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Ask A REL Response

March 2021


What research has been conducted on the effects of close reading on middle school students' comprehension of informational text?


Following an established REL Southeast research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on the effects of close reading on middle school students' comprehension of informational text. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed the effects of close reading on middle school students' comprehension of informational text. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. These references are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

  1. Fang, Z., & Pace, B. G. (2013). Teaching with challenging texts in the disciplines: Text complexity and close reading. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy , 55(2), 104-108.
    From the abstract: "The Common Core State Standards highlight the need to read--independently, closely, and proficiently--increasingly complex texts. However, they do not specify how such reading is to be done. This column provides a brief critique of text complexity and close reading and offers some concrete ideas for operationalizing these two concepts in secondary subject area classrooms."
  2. Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2014). Close reading as an intervention for struggling middle school readers. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 57(5), 367-376.
    From the abstract: "Thousands and thousands of middle school students around the limited effectiveness. We wanted to know if an after-school intervention focused on close reading procedures could improve student achievement. Close reading of complex text involves annotations, repeated reading, text-dependent questions, and discussions. This manuscript reports on 75 students in grades 7-8 who received the close reading intervention and compares their outcomes with 247 students who received a traditional intervention. Results suggest that close reading can be an effective intervention, with significant increases in student attendance, self-perception, and achievement."
  3. Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2014). Student and teacher perspectives on a close reading protocol. Literacy Research and Instruction, 53(1), 25-49.
    From the abstract: "Close reading is an instructional practice that has gained attention of late. It involves reading a complex text, annotation, and repeatedly reading to answer text-dependent questions. Although there are a number of recommendations for the use of close reading, there has not been a systematic analysis of student or teacher perceptions of this approach. We interviewed 45 teachers, grades 4-12, and conducted focus groups with 327 students. The participants in this study recognized that close reading was useful in helping deeply analyze a text. They noted that students had more responsibility and engagement during close reading instruction, and were tired as a result. In addition, teachers noted that the planning process required to develop a close reading was time consuming and complex."
  4. Welsch, J. G., Powell, J. J., & Robnolt, V. J. (2019). Getting to the core of close reading: What do we really know and what remains to be seen? Reading Psychology, 40(1), 95-116.
    From the abstract: "Due to the Common Core State Standards, close reading is becoming a common practice in today's elementary and middle school classrooms. Qualitative content analysis of journal publications was used to determine the (a) prevalence of close reading in the existing literature, (b) knowledge about close reading from the research literature, (c) themes about close reading in practitioner-oriented articles and (d) questions about close reading in the elementary and middle grade language arts classroom. Results reveal that the majority of articles on close reading are situated in the practitioner literature, with a notable lack of research on close reading."


Keywords and Search Strings
The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • "middle school students", informational text, close reading
  • middle school students, close reading, reading instruction, informational text
  • 5th grade, 6th grade, 7th grade, 8th grade, reading instruction, close reading

Databases and Resources
We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published for last 15 years, from 2003 to present, were include in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types - randomized control trials,, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc. (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Southeast Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at Florida State University. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southeast under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0011, administered by Florida State University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.