Close reading differs from other approaches to teaching comprehension where students are prepared for the reading, for example, through a picture walk, providing a summary of the text to be read, or through skimming and scanning of headings or front-loading vocabulary.
Understanding close reading
Since the introduction of the Common Core State Standards in the US, close reading has become a widely used approach in teaching comprehension. Snow and Connor (2016) define close reading as “an approach to teaching comprehension that insists students extract meaning from text by examining carefully how language is used in the passage itself” (p. 1).
The main intention of close reading is to engage students in the reading of complex texts. Fisher, Frey and Hattie (2016, p. 89) outline four elements to support close reading:
- repeated reading of a short text or extract
- annotation of the short text or extract to reflect thinking
- teacher’s questioning to guide analysis and discussion
- students’ extended discussion and analysis.
The premise here is that the students need to be able to answer text-based related questions. That is, that critical reading of the text is based on what is in the text, not on what the reader might bring to the text creating a ‘level playing field’ for all students.
Snow and O’Connor (2016) question this notion, stating that readers of all ages struggle when there is a “lack of background knowledge and lack of familiarity with key vocabulary and low-frequency academic language constructions”. (See Snow & O’Connor for a further discussion of the limitations of close reading).
Close Reading - Bone Sparrow
In this video the teacher focuses closely on the descriptive language the author has used that convey emotions and give a sense of place. The teacher uses the discussion to check the students’ level of understanding.
Vocabulary - Bone Sparrow
In this video the teacher focuses closely on the descriptive language the author has used to convey emotions and give a sense of place. The teacher uses the discussion to check the students’ level of understanding.
Theory to practice
Snow and O’Connor (2016) caution against reliance on close reading as a teaching strategy but suggest that it should be “embedded within the larger motivational context of deep comprehension of complex and engaging topics” (p. 6).
That is, close reading should complement and be integrated into students’ learning across the curriculum as they read, analyse and, most importantly, discuss a wide range of texts which open up new content, new concepts, and understandings about language.
Fang (2016) outlines different models of close reading highlighting models which help students to analyse language and patterns in texts in ways which support comprehension and interpretation.
Like Snow and O’Connor, Fang (2016) suggests that models of close reading should aim to develop “engaged readers who are able to comprehend, compose, converse about, and evaluate complex texts in thoughtful, critical ways” (p. 109).
Close reading should:
- provide opportunities for multiple readings and discussions
- give attention to language as a meaning making resource
- integrate writing as a means of extending understanding and expanding repertoires
- support the reader to find text-based evidence in response to text dependent questions.
Close reading activities include:
- outlining the content of the text for the students
- using headings or subheadings to identify the gist of the text
- selecting an extract for close reading providing a copy for students to annotate where students identify, highlight and discuss key vocabulary and phrases
- breaking complex sentences into clauses
- asking students to summarise the key ideas
- rereading the text and annotate with main ideas, or questions or comments.
For more info, see
Modelling the text
In practice examples
Fang, Z. (2016). Teaching Close Reading with Complex Texts across Content Areas. Research in the Teaching of English, 51 (1), 106 -116.
Fisher, D., Frey, N. & Hattie, J. (2016). Visible learning for literacy, Grades K-12: Implementing the practices that work best to accelerate student learning. Thousand Oaks, United States: SAGE Publications Inc.
Snow, C. & O’Connor, C. (2016). Close Reading and Far-Reaching Classroom Discussion: Fostering a Vital Connection. Journal of Education, 196 (1), 1 – 8.