close read symbols

Three Things To Consider When Using Close Read Symbols For First Graders

Teaching close reading in your classroom is hard enough, but teaching your students how to use close read symbols correctly and effectively seems next to impossible. I mean, c’mon, they’re six years old and probably have never taken notes on anything before. And don’t get me started on the fact that they’re just starting to read, and now you want them to annotate? It sounds like something we can skip, right?

In this blog series, I’m showing you ALL the strategies for close reading that you can use in your elementary classroom that isn’t one size fits all. You’ll know how to teach the steps for close reading without it going right over your kiddo’s heads. 

And we’ll begin with close read symbols. AKA annotation marks.

Teaching Close Read Symbols Is Tricky

You want your students to connect to their text to gain deeper meaning, but the last time you tried to annotate, it was a disaster. Like, it tanked. If your experience is anything like the first time I tried to teach my students  to use close read symbols, I bet you’re ready to skip it altogether.

I had scribbles all over our reading passages. And flowers. I didn’t teach them to use flowers to annotate. I had more than one student complain that they didn’t get it and I felt like a colossal failure.

close reading annotation

Teaching Annotation Is Easy If You Take A Step Back

In this video, I’ll give you three helpful tips that will help you avoid the mess of annotation. Let’s learn how to teach your students to use close read symbols effectively. Check it out. 👇

Watch, learn, subscribe to the entire series

Video Description

Have you struggled teaching close reading with your beginning readers? Close reading strategies are not one-size-fits-all, and if you teach lower elementary students, it’s hard to adjust the steps for close reading so your younger kiddos understand the close reading concepts.

In this video, you’ll learn how to actually use close read symbols, or close reading annotation marks. There are three tips to help your students understand what close read symbols are and how they should be used. These tips will prevent random squiggles and doodles all over your close read passages. (Which is what happened in my classroom before I figured out how to teach close reading annotation marks.)

What Will You Learn About Teaching Close Read Symbols In This Article?

You will learn:

  • Why it is important to annotate during close reading.
  • Shifting your mindset because close read symbols are not one-size-fits-all.
  • Three simple tips to make annotation manageable and effective. 

Annotation marks are an important part of close reading because they really show what your students are thinking and what they find important in the text. But did you ever think about why your students should annotate?

Annotation Leads To Better Recall

When your students are using close read symbols to take notes on their reading passages, this leads to better recall of the text. How many times have you jotted something down and were able to remember it later. Now think about the times you didn’t write something down. Do you remember what you wrote? 

You’re getting a glimpse into my head right now. I don’t remember anything unless I write it down. Our brains are wired to process things differently if we take our thoughts and write them out.

close read symbols

When we progress through this blog series, you’ll see how to spend several days on one close reading passage. When your kiddos learn to annotate their text, you’ll see that they will remember the words they find tricky and they’ll be able to recall important details.

Annotation And Text Engagement

close read symbols

Your goal for close reading is to have your students engage in the text. What does that mean exactly?

You want your students to do more than read the passage. Ideally, you’ll want them to focus on new vocabulary and discuss the structure of the text. You’ll want them to make connections and identify parts in the text that are confusing. This is when annotation comes in handy. You’ll teach your students to notate the important, interesting, or tricky parts in the text. This gives them ownership of their passages.

Annotation Teaches Responsibility

If you’ve given your students a reading passage and they *kinda sorta* follow along… (but not really) you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

When you give your students a task to do while you’re reading, you’ll find that they want to be responsible for their annotations. Add in the extra motivation that you’ll let them write all over their text and you’re golden! Especially if you’ve never let them write on their reading passages before, they’re going to be so excited to be big kids who take notes. 

This leads to more engaged and responsible readers.

close read symbols

How Do You Teach Your Student To Use Close Read Symbols?

Teaching annotation is attainable for younger readers. But it begins with your mindset. Throw away anything that you thought you knew about the close reading that middle school students do, and let’s start thinking about what younger students need.

Less Is More

My son, Ethan came home with a close reading project when he was in the eighth grade. There were 16 annotation marks on his paper. SIXTEEN. Honestly, I don’t think I understood what all of them meant. 

When we are teaching close read symbols to our students, use fewer marks. At MOST, choose six, but even less is better. And on your list of annotation marks, make sure that they are things you’d like them to learn.

close read symbols

One of Ethan’s annotation symbols looked like a prescription symbol, “Rx”. I think it was to point out the reaction of the character to the theme of the text. Don’t worry, we’re not using this one. When I’m teaching close reading to my students, I would like them to identify the main idea and supporting details. So I’ll underline the main idea, and I’ll put a star next to the details. Do you see how simple that is? 

I’d also like them to circle tricky words and identify a part that confuses them. Choose your goal for close reading and teach your students those symbols. Even if you only use 2-3 symbols, you’re doing a great job.

Don’t Use All Your Close Read Symbols At Once

Another mistake I made when I began teaching close reading was cramming all my annotation marks on every passage. 

You do NOT need to use every close read symbol on every passage. 🙌

As you’re choosing your close reading passages, set a goal. What do you want your students to learn the most? If it is learning new vocabulary words and phrases, then use a circle to note tricky words. If you’d like them to discuss something surprising they learned, use an exclamation mark to note new information.

Our reading passages will be quite a bit shorter than Ethan’s 8th grade close reading assignment. Trying to stuff all the annotation marks into every passage is going to make using close read symbols less effective.

close read symbols

Introduce One At A Time

It’s your very first attempt at teaching close reading. You’ve given them the reading passage, you’ve displayed a poster with annotation marks. 

Don’t do what I did.

We read the passage together and I just let them loose. “Okay, kids time to annotate!” I gave them no direction at all. It was ugly.

When you are introducing close reading marks to your students, choose ONE at a time. Don’t move on until they are using it correctly. The next week, add another mark. It’s up to you if you revisit previous annotation symbols, or you teach them all one at a time, and then go back. 

close read symbols

Whatever you do, please don’t expect to teach them six different marks and have them take notes with them skillfully the first time. Can you imagine?

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Final Annotation Thoughts

I hope these tips will help you confidently use annotation marks with your first grade students. Remember to limit your close reading marks to a small number, teach one at a time, and don’t use them all in every passage.

Annotation is the first step to a successful close reading lesson. Once you take a step back and adapt your symbols to your students, you’ll find it’s actually pretty easy. 

Here are some final thoughts about teaching your students close read symbols. It may be messy, and your student’s may not understand at first, but don’t give up. Don’t skip annotation. My students didn’t get nearly as much from their reading passages when I glossed over annotation. With practice, they became very good at it, and your students will too! 

Good luck!

@teachingthefirsties Don’t make the same mistake I did! I showed my students their close reading poster AND that. was. it. They’re six year olds, and I forgot to teach them what each symbol means! Start off slow. Less is more. Make annotation work for your classroom.➡️ Follow me for close reading Tip #2!#closereading #closereadingisimportant #closereadingstrategies #closereadingnotes ♬ Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) - Edison Lighthouse

This FREE guide will teach you the close reading strategies that will make a close read lesson successful.

As an elementary teacher, it’s hard to adapt close reading successfully for younger readers. I didn’t have a manual when I began, but I wish I had an easier start. So I wanted to give teachers like you a head start when you’re teaching close reading to beginning readers. 

With this free guide, you’ll know what to do to keep your kiddos engaged all week.

You will learn what supplies and materials you need for a successful close reading lesson. You’ll learn what to do on each day during your week of close reading. This was another struggle for me.
I read through the text passage with my students, NOW WHAT? 

You’ll have vocabulary ideas to boost your students’ mastery of words and phrases, imagine how great it would be to have time for vocabulary instruction! I’ll show you how it works!

Comprehension is hard for younger readers. They learn to decode words and now they have to understand what everything together means too?

With how much we have to teach in a week, the idea of “Fun Fridays” went out the window years ago. At least it did for me. I didn’t have time to do the fun crafts and activities that first-graders love and frankly deserve to do! I always thought this was so sad, and I wanted to bring it back somehow. So I devoted the last day of close reading to a fun extension activity about the topic of our close reading passage. I’ll show you how to find time for a fun activity, where your students are still learning in the FREE guide for close reading!

I also added the best classroom management tips I used during our close reading week, so you can actually teach your students, rather than correcting unwanted behavior or trying to keep your kiddos attention.

And best of all? I’ve added two close reading passages WITH lesson plans to get you started.

close reading large cover 1

When you download the FREE Guide For Teaching Close Reading To Younger Readers, you’ll learn:

  • How to teach your students to annotate.
  • Which supplies you need and which ones you don’t!
  • What you need to know about the best reading passages for close reading.
  • What to teach on each day of a close reading week.
  • How to improve your student’s vocabulary with close reading.
  • Techniques to improve your student’s reading comprehension skills.
  • Extension activities that take the topic of your close reading passage further.
  • Classroom management during close reading, including partner activities and effective transitions.

You’ll also get two close reading text passages with TWO WEEKS of lesson plans! 

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3 thoughts on “Three Things To Consider When Using Close Read Symbols For First Graders”

  1. Pingback: Free Guide For Teaching Close Reading To Your Younger Students - Teaching Firsties

  2. Pingback: How To Choose the Best Passages For Close Reading - Teaching Firsties

  3. Pingback: You Can't Find Close Read Passages? Here's How To Write Your Own! - Teaching Firsties

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Rachael Hull

Rachael Hull

Teaching literacy and facilitating literacy stations has been a passion of Rachael's and she wants to help you gain confidence in your classroom!


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