Expert Round Up: 21 Practical Close Reading Tips

Close Reading is a subject that is both old and new at the same time. Educators and reading experts are constantly implementing tips and tricks to get students to pay closer attention to the text they are reading.

We talked to 21 experts who have implemented close reading tactics in their classrooms and asked them the following question:

What is your ONE favorite strategy to get students engaged in close reading?

1) My favorite strategy to get students engaged in close reading is using colored sticky notes. Each color represents a specific part of the close reading experience. The color-coding makes it easy for the students and teacher to keep track of what type of thinking is being done as they read through a text.

April Smith
Performing in Fifth Grade

2) Give students a choice about what they read. Letting kids pick texts they find interesting leads to greater student engagement.

Angela Watson
Educational Consultant
The Corner Stone for Teachers

3) One of my favorite close reading strategies is getting kids to find the big “So what?” After reading the entire passage or section to get the gist of the text, reread it, stopping after each paragraph or every few sentences and ask yourself, “So what?” Explicitly teach readers that this “So what?” question implies several other questions such as, “Why did the author include that?”, “Does any part stand out and why?”, “Is this section more or less important than another one?” Breaking down this metacognitive thinking is at the heart of close reading!

Mollie Cura, M.A
Literacy Consultant

4) I show them “So You Think You Can Dance”. We read lyrics, listen to song, and then watch the performance. This opens the conversation as reading as a form of creation. As a result, we focus on seeing the details that both help us create ideas and the ones that help others see our ideas clearly.

Matt Shachter
Public Relations Senior Specialist (Former English teacher)
Tri-Rivers Educational Computer Association (TRECA)

5) I used to have my students start with a text-based question and use it to read for meaning. As a group they would take notes and write constructed responses based on what they found. I ran it like a reality show–“Who’s Got The Gist?” They enjoyed the competition when they were in groups, and the ones who didn’t think they could read well for information write well about it found they could. It worked well.

Sheri Rose
Former Language Arts Teacher
Go Teach Go

6) Poetry! I usually started with a teacher read aloud of the poem followed by partner reads and then a close analysis of every sentence for meaning. Then students write their own poems. The Road Not Taken would be perfect for this!

Naomi Shelan
Former Middle School Teacher
Educational Representative at Benchmark

7) My favorite close reading tip is to use song lyrics for close reading.  Looking at that kind of engaging text makes kids willing to go back and look closer and closer for patterns and author intent.

Melanie Holtsman
Reading Coach
Once Upon a Teacher

8) One of my favorite strategies for close reading is getting kids in the habit of looking at everything more closely. For our youngest learners, they most successful close reading strategy is having them observe, describe, analyze and infer pictures and real objects as shared group reading activities with language and thinking scaffolding from the teacher.

Jen Jones
Literacy Specialist
Hello Literacy

9) Mark it up! Take a passage from a difficult piece of writing and circle unknown words, underline main ideas, visualize a descriptive sentence with a drawing next to it! Use your own words to write what you see hear or feel, write all around the white space around a paragraph to interact with the words, cull meaning, and find metaphor. Works great in small groups who share what they find as a group, and then with the class.

Mary Sholtis
Educational Consultant

10) I think offering choice is key for students to engage in any type of reading.

Erin Klein
2nd Grade Teacher

11) Our favorite close reading strategy is the “Mindfulness” strategy that appears in our new book, Reading Wellness: Lessons in Independence and Proficiency. The teacher engages in a series of breathing exercises that illustrates how breathing can get deeper and deeper. Then students look at a piece of visual art three times, noticing how their observations deepen with each examination.

Dr. Jan Burkins & Kim Yaris
Educational Consultants

12) I think good questions that allow students to access the text, but lead to deeper thinking are the way to go. I love using “The Boy with Five Fingers” for this, and start the students off with thinking about setting, which leads to a discussion on the narrator, which leads to deeper investigation of the characters, which leads to the students figuring out “what happened”, which leads us back to the setting and theme. I love it when I get to see the “Aha” moment when students put all of the pieces together!

Rachel Wysocki
Teacher Coach

13) My favorite strategy is to model close reading while reading a popular book with the class. When students see the layers of understanding and “secrets” they can uncover in reading, it makes it that much better!

Kelly Tenkely
Educational Consultant
iLearn Technology
iPad Curriculum

14) Model close reading by placing the excerpt of text on a document camera or projecting with a Smartboard, thinking aloud about how you are making sense of the text, and then writing helpful annotations. This is helpful to students who are visual as well as auditory learners.

Sunday Cummins, Ph.D
Literacy Consultant and Author

15) My favorite close reading tip: Have the student’s compose their own assessments for other students. Highly successful.

Dr Bruce Cruicks
Developer and Owner
Readwell Systems

16) I have found with younger students (first and second graders) that the use of highlighters is highly motivational.  Students highlight key details within the text. Often these facts lead to a deeper discussion as we discuss how these key details help to support the main idea.  These facts that we identify within text can also lead to higher level thinking and questioning.  These are important skills as young children learn how to pull details they need from informational text to support their thinking, answer questions, and explore topics more.

Julie Pettersen
A First for Everything

17) To get students engaged in close reading, I love explaining the what and the why. My students need to know why I’m having them read a text closely, and then what I’m wanting them to look for (e.g., statements they disagree with, or three keys to al-Baghdadi’s rise to power).

Dave Stuart Jr
Full-time teacher
Teaching the Core

18) My students annotate everything they read – on paper and online. On paper they use sticky notes and employ traditional annotation strategies. Online they use Diigo to transfer those classic pen and paper annotation strategies to the digital space. In addition, I use Padlet Walls to engage entire classes in collaborative close reading activities. For example, we are currently reading To Kill a Mockingbird, and I asked students to identify a central theme and support their selection with textual evidence (direct quote and citation) and analysis. They posted their theme, textual evidence and analysis on a shared Padlet Wall so everyone could benefit from the work done.

Catlin Tucker
English Language Arts Teacher

19) As we introduce close reading skills in our classrooms, we begin by using high interest passages.  We make sure the topics we choose will grab the attention of our students and make them have interest in digging deeper.

Jill & Cathy
TheCurriculum Corner

20) Marking the text is one particularly strong strategy, mainly because it can facilitate so many other close reading strategies like questioning the text, stopping, inferencing, and more. It also helps the reader physically engage–at least one a minor level–with the text, and gives them a record of their thinking-while-reading as well.

Terry Heick

21) Give the students an interesting passage based on something that the students can relate to. Initially at least ensure that the difficulty level of the passage is low and then start giving them grade appropriate passages which includes grade appropriate vocabulary. Encourage them to sit in groups and pear assess each other’s work. One easy way to hook them up to the exercise is to give them a passage that they are familiar with, like for example an excerpt from a novel, or a poem, or a non-fictional work that they have read. This way the learners will not only be learning how to use vocabulary and understand word meanings, but also revise syntax, and semantic rules. When you give them an extract from something they have already read as a close gap exercise, then you are also reinforcing what they have understood from their reading of a previous text.

Rodrick Rajive Lal
Senior Educator
The Heritage School, Gurgaon


That’s it! 21 practical close reading tips from educators with hands-on experience in the classroom.

We hope these close reading classroom strategies give you some ideas to implement in your own classroom! If you have more ideas or like something you’ve read please tell us in the comments.

Happy Reading!

Be a greater influence on your children’s literacy

Every year, we pass September 8th with a plan in mind. A sale, a free giveaway, a social cause that needs free books… some way to associate Reading with Literacy.

However the underlying fact is that literacy is not just about reading. It is about empowering an individual to function within society in a fulfilling way.

Literate people can manage their bank accounts, find directions, ask the right questions to get information and rely on a basic level of education to participate meaningfully in a community.

UNESCO International Literacy DayThis year, UNESCO has themed International Literacy Day 2014 as “Literacy and Sustainable Development”.  According to Former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, “Literacy is a key lever of change and a practical tool of empowerment on each of the three main pillars of sustainable development: economic development, social development and environmental protection.”

Every child comes into this world, with an ability to mimic the behavior of key adults around them. And with every child there exists endless opportunities to educate through example. Most of us finish our formal education early on, before our children came along. After that the few hobbies we have usually dwindle when there are young children in the house.

So how often do your children see you reading, or learning something new? How do they learn to mimic sustainable development and literacy-building activities in your day to day life?

Here are some ideas you can implement to be a greater influence on your children’s literacy:

Let children write and read the grocery lists. YES, it will take longer. But they will soon be able to anticipate your needs and help you prepare your shopping lists.

Going somewhere? Look at the map, research online, compare the hotels, find the most interesting route. All of these are engaging and challenging activities which require a lot of reading, thinking and calculation skills.

Make your monthly accounts known to the kids! Use whiteboards, or sticky notes or show them your account notebook or app. Let children see how you keep track of expenditures every month and use math skills to help you do so.

Establish a reading time. Try talking about your favourite books and see if they start to share their stories too. Book clubs get people more interested in reading, and there’s no reason why you can’t have a mini book club for your family too.

Plan a party: Can the elder ones plan the younger one’s birthday parties? Budget, location, cakes, decorations, gifts… it’s a potential career, after all. Show them how you do it and explain the tricks you’ve learned to keep things under control.

Remember, literacy is not just about being able to read, but being self-dependent enough to learn to assimilate more information as life requires it. Use your position as a parent or teacher to show children how learning helps you cope as an adult.