Taking the Final Bow: Interventions for Close Reading

December 12, 2016

By Jill Echevarria

This is the final article in a series exploring how to approach close reading. If you’d like, go back and read parts one, two, three, four, five, and six.

The curtain falls as your students complete their final reading of the selected text. As the director of the production, it’s time for you to examine the data you’ve collected throughout your close reading sessions to determine which students need additional support before they exit the stage for the last time.

It is important to note that you don’t have to wait until after the final reading of a text to work with small groups of students who are in need of intervention. Small group instruction can occur at any time throughout the close reading process, as long as you have a system in place to determine which students and which concepts or skills need attention. As the teacher directing your students, it is up to you to determine when and how to fit the small group intervention into your schedule.

Interventions for Knowledge Needs

You should strive for students to read the selected text with just enough background information so that the content fits into their existing mental schemas. However, you might realize after a first, second, or third reading that some students are lacking background knowledge of the topic to the extent that it hinders their understanding. If a subject is completely unfamiliar to a particular student, it will be difficult for him or her to reconcile it with what they already know and understand about the world.

For example, when I read Chief Wahunsonacosk’s speech with my fifth graders, they needed to have some knowledge of the conflict between the Jamestown settlers and the native Powhatan Confederacy in order to derive meaning from the speech. But what if I had a student that was new to my class? Or was absent on the days we had read about Jamestown in social studies? Or had been present for the social studies lessons but had not grasped the concept in that context?

In these situations, we need to work with individual students to fill in the knowledge gaps so they may approach the text on equal footing with their peers. There are a few ways to approach this, such as:

  • have students with more background knowledge share with the student(s) in need in pairs or small group peer tutoring sessions;
  • have the student(s) watch video clips that provide the needed background knowledge;
  • have the student(s) examine realia and/or images to create the needed connections;
  • have the student(s) read other texts on the same topic in a variety of forms, including websites, poems, picture books, etc.

This backfilling of knowledge is what we might have traditionally frontloaded with the whole class. In close reading, we provide the background knowledge to some students on an as-needed basis.

Interventions for Structure and Language Needs

Perhaps your evidence indicates that some students had difficulty answering questions pertaining to the structure of the text or to the language used within the text. In such cases, you can work with these students by:

  • using graphic organizers that align well with particular structures, such as Venn diagrams for compare/contrast, flow maps for sequencing, etc.;
  • focusing on key words, such as pronouns that indicate point of view or signal words that indicate particular organizational structures;
  • providing additional text-dependent questions to focus more specifically on text structure or vocabulary;
  • teaching challenging vocabulary words;
  • comparing archaic English terms to modern equivalents;
  • using semantic mapping to assist students in understanding key words.

For example, in Chief Wahunsonacock’s speech, he uses the word “councils” when he suggests a method of peaceful conflict resolution. You might guide students through a semantic mapping exercise that focuses on this word to help them understand the ways in which many American Indian tribes approached decision-making processes.

Interventions for Meaning Needs

Your evidence may indicate that some students struggled to derive meaning from the text, either at the detail level in earlier readings or at the main idea/central message level in the final reading. For these students, working with small sections of the text is key. You might want to try:

  • dividing the text into manageable chunks;
  • establishing smaller purpose statements as students read each section of the text;
  • providing additional text-dependent questions focused on particular sentences or paragraphs;
  • isolating parts of difficult sentences;
  • using different colors to highlight or underline parts of challenging sentences or paragraphs.

In Chief Wahunsonacocks’s speech, the conclusion is critical to understanding the gist of the text, so I spent time isolating parts of this challenging sentence with students.

It reads: “I, therefore, exhort you to peaceable councils; and, above all, I insist that the guns and swords, the cause of all our jealousy and uneasiness, be removed and sent away.”

  • I first asked students to focus only on the section before the semicolon and asked questions such as: Does this sound like he is making a demand? What does he mean by “peaceable councils?”
  • Then, I had students focus on the mention of guns and swords in the middle of the sentence: Why does he specifically mention guns and swords here? What do we know about the Powhatan attitudes toward weapons that can help us understand this, or what might we need to find out?
  • Finally, I called attention to the last part of the sentence: What final demand is he making? How does it relate to the “peaceable councils” mentioned earlier in the sentence? What can we conclude about his central message to the Jamestown settlers?

Final Takeaways for Close Reading

In conclusion, I’d like to leave you with a few final thoughts about close reading:

  • Close reading is not intended to replace all parts of your literacy program but should become a prominent part of it.
  • Close reading can be utilized in any subject area, not just during your designated ELA time.
  • Directing a close reading lesson well takes time and practice; think of your first try as a dress rehearsal, and note what you need to improve upon for the next production.
  • There is a wealth of resources both in print and online to help you further refine your close reading lessons; see the Suggestions for Further Reading below.

My hope is that you, as the director, will gain confidence with each close reading performance and that your students will take their final bows with the satisfaction of deep understanding as their prize.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Books

A Close Look at Close Reading: Teaching Students to Analyze Complex Texts provides a comprehensive overview of the close reading process with authentic classroom anecdotes and checklists, rubrics, and planning guides for teacher use.

Text Complexity: Stretching Readers with Texts and Tasks details how to select complex texts and how to guide readers toward deeper levels of comprehension.

Websites

The Reading Rockets website shares ideas for using semantic maps to help struggling students better understand the texts that they encounter.

Dr. Nancy Fisher & Dr. Douglas Frey are award-winning educational scholars who publish free resources on literacy and reading instruction on their website.

ReadWriteThink.org shares free reading and writing resources, including lessons, interactives, calendar activities, and more for all grade levels.

The Cornerstone for Teachers provides a list of 15 great resources for close reading lessons.

More on Close Reading

This is the final article in a series on close reading. Learn more about how to plan close reading lessons for your classroom by reading through all installments:

About Jill Echevarria

Jill Echevarria is an ELA Writer at Mentoring Minds and a National Board Certified educator with twelve years’ teaching experience in New York City and Los Angeles public schools. Jill’s goal is to help teachers support students as they develop a love of reading. When not working, Jill enjoys going to the library with her two beautiful girls and volunteering with the PTA at her daughters’ school.

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