Packs available within Raz-Plus act as the perfect example of the close reading process by providing all the tools students and teachers need to adequately dissect the text.

When implementing close reading in your classroom, it may be beneficial to adopt a similar approach. For example, upon selecting a text, you could split your classroom up into a few groups. Assign each group the task of analyzing an excerpt from the text for its true purpose or the importance of a theme that’s present. In doing so, your students will become experts at finding textual evidence, promoting higher order thinking and building a foundation of knowledge that allows them to understand and comprehend the text even more. After each group arrives at their answer(s), have them share what they found in front of the class, and ask each group if they still feel the same way once all answers have been shared. This lively discussion will promote reading success simply by allowing students to look beyond the text and approach challenging texts in an analytical way.

Strategies for Deeper Understanding

Close reading is a great way to get students out of the habit of passively reading texts, and encourages them to truly understand how all literary elements come together to produce an intentionally composed piece. Once students form a foundation of understanding, they’ll have a set of skills to allow them to approach, understand, and comprehend more texts of increasing difficulty. As you select what approach is best for your classroom, we suggest you select a trusted solution such as Raz-Plus to guide you on your journey.

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  1. “Close Reading.” Department of Education and Training Victoria, Victoria State Government Education and Training, https://www.education.vic.gov.au/school/teachers/teachingresources/
  2. Staff. “Strategies for Close Reading.” We Are Teachers, We Are Teachers, 9 Feb. 2021, https://www.weareteachers.com/strategies-for-close-reading.
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