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Can Close Reading Be Inspiring?

The following post is excerpted from an article by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Diane Lapp called Learning Cycles That Deepen Students’ Interaction with Text from the May 2015 issue of Voices from the Middle.

In many conversations about deepening students’ interactions with texts, there is a lack of relevance. Teachers know why students should read a text deeply, but students often don’t. If a close analytic reading is going to work, teachers must ensure that students are inspired by the texts they read….

So what does truly understanding the text mean for teachers? We see this as a cycle that begins with a compelling question and then involves reading and writing, with a chance for students to use the information they have learned to share with others, which in turn invites them to ask more questions, once again facilitating additional reading, learning, discussing, and identifying still more new questions.

The Cycle:

  1. Compelling Questions
    Students are invited into a text by the right question because they want to know the answer to the question. They learn that both literary and informational texts have answers to the big questions in life.
  2. Close Reading
    One key to deepening students’ understanding of texts during close reading involves the questions that teachers ask. The questions ultimately take students on a journey, from the literal level to the structural level to the inferential level.

    1. What does the text say?
    2. How does the text work?
    3. What does the text mean?
  3. Collaborative Conversations
    To really deepen students’ interactions with texts, they must talk about those texts. They must stake a claim and provide evidence for their ideas. They must follow the rules of discussion, remain on topic long enough to interrogate their ideas, and ask questions of one another.
  4. Being Inspired
    We read closely and want to deepen our interactions with texts when there is something important and worthwhile to do after the reading. And that is the answer to the question: Why should students care about deepening interactions with text? Because they are inspired. They are inspired to engage in research and investigation. They are inspired to present or debate. They are inspired to continue discussing a text, perhaps even with a Socratic Seminar. And they are inspired to write about the text.


Douglas Fisher, NCTE member since 2000, is professor of educational leadership and teacher leader at Health Sciences Middle and High Schools.

Nancy Frey, NCTE member since 1999, is professor of educational leadership and teacher leader at Health Sciences Middle and High Schools.

Diane Lapp, NCTE member since 1980, is professor emerita of literacy education and teacher leader at Health Sciences Middle and High Schools.