By Rissa Hanneken, Updated November 5, 2023
I almost titled this post “How to Steal Time to Teach Social Studies,” but I realized that not every school district is as short-sighted as mine in not giving Social Studies equal time in the curriculum. Whether you have a dedicated Social Studies block in your schedule or not, pairing close reading strategies with Social Studies text is a win-win combo for your students. First, it confirms to students that the teaching strategies for reading you have taught them transfer into other areas. They can actually use these in real life! Second, those strategies help readers of all levels learn Social Studies content in a manageable way.
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What is Close Reading?
The magic of close reading, as Snow and Connor (2016) so aptly put it, is all about getting our kids to wade through complex texts with a fine-toothed comb. It’s not just a close reading strategy—it’s a key that unlocks those tricky non-fiction texts for our students, especially from upper elementary onward where the real focus is on reading to learn new stuff.
Here’s how I do it:
1. Set a Purpose
Let’s give our students a detective’s lens! I like to hand out questions before reading to guide their focus—like a treasure map to follow. These can be up on the board or on sticky notes they can keep close by.
2. Getting the Gist
On their first read, I ask the kids to just get the lay of the land. What’s the big idea the author wants to share? It’s not about sweating the small stuff yet.
3. Take Notes
Encouraging them to scribble thoughts down as they go is super helpful. I’m all for double-spaced texts so there’s plenty of room for those lightbulb moments and question marks, so grab those when you can!
As you can see, students will be actively reading with a pencil in hand. Along with reading the text, they will be doing these close reading strategies:
- Using the guiding questions
- Taking notes
- Circling unknown vocabulary words which we will come back to after reading
After Reading Activities
After the first read, I have my students share the gist of what they’ve read. Just a few sentences—it’s like the highlight reel of what stuck with them.
Then, we’re onto the main idea and a few key details. They don’t have to nail it just yet. It’s all about starting to connect the dots.
I love getting them to pair up and chat about what they’ve found. It’s amazing what they can teach each other when they’re working together with a graphic organizer.
And we can’t forget those tricky vocab words! Writing them down and teasing out meanings using clues from the text becomes a bit of a detective game.
These are the steps they use for vocabulary:
- Reread the sentence the word appears in
- Look at the words that appear before, after, and near the word
- Look for author clues (synonyms, antonyms, definitions)
This process can take 2-3 days, but it sets such a strong foundation. When we come back for a second read, they’re ready to dive deeper and the real discoveries begin.
So there you have it, my teacher friends—a peek into how close reading strategies can make Social Studies the star of the show, even when time is tight. It’s about making every minute count and seeing our students light up as the pages of history, government, and culture come to life.
Want more close reading strategies for Social Studies text?
The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives.Robert John Meehan
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