Slice of Life: Close “Reading” in Kindergarten

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Be curious always! For knowledge will not acquire you; you must acquire it.

~ Sudie Back ~

It’s hard to believe NCTE was almost a month ago! Amidst the chaos of the holidays, I’ve been reading books snagged in the Exhibition Hall (thank you, publishers!), reviewing my notes, and sharing the wealth of knowledge I gained from the terrific sessions I attended.

I was lucky to get into Chris Lehman, Kate Roberts, and Kristi Mraz’s standing-room-only session, CLOSE READING AND THE LITTLE ONES: HOW IT’S DIFFERENT (AND INCREDIBLY FUN AND EFFECTIVE) IN EARLY ELEMENTARY GRADES. With their characteristic blend of common sense and humor, these three inspiring educators shared routines K-3 teachers can use to capitalize on the natural curiosity of kids.

Chris, Kate, and Kristi pointed out that close reading in these early grades is akin to close study, or observation, “something that little ones are doing already.” Giving students opportunities to engage in close observation accomplishes many goals that support young learners, including opportunities to talk to others about their ideas. It also encourages students to “open up” their thinking through “meaningful, enjoyable experiences”

Close reading is only one part of “a balanced diet of reading instruction” that should

  • serve a specific purpose
  • focus on details in high success texts
  • allow kids to discover new meaning through carefully looking at details

Adapting the paradigm for middle and high school readers Chris and Kate laid out in their book Falling In Love With Close Reading (Heinemann, 2013) for young readers resulted in this structure, or instructional routine, which should be repeated so often that it becomes a habit, which leads to independence.

Photo courtesy of Fran McVeigh
Photo courtesy of Fran McVeigh

Kristi, Kate, and Chris emphasized that this close reading isn’t about teaching kids how to read, nor should everything be read closely. Rather, this routine is about “teaching kids a way of looking at a text or an image or an object so they can develop ideas about it.

This makes so much sense! I was excited to get back to school to share this thinking with my wonderful Kindergarten colleagues. Using Kristi, Chris, and Kate’s ideas about “close looking,” we designed an object study that coordinated with the Kindergarten’s current unit on the animal kingdom AND laid the foundation for daily close observation. As Kristi so wisely pointed out, “If you want to do strong work in reading, you have have to do strong work in other places.”

So we began by closely observing seashells. I modeled the cycle by looking closely at a shell, pointing to its surface and saying something about the color. Then I thought more about the color, and added more details about the variations of color on the shell. The kids couldn’t wait to get their hands on a shell to observe with their partners.

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Soon the room was filled with the hum of the children’s voices. They talked about the colors and the shapes and the textures. They noticed that some shells had bumps on the outside and others had spikes. They ran their hands along the smooth surface on the mouth of the shell and wondered why the texture was so different from the top of the shell. And they talked about the sounds they heard when they held the shells to their ears.

When we came back together so the kids could share their findings, it was clear they had developed some “big ideas” through their observations. Several children mentioned protection and camouflage when they talked about the colors of the shells or how hard they were. They all wanted to spend more time with the shells, comparing them and “getting to know [them] better.”

This is work we will return to daily. There are countless opportunities for close observation throughout the day, opportunities for kids to look at the world and say     “Wow!”

Thank you, Chris, Kate, and Kristi, for sharing your insights and pushing me as a teacher! Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

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11 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Close “Reading” in Kindergarten

  1. Beautiful work Catherine. I didn’t go to that session not being an primary teacher. But I realize that I have so much to learn from primary work. The making of ideas is a struggle and that simple graphic and opportunity to look closely in a simple way is powerful. Thank you for sharing!

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  2. Catherine,
    Thanks for sharing your kindergarten work. I’ve only worked with second graders so far so I appreciate your example of this work with shells. I appreciate hearing how this is working with kids!!! ❤

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  3. Thanks for this glimpse into close reading in the early years. I will have the chance to attend a session with Chris in February where he will talk about this. I’m really looking forward to this and you have whetted my appetite.

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  4. Great post! It’s amazing to see how meaning-making is so natural to us…my best friend’s youngest daughter is 3, and she is already “reading” confidently. Refreshing to read about reading at the early end of the spectrum, as I work with older students.

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  5. Ooooh! I have to share this with our kindergarten teachers. They are in the middle of the looking closely writing unit. Do you do that one? I also have to tell you that I loved your post last week and the concert that you shared. We watched it three times in our house. Thank you!!!

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  6. The lesson sounds so smart, Catherine. This touches on the field work that all of us do at school, sketching all kinds of things, really noticing whatever it is, like the shell, enables the important looks at details. Thanks for sharing your learning.

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