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5 Strategies for Teaching Close Reading with Tech

Use these tips and tools to get kids to dive deep into a text.

Caitlin Leuenberger | August 24, 2015

When we think of close reading, we imagine students wrangling a set of colored highlighters, books stuffed with sticky notes, and text margins filled with hand-scrawled observations and questions. While these methods are essential for close reading, they can be a hassle to manage. Surely technology can offer us an easier way!

If we focus on the methods and purposes for close reading, we can more easily see how digital tools might streamline -- or even enhance -- the close reading process. When we’re doing a close read, we're not just focusing on the main idea but diving deeper into the text and peeling back the layers to develop a greater understanding. Keep in mind, this doesn’t come naturally to students, but requires explicit instruction and modeling from the teacher. Here are five strategies for teaching close reading, along with ways to incorporate digital tools into the process:

Model close reading.

Before you can expect students to close read independently, you have to model it for the class. Demonstrate annotating, making notes in the margins, and explain the thought process (think-aloud) that goes along with close reading.

Use Educreations to record yourself modeling the process and share it with students and families. Nearpod can also be used to model close reading. The teacher can first model for the students and then provide students opportunities for guided practice. For secondary students, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has close reading apps for grades 6, 7, 8, 9-10, and 11-12. These apps provide guided practice with modeled screencasts and interactive practice.

Annotate with a purpose.

Students need to be taught to annotate text with a purpose -- we don’t want them highlighting the whole page. Students need to understand why they are reading the passage -- whether it's to focus on the author’s purpose or to gather text evidence to support argument. Make sure you discuss the specific annotation marks students should use. You may have them highlight in different colors for the multiple reads of the document, circle powerful words or phrases, or even put question marks by things they don’t understand. It's important to teach and model annotating before you expect students to do it themselves.

Google Docs and the extension Read & Write for Google are great if you are working out of Google Drive. DocHub also works great with Google Docs by locking the text like a PDF file for students to annotate. DocHub also allows you to annotate PDF files.          

Write in the margins.

Students should not only highlight and mark the text, but should also write in the margins. This is another strategy that needs explicit instruction and modeling. Students can take notes about what the author is saying, text connections they make, and questions they have.

The comment feature in Google Docs makes writing in the margins quite simple. Actively Learn is another great tool for close reading. This protected ereader contains a variety of annotation tools, including a large margin for students to write in and even share with their peers and teacher.

Collaborate and listen.

To develop a deeper understanding, students shouldn't just read texts, but also discuss them. Be sure to outline the scaffolds, supports, and expectations for an effective collaborative conversation.

The comment feature in Google Docs is one way students can discuss the text on a shared document. Also, on Actively Learn, students or teachers can initiate conversations in the margins of the text.

Encourage close reading across the curriculum.

Close reading isn’t something that should be exclusively done in a reading classroom; it should be done across the curriculum. Newsela is an online collection of current events and nonfiction articles with guiding questions and text students can annotate. Teachers can create their own online classroom and track student progress. Students can also adjust the reading level for the article.

As you prepare for this upcoming school year, what strategies and tools will you use with your students to help them with close reading?

Photo "My Toolkit for Reading" by Kevin Wen. Used under a CC BY 2.0 license.