Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Close reading resources to support the Common Core

"Close reading" is the new buzzword in education, especially in Language Arts and Social Studies classes. Last summer I wrote a post called "Five close reading strategies to support the Common Core." After publishing that article, I received several requests for ideas on WHERE to find passages for students to close read.

Here are four ideas to get you started, with instructional ideas for implementation in your classroom:

1. Room for Debate - New York Times

If you are looking for multiple perspectives on current issues in the news, this is your one-stop shop. Room for Debate takes an issue and asks multiple experts to write a short editorial on the issue. I haven't counted, but I would estimate there are over 700 "issues" that are covered, and the site is updated with a new topic every couple of days.

I love the fact that most of the topics start with an essential question, such as: "Should Tweets Cost You Your Job?" and "Should Kids Pick Their Own Punishments?" Within those topics, there are usually 4-8 different opinions about the issue from professional writers. As you can see, they are high-interest topics for high school students.

Instructional idea: This site is great for pulling ideas for synthesis essays, where students must pull from different sources and address the opposition. Students can close read the articles and then develop an answer to the question in the form of an argument.

Mentor Writer: Leonard Pitts, Jr.
2. Mentor authors

In another post, I wrote about "Three ways to engage your students in writing." One of those strategies is to use "mentor texts" where students closely examine the "moves" that professional writers make, much like how I analyze the swing of professional golfers to help improve my struggling golf game.

There are many great mentor writers out there. Some of my favorites include:

Instructional idea: I ask students to first close read articles from these mentor authors and then emulate them for their own papers. Check out Kelly Gallagher's book Write Like This for more information on mentor texts.

In his book Readicide, Gallagher discusses how he noticed his students were not aware of current events happening in the news. His school implemented "Articles of the Week" where students read about a current event, while practicing close reading.

The last two years, I have had great intentions of doing an article each week for my students to stay current on what is happening in the news, but I keep moving away from it because I run out of time. This is something I need to commit to and stay consistent with in the future.

Instructional idea: Gallagher's site really kills two birds with one stone: practicing close reading strategies, while learning about what is happening in the world. 

Don't teach like this...
4. Short Passage from Novels

For years, I spent my time "teaching" as nothing more than a human Cliff's Notes, laboring through the plot and characters of novels. My quizzes and tests were filled with questions about which character said a particular quotation or what color of hat Holdyn wears in The Catcher in the Rye. It was boring for me, and I felt like I was working harder than my students.

I began to ask myself, "In 10 years, does it really matter that a student remembers the color of Holdyn's hat?" 

Honestly, I would argue that it is irrelevant and a waste of time.

Let me be clear: I believe it is important for students to be exposed to a variety of texts, including the "classics." However, I also believe that my job is to teach students how to dissect those works so they can extract meaning from them and then be able to apply those skills to other complex texts for the rest of their lives.

Instructional idea: I made the switch to teaching "excerpts" from the typical class novels, rather than the entire plot of a novel. 

For Fahrenheit 451, students read the entire book on their own, but did close readings of specific passages. For example, we closely examined the first four pages for the imagery and figurative language that Bradbury used. We also looked at the argument between Captain Beatty and Montag, and analyzed the rhetorical strategies that Beatty employed. 

I know... it is a radical way of thinking about teaching novels. Trust me. Students will dig far deeper into the novel and have a better understanding of the book than if you just plow through and answer questions about plot.

Final thoughts

My teaching style has been revolutionized by the Common Core. In my previous teaching life, students were only swimming at the surface level of a book. Now, we are diving in to the deep end of the reading pool. These are great places to go in order to get started with close reading.

What are other resources you go to in order to find close reading passages? Please post in the comments below.


  1. So many English teachers' tests ask a lot of "Holden's hat color" questions. Not only are you boring them w/ minute details, students can pick up a lot of that info on SparkNotes, and you're keeping them at a very low learning level: remembering/understanding.

    What I like to do to get students up to the applying/analyzing/evaluating levels is to bring in reviews of the novel (from a newspaper/academic journal). Close read those pieces for the authors' claims, then have students respond to those claims, just like the synthesis method you mentioned above.

    You can also do the same thing with academic/theoretical articles on the novels for AP classes. For instance, I like to use the chapter on Focalization from Peter Messent's book "New Readings of the American Novel" while reading The Great Gatsby.

    Then I quiz my students on their ability to apply the theory to novel. I'll throw in a couple plot questions to mix it up.

    And yes, LOVE your approach to F451!

    Great post.

  2. I'm interested in Gallagher's Readicide. My PLC has discussed a book study using this text as it's basis, and after reading your blog post, I feel that we've made a good choice.

    I'd very much like to see if the text addresses if and how the school implementation of "Articles of the Week" impacted the school's overall environment and culture. I'd also like to know if teachers worked together so that articles among teachers didn't overlap, and if so, what the process was for choosing the articles.

    My school is in need of an academic tie that binds us together with a common purpose yet allows us to retain autonomy and relevancy to individual instruction. "Articles of the Week" would allow for strategic reading and writing practice to bolster our students' success while allowing the buy-in necessary to bring less-than-enthusiastic colleagues into the program.

    "Articles of the Week" won't be the only thing I take away from this post. Thanks so much for sharing!

  3. Thank you for posting so much of what you do. You have some excellent resources and creative ideas. My class is reading Fahrenheit 451 and I will make sure we look at the Beatty/Montag debate much more closely than ever before (thanks to your close reading exercise).

    Here are some resources I like to use:

    Touchscreen Slam Poem (compare the F 451 society with today)

    Well, Thank You Poem (compare with Clarisse)

    The Marshmallow Experiment (The society in F 451 wants instant gratification. They would eat the marshmallow in about 1 second)

  4. I am new teacher and am devouring your blog. I would love to know how you choose which excerpts to use with the students. I just finished Huck Finn with them them and had a terrible time even being able to assess if they had been reading or just using SparkNotes. I also had a hard time getting them to go deeper with the richness of the satire and how it could be relevant to them today. We discussed racism, etc - however, my assessments had to do with the color of Jim's pants rather than having students wrestle with the color of his skin. I would love any other resources you could give me to help me put these ideas into practice before I get too set in my ways!