This article is fifth 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 readinghow to find a “goldilocks” close reading text, how to design questions for close reading lessons, and how to approach the first lesson.

During Act I of close reading, you guided your students as they read the text and explored what the text says. Now, you can set the stage for Act II, which will bring your students closer to the last act of deep understanding.

Act II: How the Text Works

Act II is the second reading of the text. Now the spotlight shifts to thinking about how the text works. This is the time to explore elements such as text structure, vocabulary, and author’s craft (see “How to Design Questions for Deep Understanding”). Act II is also a great opportunity to incorporate annotation, since these elements provide readers with much to ponder.

The Role of Annotation

One great way for readers to demonstrate and to document thinking about a text is through annotation. Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey (2013) refer to annotation as “reading with a pencil.” When students annotate as they read, they are actively engaged in the reading, and they demonstrate what they understand or do not understand about the text. The type of annotation that students use can vary depending on grade level and purpose—students might circle particular words, use predetermined marks or symbols to indicate connections or important details, or write thoughts and questions in the margins. Keep in mind that annotation is an acquired skill that you, as the lead actor, must demonstrate before having your troupe try it on their own.

What Are Students’ Roles During Act II?

Throughout Act II, students will:

  • read all or portions of the text a second time, independently, with other students, or with the teacher;
  • annotate the text by addressing how the text works, such as:
    • words used by the author that might be interesting or confusing;
    • words, phrases, and/or sentences that indicate organizational structure, such as cause/effect, chronology, problem/solution;
    • choices made by the author, such as the placement of an idea in a particular section of the text;
  • answer teacher-provided, text-dependent questions about how the text works;
  • share annotations and talk about how the text works with classmates and the teacher, in pairs, in small groups, and/or in whole-class discussions.

What is the Teacher’s Role During Act II?

Your role in Act II is to direct the close reading and to gather evidence of students’ understandings and misconceptions as they make sense of the text. You should:

  • set purposes for students before they begin the second reading, taking into consideration:
    • What do you want students to understand about how the text works? For example, “Today, we are going to focus on understanding some of the vocabulary used by Chief Wahunsonacock in his speech and why he might have chosen these words.”
    • Which aspect(s) of how the text works do you want students to focus on as they annotate?
    • Which style(s) of annotation do you want students to use— circling/underlining words, phrases, or sentences; inserting symbols; writing ideas or questions in margins, etc.? For example, “As you read, please place a ‘cc’ next to words that you think you can figure out using context clues in the speech. Place a question mark next to words that you are unsure of.”
  • guide and support students as they read the text for the second time.
  • provide students with text-dependent questions such as: Why does Chief Wahunsonacock begin his speech by stating that he is growing old and will soon die? What does the word “exhort” mean in the last paragraph, and why might the Chief have used this word?
  • gather evidence of students’ understandings by:
    • listening to students’ conversations about the text;
    • observing students’ annotations;
    • jotting notes about your findings;
    • collecting responses to questions if you elect to have students write their answers.

In my classroom, I had students share their annotated texts with the class using the document camera. They would take turns playing the role of director as they pointed to their marks and notes on the screen and explained their thinking to their audience. You can also try other forms of sharing, such as Gallery Walks to observe annotations or the Fishbowl method in which a small group of students talks through a question together while the rest of the class observes the conversation.

As you and your cast of characters progress through Act II, much of the initial stage fright will begin to dissipate and students will start to feel comfortable with close reading. Maybe they will even begin to eagerly anticipate Act III, in which you will explore what the text means.


Frey, Nancy and Douglas Fisher. “Close Reading.” Principal Leadership. January 2013, pp. 57-59.


More on Close Reading

This article is fifth in a series on close reading. Learn more about how to plan close reading lessons for your classroom by digging into the series:

  1. Diving In to Close Reading
  2. How to Find “Goldilocks” Texts for Close Reading Lessons
  3. How to Design Questions for Deep Understanding in Close Reading
  4. Act I of Close Reading: What the Text Says
  5. Act II of Close Reading: How the Text Works
  6. Act III of Close Reading: What the Text Means
  7. 15 Interventions for Close Reading Lessons