Paired Texts, Close Readings, and IRA Inspiration

Hello, hello!

It’s been a long while since I’ve contributed to our lovely blog here, and I’m glad to be back with news and tidings from the International Reading Association’s conference last weekend. It is so energizing to be around teachers who are excited about what they’re doing and excited about the sparks of reading—and also motivated about how they can leverage the many changes we’re in the midst of to get readers excited about the spark of good books.

The themes that kept striking me there were paired texts and close readings. I champion this, because it brings back one of my favorite things from school (of which a colleague on Monday reminded me the term): comparative literature. Comparative literature takes you to other literature and other learning. It’s a path of exploration and knowledge gathering. Although folks are currently taking this from the Common Core threads, the reality is that we’ve been doing this for a long while. Thinking critically about texts, asking questions of the book, the author, the ideas the reader brings to that text—it’s all part of moving to another level of questioning and involvement in what’s being read. I love it.

Another IRA moment that had me all fired up was Ellin Oliver Keene’s session, when she discussed connecting readers with books and witnessing that moment of empathy. When a young reader feels that connection with a book for the first time, it truly is magic. Do you remember the first time you felt that way about a book? A character? A piece of fantastic information you had just gained from reading?

The session “Using Paired Texts as Way-In Texts for Social Studies” was possibly my favorite of the conference, however. The presenters took award-winning books and showed us how, through simple H maps and other tools, you can really quickly start making connections between books and asking other questions around those stories. All of this has me wanting to throw some suggestions your way for paired texts to try on, either for yourself or for the young readers in your life. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on the connections you were able to make between these! Here’s a little starter list from our highly reviewed collection:

Secrets of a Civil War Submarine: Solving the Mysteries of the H. L. Hunley


Military Techonology (Cool Science series)


And a couple more:

Sarah Emma Edmonds Was a Great Pretender: The True Story of a Civil War Spy


Tillie Pierce: Teen Eyewitness to the Battle of Gettysburg


And some amphibian fun for spring:

Can You Tell a Frog from a Toad?


Salamander, Frog, and Polliwog: What Is an Amphibian?

The great thing about pairing texts for readers is that you have no limits. High school learners can use picture books for comparisons, nonfiction and fiction can be compared, biographies and historical fiction narratives are great things to parallel—try it on!