6 Keys for Teaching Close-Reading Effectively

Close reading is now part of state and national standards, but best practices for teaching it aren’t always clear.

Here are 6 keys for teaching close reading that nationally known staff developers Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts created for use in any classroom:

1. Make it engaging and joyful to make it stick

Rigor with relevance is motivating. Use pop music (yes, even Taylor Swift) to introduce and demonstrate close-reading practices. Your students will not only cheer (or groan), but they will learn skills they can apply to more challenging reading.

2. Promote process

Rather than looking for correct answers, focus your teaching on the how-tos of close reading. Share what’s going on in your head when you read closely. Next, practice it with students by asking them to share their thinking about a passage the class reads together. Then, have them practice on their own as you circulate and confer with individual readers.

3. Keep close reading in perspective

Adults read in many ways — closely, for pleasure, for background information — so close reading should only be one part of the curriculum. Use the data you have collected on your students and conversations with them to decide if close reading is what’s most needed, or if other skills or reading experiences will provide more value.

4. Avoid interruptions

In real life, close reading mostly occurs without prompting at important moments of a longer book or article. Students need time with a text before diving into a close read, so provide them with quiet, distraction-free opportunities to read closely.

5. Practice, practice, practice

Practices makes…well, no one’s perfect. But students do need to practice many times over a school year to improve as close readers.

6. Match teaching to student needs, not curricular sequences

Yes, covering the curriculum is crucial, but the curriculum isn’t accessible to students who struggle. Teach close reading in ways that meet the individual strengths and needs of readers to get maximum instructional impact. If students struggle with combining their thinking with the content of a text, ask them what they think the author is trying to say before asking complex questions about word choice, syntax, and tone.