Moving Beyond Close Reading

At a staff meeting two weeks ago your district’s literacy specialist provided staff development on close reading strategies. You were told these strategies were going to engage students and lead them to a better understanding of the text and the language of your content.


annotatingYou encourage students to mark up the text, annotating as they read. You have learned there are a variety of ways this could look: using post-it notes, writing notes on a t-chart in their notebook, etc. Maybe you were told to hold them accountable for close reading, so you collect their annotations and give them points for underlining, circling, using smiley faces, arrows, and question marks.

You have been consistently gathering their annotations so you know they have been close reading.


But, the engagement hasn’t changed and the learning has remained stagnant. You realize students are marking up the text, but not reading.


The enthusiasm and energy you held after the staff development has now transformed to disappointment and discouragement.

Bell rings, halls flood with students hurried to catch the bus, hustle to practice, or steal a romeo-and-juliet-kissgoodnight kiss, as Romeo dashes to pick up his younger sibling and Juliet races off to work.

It’s been a long day. You’re tired, defeated, and you cannot even tolerate the thought of coming back to school in the morning.

You check twitter for a momentary escape. The title of an article shows up on your feed. It connects to the topic you have been preparing to introduce to students in the coming days.

Click. Link opens, you read the article, and your creativity begins oozing, then flowing, then spilling out all over your notebook.

You have landed upon the perfect article you’re sure will lead students to building deeper background knowledge; this article is better and more relevant than any other one you’ve used. Article printed. Copies are made.

Before you leave school for the evening, you write your learning targets on the whiteboard for tomorrow’s lesson. You’re stress free as you scoot home.

Your students enter the classroom the next morning, you greet them, just inside the door, with a welcoming smile and proudly provide a personal copy of the article they will be using during the next 48 minutes. The bell rings,confidently, you walk to the front of the room.

“Good morning guys,” your smile brightens your eyes. Your students are engaged.


You’re engaged. You’re excited. Your students sense you’re about to have a drop-the-mic moment.

Under your doc cam, you begin close reading the article, modeling your expectations. You circle a word you are unfamiliar with. You draw a line from that word to the margin where you write, “hmm…I wonder what this word means?”

You continue reading aloud, thinking aloud, modeling how you interact with this text. You underline a phrase and add this comment in the margin, “This is interesting and I really want to know more about how foods affect moods.”

You read one more paragraph, circle the entire paragraph and you make a connection in the margin, “I like eating chocolate like this person does. I enjoy it so much I might be able to eat it all day. I’m sorry this person gets so ill from eating chocolate. That makes me sad.”

“By close reading”, the twinkle in your voice would make stars dance, “I have made observations.”stars

Students are hanging on each word with their eyes still on the screen, “I have made notes, ANN….OH….TATED, to recall my thinking at the time of my observation.”

The students independently read the rest of the article, making and noting OBSERVATIONS. After reading, students share their observations with each other while identifying PATTERNS.

Gliding about the room as you help students determine patterns, you challenge them,  “What do your observations have in common? What can be inferred about the content of the article through your observations? What is a concept or idea that repeats in the observations?”

The engagement, the discussion, the learning. This is what you always new teaching could be. You pause, look slightly off to the left, toward the ceiling tiles. The vision is you in one of those sentimental movies where the low camera angle captures the satisfaction and relief in the face and shoulders of the protagonist. In the backdrop, the fluffy, marshmallow clouds drift through the ocean blue sky, and angelic voices in the key of G melodically fill the air.  


The boy with the runny nose and kleenex on his desk suddenly sneezes, snapping you away from your triumph. Back to reality.

Students are now asked to go deeper.

“Based on the pattern you noticed, what CONCLUSION can you make about the content of the article?”

Rapid discussion ensues.

“What word or phrase from the article would you use to support your conclusion?”

Back into the text, students are discussing conclusions about the article and evidence to support those conclusions.

The end of class is near. Bell is about to ring.

“For today’s exit ticket, I would like each of you to draw a CONCLUSION about the content of the article based on your observations and patterns. On an index card, write your conclusion about the content of the article and use one piece of clear evidence from the article to support your conclusion.”

As your students leave the classroom, you meet them, just outside the door, with a have-a-great-rest-of-your-day smile and proudly accept each student’s personal exit ticket. The bell rings, confidently, you stroll back in your room.

Great job this hour Teach.

Your smile brightens your eyes. Your students were engaged.


You were engaged. You were excited. Going beyond close reading helped your students learn.

Drop the mic.mic-drop


Bell rings, 2nd hour.  Eager faces, 24 more students await for another great opportunity to become a better, deeper reader.


About jpsteltz

Proud husband and father of four; Literacy Specialist; Reading Teacher; Literacy Coach; HS ELA Teacher; Published Author
This entry was posted in #elachat, Literacy, Teaching and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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