A Closer Look at Close Reading

  • 15 September, 2014

            While I understand the purpose of close reading, I don’t understand why you should take the time to read deeper into a document. Some things were written simply and what we now interpret as a symbol may not have been intended to be a symbol. How can we as readers determine what is meant to be read into and what is to be left alone?

            Another thing that was mentioned in several of the comments was annotating being a strategy for close-reading. it is a great strategy I am not sure how to annotate, most of my annotations are personal reactions and summaries.       How can I branch out and include more analysis annotations? I am never certain of what to read into and what to accept as it is. Another comment that was made was in regards to close-reading giving you the ability to question the text, but I am never sure what questions to ask and how to ask them. I had a lot of thoughts about this article, and while it was very insightful it left me with more questions about close-reading than I had in the beginning.

            When you commented "these strategy's will engage them in thinking in particular ways" my only thought was "why put your mind in a box" by saying you can only think a 'particular' way you close yourself off from looking at things in a different light, an alternate angle.

            The idea that readers should be able to understand not only what a text says, but what the subtext may be communicating seems self evident. With regard to literature, those abilities allow one to more fully appreciate the unity of the author’s work; how the word- and structure-choices the author makes amplify or reinforce his/her message is an important part of the aesthetic experience. Those same skills can help readers to decompose other kinds of texts to, in order to understand their rhetorical power and how they might be operating on us as readers.

            You are absolutely correct that readers might interpret something symbolically that the author never intended. Historically, the close reading position on that is that you are reading the text and not the author. In fact, in some versions of close reading you are not even supposed to think about the author’s intentions. See E.D. Hirsch’s article (in the Atlantic) on the distinction between close reading and more author-centered reads.

            If you didn’t have rules for interpretation, how would you know when you were done? You could try to engage students in uncovering historical information about every text they read, complete with biographical information about each author. That kind of reading is valuable, but frankly, I don’t do that every time I read. It can also be useful to shut out all the information that other readers can tell you (including the teacher), to focus entirely on the information the author has provided in the text itself (that’s the idea of close reading). In typical classroom reading lessons, one often walks away wondering if the kids could make sense of the text without all of the additional information provided by the teacher.

            Finally, annotating a text can be a useful tool for close reading (and other kinds of reading), but it is not an approach that is central to close reading. In other words, you can engage in close reading without annotating at al.

            As authors have tripped over themselves trying to convince readers that they have some inside notions of close reading or common core, they have been proposing more and more elaborate annotation schemes—proving that they know little about close reading or CCSS. The standards don’t require any kind annotation and such annotations are at best irrelevant to close reading. (In the worst cases, these schemes distract students from the texts, which is very un-close reading.)

            Of course, if you are going to read a text multiple times, being able to find particular information quickly can be really helpful. Having students leaving some kind of bread crumbs along the way can speed the process up a bit. When I notate a text in that way, the big thing that I try to mark are word choices, patterns of information, or connections between ideas that I want to revisit to examine further. If you want to teach kids to do this, go with a very simple system (Doug Fisher’s (et als.) book on Reading Complex Text (International Reading Association) proposes a system that isn’t overly elaborate.


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Anonymous Jun 15, 2017 11:31 AM


Thank you for the great post. I am a special education teacher supporting 4th graders who loves teaching close reading. Our school recently adopted the practice of "Shared Reading", a concept that I am sure you are familiar with. Do you have any tips on how I might employ Close Reading tactics within the Shared Reading block? Additionally, how do you usually advise teachers to teach close reading within guided reading groups?

Timothy Shanahan Jun 15, 2017 11:32 AM


The main issue with close reading is asking questions about how a text works. Probing at the layers of meaning, the symbols, the implications of author choices. Your questions--whether in guided reading groups, in a whole class listening situation or any other situation--need to focus on how the way the text is written supports or reinforces the message of the text.

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A Closer Look at Close Reading


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