CSI – A strategy for close reading

This year, the teachers in the English Department at YIS have been focusing on close reading skills and strategies. This goal was chosen after examining a range of student work samples in order to identify areas to improve.

What we noticed was that the students had an inconsistent approach to close reading assessments. More specifically, some students were developing excellent interpretations of the various texts they were studying but their annotations lacked an exploration of how this message was being communicated. Conversely, other students had detailed annotations of stylistic devices but were not able to synthesise these into a cohesive interpretation of the text.

After researching a number close reading strategies (such as AVID), we noticed that good close reading strategies seemed to have a number of things in common:

  1.  Starting with a previewing / skimming / reading strategy. Unknown vocabulary should also be researched at this stage.
  2.  ‘Chunking’ (separating and grouping) the text into segments.
  3.  Summarising each of these segments in a pithy sentence (the ‘what’). This would involve underlining key/essential information.
  4.  Analysing how the author is communicating each message (the ‘how’). This would involve circling subject-specific techniques that the author is using, particular to the focus of study for the lesson (e.g. poetic devices, techniques of bias in news etc.)
  5.  Synthesising all of this information into a concise, precise thesis statement.

In the department we have simplified these steps into an easy-to-remember three step process called CSI (chunk-summarise-inquire).

After trialing the strategy for a number of months, we noticed that our students’ close reading annotations became more detailed and comprehensive. Students also liked the strategy, saying that it gives them a clear and easy-to-follow process to use when encountering a text. However, they also stated that it would be difficult to use in a timed commentary writing (exam situation). Still, it has become a useful tool for close reading learning experiences.

Our next reading strategies to investigate are skimming/previewing and evaluating arguments.