Close Reading in Kindergarten? Is it Possible?

close reading button

“The CCSS are too hard.”

“The CCSS are not developmentally appropriate.”

“The CCSS have pushed many skills down into the primary grades before students are ready to tackle such difficult texts.”

As of 09.02.13 according to Chris Lehman:

“Close reading is when a reader independently stops at moments in a text (or media or life) to reread and observe the choices an author has made. He or she reflects on those observations to reach for new understandings that can color the way the rest of the book is read (or song heard or life lived) and thought about.”

Check out that link above the definition for the original blog post with foundational understandings of close reading built upon the work of Patricia Kain, Doug Fisher, Kylene Beers and Bob Probst.  More information will also be available in Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts soon to be released text, Falling in Love with Close Reading.  Some of those beliefs about the ultimate goal of close reading from a Teachers College presentation by Kate Roberts are also found in an earlier blog post of my own found here.

Thinking about misconceptions . . .

Is close reading appropriate for kindergarten and first grade students?

It would appear that #CCSS expert Tim Shanahan believes that close reading is not appropriate in the primary grades.  In his blog post from Tuesday, July 16, 2013, Shanahan responds to a reader’s request as follows:

Close Reading for Beginning Readers? Probably Not.

“I am a first grade teacher. My principal has mandated that all classes K-5 do Close Reading. Is it appropriate for all ages? It seems to me that the texts at K/1 are not likely to be complex enough and that the students at this age are too concrete in their thinking.”


“Good question. I share your concerns. There are very few articles or stories appropriate for K/1 that would make any sense for close reading. The content usually just isn’t deep enough to bear such close study (and, frankly, if you look at the comprehension standards themselves, specifically standards #4-9 for those grades, it should be evident that CCSS doesn’t envision particularly close reading at these levels).”

But if we base our work on the definition above and in Chris’s post, I believe that “close reading” is possible for kindergarten and first grade students.  Will it be easy?  No!  Will all students get it?  Not, YET!

Teachers will have to carefully craft their instruction in order to allow students to “independently” have the opportunity to look for patterns.  After reading Dorothy Barnhouse and Vickie Vinton’s What Readers Really Do, I continue to believe that beginning students can engage in the thinking necessary for “close reading.”

My example:  
The teacher uses No, David! by David Shannon as mentor text and reads it to the class.  She models her thinking as she reveals patterns and encourages the students to also think about the patterns that were included.  On another day, the teacher will provide time for the students to read David Goes to School and David Gets in Trouble.  The teacher will invite the students in partner groups to search for patterns for “Know, Wonder” charts.  Questions will not be used to interrogate the students.  Students will be invited to “tell me more . . .”  Students will be encouraged to think about the patterns that the teacher revealed about relationships between the words and the illustrations that David Shannon used in No, David!  Because some of our kindergartners have been in session for three weeks, I think we can develop additional “Know, Wonder” charts and check for students who are “close reading” as they search for patterns in the books they are reading.  Students who are able to explain their thinking about the patterns and draw inferences to similarities across multiple texts (especially if they point to the matching pages) will be providing evidence of their “close reading.”

Common Core Grade Level Reference

RL.K.(7-9) Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
RL.K.7 – With prompting and support, describe the relationship between illustrations and the story in which they appear (e.g., what moment in a story an illustration depicts).(Goal – Students will complete this goal without prompting and support after appropriate instruction and opportunities to practice tracing patterns.)
What do you think?  Is this close reading?  Or is this another misconception?

Check out this link:  Close Reading in Kindergarten – Advertisements  (Added 02.23.14)

Join in here!

19 responses

  1. Most teachers have been doing close reading in one form or another for years. Stopping at various intervals while reading a story and discussing character motives, what’s happening, where the student thinks the story is going, and predicting the ending all help a reader better understand the text. These skills can also be used in viewing a video. The teacher needs to stop the video periodically to discuss and do a quick check of understanding before going on. Pretty soon, young students will be accustomed to discussing a piece prior to completion. Hardly any teachers I know just read a story to kids and wait until the end to talk about the whole. CCSS is good practice with some additional guidance and higher expectations.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Rusha!

      I think the key to “close reading” is that the teacher does model this multiple times and then stands back to see what part of instruction has “stuck.” The ultimate goal is that students will do this without 555 questions or prompts and too often, I feel the need to “help” the student. I want evidence that the student is thinking and I can set the stage and see the students’ responses to instruction geared toward thinking which is entirely different from “right answers” to questions!

      1. You’re so right. The art of questioning is very important as well as the art of listening, prompting, and patiently waiting for students to answer. We often move quickly to the next student with a promise to “come back to you” but sometimes never do. Good post, Fran.

  2. Fran, I work with older students (middle school), so I haven’t thought much about close reading in the early grades. What you describe sounds age-appropriate. Honestly, there is A LOT going on in the David books. Just because a book is a picture book doesn’t mean it’s not complex!

    1. Mindi,
      Thanks for the comment! It’s so nice to have conversations with other bloggers!

      Most picture books are very complex so it’s great to have recognition of all that is going on in David Shannon’s texts. Observant students can learn how to add details to both their own pictures and their own texts! The patterns from the books may be an entry point for some students.

      Student-centered instruction is the focus – not a lock-step questioning (interrogation session) from the teacher!

      Your positive comments are appreciated!

  3. Thanks for addressing this concern with such a tangible example: No, David! Every primary student loves this story and many see themselves or their friends in David. But to get them to look closely at the text rather than their personal experience is so powerful. Teaching primary students to base their ideas in the text and then to notice patterns will set them up for that thinking as that move through the grades. The beauty of the CCSS is that it was designed for just that. As an upper grade teacher I see and appreciate the work done in the early grades.

    1. Thanks, Julieanne!

      I don’t believe that ALL kindergartners are ready for this YET! However, I don’t believe that waiting for students to walk through the doors of their second grade classroom is that answer either. I have already seen the power of readers who now write as readers and writers who read like writers!

      Finding patterns is such a fun thing even for me as an adult! I think there are many benefits to continued conversations with all elementary level teachers about close reading!!!

      1. Not all, YET. But, the world is full of patterns, such a beautiful thing to notice and teach. Art, math.. makes me want to teach primary.

      2. Absolutely! I saw patterns at the zoo and at the brewery over the weekend. Patterns, patterns, EVERYWHERE!

  4. In reference of my study of math, we humans are WIRED to see and seek out patterns. It helps us understand and organize our world.

    1. Thanks, Linda! It’s great to hear fromn you!

      I think there are many possibilities when we think about close observation and “seeking patterns.”

  5. As a middle school teacher, I use picture books for all sorts of mentor text analysis, and I can imagine this goes on in kindergarten as well. In fact, we should begin the habit of thinking about the text and responding to it as early as possible – whether we do this in discussions in kindergarten, or in a more involved process in middle school and beyond. Thank you for this thoughtful post.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Tara.

      I believe that there are many children who are “ready” for thinking long before they come to kindergarten, but that is a whole other post. I appreciate what you said about the “habit of thinking about the text and responding to it!” The response will be appropriately oral! Great thinking skills with a high degree of observation are going to take time to develop and this “incubation” or “nurturing” can take many different forms!

  6. […] Kristi Mraz’s contributor post last week (building off of thinking started by Fran McVeigh), she shared her hunch that in primary grades an “emergent close reading” may really be […]

  7. […] 1. Close Reading in Kindergarten? Is it Possible? […]

  8. […] 3.  Close Reading in Kindergarten? Is it even possible? […]

  9. […]                  2. Close Reading in Kindergarten? Is it possible? (2013) […]

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