Close Reading Explained for Teachers and Students

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Close reading is an essential survival skill specially now that we live in a data-saturated world where we are constantly bombarded by all forms of textual and non-textual stimuli. At its core, close reading is a metacognitive practice that allows you  to achieve a deeper understanding of complex texts. It is a methodically analytical process that aims at deconstructing both the surface and deeper meanings of a text through a close analysis of its language. Close readers pay attention to syntax, lexicon and linguistic cues that can help uncover the implicit import of a textual output.


According to PARCC (2011 cited in Hinchman and Moore, 2013),
Close, analytic reading stresses engaging with a text of sufficient complexity directly and examining its meaning thoroughly and methodically, encouraging students to read and reread deliberately....[It] entails the careful gathering of observations about a text and careful consideration about what those observations taken together add up to. (p. 6)
As an analytical skill, close reading, once developed, enables students to thoroughly engage with complex texts across different content areas. It’s a Swiss knife with multifunctions. Students can use it to read science texts, analyze canonical literary texts, or uncover the hidden assumptions embedded in an online textual advertisement. As Johnson et al (2013) argued, reading a text closely “involves analyzing the unfolding of all text dimensions, including language, form, argument, and ideologies within texts, emphasizing the particular over the general (Fisher & Frey, 2012; Richards, 1929)” (p. 111). The purpose of close reading is to strip the text of all of its meanings and identify its ‘bones’. In doing so, students draw on  both textual and contextual cues to formulate a grounded understanding of the deeper meanings of the text.

This visual is available for free download in PDF format.
Close Reading Checklist

Some important tips on how to help students read closely as conceptualized by Hinchman and Moore (2013, p. 444) include:
  1- Read and re-read
Close reading involves reading the text multiple times (usually 3 times or more). Each reading uncovers a layer of meaning and incrementally works towards building the general comprehension of the text.
 2- Annotate
Annotating is an instrumental practice in purposeful close reading. It involves jotting down notes, highlighting key lexical terms and grammatical structures, and identifying topical ideas and factual information.
 3- Summarize
Through summarizing and synthesizing, close readers get to consolidate their overall understanding of the text making sure every nuance of meaning is captured.
 4- Self-explain
Self-explaining involves figuring out “how ideas and information relate to one another. Ask and answer questions about the text.”
 5- Determine the significance of what you notice
Identify the rational why you think certain ideas in the text are more significant than others.

As we did with the critical reading list we published a few days ago, here is a collection of    questions we built based on insights from different sources (see sources at the bottom of this text). You can use these  questions with students to help them become better close readers. We divided these questions into two main categories. Questions that focus on the text and its content we labelled  text-based questions (also called text-dependent questions) and those centred on the reader, reader-based questions.

Text-based questions:
What is the text about?
How does the text establish the setting?
What keywords and phrases the author use to signal the general topic/theme of the text?
What inferences can you make about the topic of the text from your first reading?
What words or phrases you did not understand in the text?
Who is speaking in the text?
Why did the author write the text?
Who is addressed in the text?
Which language cues did you find helpful in understanding the text?
Does the text embed visual images? If so, how do they align with the content of the text?
Is the text cohesive? What textual features used to connect paragraphs together?
Is the text coherent? Explain how?

Reader-based questions
Did you draw on your prior knowledge to understand the text?
Did you find any parts of the text confusing and why?
How did you overcome a particular difficulty you had with the text?
What do you think about the topic of the text?
Do you agree/disagree with the author’s stance regarding…?
If you were the author of this text, what would you have changed in its content and why?
What do you think about the language of the text?

Sources:
1-Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. (2011). Model content frameworks: English language arts/literacy, grades 3–11. Retrieved November 16, 2012, from www.parcconline.org/parcc-content-framework
2- Hinchman, K. & Moore, D. (2013). Close readingA: A cautionary interpretation. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 56(6), pp.441-450
3- Lapp, D., Grant, M., Moss, B., & Johnson, K. Students’ close reading of science texts: What’s now? What’s next? The Reading Teacher, 67(2), pp. 109–119
4- Understanding Close Reading. Weareteachers : https://www.weareteachers.com/understanding-close-reading-download-our-infographic-now/

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