“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.
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.