Science is one of those subjects that requires a lot of reading and searching for information. If students are poor readers they will struggle with using text to find answers. Even seemingly good readers sometimes have trouble with comprehension. The close reading strategies you’ll read about here can make a huge difference in how well your students can read science text and gather information.
What Is Close Reading?
Have you ever had this happen in your classroom? You’ve assigned an article or textbook section for students to read and perform an activity with … maybe it’s defining vocabulary or answering comprehension questions. Students seem to be working well. Then a hand goes up. The student asks you a question about their work. You attempt to help the student by hinting at what to look for in the reading or sometimes even telling them on what page the answer is found. He or she dutifully looks where you’ve suggested … and still can’t find the answer. You can see it yourself from where you stand, but the student seems to be blind to the words. How is it possible that the student cannot recognize the answer? This is where close reading strategy can help.
Close reading is a strategy that helps students read with intention. They will have a purpose or a focus question in their mind as they read. In science subjects students are typically reading nonfiction text to gather information about a topic or to verify evidence that we may have found in an investigation.
But there’s more to it than just giving students a question to keep in mind as they read. Close reading involves multiple reads of a text, with each reading having a different purpose.
5 Close Reading Strategies
- Make sure students have a purpose for reading. They should know their purpose before they start reading. This can be a focus question or some specific thing that they need to look for, such as a sequence of events or steps in a process.
- Read the text multiple times. Each separate reading should have a different purpose, whether it’s to answer a specific question or to sequence a process. This may be something that some of your students push back on. The poor and reluctant readers usually don’t even want to read it once! I’ve found that when I explain to students WHY I’m asking them to do something and the benefit they’ll gain from it, most of the grumbling stops and they’ll at least give me a chance!
- Students should annotate the text. How they annotate will be determined by what their reading focus is. Have students all use the same marks for annotating and keep the marks consistent.
Students tend to want to mark or highlight everything because they don’t have a concrete idea in their mind of what they should actually be looking for. So instructing them to “Circle the bolded words and underline their definitions“ will give them specific things to look for and react to in the text.
- Number the paragraphs. This strategy is helpful for 2 reasons. First, it makes it easy to
“chunk” the text into smaller sections. Chunking is a reading strategy on its own, but it works well in close reading because it’s easier for students to analyze smaller sections of text.
Second, when answering questions students should be able to tell you which specific paragraph they found the information in. Having numbered paragraphs makes it easier to do this.
- Let students collaborate. This can benefit all levels of readers. When I did close reading with my kids I gave them the option of pairing up if they wanted to. The first time I tried close reading in class, several students asked if they could work together. I hadn’t planned on that but I agreed. I was totally surprised, but pleasantly so, when they each took turns reading out loud to each other and working through the close reading assignment. It worked so well that it was an option that I offered every time after that.
Here’s a great video showing a teacher using close reading strategies to teach science content. He turns a one-page text into a 2-day lesson, incorporating technology and using Nearpod and writing as well.
These close reading strategies also combine well with textmapping (link to textmapping post) Read my previous post on textmapping. Students can make their textmaps first, then use close reading to really delve into the information.Click here to get your Nonfiction Text Features Guide.
If you’d like to give close reading a try with your classes, I’ve created a Nonfiction Text Features Cheat Sheet that I’d like to share. It shows the common text features typically found in science nonfiction text. This would be perfect to keep in an Interactive Notebook or Binder so your students can refer back to it when needed.
Have you tried close reading? Do you have any other strategies to share?