Close reading: Developing deep understanding of texts

Close reading is thoughtful, critical analysis of a text that focuses on significant details or patterns in order to develop a deep, precise understanding of the text’s form, craft, meanings, etc. It is a key element of Maine’s English language arts and literacy standards and directs the reader’s attention to the text itself. Developing habits of close reading support a student’s growth as a reader, writer, speaker, and consumer of information.

Close reading is an especially helpful instructional routine for students who need support to understand text that is at or above grade level. Navigating the complexities of these “instructional” or “stretch” level texts can be a challenge for any student depending on the topic and type of text. Understanding what makes a text complex and selecting the most appropriate close reading strategy is the key to effective learning and growth.

Selected text, whether an entire short text or an excerpt from a longer text, should contain sufficient complexity and content to both require and justify repeated readings. Reading a text multiple times provides opportunities to scaffold comprehension and build fluency. Developing close reading practices that are regular and familiar to students will improve comprehension and support higher order cognitive skills. Several effective strategies to include in close reading routines include the use of text dependent questions, text annotation and synthesizing across multiple texts. In this article, the use of text dependent questions as a tool for promoting close reading will be explored. In subsequent articles, other close reading strategies will be considered-

Text Dependent Questions

Text dependent questions (TDQs) must be answered by a close and careful reading of the text be supported by textual evidence. Students who engage in multiple readings of a short text or excerpt from a longer text have the opportunity to develop a familiarity with the text, analyze the text for multiple purposes, and are then better able to connect the text to other texts, to self, and to the wider world. Text dependent questions should build in cognitive demand with each subsequent read. One method of developing TDQs is discussed in Text-Dependent Questions: Pathways to Close and Critical Reading by Fisher and Frey (2015).

The authors suggest developing TDQ’s in the following manner:

  • What does the text say? (a literal understanding of what is in the text)
  • How does the text work? (reading like a writer and exploring the structure of the text)
  • What does the text mean? (analyzing the content for its deeper meaning, symbolism, purpose, etc.)

Additional resources about close reading and the use of text dependent questions can be found in Literacy Links, Maine DOE’s bimonthly literacy newsletter.

  • January 2013. Introduction to Close Reading through Text-Dependent Questions
  • January 2014. Components and Considerations for Close Reading
  • March 2014. Close Reading Practices for K-12 Classrooms

Other resources for learning about close reading strategies include:

For more information, contact Maine DOE Literacy Specialist Lee Anne Larsen at leeann.larsen@maine.gov or ELA Specialist Morgan Dunton at morgan.dunton@maine.gov.