As you probably know, there are many passages available that claim to be ideal for close reading. Many are in published books. Many are available either for free or for purchase on the internet. As you select passages for your students to read, please keep in mind that not all passages are created equal. Teacher sites like Teachers Pay Teachers are open marketplaces. That means that anyone can publish anything, whether or not they are qualified as an author or the products themselves are well-written or effective.
Don’t let your students read poorly written texts. Ask yourself these diagnostic questions to see if the text you have selected is worthy of you and your students. And in case you are wondering why I am qualified to write such a list, I am a professional nonfiction children’s writer with more than 120 books in print.
- Quality of Writing:
- Is the text divided into paragraphs?
- Do the paragraphs have topic sentences?
- Is the information presented in a logical, sequential fashion?
- Are transition words and phrases used?
- Are the sentences varied and free from awkward phrases?
- Is the passage free of grammatical errors?
- Is the text well-researched? Are statistics and facts accurate?
- Appropriateness for Students:
- Is the reading level about right for your students? Please do not depend on Lexile rankings. Virtually all products that list Lexiles on TpT are doing so illegally. Further, they are most likely not accurate (as is clearly stated on the Lexile website). In addition, Lexile leveled passages do not take content into consideration and, depending on your students’ background, prior knowledge, and comprehension skills, may still not be appropriate. Further, the use of a Lexile ranking often does not allow for challenging vocabulary words, which are an important part of close reading. Challenging vocabulary words should either be defined within or inferred from the text. You know your students. Most likely, you can read a passage over and have a pretty good idea if the reading level is appropriate.
- Is the subject matter appropriate for your students? Honestly, I have been quite surprised (and occasionally appalled) at some of the topics I have seen covered in passages available online. Subjects should be relevant to your curriculum (a great way to bring in social studies and science!) and/or of high interest to your students. Topics should not be politically biased, culturally insensitive, too mature for the age of your students, completely irrelevant, or just plain boring.
- Is the tone of the writing appropriate for your students? Don’t select texts that talk down to your students. If every passage starts out with: Have you ever… or _____ is very important…, then you should probably choose a different set. That’s just lazy writing. Sure, it’s fine to use those starters occasionally, but not all the time.
- Questions and Activities:
- Are the questions truly text-dependent? If the passage is about a child who won a contest, asking the student to write about a time when he or she won a contest is not text-dependent. It may be a good question to ask (especially during a group discussion), but that type of question is about making connections. The student does not need to read the text to answer it. For close reading, a better question might be: How did Caleb feel when he won the contest? Support your answer with evidence from the text.
- Do the questions go beyond simple comprehension? Be sure your students are being asked to make inferences and predictions. They should be finding the main idea and summarizing. They should also be exploring the author’s purpose, text structure, text features, and point of view. Context clues should be used to figure out the meaning of challenging words. Make sure that the questions address the standards you are required to cover.
- Are the questions clearly written and easy to understand? Make sure the questions are not confusing or ambiguous.
- Are the write-on lines provided on the printable the correct size for you students? This is a frequent problem with many online materials. Often I see student write-on lines that are not spaced appropriately. Giant lines for older students will make them feel patronized. Tiny lines for younger students will result in frustration. Make sure the author has also provided enough space for students to answer. This is especially important for two-part questions.
If you are selecting your own passages from books or other published materials, you may want to pick up my Close Reading Toolkits for literature and informational text. They include close reading tips, posters, annotation guides, discussion prompt cards, graphic organizers, text-dependent questions to use with interactive notebooks, and more!
If you would like text written by a professional nonfiction children’s author, please consider my Text Time passages. I have years of experience working with editors from educational publishers such as Harcourt, Rosen, Gale/Cengage, and Evan-Moor. Just like my books, my passages or well-researched, carefully written, and grade-level appropriate. They are, in fact, no different from what you would find in a published book. The accompanying text-dependent questions are rigorous and standards-based.
Want to try before you buy? Download the free preview, where you will find six ready-to-use pages that you can try with your students.