Posts Tagged ‘literacy centers’

Close Reading

Close Reading

Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely

The close reading strategy is beneficial for building comprehension of both narrative and expository text. However, we do need a mid-course correction. As with many instructional strategies, teachers latch onto the “new and improved” and sometimes forget the “tried and true.”

In the following articles, MA reading specialist, seventh grade ELA teacher, and author Mark Pennington piles on the reading research and in-class experience to help teachers use the close reading strategy properly and apply the concurrent reading strategies to help their students access challenging text.

Each article includes at least one got-to-have freebie: from sample lessons to narrative and expository close reading templates.

If you haven’t yet perused Pennington Publishing’s grades 4-8 assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources, each article with include a short promo to entice your exploration. While in mind, you should certainly check out the free downloads of ELA and reading intervention diagnostic assessments as well as the other Pennington Publishing blog articles neatly categorized according to your interests. At last count I’ve written over 600 articles in the ELA and reading field and have been overly-generous (so say my colleagues) is equipping teachers with free downloads to help teachers better serve their students.

Your comments are certainly welcome on any of the individual articles. Mark… Oh, my email is

Close Reading Articles from the Pennington Publishing Blog

Close Reading Casualties 

This article explains how the over-emphasis of the close reading strategy has decreased Tier 2 vocabulary acquisition and reading fluency. The author provides suggestions regarding how to practice reading fluency and independent comprehension strategies (including self-generated questions). At the end of the article, a free download sample of the author’s Reading Academic Literacy Center is available.

Close Reading Narrative Worksheet

The author tears into the counterproductive practice of close reading advocates, who in their desire to promote reader independence, actually achieve the converse by prohibiting pre-reading strategies designed to both access prior knowledge and pre-teach key vocabulary and concepts. Citing years of reading research, the author brings out the big guns to suggest that close reading needs a bit of tweaking to remain a viable reading strategy. Teachers will be able to download a free narrative close reading template.

Close Reading Expository Worksheet

The author provides historical perspective on the close reading strategy (actually a recycled strategy from the 1950s and 1960s) and argues that there are four key components of the close reading strategy that teachers need to keep on doing. However, there are also three key reading strategies which need to supplement close reading to increase reader comprehension and independence. Teachers will love the free download of an expository close reading template.

Independent Close Reading

In this article the author faults the exclusivity of the text-dependent questions (a key component of the close reading strategy). While agreeing with the authors of the Common Core State Standards that the old reader response strategies of the whole language movement led teachers and students to go beyond the text into the relatively irrelevant and tangential world of focusing on what the reading means to me, the close reading fanatics have dumped decades of solid reading research, which proves the validity of reader self-generated questioning strategies. Those who adhere to text-dependent publisher or teacher questions at the expense of reader questions return students to reading to answer questions, rather than reading to find out what the author means. Teachers will be able to download a useful set of resources: The SCRIP Comprehension Strategies resource includes posters for each of the five comprehension strategies to prompt self-generated questions, SCRIP comprehension bookmarks, and five lessons to teach these strategies.

Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely

This article has produced quite a response. The pin associated with the article went semi-viral, indicating a backlash against close reading. The author goes out of his way to state his support of the close reading strategy as one of many effective reading strategies, but cites the key reading researchers who see close reading as a good thing that needs to be better. If you’re interested in cited reading research on close reading with all the links, this article is for you. The focus of the article is historical: how close reading developed as a strategy to access challenging text. Sometimes it helps to know where something comes from to understand what it is.

English-Language Arts and Reading Intervention Articles and Resources 

Bookmark and check back often for new articles and free ELA/reading resources from Pennington Publishing.


Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight–adult. This full-year, 55 minutes per day program provides both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). Affordable and evidence-based, the program features the 54 Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables for each lesson and designed for older students. The digital and print word recognition activities and decodables are also available as a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) option in The Science of Reading Intervention Program. Both programs include the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities.


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Close Reading Casualties

Close Reading

Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely

With the “Great Shift” from fiction to non-fiction reading since the advent of the Common Core State Standards, many teachers are finding that the academic rigor of expository text is challenging for readers of all ages. The predominant reading strategy to access rigorous text has been the widely-used close reading. The popularity of close reading has been chiefly beneficial as a means for readers to dig into these three components of text: 1. Key Ideas and Details 2. Craft and Structure and 3. Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. However, there have been some unintended casualties.

As is often the case in our profession, teachers dropped many of the effective reading practices they had been using for years to make room (and time) for time-consuming close readings. In a related article, I concur with the criticisms of noted reading researcher, David Pearson, who values the benefits of close reading, but says, “We need a mid-course correction, not a pendulum swing… but with BALANCE in mind…” (Pearson).

Specifically, I agree with Dr. Pearson that the close reading ban on pre-reading strategies is counterproductive. Additionally, I argue that the stated goal of close reading advocates (to develop reader independence in rigorous text) is undermined by the focus on teacher and publisher produced text-dependent questions… not that external questions are at all bad… but that the internal questions developed by the reader to dialog with the author have been largely replaced. The research regarding self-generated question strategies has a long-validated history. Again, in our concern that external questions must be text-dependent (a good thing), we have reductively dismissed the practice of encouraging internal reader engagement with the text (a better thing).

A further casualty of the expository-focused pendulum swing has been the decline of class novels and independent reading. As a case study, my middle school in Elk Grove, California has a large staff of ten ELA teachers. Since the advent of Common Core, the number of core novels has been cut in half and the emphasis on independent reading eliminated. Of the ten teachers, only one other teacher provides time for independent reading (10 minutes per day). I’m a lone ranger, still assigning 30 minutes per day as homework with accountability procedures. And, no… it’s not Accelerated Reader. Check out my independent reading plan and my dialog with others (including Dr. Stephen Krashen) HERE.

So, what have been the unintended consequences of the “Great Shift” and universal popularity of the close reading strategy? Less reading.

1. LESS VOCABULARY ACQUISITION With less reading, students are exposed to fewer Tier 2 academic language words. Reading a rigorous, vocabulary-dense article of, say 600 words (frequently filled with infrequently-used Tier 3 domain-specific words), exposes students to between 15 and 25 unknown Tier 2 words in a 45-minute close reading lesson. Whereas, reading a less vocabulary-dense grade-level novel in or out of class for the same amount of time would expose students to between 200 and 400 unknown Tier 2 words at a 95% word recognition level.

2. DECREASED READING FLUENCY Less reading means less fluency practice, which is highly correlated with better reading comprehension. None of my colleagues are administering fluency assessments and providing fluency practice as they did before Common Core, except Yours Truly. It’s not that these teachers were unconvinced by the merits of reading fluency. Far from it! As seventh and eighth grade teachers would say, “I hope that elementary teachers are still practicing fluency… we don’t have the time anymore.” As fourth, fifth, and sixth grade teachers would say, “I hope that primary teachers are still practicing fluency… we don’t have time anymore.” Etc.

My three recommendations?

1. Get back to pre-teaching both expository and narrative reading texts. Build accessibility into rigorous texts.

2. Provide more time for independent reading (I prefer homework, so as not to waste class time. After all, you have your close readings to do :))

3. Practice reading fluency and independent comprehension strategies (including self-generated questions).

Academic Literacy Center for Reading

Reading Academic Literacy Center

For those of you who are using literacy centers (stations), check out my full-year grades 4-8 Reading Academic Literacy Center. This twice-per week 20-minute center provides the reading fluency and reading comprehension practice your students need with expository text. Students read 43 informational articles about common and uncommon animals. Each article has between 350–450 words and provides a physical description of the animal, its habitat, what it eats, its family life, interesting behaviors, and the status of its world population.

The articles are leveled in a pyramid design: the first two paragraphs are at an adjusted third-grade (Fleish-Kincaid) level (after deleting a few key multi-syllabic words such as carnivores or long animal names such as armadillos); the next two paragraphs are at the fifth-grade level; and the last two are at the seventh-grade level. The reader begins practice at an easier level to build confidence and then moves to more difficult academic language and sentence length. The same text is used for both the reading fluency and reading comprehension articles.

The reading fluency articles include difficult pronunciations in boldface to pre-teach in the upper right corner. Word counts are listed in the left margin for fluency timings. Timing charts are provided to help students track their cold (unpracticed) and hot (after choral readings) readings.

Additionally, if tablets, phones, or computers are available, students may access and practice reading along with the YouTube modeled readings for each article. Each of the reading fluency articles has been recorded at three different reading speeds ((Level A at 95-115 words per minute; Level B at 115-135 words per minute; and Level C at 135-155 words per minute) for optimal modeled reading fluency practice at your students’ individual fluency challenge levels.

Unsure about the optimal fluency practice level for your students? The Reading Literacy Center provides a diagnostic screening assessment.

The reading comprehension articles include five comprehension questions–one question for each of the five SCRIP Comprehension Strategies. The SCRIP acronym stands for Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict. The questions are placed in the right-hand margin to help students read interactively with the text. Students learn to use these SCRIP prompts to self-generate their own questions of the text, creating the reader-author dialog, which is so critical to reading comprehension. Additionally, three key vocabulary words are boldfaced within the article. Answers to the five questions are provided following the comprehension worksheets.

Get the Reading Academic Literacy Center Sample Lessons FREE Resource:

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