This article is fourth in a series exploring how to approach close reading. If you’d like, go back and read the previous articles on how to get started teaching close reading, how to find a “goldilocks” close reading text, and how to design questions for close reading lessons.

Being a teacher can feel a lot like being an actor (and a counselor, and a coach, and a nurse). Now that you’ve prepared for the show by selecting the text and preparing questions to ask about it, it’s time to enter stage left!

Act I: First Reading

As the lead actor, you know your audience will become restless if you deliver a lengthy monologue before the show even starts. With close reading, teachers should limit frontloading to ensure that students are playing their parts. Stick to these guidelines:

  • Briefly identify the topic. We are going to read a speech that was given by Chief Wahunsonacock, leader of the Powhatan Confederacy, to Captain John Smith, the leader Jamestown settlers.
  • Set the purpose. After we’ve read this speech, we will have an understanding of what Chief Wahunsonacock wanted from John Smith.
  • Provide necessary experiential/cultural context. Chief Wahunsonacock delivered this speech in 1609 to address the conflict that had been occurring between his people and the Jamestown settlers.
  • Pre-teach key vocabulary words for which there are no context clues. There a few unfamiliar words in the speech that we will review before we read: avail, provision, famish, etc.

Just keep it brief—a “minilogue” if you will.

As part of your planning, you’ve considered how your students will actually read the text the first time through—silently, aloud with a partner or small group, or listening to you read it aloud. When I read Chief Wahunsonacock’s speech with my students, I gave them a few minutes to skim through it on their own first, and then launched into my dramatic read-aloud of the speech, complete with gestures and a loud, booming voice. Maybe you can even make an authentic Powhatan headdress to wear with all that extra time you have!

What are the Students’ Roles During Act I?

Now, it’s time for your students to take the spotlight. Their role in Act I is to get the gist of the text and to answer some of the text dependent questions that you crafted in the drafting stage—the questions that ask what the text says.

You may or may not have your students do some basic annotating as they read through the text the first time. Sometimes during first reads, I asked my students to place question marks next to words or sentences that were perplexing to them or exclamation marks next to words or sentences that resonated with them.

Finally, your students should share ideas about what they understand from the text with you and with their peers. Some of this will come about as they share answers to the questions you have presented, but don’t be afraid to go off-script a bit if it seems like the improv is flowing in a different but meaningful direction.

What is the Teacher’s Role During Act I?

So, you get to exit the stage and let the students take it from there, right? If only. Your primary role in Act I is to gather evidence of who is performing and who is not so you know which students will need small-group intervention later on.

Consider how you want to gather this evidence. You may want to record notes on a comprehension checklist as you monitor what students are saying to each other, to you, and to the whole class as they talk about the text and answer the questions. Or you may want to keep mental notes as you listen to their comments and/or look at their annotations and written responses. Your observations should note which questions are being answered, which students are confused, and what the misconceptions seem to be.

Remember that close readings of a text are intended to take place over several acts, and that those “a-ha” moments may or may not come in Act I.


 

More on Close Reading

This article is the fourth in a series on close reading. Next time, we’ll go into what takes place in Acts 2 and 3, and what happens when the curtain falls.