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Close Reading: Unlocking the Layers of Text

November 11, 2015 by Emily


Close Reading: Unlocking the Layers of Text

Guest Post by Sharon Fabian from Classroom in the Middle

Close Reading: Unlocking the Layers of Text

Just like a picture created in Photoshop, a story or article can have layers, too. In an image, the first layer is the background. With a text, the first layer is the basics – the main idea and the details.

Close reading is like unlocking the layers of a text one by one. On the first reading, students will learn the main idea and the details; on their second and third readings, they will get more out of the story and learn more about what the author put into it. There are lots of ways to approach close reading, but the one I like best includes these three layers.

  • Reading One – Main Idea and Details
  • Reading Two – Organization and Vocabulary
  • Reading Three – Theme and Author’s Craft

Close Reading: Unlocking the Layers of Text

Kids need to know what’s going on in a story before they can address more complex comprehension skills, so first we work on the story itself – the main idea and the details. Reading response questions focus on important details the kids will need to know. These will definitely be text dependent questions, and the kids should be able to point to evidence in the text to support their answers. After they answer a few questions, I like to have the students complete a graphic organizer in which they identify the main point of each section or paragraph and then put it all together to come up with a main idea for the whole article.

Close Reading: Unlocking the Layers of Text

Digging a little deeper, the next layer is the organization and vocabulary of the story. This is a good time to remind kids how to determine the text structure of their reading. Is it a cause and effect article? Is it a story told in chronological order? A descriptive essay? A compare and contrast piece? Again, there should be details straight out of the article to support the students’ choice of text structure. A graphic organizer specific to the text structure used in the article works great here, for example a cause and effect chart or a time line to show the sequence.

After this second reading is also a good time to address any difficult or confusing vocabulary, and it seems like a good time to use a few multiple choice questions. This way, the kids can’t write down their first thought about what a word means but need to consider choices that they might not have thought of themselves. Here are two possible questions:

  1. Which of the following words could best replace (insert vocabulary word) in the last paragraph of the article?
  2. What does (insert vocabulary word) mean as it is used in the first paragraph of this text?

This is also a good time to have students work on a more detailed graphic organizer about one or two main words, maybe a chart in which they write a definition, give an example, list a synonym and an antonym, and draw an illustration or use the word in a sentence.

Close Reading: Unlocking the Layers of Text

After reading the text a third time, students should be ready to address what is often their most difficult task – identifying the theme. Questions that involve making inferences, such as identifying the theme, will make more sense to kids at this stage when they are already very familiar with the content. Just as with questions for the first two readings, kids should be able to locate text evidence to support their ideas here.

Once the story has been explored fully, it’s a good time to look at elements of the author’s craft. What evidence did the author include to support his ideas? What words did he use to help us picture a certain scene? Making inferences about what the author wanted to tell us, and how he did that, is the third and final layer.

For more close reading ideas, check out my ideas on my Classroom in the Middle blog. And finally, as an example of all of this, here is a FREE  close reading activity about women’s suffrage called Winning the Vote.

Close Reading - Women's Suffrage Freebie from Classroom in the Middle

Guest post by Sharon Fabian, from the Classroom in the Middle blog.Classroom in the Middle: Sharon Fabian

haron has spent over 20 years teaching English, reading, and other subjects to middle school students. She loves having more time now to create and write about resources for teachers – especially materials for teaching reading, vocabulary, and writing to students in grades 4 through 8. Find more from Sharon on her blog, Classroom in the Middle, Pinterest, and Facebook!

Close Reading: Unlocking the Layers of Text