Tag Archives: close reading anchor charts

Do our students understand “definition” and “example”?

Yesterday I was giving a demo lesson closely reading a science text when I realized the students did not understand the terms–definition and example. Many nonfiction authors use definitions and examples and other types of details like cause and effect when they describe concepts like forces, magnets, weather and so forth. Readers need to recognize these types of details to understand these concepts.

The 4th grade students and I were engaged in carefully reading an excerpt from Using Force and Motion (National Geographic Reading Expeditions, Phelan, 2003)–an easy introduction to the concepts of force, gravity, friction, etc.



Notice in the excerpt below that the author introduces the topic in the first paragraph. In the second paragraph, towards the end, he introduces the topic of force and defines it – “a force can be a push or it can be a pull.” Then he gives an example of a force – “The paddle gets a big pull from the person’s arms to push the kayak through the water” and a second example – “The kayak also gets a push from the water that is rushing behind it.” In the last paragraph, he offers details about the effect of forces like the wind  – “make all objects move” and “make objects slow down, speed up, change direction, or stop.”


After students read this text, we want them to be able to say, “Oh! The author just defined what a force is when he wrote, ‘A force can be a push or it can be a pull’ and then he gave me an example of that which is when a person kayaks and they pull on the paddle, it pushes the kayak through the water. That’s like when I…”

During the lesson, I started an anchor chart entitled “What types of details does the author use to teach us?” and listed details like definition, example, effect. When I began to ask students to determine whether a new detail (after I’d modeled) was a definition or an example, they couldn’t do it. I realized that the students were not clear about what I meant by “definition” and “example.” I added definitions of the details to the chart, but there was still some confusion.


So I stopped and led a short discussion with an easier concept. We defined “fruit” and listed examples. (When I asked for examples of fruits, one of the students said, “Squishy!” so I knew I was right in his ZPD 😉 This seemed to help as we moved to carefully reading the last paragraph of the excerpt!!!!!


The more I do this, the more I’ve learned not to take for granted what students understand in grades 2-8. Even for words like definition and example, they (even middle school students 😉 may have a superficial understanding.

Below are common types of details used by nonfiction authors use. BTW – I WOULD NOT COPY THIS LIST AND HAND TO STUDENTS. Instead – I’d introduce a few at a time during close reading of excerpts of text.

  • Name of topic
    • Name of subtopic
    • Location
    • Function, purpose, or behavior
    • Duration, or when something takes place
    • Physical attributes (movement or action, color, size, shape, number, texture, composition, etc.)
    • Construction or organization
    • Explanation of how something works (may include causal relationships, sequence of details, and variables)
    • Real-life examples (see additional blog entry on teaching “examples”)
    • Comparisons (including similes and metaphors)
    • Other types of figurative language (alliteration, onomatopoeia, and personification)
    • Quotes from experts (for the purpose of sharing relevant knowledge or just sharing an opinion)
    • Attempts by author to connect with reader

Imagine if our students can understand and identify and explain these types of details while reading to learn.

Hope this helps.




Close reading anchor chart…but remember…


So…I’ve been getting a lot of questions about “anchor charts” for “close reading.” I’ve been hesitant because I don’t want students to consider close reading as a lock-step process. Close reading is the simultaneous orchestration of multiple skills, used fluidly and iteratively. BUT there are potential benefits when we use an initial anchor chart as a way to start conversations about close reading with our students. So I spent some time today playing around with a chart. (So glad my daughter has a BIG eraser :).)


A couple of my thoughts as I created this –

  1. Notice how the language addresses “you” and “we.” I want the student to see this as part of a conversation about what “we” all do as a community of readers.
  2. I included the questions in thought bubbles as a way to scaffold for “this is a thinking experience”; the reader has to be actively engaged.
  3. I tried to get at how you don’t read and then stop to think; instead, you think as you read. Synthesis does not happen after reading – it’s continually going on as we read, gathering more and more information.
  4. I had to let go of an anchor chart that is all inclusive; in other words, this anchor chart only gets at determining the main idea and summarizing the text with key details. What’s missing is explaining how the details support the main idea. When I move on to getting at this or to using this information to go back and reread another time to consider how the author structured the text to convey the main idea (CCSS R.I. 4.5) or to explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text (CCSS R.I. 4.8) etc., I will have to add on to this chart or develop a new one. My suggestion would be to have the students help you consider how to add on/modify the steps as you deepen your close reading practice.

Even as I’m writing this and looking at the charts, there are changes I’d make. Ugh!!!! Have to let go of that at some point and trust the students to get what I’m trying to say – with this anchor chart, a lot of modeling, and intensive one-to-one or small group coaching. AND that’s another reminder that an anchor chart is just a beginning to the conversation and not a static document posted forever on the wall. Ideally, it should be a living document that together, the students and I, modify, revise, expand.