writing workshop

Close reading leads to close writing: “Falling in Love With Close Reading” in writing workshop

 I have truly fallen in love with Falling in Love With Close Reading, the just-released book by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts.


     As with Kylene Beers and Robert Probst’s Notice and Note, this is a book that pushes my thinking about reading – my own, as well as that of my plot-crazy students who are better at galloping through the books they read, than slowing down to think about what it all means.  We began the year exploring the sign posts, and I am happy to say that I am beginning to see  our reading journeys slowing down and becoming much more meaningful.  When I turned my attention to FILWCR, however, I began to think of ways in which I could bring some of the ever-so-smart close reading exercises from this book  into my writing workshop, as well.  Close readers make better writers, right? Right!

    I  kept returning to the ideas and close reading explorations in  Chapter 3: A Way With Words, believing that this would be a wonderful place to begin, especially to these lines which I had marked up several different times, and in several different ways:

“Looking closely at word choice allows us to get to the heart of what people are saying and thinking; it helps us to see their motivations more clearly and decide how we wish to understand them.” (p.33)

Isn’t this what we are trying to do in writing workshop?

    So, on Tuesday, I waded in.  We are drafting memoirs now, and one of the issues I noticed in conference after conference, was that my students had difficulty building an emotional arc in their writing.  They were writing about the way they  felt in a very cursory way – naming it, but not describing it.  Both teacher and student struggled for ways in which to shape this writing, to give it more depth.  We were searching for ways to “get to the heart of what people are saying and thinking.”

    Chris and Kate begin their book with something brilliant: “a central structure”, a “Close Reading Ritual” that goes something like this:

1. Read through lenses

2. Use lenses to find patterns

3. Use the patterns you’ve discovered to develop a new understanding of the text

I began to think that what my kids’ writing lacked was that pattern – the details that enriched and provided substance to the descriptions of their feelings.  Perhaps some close reading of texts that were excellent examples of this type of pattern-making would help us make the leap from bland writing to powerful writing?  It was worth  try.

I tried to explain this thinking in our mini lesson, using this chart to walk us through  the process:

photo (34)

     Then we went to work on a passage from Lois Lowry’s marvelous memoir, Looking Back.  I love this passage;  in it, Lowry remembers a childhood spent on the move – pets that had to be given away, books that had to be boxed and sold.  She speaks of a yearning for a home which welcomed the stray dog that followed her home, where books were stacked everywhere ready to be read and re-read.  And then she describes the home she was able to create for her own children – yes, there was  lack of adequate bathrooms, and the roof leaked rather too often – but piles of books and varieties of pets were what really counted…that was home.

     We discovered that Lowry’s word choices led us to see a pattern: they showed us what she considered to be the heart of a home, the type of home she’d yearned for as a child.  Looking at those patterns, we decided that we had a deeper understanding of Lowry herself: she wanted to create a home for her children that she’d wanted as a child.  We felt that we’d arrived at the heart of what Lois Lowry was feeling and thinking because we had slowed down, read closely, and paid attention to her careful word choices.  Here’s what that thinking looked like:

photo (35)

     When my kids returned to their own writing, they chose places where they felt they needed to create a better sense of their own feelings, of what was in their hearts and souls during this memoir worthy experience.  They focused on specific words that would evoke strong emotions and images, and use those words and images to create a pattern that would, in turn, lead their reader to understand them better.  As we had done with Lois Lowry.

    It was a first effort, but a worthy one.  We are learning how to fall in love with close reading in room 202, and hoping that it makes us better writers.

9 thoughts on “Close reading leads to close writing: “Falling in Love With Close Reading” in writing workshop

  1. I have seen this book and have added it to my list of books I want to read. I am reading about growth mindset. Carol Dweck’s book Mindset is what I’m reading next. It’s about whether you look at ability as something inherent that needs to be demonstrated or as something that can be developed. Very interesting and I think it can help with the achievement gap


  2. I am coaching in a class just starting memoirs and this will be a great way to extend their writing. We’ve been talking about making sure our feelings and emotions come through. What a great model. Thank you!!


  3. I like your thinking on using the close reading with your writing. Making the connection with Lowry’s book was wonderful. We are headed into memior next so will revisit her book as a mentor text. Thanks


  4. Tara,
    I love how you have used your learning to connect and build close reading and writing experiences. You did exactly what Kate and Chris said ~ focused on the students! What did they need? “emotional arc” And THEN you found the text that met the student need. Your work is so exciting! Thanks for sharing with the world!


  5. Like always, I love the charts, Tara, and the way you’ve connected the reading with their memoir writing. I’m re-reading Kittle’s Book Love with a group, & she too reminds about small text examination in that book, connecting up too with her writing workshop. Your work on the memoirs make me think that they’re building a foundation on which their readers can sit and then understand that deeper meaning of their pieces. Your examples made me want to read this book-sounds very valuable!


  6. Truly enjoyed reading this post which showed up randomly on my FB page. If you ever use picture book texts to help map the arc of a story, be in touch. I am passionately interested in this and you sound BRILLIANT in the classroom. Thank you so much for creating more articulate young people. They will need such exactitude: so much to solve ahead.


  7. I love this, Tara. I love the whole connection thing and the lenses that Chris and Kate write about. Kids have so much potential for deep reading, writing and living if we do not bore them to death with things that do not elevate them!!!! So happy to see your classroom work!


  8. I love how you seamlessly make that reading/writing connection. It is something that has been set aside. I actually tried similar things with the signposts…asking students to think about how to create those in their writing. It was an “aha” moment for many.
    Love your blog!


  9. I wish I could come sit in your classroom. While I love getting this post and seeing the charts, I can’t get my head around what the discussion looked like. I need to get my students to be more intentional readers and writers. I struggle with both. Thanks for giving me some ideas to chew on.


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