Building Students’ Reading “Muscles” by Using Smart Prompts

Start assigning them tomorrow.

As a teacher, curriculum developer, and parent, I’m constantly seeking ways to allow young people to “take ownership” over a piece of text and build strong reading “muscles” along the way. Below, I’ve listed some of my favorite text-dependent prompts (most of which were crafted with former colleagues at The Writers’ Express and Amplify—strong shout out to them).

Text-dependent reading prompts

Start using these prompts immediately by assigning a high quality text, posting one or two of the prompts (initially), and taking in-class time for students to read the text and begin sharing their responses.

Reading prompts that encourage close-reading focused on content:
  1. Identify a passage you re-read for any reason at all. Explain why.
  2. Identify a passage in the text where you either slowed down or sped up. Explain why.
  3. Identify a passage that made you raise your eyebrows. Explain why.
  4. Find a word or short phrase that caught your attention. Explain why.
Reading prompts that encourage close-reading focused on grammar and structure:
  1. Find the shortest sentence in the passage. What’s the impact of this sentence?
  2. Find the longest sentence in the passage. What’s the impact of this sentence?
  3. Find a verb used in a surprising way. Explain the surprise and the impact on the reader.
  4. Find a sentence in which the subject and predicate are separated by more than 5 words. How does the structure impact the meaning, tone, or message?
Each of these prompts:
  • Meets the demands of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in that they encourage close reading
  • Can be used for fiction and non-fiction (and in any discipline)
  • Can be used—or easily adapted—for students of a wide range of ages and skills
  • Make life really, really easy for the teacher; you can use the same prompts for a range of texts, in-class or for homework.
  • Is the basis for powerful text-dependent discussions in the classroom. Make sure all students have the text in front of them as their classmates share their responses.
  • Have been tested in many classrooms (again, props to my former mates at The Writers’ Express and Amplify), and they’ve be shown to yield great results among students
A few notes:

Repetition is important. Students might be thrown-off by the prompts the first couple of times they see them; they’ll likely need to work with them a few times before your students begin to generate momentum and take “ownership” of the text. You should expect that they’ll need a little in-class guidance to publicly share and discuss their text passages (and analysis) so they get a clear sense of the expectations.

In addition, it’s tough for students to do great things with these prompts if they’re working with a dull piece of text. To meet CCSS and NGSS standards and to take advantage of the power and simplicity of the prompts, make sure to choose rich, well-written texts that will pique the interest of your students. Send a note if you want some recommendations. Or better yet, share your favorites.

Sticky notes can be handy for students to mark the passage. They can either write the “why” directly on the sticky note, or they can use a separate document to explain the “why.”

So, what do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please respond, revise, or add your own below or start a conversation on the community page or social media!

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Dave Meyers, a former elementary and middle school teacher, currently works as CEO and Co-founder of TeachersConnect, a community built by teachers. For many years, he’s been insufferably geeky about reading and writing. He’d love to hear from you at