Closed Reading is one of the most useful ways to dissect a difficult text. In simple terms, closed reading involves re-reading a text and looking at the fine details of that text. According to Scholastic, it "expects readers to focus on the information that a text provides, without relying on a lot of information or support. This is different from other kinds of reading lessons you teach, in which you may start out by introducing teacher-set purposes, discussions of students’ life experiences, picture walks, and so on." As a result, teachers can use texts that are read and re-read in order for students to deepen their thinking.
In order to start closed reading in my own classroom, I found this video by McGraw-Hill Education to be really helpful in understanding what a closed reading looks like with a set of students. In addition, it helped me to understand how closed reading differs from other parts of the reader's workshop. Another teacher, Sharon Alvarado, also has a video on closed reading for emergent readers that is really helpful.
The Five Crucial Steps
(1) The first step to closed reading, as with other reading structures, is to select the text. The text should be engaging and one that is a bit more difficult than the average reading level of the classroom. Again, it can also be a challenging text that has already been read that students can re-read. If there is a thematic unit being followed, then the text can be related to the topic for that week. In some contexts, teachers can also use an excerpt from a text or a novel. Regardless, keep in mind that the text being used should be provided to all the students, meaning everyone should receive a copy of the text. Most American classrooms provide small group students with a book for each student to work with. However, larger classrooms require printed texts for the students. This latter approach is also easier when taking notes on and around the text. On another note, non-fiction texts are brilliant to captivate students in the notion of closed reading. A few years ago, I saw an article on a blog comment sections once titled Can Mountain Dew Really Dissolve a Mouse Carcass? As an adult, I found this immediately interesting and opened the link to read the full article. As such, non-fiction texts can be a fascinating location for our students to learn, especially when the text is interesting. As an elementary school teacher, for example, Over and Under the Pond is a pretty insightful non-fiction book to start with.
(2) The second step is to set the objective or the essential question for the students. Closed reading is an opportune structure to work on elements that students typically struggle to grasp. For example, I found that main idea is something many of my students struggled to identify or describe on their own. As a way to work on this, closed reading became a space to more carefully think about how to identify and describe the main event of text. For younger students, you can provide them with a graphic organizer (e.g. a T-chart or a KWL chart) for students to fill out while reading the text (printing it on the flip side of the text copy is useful for young learners). Older students may find it easier to take notes on the side. However, the transition from a graphic organizer to taking notes is somewhat difficult, and it requires a bit of modelling. No, this is not where the teacher provides a series of questions for the students to answer. Note taking is a thinking process that occurs while reading, where students can use active literacy strategies. One way, for example, to help their thinking process is to provide an anchor chart that guides them on what notes are important to take down.
(3) The third step is to get the students to read the text. This is where the approach from teacher to teacher varies. There are teachers who create a space for students to read and fill out the graphic organizer as seen here while others model how to read the text with a gradual release of responsibility from "I Do" to "We Do" in the lesson. I followed the latter because when I started closed reading my students were still in fourth grade and new to closed reading.
(4) The fourth step involves a discussion around the text. Teachers can create a forum where our students discuss in groups, but reiterating that the discussion has to be clear and purposeful. For this, I recommend something that goes beyond the "talk and turn strategy" because students become easily disengaged when employing commonly used strategies for more difficult texts. For discussions in secondary classrooms, Fisher and Frey have several videos that show students engaged in closed reading lessons. One of their classroom videos, for example, focuses on a Grade 10 Closed Reading lesson with insight into how to run a closed reading lesson in a secondary classroom.
(5) The fifth and last step is to discuss the text in a whole group, as a way to synthesize our thoughts. This is a space for students to reflect and tie their discussion together before ending the session.