An Underrated Close Reading Strategy: Graphic Organizers


There are lots of strategies in education that become commonplace in our classroom. Writer’s workshop. Mini-lessons. Close reading. You do them so often that you don’t even think twice about the resources or steps you need to implement it! But, it also means you can get so stuck in one way of doing things, you forget about other ways to spice up the strategies. That’s exactly the case with close reading strategies.

One of the most underrated close reading strategies is graphic organizers. It’s not that teachers aren’t familiar with graphic organizers, cause we know that’s not the case! Instead, it just gets lost amongst the millions of other ways you can implement close reading. And it is often forgotten about.

However, I’m about to change that! I am a believer that sometimes it’s the simple things that can make a big difference, and graphic organizers are that simple tool you need in your close reading strategy.


What is close reading?

In case you aren’t familiar with close reading, or just don’t know the formal definition, close reading is the strategy of closely looking and analyzing a text for deeper meaning.

During a close reading, students read a text several times through. Each time they read, they notice, notice, and dig deeper into different elements of the text. By reading it more than once and slowing down to process the information, students can gain a deeper understanding of the text and also flex their upper level reading skills, like inference and analysis.

Strategies for Close Reading

There is no one “right” answer when it comes to close reading strategies. You could ask ten teachers and hear about ten different versions of the same thing! There are a few common strategies you will see –

Markup the Text: Students can start marking up as soon as the initial read through. As they mark, you want them to underline, asterisk, or circle specific things. For example, they might circle words they don’t know or underline key elements of the story (characters, settings, etc.)

Text-Dependent Questions: Typically after the second reading, students will answer text-dependent questions. These are questions where they can find the answers in the text. Essentially, you want some lower level questions to assess students’ understanding after two readings.

Annotate the Text: Students will then read again, and you want to challenge them to markup the text by digging deeper. For instance, they might underline the main idea or underline a moment that they felt impacted the plot.

Respond to the Text: It’s common that students then answer higher-level thinking questions where they actually respond to the text. These might be inference questions, drawing conclusions, and more.


The Underrated Graphic Organizers

Alright, I promised I would talk about a truly underrated close reading strategy – graphic organizers. The focus is often on marking up the text or answering questions when we are close reading, but you can do the exact same thing (while also digging deeper) with graphic organizers.

But, you don’t have to take it from me. There has been research from the Canadian Center of Science and Education, literature reviews from Southern Illinois University, and many more that prove time and time again – graphic organizers make a big impact on student comprehension.

For starters, graphic organizers help make content more accessible for students, especially those with learning disabilities or are in an ESL program. They do this by helping students make connections between various content areas, ideas, concepts, and more.

They can also help students analyze the information they read. They can help students categorize between what is a main idea vs supporting information. Which in turn, helps students have a better understanding of what they are reading.

How do I bring graphic organizers into closing reading?

The research tells us that graphic organizers are beneficial. So, how do you actually use them with close reading? 

Luckily, that’s the easy part. Those moments in your close reading strategy where you might have asked students to answer text dependent questions or mark up the text – you are going to bring in graphic organizers.

For example, students might mark up the text for vocabulary words they don’t understand. Instead of just circling it in the text, they can add it to the graphic organizer and then expand on their knowledge of the word later.

Another example would be having students map the sequence of events or retell the story as a part of the text-dependent questioning. Students will need to refer to the text and categorize the information that they read to complete the organizer.

Lastly, you can dig a little deeper with graphic organizers. After the third or fourth reading, have students make connections, determine the theme, or analyze text features. All of this can be done with the use of graphic organizers.


Ready-to-Go Graphic Organizers

I’m all about making planning and teaching simple, so I created ready-to-go graphic organizers to use during close reading. And of course, to add a little extra fun, the graphic organizers have a theme for each month of the year. You’ll find candy corn shaped graphic organizers in October and mitten shaped graphic organizers for December.

No matter what the month or theme is, each pack has the same 15 graphic organizers: cause and effect, character traits, compare and contrast, context clues, determining theme, paragraph writing, and many more.

So, why not give your close reading strategy a research-recommended boost? Add in graphic organizers!

Looking for more reading strategies? Check out this post for teaching text structure and this one all about context clues!

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