Close Reading Like a Genius!

I love The Big Bang Theory! Not only do I love that their furniture comes from Ikea (I’m pretty sure I have that Klippan sofa too!), but I also love the discussions that these geniuses have when doing close reading.

So how do the geniuses close read a text? Watch the clip below to see:

So let’s break this down. How did the geniuses close read the text?

  1. They read it through once.
  2. They talked about their initial reactions and the overall big ideas.
  3. They located some lingering questions.
  4. They reread to focus on answering their lingering questions.
  5. They discussed (more talk!) their interpretations of the text and their answers to the questions.
  6. They found and cited text evidence to back up their claims.
  7. They even went to additional texts for more evidence (reading across texts!)
  8. More talk!

What can we learn from the geniuses? 

  1. TALK! TALK! TALK! It is essential to close reading. If your students are not talking, then they’re doing it wrong.
  2. Rereading is important in close reading- BUT it must be used purposefully. You need a lens such as: I am rereading so that I can: answer a specific question… dig deeper to notice new details… look for alternative answers, etc. Rereading needs to be purposeful.
  3. It’s not about the reading level- it’s about the thinking. In this clip, the geniuses discover that although the text appears simplistic, it is actually rich with meaning. Comics are terrific for this reason. They require you to: 1)  Read a multimodal text 2) Gather evidence and clues from text and images 3) Ask questions 4) Infer what’s happening 5) Find the author’s meaning behind the text.

I’ve found that using comic strips in my classroom for quick close reading exercises is very fun for students. We’re practicing our close reading skills while having a good laugh! It’s incredible how challenging it is for students to read and interpret comics. Lots of great thinking comes out of these discussions!



Typically found wearing mismatched socks, Dana Johansen spends her time teaching fifth grade in Connecticut, negotiating with her yellow lab about doggy dinner options, and plopping down on the floor in bookstore aisles to find new reads. She has taught elementary and middle school for fourteen years. Dana is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University where she studies blended learning in reading and writing workshop.



Balancing Independent Reading with Close Reading


20140514-140859My students reached our class reading goal this year- 3,000 chapter books and 10,000 picture books. It felt good. They read a lot and met many of their personal reading goals. But we just barely squeaked by. They had to read A LOT in May.

Now, as I reflect on my reading units from the past year, I am thinking about the ways I balance reading for volume with opportunities for close reading in my workshop. Both are very important. Too often, however, in my 50 minute middle school English classes, I meet a conundrum- how do I prioritize independent reading and still make time for close reading?

Inspired by the work of Lucy Calkins, Ellin Keene, and Donalyn Miller, I hope to develop lifelong, independent readers. The need for eyes-on-text reading time is invaluable in the reading workshop. Read anything Allington or Cunningham & Stonovich, and you’ll find research that shows that reading success is directly linked to volume of reading. Likewise, students who struggle read significantly less than their peers and may continue to fall behind without interventions that include reading for volume.

In addition, I know that close reading is important for my students. I LOVE rereading Chris Lehman and Kate Robert’s book Falling in Love With Close Reading– if you don’t have a copy, it is a must-have! Their strategy of teaching close reading through the application of lenses is very similar to how Sonja and I have approached helping students interpret text in our book, Teaching Interpretation. Slowing down, reading and rereading a text or passage of text closely through one lens gives students a purpose and helps them examine a text in a way that they might not try on their own. Practicing these reading strategies is essential to helping students further their growth as readers and thinkers.

Within a 50 minute middle school reading workshop, how can I meet both these needs in a better way? I know that I need to prioritize their independent reading time, however, I don’t want to lose time for close reading. How can I shorten the time for close reading but still teach the same skills I have always taught? This is what I’m thinking through this summer. So far, I have this list:

  1. Using read alouds as purposeful mentor reading texts that we can come back to again and again for close reading. This way students are already familiar with the texts- can try on new lenses, look at patterns in new ways, and change their interpretations over time.
  2. Use high-engagement, short texts. Students may be familiar with songs, poems, commercials. May shorten the time since students will already be familiar with the text.
  3. Use a flipped-classroom approach for some close reading strategies.
  4. Consider length of text and type of text. Could use pamphlets from rest stops, stores, coupons, etc.
  5. Live with a close reading text for a week or two? (similar to Georgia Heard’s “Living with a Poem for a Week.”)
  6. Connect with content areas to encourage close reading. Possible places to overlap and share texts?

Please let me know your ideas, too. I am going to keep adding to my list as I read new professional development books this summer.