When I taught a special education literature group of fourth and fifth graders, my favorite part of planning was choosing the books. Finding just the right book—from A Dog’s Life by Ann M. Martin to A Boy at War by Harry Mazer—that capitalized on their interests, was bound to engage, and would expand their thinking felt just as rewarding as choosing a book for myself. I knew I’d nailed it when they dove in to close-read the first chapter.

For close reading, choosing a text is arguably the most important part of planning. “You choose a text because it’s challenging,” says Sarah Tantillo, author of Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action, “and you want to unpack it.” After all, if you’re using the text for close reading, you’re going to be spending a lot of time with it.

Here are five aspects to consider when choosing your next close read:

Get It on Grade Level
One of the key shifts in the Common Core State Standards is an increase in text complexity, which also means more grade-level texts. Close-reading lessons, which cover a small portion of students’ reading time, is a perfect opportunity to expose all your students to grade-level text. 

Students may gain more from grade-level text than you think. In their research, Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey, professors at San Diego State University, found that when students were taught using texts above their reading level (think: frustration level), there was an increase in learning. (From “Scaffolded Reading Instruction of Content Area Texts” published in 2014 in The Reading Teacher.)

All Aligned
You’re choosing a text for students in your class, so take the opportunity to create a shared experience. For example, if you’re studying the American Revolution, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains is a great text for students to share. To narrow down your list of titles, identify some themes or topics you’ll cover this year. Then, consider character types or plot structures that you want students to learn about. Finally, look for work by authors that you want your student to read.   

Writing Worth Reading
Mentor texts, books or text that serve as an example of quality writing, inspire discussion beyond plot and characterization. These books will encourage students to explore the craft of writing and how authors write books worth reading. To find mentor texts, look for books that surprise and astonish students. Think about the books that former students still mention when you see them in the halls. For students that I’ve worked with, powerful books have ranged from The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes to The Breadwinner series by Deborah Ellis. (For more, listen to this Choice Literacy podcast about mentor texts.)

Relevance and Reach
Close reads are the perfect time to engage students with texts that resonate with their experience and expand their perspective. Consider which texts you’re bringing in to address relevance (their own experience) and reach (broadening their perspective). If you’re teaching a class of urban students, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead could provide relevance, while Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan could provide reach. 

Perfect Passages
Once you’ve got your book, Tantillo suggests focusing on particular passages that raise interesting questions. When reading novels, there are chapters and sections that you can read quickly, while other passages warrant close reading because of the plot twist, character development or connection to theme. Articles will have sections that can be quickly skimmed and other paragraphs that require a deep read. Look for sections that make you stop, reread and wonder to find your perfect passages!

We’re wondering, what tips and tricks do you use to find books that resonate with your students? And what books do you bring into your classroom again and again? Leave your comments below.