Close Reading Character Traits & Text Evidence: Brave Irene

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We all know that a foundational ELA skill in the Common Core State Standards is close reading, but what exactly does that mean and how do we teach it? The article Common Core: Close Reading by Timothy Shanahan, published by Scholastic, is one of the best explanations I've seen so far. Shanahan describes close readers as, ". . . try(ing) to recognize the author’s tone or perspective, the implications of the author’s word choices, and why a text is structured or organized as it is. Additionally, readers should go beyond a text, evaluating its quality or value, comparing it with other texts, or determining its implications."

He's pretty specific about what close reading is, what it isn't, and how it is different from the kind of teaching we typically do. He also makes a point to say that what we typically do isn't wrong–not every text needs or deserves a close read. So when you are teaching close reading, Shanahan suggests breaking it down into 3 parts by doing 3 readings of the text with 3 different goals during each read:

1st read:  Focus on what the text says. (CCSS Reading Standards 1, 2, 3)
2nd read: Emphasize how the text works. (CCSS Reading Standards 4, 5, 6)
3rd read: Evaluate how the text compares and measures up to other texts. (CCSS Reading Standards 7, 8, 9)

Using these guidelines and principles of close reading, I have designed a close reading lesson for 2nd, 3rd or 4th graders with the mentor text Brave Irene by William Steig and digital interactive reading response notebook pages to record their thinking. 

On the first read, as we focus on what the text says, the essential question is: How would you describe Irene? What is she like? What did she do in the story to make you describe her that way?
If this is one of the first times your students have tried citing text evidence, the video above, Power in Literature: Textual Evidence created by Shmoop, is a great reference to help teach students why we use text evidence to support our thinking.
Using the tree map above, students answer the first part of the essential question by identifying character traits that describe Irene. They use evidence from the text to support why they chose those character traits to describe her.  

Using the same kind of graphic organizer, students identify character traits of the wind and use supporting text evidence: The author makes the wind a main character in the story. What is the wind like? What evidence makes you think so?

Identifying character traits of wind can be tricky. The video above, Personification by Chungdahm Learning, helps teach students how something that is not alive can have human traits.

By importing these pages into the app book creator or google slides, students can create a digital reading response journal in which they can use text, pictures, video, and their voice to explain their thinking.

During the second read, as we emphasize how the text works, the essential question is: Why would the author choose to make wind one of the main characters in the story?
This kind of analysis requires some higher level thinking, so this is another video that will help students analyze characters in a text, ELA 5: Protagonist vs. Antagonist created by Shmoop.

Students respond to this question by creating their own video using the app Shadow Puppet EDU to explain their thinking. The video below is my example of this digital interactive notebook:

There are many right answers to these questions, but this video gives you an idea of how this digital interactive reading response notebook might be answered. 

During the third read, as we focus on evaluating how this text compares to another text, the essential question is: Compare the main characters in Brave Irene by William Steig to the main characters in the story The Rain Stomper by Addie Boswell

Students can use the app Popplet to create a double bubble map to compare the protagonist and antagonist in these two stories and upload it onto this page in their digital interactive response to literature notebook. 

These digital interactive reading response notebook pages along with QR codes for all the videos above are available for free on Teacher Sherpa. Enjoy!

"Common Core: Close Reading." Jan. 2017. <>

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