Addressing the Single Story

In this TED Talk, novelist Chimanda Adichie explains the idea of a single story, or what happens when we don’t have a balanced, diverse understanding of a people. Adichie’s own experience, growing up in Nigeria, but only reading stories that were written by British authors, showed her how “how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story.” As she grew up, Adichie saw how she became the representation of others’ single stories (for example, about Africa) and how she saw others as single stories (as in a trip to Mexico).


Single stories, says Adichie, are created when one representation of a people is told again and again, until this becomes a reality. “Single stories,” Adichie says in her talk, “create stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.”

Diverse literature is part of the antidote. Diverse literature opens up single stories and makes them more complex. They raise questions about the nuances of a group while broadening and widening our understanding of a group. They take away the power that a single story has to shape our feelings towards a group.

Reflecting on this talk, I can see how single stories could be perpetuated (unknowingly) in classrooms. One character is presented or one story becomes the narrative for how a people “is.” Or, stereotypes are challenged in a basic way, with the dismissal of the stereotype, rather than a thorough building out of knowledge through stories, questioning, and research. Time moves fast and few teachers feel they have time to linger in literature. That said, avoiding the single story is important, both for children’s development, their intellect, and their understanding of the world.

In a recent The Reading Teacher article, scholars Fenice Boyd, Lauren Causey and Lee Galda outlined three ways to bring more diverse literature into classrooms:

I would add to that list: make yourself aware of the single stories that your students have. What do they think they know about a group? And why? Then, consider how you can bring in stories—literature, video, media—to help them confront and reshape those single stories, one at a time.

The Best Reading You Can Do: Defining Close Reading

Blame the New Critics, blame the Common Core, but there’s no avoiding the term close reading in today’s ELA classroom. On the surface it sounds easy enough—get up close and personal with a book—but looking around, there are as many definitions of close reading as there are strategies to teach it.

Adler and Van Doren in How to Read a Book describe Analytical Reading as “the best reading you can do” (1940). Beers and Probst (2013) define close reading as a way to bring texts and readers close together, physically and mentally with intense focus so that it extends “from the passage itself to other parts of the text.” Brown and Kappes (2012) define close reading as “a mechanism for teaching logical arguments and critiquing the reasoning of others for gleaning evidence from text and applying critical thinking skills.” Fisher and Frey (2012) see teaching close reading as a way to strengthen students’ perseverance and stamina so they can engage with complex texts.

There are, of course, some commonalities between definitions:

  • Short texts are used,
  • Students are intensely focused on the text,
  • Students are exploring and analyzing text,
  • Students are rereading text for understanding.

Of course, close reading involves all these things and more, depending on the purpose for reading. Ultimately, close reading is a purposeful, concentrated reading (and rereading) of text that results in a deep understanding of text, so deep that students carry the text with them. For me, that’s what makes close reading so challenging—it is meant to be so intense that it requires a different level of understanding and planning on the teacher’s part. It’s no easy task to plan for students to do the best reading they can do.


Books that were referenced in this post:

Adler, Mortimer and Charles Van Doren (1972) How to Read a Book: Revised

  1. Simon and Schuster: New York, NY.

Beers, Kylene and Robert Probst (2013) Notice and Note: Strategies for Close

  1. Heinemann: Portsmouth, NH

Brown, Sheila and Lee Kappes. (2012) “Implementing the Common Core State

Standards: A Primer on ‘Close Reading of Text.’” The Aspen Institute. Retrieved on 7.20.2014 from

Fisher, Douglas, Nancy Frey and Diane Lapp (2012) Teaching Students to Read Like

Detectives: Comprehending, Analyzing, and Discussing Text. Solution Tree Press: Bloomington, IN.

Fisher, Douglas and Nancy Frey. (2012) “Close Reading in Elementary Schools” The

Reading Teacher 66 (3) 179-188

Lehman, Christopher and Kate Roberts. (2014) Falling in Love with Close Reading:

Lessons for Analyzing Text and Life. Heinemann: Porstmouth, NH.