Tag Archives: close reading informational text

Review & teaching ideas for new book Seeds of Freedom


The new trade book Seeds of Freedom (Bass, 2015, Candlewick Press) is a good fit for 4th-6th grade students because it’s complex and has content worthy of close reading and collaborative discussions. Bass, the author, does not just tell a straightforward narrative about what happened in Huntsville, AL; instead her narrative requires the reader to make inferences about what was going on. The way she presents the information requires the reader to think critically about what was going on. Bass uses the metaphor of planting and growing seeds of freedom–tapping into what these seeds need to grow. For example, she writes, “But the seeds of freedom need news to grow, so another plan is hatched.” From there she describes “Blue Jean Sunday” when the African Americans boycotted local businesses and wore denim for Easter in 1962. The way she tells it, though, the reader has to make an inference that this was the “hatched” plan and the reader also has to infer how this was “news” to grow the seeds of freedom. With her audience in mind, the author has provided just enough content for the reader to do this. She continues to build on this idea of “needing news to grow the seeds of freedom” throughout the book.

While the publisher has listed this book for k-3rd grade, I think the ideas are conceptually way too challenging for this age group. If you get a copy of it, you’ll also see right away that there’s a large amount of text on each page (not too much for a read aloud to older students, though) and some of the illustrations are abstract. The illustrations are also mature enough for this older group of students; the book doesn’t have a “primary” feel.

I’d do the following with intermediate (at least 4th) and higher students (through 6th) –
1) Read this book aloud during an integrated unit of study;
2) Read aloud the author’s notes and discuss;
3) Ask the students to read excerpts from this text closely with an essential question in mind for discussion and for writing in response. Examples of questions (some that could be used with multiple excerpts) include –

“How does the description of Blue Jean Sunday serve to support one of the author’s main ideas?”

“Explain how the author uses evidence to support the idea that ‘seeds of freedom need news to grow.'”

“What is the author’s perspective on the movement in Huntsville? What in the text makes you think so?”

“What role did perseverance (patience, compassion, etc.) play in this movement?”

Background knowledge about Jim Crow and segregation would be helpful in understanding this book, but students could also read this book at the beginning of a unit of study as a way to begin an inquiry project into this period. They could generate questions for research as they hear this read aloud a second time or as they read it with a partner. This would be a good opportunity to compare texts on the same topic – even just comparing one page of text from this book with a primary source (news article, photo, memoir, etc.). It would be interesting to research others’ perspectives on what the author calls “the peaceful integration of Huntsville, Alabama.” The metaphor “seeds of change” or “growing seeds of change” could serve as a frame for thinking about/reading about other events in the civil rights movement and how it took time and perseverance for change to occur.

One disappointment (but not a deal breaker) – I thought the metaphor of growing seeds of freedom was powerful and used well in the first half of the book. I like the growing versus planting – it increases the rigor of this text. I felt like the development of the metaphor was weak in the second half of the book, though. For several pages in the first part of the book, the metaphor remained at the seed stage. Then late in the book there is one page where the “tender plant of freedom” is mentioned; at the end of that page, I was confused when the author wrote, “Are the seeds of freedom wilting?” I was thinking it should have been “Are the tender plants of freedom wilting?” There is no other mention of the tender plant and then on the last page, the last sentence, after the schools of Huntsville have been integrated, the author writes, “to taste the sweet fruit homegrown from the seeds of freedom.” It felt like a leap given the heavy emphasis on the seeds earlier in the book. BUT why not have students go back and think about events that revealed the growth of tender plants and how they might have wilted at certain points and then how the fruit was growing and so forth? This could help students move forward in reading other texts on the same topic and using this metaphor.

If you know me, you know I LOVE books on this period of American History. If you want more information on books I’d recommend reading with students, visit my Goodreads bookshelves–I have a general shelf of books on the Civil Rights Movement (1950-1970) and then two additional shelves with “text sets” for 3rd and for 6th-8th grade.

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 9.57.44 AM

Okay…hope this helps.



Brief, focused opportunities to build background knowledge

Recently I was asked to teach a lesson to second grade students with an informational text on magnets. As I read through the text, I began thinking about how many of the students I’d be working with may not have had many language and hands-on experiences with magnets or magnetism or the concept of force, a push or pull. Many authors of informational articles assume some background knowledge of their readers and research is clear that the more background knowledge a reader has, the more likely they are to comprehend the content in the text. Our colleagues in the field who say we level the playing field by NOT not addressing background knowledge with students and just referring to the text are misguided. A reader cannot help but tap background knowledge – it’s instinctual.

The trick is not to get lost in building background knowledge and never get to the text or to build so much background knowledge, there is no content to grapple with in the text.

Also, it’s essential that whatever background knowledge experiences I provide are specifically targeted at or aligned with supporting understanding of the content in the text. I have to be more strategic that saying, “Have you ever played with magnets?”

Here’s what I did before teaching:

  • I read the article on magnets carefully in advance and thought about the author’s key points. The article was focused on how magnets work – including examples of magnets in the household and an explanation of how the north and south poles of a magnet function (using a toy train with magnets on each end as an example).
  • I found a five minute video that included the same language (academic vocabulary) and concepts the article includedhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYSG5aeTy-Y. I REJECTED videos that were stupid songs about magnets or that did not include the right content. I prefer 3 minutes or less in a video – but this was fine. I searched and located this video in about ten minutes.
  • I picked up magnets with marked north and south poles at my local teacher store (35 cents a piece). I would end up using these in small group lessons versus for the initial whole group lesson.
  • I planned for a 20-30 minute shared reading lesson with the whole group and then take the text into small group guided reading with groups–if at an appropriate instructional level for the group.

Here’s what I tried and noticed during the whole group lesson – each of these approaches served to build background knowledge or access to the content in the text in some way

  • I introduced the focus question for the lesson – How do magnets affect objects? The question was written on a sentence strip and posted for all students to view. I briefly defined “affect” and “objects.”

2nd grade shared reading lesson 2

  • I showed the video – stating the objective for viewing was to think about how magnets affect objects.
  • I asked the students to turn and talk, briefly, about what they learned from the video (a text)–and reminded them that they should refer to the video versus their personal experience. I met with a few pairs, coached them to use the language of magnets and then asked them to share out when we regrouped.
  • I engaged the students in shared reading of the first three pages of the text – pausing for them to fill in particular words. Many of the words I paused at were domain specific words (they’d heard in the video and that they’d heard me read early in the shared text). I wanted them to hear and feel themselves saying like magnet, north, south, pole, force, push, pull.

I ended the lesson by asking them to work with a partner to answer a text-dependent question – What is a force? Again, I conferred with pairs, coaching heavily and asked students I’d conferred with to share out when we regrouped. After sharing out the answer from the text, we made a list of how we were strategic in finding the answer.

2nd grade shared reading lesson 11_14

2nd grade shared reading lesson 3

What I noticed:

  • OH, THE LIGHT IN THEIR EYES when they saw words in the text that they’d heard in the video!!!! This spurred engagement, a willingness to tackle a complex text!
  • OH, THE ENTHUSIASM IN THEIR VOICES when I would pause during shared reading and they would read content words that they normally would grapple with understanding initially given no opportunity to activate or build background knowledge.
  • OH, HOW THEY JUMPED INTO LOOKING FOR THE ANSWER to the text-dependent question. Was this because I’d already helped them access the content in the text without explicitly teaching the concepts?
  • OH, HOW THEY WANTED TO SHARE when I asked them to turn and talk with a partner. Okay…not everybody, but because of the support I’d provided, the students seem to access the content in the text more easily.

Did everyone walk away fully understanding the force of magnets? No. Did most students walk away having learned a bit about magnets? Yes. And isn’t that our goal when teaching with informational texts – to learn content? Yes.
Ideally this lesson would be part of a content area unit on magnetism or Earth’s forces.

How I’d follow up –

  • Take this text to small group instruction with students — if appropriate. For second grade students who are at a pre-A, emergent, early level of reading this would not be appropriate. For students who are nearly at the transitional stage or in transitional stage of reading – I gave it a try.
  • Use this text again for another 1-2 shared reading lessons (20 minutes) with the whole group. On day two, I’d pull out the magnets I bought and let the students explore the properties of magnets while also using the language of magnets – “The magnet is attracting the X.” and “The ends of the magnets are repelling.” Then I’d offer another text-dependent question for student pairs to answer.

More on how I took this shared reading experience to small group instruction in the next entry.

Please know you are in my thoughts as you help students grapple with complex informational texts!


New Book for Reading Aloud, Close Reading – Mr. Ferris and His Wheel


Mr. Ferris and His Wheel (K. G. Davis, 2014)

This would make for a great read aloud in 3rd, 4th or 5th grade with opportunities for rereading excerpts of text to think critically about the author’s central ideas and purposes. The main part of the text is written as a narrative with the purpose of “telling the story of” how George Ferris endeavors to bring to life “an idea [for a structure at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair] that would dazzle and move.” In addition, many of the two-page layouts have a non-narrative caption (in bold and a different font) that provides background information pertinent to that point in the narrative. For example, when George’s idea is rejected by the construction chief of the fair, the narrator lets the reader in on George’s expertise on how to use a new metal –steel–and how this would make the moving wheel “strong.” The non-narrative caption for that page serves to build knowledge on this concept – steel, its strengths and George’s area of engineering expertise –

George was a steel expert, and his structure would be made of a steel alloy. Alloys combine a super-strong mix of a hard metal with two or more chemical elements. (no page #s)

This structure – the use of narrative to “tell the story of” and non-narrative to explain is worthy of exploration by students.

Actually, there’s a lot of potential for using this book in the classroom. If your 3rd or 5th grade class is studying motion and stability–Ferris’ engineering and what he must have considered in designing and building the wheel could be discussed.

And with the Common Core ELA Standards, there are opportunities to engage students in conversations (even student-led), close reading and conversation, and writing in response to the text. A few suggestions include –

  • Reading aloud the book (this might take two sessions) and asking students to turn and talk – just to discuss what has happened, to make meaning of what is going on. You might pose prompts along the way like, “What’s going on here that might be a problem?”
  • Using a gradual release to explore the role of captions in supporting the narrative – 1) modeling how one caption supports the text, 2) asking partners to explain how another caption serves to support the text, 3) asking individual students to tackle explaining a third caption and how it serves to support the text with conferring and coaching as needed.
  • Posing questions for critical thinking, conversation, and writing in response like
    • Why do you think the author wrote this book? What was his purpose? What in the text makes you think so?
    • How was George Ferris perseverant? In spite of obstacles, danger, and discouragement?
    • Do you think the author believes that this endeavor –George designing and building the Ferris Wheel–was unprecedented? Why do you think so? What is textual evidence to support your reasoning?


Photo of the Ferris Wheel at Chicago World’s Fair

Okay…hope this helps!




Close Reading 2nd Grade Text – Tricky Details for Students

Scan 130

As we ask transitional level readers to engage in close reading, let’s be aware of tricky details. Below I share my analysis of one informational text that is very similar to other texts we use in our classrooms.

A few weeks ago, I taught several second grade “close reading” lessons with informational texts from the Wonders program. Wonders interpretation of “close reading” is a little too broad for me–the texts they provide are too long and the time they suggest is too quick. Instead of focusing on one question, the teacher’s guide has several questions (focused on a myriad of skills) for students that basically assess understanding versus teaching students how to read to comprehend.

That said – there is an essential question for each unit in the system and each week. That’s a good thing. For the lessons I taught, I focused on reading the text closely with students to answer the essential question. For an informational article entitled “A Look at Families,” I led a whole group lesson (20-25 minutes on the carpet – text projected by document camera, all students had a clipboard, pencil and copy of the text) and we worked on the first four paragraphs. That was it! AND that was enough! Ideally, you might do a second lesson gradually releasing responsibility further or, with students at a transitional reading level, take the text back to guided reading and complete in small groups. There were students reading below grade level – but with the type of scaffolding I offer, they were able to access this text; definitely using instructional level texts with these students during small group time. (Pre-A and emergent readers do not need to work on close reading!)  For more information on the logistics of a lesson like this, see a previous blog entry –  “I can’t live without doing” during close reading lessons.

To the text – the essential question was “How are families the same and different?” Now, really, this is two questions. For some of our students, this would be too much of a cognitive load and I might modify the question at first to “How are families the same?”

Sept 10 2nd grade essential question

The strength of many of the informational (non-narrative) texts in the Wonders system is that there are clear topic sentences. So in this text, the following four sentences stand out and lead into a description of a particular aspect of family life in different cultures –

  • All families need homes.
  • All families share food.
  • All families talk to each other.
  • All families celebrate together.

So if you’re working with students on identifying the main topic of a multi-paragraph text and the focus of specific paragraphs in the text (RI 2.2), this text lends itself to that.

The tricky part comes with the types of details that follow. Check out the following excerpt:

All families need homes. Some families live in large cities. They might live in tall apartment buildings. Many families live in the same building.

Some families live near water. Some families live in houses on stilts. Stilts are tall poles. They keep the homes safe from the water.

Okay. Seriously? A 2nd grader has to do A LOT of work here. How do these details support the topic sentence “All families need homes”? The details are actually more about “Families live in different types of homes.” That said, we can still glean some information about how families are the same and different.

If we think about the essential question, “How are families the same and different?” then we have to infer that if some families live in large cities and some families do not – or they live in small cities. So the child has to make some inferences when he or she thinks through how these details are answering the essential question – while also just making sense of what he or she is learning. (Stilts? Really?) We need to be aware of this kind of detail and coach for this kind of thinking.

I’m not saying cast this text aside. For many, these texts are the primary source of text in the classroom. I also think that students need to grapple with texts that are tricky.

One phrase I would definitely teach students while close reading a text like this is “the author is sharing examples.” After each of the next three topic sentences in the text, the author gives examples of the topic. (Better than after the first.) So after the topic sentence about all families celebrating together, the author gives the example of the Indian holiday Diwali and the U.S. holiday Independence Day. Second grade students can handle the concept of “examples.”

One of the benefits of a unit of study that has essential questions is that students do not have master the content in every article they read. I wouldn’t ask students to completely understand the concept of “stilts” or “Diwali.” Over the course of several lessons, their understanding of content will deepen and their ability to articulate how families are the same and different should increase.

My biggest caution then is to beware of the types of details authors use after the topic sentences. They may not even answer the question or they may require inferring or they may just be tricky to fathom. The solution is not to find another text – but to do your own close reading of that text and be aware of the hurdles students will have to jump to comprehend the text. You’ll notice in the image above – I studied and took notes before teaching. I can’t live without doing this. I’m a stronger reader for it – and after doing this many times, it’s become much easier to think about these texts for and with kids.

Hope this helps.



“Can’t live without doing” during my close reading lessons

Last week I had the honor of visiting multiple schools and giving demonstration lessons in 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms. For each lesson, there were 10-15 teachers observing. Afterwards we debriefed about methodology and evidence of student learning. Some amazing insight was gained – as well as a sense of affirmation for what they are attempting in the classroom already. Kudos to these teachers!!!!

The objective of all the lessons was close reading informational text with an essential question as our focus for determining what was important. Across the lessons, I found myself implementing the same tried and true approaches over and over again as far as instructional methodology. These were whole group lessons. I prefer to do this in small groups, but there is importance in doing this a few times a week with a whole group – developing a sense of community and giving striving readers access to grade level text. The lessons were 20-25 minutes.

1) The text was on the document camera or projected with a Smart board and all students, sitting on the carpet near me, had their own copy of the text on a clip board. They also had a pencil so they could do their own annotations.

Sept 10 2nd grade close reading

2) The essential question for close reading was posted and I referred to it over and over with prompts like, “In this sentence, did we read any details that help us answer this question?” This prompt does not always work like this for every text – sometimes you have to read a larger chunk of text to get at the essential question OR you may just be making sense of the text at the sentence level and later asking how what you learned helps you understand the essential question. I just find that a “driving question” helps the students stay focused and not overwhelmed by how much content there is in a text.

Sept 10 2nd grade essential question

close reading question Elijah

3)  I rarely call on individual students to share. Instead, I ask a question and when there are several hands up in the air, I ask students to turn and talk with a partner or in small groups or to read, annotate, or write independently. Then I am on my knees or sitting on the floor, listening in, assessing, conferring and coaching. I can’t not be with the students – near them, embracing their thinking and nudging them forward. When we regroup, I ask a student I worked with to underline and annotate on the projected text or I ask a group to share how they had a conversation. These are individuals or groups I coached – so I’ve set them up to share their success.

Sept 10 2nd grade conferring

4)  The students ALWAYS write at the end of the lesson – even if it’s just one or two sentences on a sticky note. I want to know what they are learning from close reading and how they would answer our focus question as a result. After I collect their annotated texts and sticky notes, I read them and look for trends in answers. Are they able to answer the question? Are they able to use key details from the text and paraphrase? Are they able to reveal how they extended their thinking through this experience? What the students write can be used to write longer responses later or it can just serve as a formative assessment for me – to help me determine where to go next and who to check in with during the following lesson.

teachers talk about student writing

Okay…so much more to say about last week. LOVED being with the kids and the teachers – in urban schools with day-to-day trials and tribulations. Have to laugh – one day we had a fire drill in the pouring rain!!!

Hope this helps.


Book Review and Excerpt for Close Reading, grades 4-8

at home in her tomb

Review of At Home in Her Tomb (Liu-Perkins, 2014) and excerpt for close reading.

This book joins a growing group of titles about how archaeology and forensics inform our historical knowledge. Great for STEM classrooms and also for teachers who are trying to expand students’ interest in reading informational texts. In the early 70’s a tomb from the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE) was discovered in Changsha, near the capital of Hunan Province in China. What’s fascinating here is the preservation was so well done that the cadaver inside still had flesh soft and moist to the touch. Scientists discovered 138 1/2 musk melon seeds in her digestive tract. The tomb – a time capsule of sorts – revealed objects, ideas, culture that we didn’t know were part of daily life in China that long ago – there were scrolls and books and miniature dolls of servants and musical instruments and food and more.

Liu-Perkins is aware of her audience. She begins each chapter with a fictitious scene – what might have been occurring in Lady Dia’s life at a particular point – based on artifacts found in the tomb. The body of each chapter then addresses a different aspect of her life, the excavation and so forth. Clearly organized. The writing is cohesive and the content is not too dense. There are illustrations that clearly support the complex content – for example, the description of the burial chamber is supported by an illustration of the different compartments as well as detailed illustrations of the coffins that were nested within each other. Liu-Perkins weaves in historical notes about the time period and what was happening in the area. There is also a thread regarding the science behind how Lady Dai was entombed and why the tombs adjacent to hers were not as well preserved. In addition, she addresses the scientific knowledge and engineering that were part of that time period so long ago – as revealed in what we learned from artifacts found in the tomb.

My suggestion would be to “book talk” this title – read aloud the introduction and the beginning of the first chapter, but also take time to project the photographs and illustrations from the beginning of the book and discuss what the students notice. The photograph of Lady Dai – on the front cover of the book and on page 24 would be worthy of looking at alone.

Since this book is written like many others students may be picking up for independent reading, I would do a close reading of an excerpt. My purpose here would be to bring an awareness to readers of “what authors do” in these books. Below are my “close reading” notes for an excerpt from pages 38-39. The prompt for close reading might be, “What types of details does the author use to teach us about a particular aspect of Lady Dai’s life?”  Answering this prompt can help students identify main ideas in a text and how they are supported (Common Core Reading Informational Standard 2) and help students think about the structure of this excerpt and how the author has developed a main idea (Standard 5).

Scan 117

Scan 118

In this excerpt the author does the following:

  • Introduces the topic for that section – “lacquerware”; the word “lavish” in the subtitle has implications – this is fancy, exquisite, wealthy, expensive. (“Lavish” is a main idea in the passage.)
  • In the first paragraph, the author contrasts dishes of the poor and the wealthy; gives a supporting detail for the idea that these dishes were “lavish” and for the “wealthy” – these dishes were found in abundance in Lady Dai’s tomb.
  • In the second paragraph, the author describes what lacquer is and how it is formed.
  • In the third paragraph, the author explains  the labor intensive process of making and decorating the lacquerware. (I think “great deal of labor” contributes to what makes this dishware “lavish” – a main idea.)
  • In the fourth paragraph, the author describes the lacquerware as “practical” because it “resists damage” and then she gives an example of this – it lasted for over 2,000 years in Lady Dai’s tomb.

Notice the language I used in my annotations like contrasts, describes, explains. These are words students need to understand and use – to be able to articulate what they are reading and how an author structures/develops an idea. By looking across our annotations, we can see how the author introduces the importance of this dishware, describes what it is made of, explains how it is made and decorated and why it was practical in those times. We have a deeper sense of what made this dishware “lavish” and its importance in the life of the wealthy in that period. The generative value of close reading this excerpt may be a better understanding of the author’s central ideas when the student reads sections like “A Game for Fun and Fortune” and “Music for the Soul.”

If you don’t have access to this text, it is set up like many others – in an enumerative structure with an overarching topic and then sub-topics that build knowledge about the larger topic. My recommendation would be to book talk the text and then choose a section from the text to close read – the purpose for close reading would be to heighten students’ awareness of what the author is doing to convey meaning.

FYI – My understanding of copyright is I can make a copy of an excerpt from a book (less than 10% of the total text) and use it in class once. If it becomes a regular part of my teaching (every year or every semester) or part of a curriculum my school district uses, I need to get permission.

Okay…hope this helps.


Bootleg by Blumenthal – Recommended read for 7th-8th grade

Bootleg by blumenthal

Blumenthal’s writing is always solid and her research is exquisite. Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition (2011) is no exception. This would be a great read for students who are researching prohibition or this time period and wanting lots of juicy-interesting details. Blumenthal’s purpose is to explain the many, many factors involved in the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment and then in the repeal of this amendment as well. She employs an enumerative/chronological text structure. Some chapters include many anecdotes and others focus on groups or individuals like Carrie Nation who fought for Prohibition (including throwing rocks in saloons and breaking mirrors and windows and all) and Al Capone, who became wealthy selling alcohol to those he ignored Prohibition. So the book is in time order (chronological text structure), but she picks specific aspects, groups, people to highlight in particular chapters (enumerative text structure).

Blumenthal cues the reader to significant shifts in the movements or in this time period. For example, on page 46, she writes, “Though the law passed, it was never officially enforced, and some saw that as a failure. but the Anti-Saloon League saw something much more significant: It had votes.” Students might do a close read of this page and other excerpts as they think through how Blumenthal engages in thematic progression – how she moves the “story of…” forward.


  • People’s beliefs drive their actions (whether for or against some issue);
  • Tenacity and perseverance are required to change policy/legislation;
  • Some solutions can actually cause unexpected problems.


  • Prohibition could be considered a “social experiment” (maybe a “failed” one);
  • During this period, groups who were heavily engaged in social movements became aware of the power of the “vote”;
  • Prohibition was a complex issue – not as easy as “for or against.”

At the end of the book, Blumenthal shares a bit about her research and then lists tons of resources (categorized by sub-topic) that students can consult for more information on a particular aspect. It’s clear that she had to synthesize a massive amount of material to write this book.

Blumenthal’s book is the kind of book students need to read to reach any depth in understanding of historical and other content area topics. My worry – students will not pick this book up for independent reading. I’ve been grappling with how much I love books like this one, but how little interest students have. For this book, I think there would have to be engagement in a intellectually stimulating unit of study for students to pick this up. A nonfiction literature circle might find a lot to talk about with this book as well. I think if they got started reading this book, they wouldn’t want to put it down. 

Choosing info text excerpts for close reading

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.

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 6.20.23 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 6.27.52 AM

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.”

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 6.41.27 AM

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!

Close Reading Instruction Essential #1

When you engage students in close reading of an informational text excerpt, you must study that excerpt thoroughly. I find that I have to read and reread carefully, keeping the purpose for close reading in mind, doing my own close reading (line by line) and taking notes. I can use these notes later as I teach, but just taking the notes helps me understand the excerpt better.

Below are two images of my notes, taken as I studied to lead a close reading lesson with 4-6th grade students. FYI – I chose the excerpts based on the teachers’ (whose classrooms I was visiting) guiding questions for their current unit of study.



Please don’t overdose on “close reading”

I have been asked several times recently, “How often should teachers engage students in close reading?” I don’t have an easy answer on this. I’d like to start by saying that close reading of an excerpt of informational text should be part of a larger integrated unit of study. These units need to be filled with rich, purposeful, intentionally chosen learning experiences for students to pursue enduring understandings. (THIS IS A KEY POINT IN MY BOOK on close reading!!!!) I see “close reading” as an opportunity to reveal an author’s central idea by examining closely how the author develops that idea in a small chunk of text. This can have ripple effects for learning at other points. With these points in mind, how often does close reading happen? At key points during the unit.

Now – I know how we are as educators – we want a specific number of times! If you really need this, I’d say – if you are engaging students in a unit of study- close reading might happen once or twice a week. Or it may happen every day for a few minutes with a primary source photo or a quote or poem – through discussion. My biggest caution here is that it’s an approach to reading and thinking that needs to be used very purposefully – not just all of the time. Otherwise, your students will start to dread reading lessons and may even mutiny! In addition, that’s not close reading’s purpose – to be the sole approach to comprehending texts and getting at the bigger ideas in a unit.

If you need support to back this up in conversations with other teachers and administrators, the International Reading Association has released a paper entitled “Close Reading and Far-Reaching Classroom Discussion: Fostering a Vital Connection.” LOVED THIS!!!!! As I read, I kept writing “YES!” in the margins. The authors, Catherine Snow and Catherine O’Connor, dispel myths like “close reading levels the playing field” and “close reading should not include using any background knowledge” and “close reading should only be done with text dependent questions.” THANK YOU! The authors agree that close reading is “one of many practices that are useful in teaching comprehension and text interpretation.” They close with the following:

We celebrate the move to put text at the center of instruction across the curriculum, to delete talk about the topic that substitutes for reading, and to let students struggle productively with text. But we fear that too much emphasis on close reading will lead to unproductive struggles, will be taken as a prohibition on discussing and questioning texts, and will create an illusion of a level playing field even as the field is being excavated further from under the feet of struggling readers. (Snow & O’Connor, 2013, p. 8)

I highly recommend this paper as a text for educator discussion in Professional Learning Communities, as part of professional development experiences, during department and team meetings!