Sunday, December 14, 2014

Interactive Student Notebooks and Close Reading... A Perfect Pair!

I've written before about how "close reading," presented as a "NEW and IMPROVED" way to teach reading sorta rubs me the wrong way. Like most buzz words and theories in education, I get annoyed when they are touted as the brand new way of doing things that will save education as we know it! Because the thing is... most likely, someone has just polished up and renamed something that great teachers have known and practiced for years! 
Close reading is a perfect example. For infinity years, great teachers have known that for kids to really comprehend a piece of text, they have to dig through, connect to, and understand all its complex layers. That's why my sixth grade teacher spent two whole days talking with us about Dally going down in his "blaze of glory" when we read The Outsiders. And it's why in 9th grade we spent almost a month with The Old Man and the Sea.... all 128 whopping pages of it! 
Great teachers have been getting kids to close read for a long time. It's not new or improved. It's sound practice and it's something that all ELA teachers... and science and social studies and math teachers... should be working with kids to do!
So, just what do I mean when I say "close reading?" Well, according to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC):
Close, analytic reading stresses engaging with a text of sufficient complexity directly and examining meaning thoroughly and methodically, encouraging students to read and reread deliberately. Directing student attention on the text itself empowers students to understand the central ideas and key supporting details. It also enables students to reflect on the meanings of individual words and sentences; the order in which sentences unfold; and the development of ideas over the course of the text, which ultimately leads students to arrive at an understanding of the text as a whole. (PARCC, 2011, p. 7)
For me, there is no better tool in the world for teaching close reading than our Interactive Student Notebooks. I've written before about how I use these and today I am going to talk about why.

Interactive Notebooks, and more specifically, the foldable organizers and literary analysis questions are the best tools I've found for getting kids to read, reread, and reread closely.

Here is a timeline of how we approach a piece of literature:

Day One:

1.) I introduce our story and provide any relevant background knowledge. I keep this short and sweet... about a 10-15 minute chat.

2.) The students listen to (either I read it or we listen to it on our audio anthology) or independently read our story.

Day Two:

1.) I introduce the skill or device we will discussing within the context of our story and give students the literary analysis question that they will be answering. Typically, I do this by reviewing our notes from earlier in the unit, and then reading and breaking down the question.

2.) Then students reread, using Post-Its to mark places in our story that we should go back and examine.

3.) We come back together and discuss the places where students put their Post-Its and how those spots are relevant to our question.

4.) I distribute the foldable organizer that we will be using to help us sort our thinking and find evidence that will support our answer to the literary analysis question. Students then reread again, this time focusing on the specific details necessary to complete the organizer.

Here are a just few of my favorite organizers:

Day Three:

1.) Students participate in a Literary Analysis Station designed to zero in on our skill even more! Here they discuss and often, yes... REREAD, the text in detail. 

2.) Students answer the literary analysis question. 

Day Four:

We take a quiz on our story. I allow students to use the text for their quiz because it is not about how much they've memorized, but rather how well they can make assertions about the story and support it with evidence. So, chances are when they take this quiz they are rereading yet again.

So, that's one piece of literature, read and reread and reread for analysis several times over four days! I can absolutely attest that most of the kids are experts on how the skills and devices we cover are exemplified in the story. And even my most struggling readers can hold their own in complex conversations regarding the story.

If you have never tried Interactive Notebooks, I urge you to give them a go! After winter break is as good of a time as any to start incorporating some of these strategies into your teaching. 

If you decide to give them a try, I'd love to hear how it goes for you!

Happy Teaching!!


  1. This is a fabulous post, Jenna. It's chock full of use-'em-tomorrow ideas. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Two questions:
    1. Where do you come up with your literary analysis questions?
    2. Do you use a basal reader for your story each week?

    I LOVE this idea and plan to implement, but need a little help getting started!

    1. Hi! So, my lit analysis questions come from lots of different sources... sometimes it's a spin on question that goes with a story, sometimes the Internet, sometimes our old test prep books. The ones you see featured in this post, and ones that I use most often, come from my Interactive Notebook-Literary Elements Bundle ( But you certainly can use any that you have already! And yes, I do use a basal. Our district uses the Holt Literature Series. It's a pretty good series, but I can tell you that you can find quite a few excellent short stories on the Internet! Best of luck to you! Please let me know if you have any more questions and I'll be happy to help :)

  3. Love your take on the "new and improved" close reading. Like you said- good teachers have always been using this strategy yet we pay consultants mega bucks to teach us what we already know. Love your ideas.

    1. So true, Lesa! Thanks so much for reading!!

  4. Question? Under the "favorite," the second picture: did you copy a piece of text from a poem and have the students annotate in that small box for setting? Or, what exactly did you do? I use Interactive Notebooks and have been using them for a number of years. I am always looking for other ideas. I teach high school. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi! So, the text you see is a copy of the story, "All Summer in a Day," from our Holt Literature Series anthology. What you see students doing is finding text evidence from the story that supports their analysis of the setting.

  5. Hi Jenna,
    Where might I find or purchase the "wheel" pictured above? I love that!

    1. Hi Jen!

      That is an interactive organizer for theme and it can be found here: , here: , and here: .

      Thanks for asking!

  6. Hi Jenna,
    I love your ideas and my head is already turning about how I can implement some of these reading and writing activities in my classroom. I LOVE your writing instructional items and have a question for you.... its about timing?!? I know you teach both reading and writing so my question is how much time do you have in a day? How many minutes is in your reading block and how many minutes for writing? I want to get an idea of how you break it up day-to-day. Any tips and tricks you have would be appreciated!

    Thanks, Kaity

    1. Hi! We are a pretty traditional middle school, so our kids move around for all their classes in a day. I teach two periods of reading and three periods of writing in a day. All of our periods are 52 minutes long... so 52 minutes for reading and 52 for writing :)

      Does that help?


  7. Where do you get the organizer for setting, characters, conflict? LOVE IT.

    1. Hi Jessica! They are available here:

      Thanks so much :)

  8. Love this so much! I really struggle with pacing and how to set up my lessons each day, as I'm still new to teaching Reading. One question I have, do you teach the skill before beginning the story? For example, teach plot elements (or, take notes?), and then break it down and closer examine it with the story? Thanks!

    1. Hi Megan! Yes, I do teach the skill first. When I begin a new unit (like on plot elements) we will spend two to three days taking notes, discussing, and analyzing short pieces in detail. Then, for the next three to four weeks, we will read lots of short stories (or maybe a novel) and really study the skill "in action."

      Hope that helps!