Close Reading for Better Understanding

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SWBAT use text dependent questions as a guide to close reading to further analyze the character and events in a literary story.

Big Idea

Which came first the questions or the answers? In this activity your students will discover how to use the questions to get to the answers.


Ok, I’m going to admit this, close reading in first grade is new to me, or a skill I did not practice a lot with my students in the past.  However, I am beginning to understand why this is such an important skill for students to master.  Especially when working with socio-economic disadvantaged students, being able to read independently and closely are essential to their future success.  Originally this lesson was part of the lesson I taught the day before, Snail Fun, however I realized when I was teaching yesterday’s lesson, this part was better suited and lends itself to its own lesson.

Common Core Connection:

Close reading and asking text dependent questions are part of the rigor and going deeper that common core challenges us to do with our students.  Close reading and text dependent questions can be used with any of the anchor standards.  In today’s lesson I will focus on CCRA.R.3: analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of the text.  Through RL.1.3: describe characters, settings, and major events in a story, using key detail; I will introduce my students to close reading the text in order to answer text dependent questions about the character and events in the story.

Lesson Overview:

In today’s lesson my students partner read the story Clementine and then answered text dependent questions in order to gain practice close reading.  Because of the number of copies of this book, half my students read the story to each other, while the other half either worked on their computer program or worked in their differentiated leveled reading group with me.  Then we switched



5 minutes

I started this lesson by telling my students we would be doing something a little different today, and be a little off schedule.  First Graders are very accustomed to being in a daily routine, so if you change it, even a little bit, you need to tell them first thing.

I then held up a copy of Clementine and reminded my students that this story was a literary fiction/fantasy story.  I gave my little ones a moment to think about this and used the magic cup (Demonstration: Magic Cup) to select a student to tell the class what a literary fiction /fantasy was.  As this student answered the class showed me with a thumb up (Demonstration: Thumb Up, Thumb Down) they agreed.  Just a side note here, to help students understand genres, from the beginning of the year whenever I introduce a new book I always tell my students what the genre is and an example of why it is that genre.  In this case a fiction story is one that is not real, and a fantasy is a story where animals talk and act human.

From there I explained to my students because of the number of books we had today we would read and work in our groups first and then as a whole group write in our journals independently. 

Guided Practice

15 minutes

At this point I had my students slowly slide to their desks like a snail.  I usually add a movement to my students’ transitions because I believe it helps keep them focused on their own space and what their body is doing, so there is less running and trying to be first.

Once settled in their seats I explained that they would be partner reading Clementine, and answering questions about the character Clementine and some of the events in the story.  The question I posed to my students: ‘If you know you are going to answer questions about a story, is it better to read the questions first or read the story first’?  I gave my little one a moment to think about this, and then repeated: ‘Is it better to read the questions first or read the story first’?  I waited a little second and then had my students vote by raising their hand which they thought would be better.  I fully understand that in First Grade this is a very un-scientific way to collect data because students change their minds when they see how their friends are voting.  To get a little more ‘accurate’ measure when I do this I have my students close their eyes and put their heads down and only ask one part of the question: …read the questions first.  In this case nearly all of my students agreed it is better to read the story first.  

Once I got this information from my students I asked students to explain their thinking and why they voted the way they did on either answer.  Their answers included: you have to read first to know what you are reading, and, you can’t answer until you read.  After listening to their answers I asked: ‘How would it be if you knew the questions first’?  I waited as my students thought about this, then one student ventured, ‘We would know what to read and look at the words’.  I agreed and further explained that when we read the questions first we have a better sense of how they should be answered and what to look for while we are reading.  The questions help us stay focused on our reading so that we can understand it better.

I then displayed the Clementine  activity sheet on the Promethean board and explained that while they were reading they should think about these questions.  We then read the questions as a whole class. 

From there I explained that the Blue Reading Group (most proficient readers) would read with the Green Reading Group (most dependent readers), while the Yellow and Red Reading Groups (middle readers) would read together.  I paired the groups like this so that my higher readers would read to the beginners.  

Collaborative Activity

40 minutes

I then had the Yellow group go to their computer program and the Red group to my reading table.  While they were doing this I had the Blue and Green groups pair up and handed out their Clementine Activity Sheet and copies of Clementine.   As they were beginning I reminded them to read the questions first, then read the story, when they finished the story they could work together to complete the activity sheet.  Although I was working with a group at my table I was still monitoring the reading partners (Partner Reading) by frequently looking at them and listening to the noise level.  After 15 minutes I checked to see their progress and added a couple of minutes so they could finish up.  When nearly all of the first group was finished we switched to give the Yellow and Red groups the same opportunity. 

After all my students completed this activity we re-grouped at their desks where I asked: ‘After doing this activity do you still think it is better to read the story first’?  This time they all agreed that reading the questions first was better.  As one student pointed out: ‘We still read all the story, but really read the parts that had the answers’.  I agreed and asked ‘How did having the questions help you read the parts with the answers’?  This same student explained that he and his partner knew what the questions were so while they were reading they were looking for words and pictures that would answer the questions.  The rest of the class agreed with this explanation by showing me a thumb up.  I also agreed and further explained knowing the questions help us pay more attention to what we are reading.

The two student samples from the Highest Reading Group and the Third Highest Reading Group show that my students were able to complete this activity.  The student from the Third Highest Reading Group answered the questions, however did not provide as much detail.  To help this student develop the skill of writing in complete sentences I will practice more with his group during our writing block and spelling time.

From there we moved into our Independent Practice.

Independent Practice

15 minutes

Usually during this time we are rotating every 15 to 20 minutes through independent activities, one of those activities being journal writing.  Even though we have a writing block each afternoon for structured writing instruction I always include journal writing as part of my daily independent routine.  Journal writing helps students synthesis what they learned during the collaborative activities. Today I had my students work in their journals all at one time. 

The prompt I put on the Promethean for my less independent students: Give two examples of how having the questions first help you read Clementine

Ticket Out the Door

5 minutes

For a sticker my students needed to tell me if they could use this strategy  of reading the questions first in other school setting or subject.