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Scrabble as an Instructional Tool

April 13th is the official day to celebrate every word-lover’s favorite board game—Scrabble! This beloved game-cabinet staple has been around since the 1930s, but its relevance in the classroom is eternally apparent. Not only Scrabble, but countless other board games and childhood favorites, can also be used to support learning and spur student engagement. Browse the ideas below to see how Scrabble could be incorporated into your own learning environment, whether it be in the classroom or at home.

 

Scrabble:

  • Use the letters as a form of equity sticks or calling sticks. Each student will be assigned a letter. When that letter is drawn, that student is selected to participate, read aloud, share their example, etc. Use the letters to correspond to students’ names. Similarly to calling sticks, if the teacher or another student draws the letter “D,” the next participant/classroom speaker’s name must start with or include the letter “D.”
  • Use the letter pieces to spell sight words for students. They can recreate the sight word from memory when the letters are scrambled up. Conversely, to challenge the strong spellers or provide enrichment, teachers may want to spell a sight word incorrectly and ask the student to remove or swap out the incorrect or misplaced letter.
  • Split students into groups and provide them with a pile of letters. Groups must race to sort the consonants and vowels into two different piles. The first group with everything sorted correctly wins!
  • Provide students with two vowels and three consonants. Then challenge them to see how many words they can spell with their letters by rearranging the squares.
  • For students just learning the alphabet, provide them with several letters and an alphabet reference strip if needed. Ask students to then put the letters in alphabetical order, skipping any letters that are not part of the sequence they were given.
  • Divvy up the letters to small groups of students. Put a photo up on the board to represent a spelling word, like “table,” for example. Then ask students to raise their hands if they think their letter is involved in the spelling of the word. If so, then as students with hands raised to arrange themselves in the correct order to spell that word.
  • Set up a “photo album” of images that contain consonant blends or digraphs that students have been learning about. For each photo, ask students to place the Scrabble squares of the letters that form that digraph or blend. For instance, if the photo depicts a flower, the student would place “f” and “l” on the picture; a stop sign would mean that “s” and “t” should be placed on the image.
  • As an extension activity, or to challenge students with strong phonics skills, provide them with a recorded sound, like “ew.” Then ask them to come up with all of the vowel/consonant combinations that could compose a word with that vowel sound: blue, too, crew, shoe, bruise, two, flu, etc. The key for this activity is that students begin to recognize the different combinations of letters that can make the same or similar sounds.

Promote Intrigue in Reluctant Readers

I am certain that everyone who has been through school has had to endure the hardship of “required reading.” For students, the complaints regarding assigned texts can range from boring and irrelevant to abstract or obscure. For some, the mandatory novels are considered beyond complex and actually cross over into arduous territory. Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales was one such text for me—and truthfully, I haven’t touched it since sophomore year in high school English. At the time, I considered Chaucer’s collection of stories to be pointless. But what if I’d been given additional layers of questions to pique my interest while reading? Instead of simply assigning analysis and comprehension questions, encourage reluctant readers by making connections to the text that they did not know were there.

 

Questions for readers to consider

 

  • At any point in the novel, do you recognize aspects of your own personality in any of the characters? Explain.

 

      • This question prompts readers to consider the human component at play when characters develop throughout a work of literature. Good, bad, or otherwise, no matter the text, there is likely some way in which even the most unenthusiastic readers can relate to or see themselves in one of the characters.
      • The similarities or parallels that students uncover could involve personal interests, styles of speaking or behaving, familiar conflicts or insecurities, etc. The point is to challenge students to relate to the characters in some way by reflecting on themselves as “characters.”

 

  • Identify a main character’s tragic flaw. When have you seen someone, from history or pop culture, with a similar flaw? How does that person compare to or relate to the character in the novel?

 

      • Follow up with questions about how this flaw began for both people; was it caused by a similar conflict or catalyst?
      • These types of questions prompt students to consider how people from different time periods, backgrounds, and cultures can have similar flaws or difficulties.

 

  • How does the setting have a noticeable impact on one or more characters?

 

      • To recognize a setting’s impact, readers have to consider in what way the character either belongs or doesn’t belong in their society. This question encourages readers to examine social constructs, cultural norms, and belief systems and determine how our surroundings can impact one’s individuality.
      • This question also prompts students to consider the nature vs. nurture debate—in what ways are we all potentially imprinted by our environment?

 

  • If you were to pull one sentence from the text to represent the entire novel’s style, which quote would you choose? How does this resonate with what you have read or experienced before?

 

      • Essentially this question is like a summary on steroids—students are challenged with finding one specific line in the chapter or novel as a whole to represent the overall message of that section.
      • This question also prompts hesitant readers to consider the purpose of specific dialogue and narration by asking how the author’s intent is most explicitly or subtly conveyed while reading.

 

  • What type of person would enjoy this type of story or novel? If you were to create the novel’s prime reader profile, what would this look like?

 

    • This type of layered question requires students to look beyond their own like or dislike of the text and consider how it may appeal to other readers.
    • This question also prompts readers to consider how and why authors make deliberate stylistic choices when crafting a story. What impact does the author hope to achieve? In what way would a reader connect with this work?

Visualization as a Cognitive Tool Pt. II

As previously discussed in part one, visual prompts, tools, and strategies can help learners who may struggle with linguistic presentations. Whether attentive issues, behavioral struggles, or deficits in auditory processing are the obstacle, visualization methods can assist with students whose needs vary in and out of the classroom.

 

Reading/Writing/Literacy

  • Use visuals to provide context for vocabulary terms. Teachers can boost memory and recall by pairing terms with images that explain or represent the definition. For example, science teachers may want to accompany terms for the parts of a flower with a diagram that depicts each part. They could use photos or time lapse videos to demonstrate how organic matter decays or decomposes. In history or world studies, students can benefit from seeing locations, countries, and landmarks that they are studying so that they have a better grasp of its importance. Instead of simply discussing Tanzania, teachers will want to show Tanzania on a map so that students can conceptualize its location with background knowledge of the surrounding areas.
  • For practices involving phonics and fluency, obviously pronouncing new words for students to chime back is beneficial to start. However, when working independently to decode, students may find that visual cue cards for prefixes/suffixes are more helpful for their visual approach to reading. For example, struggling decoders might find it helpful to see how words are segmented or broken down into parts and then physically put them back together like a puzzle. Visually speaking, words like “cub” versus “cube” could be confusing to beginning readers or English language learners. Teachers should provide opportunities to use letter cards or scrabble pieces to match “cub” with the photo of a baby bear; then add the “e” to match the word with an image of an ice cube. The physical manipulatives, combined with the images, help young readers visualize the proper spelling while also solidifying pronunciation and definitions.
  • Similarly, teachers and parents can help beginning readers by incorporating visual aids into sight words. As a memorization tool, basic flashcards only go so far. Instead, think about how the letters of the word could be constructed or decorated with images that relate to the word’s meaning. For example, the sight word “look” could be spelled using googly eyes for the double “o” to demonstrate someone looking at something. Perhaps the word “play” could incorporate athletic equipment to form the letters, with “p” resembling a basketball, “L” formed by a hockey stick, and “y” in the shape of a tennis racket.

 

Additional Concepts

  • If content involves a process or step-by-step explanation, consider using flow charts, mind maps, or other visual diagrams to help students conceptualize the process. For differentiation, teachers may ask advanced students to create their own flow chart using their text or class notes, while struggling students may use a word bank/concept bank to complete a fill-in-the-blank flow chart. Either way, the objective is the same; students are demonstrating knowledge of a specific process by constructing a visual/diagram.
  • For essays, written responses, and notetaking, teachers should instruct and encourage students to utilize graphic organizers to visually compose comprehensive outlines of their drafts. In spider diagrams, the main idea of the written response is the spider’s body, while the legs connect to supporting details, quotes, and examples, which helps students visually compose a well-supported argument or claim as a prewriting activity.

Besides standard images or symbols to help students, teachers can expand upon the idea of visuals to include videos, films/documentaries, art, graphic novel excerpts, artifacts, and video games. The more engagement and connections to prior knowledge that visuals can offer, the stronger the learning experience will be.

Assess your Child’s Reading Level

A child’s Lexile score (or reading level) can be difficult to decipher without the use of a digital Lexile measuring tool, such as an online assessment or reading-level based program. While these programs are often used in schools and made available to teachers and reading specialists, parents might feel left in the dark when it comes to assessing their own child’s reading level. There are steps that parents can take at home, however, to somewhat narrow in on their child’s reading level—and it’s much easier than one might think!

 

Begin with decoding

Decoding is essentially one’s knowledge of or ability to translate text to speech properly by understanding letters and their relationships to sounds. Letters, combinations of letters, and syllables make specific sounds and follow specific patterns. A child may never have seen a word in print before; however, they can attempt to decode it by using their knowledge of these letter-sound relationships. The “sound it out” method that we adults are likely familiar with from our own educational experiences as kids is essentially the rough practice of decoding.

 

A simple at-home assessment, like the San Diego Quick Check or another equivalent test that gauges reading ability, can help determine at which grade level a child is reading. As its name suggests, the assessment is quick and easy to administer. Children will read a list of words out of context, using only their ability to decode to read them aloud. The number of errors in the list or series indicates the rough instructional reading level.

 

Vocabulary check

After selecting a book that suits the child’s reading level, parents can encourage active reading and listening by implementing the 5-finger method. As a good rule of thumb, no pun intended, the 5-finger method involves reading one page at a time, and asking the child to put a finger down any time that they are held up by an unknown word. If one page of the book contains 5 words that prove too difficult, the book overall is probably too difficult.

 

Another way to assess children’s vocabulary is to ask them to brainstorm synonyms and antonyms, but not in a high-pressure, quiz-like way. As your child reads, ask her if she can think of another way to say the basic words on the page, like happy, shiny, smart, play, run, etc. If she struggles, help her out by naming your own synonyms. This practice helps new readers slowly accumulate new, more specific vocabulary.

 

Comprehension check

To continue checking your child’s reading level, parents will want to hone in on comprehension as well—not just the phonics side of reading. Your child may be pronouncing words and sentences fluently, but reading for understanding is a whole other facet. As you and your child read, pause every few pages to discuss what is going on in the story. Prompt them by asking questions like this:

 

  • Where are the characters?
  • What are they doing there?
  • Have they faced any challenges, problems, issues, or difficulties?
  • What do you think will happen next?
  • Who do you think the main character is?

 

 

For older elementary readers, ask them if they can summarize the story at the end, or help them review the most significant parts of the story. Also, if possible, encourage a conversation about theme by asking what the character might have learned throughout the story.

 

Note Taking November: For the Elementary Classroom

For elementary schoolers, note taking as a reading or comprehension strategy is likely unfamiliar, and for a legitimate reasonmany younger learners are just beginning to get comfortable in their reading abilities at this stage. Many children view reading as a mundane task; however, if students begin to look at reading material as a vessel for knowledge, they may change how they read for such information. Reading skills, particularly the ability to extract, analyze, and interpret relevant material, can be improved as students learn proper note-taking practices.

For elementary-age learners, taking notes while reading probably seems like an added burden on an already difficult task. Therefore, when introducing the concept, be sure to frame the instruction with expectations, benefits, and models of how the note taking should look.

  • Explain that note taking while reading is a practice that will take timeelementary schoolers should expect to practice this skill consistently before it becomes second nature.

  • They should also expect their notes to be messy, which is why pencil is a must. Begin the note-taking process by simply recording a stream of thought while reading.

  • Encourage students to mark up words and phrases that are:
    • unfamiliar or confusing,
    • bolded, italicized, or repeated,
    • indicate the author’s purpose,
    • signify an important moment or realization,
    • present an interesting fact or take-away.

      Use these opportunities as a means of teaching context cluesif the term is unfamiliar, ask students if anything around the word or phrase provides insight into the unknown word’s meaning. Encourage them to brainstorm and experiment with possible word meanings until they land on something that makes logical, grammatical sense.

  • Elementary schoolers should also feel comfortable asking “why?” while reading. Encourage them to add question marks to areas of text that they don’t understand or don’t see the relevance.

  • Model the practice of close reading and active note taking with students regularly. For the most part, note taking is an unfamiliar skill for elementary-age kids. When modeling the process, start small. Perhaps you begin by using a text that students have read before. This sense of familiarity will promote risk-taking and allow students to feel more comfortable tackling the text with their thoughts and observations. As you move through the text together, show them how to refer back to earlier notes if they have made connections or discovered an answer to a previous notation or question.

  • Inform students of the benefits of note taking. They will be surprised to know that notes can mean an easier time when rereading or skimming while studying. If students get in the habit of taking copious notes, most of the studying “leg work” will be done ahead of time. Their notes should also act as place markers, meaning that any content that struck them as important or especially tricky should be highlighted to indicate that it is vital to review. Also, let young readers know that note taking is a deliberate practice that ensures focus, comprehension, and other active reading skills on behalf of the reader. If your mind is disengaged or drifting, there is no way that you will be able to maintain substantial notes or annotations.

Vocabulary for Elementary: How To

According to experts, kids should be acquiring 2,000 to 3,000 new words annually from 3rd grade onward. This figure would mean that children learn roughly sixeight new terms every day—pretty amazing if you think about it. While professionals have long debated the biological and environmental factors at play when it comes to language and vocabulary acquisition, one thing is for certain—a child’s vocabulary grows and develops with exposure.

Here are a few ways to expose students to new words and help them further develop their vocabulary.

Expressive Word Labels

Consider borrowing a tip from ESOL or world language classes by using labels to introduce a more expressive term in place of a mundane word. For instance, print out multiple photos of a range of peoples’ facial expressions. Prompt students to replace typical or low-level words like “sad” or “happy” with “gloomy” or “pleased.” Once students get the hang of synonyms, ask them to collect as many synonyms as they can while learning new words.

Synonym Challenge

Students should feel free to ask clarifying questions like, “What is another way to say….?” This helps young learners to begin to see not only the context of the word, but also its grammatical function. After some scaffolding and practice, challenge your students to see how many words they can think of to replace happy. Be clear about the expectation by emphasizing that the synonyms must fully match the meaning and usage—since happy is an adjective, their synonyms must be adjectives, as well. Students with the longest list of true synonyms could be rewarded with a new mechanical pencil, their choice of seat for the day, a happy phone call home, etc. Even bragging rights are certain to make any child happy, ecstatic, cheerful, glad, amused, exuberant, elated, delighted, thrilled, jovial, jubilant, and merry.   

Word Apps

Elementary teachers can also make use of technology in order to help increase students’ vocabulary. Free apps like Wordle and Wordsift help students to learn and analyze new terms and phrases by using a visual component. Students are able to paste a portion of text and watch as Wordle or Wordsift breaks down and arranges the text. Often times, the Wordle presents the information in more than just a visually appealing way. The software helps students see how terms are related, distinguished, aligned, etc. It is also designed to manipulate font size and color based on how frequently a term is used in the excerpt. For instance, if students paste text from an article about cloud formation, repetition of the word “cloud” will cause the Wordle to increase the font size of that particular term in the final visual.  

Caption Game

Ask students to provide captions for selected photos or magazine ads using new vocabulary words. Allow students to work in groups to collaborate and generate a brief explanation or caption for what is happening in the photo. For example, if the image depicts a complete standstill on a highway while a family of ducks crosses the interstate, ask students to write a caption using the word “peculiar.” Perhaps another image portrays a beautiful snow-covered cabin in the woods. Ask students to create a caption or conversation between two of the cabin-dwellers using the word “enchanting.”

How to Acquire New Vocabulary: At the Middle School Level

While vocabulary instruction has drastically changed in the past decade, some of the basic principles of language acquisition still pertain to building students’ vocabulary. For instance, a voracious appetite for reading has long been linked to a stronger vocabulary—and this belief still stands, as it is widely supported by research. Additionally, repeated exposure over time also helps to solidify words to memory. Both of these basic methods, reading and repetition, are still utilized in classrooms today.

However, best practices focus on more than mere memorization. Vocabulary acquisition can and should be taken to the next step to ensure that terms are not only committed to memory, but are essentially committed to a student’s academic and everyday language.

Teach connotation: Too often, direct vocabulary instruction relies on a student’s memorization or understanding of a word’s definition—which makes sense since students must know what a word means before adding it to their lexicon. However, if focusing solely on a word’s definition, students are missing a key aspect of the importance of vocabulary, which involves context and connotation. Vocabulary instruction is more than knowing the meaning of a word—it’s the ability to choose the most appropriate form of a word or term for a specific context or purpose. Take the words smell, scent, odor, fragrance, and aroma. The definition of each of these terms is rather similar; at a glance, students may declare these terms to be synonymous. However, teaching these words in their appropriate contexts and with an understood connotation allows students to see how each of these so-called synonyms would serve a strikingly different purpose.

Scent, fragrance, and aroma all have a generally positive connotation. Scent and fragrance are more frequently used when describing non-food items like flowers, perfume, natural surroundings, etc. Aroma differs slightly in that it often denotes a combination of smells, like a laundry room’s aroma of fresh cotton, rain, and rose petals, for example. Odor, conversely, typically has a negative connotation. You wouldn’t likely want to describe someone’s cooking by saying that it has a “unique odor.” Something with an odor is usually deemed smelly, stinky or unpleasant. So, even the simple practice of matching scenarios to their most appropriate terms helps middle schoolers to begin to see the value in vocabulary. Words are much more than their definitions; they allow speakers and writers to specify more precisely depending on the context or situation.

Teach using synonym/antonym games: Another method to help prompt middle schoolers to step outside of their everyday language boxes involves a modified skit from the game show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” Have students sit in a circle. Explain that students will go from person to person saying essentially the same phrase, “I feel happy.” The catch, however, is that students must replace the word happy with a new synonym each time. If a student cannot think of a new synonym for the initial emotion, he or she is eliminate from the circle. After a while, switch from synonyms to antonyms. For instance, students would respond to “I feel happy” with “I feel…sad, forlorn, melancholy, depressed, low, glum, gloomy, blue, unhappy, negative, sullen, etc. The key here is for students to begin to see the vastness of their options for expressing and expanding upon a simple emotion such as “happy.”

Encourage the use of expressive words in student writing: Once vocabulary instruction is solidly underway, begin to track overused, misused, or “elementary-level” terms in student writing. Prompt students to be more specific when saying that they “went” somewhere. Perhaps they moseyed to the store; strolled to the store; travelled to the store; wandered to the store; meandered to the store; rushed to the store. Again, the point is for students to see the plethora of options at their disposal when writing or speaking. The more they practice, the more equipped they’ll be to say precisely what they mean.

 

How to Perform a Close Reading: High School

In terms of critical thinking and close reading skills, high school students are fairly well-equipped to delve into text analysis. They have built a foundation and found some close reading strategies that work for them.  As we advance from reading comprehension and understanding texts to dissecting and analyzing the content (i.e. close reading), we must alter the strategies to explicitly teach students how to examine the finite details. This practice in critical thinking and analysis does not evolve in one fell swoop—it must be practiced.

The goal is to gain a richer understanding of the text by questioning, dissecting, and relating to it. This practice should help to cultivate an appreciation for literature—not stifle a high schooler’s interest with rote exercises. In order to accomplish this while still scratching the surface of building close reading skills, educators and parents can implement different strategies to subtly introduce the concept to their high schoolers.

  • Use movie stills—from films that students may not be familiar with—to up their analytical thinking skills. Cover the image with post-it notes. Then, while slowly revealing portions of the still, ask your high schoolers to describe what they think is happening in this scene of the movie. The key here is that they closely “read” the scenario without relying on the spoken words. This is a subtle way to prompt readers to look at the context clues in an image. Be ready with questions to take the discussion further, such as, “What genre might this movie be categorized as?” Or, “Where do you think this scene takes place based on the background?” Be sure that students explain and elaborate to ensure that they are not simply making blind guesses. The point of close reading is to use all of the clues available, along with prior knowledge and inferencing, to assess the text on a deeper level. Activities and questions like these motivate readers to look closely at the details and draw interpretations and inferences—the same practices involved in close reading written text.
  • Collect song lyrics to use as warm-up practices for close reading and analyzing. Choose from an array of genres or styles and print lyrics for each student. Just like poetry, song lyrics can mean vastly different things depending on the audience. Open up the discussion by asking why certain terms were chosen by the songwriter—does slang play a deliberate role, for example?
  • Provide high schoolers with advanced texts that prompt a more analytical approach. Perhaps the text is of a higher Lexile level. Or maybe you provide them with a period piece in which they would have to decipher an unfamiliar dialect. Whatever the case, high schoolers can further develop their close reading skills by approaching more complex texts. Ensure that they have access to search engines so that they can investigate words or concepts for more clarity. When reading any text, even an article, poem, or short story, there are bound to be some words that a high schooler is less familiar with. Practice recognizing when this happens by asking if she can define the term in her own words. If she doesn’t know, use a dictionary or web search to define the word. This practice allows teens to not only recognize when they are unfamiliar with a word, but encourages them to seek clarification—a skill required for close reading. Enrich this practice by asking high schoolers to create a Frayer model for each new term or find synonyms and antonyms for these newly-defined terms.
  • Introduce the concept of questioning the author’s creative choices by discussing the title of a new book. Again, the subtly of this practice is a great pre-reading strategy that encourages readers to make predictions. Ask why the author may have chosen this specific title? Are there any other titles that might fit the story? Ask students to make inferences about what might happen in the story based on the title. Be sure to ask her why she thinks that. After reading, refer back to initial assumptions or predictions and discuss new findings.
  • Encourage your readers to ask questions while reading. These questions are likely the beginning of the close reading process. Explain that questions may be left unanswered based on the story. Discuss how these unanswered questions allow readers to use their imaginations and draw their own conclusions. Then, encourage students to seek others’ responses to the text. Many academic forums, like databases or anthologies, provide students with examples of close reading pieces written by authors, professors, etc. Viewing samples of the process helps students to recognize what to look for when performing a close reading.
  • Seek clues from uses of figurative language and other creative writing approaches. For example, ask why a certain poem contains repetition. Does it create a sense of urgency? Help to establish rhythm? Solidify the theme or central message? Look into an author’s background to identify influences or common themes. An understanding of the writer helps when investigating the text during close reading.

How to Perform a Close Reading: Middle School

Middle school is such a huge transition. From the larger school, the locker situation, and the new faces, to the noticeable increase in homework and advancement of skill sets, many students feel overwhelmed at first. In terms of critical thinking skills, middle school students are still on the beginning tier—they are building a foundation and finding strategies that work for them.  As we progress from reading comprehension and understanding texts to dissecting and analyzing the content (i.e. close reading), we must alter the strategies to explicitly teach students how to examine the finite details. This practice in critical thinking and analysis does not evolve in one fell swoop—it must be practiced.

With our transition-plagued, middle school readers, we want to be transparent about how we approach the subject of close reading. The goal is to gain a richer understanding of the text by questioning, dissecting, and relating to it. This practice should help to cultivate a love of reading in our novice readers—not stifle their interest with rote exercises. In order to accomplish this while still scratching the surface of building close reading skills, educators and parents can implement different strategies to subtly introduce the concept to their middle schoolers.

  • Use one of your favorite paintings or photographs to practice close reading strategies in a more subtle fashion. Cover the image with post-it notes. Then, while slowly revealing portions of the painting, ask your middle schooler to describe what they think is happening in the painting. The key here is that they closely “read” the scenario without having the full picture to reference. This is a subtle way to prompt a young reader to look at the context clues in the illustrations. Be ready with questions to take the discussion further, such as, “What emotion is this painting evoking?” Or, “Where do you think this scene takes place based on the background?” These questions motivate readers to look closely at the details and draw interpretations and inferences—the same practices involved in close reading written text.
  • Familiarize your adolescent with unknown words by helping him search for definitions. When reading any text, even an article, poem, or short story, there are bound to be some words that your child is less familiar with. Practice recognizing when this happens by asking if he or she knows what a certain word means. If she doesn’t, use a dictionary or web search to define the word together. This practice allows kids to not only recognize when they are unfamiliar with a word, but encourages them to seek clarification—a skill required for close reading. Enrich this practice by asking middle schoolers to find synonyms and antonyms for these newly-defined terms.
  • Introduce the concept of questioning the author’s creative choices by discussing the title of a new book. Again, the subtly of this practice is a great pre-reading strategy that helps middle schoolers make predictions. Ask why the author may have chosen this specific title? Are there any other titles that might fit the story? Ask students to make inferences about what might happen in the story based on the title. Be sure to ask her why she thinks that. After reading, refer back to initial assumptions or predictions and discuss new findings.
  • Encourage your middle schooler to ask questions while reading. These questions are likely the beginning of the close reading process. Explain that sometimes, questions may be left unanswered based on the story. Discuss how these unanswered questions allow readers to use their imaginations and draw their own conclusions.
  • Seek clues from uses of figurative language and other creative writing approaches. For example, ask why a certain poem contains repetition. Does it create a sense of urgency? Help to establish rhythm? Solidify the theme or central message? Look into an author’s background to identify influences or common themes. An understanding of the writer helps when investigating the text during close reading.

How to Perform a Close Reading: Elementary School

For the most part, elementary-age students are just grasping the concepts involved with reading comprehension. At this point, they have somewhat mastered fluency, decoding, and context clues. As we progress from reading comprehension and understanding texts to dissecting and analyzing its content (i.e. close reading), we somewhat alter the strategies to teach students how to examine the finite details. This practice in critical thinking and analysis does not evolve innately—it must be trained.

With our younger, elementary-age readers, we want to be very careful about how we approach the subject of close reading. The goal should be that we cultivate a love of reading in our novice readers—not stifle the interest with rote exercises. In order to accomplish this while still scratching the surface of building close reading skills, educators and parents can implement different strategies to subtly introduce the concept.

  • Use one of your child’s favorite picture books to begin the practice of close reading. Cover the text with post-it notes. Then, using just the pictures, ask your child to describe what is happening in the story from page to page. This is a subtle way to prompt a young reader to look at the context clues in the illustrations. Be ready with questions to take the discussion further, such as, “What makes you think that the animals are enjoying the tea party?” Or, “Where do you think this part takes place based on the background?” These questions motivate readers to look closely at the details and draw interpretations and inferences—the same practices involved in close reading written text.
  • Familiarize your child with unknown words by helping him search for definitions. When reading any text, even a children’s story, there are bound to be some words that your child is less familiar with. Practice recognizing when this happens by asking your child if he or she knows what a certain word means. If she doesn’t, use a dictionary or web search to define the word together. This practice allows kids to not only recognize when they are unfamiliar with a word, but encourages them to seek clarification—a skill required for close reading.
  • Introduce the concept of questioning the author’s creative choices by discussing the title of a new book. Again, the subtly of this practice is a great pre-reading strategy that helps children make predictions. Ask why the author may have chosen this specific title? Are there any other ways titles that might fit the story? Ask your child to make inferences about what might happen in the story based on the title—be sure to ask her why she thinks that.
  • Encourage your child to ask questions while reading. These questions are likely the beginning of the close reading process. Explain that sometimes questions may be left unanswered based on the story. Discuss how these unanswered questions allow readers to use their imaginations and draw their own conclusions.