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).
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).
About Amy Stewart
Amy Stewart is a literacy coach who works and learns alongside K-3 teachers and students in a suburb of Chicago. An avid reader and writer herself, Amy spends her days working to inspire passionate children who use reading and writing to learn, lead, and create. Her classroom teaching experiences are in kindergarten and third grade.
Stewart, Amy. 2019. Little Readers, Big Thinkers: Teaching Close Reading in the Primary Grades. Portsmouth, NH: Stenhouse Publishers.