Counterclockwise Close Reading with Colors

A young man looking through a magnifying glass

There has been quite a buzz recently around the practice of close reading.  Teachers and educational gurus have mixed thoughts about the how close reading should be taught when implementing the Common Core State Standards.  Some teachers are really excited about the practice and the possibility of moving students toward a deeper discussion and analysis of the text.  Others are afraid of ruining a true and organic reading experience for students.  I can see the pros and cons of both arguments and I have not taken a position either way.  I do know, as an English teacher, that I instruct my students about close reading, its role within the Common Core State Standards, and the effectiveness it can have on analysis.

I have developed an activity that can be used to teach components of close reading.  I use color-specific highlighters when teaching reading strategies.  One of the colors I use is blue to represent what I call the blueprint of reading a text.  My students know this as the purpose behind reading a selected text.  For this example, let’s assume the purpose of reading the text of this activity is to identify words the author uses to create a sense of suspense.  In this activity, students sit in groups of four, so in an average class, a total of eight table groups would exist.  Each group receives a section of text.  The text would need to be  enlarged so that each person could easily read the text when it is placed in the center of the table group.  One student reads the text aloud to his or her group (depending on the length of the text, more than one student could share this role).  Once the text has been read, students talk about words, or phrases, in the text that indicate the author’s use of suspense.  Student decide on one word or phrase within the text where the strongest of use of suspense occurs, and they highlight the word or phrase with blue.  After a determined amount of time, students rotate counterclockwise to the next table group, read the new section of the text, and decide on the best use of suspense.  If the word or phrase they want to highlight is already highlighted, they mark the word or phrase  with a number one and highlight a second choice and mark it with a number two.  Students rotate from group to group until they have read all eight sections of the text.

After reading all sections of the text, students discuss in their groups common words, phrases, and stylistic choices the author uses to create a sense of suspense.  Students then discuss and choose the most powerful example to share with the entire class.   This can turn into a larger Socratic Seminar, a written analysis, or the activity can end with a Close Reading Tableau (see earlier Vocabulary Tableau post) of the most powerful words or phrases identified.

The text used in this activity needs to be short and a text worthy of a close read.  This activity allows students to move, creates interest, and engages students in higher-level discussion.


3 thoughts on “Counterclockwise Close Reading with Colors

  1. This is such an awesome idea! You could have them look for anything! With the unit we’re working on right now, I would have the students look for bias instead of suspense.

    Great idea!

      • I already told the social studies teacher across the hall about it. He just used literature circles for the first time in his classroom today, so I told him to use this as a follow up activity. I’ll keep you updated on how it works out for him! 🙂

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