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.

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