Just so we all have the same definition of close reading, I wanted to share how I define it:
The process of close reading is reading a short, worthy text more than once to get deeper into its meaning.
Here is a fun close reading activity I did with my reading classes a couple of weeks ago.
Standards for this lesson: RL.1 & RI.1 (Inference & text evidence), RL.2 (Theme), RI.2 (Central Idea), RL.3 (Narrative elements interact)
Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester is a much more complex text than it first seems, so I really wanted to take this fun text and push my students’ thinking to realize that Tacky teaches us more than they first thought.
First read: For the first read of Tacky the Penguin, I just had my students enjoy the story. I love watching kids see this book for the first time because he is such a ridiculous yet awesome penguin.
Second read: When we read the story again, this time I chunked the text and had them take notes about a different characters’ emotions for each section. They then went on our Canvas discussion board and made an inference about how the character was feeling based on their notes and included evidence.
“The other penguins are much more accepting of Tacky at the end. In the text it shows that all the penguins hugged Tacky since his oddness had scared the hunters away and saved them. This action showed that even though they might disagree on how to do things they were still thankful of him.” -EX, 8th grade
“I think that the other penguins, Goodly, Lovely, Angel, Neatly and Perfect are happy that Tacky is around. In the story it is showing all the penguins celebrating that the hunters were gone. Usually when you are celebrating it is because someone has accomplished something and you feel happy for them. So, you can conclude that the other penguins are happy that Tacky is around because he got rid of the hunters and without Tacky they might’ve died.” -JK, 6th grade
For the final section of the text, I asked them to think about the theme of the story, and they answered their inferred theme with evidence on the discussion board.
“I think the theme of Tacky the penguin is that differences can be good. I think that because at first the other penguins didn’t like Tacky because he was very different in the way he acted. They thought he was annoying and didn’t really include him in their group. At the end, they appreciate him because he saved them from the hunters, so his differences were good.” -AN, 8th grade
“The theme is to treat everyone fairly. Because in the beginning the other penguins treated Tacky badly, by excluding him, being annoyed at his greets, singing, and diving. But when Tacky acted like a hero they all appreciated him like they should of in the beginning.” -AK, 8th grade
“I think the theme of TACKY THE PENGUIN is to always be yourself. In the beginning of the story, the other penguins didn’t seem to really like Tacky because he did things so differently from them. However, as the middle towards end of the story, Tacky uses that to his advantage to scare away the hunters. So really, because Tacky was himself, he saved the day!” -DV, 7th grade
As we know, there are many themes that can be taken from a story, and most of the themes I received were spot on and focused primarily on how Tacky may seem odd but that doesn’t mean being different is bad. But there was one theme that I didn’t have any students pick up on, and I felt it was a big one. So, for the third read, I added in another text.
Third read: For the third read, I had my students read an Aesop Fable to connect with Tacky. “The Lion and the Three Bullocks” has the theme “In Unity is Strength” because the bulls survive the predator because they work together. The students did a wonderful job realizing that this theme connected to Tacky because it was only when all the of the penguins worked together that they were able to ward off the hunters.
“The theme “Unity is Strength” works for both books because together they defeated the enemy(ies). In Tacky the Penguin it says, “ Tacky began to sing, and from behind the block of ice came the voices of his companions, all singing as loudly and dreadfully as they could.” This shows that together the penguins can work together to be strong. The next page says “The hunters could not stand the horrible singing” This evidence illustrates that together as a team they can do anything. In Aesop For Children (Three Bullocks and a Lion), it says that a hungry lion is looking for his next meal. He was only sitting and watching because all of them were together so he would lose. In a little bit the bullocks separated and it was the lion’s time to strike (He ate them). This shows that when you are together you can be even stronger then when you were alone.” -EN, 7th grade
At this point, I was so proud of the connections my students were making, but it was still on a level where they were not connecting it to life–they saw it as a penguin and bullocks lesson mostly. This meant that I added in another text that I had them close read:
Scila Elworthy’s TED Talk is titled “Fighting with Nonviolence” and shares how fighting violence with violence is not successful while using nonviolence has been successful. I love TED Talks because you have the video and the transcript! What a great text for the classroom! (And thank you Jennifer Shettel for pointing me in this direction!)
First read: We watched the first 5 minutes and 11 seconds of the TED talk, and I gave each student a Post-It note. I asked them to write down words that stuck out to them. We then shared the words and defined any words they didn’t know.
Second read: For their second read of the text, they went to the transcript and were to focus on the central idea of this section of the text. Each person wrote down their own central idea.
Then I did a variety on one of the discussion ideas that Ricki shared in her Engaging Classroom Discussion Techniques post. Kind of like in Facts of Five, I had students then go into groups of three and come up with a consensus of a central idea together. They then wrote these on sentences strips to display in the room. We also discussed each one and talked about the supporting evidence for each central idea. I called it “Most Important Point.”
“As a group for the “most important point activity” we came up with the point that “solving a problem with violence only ever causes more violence”. Toward the end of the ted talk the speaker gives an example of when her ‘heroine’ was faced with guns during a protest and solved it by walking up to them and getting them to put their guns down. Had she not solved that problem this way it can be assumed that the soldiers would have shot them. By solving a situation with non violence she avoided the problem all together. We concluded from this, and the other points she made in ted talk including Nelson Mandela and her own personal anecdote about non violence, that that was the central point.” -KA, 8th grade
Third read: For the culminating task for all of these texts, I added in one more text to truly make all of this connect to reality. I knew I wanted to pick an image from the Civil Rights Movement because it is a true example of this idea at work. I introduced my students to sit-ins.
I then asked, “Why did we watch this TED Talk and why did I share the Sit-In images after reading Tacky the Penguin and the Aesop Fable? How do they all connect? Write a short paragraph explaining the connection, and remember to Restate, Answer, have Text evidence, and Explain/elaborate.”
“All of these connect because they all show them going against things together. In “Tacky the Penguin” all of the penguins started singing in the end together, driving them away. If it was only Tacky singing, the hunters might not have gone away if the other penguins had not shown up. In “Three Bullocks and a Lion”, the lion would not attack them when they were together because he knew he was no match for all three of them combined. In the Sit- In photo, there are four people sitting at a counter, and in the other photo, it shows them getting drinks poured on them from other people in the restaurant. If there was only one person sitting at the counter, the point would not have been proven as well as it would if there were four. All of them show that when they are together, they are stronger.” -MA, 7th grade
“The Ted Talk, Sit-in images, Tacky the Penguin, and Aesop Fable connect because they show how if we stick together and try to solve conflict in nonviolent ways, we will not have to resolve problems with more fighting. The Ted Talk says that bullies use violence to intimidate, terrorize, and undermine, but “only very rarely in few cases does it work to use more violence.” This just makes people more and more violent. An example is when the “Students who participated in sit-ins refused to become violent” even when people were not treating them fair by not serving them or even pouring a drink on them. Tacky the Penguin helped save all the penguins from being taken away by hunters because he had the attitude that people should be friendly and kind to each other and because he acted like this, it scared the hunters and they ran away. In the Aesop Fable, the bulls were able to keep the lion from eating them by staying close and being strong together. When they began to argue and separated from each other, they were not strong enough alone to keep from being attacked. “It was now an easy matter for the lion to attack them one at a time, and this he proceeded to do with the greatest satisfaction and relish.” This shows that we need each other to be strong and reach our goals and when we begin to fight, we lose our strength against enemies. We can control all of this, like she says, “It’s my response, my attitude, to oppression that I’ve got control over, and that I can do something about.” -DA, 6th grade
I was so impressed with my students’ deep thinking, connections, inferences, and elaboration! And overall they truly loved the activity, and I think that it truly shows that a text to analyze can be more than the canon!
If you want to fight this censorship, visit ALA’s Banned Books Week Get Involved site for help on how to fight!
Thank you Emma from invaluable for providing this Infographic to kick off Banned Books Week!
If you want to fight this censorship, visit ALA’s Banned Books Week Get Involved site for help on how to fight!
Thank you Emma from invaluable for providing this Infographic to kick off Banned Books Week!
Carlos Santana: Sound of the Heart, Song of the World
Author: Gary Golio
Illustrator: Rudy Gutierrez
Published: September 4, 2018 by Henry Holt
Summary: Discover the childhood story of Carlos Santana in Gary Golio’s Sound of the Heart, Song of the World, featuring illustrations by Rudy Gutierrez,the internationally celebrated artist who created the iconic Carlos Santana Shaman CD cover.
Carlos Santana grew up surrounded by music. His father, a beloved mariachi performer, teaches his son how to play the violin when he is only six years old. But when Carlos discovers American blues, he is captivated by the raw honesty of the music. Unable to think of anything else, he loses all interest in the violin. When Carlos finally receives his first guitar, his whole life begins to change.
From his early exposure to mariachi to his successful fusing of rock, blues, jazz, and Latin influences, here is the childhood story of a legendary musician.
My Review: I absolutely loved this book. My son and I had so much fun reading it, and then he asked to listen to some of Carlos Santana’s music. A few days later, we heard a Carlos Santana song on the radio, and my husband excitedly reminded my son about the book. It feels good to connect him with such a powerful man in our history. He shaped music in powerful ways. The book is beautifully written. I liked how it focused predominantly on Santana’s childhood. This kept my son’s interest and helped him connect with Santana. The art flows beautifully and looks like visual music on the page.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I would love to use this book in literature circles with kids. Students could each read a picture book about a famous person in our history of music (see some of the options below). They could share out to their peers and play a clip from the music. These interdisciplinary activities would make for a warm, powerful learning environment.
- Describe Carlos Santana’s childhood.
- What inspired Santana?
- What was Santana’s relationship with his parents? How do you think this may have shaped his life? What did working beside his father teach him about himself?
- Describe Santana’s journey into music. What influenced him?
Flagged Passage: Check out the beautiful interiors on the book’s Macmillan page.
Read This If You Love: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing by Leda Schubert; Stand Up and Sing! by Susanna Reich, When Bob Met Woody by Gary Golio, Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow by Gary Golio
**Thank you to Madison at Macmillan for providing the book for review!**
Alice’s Magic Garden: Before the Rabbit Hole…
Author: Henry Herz
Illustrator: Natalie Hoopes
Published September 1st, 2018 by Familius
Summary: Curiouser and curiouser!
In this imaginative prequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice finds herself at a gray, dreary boarding school that is decidedly up the rabbit hole. From the relentless clocks to the beastly students, Alice’s world is void of color and cheer–until Alice finds a secret garden and begins tending its wilting inhabitants. When Alice’s love touches an ordinary caterpillar, a lorry bird, and a white rabbit, magical things will happen–and that, as you know, is just the beginning of the story. Filled with literary allusions and clever nods to its classic roots, Alice’s Magic Garden is a delightful prequel that begs an escape to the whimsy of Wonderland.
Review: I love when I find a twist on a classic story that is new and fresh! Herz’s story about how Alice’s garden came to be is so unique and definitely different than I’d ever heard or read before. While it holds true to the magic and silliness of Carroll’s original, it also adds a nice lesson in the vein of kindness and happiness which will lead to some great discussions as well.
I’m also a huge fan of the illustrations. I loved how color was used to show the shift in Alice’s surroundings and the way the illustrator separated the real from the strange. Additionally, I truly loved the style of the artwork which, in my opinion, was a perfect style for the story: classic with a bit of whimsy.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Use Alice’s Magic Garden as a mentor text for an imaginative prequel and ask students to create their own picture book as a prequel for a book they’ve read, a class novel, or a book club selection.
Also the story has some wonderful word choice that students can look at and discuss why the specific words were chosen.
Lastly, Alice’s could be used with secondary classes if the classic text is being read to look at allusions.
- Why does the illustrator go from grayscale to color drawings?
- What allusions to the original story do you see in the picture book?
- How did kindness save the day?
- How is Alice different than the other girls in her boarding school?
Read This If You Love: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Fractured fairy tales or other retellings, “Jabberwocky” and other poems by Lewis Carroll
**Thank you to Familius for providing a copy for review!**
King Ben and Sir Rhino
Author and Illustrator: Eric Sailer
Published: August 7, 2018 by Two Lions
GoodReads Summary: Ben is king of the jungle. He does exactly what he pleases, as a king should. And he has everything a king could want: noble steeds, castles, and servants. What Ben doesn’t have is a loyal subject. Then he meets Rhino…and finds out what being a good king is all about.
Our Review: This adorable story offers teachers and parents opportunities to talk about bossiness! King Ben gets everything he pleases, and he decides he will make Rhino he loyal subjects. I feel like all children effort to make their parents their loyal subjects. I know that my own children have me wrapped around their fingers. This book offers opportunities to discuss why being King Ben might not always be the best approach. This makes for a very fun read-aloud.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Students might have fun comparing and contrasting the King Bens and Sir Rhinos in popular culture and across history. For younger children, comparing and contrasting the good and bad things about being bossy would make for a fruitful discussion.
Discussion Questions: What are some of the things that King Ben makes Sir Rhino do?; Is King Ben being kind?; What could Sir Rhino do?; What might the characters learn from their relationship?
Read This If You Loved: Duck and Hippo series by Jonathan London; Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems; The Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel; Pug Meets Pig by Sue Lowell Gallion
**Thank you to Kristin at Two Lions for providing a copy for review!**
What If EVERYBODY Said That?
Author: Ellen Javernick
Illustrator: Colleen Madden
Published August 1st, 2018 by Two Lions
Summary: What if everybody chose to be kind?
If you tell someone that they can’t play with you, there’s no harm done, right? But what if everybody said that? What if everybody forgot to be kind…and made fun of other kids’ artwork at school, or told a fib, or refused to share with a person in need? The world wouldn’t be a very nice place to live. But what if everybody thought before they spoke, so the world would be a kinder place?
With clear prose and lighthearted artwork, this companion book to the bestseller What If Everybody Did That? explores the power of words and shows kids that the things we say matter.
About the Creators:
Ellen Javernick has taught 1-3 grade classes for over 20 years. Her B.A. is from DePauw University. Her M.A. in Early Childhood Education is from the University of Northern Colorado. She has completed classes with Barbara Wise and is Lindamood-Bell trained. In addition to being a teacher, Ellen has written more than 20 books for children. She currently teaches second grade in Loveland, CO.
The weird fourth kid in a family of 8, Colleen Madden made it through childhood pretending to be a wookie and doodling in her cardboard box art studio. Colleen spent some time acting and training at The Second City in Chicago, then went on to graduate from a small liberal arts school on the East coast. Colleen eats and works and runs around in the Philadelphia area.
Praise: “A reminder to be aware of what one says, as well as a discussion starter about actions and consequences.” —Kirkus Reviews
Review: Empathy and kindness are both things that I truly believe need to be directly taught to children. Kids are born thinking only of their own needs and maybe of the needs of their family, but they have to learn how to care about those around them. This teaching can start at a very young age but then needs to be reinforced for years to come. Anyone who teaches knows this is true. We may have some of the best students but even they make a mistake sometimes that is hurtful to someone else. What If Everybody Said That? is a testament of thinking about others. Though a bit didactical, the different scenarios put on each page truly do show a cause and effect of the words we say to others.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This text is a perfect book to add to any community building, kindness, empathy, or anti-bullying text set.
- How does each spread show the cause and effect of what she said?
- What finally made the young girl realize she needed to apologize?
- What if everybody said that? (Pick a page and discuss)
- Look at the cause and effect from everybody saying what the girl said.
- Compare and contrast the two pages.
- What is something you can think of that you said before that may not have been the best choice?
Read This If You Love: Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, Eraser by Anna Kang, I Walk with Vanessa by Kerascoët, and other books helping students think about the words and choices they make
**Thank you to Two Lions for providing a copy for review!**
Author: Anna Kang
Illustrator: Christopher Weyant
Published August 1, 2018 by Two Lions
Goodreads Summary: Eraser is always cleaning up everyone else’s mistakes. Except for Ruler and Pencil Sharpener, none of the other school supplies seem to appreciate her. They all love how sharp Pencil is and how Tape and Glue help everyone stick together. Eraser wants to create so that she can shine like the others. She decides to give it a try, but it’s not until the rubber meets the road that Eraser begins to understand a whole lot about herself.
Inspired by a school essay their daughter Kate wrote in the third grade, the author and illustrator behind Theodor Seuss Geisel Award–winner You Are (Not) Small have created a desktop drama about figuring out who you are, finding happiness, and the importance of second, third, and maybe even fourth chances.
Ricki’s Review: I love this author-illustrator team. Every book that they’ve written has been brilliant. This book offers readers a glimpse inside the mind of the lesser-known characters in life. It forces us to think about who we are overlooking and who deserves more praise. It’s easy to get caught up in our own lives and the lives of those who are close to us, and we often forget to consider those who feel distant to us. My son and I talked about this together, and he said there are some kids at school that he doesn’t talk with often. I asked him what this book taught him, and he said that it reminded him to talk with more friends in his class and to be kind. With a valuable message and a powerful punch, this book is sure to become a favorite in classrooms.
Kellee’s Review: There are times in all of our lives that we question our purpose. Someone louder, prettier, more aggressive, or different than you may get recognition where you don’t even though you feel you deserve it. But it is all about valuing yourself and showing others that value, but we don’t need others to tell us our worth. That is what Eraser teaches us. When we finished, Trent said that Pencil learned that she needed help and Eraser learned she IS important. If that isn’t a message that I want my son to learn, I don’t know what is. Oh, and it is quite funny sometimes, and like Kang & Weyant’s other books, it is told in dialogue only so the illustrations play a big part in the telling of the story.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might give students a list of the names of all of the students in their class. The students might look through this list and ask themselves, “Who do I talk to often? Who could I get to know more? Do I show every person on this list that they matter?” This activity connects well with the theme of the book and reminds students to support others in their world.
- How does Eraser’s feelings change throughout the book? What causes these changes?
- How do the other school supplies act toward Eraser? Does this remind you of any instances in your life?
- What is the message of the book? What does it teach us?
**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing copies for review!**
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