Close Reading Assignments For Middle School

About This Strategy Guide

This strategy guide will help you choose text that is appropriate for close reading and to plan for instruction that supports students' development of the habits associated with careful, multi-engagement reading of literary prose and poetry.

Fisher & Frey (2012) remind us that “the practice of close reading is not a new one, and in fact has existed for many decades as the practice of reading a text for a level of detail not used in everyday reading” (p. 8).  Buckley (2011) explains that “as English teachers, we have to empower all our students to use texts to construct and represent meaning skillfully, because by every measure, it gives them a better chance at having a better life” (p. 3).  She goes on to say that “all students deserve a chance to learn how to demonstrate their ambitious exploration of text” (p. 29), a notion supported by Fisher & Frey (2012) when they remind us that “close reading should be accompanied by purposeful, scaffolded instruction about the passage” (p. 8).



  1. Selecting a text:
  2. When selecting a text or passage for close reading, consider two questions: First, is there enough going on with the language and craft of the text to warrant the attention of multiple readings? Second, does the understanding that comes from close reading sufficiently benefit students in light of the larger goals of the course or unit? The answer to both needs to be yes in order to keep close reading from falling into its reputation as merely an exercise.

  3. Engaging carefully with the text yourself: Your purpose at this point is to read as you will ask your students to read: multiple times, with pen in hand, with different (increasingly complex) purposes as you read and re-read.
    • First, to determine the general meaning of the text (leaving knowledge and application of literary elements more or less tacit for now). Keep asking yourself, “What’s going on, and how do I know?”
    • Second, to examine the ways the author uses language and the discipline-specific structures of literature to create meaning. Your focusing question here might be “How do the author’s choices help me understand or appreciate something that I didn’t notice the first time I read?”
    • Third, to consider thematic meaning and connections between this text and others like it. Here, ask yourself, “What does this text cause me to think or wonder about some larger aspect the text and of the human condition?”
  4. These purposes are certainly not exclusive of each other, and do not necessarily happen in the order listed here, but having these multiple purposes helps students see the value in re-reading text they might otherwise work quickly through just once to “get the gist.” See the Close Reading Planning Sheet for a printable guide to this process.

    This process is not unlike preparing for a think-aloud, only here, you work is not to plan what you will say about your understanding of the text as you read, but rather to think of the places where you want to prompt students’ thinking with questions that cause them to consider the text carefully.

  5. Developing text-dependent questions and accompanying learning activities:
  6. You can see the Sample Close Reading Questions that resulted of my multiple readings of the first section of the short story “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry and the poem “Latin Deli” by Judith Ortiz Cofer. The questions are listed here for clarity as first read, second read, third read to show how the focus of questioning might change over multiple readings. You would decide, of course, how the questions were actually asked with each reading, how much time should pass between readings, and so forth.

    Remember that close reading should be embedded in an instructional context that values not only the careful attention to text that the questions prompt, but also writing, collaboration, and talk. The specific ways in which you balance these elements will vary, but the scaffolding provided by the text-dependent questions you prepared will likely connect them all.

More Ideas to Try

  • If the deep understanding they develop through the process does not extend into meaningful talk or writing, students will see close reading questions as an end themselves, rather than a means. See the Writing Arguments about Literature Strategy Guide for ideas on framing close reading around a larger writing task.
  • Providing students with close reading questions is a scaffold to the actual task of reading and re-reading carefully. After they use questions you’ve prepared, have students dissect the kinds of thinking each reading represented. Use this discussion to prompt them to develop multiple sets of close reading questions for a text.

Lesson Plans

Grades   6 – 8  |  Lesson Plan  |  Unit

Modeling Reading and Analysis Processes with the Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Explore reading strategies using Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" and other works. Students read Poe's works in both large- and small-group readings then conclude with a variety of projects.


Grades   11 – 12  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Narrative Structure and Perspectives in Toni Morrison's Beloved

Using Beloved as a model of a work with multiple narrative perspectives, students use a visualizing activity and close reading to consider ways in which subjective values shape contradictory representations.


Grades   9 – 12  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Speaking Poetry: Exploring Sonic Patterns Through Performance

Using their voices as interpretive instruments, students gain a deeper appreciation of the art of poetry as they prepare a recitation of the frequently anthologized poem "Those Winter Sundays."


Grades   6 – 8  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

What is Poetry? Contrasting Poetry and Prose

Students often find poetry frustrating and meaningless. By helping students think critically about the differences between poetry and prose, this introduction sets the stage for different strategies for comprehending poetic texts.


Grades   9 – 12  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Reading Literature in Translation: Beowulf as a Case Study

Using several translations of the same passage of Beowulf, this lesson introduces students to the idea that translation is not an objective practice, but that it involves "imaginative reconstruction."


Grades   9 – 12  |  Lesson Plan

Choose, Select, Opt, or Settle: Exploring Word Choice in Poetry

Students investigate the effects of word choice in Robert Frost's "Choose Something Like a Star" to construct a more sophisticated understanding of speaker, subject, and tone.


Grades   9 – 12  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Poetry Reading and Interpretation Through Extensive Modeling

Students will research, read, clarify, analyze, and interpret John Berryman's poetry and create a sustained evaluation of a given poem in a three- to four-page essay.


Grades   8 – 11  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

"Three Stones Back": Using Informational Text to Enhance Understanding of Ball Don't Lie

Students engage in a close reading of a passage from Matt de la Pena's novel Ball Don't Lie before researching important background information to assess the accuracy of the claims made by a character.


Grades   9 – 12  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Thinking Inductively: A Close Reading of Seamus Heaney's "Blackberry Picking"

This lesson eases students' fear of interpreting complex poetry by teaching them a strategy with which they determine patterns of imagery, diction, and figurative language in order to unlock meaning.


Grades   9 – 12  |  Lesson Plan  |  Unit

Reading Shakespeare's The Tempest through a Postcolonial Lens

Students take a postcolonial perspective on the portrayal of Caliban from Shakespeare's The Tempest by comparing it to a modern adaptation of the play.


Grades   9 – 12  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Sonic Patterns: Exploring Poetic Techniques Through Close Reading

Students develop close reading skills connecting sound with sense in the poem "Those Winter Sundays," and write an original text that reflects their new learning.


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Strategy Guides

Grades   6 – 12  |  Strategy Guide

Making the Reading Process Visible through Performance Assessment

Effective differentiation begins with purposeful assessment. In this strategy guide, you'll learn how to construct an authentic performance-based reading assessment that will give you access to students' thinking before, during, and after reading.


Grades   1 – 3  |  Strategy Guide

Get Close to Think Deeply: Creating Primary-Level Close Readings

Close readings allow primary students to engage with complex texts. Through repeated reading, students build a deep understanding of the text and critical thinking skills.


Grades   1 – 3  |  Strategy Guide

Promote Deep Thinking! How to Choose a Complex Text

Complex texts promote deep thinking and critical analysis by students. Through close reading of a complex text, students' independent reading abilities also increase.


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Professional Library

Grades   6 – 12  |  Professional Library  |  Book

Beyond Standardized Truth: Improving Teaching and Learning through Inquiry-Based Reading Assessment

Scott Filkins brings us into his and colleagues' classrooms to demonstrate how high school teachers across the disciplines can engage in inquiry-based reading assessment to support student learning. This book is part of the NCTE Principles in Practice imprint.


Grades   8 – 12  |  Professional Library  |  Book

Judith Ortiz Cofer in the Classroom: A Woman in Front of the Sun

Carol Jago offers ways to teach the works of Judith Ortiz Cofer in the high school English classroom.


Grades   6 – 12  |  Professional Library  |  Book

360 Degrees of Text: Using Poetry to Teach Close Reading and Powerful Writing

Through Eileen Murphy Buckley's 360-degree approach to teaching critical literacy, students investigate texts through a full spectrum of learning modalities, harnessing the excitement of performance, imitation, creative writing, and argument/debate activities to become more powerful thinkers, readers, and writers.


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Close Reading Practice Passages: Middle School (Grades 7 and 8)

| Elementary School Passages and Lessons, grades 1-6 | |Middle School Passages and Lessons| | High School Passages and Lessons | | How to Teach Close Reading |

Close Reading of President Abraham Lincoln's First Inaugural Address
This structured handout guides students through a close reading of a short passage from the address. One page; requires a word processor for access.

Farewell to Manzanar (Houston) and Unbroken (Hillenbrand)
This lesson exemplar will allow students to participate in critical discussion of two stories that illuminate important, yet divergent, experiences of war and conflict. This lesson exemplar will push students to think critically about the experience of wartime as felt by both soldiers and civilians as they navigated specific trials that were a part of their direct or peripheral involvement in WWII. Includes texts. Designed for grade 7. 46 pages; word processor required.

Middle School ELA Curriculum Video: Close Reading of a Text: MLK "Letter from Birmingham Jail"
This is a 15-minute (downloadable) video in which David Coleman, a contributing author to the Common Core State Standards, models a close reading.

One-Page Fiction Readings: Grade 7
Links to 11 printable passages. Adobe Reader required.

One-Page Nonfiction Readings: Grade 7
Links to 12 printable passages with skill development indicated. Adobe Reader required.

"The Glorious Whitewasher" ( Tom Sawyer )
Students will discover the rich humor and moral lesson embedded in Twain's text. By reading and rereading the passage closely, and focusing their reading through a series of questions and discussion about the text, students will explore the problem Tom Sawyer faced and how he "solved" his conundrum. When combined with writing about the passage, students will learn to appreciate how Twain's humor contains a deeper message and derive satisfaction from the struggle to master complex text. Includes close reading passage. Designed for grade 7. 12 pages; word processor required.

Frederick Douglass
Students will explore the point of view of a man who survived slavery. By reading the passage closely and discussing it, students will explore the various beliefs and points of view Douglass experienced as he became increasingly aware of the unfairness of his life. Students will need to consider the emotional context of words and how diction (word choice) affects an author's message. When combined with writing about the passage and teacher feedback, students will form a deeper understanding of how slavery affected those involved. Includes passage for close reading. Designed for grade 8. 22 pages; word processor required.

"My Mother, the Scientist" by Charles Hirshberg
Students will absorb deep lessons from Charles Hirshberg’s recollections of his mother. By reading and rereading the passage closely and focusing their reading through a series of questions and discussion about the text, students will identify how much his mother's struggles and accomplishments meant to both him and the wider world. When combined with writing about the passage—and possibly pairing this exemplar study with Richard Feynman’s memoir "The Making of a Scientist" — students will discover how much they can learn from this mixed genre memoir/biography about what inspires life choices. Includes text. Designed for grade 7. 22 pages, word processor required.

"The Long Night of the Little Boats" by Basil Heatter
Although this exemplar was designed to be used in a middle school Social Studies curriculum, it is appropriate for use in an ELA class as well. By reading and re-reading the text passage, closely combining classroom discussion about it, and writing about it, students come to an appreciation of the need to (a) re-read, paraphrase, and discuss ideas, (b) come to an accurate basic understanding level of a text, (c) come to an accurate interpretive understanding of a text, and (d) build a coherent piece of writing that both constructs and communicates solid understanding of text. Includes text. Designed for grade 8. 35 pages; word processor required.

"Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution" by Linda R. Monk
Students will observe the dynamic nature of the Constitution through close reading and writing. They will explore the questions Monk raises and perhaps even pursue additional avenues of inquiry. When combined with writing about the passage, not only will students form a deeper appreciation of Monk's argument and the value of struggling with complex text, but of the Preamble of the Constitution itself. Includes text, vocabulary. Designed for Grade 8. 13 pages; word processor required.

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