Close Reading & the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

November 19, 2013 Lindsey Graff

by Julia Cremin

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Now that the school year is underway and I’ve hit a rhythm with classroom routines and protocols, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the Common Core Standards for English language arts.  I wanted to check in on how well I’ve done in aligning my lessons to the standards thus far and where I need to head in order to ensure I stay on pace to address each standard by the end of the year.

One main focus of the English language arts standards is on building students’ ability to draw specific evidence from the text to support claims and arguments. In order for students to be able to identify evidence that would support a claim or argument, they must be able to read texts independently and with precision. In other words, students must be taught strategies for close reading of a text.

In the article, Implementing the Common Core State Standards: A Primer on Close Reading of the Text, by Sheila Brown and Lee Kappes, close reading is defined as, “an investigation of a short piece of text, with multiple readings done over multiple instructional lessons.” Students learn how to analyze and inspect different aspects of the text through text-based questions and discussions.

The goal of close reading is to gradually release responsibility to students, a shift from the teacher modeling close reading strategies to students employing strategies independently. The role of the teacher is tomake these strategies visible to students through thinking aloud, modeling, and posting anchor charts for reference. Below are some strategies that set the stage for students to interact with a text through an independent analysis and group discussion with peers.

Close Reading Strategies

Numbering Paragraphs:

The first step of the close reading process is to have students read the text independently.  This initial exposure provides students a chance to “productively struggle” with the text.

Before the initial read, guide students through the process of numbering the paragraphs.  If it is a shorter read, such as a poem, number each line.

I do this by displaying the text on a data projector and counting out loud. After I say each number, the students read aloud the first two words of the paragraph and together we write the number of the paragraph in the margin of the text.

This step provides students with a basis for referring back to specific details from the text when they move on to the discussion phase. During this step, students can also preview the text structure.

Coding the Text:

Our staff has developed a coding system that all teachers have agreed to use when teaching students close reading strategies. We each have an anchor chart (download our Marking Text Poster to enlarge using your Poster Maker 3600 posted to show what the codes mean. Students use the same system for marking the text in all content areas, which helps them to generalize and internalize the codes. 

marking text poster resized 600

Text coding is a process that is best taught through a think aloud, supported by modeling. I teach my students the coding marks by selecting a mentor text and thinking out loud as I read the text  I display a copy of the text on a data projector and model how to box words you don’t know; circle key terms, names of people, places and dates; underline the main idea; write a, “?” next to anything confusing; and write a, “!” next to interesting or surprising information.

I then have students engage in the process of coding the text as they read through the second and/or third time with a partner or as a whole group. After the next reading, I give students an opportunity to discuss their text codes with a peer, then we share out ideas and questions as a whole group.

Purpose for Reading:

Once students have become familiar with coding the text in general, I pose a question or specific purpose for reading and have students revisit the text, reading it to find evidence to support an answer to the question, viewpoint, or argument that is stated in the text.

During this step, students also annotate the text by writing in the margins.  They may write questions that were generated during reading, summarize the main idea, or note items with which they agree or disagree.  The annotations students make should tie in specifically with the purpose for which they are reading.

Once students have been through the process of interacting with a text multiple times for a specific purpose, they are prepared to engage in a discussion of the text.  Discussions can be among small groups or across the whole class and should be based on what the author has written specifically in the text, rather than students’ personal reflections.

Aligning Curriculum with the Common Core Standards

The implementation of the Common Core standards can be overwhelming.  It is a challenge to decipher the standards and construct from them engaging lessons that prepare students to read closely and independently.  It is too much to expect us, as teachers, to re-write our entire language arts curriculums to meet the new standards.

Luckily we don’t need to do that. We can achieve alignment by restructuring the lessons we have already created in a way that provides students with an opportunity to engage with texts at a deeper level.  Focusing on close reading strategies has given me the structure that I need in order to tweak lessons I’ve already developed to align with the standards and prepare students to be independent critical thinkers.

VariQuest Learning Modules can help you align lessons to Common Core Standards utilizing the Visual Learning Tools – learn more here.



Brown, Sheila and Lee Kappes.  “Implementing the Common Core State Standards: A Primer on Close Reading of Text.”  The Aspen Institute.  October 9, 2012.


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Julia Cremin

Julia Cremin is a 6th grade Reading, Language Arts and Math teacher at O'Keeffe Middle School in Madison, WI. She is certified in Elementary Education (grades 1-9) with a minor in Mathematics. This is her third year teaching middle school.

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