Skip Navigation
archived information

Ask a REL Response

Teaching close reading in elementary school — May 2019


What does the research say about instructional approaches to “close reading” for elementary students?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on instructional approaches to “close reading” for elementary students. The sources included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (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. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

Research References

Baker, S. F., & McEnery, L. (2017). Building the foundation for close reading with developing readers. Texas Journal of Literacy Education, 5(1), 71–80. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Close reading utilizes several strategies to help readers think more critically about a text. Close reading can be performed within the context of shared readings, read-alouds by the teacher, literature discussion groups, and guided reading groups. Students attempting to more closely read difficult texts may benefit from technologies and platforms that support their diverse reading levels, abilities, and special needs during close reading activities. The authors identify technologies which enable teachers to embed multimedia, interactive activities, and questions and activities that promote critical thinking and which guide readers to take a closer look at the content of their texts.”

Boudreaux-Johnson, M., Mooney, P., & Lastrapes, R. E. (2017). An evaluation of close reading with at-risk fourth-grade students in science content. Journal of At-Risk Issues, 20(1), 27–35. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “The study’s primary purpose was to evaluate the effectiveness of a widely promoted close reading instructional routine for elementary grades students at risk for reading failure. Close reading is designed to help students read complex text independently and proficiently. Participants were six fourth-grade students receiving supplemental instruction in a rural public school. A single subject alternating treatments design was implemented to compare the close reading instructional routine to a validated reading comprehension strategy instruction intervention over a six-week intervention time frame. Results determined through visual inspection of a general outcome reading comprehension measure were mixed, seemingly favoring the validated intervention and not close reading. Limitations of the research and implications for use of close reading with students at risk are discussed.”

Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2014). Closely reading informational texts in primary grades. Reading Teacher, 68(3), 222–227. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “In this article we discuss the differences between close reading in the primary grades and upper elementary grades. We focus on text selection, initial reading, repeated reading, annotation, text-based discussions, and responding to texts.”

Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2012). Close reading in elementary schools. Reading Teacher, 66(3), 179–188. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Close reading is a recommended instructional approach to meet the challenges of teaching complex texts. But close readings are more common in high school and college than in elementary schools. In this article, we identify the components of close reading that were developed after a group of elementary school teachers observed their colleagues in high school. In addition, we focus on the modifications necessary to implement close reading in elementary schools.”

Lapp, D., Grant, M., Moss, B., & Johnson, K. (2013). Students’ close reading of science texts: What’s now? What’s next? Reading Teacher, 67(2), 109–119. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “A question being asked by teachers across the country is, How can I teach students to acquire both the skills and knowledge demanded by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) while simultaneously guiding them to read challenging texts such as those presented in Appendix B of the CCSS? Answering this invites the integration of ideas and the innovation of novel instructional plans. Illustrating close reading procedures in two classrooms—one 1st grade and one 5th grade—this article provides an answer by detailing the manner in which a student might approach a challenging science text using annotated reading, partner talk, text-based questioning and reflective writing to build competence and a capacity for reading, writing, listening, and speaking about informational texts.”

Lord, K. M. (2015). Determining the main idea: Instructional strategies that work. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 51(3), 138–142. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “The ability to identify the main idea through close reading of informational text is a higher-level skill students develop in elementary grades as a foundation for the acquisition of other critical skills in later grades. This article provides instructional strategies for this important skill as well as for improving reading comprehension.”

Minnery, A., & Smith, A. T. (2018). Close sentence reading to foster decoding and comprehension. Reading Teacher, 71(6), 743–748. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Decoding, building fluency, and exploring word and sentence meanings are important elements of literacy instruction in elementary classrooms. Shared literacy experiences provide opportunities for teachers to engage students in meaningful reading experiences. This article describes a quick four-step process for conducting close sentence reading, a shared literacy experience focused on decoding and comprehending short excerpts of challenging text. Classroom examples and a sample excerpt and chart are included.”

Santori, D., & Belfatti, M. (2017). Do text-dependent questions need to be teacher-dependent? Close reading from another angle. Reading Teacher, 70(6), 649–657. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “The term ‘close reading’ often conjures up an image of a teacher asking students several scripted questions that encourage them to reread and critically examine a text. The teacher then evaluates the students’ responses. In this article, the authors offer another approach to close reading—one that places students’ text-dependent questions front and center as they collaboratively discuss the text and construct meaning. The authors analyze transcript excerpts from small-group discussions of narrative and informational texts to demonstrate elementary students’ abilities to ask and answer their own text-dependent questions as they engage in close reading.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

From the website: “Founded as the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, ASCD has spent more than 75 years embracing a unique and compelling set of core principles. It has focused not just on the academic goals of curriculum, but also on education’s broader social dimensions, including the development of students’ moral and creative capacities and an understanding of their diverse needs…ASCD empowers educators to achieve excellence in learning, teaching, and leading so that every child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.”

REL West note: ASCD has two resources that are relevant to this request:

Boyles, N. (2013). Closing in on close reading. Educational Leadership, 70(4), 36–41. Retrieved from

Frey, N., & Fisher, D. (2013). Points of entry. Educational Leadership, 71(3), 34–38. Retrieved from

PDK International –

From the website: “Established in 1906, PDK International supports teachers and school leaders by strengthening their interest in the profession through the entire arc of their career….We honor educators as professionals who learn daily from their work and want to share their knowledge with others to transform the lives of their students and their own specialized work. Today, we are transforming into a vibrant social sector organization that will activate educators and other stakeholders to elevate the discourse around teaching and learning to ensure that every child has access to a high-quality education.”

REL West note: PDK International has one resource that is relevant to this request:

Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2015). Improve reading with complex texts. Phi Delta Kappan, 96(5), 56–61. Retrieved from

Texas Association for Literacy Education –

From the website: “The Texas Association for Literacy Education is dedicated to promoting literacy in the education sector and consists of professional members that are committed to serving the learners in the State of Texas.”

REL West note: TALE has one resource that is relevant to this request:

Grote-Garcia, S., & Frost, C. (2015). Fostering close reading in the elementary classroom using patterned text. Texas Association for Literacy Education yearbook: Inspiring and transforming literacy, volume 3 (pp. 2–16). Retrieved from


Keywords and Search Strings

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

[(“Close reading”) AND (“instruction” OR “instructional approach”) AND “elementary”]

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.7 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 searching and selecting resources to include, we consider the criteria listed below.

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within the last 15 years, from 2004 to present, were included 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 and academic databases. Priority is also given to sources that provide free access to the full article.
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study designs, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, and we may also include descriptive data analyses, survey results, mixed-methods studies, literature reviews, or meta-analyses. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality. Priority is given to publications that are peer-reviewed journal articles or reports reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations. If there are many research reports available, we select those with the strongest methodology, or the most recent of similar reports. When there are fewer resources available, we may include a broader range of information. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0012, administered by WestEd. 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.