Five Tips for Engaging Students in a Close Reading of Text

When engaging students in close reading, the goal is to deepen their understanding of the text and the author’s technique for delivering the content. Students can reach higher levels of understanding by engaging in higher levels of cognition.

Students engaged in close reading are working in analysis. They need to be able to use inductive and deductive reasoning to draw conclusions and make inferences that help them specify, classify, match, and generalize.

Student engagement can be a challenge, however, and once students begin to drift off, the learning decreases. Here are five tips to keep students engaged and interested as they practice a close reading of text:

1. Grade-Level Standards (and Their Boundaries)

Each standard requires a certain level of cognition, but the teacher can increase the rigor. For example, a standard that says, “Identify key details in the text” is at the comprehension level, but a teacher can still use additional instructional strategies to meet it.

For instance, to help students identify key details about the setting in Frog and Toad Are Friends, have them compare it to another story about the same characters. As students begin to draw conclusions, you have control over how rigorous the comparison is. If they stick to basic details about the setting, they’re working at a retrieval level. Ask them questions like:

  • Why did the author create the setting that way?
  • What details about the setting help you understand the story?
  • How does another story’s setting compare to this one’s?

2. Marking Text and Using Graphic Organizers

Before you have students read more closely, teach them how to mark text and take notes to organize relationships between parts of the text. This doesn’t always come naturally to them, so take time to model the thinking and learning involved in the comprehension process.

Often, teachers ask students to read text and answer questions—or to simply answer questions after a teacher reads the text. This doesn’t help them better understand the text, nor does it teach them how to process it. To help students organize their thinking, demonstrate the process. Explain how to mark the text and how to determine which text they should mark.

Once students can mark the text strategically and demonstrate that they understand key details and relationships, they’re ready to deepen their understanding and make connections across content and texts. They’re ready for analysis-level thinking.

3. Broader Applications

Now that students can read texts at deeper levels, help them make connections with other texts they’ve read. They need to understand:

  • The flexible use of reading strategies to unlock the message and to
  • How to refer to other texts to understand the current text more deeply
  • How the author’s perspective, experiences, and background knowledge impact the text
  • How the historical context is as important as the setting

Broader applications of reading skills and the ability to make connections across areas will help to develop stronger readers who are fully capable of close reading of text

4. Making Personal Connections

At the comprehension level of cognition, students integrate new knowledge with what they already know. They naturally make personal connections with the text, but teachers must ensure that these connections are grounded to the story. Have students support their inferences by identifying the evidence that led them to make the connections.

When you ask students to look at illustrations or parts of a text and predict what’s going to happen, the predictions might not always clearly tie to the story. Their inferences and elaborations must also be backed by evidence. They’re now working at the analysis level as they make deeper connections to demonstrate their understanding.

5. Creating Expectations

Students develop expectations for a text as they begin to read it. They should approach each new text with a sense of purpose. Teachers can encourage this by bringing specific organizational patterns and signal words to their attention. Some readers like to read a synopsis, while others may prefer to read specific parts of the text. Regardless of how they preview the content, strong readers tend to have a sense of the organization of the text before they read it. As a result, they’re able to create expectations about what they might see in the rest of the text.

Effective teachers help all readers understand how organizational patterns and text structures in writing also appear in other texts. Once they understand how to text structure works and the expectations they should have for it, they can successfully engage in a close reading. They’re able to examine the effectiveness of the text structure, the delivery of the message, or simply retell the story. All of this will deepen their understanding, but they need careful instruction to help them get there.

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