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Close Reading Questions: Crafting Intentional Scaffolds

By Maria C. Grant and Diane Lapp
 | Feb 04, 2016

shutterstock_256064953_x300Do you often look at the short, complex text you’ve chosen for students to closely read and wonder what questions would best support their comprehension? As you examine the text, do you remind yourself that you need to ask questions that invite analysis of what the text says, how it works, and what it means? (Adler & Van Doren, 1940/1972). Clearly a consideration of the reader, the task, and the sociocultural context of the text is necessary, but the text should also inform the type of questions you need to generate for students to achieve critical analysis. Not all questions provide equal support, so you must be very intentional in your analysis of the text and in your crafting of questions.

In Ms. Davis’ eighth grade science class, students are preparing to work in teams to construct minivehicles that are powered by their own energy source and exhibit an understanding of Newton’s Laws of motion. Their work will be documented in a Wiki they will build that includes a written synopsis of the project, photographs of various iterations of design, and video of the car trials. In order to prepare students for this exciting engineering challenge, Ms. Davis has selected a close reading of the following subsection about Newton’s Third Law of Motion. As you read this passage, consider which questions might promote deep analysis given the hallmark characteristics of this paragraph.

Newton’s Third Law of Motion is based on the understanding that forces come in pairs. They are the result of interactions between two forces. If you pull a wagon by its handle, the wagon pulls back on you. Newton’s Third Law is commonly stated as follows: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Another way of putting this is to say, if object 1 exerts a force on object 2, then object 2 also exerts a force on object 1.  The concept of Newton’s Third Law has helped to solve problems and explain phenomena we observe in the real world. Engineers in the past considered ways for humans to send measuring instruments—and later, peopleinto space. To accomplish this, they drew on Newton’s Third Law. Consider this:  When a rocket is launched, the engine generates hot gases that flow out of the back of the engine. In turn, an opposite reaction force, called thrust, is produced. This force pushes the rocket upward, away from earth. There are other advancements that directly result from an understanding of Newton’s Third Law. Because swimming in ocean water is difficult and slow with bare feet, a device worn on the feet, called a swim fin, was developed. When the large blade of the swim fin pushes back on the water, the water exerts an opposite force that propels the swimmer forward. Next time you kick a soccer ball, notice how you can feel the push of the ball back against your foot. Next time you lift a book off a desk, remember both you and the book are exerting forces on each other. Newton’s Third Law of Motion describes these interactions, which you see and experience every day.

You only need to ask one general understanding question such as, “What’s this text about?” or “What‘s the purpose of this text?” because the author explicitly answers each of these questions in the first three sentences. The author also uses context to define the technical words, so you may not need to ask more than one question like, “How does the author help us understand the meaning of interactions in the first five sentences?”(e.g., Kuhn & Stahl, 1998).The vocabulary demands for Ms. Davis’ students are not too difficult because they have had previous experience with the concept of forces.

Where the complexity lays in this text is in its structure, a valuable area for instruction (e.g., Taylor & Beach, 1984). Analyzing it indicates there is more than one organizational structure and that the signal words that usually alert the reader to this are obvious in some cases, but not in others. Because of this, more than one question about structure may need to be asked. In preparation you might craft questions such as the follwing:

  • Cause and effect text structure is often indicated by signal words such as if/then or when. “What do the cause/effect signal words in this text tell you about Newton’s Third Law?”
  • Problem/solution text structure is also noted in this text. “What examples does the author provide to clarify how problems are solved in the real world?”

So this text requires more questions about how the text works because our analysis of the text identified the area (structural organization) that would be complex for most eighth grade readers. By crafting these two intentionally layered questions, we have prepared the scaffolds needed to support students getting to the deepest meaning of this text. Our focus of questioning was on how the text works. Using rubrics that support a deep analysis of a text results in developing intentionally focused questions that are supportive of deep textual analysis by students during close reading.

maria grant headshotMaria C. Grant is a professor in secondary education at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF). Grant teaches courses in the credential program there and works to support collaborations among educators in both formal and informal science education institutions. She conducts professional development workshops, institutes, and webinars for educators across the country on various topics, including the Next Generation Science Standards,Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts, formative assessment, and disciplinary literacy. Diane Lapp, EdD, Distinguished Professor of Education at San Diego State University (SDSU), is currently an English/literacy teacher and instructional coach at Health Sciences High and Middle School in San Diego, CA.  Also a member of both the California and the International Reading Halls of Fame, Diane can also be found on Twitter.

The ILA Literacy Research Panel uses this blog to connect ILA members around the world with research relevant to policy and practice. Reader response is welcomed via e-mail.



Adler, M. J. (1940). How to Read a Book. New York, NY: Touchstone.

Adler, M. J., & Van Doren, C. (1972). How to Read a Book (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Touchstone.

Taylor, B. M. & Beach, R. W. (1984). The effects of text structure instruction on middle-grade students’ comprehension and production of expository text. Reading Research Quarterly, 19(2), 134–146.

Kuhn, M. & Stahl, S. (1998). Teaching children to learn word meanings from context: A Synthesis and some questions. Journal of Literacy Research, 30(1), 119–138.

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