The last time you read, you had a purpose, even if you didn’t realize it. Maybe you were reading to figure out how to implement a teaching strategy, to learn how to cook a dish, or to find out what happens next in a novel. Whatever the reason, every time we read it’s purposeful.

That applies to our students too. Though, their reason to read may not be the one that we’d want—too often, our students read to complete an assignment, to find an answer to a question, or to “get it done.”

Reading with a clear, meaningful purpose helps students gain more from text. They’re able to monitor their reading, figure out what information is most important, and be confident that their reading was successful. In close reading, in particular, setting a purpose also encourages students to return to the text, which builds understanding.

One way to set a purpose for reading is through questioning. Create a series of questions that shape students’ reading so that, as students read they “see” the text through different lenses, and peel away layers to reveal deeper meaning each time they read.

Use this structure to craft questions that will have students delving deep into text.

Create Text-Based Essential Questions

Essential questions are the big-picture questions that inspire inquiry and discussion. They’re large enough to cover entire units, so when you’re choosing a text for close reading, consider how that text connects to the essential question. Then, create a more targeted text-based essential question that helps students connect the passage to the larger context.

Text

Essential Questions

Text-Based Essential Questions

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

How much control do we have over our destiny?

How much control does Liesel have over her destiny?

I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr

What does it mean to be free?

How would Martin Luther King Jr. define freedom?

I, Too, Sing America

by Langston Hughes

How are we shaped by our experiences?

Are Langston Hughes’ experiences universal or individual?

                     
Once you have text-based essential questions, set up a series of questions that drive students’ interaction with the text and build towards work with the text-based essential question.   

Reading 1: Comprehension Seeking

During this reading, students read to understand what the passage is about, or to get the gist.

Reading 2: Identifying the Focus

In the second read, students will start uncovering meaning about one aspect of the text. 

Reading 3: Digging Deeper

During the third reading, students will work with a question that helps them delve deeper into the author’s craft, or to identify evidence to support the claim they’re going to make based on the text.

Text

Reading 1

Reading 2

Reading 3

“I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King Jr

What does King want listeners to take away from the speech?

What counterarguments does King address in his speech?

How does King use language to shape the impact of his speech?

“I, Too, Sing America” by Langston Hughes

What experiences has Hughes had?

How much control does Hughes have over his experience?

How do the first and last lines of the poem shape the meaning?

 

While close reading often incorporates a three-reading structure, students may read the passage more times if that’s what it takes for them to comprehend it. The idea isn’t to read three times (then students may read to complete their checklist for the day), but to gain as much insight as possible by reading for various purposes. 

We’re curious, how do you set a purpose for close reading in your class?