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February 21, 2018

Close Reading – A Fiction Formula

Calling all teachers of literature!  Do you dream of guiding your students to reading complex text with increased comprehension and commitment? Do you wake up wondering what you should do to get closer to these outcomes?

What’s the “dream strategy” to reaching all these lofty reading goals? Close reading!

I like this definition and breakdown of close reading from Beth Burke, NBCT, in her work A Close Look at Close Reading: Scaffolding Students With Complex Texts1

“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 requirement of the Common Core State Standards and directs the reader’s attention to the text itself. The close reading strategy includes:  

  • Using short passages and excerpts  
  • Diving right into the text with limited pre-reading activities  
  • Focusing on the text itself  
  • Rereading deliberately  
  • Reading with a pencil  
  • Noticing things that are confusing  
  • Discussing the text with others
  • Think-Pair-Share or Turn and Talk frequently
  • Small groups and whole class  
  • Responding to text-dependent questions”

Clearly, a simple answer and single skill aren’t enough to access close reading outcomes. The answer must reach further beyond – to a formula. And one formula I’d recommend includes six signposts designed by Beers and Probst in their book, Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading.2  These six signposts help readers “notice” text features that enhance understanding of fiction.

Besides the signposts support, close reading is accomplished by using anchor texts, dialogic talk, student-led discussions, and generalizable language.  These tools beautifully blend to help readers make important connections with text which leads to higher levels of reading enjoyment. Doesn’t that sound dreamy?

I knew I was going to love this close reading framework when I read the introduction about Louise Rosenblatt, professor of literature and creator of the “transactional” approach to reading in which she argues that the act of reading literature involves a transaction between the reader and the text. In her view, each “transaction” is a unique experience in which the reader and text continuously act and are acted upon by each other. For the reader’s part, he or she must pay close attention to every detail of the text and pay equal attention to his or her own responses. This process exemplifies not only reader-response criticism but also close reading.Rosenblatt’s theory resonated in my head and heart. (To learn more about Rosenblatt’s theory, click here)

An aside: It always amazes me when I “uncover” important educational theories or practices that were somehow overlooked in my undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate studies. I wonder, “How did I miss this big reading theory in my teacher preparation and ongoing professional development?”  But quickly I am reminded that education is constantly evolving, building upon theories and practice, always striving to engage new research that supports teaching and learning success.

If your “reading instruction radar” is up, I invite you to sign up for a new course we’ve created to introduce this instructional framework for close reading of fiction. I promise it will be worth your time and attention: signposts will draw readers and text closer!

When it comes to reading, teachers are passionate and purposeful. Reading, after all, is the skill that supports all learning and academic achievement. Close reading is an embedded and expected skill outcome in the CCSS – but don’t let that be your only source of inspiration (or deter you from digging deeper…whichever your professional slant.) Teachers must honor the importance of guiding students into deeper connections with text of all kinds. It’s up to each teacher to seek strategies to support that goal.

Course 5040: Increasing Comprehension with Close Reading in Your Classroom comes straight to your computer bringing simple tools and practices to improve your literacy instruction toolkit.  Building closer connections between students and fiction will transform your teaching and their learning. Close reading using signposts could be your teacher “dream come true.”


  1. Burke, B., NBCT. (n.d.). A Close Look At Close Reading. Retrieved June 19, 2017, from
  2. Beers, K., & Probst, R. E. (2012). Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


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Offering more than 100 print-based or online courses for teachers, you can earn the graduate credit you need for salary advancement and meet your professional development needs. Contact us today to get started!


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