Close Reading

We hear a lot about close reading as we talk about the Common Core Standards, but what does close reading really look like in the classroom?  How do we as educators instruct students to read closely?

My first recommendation is to start with your own reading skills.  Pause and think about what you do when you are in a situation of reading a complex informational text.  Ponder the steps you take to ensure that you walk away with the most important information and concepts from that text.

Recently I read through a scholarly article and I did the following:

  • Grabbed a pen or pencil and a highlighter.  
  • Underlined key words and phrases.  
  • Starred important concepts and wrote VIP if I thought it is a very important point I might want to go back to.  
  • Numbered steps in a process or a list.  
  • Highlighted key topic sentences or headings.  
  • Put question marks if I didn’t understand something.  
  • Summarized key ideas of paragraphs and sections on the sides.  
  • Drew a light bulb picture if it gave me a new idea
  • Looked up words I was unfamiliar with (by the way, the word was “redolent”).

I think back and wonder when I started doing this successfully?  Who taught me this?
Honestly, I learned these skills on my own when I was in college and exposed to dense and complex texts that it took many re-reads to understand.  That first year in college, I had to go through many trials and tribulations to figure out how to be “college ready.”

So how should we better prepare our students to understand and synthesize the complex texts they will be faced with in college and in the workplace?  The key is to provide them with a wide array of skills and techniques to apply as needed when reading difficult texts.  Please check out the following presentation on close reading, which provides a number of examples of how to implement the strategies in class.

Close reading from Maureen Cohen

Discussion Question: What techniques do you use to read closely that you could share with your students today!

Teaching Students to write academically

“Our students just don’t know how to write well anymore,” states the frustrated teacher.  The resource of “They Say, I Say” by Graff, Birkenstein, and Durst offer some specific strategies and templates to help guide our students in how to write academically.  By using any of these templates below consistently in class, students will begin to internalize the format to help support their academic writings.
On the one hand, __________. On the other hand, __________. 
Author X contradicts herself. At the same time that she argues __________, she also implies __________.   I agree that __________.
She argues __________, and I agree because __________.
Her argument that __________ is supported by new research showing that __________.
In recent discussions of __________, a controversial issue has been whether __________. On the one hand, some argue that __________. On the other hand, however, others
argue that __________.
Introducing Standard Views: 
Americans today tend to believe that __________.
Conventional wisdom has it that __________.
My whole life I have heard it said that __________.
Making those Views Something You Say:
I have always believed that __________.
When I was a child, I used to think that __________.
Writing a Summary: 
She demonstrates that __________.
In fact, they celebrate the fact that __________.
Introducing a Quote:
X insists, “__________.”
As the prominent philosopher X puts it, “__________.”
According to X, “__________.”
In her book, Book Title, X maintains that __________.
X complicates matters further when she writes that __________.
I think that X is mistaken because she overlooks __________.
I disagree with X’s view that __________ because, as recent research has shown, __________.
Introducing Your Point of View: 
X overlooks what I consider an important point about __________.
I wholeheartedly endorse what X calls __________.
My discussion of X is in fact addressing the larger matter of __________.
These conclusions will have significant applications in __________ as well as in __________.
Graff, Gerald and Cathy Birkenstein. They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. New York: Norton, 2006.

4-2-1 Free Write–Common Core Strategy

·       As we align our curriculum and instruction to the common core, part of the process will be toalso share best practices.  A compilation of common core best practices will be complete by the end of the year.  Here is an example of one best practice from the book “The Core Six” featured below.

4-2-1 Free Write– This tool helps students to focus their writing on the most important ideas through a process of collaborative summarization.
1.     After a reading, lecture, learning experience, ask students to generate the four most important ideas.
2.     Have students meet in pairs to share their ideas and agree on the two most important from theirlists.
3.     Pair up the pairs into groups of four.  Each group must agree on the single most important idea.
4.     Ask the students to free-write about the big idea for three to five minutes, explaining what they know well enough that someone who has never heard of the idea could understand it.
5.     Students return to their groups, listen to one another’s responses, and participate in a class discussion of the big idea.  (pp. 54-55, Silver, Dewing, and Perini, The Core Six)

Providing Speaking Prompts

I came across an excellent blog called “Teaching the Core:  A Non-Freaked Out Approach to the Common Core.”

Here is an excerpt from one of the blogs on Speaking and Listening, which provided ways the teacher shared with students specific writing prompts, to help them learn the various speaking/listening standards and put them into practice.  What I love about the writing prompts is that they provide structure and model examples for students who are in the process of learning how to write and speak effectively.  

A link to the Full blog is posted here:


  • “Do you refer to evidence from the text under discussion and/or other research pertaining to the subject? (SL.9-10.1a)
    • According to ______, ________. In other words, ________
  • Do you propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas? (SL.9-10.1c)
    • In response to _____’s question, ______.
    • _____’s comment about _____ points to the larger issue of _______.
  • Do you actively incorporate others into the discussion? (SL.9-10.1c)
    • ______, I’m curious what you have to say on this matter, given your previous statement about ________.
    • ________ was wise to point out _________; to add to it, I would argue _______.
  • Do you clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions? (SL.9-10.1c)
    • ________, I heard you say ________. Am I getting that right?
    • _________, is it fair to summarize your point by saying ______?
    • ________ said ______, and I would challenge that conclusion with this: ________.
  • Do you summarize points of agreement and/or disagreement? (SL.9-10.1d)
    • _________ and _______ seem to agree on _________. However, they disagree on __________.
  • Do you qualify or justify your own views and/or make new connections in light of evidence and reasoning presented by others? (SL.9-10.1d)
    • As you all know, I previously said ________. However, I would like to justify what I said in light of _____’s evidence.
  • Are you able to detect fallacious reasoning or exaggerated/distorted evidence? (SL.9-10.3)
    • (This one is best explored and modeled with mentor texts or pre-recorded debates.)
  • Do you present your ______ (point, information, finding, supporting evidence) clearly, concisely, and logically? (SL.9-10.4)
    • Requiring students to use transitions is key for increasing clarity and logic.
    • To help them think about clarity, concision, and logic, try showing them videos of themselves or their peers speaking.
  • Are you able to show your command of formal English? (SL.9-10.6)
My goal with grading Speaking and Listening standards is to give students feedback that is immediate (I’m done grading them by the time they sit down), focused (hence giving them one skill per speaking task), and, ultimately, helpful to them. At the end of the day,my students are the ones that will live with their speaking and listening abilities–not me.”

Article Analysis

One strategy to increase students’ literacy skills and to prepare them to become critical consumers and analytic thinkers is to provide them with a high frequency of articles.  In order for students to become productive members of society and to evaluate the onslaught of information coming at them from TV, news outlets, and online sources, the students need to start build up their prior knowledge.  This is where the introduction of a strategy called “Article of the Week” can be highly effective for introducing students to informational texts.  Many of our teachers are already using a similar technique–environmental articles in Environmental Science, current events in history classes, analysis of blogs in 21st century learning and video game design, article analysis in English…..

Please check out this following blog on using the “Article of the Week Strategy.”  This strategy could be applied across all of our disciplines to enhance our student’s background knowledge.  (Wellness article analysis?  Art and music critiques?  Spanish news stories?…)
Discussion Question:  If you are using a similar article of the week strategy please share how you organize and evaluate the strategy with your students.

Reading Comprehension

What the Common Core Standards do and don’t value in reading comprehension.

The following are a list of phrases that are repeated throughout all of the K-12 Common Core Standards:
“close, attentive reading”
“critical reading”
“reasoning and use of evidence”
“comprehend, evaluate, synthesize”
“comprehend and evaluate”
“understand preciesely…question..assess the veracity”
“cite specific evidence”
“evaluate other points of view critically”
“reading independently and closely”

The following phrases are NOT in the Common Core:
“make text-to-self connections”
“access prior knowledge”
“explore personal response”
“relate to your own life”

In summary, the Common Core deemphasizes places a large emphasis on textual analysis rather than reading as a personal act.  The focus is academic reading.

With this big shift towards academic and analytical reading across all grade levels and disciplines think about how this effects your own classroom.  Look specifically at the questions you are asking students.  Are they asked to “cite specific evidence” from the text and are they asked to “analyze and compare and contrast and evaluate” what they are reading using textual evidence support their responses?

Source:  “Pathways to the Common Core” by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, Christopher Lehman.

3 Types of Writing

This week’s focus is on the three main types of writing emphasized in the Common Core:

1.  Narrative Writing:  personal narrative, fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, narrative memoir, biography, narrative nonfiction

2.  Persuasive/Opinion/Argument Writing:  persuasive letter, review, personal essay, persuasive essay, literary essay, historical essay, petition, editorial, op-ed column

3.  Informational and Functional/Procedural Writing:  fact sheet, news article, feature article, blog, website, report, analytical memo, research report, nonfiction book, how-to book, directions, recipe, lab report

According to the Common Core Standards the three types of writing are shared across all disciplines, with a larger portion on Persuasive/Opinion/Argument Writing and Informational Writing at the high school level.  

They state the following in support of a shared responsibiity to teaching writing:
“To build a foundation for college and career readiness, students need to learn to use writing as a way of offering and supporting opinions, demonstrating understanding of the subjects they are studying,and conveying real and imagined experiences and events.  They learn to appreciate that a key purpose of writing is to communicate clearly to an external, sometimes unfamiliar audience, and they begin to adapt the form and content of their writing to accomplish a particular task and purpose.”

Looking at your own discipline and the types of writing students are asked to do, how much of it already falls within the range of informational writing and persuasive writing?  Are there any new forms of writing you would think about introducing after viewing the above list of options?

Word Walls

 One aspect of the Common Core standards is to increase student knowledge of academic vocabulary and to help students to develop the skils to use contextual evidence and analysis to make educated guesses about the meaning of terms.  While it was often thought that using a strategy such as Word Walls was strictly for elementary classrooms, it can also be an effective strategy to use in high school classrooms as well.  In walkthroughs at GHS I have witnessed the use of word walls in a few classrooms already where the cabinets have been used as the word walls.

What is a word wall?
A word wall is a display area in the classroom devoted strictly to high-frequency vocabulary that will be used or is being used during the course of a particular unit of study.

Check out this article on Word Walls in secondary classrooms: