Reading More Closely

A bunch of years ago, I blogged about my attempts to address a problem of practice that I had observed in my classes. Across the different levels of collegiate classes I taught, I found that while the majority of my students were completing the reading I had assigned for class, few were ready to really engage in any in-depth conversation about the material. They could restate the content, but weren’t  thinking critically about the material they were reading. At the time, I wrote about working with my colleague, Dr. Jennifer Shettel, to better understand the issue. Jen is a literacy expert and gave my lots of strategies that I could try. After trying out a few different ideas that Jen shared, I landed on assigning weekly “close reading posts” that students submitted to an online discussion board prior to coming to class. I’ve been using the strategies in my undergraduate and graduate classes for the last four or five years and I realized recently that I haven’t revisited the topic here. That dawned on me after a conversation with one of my doctoral students (yep, they do the close reading posts, too). She explained that while she initially hated completing the posts, she saw the impacts of the strategy in her understanding of the material. “It forces me to engage more deeply,” she said. And that’s really the point. When the student asked if she could share them with a few colleagues, I thought maybe I should share them here, with all of you. Just to be clear, these aren’t MY strategies. They’ve been adapted from ideas from Jen and taken from other places over the years. Some have been modified based on student feedback. So, while I’m sharing them here, I didn’t create these strategies and I don’t own these ideas. Feel free to use them if you think it will help your students engage more deeply. You can even share them with a colleague.

Five Sentences

For this close reading technique, students select five sentences from each reading that they feel captures the most important aspect of that reading.  In addition to selecting the sentences, students write a short paragraph description of why they selected the sentences and explaining how each fit with and represents the overall reading.

Know Learn Wonder

While this is typically done in a table form, I modified it a bit for use as a Close Reading Strategy. For each reading, students write three paragraphs discussing what they already knew about the subject prior to reading, what they learned from reading the text, and what they’re still wondering about the subject after reading the text.


Microblogging is based on the Twitter ecosystem.  When using microblogging as a close reading technique, students compose 10-15 comments of less than 140 characters that captures meaningful quotes/content from the week’s readings.  For instance, they can write something like:

  • “Teachers are also irreplaceable due to their impact on students’ social and emotional development.” Zhao p.25 #computersdon’tfeel #teachersarevital

I ask that each microblog include a quote/comment about the assigned readings which is identified by the author and the page number. Students must also include a relevant hashtag (#) at the end.  in this close reading strategy, hashtagging isn’t just for categorization.  The hashtagging process helps to promote higher thinking on the reading and adds additional context to the selected quote or content.  Here’s what Wikipedia says about hashtagging.

”Hashtags are used informally to express context around a given message, with no intent to categorize the message for later searching, sharing, or other reasons. One of the functions of the hashtag is to serve as a reflexive meta-commentary, which contributes to the idea of how written communication in new media can be paralleled to how pragmatic methodology is applied to speech.”

 Hashtagging in this fashion can be witty, snarky or reflective.  Using a single word or a short phrase, the students provide context for the quote. It’s really kind of tricky and requires some higher order thought. Which is one of the reasons I ask students to do it.

Say Mean Matter

For this close reading strategy, students address “What does it say? What does it mean? Why does it matter?”  After they’ve completed the assigned readings, student write three paragraphs

SAY: In the first paragraph, students summarize the big ideas presented in the readings.  What do the authors say? What are the big ideas conveyed?

MEAN: For the second paragraph, students interpret the larger meanings represented in the readings. What do the authors mean? How do we interpret this? What is being communicated “between the lines?”

MATTER: In the last one, students should address why this stuff matters from some assigned role or perspective. Why is this stuff important? What are the implications of this work?


The Sentence-Phrase-Word thinking routine helps learners to engage with and make meaning from text with a particular focus on capturing the essence of the text or “what speaks to you.”  The power of the routine lies in the discussion of why a particular word, a single phrase, and a sentence stood out for each individual in the class as the catalyst for richer discussion.

SENTENCE: In this close reading strategy, students first select a sentence that was meaningful to them and helped them gain a deeper understanding of the text.  They write a short paragraph description explaining why they chose this sentence.

PHRASE: For the second phase of this strategy, students select a phrase that moved, engage or provoked them. They write a short paragraph description explaining why they chose this phrase.

WORD: For the third phase of this strategy, students select a word that captured their attention or struck them as powerful. I explain that the word could appear in one of the assigned texts or emerge across readings.  The students write a short paragraph description explaining why they chose this word.

Sketch Notes

Sketchnotes are rich visual notes created from a mix of handwriting, drawings, hand-drawn typography, shapes, and visual elements like arrows, boxes, and lines (Rohde, 2013). Applied as a close reading strategy, students convert what they’ve read into a visual that graphically displays 5-7 main ideas from the readings. The graphic should explicitly connect to the readings and the connections should be clear to the viewer. Rather than upload text into a discussion forum, students take a photo of their sketch notes and attach them as an image into the discussion forum.

Ten Words

For this Close Reading strategy, students select (at least) Ten Words in the reading that were either new to them or ones that were particularly impactful. I explain that students should select words that represent significant concepts in the reading. For each word, students write a sentence defining it in their own words and describing how it relates the big ideas in the reading.

Hate Love Wonder

I’ll be honest that I haven’t actually tried this one yet. It’s a close reading strategy I decided to start using after reading Paul Hanstedt’s book Creating Wicked Students: Designing Courses for a Complex World. While Hanstedt just discusses love and hate strategies, I plan to add a wonder part to try garner some more interesting conversations. When I use this strategy, students will select a concept or quote that they hated and write a short paragraph explaining what didn’t resonate with them. They’ll also write paragraphs detailing what they love from reading the text and what they’re still wondering about.


Hanstedt, P. (2018). Creating wicked students: Designing courses for a complex world. Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Rohde, M. (2013). The sketchnote handbook: The illustrated guide to visual notetaking. Peachpit Press.

One thought on “Reading More Closely

  1. Pingback: Not in Trouble | The 8 Blog

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