Close reading and why it matters.

I teach a lot of reading. Reading comprehension accounts for about 50% of most of my lessons, for many reasons. The first is that it’s the area most of my students need to develop in order to pass their exams. More importantly, I think it’s the skill they most need to develop in order to have successful futures.

But there’s a difference between reading and understanding the main point of something, what it’s saying and how it’s saying it, and understanding what that means and why it’s important.

Close reading has been my focus in my lessons for about two weeks now. I started a new job in September and this is week 6 with my new classes. The difference between reading for gist and reading for meaning is a big one to them, and not a skill that comes easily.

But it might be one that helps them the most in the future. I’ll give an easy example: mobile phone contracts. We’ve all been there, tried to switch deals to find out that we can’t until a certain date without a fee, and most of us will admit that we’re in that position because we maybe didn’t give the contract the attention it deserved. But what if we hadn’t developed the skills to read that phone contract? The rental agreement? The new job specification?

Close reading is important, even when teaching lower levels of functional skills qualifications. Because one day these students will need to access things, and my worst fear is them being exploited because they can’t read what they’re signing up to.

Good questions to encourage close reading can be:

• That’s a great point, can you tell me where it says it in the text?

• Why do you think the writer has phrased it like that?

• What do you think this really means?

• How would you interpret it?

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