Close Read Techniques for High School Social Studies

What is Close Reading?

When a student engages in a close read they are doing the opposite of skimming. Close reading entails really delving into the document, usually reading it several times in order to gain deeper understanding each time. Oftentimes each reading will have students looking for a different aspect of the content, from a casual summary to identifying the voice and point of view of the author.

Many students don’t want to read a historical document even one time; how are you supposed to get them to read it several times?! I’m going to give you several methods to try.

How to Implement a Close Read in Your Lesson

1. Choice Boards

This is the newest title given to a method of instruction that allows students various options to reflect their understanding of a topic. Back in the day it was called a menu.

menu style choice board

Students are given a “menu” of activities and questions. The appetizer is usually a short warm-up question. They choose from the menu and complete one.

The entree is the “meat” of the lesson and offers more than one activity to reflect understanding. One choice might be to create a storyboard while another is to make a political cartoon, a third could be a writing assignment.

Finally, the dessert is the exit question for the lesson.

Another style of choice board that I use ALL the time is Tic-Tac-Toe. Your kiddos simply choose any three activities in a row to complete.

Here is a generic version that you can download. It works with almost any reading passage that you assign in social studies.

Click here to download.

2. Annotation

There are soooo many ways to use annotation as a method to get students reading deeply. One caveat that I have: Generally,don’t ask them to annotate for the “main ideas”. This is too general. Instead, give very specific areas of focus, such as the following:

  • Find all the causes and effects of an event, OR examples of inequities in society, OR ideologies of a particular person, OR methods of instituting change. These directions give a very specific focus for a particular reading. If they are looking for more than one topic at the same time, such as cause and effect:
    • Try giving out colored pencils, 1 color is for all the causes, another for effects. This allows you to assess if a student is having difficulty identifying one or the other (causes or effects). Also, it adds a bit of an art element to the exercise, which many students enjoy.
    • OR students are asked to UNDERLINE the CAUSES and DOUBLE-UNDERLINE the EFFECTS.
  • Students can annotate in groups, each with a different focus for the same document. Using this method one student would be underlining causes, another one effects, a third student identifying the key people, a fourth finding content specific vocabulary, etc.
    • The group would then come together to share and peer assess the thoroughness and validity of each group member’s findings.
    • Finally, students can write the overall findings in their notebooks.

2. Finding Evidence

finding evidence

This is a great way to “force” students to really read deeply. As with annotation, there are several ways to accomplish this method. Students are given text-dependent questions that they answer using evidence from the reading.

  • Create questions that have several pieces of evidence in the reading to justify the answer.
    • In groups each student answers one of four questions you formulated on separate sheets of paper and provides one piece of evidence. Everyone then passes to the right and the next student must find another piece of evidence. This continues until each group member has provided evidence for each of the questions.
  • The questions can be scaffolded by increasing the level of rigor. Groups can work together, with each being responsible for a few of the questions, then sharing out. You can create homogeneous groups and assign the more challenging questions to the higher level group. Include one question that is a level 3 on the DOK chart for all groups to grapple with.
  • Instead of questions, create statements that students(individually or in pairs) ascertain whether they’re true or false based upon the reading. They must include textual evidence in their answer. This, too, can be done with varying levels of difficulty.
    • One way to differentiate this lesson is to offer ten statements and allow students to choose any seven or eight to prove or disprove using evidence from the document.

3. Students Create Questions

Asking students to create questions is always a rigorous task for them. Here are a few ways to implement this method:

  • Students work in pairs creating several (3-5) high level questions. Include guidelines such as: no yes or no questions,no when or where questions. Model some question starters to get them rolling; how, why, what if, are a few that should generate higher level questions. You can collect them and distribute for other pairs to try and answer.
  • Groups can create multiple choice questions. This is MUCH harder than it seems and is a good challenge.
  • One of my colleagues has groups of four students create four rigorous questions and then the class plays “Battleship”. The first group “bombs” another group by throwing one of their questions to another group in a paper ball. If the group answers they then get to bomb another group. If they cannot answer in a prescribed time their battleship is sunk. Depending on time allotment each group can have two or three battleships to sink before they’re out of the game.

4. Mind Mirror

Sample of a Mind Mirror

For a creative, artistic approach to close reading students can create mind mirrors. This works well with readings about people (leaders, philosophers, etc) as well as economic and political theories (communist, capitalism, absolute monarchy, etc.)

  • First students read and annotate for any ideas, beliefs and actions in the content.
  • Individually or in pairs supply a large sheet of paper for them to draw a head (it doesn’t have to been human)
  • Students then draw symbols, quotes, pictures, and beliefs on the head instead of eyes, nose and ears.
  • Decide, based on your students and the reading, a minimum number of symbols and pictures that should be included.
  • To share-out post the mind mirrors around the room and 1 half of the pair stay with the work to describe it and answer any questions. Halfway through the gallery walk the pairs switch places and the 2nd half of the pair stays with their work while the other travels around the room.
This is a Close Read Lesson I made for the Declaration of Independence


The benefits of close reading are self-evident. A students that reads deeply and analyzes the text in numerous ways will come away with a much better understanding of the content.

Getting reticent readers to engage in a close read can be a challenge. You may want to start with a highly engaging article, even if it is not infused with as much content as you would like, as a way to incite interest and allow students to gain the skills necessary for a successful close read.

By employing various methods throughout the semester you will reach more students and keep the class fresh. You will also learn which of the methods resonates with your students.

Reading is the most critical skill for any person of any age. Everything else emanates from the ability to comprehend, synthesize and analyze the written word. If we can move students forward one tiny step at a time wonderful results can be achieved over the course of a school year.

If you want to try a lesson plan I have created that incorporates close reading check it out here.

I hope some of these ideas resonated with you. Please reach out with any questions, reactions or requests for future articles.

Enjoy your students, your job and your life!


To watch a video of Close Read Ideas using Google Click here

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.

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