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  • Writer's pictureMegan Mariano

Close Reading of Short Stories: How to do it Digitally, Especially for The Holidays!

A few years back, close reading became a big buzz in the E.L.A. realm. I had tons of workshops on it and still have files full of information on it. What is it exactly and why should you do it? Read on!

What is it?

What exactly is close reading? Well, if you are doing Reading Workshop, guess what? You are probably already doing it! There are lots of interpretations of what it is. In my opinion, it is the deep analysis of text over multiple readings. It encourages students to draw conclusions about what they are reading without much prompting from the teacher. In close reading, one must reread a text or portion of a text with a new lens, looking for new interpretations each time.

In Reading Workshop, we consistently do this with our mentor texts. During a mini-lesson, I will reread sections from the mentor text that was used in prior lessons to share new understandings. Students will often go back into their OWN texts to look at an event or moment in a different way based on your mini-lesson. If you are really following the workshop model, students are doing this daily.

Close Reading of Short Texts

A lot of people don't rely on the workshop model in their classrooms or use short stories as their basis of instruction. Additionally, some people may want students to analyze a mentor text closely to use in instruction at a later date. This is how you can approach it with a short text.

First, decide on a text you want to use. Your goal should be to have the students look/read the text about three (3) times. For the first read, they should simply be reading it (or you read it aloud), focusing on understanding. They can summarize, highlight characters, setting, and problems. Usually, they should be jotting their initial reactions to the text.

For the second reading, their analysis should start kicking in. They could be jotting down any new thoughts they have. You can determine a focus for them at this point. For example, this time, they can be highlighting character traits, conflict, mood, point-of-view, main idea, author's perspective, etc. The goal is for them to FIND the skill within the text that you want them to be zeroing in on.

Lastly, the third reading I like to save for explanations. They go back to their highlights and explain WHY they highlighted what they did. What is it saying about character? Mood? POV? Additionally, you can have them connect details to other details in the story, to other texts, and to our real world here. What's the point? Have them determine them, central idea, etc.

Obviously, there is a lot of wiggle-room here and the template I made here can be adapted to meet your needs.

Close Reading for the Holidays!

I know a lot us are looking for meaningful activities to do for the holidays and close reading is perfect for that! I've done a few of these and this is how I break them down.

The first reading is a YouTube video of someone reading the holiday story aloud or even a holiday song! ("Gift of the Magi", "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" and "The Raven" are ones I've used). You really want to find a common passage used for a holiday. They can just jot their initial thoughts as it is being read.

The next reading is actually reading. Here, I have them highlight for specific things. I add a bit of explanation here and have them use digital sticky notes to explain their thinking about the things they highlighted.

Lastly, I find a video interpretation of the story. If you choose a good story, you will find some really silly or fun interpretations of them on YouTube. "The Gift of the Magi" has a Sesame Street version, for example. For this, they can write their thoughts about how it helps them understand the original story more.

I usually follow up with a page where they compare and contrast all of the readings they did.

Bottom Line

Why do all of this? Think of yourself as an adult. When you really want to understand something, don't you often have to reread? Don't you find yourself going back to something you've read to be sure you've interpreted it properly? I know that, sometimes, when I finish a book, I go back and reread parts that may have foreshadowed the ending! Or, for example, when I was potty-training my son, you can bet I reread the potty training book I had numerous times!

It's also important to get kids to slow. down. So many students read quickly and they are not comprehending as a result. Forcing them to reread hopefully encourages them to see how important it is to refresh memories for full understanding.

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