“Let It Go” Close Reading

I have had  amazing opportunities helping teachers figure out close reading procedures to implement in their classrooms. The students have loved this lesson using the lyrics of the Disney song Let it Go!

Last year I wrote a post titled Close Reading: Am I Getting Close. Over the course of the year I have refined my thinking – mostly due to the continued, ongoing study of close reading. Most recently, the book Falling in Love with Close Reading by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts pushed me to shift my thinking. My earlier post was more about the teacher’s planning – especially in the area of developing text dependent questions. Lehman and Robert have helped me put my focus on the students. Their book describes developing close reading rituals with a focus on guiding students to gain a deeper understanding of text after reading it multiple times, rather than their surface level understanding after their first read. Rather than multitudes of text dependent questions, their rituals can be free-standing. The goal is to develop independent readers who know which text they need to read closely to gain a deeper understanding. The close reading ritual includes:

  1. Read though lenses
  2. Use lenses to find patterns
  3. Use the patterns to develop a new understanding of the text

Lehman and Roberts started their book with an example of using song lyrics. This is a form of  text that speaks to students. Often they can sing every word, but may not have thought through the lyrics closely to develop an understanding of the author’s/song writer’s purpose and intended message. (For additional information see the study guide to the book Falling in Love with Close Reading)

Most of my work in the area of close reading has been at the elementary level. At times it has been a little difficult to find song lyrics that are appropriate for use in the classroom. Recently I have turned to Disney songs. For the remainder of this post I am going to describe my process for developing a lesson using the Academy Award winning song, Let it Gofrom the movie Frozen. 

Finding Songs – Audio

YouTube is a great, cost-effective place to find songs. For this lesson I chose to have students only listen to the song, rather than viewing the scene. I did this by finding the song on YouTube, but did not project the images. Student only listened to the song. For this lesson I used the song posted by the Walt Disney Animation Studio.

I purposely did not even tell the students which song they were going to listen to. I simply stated my purpose:

Text is all around us. Songs are one form of text. We typically listen to songs without seeing the actual text. Often we have ideas about popular songs, not just from the songs themselves but also because of what we may be experiencing in our lives at that time. If we lose someone special, every song seems sad. Sometimes that is just what you need. Today I want to show you how listening and looking carefully at a song’s lyrics can lead us to see things we may have missed before. (adapted from Falling in Love with Close Reading)

Finding Lyrics 

As I kid I remember writing down the lyrics of songs by playing them over and over, stopping and starting the 45 or LP numerous times. As cassettes, and later CDs, came out I was thrilled that many included the lyrics! Now, a simple google search can yield the lyrics in seconds! Just google “Let it Go lyrics” and you will find numerous sites. I simply copied the lyrics and pasted them into a Word document. Boy, have times changed!

Developing Lesson

In order to develop a close reading lesson teachers need to have a strong understanding of the text. I have found this takes time. It takes REALLY reading the text closely, multiple times. Duh! If we need to do this – all the more reason to facilitate this process with our students!

My preferred method is to discuss the text with another person gaining multiple perspectives and insights. Yet, that isn’t always possible. So, I have let Google be my friend. Since I haven’t seen the movie Frozen yet, I googled a phrases like “what does the song Let it Go mean.” I found multiple sites and interpretations to guide my lesson development. One blog in particular had two posts that were helpful. One was an analysis of the song and the other closely analyzed the facial expressions of the main character, Elza, as she sang the song. Both helped me gain a deeper understanding of the song.

For the example lesson below, I decided to have students look at character development and how the character’s motivations, struggles and changes add to the theme of the story/song.

Lesson Plan Template

My thoughts on a template have changed over time. In my earlier post I included a set of moves and a template. The template I used for this lesson was much more simplified. I still find that I use the same “moves” described earlier, but the focus guiding students to deeply understand the text in a way that they can do on their own, rather than depended on teacher developed, text-dependent questions. Real, authentic reading does not include teacher’s questions. Readers, students and adults alike, must make meaning of the text on their own. The close reading process, guided by teachers, should mirror authentic reading in order for students utilize close reading when the need to gain a deeper understanding of text independently.

A Focused Tie to Writing, Speaking and Listening

In order to implement the Common Core we need to focus on bundling standards. The close reading process is the perfect example of linking several reading standards together with writing, speaking and listening. Throughout a lesson, students’ collaborative talk is essential. Hence, speaking and listening standards are addressed. We can build in the use of Accountable Talk (something I will write about in a future post). A culminating writing prompt can serve as one formative assessment to determine each students’ grasp of the text.

You can access the lesson on the ClassFlow MarketPlace here. I’ve used it on several occasions and each time I make adjustments. My hope is that it will help push your own thinking in the use of close reading. I’d love to hear your ideas. How have you used close reading? What resources have helped you understand how to begin to implement close reading in your classroom.


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