Choosing a Text for Close Reading

Identifying a worthy text is often one of the biggest challenges to overcome when putting together a close-reading plan. Choosing a text that offers opportunities for multiple readings, as well as new, meaningful understandings can be difficult. So how do we know if a book or article will work for close reading?

In her new book, Little Readers, Big Thinkers: Teaching Close Reading in the Primary Grades, Amy Stewart gives us some tips on how to choose the best books for close reading in your primary classrooms. According to Stewart, we really won’t know what will work until we put it in front of our students. But there are some general guidelines that should help.

Know your books

As teachers we must read widely and voraciously within the age range and interests of our students in order to have the best shot at success with our readers. Most teachers, however, don’t have a lot of extra time on their hands to read many books. Stewart recommends planning a few minutes during team or staff meetings to read, share, and discuss the latest and greatest in children’s literature with one another. “Administrators, make it happen. Team leaders, craft your meeting agendas to include some time to read and talk about books; collaboration is imperative when choosing good texts for close reading,” (Stewart 2019).

Choose the right level in difficulty

In the early elementary grades, a text suitable for close reading is most likely going to be a text that the students are not yet able to read independently. “Chances are, the books students are independently reading—especially in the earliest years of school—don’t lend themselves to the deep thinking and new learning we desire as an outcome of close reading,” (Stewart 2019). But while children may not yet be able to read the book, article, or passage on their own, it must also not be so high-level that they cannot understand it or take away any new, transferrable learning from it.  “When we wrap close reading into the shared experience of a read-aloud, we make an otherwise inaccessible text one that students come to know and understand very well,” (Stewart 2019).

Use short texts 

Close reading is typically done using a short piece of text. Since texts in the primary grades are already short, it’s possible to do a close read with an entire text, but keep in mind that “while you may initially read aloud a whole book or article with students, your closer look and subsequent readings might take place with only a small excerpt of that book or article,” (Stewart 2019).

You don’t always have to use nonfiction texts

While there is a strong emphasis on using nonfiction texts for close reading because they’re known for being more difficult and therefore offering more learning opportunities, there are plenty of fiction texts that require students to do some deep thinking and careful noticing.  “Use what you know about your students as readers, consider texts—both fiction and nonfiction—that will align their interests with your instructional outcomes,” (Stewart 2019).

A caution

You may find many passages online that have been marketed and sold as ideal for close reading, but it’s important to pay attention to the quality of these texts. “As teachers we must be careful and critical consumers of content created and tagged as ‘Close Reading Passages’ because these texts often lack authenticity and opportunities for students to engage in higher-level thinking,” (Stewart 2019). Stewart recommends choosing authentic texts that are chosen with your individual students in mind. “Texts that connect our young readers to their leaning, to each other, and to the world around them—and that empower them to view themselves as readers and thinkers—are going to be most meaningful as they begin to shape their literacy lives,” (Stewart 2019).

To learn more about how to use close reading in the primary classroom, go to

Stewart, Amy. 2019. Little Readers, Big Thinkers: Teaching Close Reading in the Primary Grades. Portsmouth, NH: Stenhouse Publishers.

Add comment January 15th, 2019

Don’t Miss Out on These Pembroke Titles!

Pembroke Publishers, the Canadian sister company to Stenhouse, has been busy creating some exciting titles for the spring! Don’t miss out on these fresh ideas from our authors up north!

 Empower your teaching and avoid burnout

A must and no-nonsense read for teachers striving for their personal wellbeing and student success and school administrators who want to be great mentors for their teachers!” Mary Ann Danowitz. D.Ed., Dean, College of Education, North Carolina State University

Establish a balance of a busy, overwhelming classroom and your own well-being with the newest title by Lisa Bush, Teaching Well: How healthy, empowered teachers lead to thriving, successful classroomsBush suggests that teachers can reduce the amount of time they work outside the classroom and still be a motivated and engaged teacher. Establishing a healthy work–life balance and putting teachers’ own emotional health needs first will naturally lead to more effective teaching. The conversational tone of this book, along with a wealth of anecdotal examples, will make this highly readable resource an invaluable guide for every educator.

Expand students’ interest in words and word power

Discover key strategies for making words the core of classroom instruction and engagement with the new title from literacy guru, Larry Swartz, Word By Word: 101 ways to inspire and engage students by building vocabulary, improving spelling, and enriching reading, writing, and learning. This practical resource is designed to help students discover why words matter as they build vocabulary; gain confidence to spell new and difficult words; develop word recognition and process unfamiliar words when reading; increase understanding of words in the content areas; inquire about word meanings and derivations; play with and celebrate words and language; and much more!

Use freewriting to bring meaning and confidence to students’ writing

In freewriting, we write continuously. We begin with a prompt and keep our pen or pencil moving throughout the entire duration. We do not stop to question or censor ourselves; we do not concern ourselves with spelling, punctuation, capitalization, or grammar; we do not let critical thoughts creep into our freewriting time. This new title from Karen Filewych, Freewriting with Purpose: Simple classroom techniques to help students make connections, think critically, and construct meaning, shows teachers how to use freewriting to help kids write well and more, regardless of grade level, subject, time of day, or time of year. It is not a difficult process to implement and yet it makes a significant difference in teacher attitudes, student confidence, and, ultimately, student writing abilities.

Help students build self-regulation skills  

Learn how to incorporate simple mindfulness activities and strategies that foster self-regulation in the classroom and beyond with the newest title by Shelley Murphy, Fostering Mindfulness: Building skills that students need to manage their attention, emotions, and behavior in classrooms and beyond. Murphy defines self-regulation as students’ ability to manage their own attention, emotions, and behavior. Using instructions, scripts, worksheets, and ready-to-use templates, this book shows teachers how to help students strengthen their attention-regulation, emotion-regulation, and behavior-regulation skills. Supporting students’ overall well-being, not just their intellectual progress, is the focus of this timely and important book.

To learn more go to

Add comment January 9th, 2019

Using Art to Deepen Comprehension

“Using images to unlock new possibilities affords a powerful stepping-stone to words in a meaning-making merger that deepens understanding.” –Dr. Mary Howard

Most books about teaching comprehension address the role that pictures play in helping children understand a text, but few authors have looked at visual literacy as systematically as Trevor Bryan has. In his new book, The Art of Comprehension: Exploring Visual Texts to Foster Comprehension, Conversation, and Confidence, Bryan introduces an innovative framework for deepening comprehension, which he calls Access Lenses. The Lenses provide a scaffold for helping students of all ages interpret both print and visual texts and lead powerful conversations about them.

Here’s how it works.

The Method

“With the Access Lenses in hand, students became active explorers and meaning-makers, instead of passive question answerers. Students jumped into texts and felt like explorers, always on the brink of discovery,” (Bryan 2019).

The Access Lenses are at the heart of the Art of Comprehension (AoC). It’s a method that will make it easier for teachers and students to enter into visual texts (and eventually written texts) and to think about and discuss them deeply and meaningfully. If practiced regularly, the Lenses will eventually help student so dissect and discuss texts in increasingly sophisticated ways as texts become more complicated across the grades.


The Access Lenses are made up of nine lenses. When used concurrently this method enables students to discover information within visual and written texts, independently or with partners, which makes them more likely to synthesize the information they find in unique and surprising ways.

  • Lens 1: Facial Expressions: Facial expressions reveal a lot about a character’s moods and are generally easy for even young children to understand. The facial expressions lens can help many students enter a text and begin to use textual evidence to support their thinking.
  • Lens 2: Body Language, Action/Inaction: As with facial expressions, most students are capable of making inferences based on reading either a character’s body language or a character’s action or inaction. Pairing information delivered through faces and bodies is also another straightforward way to introduce students to patterns: when the pattern changes, it usually indicates an important part or key moment of the story.
  • Lens 3: Colors: Colors are often used to convey moods, and even very young children can grasp this idea. Getting students accustomed to thinking about how colors are used to reflect moods is a simple way to promote deeper thinking about images, texts, and performances, as well as symbolism and metaphors.
  • Lens 4: Close Together, Far Apart Lens: Using this lens, students think about how characters’ proximity to, or distance from, people, places, or objects can indicate how they are feeling, what they want, or the predicament they are in. It’s not just physical proximity that can be considered, however, students can also think about emotional proximity.
  • Lens 5: Alone: As with the close together, far apart lens, the alone lens can relate to both physical and emotional aloneness. Either way, when characters are alone in visual or in written texts, their isolation needs to be considered regarding the mood or moods the artist or writer is crafting.
  • Lens 6: Words or No Words/Sounds or Silence: The words that characters say, as well as other sounds expressed within a text, often reveal much about what is happening. What characters say and how they say it provides important information about thoughts, feelings, and motivations.
  • Lens 7: Big Things and Little Things: Awareness of the physical size of a character or a setting often helps readers comprehend the dynamics of a story. The big and little things lens can also be applied to the emotional state or symbolic nature of characters.
  • Lens 8: Zooming In or Out: Artists and authors will often zoom in or zoom out on scenes. What they choose to zoom in on frequently provides a key detail that they want their audience to notice.
  • Lens 9: Symbols and Metaphors: Every story that has a problem has symbols of obstruction or destruction, and nearly all stories, if not every story that gets resolved, has at least one symbol of hope and support. Making connections (through symbols and moods) helps students to understand how stories work.

The Access Lenses are a set of tools that help to give teachers and students initial access to texts of all kinds. The Art of Comprehension can show you how to effectively and efficiently use these tools in the classroom allowing students to gain an understanding of texts in both content and craft. To learn more, check it our on the Stenhouse Publishers website.


John Frederick Kensett, Lake George, ca.. 1870. Bequest of Elaine King in memory of her husband, Col. Herbert G. King, Princeton University Art Museum. 


Bryan, Trevor. 2019. The Art of Comprehension: Exploring Visual Texts to Foster Comprehension, Conversation, and Confidence. Portsmouth, NH: Stenhouse Publishers.

Add comment January 8th, 2019

Close Reading in the Primary Grades

Kids are always thinking and thinking is always happening—even when your teacher eyes don’t really know for sure, and even when you least expect it.”—Amy Stewart

Amy Stewart believes that primary-grade teachers are capable of empowering students—even in their earliest years of school—to think and engage with texts in ways that will set them up for success as the readers, writers, and thinkers of the future.

With her new book, Little Readers, Big Thinkers: Teaching Close Reading in the Primary Grades, Stewart shows us how to use close reading to teach even the youngest children new ways to enjoy texts, think about them critically, and share that thinking with peers and adults. Here’s what close reading looks like in the primary grades.

The Close Reading Process

According to Stewart, close reading should be thought of as a process that follows the needs and interests of your readers, and the opportunities to engage in the process will unfold naturally through carefully chosen texts. It will look different depending on your students and the text you chose to use with them.

In order to create layers of understanding, students must have multiple experiences with a text. In the primary grades, this would be done mostly through shared reading and interactive read-aloud. Many literacy experts agree that rereading a text is one of the best ways for students to improve comprehension. “The trick is to make returning to a text so exciting, engaging, and purposeful that students don’t even think about raising their hand to tell you they’ve already heard this one,” (Stewart 2019). Keep in mind that different texts require varying degrees of “digging deeper,” so the amount of time spent with them will differ.

Text-Dependent Questions

When you are engaging students in multiple readings of texts, be sure to sprinkle questions ranging from the literal to the inferential throughout. Those questions will allow students to participate in discussions that help shape their understandings. “These opportunities for collaborative conversations are essential to close reading because they invite students to think about a text in multiple ways as they learn to support their thinking with text evidence,” (Stewart 2019). Discussions about texts that have been read aloud means that primary-grade readers can participate even if they are not reading or writing independently.

Talking, Writing, and Drawing

Often, in the primary grades, listening and speaking opportunities are used to provide oral language experiences that support comprehension, versus the writing expectations and independence of older students. But Stewart believes that it is important to honor what students can do and give them a chance to exercise an important pillar of close reading: independently writing or drawing their thinking. “Allowing students to draw their thinking is another important way to document immediate thinking about a text and can be a useful indicator of a student’s level of comprehension,” (Stewart 2019).

Noticing and Naming Close Reading

Stewart believes it is important for young students to become familiar with the term “close reading” and begin to associate it with big thinking, conversations, questions, and repeated readings. “It’s almost like we are asking them to switch their thinking caps to deep-thinking mode as we dive into a text together,” (Stewart 2019). It’s important for students to know that close reading is a different kind of reading experience that will require them to think about a text in new ways and answer questions or participate in discussions that lead to new understandings.

Using the processes and tools in Little Readers, Big Thinkers, close reading will become your students’ stepping stone to a lifelong love of reading. “We must start our students on the path toward becoming close and careful readers now, even when they’re little, because sometimes even our littlest readers are also our biggest thinkers,” (Stewart 2019).


Stewart, Amy. 2019. Little Readers, Big Thinkers: Teaching Close Reading in the Primary Grades. Portsmouth, NH: Stenhouse Publishers.

Add comment January 4th, 2019

In Memoriam: Stenhouse Author David Booth

Canadian literacy leader David Booth, who wrote more than a dozen books for Stenhouse and our Canadian partners Pembroke Publishers, died over the holidays. David’s 60-year career as a writer, teacher, speaker, and professor at University of Toronto had a powerful impact on teachers around the world.

“David dedicated his life to teachers. He was a tremendous advocate and mentor,” said Stenhouse Publisher Dan Tobin. “He was also a wonderful guy—funny, generous, and interested in everybody and everything. I always looked forward to dinner with David on my trips to Toronto.”

David wrote most of his books with co-authors because he was passionate about the process of collaboration: “I have worked with such fine teachers in writing my books over the years,” he said in a recent interview. “I want the world to realize how many good teachers there are. I write with really good people who have lots to say and want to share their ideas with the world. With others, we are stronger.

Watch a video interview with David Booth talking about his 2017 book What Is a Good Teacher?

Check out David Booth’s books, including the bestseller, The Literacy Principal, 2ndEdition:

Read David Booth’s obituary in the Toronto Star:

Add comment January 3rd, 2019

A New Year for Professional Development

The book and the lesson sets have really rocked my teaching world. I’ve never been happier teaching in my 24 years, and I know this is a huge part of it.” 

–Patti Austin, second grade teacher, Islip, N.Y.

Literacy and Classroom Practice

Who’s Doing the Work?

Find out more here about how Patti Austin’s world has been transformed by using Who’s Doing the Work? Lesson Sets in her classroom. These carefully crafted resources by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris will help you turn reluctant readers into independent readers.

What is Most Important? Equity

Drawing on the equity section of her recent Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners, Regie Routman identifies “9 Key Actions We Can and Must Take to Ensure Equity for All.”



Models of Good Writing

What better way to teach students the power of writing than by using models of good writing? Jeff Anderson and Whitney La Rocca, authors of Patterns of Power, have chosen the top 10 mentor texts for grades 1-5 and compiled them into a convenient collection for grammar instruction.

Making Revision Work

“Children don’t hate to write; they hate how we teach writing.” So states Ruth Culham in this MiddleWeb commentary. Author of Teach Writing Well, she offers strategies to demystify revision, making it doable for all.

Rethinking Student Research

In her new book, Love the Questions: Reclaiming Research with Curiosity and Passion, Cathy Fraser shows us how to lead students through genuine inquiry to think more critically about research. Explore her ideas here, and preview and order the book here.

MiddleWeb Review: Not Light, But Fire

Reviewer Sarah Cooper was “inspired to change in real time” as she read Matthew R. Kay’s Not Light, But Fire. Read her review, where she concludes, “Having read this book, in many ways I feel I can’t return to the teacher I was.”

Math Professional Development

Developing a Math Pedagogy

Check out this free webinar to hear Geoff Krall share inspirations for his new book Necessary Conditions as well as his framework for a secondary math pedagogy. With his guidance, math teachers can open the door to math for all their students.

Number Sense Routines


Find out how you can bring Stenhouse’s new research-based Number Sense professional development program to your school. Developed by author Jessica Shumway, the in-school program guides teachers as they improve students’ number sense learning through quick, 5-15-minute math discussions every day.


Top 15 Titles of 2018

2018 was an exciting year for new Stenhouse titles. Covering literacy, math, and classroom practice, our top 15 books can bring fresh ideas to your classroom in 2019. Educators can receive a 25% discount and free shipping on professional books when ordering directly on Check our 2019 titles here.

In Memoriam: Stenhouse Author David Booth

Canadian literacy leader David Booth, who wrote more than a dozen books for Stenhouse and our Canadian partners Pembroke Publishers, died over the holidays. David’s 60-year career as a writer, teacher, speaker, and professor had a powerful impact on teachers around the world. Read more about him here.

Watch for a fresh new look for Newslinks in 2019!

Add comment January 3rd, 2019

Provide More Writing Opportunities with Quick Writes

 “Writing has the power to help us explore, discover, and express our thoughts in a way that is at the heart of being human, and our students need us to teach it in ways that engage and empower them beyond a standardized curriculum.” ~Paula Bourque

We learn to write by writing. The more we write, the more proficient we become. But writing time doesn’t always have to take place during workshop. Quick Writes are a way to “sneak in” more writing opportunities into a student’s day, which will lead to greater fluency and proficiency.

What are Quick Writes?

In her new book, Spark! Quick Writes to Kindle Hearts and Minds in Elementary Classrooms, Paula Bourque defines Quick Writes as: “Short and frequent bursts of low-stakes writing in response to a stimulus (spark) that do not allow for planning, revising, or overly cautious forethought. They constitute thinking on paper that helps students creatively explore ideas while boosting their volume of writing. Or, put simply: Thinking and Inking,” (Bourque 2019).

Quick Writes allow students to play and experiment with writing. They encourage risk-taking that is pleasurable and meaningful. The big idea is that you build a daily habit for writing that increases your students’ volume of writing and extends (or moves beyond) your writing curriculum in ways that are engaging and create a broader, more positive perception of writing for students.

How to Use Quick Writes

Spark! provides a variety of ideas for Quick Writes, some addressing specific needs or motivations and some simply to spur creative thinking of teachers and students alike. For example:

  • Emerging—to develop greater automaticity and fluency at the letter, word, and sentence level for our primary writers
  • Information—to activate prior knowledge, stimulate curiosity, and express opinions from a wide variety of informational sources
  • Appreciation—to expose students to a variety of art in visual, auditory, or verbal formats and invite personal responses as an integral expression of language arts
  • Creativity—to promote more playful practice when composing narrative writing and communication with others
  • Social-Emotional—to nurture mindfulness, encourage metacognitive skills, and foster a mind-set of reflection, motivation, and gratitude

The goal is to encourage habits of mind, foster awareness, and appreciate or stimulate thinking.

Benefits of Daily Quick Writes

Students can develop tunnel vision about what writing is supposed to be when they are singularly focused on components of a rubric or a learning progression. By developing a habit of daily Quick Writes with her own students, Bourque observed the following benefits to students beyond the targeted skills and formal assessments that measure the success of writing instruction. Daily Quick Writes:

  1. Develop valuable “soft skills” beyond literacy
  2. Reset students’ default approach to writing
  3. Strengthen relationships with our students
  4. Increase enjoyment of writing.

“If you want to get to know your students more intimately, build stronger relationships, and create a supportive writing community, Quick Writes can help. If you want to cultivate more joy and success in the lives of your writers, Quick Writes can help. There is so much potential thinking and learning awaiting your students in ten minutes or so a day!” (Bourque 2019).

To learn more about how to bring the benefits of Quick Writes to your classroom, get your copy of Spark! today! Free shipping, as always!


Bourque, Paula. 2019. Spark! Quick Writes to Kindle Hearts and Minds in Elementary Classrooms. Stenhouse Publishing: Portsmouth, NH.

Add comment January 2nd, 2019

VIDEO: Explore New Ways to Deepen Comprehension Through Art

Watch author and educator, Trevor Bryan, explain how teachers can use his new book, The Art of Comprehension: Exploring Visual Texts to Foster Comprehension, Conversation, and Confidence, to teach meaning-making skills through discussions about art and visual texts. By engaging meaningfully with texts using beautiful imagery students can deepen comprehension and join the classroom conversation with confidence.

Order today! 

Add comment January 2nd, 2019

NEW Titles Coming in January!

Start your new year off with some high-quality professional learning. Keep an eye out for these wonderful new titles coming in January!

Harness Curiosity with Close Reading

With Amy Stewart’s, Little Readers, Big Thinkers: Teaching Close Reading in the Primary Grades, teachers can learn how use close reading to teach even the youngest children new ways to enjoy texts, think about them critically, and share that thinking with peers and adults. Learn:

  • What close reading is (and is not)
  • How to encourage students to “read like detectives”
  • Ways to weave close reading practices into your lessons
  • How to cultivate real reading, organic thinking, and deep conversation
  • Which books invite amazing learning and thinking experiences

With Stewart as your guide, close reading will become your students’ stepping stone to a lifelong love of reading.

Foster Deeper Comprehension with Visual Texts

In The Art of Comprehension: Exploring Visual Texts to Foster Comprehension, Conversation, and Confidence by Trevor A. Bryan teachers will learn how engage students meaningfully with texts and join the classroom conversation. By using Bryan’s signature method, “Access Lenses,” you can prompt your students to become active explorers and meaning-makers through:

  • Discovering inventive ways to prompt students to notice, think about, and synthesize visuals—using the same observation and comprehension skills they can bring to reading and writing.
  • Learning about ways to unravel layers of meaning in picture books, chapter books, artwork, poetry, and informational text.
  • Exploring the book’s eclectic collection of art and illustration, by acclaimed illustrator Peter H. Reynolds, 19th century masters, and more.

Organically and spontaneously, your classroom will become more student-centered. With this comes the greatest reward of all: confidence and independence for all kinds of learners.

Nurture Students’ Writing Skills with Quick Writes!

The act of writing doesn’t just convey our thinking; it shapes our thinking. With the newest title from Paula Bourque, Spark! Quick Writes to Kindle Hearts and Minds in Elementary Classrooms, teachers can show students how to “explore in paper” using Quick Writes—short, frequent bursts of low-stakes writing. Spark! offers purposeful, practical, and enjoyable approaches that meet your students where they are in their writing development. Using the tools in Spark!, you will see tangible results in your classroom, such as:

  • Increased volume and stamina of your writers
  • Deeper thinking and discovery of their voices as writers
  • More effective and confident communication
  • Engagement with visual, auditory, and verbal art that stimulates thinking
  • Exploration and appreciation of the diverse thinking of others.

Even in a tight schedule, Bourque’s tools of “thinking and inking” can enliven your students’ writing experiences.

The Difference Between Teaching Spelling and Assigning It

Because spelling is for reading, it is important to teach spelling, not merely assign it. Super Spellers Starter Sets is a teacher resource based on the professional book, Super Spellers: Seven Steps to Transforming Your Spelling Instruction by Mark Weakland. Building on his research-based approach, Weakland provides practical, hands-on tools to create spelling centers; teach spelling strategies that help children solve spelling challenges; and introduce everything from short vowel patterns to multi-syllable Greek- and Latin-based words. This teacher resource provides a wealth of material, all adaptable to match the needs of your students, such as:

  • Seven spelling strategy lessons every student needs to know
  • More than 20 lessons for different grade levels
  • Pointers, differentiated word lists, sorting masters and correlating word ladders
  • Six must-have spelling centers for nurturing independent practice
  • A resource-rich appendix

With these resources, your students will notice and remember spelling patterns and words, and—most importantly—make connections between spelling and their reading and writing lives.

Visit to see even more titles that will “up” your teaching game next year!

Add comment December 21st, 2018

Teach Grammar Authentically with Authentic Literature

“You can’t make students write, but you can inspire them to write.” ~Jeff Anderson

The whole purpose of grammar and conventions instruction is to elevate writing. What better way to teach students the power of good writing than by using models of good writing?

Jeff Anderson and Whitney La Rocca have chosen the top ten, must-have books from the list of 150 mentor texts included in their popular book Patterns of Power and compiled them into a convenient collection for grammar instruction. The Patterns of Power Top 10 Mentor Text Sets is made up of 10 titles per grades 1–5 and correlate with standards and developmental appropriateness for each grade. Well-crafted and engaging, young writers will turn to them again and again, discovering inspiration and examples of author’s purpose, craft, and grammar.

Order today!

Add comment December 20th, 2018

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