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Curriculum Q & A Blog, Question 21

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    EL Education

Do you have questions about teaching the EL Education K–5 Language Arts Curriculum? We've got answers!

Come back every week for the latest from the Curriculum Q & A Blog.

Question: How is close reading different with primary students?

Students who are still learning to crack the alphabetic code clearly won’t be able to read complex texts independently. But that doesn’t mean they can’t think and talk about text in sophisticated ways! Many parents and kindergarten teachers, for example, read Charlotte’s Web aloud to 5- and 6-year-olds. Children this age are unlikely to be able to read this classic on their own, but they can still do great thinking about the text.

In the curriculum, most close reading in the K–2 grade band happens through close read-alouds, which allow students to listen to and discuss more complex texts than they can read independently. This exposes them to more sophisticated concepts, content, academic vocabulary, and complex language than they would otherwise be able to access. Particularly for students who enter school behind, in terms of their vocabulary, syntax, and world knowledge, this exposure is vital. This is why close read-alouds are an important component of Module Lessons in our K–2 curriculum. (Keep in mind that the K–2 Reading Foundations Skills Block is when K–2 students learn to crack the alphabetic code through a structured phonics program. For an overview of the broad structure of EL Education’s K-2 Language Arts Curriculum, see this post.) 

Close read-alouds typically unfold over a series of short sessions (20 to 25 minutes each) that are part of the longer 60-minute Module Lesson, which includes other learning activities. Students may return to the text over the course of as many as five lessons, each time listening to parts of the text for a particular purpose. The sequence starts with students listening to the entire text read aloud without interruption, which helps them get immersed in the content and language while also modeling fluency and expression. In subsequent sessions, a focus question sets the stage for analysis of smaller chunks of text. This focus question drives inquiry across the entire series of sessions and helps students understand “why are we reading this?”

“Close read-aloud is really different from how I did read-alouds in the past because I rarely used to read a text more than once unless it was a class favorite. [I love] ... diving deep into one or two high-quality, complex texts like we do now with close read-alouds. The benefit I’ve seen for my students is a more thorough understanding and a deeper level of text comprehension (and therefore content), which enhances their ability to ask and answer questions and engage in substantive conversations, especially my English language learners. As a result, they are better equipped to demonstrate their learning through drawing, writing, and oral language.”

–Sara Metz, Kindergarten teacher, Denver

In each session, students are lifted to greater understanding of the text through purposeful text-dependent questions and activities. Keeping in mind the characteristics of primary learners, students engage with the text using a variety of modalities throughout the close read-aloud, including drama, art, movement, discussion, and writing. Students also use a variety of note-taking strategies to help them collect evidence that will enable them to answer the focus question, which may include drawing pictures or writing words to fi ll in sentence frames. In the final session, students synthesize their learning through a culminating writing or speaking task.

Just as with close reading in Grades 3–5, each close read-aloud in the curriculum is accompanied by a Close Read-aloud Guide. 

We were lucky to catch a series of close read-aloud sessions in action in Sara Metz’s Kindergarten class in Denver, which you can view in the two-part video that follows. Also, click on the Download button at the top of this post to see a fully annotated close read-aloud lesson and Close Read-aloud Guide from one of the same lessons featured in these videos.

Stay tuned next week for a deeper dive into planning for close-read aloud sessions. 

For more general information about our curriculum, check out our website or our book Your Curriculum Companion: The Essential Guide to Teaching the EL Education K–5 Language Arts Curriculum. If you have questions related to this blog, please email us at: