How to Use Close Reading Strategies with Social Studies Text | Part Two


I almost titled this post “How to Steal Time to Teach Social Studies,” but I realized that not every school district is as short-sighted as mine by not giving Social Studies equal time in the curriculum. Whether you have a dedicated Social Studies block in your schedule or not, pairing close reading strategies with Social Studies text is a win-win combo for your students. First, it confirms to students that the teaching strategies for reading you have taught them transfer into other areas. They can actually use these in real life! Second, those strategies help readers of all levels learn Social Studies content in a manageable way. #differentiation

What is Close Reading?

“The main intention of close reading is to engage students in the reading of complex texts.”

Snow and Connor, 2016

I love the idea of close reading because it gives readers of all abilities access to complex text. In upper elementary, that can mean any non-fiction text. They need to read to learn new information going forward, and in my mind, that’s what close reading strategies do.

This is why I think using close reading strategies and Social Studies text in guided reading groups is one of my favorite ways to teach.

Here’s how I do it:

Before Reading Strategies

Set a purpose: Giving students specific questions to keep in mind while reading helps them focus and understand why they are reading the text. It’s helpful if you have these questions written on a board near the guided reading area so they can refer to them during reading or on a Post-It they can use.

Tell students they are trying to get the gist of the text the first time: During the first reading of a non-fiction text, I want my readers to get a good idea (gist) of the author’s purpose in writing the text.

Take Notes: Explain that you want them to jot notes in the margins or note box that may answer the guiding questions or if they have a question about something they have read. It also helps when the text is double spaced so that students can write in the margins and in-between the lines. There is nothing more frustrating than tiny text that is single-spaced!

Circle vocabulary words that you don’t know: Even though I have pre-taught the vocabulary, students may encounter words they don’t understand. Using context clues while reading is the way I want them to define the words, but sometimes it doesn’t work when they are reading the text. So, they can circle those words to address after reading.

After Reading Activities

When students have finished reading, I have them immediately explain the gist of the text. A two to three-sentence summary is enough. I just want them to encapsulate the main things they remember before asking them to get into the details.

The next activity is to have students discover the text’s main idea supported and three key details. They may not get it exactly right yet – it helps them begin to understand the author’s purpose.

I love to pair up students for this activity to talk about the text. They can help each other with the graphic organizer.

Finally, I want students to make sure they understand the vocabulary in the text. I have them write the circled vocabulary down on the chart shown below.

Then we discuss the ways they could try to define the word using context clues:

  • Reread the sentence the word appears in
  • Look at the words that appear before, after, and near the word
  • Look for author clues (synonyms, antonyms, definitions)

This is my lesson plan for the first reading of the text, which may take 2 – 3 days. The activities are designed to help students get an overview of the content and prepare them to read it a second time. These steps prepare students to read the text a second time and respond to comprehension questions.

If you missed the first post in this series all about pre-teaching Social Studies vocabulary – you can read it here.


The resource I’m using for this lesson is this Civics and Government Close Reading Pack:

Social Studies Civics and Government
Civics and Government Close Reading Pack: Includes Purpose of Government, Three Branches of Government, and How Government Gains Its Power

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