Teaching Idea

Guided Highlighted Reading: A Framework for Close Reading for Primary Students

Jill Erfourth, Theresa Hasenauer, and Lori Zieleniewski


The authors of a soon-to-be released book on close, critical reading of informational texts explain the framework and four fundamental questions that guide a scaffolded interactive pattern they recommend for young children. Benefits of the program and a basic lesson schedule are included.

The art of reading and understanding complex text in the primary grades requires scaffolding, modeling, and interacting with our youngest readers as we help prepare them for close and critical reading.  A scaffolding model we have found to successfully support this level of comprehension is the guided highlighted reading (GHR) strategy. This strategy guides close and critical reading through a framework based on four essential questions, as shown in Figure 1 from the book Interacting with Informational Text for Close and Critical Reading (p.142).

Benefits of the GHR Framework and Four Essential Questions

Students interact with the text through multiple reads as they highlight key ideas and details, signal words, and examples of the author's craft in order to begin integrating knowledge and synthesizing information, leading them to the author's purpose, theme and message. GHR is interactive, fosters critical thinking, and helps to develop a deep knowledge base for all learners. Interacting with the text through highlighting and participating in oral discussions is highly engaging and motivating for the students.

Guiding students to think about the four essential questions when reading, discussing, interpreting, and analyzing a piece of text leads them to that deeper level of understanding. Unlike narrative text that is often predictable, informational text is organized according to different patterns, which makes it more difficult for young readers to organize facts and information. "Students who learn to use the organization and structure of informational texts are better able to comprehend and retain the information found in them" (Goldman & Rakestraw, 2000; Pearson & Duke, 2002). Embedded within the GHR framework are research­based strategies including an anticipatory set, explicit vocabulary instruction, and practice identifying nonfiction text structures. In addition to helping students identify text structures, the framework scaffolds comprehension by breaking down the complex components of the text such as vocabulary, figurative language, author's perspective, and the theme or overall message.

The GHR framework also allows teachers to build oral language skills, as discussion is at the heart of it. At the K-1 level, students can engage with complex texts in ways that support language development and emerging comprehension skills. This enhances oral language development along with the skills needed to interact with more complex text at the second and third grade levels.

Figure 1. Four Essential Questions of Close and Critical Reading

Lesson Structure

In our book Interacting With Informational Text for Close and Critical Reading, each lesson spans a 3­4 day period, each day with a different purpose for reading centered around the four essential questions of close and critical reading.

The snapshot in Figure 1 is an example of a lesson from this book (p. 48).

Day 1: Essential Question 1.  What does the text say? On Day 1 the lesson begins with the teacher sharing brief background knowledge, which provides scaffolding that will help students begin to access the text. The anticipatory set engages the students and focuses their thoughts on the topic of the text. When the stage is set for reading and inquiry, students are engaged to read and learn more about the topic.

Figure 2. Day 1: Essential Question 1. What does the text say?

The next component of the lesson is vocabulary, which is essential to comprehension of complex text. The focus is on Tier II words, which are explicitly taught from the text. This important step in the GHR framework provides all students with a better understanding of the topic, which will lead to deeper thinking when analyzing and synthesizing the text.

With a purpose set for reading, students are ready to interact with text using their highlighting tools. As a scaffold, the teacher can read the text aloud either in its entirety or one paragraph at a time.  Students identify key ideas and details as the teacher guides them with teacher-led prompts to highlight specific words and/or phrases that will lead to a summary of what the text says. In Grades K­1, the teacher models the summary with a sentence frame. This guides students to understand the overall gist of the text and to answer the essential question What does the text say?

Figure 3. Day 2: Essential Question 2. How does the text say it?

Day 2: Essential Question 2. How does the text say it? On Day 2 of the lesson, shown in Figure 3, page 52 of Interacting with Informational Text for Close and Critical Reading, we want students to look at the text through a different reading lens to answer the second essential question: How does the text say it?

Teacher-led prompts guide students to highlight specific words or phrases that function as signal words to identify text structure. The purposeful highlighting allows the young learners to "see" the structure of the text and to learn to identify it when they are ready to read complex text independently.  They also identify words that help them identify genre, text features, author's craft, word choice, punctuation, and author's style. These elements help students recognize the author's message and help to strengthen comprehension. Students begin to understand that authors write in a purposeful manner, from the punctuation marks to each carefully chosen word.

Day 3: Essential Question 3. What does the text mean? The third day begins with a review of what has already been highlighted in order to prepare for a meaningful discussion that leads students to interpret the text using critical thinking skills, scaffolded by the teacher, and to synthesize information to answer the third question: What does the text mean? Using an example from the lesson about sharks, leading questions like these can be asked to help scaffold the discussion: "What do you think the author wants you to know about sharks and their unique appearance?" "How do you think the author feels about sharks?" Synthesis extends the literal meaning of a text to an inferential level.

Essential Question 4. What does it mean to my life? On the same day, students think about the meaning of the text in their own life. Text­to­text, text­to­self, and text­to­world connections are among those discussed, leading to consideration of how students can apply their new knowledge to the world around them. This involves a much higher level of critical thinking, going beyond surface level comprehension of the text.

Meaningful discussions about text they have read increases students' comprehension. Further, the comprehensive strategy of guided highlighted reading enables purposeful, engaging, and rich connections with the text. We are excited to see young learners at varied levels actively engaged with higher-level text, making connections with their own lives and the world around them. When students respond to text, think critically about it, and discuss it with depth and understanding, essential goals of reading instruction have been met (Erfourth, Hasenauer, & Zieleniewski, 2016, p. 10).

Jill Erfourth has been an educator for 18 years in Michigan and the past 12 years as a second grade teacher. In addition, Jill delivers literacy training in districts across Michigan and has served on several literacy committees in her district. She is an annual presenter at the Michigan Reading Association conference and recently presented at the ILA conference. Jill is a New Teacher Academy trainer at the Macomb Intermediate School District where she also presents literacy workshops. Jill holds a BS and MS in educational leadership.

Theresa Hasenauer is a School Improvement Consultant. She has been an elementary teacher, literacy consultant and Common Core specialist. She has a BS and MAT in elementary education and an ED.S in leadership from the University of Michigan, as well as National Board Certification in literacy. Theresa has presented at local and state conferences and workshops on reading and writing instructional practices and Common Core implementation to a variety of audiences.

Lorri Zieleniewski is a special education teacher for 15 years. She is an adjunct professor at Saginaw Valley State University. Lorri earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan and a master of arts in teaching with an endorsement in learning disabilities from SVSU. She is a presenter at the Michigan Reading Association and the International Literacy Association, delivers literacy training across Michigan, and trains at the New Teacher Academy. Lorri was the recipient of the 2009 Make a Difference Award.


Erfourth, J., Hasenauer, T., & Zieleniewski, L. (2016). Interacting with informational text for close and critical reading. Minneapolis, MN: Maupin House.

Goldman, S. R., & Rakestraw, J. A. (2000). Structural aspects of constructing meaning from text. In M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, P. D. Pearson, & R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of reading research (Vol. 3, pp. 311–336). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Pearson, P. D., & Duke, N. K. (2002). Comprehension instruction in the primary grades. In C. C. Block & M. Pressley (Eds.), Comprehension instruction: Research­based best practices (pp. 247–258). New York, NY: Guilford.

Peterson, M. C.  (2014). Sharks. North Mankato, MN: Capstone, 2014.