Close Reading in First Grade (AKA: A Coaching Collaboration Success!)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

     I had a first grade teacher come to me and ask how to make her shared reading time more of a close reading time.

     Once again, let me refer to the Lehman/ Roberts definition of close reading:

     For a reader to independently stop and reread for meaning, they have to be independent readers in the first place.  That is why the Shared Reading block is a great place to attempt creating habits of close reading for our littlest readers.  Our first grade teachers have a shared text that they read every day for 10-15 minutes outside of the workshop block.  Most often, by the end of the week, most of the students can go back and reread the text for a specific purpose.  If they can do that, we have the very beginning habits of close reading. 

     But, let's think about it for a minute... Why do 1st graders need to close read?  They are still learning how to read?  Right?  

     Close reading is about NOTICING details and thinking about them.   It is about creating meaning in the texts we read, with meaning that is relevant to the reader.  So how can we help our emergent readers notice details, think about things, and create meaning from what they read?  My answer has always been to close read images.  By using pictures with our K, 1st and 2nd graders, we can get them to think deeply about a text, but remove the challenge of finding a text that is deep enough to really think about that they can actually read.
***We can use pictures beyond K-2, too.  Trust me.  I have.

     So, when +Julianne LaFleur came to me to ask how she could enhance her Shared Reading block, and they were beginning their character unit, the words MO WILLEMS practically fell out of my mouth.  What better characters to explore, with the focus on feelings, than the always expressive Piggie and Gerald!  

     I had been to a workshop at Institute Day where +John Fontanetta presented a lesson from the Library of Congress where we close read just the eyes of a famous historical figure.  We had to describe the man, just based on his eyes, draw the rest of him, and then were given his full image as well as historical documents about his impact on history.  

     Since that very day, I have been waiting for +Julianne LaFleur to ask me this question.  I have really wanted to do this with Gerald.  And now we have!

     I took I'm a Frog! and copied about 15 pictures of Gerald.   I then cut out just a rectangle around the eyes, and slightly enlarged them on a white sheet of paper.  I then went back to Miss LaFleur (and +Sarah Berry was there with us that day) and showed her the copies.  I then asked, "How do you want  to scaffold this to your students?"  Let the collaboration begin!  We talked about reading other Piggie and Gerald books first to generate emotion words about the characters, having the students show emotions on their own faces to "feel" their facial expressions, and then of course passing out the Gerald eyes of an unread book as we had planned.

     The best part of it all?  Miss LaFleur came to the team planning meeting the next week, shared the resources, and gave them lesson plans to use over the week during shared reading.  She shared the experience with her team, so they were all able to do the lesson with their classes.  That also meant that I got to see it happening in more than one room!  

     On the first day, I walked into +Jodi Meyer's room, and she had just read Waiting is Not Easy! and generated a list of emotion words to describe Gerald.

     On day 2, I walked into Mrs. Meyer's class after they had read Elephants Cannot Dance.  She had them meet with a partner, and add a new word to their emotion chart.  She had each team share their word, but also had them tell where in the story Gerald felt that way, and why.  Was it in the beginning, the middle, or the end of the story?

     On day 3, I think Mrs. Meyer had them practice showing the feeling with their partner and a new book.  Miss LaFleur had her students, who have iPads, use Popplet to make a web of emotions about characters.  They chose a character from their own books, and used the illustrations to generate the emotion words.   The one above about Piggie even shows the evidence in the illustration, like "his eyebrow is up."

     On day 4, they finally got the pictures of Gerald's eyes!  First, they generated the words to describe him.  In Mrs. Meyer's room, she had them write a sentence about why they thought he might feel that way.  In Miss LaFleur's room, she had them add a setting around him, and then added a speech bubble to have them infer what he might say.

Here are a few videos from when they first started drawing:

     In Miss LaFleur and Miss Alper's class, she had them do a gallery walk to match their drawing with the full image of Gerald.  She laid them all in a line, and had the partner pairs put their drawing above/below the picture they thought it matched.  She did this after she modeled how our faces show expression, of course.  :)

     In the end, they did not all find the exact match to their image.  Some of his eyes were very close to the eyes in another image.  But, for the most part they were close.  Sometimes, the emotions they identified hit the target.  Sometimes, they did not.  But, they definitely are noticing a new detail now! Facial expressions are a huge clue into how a character is feeling.  

My take aways from this?

1.  Mo Willems is a genius.

2.  A Library of Congress lesson on close reading images can be adapted to a primary classroom.

3.  First graders need to focus on learning to read.  However, if we want to add some close reading habits, like rereading for a purpose (emotions) or using images (like illustrations in picture books) then the kids will have a blast while thinking a little deeper.

4.  This series of shared reading lessons hit multiple CCSS standards.  RL.1.3 and RL.1.7 are the biggest, but the incorporation of narrative elements, dialogue, partner work, reading multiple books about the same character, and fluency immediately includes more.

5.  MY BIG TAKE AWAY?:  The Common Core tells us what to teach, but not how to teach it.  I have said that many, many times.  I think that just by watching this seed idea grow in two different classrooms in two different ways shows that.  Collaboration with each other not only helps us learn new things, but it also helps us teach each other.  This series of lessons was just a seed idea that grew into something much more.

And, to close, I figure I'd add a fun image my son drew of Piggie and Gerald.  Just because.  :)




  1. As you know, I'm a big Piggie and Gerald fan. But don't leave Pigeon out in the cold! I can just imagine his face when he finds out he's not allowed in the close read. Brilliant, Leah!!

  2. Great post, Leah. Thanks for sharing your successes. :)
    Literacy Loving Gals