Close Reading with MacGuyver

07 March 2013
(*Due to the popularity of this post, I'm giving away a free text toolbox. Look here: 

          Now dawns the Age of Common Core. And with it comes an end to the practice of giving students "just right" texts. To be proficient, students will have to comprehend grade level material, with scaffolding "as needed" at the high end of the range. Hallelujah. I think.
         Teaching students how to perform a "close read" of a complex text isn't easy. Especially since so much  has been watered down for them. But that's a pet peeve of mine that is fodder for another blog post.
         I used to be in love with highlighters for use during a close read.  However, I got tired of saying, "Highlighting everything is the same as highlighting nothing!" So now I introduce the "Text Toolbox."

         This year, I introduced it by telling students about the 80s Renaissance man with the mullet: MacGuyver. I told them that Mac was a special agent with a knack for getting out of trouble by using whatever little odds and ends happened to be nearby. He could be tied up to a totem pole, and he'd find a way to light his belly button lint on fire to burn the ropes he was bound with. This is a good 2 minute clip of Mac at his best:
            To MacGuyver, the world was his toolbox, and anything could be achieved with that toolbox. I told students that they need a toolbox also. They need something to help them when they read challenging text. After all, no one would ever expect them to play in a soccer game without cleats, shin-guards,  and a real soccer ball. They would have a huge disadvantage without the necessary equipment.
           I encourage students to find their own version of the toolbox symbols, as long as they aren't too complicated. Then I modeled for them how to annotate during a close read. By showing them the thinking going on in my mind (yes, thinking does occasionally go on there!), they were able to see how the annotations helped me interact with the text. And annotating is the best way to avoid what I call "hypnotic" reading. It's when you think you're reading, you look like you're reading, but you aren't. If you are annotating, you are actively involved in the text. Active involvement prevents hypnotic reading.
           MacGuyver must be pretty old by now. Bomb diffusion skills are no longer required. But I bet he uses his own text toolbox when reading his Medicaid Plan B statement.


  1. Darlene, I love MacGuyver! And I agree with the watering down of expectations. When I looked back at the novels kids were reading when I started teaching, compared to what they're reading today, I wondered what happened. I really think testing ad nausea played a big part in it. It hard to read for the joy of it when every aspect is dissected into data points. (Did I just steal your next blog post?) BTW, MacGuyver is definitely more gray. :)

    1. Oh, the dreaded data. It's killing us all. As for the watering down of reading material, kids are much more capable than they would have us believe ;)

  2. Love your blog Darlene, I am so glad I found another kindred soul. I was reading what you said about your students writing..and how just when you think it's all going great...the other shoe drops. I was just saying to my hubby the other night that my students were doing so much better behaviour wise...and doesn't the lunch room supervisor call me over and tell me that my class is the WORST in the school, both in and outside the lunch room at lunch time. UGH...I swear I bring it down on my own head!
    I came back up to this post to comment though, because MacGuyver is the MAN! Have you seen the skits on SNL? OMG too funny!

    1. I'm going to have to check out those SNL skits. I just saw a few clips of this guy who thinks he's a real life MacGuyver. Now I know two different ways to free myself from zip ties. Never know when you might need that knowledge, I guess! I'm so happy you stopped by! And I think those lunch supervisors are especially cranky. They all tend to exaggerate a lot too :)

  3. Great idea! It's interesting how much a little "out of the box" teaching can be more effective than a handful of worksheets. Thanks for sharing! I wil add this teaching nugget to my other ELA bag of tricks.