close reading – how it could go with a focus on author’s word choice

when we talk to our kids about knowing themselves as a reader, especially at the beginning of the year when we’re working to build reading identities, we reveal some details about ourselves as readers, which include that we enjoy books that we’ll call “beach reads.” these are books, we tell our kids, that feel kind of easy. we don’t have to work hard to get through them, we can follow the story, they move quickly, and we finish them quickly. these books feel good to read.

teaching kids that books that feel easy are enjoyable is important. in the fall, we often have kids who think that they have to have a big, thick, difficult book in their hands to be considered a strong reader. a lot of our work at the start of the year is to unravel this misconception. there’s deep work to be done in even the easiest of texts, which is often why the first chapter books that we’ll read aloud are shorter texts, and, more than anything else, we use and reuse picture books as our read alouds and teaching texts.

using picture books in this way hopefully sends a few messages to our kids. first, we honor all types of texts in our classroom as important and worth reading. we want even our lowest readers to see themselves in what’s being read aloud, to see that the types of books that they read are books not just for them, but for everyone. we want to get past what’s considered grade-level and make sure there’s room for every reader. second, using picture books in this way allows us to show our kids what the work of close reading is, because we return to the text multiple times, with different purposes.

we’ve intentionally used the se text – fox – to show how you might consider close reading with a focus on both repetition and structure because we wanted to make the point that a single text has an infinite number of ways it can be used. that’s what we’re hoping our kids understand, that there’s so much more to the texts they read than what they see the first time, and the more times we return to the texts, the more we’ll get out of them. it’s important that the way we teach this mimics the behaviors we hope they grow into.

we suggest returning to fox again and using it to think about the author’s word choice. (this lesson would be a great companion to a writing lesson about making choices as a writer.)

here’s how this could go:

say: as writers, we make choices about the words we use in our texts. the authors of the books you’re reading made these choices, too. as readers, we can read closely by paying attention to the words the author chooses to include and how that affects the messages of the text. we might think to ourselves, why did the author choose these specific words? what do they show? how does that relate to the message of the story? (you may want to have these questions or phrases to get them started on a post-it that they can see on a chart or under a document camera, like the post-its below.)

phrases that help students think about word choice

read aloud from fox: and so dog runs, with magpie on his back, every day, through summer, through winter.

think aloud: the author chose to tell us not just that dog and magpie ran every day, but also that it was through summer AND through winter. let’s think about that. that means three seasons – summer, fall, and winter. three seasons is 9 months out of our year! why might the author have chosen to put those words in? give me a thumbs up when you have an idea. you might use the phrase “maybe the author chose those words because/to show…” (or refer back to the thinking stems posted for the class to see as you invite them to think.)

give students an opportunity to turn and talk to a partner after you’ve given wait time (and see that most have a thumb up with an idea). encourage students to use the thinking stems that you’ve displayed. once they’ve talked, share out something you overheard: some of you had ideas like, maybe it’s because it shows how much time dog and magpie spent together. it makes you think about how close they must have gotten, how well they knew each other. this makes the betrayal later even more surprising.

say: the next step is to think about how this relates to the messages of the story, because the authors are always including things in their writing to show or support the messages. listen as i remind you what one possible reason for the author’s choice to include the seasons was…(repeat what you shared from overhearing during the turn and talk)…now think: this fits with a message in the story of…because…

give students a chance to turn and talk and then share out again.


anchor chart to support close reading work.

remember that after you’ve practiced this once, you’ll want to create more opportunities for your kids to try it, allowing for them to do it more and more independently over time. you might consider trying this work again with some slight variations like:

  • reading aloud a new part, and pointing out another line for them to think about, but this time asking kids to stop and jot their ideas before turning and talking
  • reading aloud a new page and letting the students try the same work, using the phrases on the chart to support them, but letting them choose what words they’re focusing their thinking on. you might have them do this with a partner first (more supportive) and then on their own (less supportive)
  • having book clubs or same-book partnerships do some thinking, talking, and writing about word choice in their books during their meetings

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