Monday, June 11, 2012

Five close reading strategies to support the Common Core


I walked in to my first college class, Political Science 101, eager to learn. For my inaugural college assignment, my professor asked the class to read the first three chapters of the textbook for the next class period. 
That night, I returned to my dorm room, determined to learn everything I could in those three chapters. I pulled out my textbook and highlighter. Growing up, that is what I always saw the “older kids” using when they read a textbook. In my na├»ve 18-year-old mind, I believed that highlighters must have some magical power that transports the words on the page directly to your brain. I assumed that if I just figured out the right words to highlight, then it would be easy for me to remember what I read.
However, when I opened my textbook it was unlike anything I had read in high school.  Where were the pictures? Where were the definitions for words in the margins? Where was the chapter summary at the end of each chapter? All of the things I relied on in high school to get me through a text were missing.
I shrugged, pulled out my highlighter and started highlighting. That is what college kids did to study… right? But, what was I supposed to highlight? The bold words? The headings? “Important” information? I wasn’t sure. I started highlighting everything that looked important on the page. Before long, the page looked something like this:

I quickly realized that I had no real game plan for reading this complicated textbook. I didn’t know what to highlight or how to find the important information to study. The text simply overwhelmed me.
Flash forward to my first few years of teaching. I taught senior English, and I was determined to provide my students help when it came to annotating texts. We practiced annotations throughout the year, and my instructions went something like: “Mark it up! Underline important information! Write in the margins!”
While this method may have been slightly more effective than what I used that first day of college, it was still too vague and ambiguous for my students. They had no direction for reading, especially when it was a complicated text they did not understand.
Last fall, I attended an AVID workshop about critical reading strategies. To be honest, it completely changed the way I teach reading. I learned many simple strategies to help my students attack a text. After the conference, our department began adapting the strategies to all of the types of texts that we teach. Here are five simple strategies to help teach students how to critically read complex texts. The best part? Highlighters are not required.

1. Number the paragraphs
The Common Core asks students to be able to cite and refer to the text. One simple way to do this is by numbering each paragraph, section or stanza in the left hand margin. When students refer to the text, I require them to state which paragraph they are referring to. The rest of the class will be able to quickly find the line being referred to. 

2. Chunk the text.
When faced with a full page of text, reading it can quickly become overwhelming for students. Breaking up the text into smaller sections (or chunks) makes the page much more manageable for students. Students do this by drawing a horizontal line between paragraphs to divide the page into smaller sections.
At the beginning of the year, I group the paragraphs into chunks before I hand out the assignment. In the directions I will say, “Chunk paragraphs 1-3, 4-5, 6-8, 9-12.” I look at the paragraphs to see where natural chunks occur. Paragraphs 1-3 may be the hook and thesis statement, while 6-8 may be the paragraphs where the author addresses the opposition. It is important to understand that there is no right or wrong way to chunk the text, as long as you can justify why you grouped certain paragraphs together.
By the end of the year, I begin to let go of that responsibility and ask my students to chunk the text on their own. They number the paragraphs then must make decisions about what paragraphs will be grouped together. Usually, most of the class is very similar in the way they chunked the text.

3. Underline and circle… with a purpose.
Telling students to simply underline “the important stuff” is too vague. “Stuff” is not a concrete thing that students can identify. Instead, direct students to underline and circle very specific things. Think about what information you want students to take from the text, and ask them to look for those elements. What you have students circle and underline may change depending on the text type.
For example, when studying an argument, ask students to underline “claims”. We identify claims as belief statements that the author is making. Students will quickly discover that the author makes multiple claims throughout the argument.
When studying poetry, students could underline the imagery they find throughout the poem.
Circling specific items is also an effective close reading strategy. I often have my students circle “Key terms” in the text. I define key terms as words that: 1. Are defined. 2. Are repeated throughout the text. 3. If you only circled five key terms in the entire text, you would have a pretty good idea about what the entire text is about.
I have also asked students to circle the names of sources, power verbs, or figurative language.
Providing students with a specific thing you want them to underline or circle will focus their attention on that area much better than “underlining important information”.

4. Left margin: What is the author SAYING?
It isn’t enough to ask students to “write in the margins”. We must be very specific and give students a game plan for what they will write. This is where the chunking comes into play.
In the left margin, I ask my students to summarize each chunk. I demonstrate how to write summaries in 10-words or less. The chunking allows the students to look at the text in smaller segments, and summarize what the author is saying in just that small, specific chunk.

5. Right margin: Dig deeper into the text  
In the right-hand margin, I again direct my students to complete a specific task for each chunk. This may include:
·     Use a power verb to describe what the author is DOING. (For example: Describing, illustrating, arguing, etc..) Note: It isn’t enough for students to write “Comparing” and be done. What is the author comparing? A better answer might be: “Comparing the character of Montag to Captain Beatty”.
·     Represent the information with a picture. This is a good way for students to be creative to visually represent the chunk with a drawing.
·     Ask questions. I have found this to be a struggle for many students, as they often say they don’t have any questions to ask. When modeled, students can begin to learn how to ask questions that dig deeper into the text. I often use these questions as the conversation driver in Socratic Seminar.
There are many other things students can write in the margins. However, we must model and teach these strategies so that students will have an idea of what to write when they are on their own.
Here is what a completed Article of the Week might look like after a student has performed a close read of it:
To ensure our students are college and career ready, we must teach them critical reading strategies in order for them to independently attack a text. They must learn how to own a text, rather than letting the text own them. After following these steps, students have read the text at least five times and they are actively interacting with the text. This is a much different experience than skimming through a text one time with a highlighter in hand.
What strategies do you teach students in order for them to critically read complex texts? Please leave your ideas in the comments below!

58 comments:

  1. Thanks for reminding us about these simple to use strategies. I've added this to a Pinterest board to share with others [http://pinterest.com/pin/108508672242460167/]. Have you seen http://bounceapp.com ? I think it's a great tool for applying some of these strategies.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is fantastic! I am definitely going to use these techniques with my APUSH and AP Psych classes!

    ReplyDelete
  3. This. Is. Fabulous. I think I will try to incorporate this in my classroom as well. The biggest problem that I see is the students approaching it as a big, scary, whole paper and not sections they can break down and understand.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This is fantastic information. I used these strategies today in my senior English class, and it rocked the house. The kids were focused on the poetry In ways I've never been able to get them to. Thanks for the ideas!

    ReplyDelete
  5. This is amazing! I'm going to start these strategies with my 8th graders!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Better get parental permission before using this common core propaganda on my kids!

      Delete
    2. I couldn't get it to load. The page showed up blank.

      Delete
    3. This is so very helpful. Gives some very concrete methods to help students learn the fine art of annotating for a purpose.

      Delete
    4. critical thinking is not propaganda, it is a concrete way to pull meaning from text and make your own conclusions about what you have read.

      Delete
  6. Such a helpful article. I just pinned this to pinterest...hope that's okay!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks for this! I teach 5th grade, and want to give my students practical strategies to navigate large amounts of text. This is very helpful!

    ReplyDelete
  8. We use AVID techniques in our middle school, but I feel to start incorporating it in upper elementary would be amazing!

    ReplyDelete
  9. THANK YOU! These strategies are SO helpful. I have shared them with my grade-level colleagues across the district. I've been implementing them in my 3rd grade class and the children love them. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I train close reading in classroom sessions with study guides designed for the purpose. The study guides parse the material and control pacing. It takes kids a while to get used to it, but they do remarkably well after practicing the routine over a period of several weeks. Without directly "pushing" the metacognitive awareness too hard, I encourage the growth of the metacognitive skills. Then I periodically refer to what we are doing from that perspective. I sell the study guides on teacherspayteachers.com. It's complicated. You can download my Julius Caesar assassination scene to get an idea. I also have a free product, "Reading Fearfully Close," if you're interested.

    ReplyDelete
  11. As a librarian, I would love to know how you handle the wonderful process with students that use District books that cannot be written in. If they are photocopying their pages that would cost a fortune. I love the idea and can see it being used in in the undergraduate situation but I would want my students to be well versed in the technique before they go off to college. A suggestion would be appreciated.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    2. If you are fortunate enough to have iPads, this comment will be useful: What we do in my 5th grade class is take a photo of a page we are study with our iPads, then we upload the photo to an app called Notability. In that app, we highlight/circle/underline words and passages. When they are finished, students upload the annotated photo to their Google Drive account so that they can have a copy of their own to refer to.

      Delete
    3. I use sticky notes or arrows. Put symbols on some to reuse over and over.

      Delete
  12. Pat: Great question! We normally do this strategy with shorter passages: articles or short passages from books, usually no more than four pages.

    For example, we had them analyze the first four pages of Fahrenheit 451 for imagery. I made copies of that - it was two pages front and back.

    I know one teacher that uses the old overhead clear sheets - the students put the sheet on the book and can write on the transparent sheet.

    You could also use post-it notes for the margin writing, but you would have to be creative for how to underline.

    In some of our AP classes, we ask students to buy selected books to annotate in so they aren't district purchased.

    I hope that helps. Please let me know if you have other questions!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Court Allam from Hutchinson, Ks?
    I was googling close reading strategies to use in my classroom and this is the first post on Google. I was friends with Lindsay from preschool all the way through high school!
    Great post, I am looking to be more explicit in my teaching if 4th graders to use many of these strategies.
    -Katie (McDonald) Perez

    ReplyDelete
  14. Thank you for this post. I especially like the chunking and the left-side / right-side. Too often, teachers tell students to highlight or annotate or "talk to the text" without enough specifics. Keeping summaries on the left and deeper stuff on the right is a great idea.

    ReplyDelete
  15. We do a similar post it technique when reading ... especially in our 20 minute a day lit circles.
    Small groups of 4th graders read either together or in partnerships, and they record on their post it a symbol & their reason/explanation.
    Lightbulb = "I get it!" Then write keywords that clued them in.
    Question mark = I'm having this question ... Record their question.
    # = problem/solution identified, cite clues in text
    P = prediction, they write what's coming up
    If they come across an unfamiliar word they record it with intentions to look it up.
    Students keep their post its on the pages they have noted. Then when they've finished the book they have a sequential "log" of their work. It really helps them to review before they summarize or share with others.

    ReplyDelete
  16. In longer texts, such as novels, I have the students choose a passage. I always begin by choosing a passage myself and modeling the discussion practices, and I encourage them to choose something that is rich and of some interest to them. They then complete a series of activities.

    First, they ask two questions about the passage. Second, they explain how the passage fits into the historical context of the novel (if that is relevant). Finally, they explain how the passage connects to life today. In my classroom, we all come together and discuss each person's separately. It's amazing what the kids came up with. I have very small class sizes, though, so in a larger classroom, rather than having each student complete the activities individually, it could be made into a group discussion situation. I think the most effective part of this discussion activity is forcing the students to ask questions which are answered by their classmates (with help from me when needed).

    ReplyDelete
  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Thank you for these very practical and useful tips!
    Could you possibly send me a printable copy of this? I would like to share it with my middle school staff, but I can't print it without using lots of black ink since the background is black. My school email address is
    turnbull_ml@elps.k12.mi.us

    ReplyDelete
  19. Very impressive reading strategies that you have posted here. All of these techniques are so necessary for us to used, specially if we were doing our study on a different difficult course. Thank you for the good idea that you share.

    resume writing service reviews best service.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I teach 2nd grade and work with teachers on implementing close reading even in k-2 classrooms. It's amazing what 2nd graders can do, my students love working with complex text and purposeful annotating! After reading this, I feel very much right on target with what I'm doing. Could you email a copy of this? Thanks

      Delete
  20. I have been trying to months to teach my students to mark the text. I just used this to create a step by step annotating sheet for my students next semester! Thanks for the help!

    ReplyDelete
  21. These are excellent ideas! Many thanks for taking the time to organize, write and publish such a helpful article. You and your readers might also be interested in another resource---the Reading Focus Cards. These tools isolate 1 or 2 lines of of text and block out more surrounding text than other devices and methods. The Reading Focus Cards also allow an individual to read through a selected colored filter, adding more reading comfort and focus, as well. www.FocusandRead.com/products

    ReplyDelete
  22. Would you please email this to me as well? I am a first year teacher. Thanks!! szemrose@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  23. Looks like UNRAAVEL on a deeper level! Excited to incorporate!
    As always, modeling is key:)

    ReplyDelete
  24. This article is more depressing than people seem to realize.

    The world described in this paragraph is that of marginal literacy even in late high school: "However, when I opened my textbook it was unlike anything I had read in high school. Where were the pictures? Where were the definitions for words in the margins? Where was the chapter summary at the end of each chapter? Etc....'

    This is so pathetic. Clearly these students had never learned to read fluently when they were in elementary school. And now experts are coming up with remedies for an illness that should not be there and should not be catered to. The solution is to go back to elementary school and teach reading correctly.

    With phonics, nearly every kid will be reading by the end of first grade. That is the minimal acceptable standard. Parents must insist on it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The author didn't say he couldn't read the material, but that he didn't know how to find the best way to effectively interact with text that not in the format he was used to in high school. Reading and close reading for deep meaning are not the same thing. Strategies for reading for deep meaning have to be taught in a deliberate and systematic manner if we expect kids to be successful.

      Delete
    2. Mr Bruce Price,

      I'm very confident that teaching strategies have evolved dramatically in the last 10 years. However, some teachers do not get any Professional Development courses, & consequently they adhere to obsolete methods that worked with us & with our parents in a time when technology wasn't accessible to the public.

      Furthermore, the world we live in today isn't Utopia, to my & respectfully your disappointment :((.

      Delete
  25. Thank you for providing such simple yet effective techniques to break down what can be an arduous task. May I link to this article within my own blog about close reading? Julie

    ReplyDelete
  26. If you have the opportunity, I HIGHLY encourage you to do the Critical Reading 2 training that AVID provides. I took a ton away from the first training, but CR2 really made me dig even deeper into it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love this...have been doing this along with other reading strategies called Ink Thinking- Attacking the Text! Teach middle school Language Arts and I am trying to implement it with my 6th grade team. Thanks for letting me know I am not crazy and this really works. Love the margin concepts I will add to my reading practices in class.

      Delete
  27. Thanks for sharing this. I'm a new teacher looking for strategies to teach next week. This is very helpful.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Awesome. I have shared you blog on my facebook page-- Starring fourth grade. And I love the statement you made about letting the students at the END of the year do it on their own. They had SOOOO much guided practice that they knew exactly what to do when the time came. Kudos to you.

    ReplyDelete
  29. This is great! My PLC has been looking for ways to teach close reading, struggling with trying to find a "system" that works for us. We've made an anchor chart for our classrooms with your strategies as a basis. School begins this week, and we're anxious to incorporate this. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  30. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this! Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  31. This is amazing, though I may still be a Freshman in High School this will definitely get me past my English teacher this year, I will use this and maybe it will help my confience in the class.

    ReplyDelete
  32. This is such an awesome technique. I teach 7th grade and non-fiction is highly emphasized on our beloved state test now and getting students to be able to explain the text and what they read is nearly impossible with middle school. I'll definitely be able to adapt this to the article we read and then build them up for more advanced articles towards the end of the year. Teaching non-fiction has become such a thorn in my side because of the "boring" and tedious steps we have to take, we well as taking the fun out of fiction in school. This is great! Thank you so much.

    ReplyDelete
  33. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  34. I found this article back in June and just came back to it after an amazing Close Reading PD yesterday at work. Our whole school sets aside 30 minutes in the morning where K-5 engages in Close Reading. I teach 1st grade and completely frowned upon hearing that I had to do this in my classroom last year, but after decomposing complex texts with my students I noticed that it's a skill we have to teach at a young age. The ELA CCLS are 80% of what we do in Close Reading. I plan to do a blog entry on it this weekend. Thanks for this article. It's so helpful!

    http://fantasticalfuninfirstgrade.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
  35. I implemented an article of the week last year, but I like this one better.
    Do you give this out on Monday and students do it alone for homework each night?
    I was just curious as to how you presented it....during class, at the beginning of class....etc.

    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  36. Love this! This is so helpful. I am sharing this with my teachers. I do want to ask how you teach the kids to summarize in 10 words or less. Do you have a formula? What's the secret? Please share your technique. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  37. Love this! This is so helpful. I am sharing this with my teachers. I do want to ask how you teach the kids to summarize in 10 words or less. Do you have a formula? What's the secret? Please share your technique. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  38. Love this! This is so helpful. I am sharing this with my teachers. I do want to ask how you teach the kids to summarize in 10 words or less. Do you have a formula? What's the secret? Please share your technique. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  39. Great tips! I have taken lots of notes and will be modifying for my third graders! Thanks for the inspiration!
    Core Inspiration by Laura Santos

    ReplyDelete
  40. Found this via Pinterest and it is one of the best close reading strategies I have ever seen--and so glad to see it for high schoolers!

    ReplyDelete
  41. Thank you for sharing your simple and effective idea. I'll let me son do this thanks for sharing.


    Checked out for more educational resources that can make our child become the best http://kidslearninghub.com

    ReplyDelete
  42. This is a great method for attacking a complex text. Or any text for that matter. It's very explicit in what the students are being asked to do. I know that I've been guilty for being vague when we "close read" a text. Thanks for these helpful steps!

    Shannon
    http://www.irunreadteach.wordpress.com

    ReplyDelete
  43. When this is a new activity, I find that I give them a number of words that they are allowed to highlight. First, I warn them about the tendency to color the page instead of searching for important words. Then, I tell them that they can only highlight ten words. It forces them to select the most important. Then we discuss which words were circled and why

    ReplyDelete
  44. Is strategic training for businesses mostly? I think it might be something that I need to do. I am thinking about doing it for my business management class. http://www.strategictraining.com.au/

    ReplyDelete
  45. This was exactly what I was looking for...thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  46. I teach text mapping strategies to middle school students, and I like your left and right margin concepts.

    ReplyDelete