Close reading can be used for the purpose of moving students towards deeper understanding of a content area concept or theme. How are excerpts of text for close reading chosen, though? Here are a few suggestions.
If you are just working with ONE (well-written) text (versus a text set) and want students to grasp the author’s main or central idea for that text in particular –
1) Read the whole text and determine the key idea in that text you’d like students to walk away understanding. For an example of an article to consider, visit this middle school article – The Real Cost of Fashion (Junior Scholastic, 9/2/13) – about issues related to clothing being made in factories in developing nations. The author details how this benefits the consumer’s pocketbook and even the workers (who do not have many choices), but how it can also be risky and potentially life-threatening. It’s actually more complicated than pros or cons when you consider the country’s policies and the corruption involved and how difficult it is to change the way things are for these workers.
2) Choose an excerpt from the article that reveals the key ideas. It is tempting to try to get at all that the author is conveying in an article. RESIST. Be selective. What do you really want students to walk away understanding better? For this article, I wanted the students to see how having our clothes made in developing nations is not a black or white, pro or con issue. I wanted them to understand that it’s a messy issue. Leaving the country and making clothes somewhere else is not necessarily the right answer because many of the workers in these factories rely on these jobs to survive. But making change happen is complicated by many factors. So I chose ONLY six paragraphs from the article beginning with the 2nd paragraph. (See the paragraphs I marked in image below.) Also remember, before close reading, the students will have read this article through once on their own or with a partner.
3) Develop a clear purpose for the close reading. So for this article, I might post on the board the following question: What are the advantages and disadvantages to having clothing made in developing nations? What is textual evidence to support your points? Why is this a complicated issue?
4) Study the excerpt and think through the types of details the author has included. For example, what I noticed in the 2nd paragraph is that the author does not reveal any information related to the purpose until the last sentence in the paragraph. In the next paragraph, the author shares statistical evidence about the cost of making clothing in developing nations versus the United States. During my think aloud with students, I want to make clear how the initial information in this paragraph (2nd one in article) does not answer my purpose for reading. I want to highlight my “a ha” – how I realized the author gave me information I needed in the last sentence – “labor and other costs are cheaper.”
5) Go for it. 🙂
Okay…more on this lesson soon. Just wanted to get at how I go about choosing excerpts. If you are working with a unit of study – you might want to look for excerpts of text or primary sources for close reading that reveal the enduring understandings related to the unit…more on that soon, too.
Finally – sorry it’s been a couple of weeks since my last entry. I spent two weeks working in Illinois and Wisconsin with some amazing educators. Thanks to everyone who opened their classroom doors for a close reading of their practice!