Tagged Reading Comprehension

Close Reading and “Gist” Statements: What’s Important Here?

Giving the “gist” of complicated matters is not always easy.

I worked with Jillian Walters this week to do a close reading on an article about Treacher Collins Syndrome to provide a context for students to better understand the character of Auggie in the book Wonder which students are reading for their English classes.  The article dealt with scientific information about the disease including its symptoms, causes and treatments, and the first stage of the reading consisted of the “gist” statement.

To begin, we had students highlight the “important things” in the text before working in pairs to write a statement together.

One of the things we noted as students were working was the variety of highlighting methods.  While some students highlighted almost everything, others only had a few things underlined.  Then, as they worked in pairs, we also noticed there was some variety in the information included in the one sentence statements.  Here are examples they created:


This lead to a conversation with students about how to choose what is important from the text.  Walters asked students to share how they decided what to highlight and made this list on the board.


We also discussed text features that might have led students to recognize important elements (such as titles and bulleted lists).

Students then came and wrote their “gist” sentences on the board.  The end goal in doing this was to look at the commonalities and differences.  In the other classes, we used these to build a common “gist statement” together based on evidence in some of the text features.

This entire process and the reading took about thirty minutes.  We had yet to even begin the vocabulary and question readings.

This brings me to a point about close reading: it takes time.  However, the long-term benefits in thinking are worth it.  Students learn comprehension skills, determine how to make meaning from complicated texts, examine vocabulary in context and answer worthwhile questions.

Here are the resources used in the lesson:

Close Reading: Additional Resources and Text-dependent Questions

Over the next two weeks, I will be presenting in a PD for both of the high school English departments on close reading.

One of the things I have grown to appreciate about the process is how it leads students to create meaning from the text for themselves without the interpretation being managed by the facilitator of the classroom, thus creating a student-centered experience with the text that supports critical thinking.

One of the major premises of the close reading strategy is that teachers do not front load the text any more than absolutely necessary.  Another is that any information that is given should not be able to be found in the text itself.  This increases the amount of time students spend engaging in the text while in the classroom.  It also allows them the opportunity to “struggle” with the text to discover meaning.  A third premise is that the majority of questions asked of students should require a close analysis of the text itself; furthermore, the questions should eventually push students beyond the text to search for what is implicit.

In preparation for the PD, I have been doing some additional research and have found some worthwhile resources.  One I like is a blog by Timothy Shanahan, a professor at the University of Illinois who specializes in reading.  He provides a thoughtful context for thinking about different types of “text-dependent” questions to meet separate purposes each reading.

He states, “…close reading is an intensive analysis of a text in order to come to terms with what it says, how it says it, and what it means.”

Here is a summary of the process he describes for building questions and exploring the text on different levels:

  1. Reading one: figure out what the “text says;” this is purely comprehension based
  2. Reading two: figuring out how “the text works;” this focuses on what the author was doing to accomplish his or her goals
  3. Reading three: figure out what the text “means;” this focuses on “going deeper” and asking questions about: the value of the author’s perspective, the skill or artfulness with which they delivered the information, and the connections students can build between this new text and others things they have read in the past

Here is a link to a blog post he wrote that provides a summation of the close reading strategy.  This second link is to a Power Point about close reading by the same source.

Harvard’s explanation of the close reading strategy is a little different, but equally as interesting.  It is also very student-directed and seems like a clear way to explain what a student should do when planning an analysis for longer, as well as shorter, pieces.

1.  Reading one: Read the text “with a pencil in hand” and annotate.

2.  Reading two: Look for patterns in the annotations from the first reading, specifically “repetitions, contradictions, similarities” in the text.

3.  Question the patterns noted, specifically, ask why and how.

4.  Reading three: Look back at the text and try to answer the questions generated in step three.

Here is a Close Reading Overview with an explanation of “reading shifts” and additional resources for these shifts.

Close Reading in Practice

This is from the cover of the resource suggested to me by Ben Baptiste.

This is from the cover of the resource suggested to me by Ben Baptiste.

Ben Baptiste practiced close reading with his students this week and invited me into his classroom.  It was a good experience for us both to become more familiar with the process, and I am looking forward to trying it again next week with Jillian Walters.

A couple of things he and I determined through the experience were that it seemed important for the reading to be fairly short given the number of readings and that peer sharing lead to better responses.

Here is a general outline for the close reading strategy with some variations he and I discussed and/or tried in the classroom:

1.    First reading aloud together while underlining sentences deemed important by students

2.  Pair students to collaborate on a single, one-sentence “gist” statement before sharing answers aloud as a class

3.  Second reading silently while students circle unknown words and write down what they guess the word might mean based on the context

4.  All students write the words they did not know on the white board; if a student sees the words they had are already written, they put a check mark next to them

5.  High frequency words are discussed as a class, and students share guesses as to what each might mean while the teacher prompts them for context clues along the way (Ex: what in the sentence made you think the meaning was…?)

6.  Third Reading students answer text-dependent questions in pairs or individually and share out answers.  This could also be split into an additional fourth reading following the same process as the third.  If split up this way, maybe the first set of questions would be lower-level comprehension questions and the second set might be higher level analytical or inference questions. 

Inference and other types of higher level thinking questions were a strength of Ben’s.  In particular, he asked a great question about the effect of the author’s use of the “dash” in the article which sparked an interesting conversation about punctuation for effect in writing between the two of us.

He also mentioned a resource while I was visiting that prompted the text-dependent question and seemed very well aligned with our current literacy/close reading push.  It is called The Art of Slow Reading, and he assigns it to his AP students.  I also found a Washington Post article by the author called “Reading is not a Race: The Virtues of the Slow Reading Movement.”

Here is the handout Ben used for his close reading: Close Reading activity – Facebook Friends article (Henig)