Supporting ALL Students with Complex Texts: Part Two

Question: What scaffolds can teachers use to help students access complex text?


  • For some students to effectively access complex texts, teachers will need to consider scaffolding.   Fisher and Frey (2015) advocate that the use of close reading routines inherently provides distributed scaffolding for students through the use of:
  • Multiple readings-purposeful rereading of short, worthy passages of text to search for evidence or deepen understanding.
  • Collaborative conversations-interactions with peers and teachers using academic language and argumentation skills to discuss the text and build understanding.
  • Text annotations-creating margin notes along with strategic underlining and highlighting, slows down the reading to focus more carefully, identify challenging aspects and provide points for collaboration discussion.
  • Text-dependent questions--when thoughtfully planned, these questions can strategically focus students' attention on specific aspects of the text that are challenging or confusing and will prompt students to return to the text for more information.   

Additionally, Tim Shanahan (2015) suggests a number of other appropriate forms of scaffolding that teachers may employ to help students navigate and construct meaning from complex text:

  • Build and Access Prior Knowledge
    • Be sure students know the topic and genre of the text (unless this is the teaching target)
    • Don't tell students what they can figure out through the reading of the text
    • Recognize that use of excerpts from a text may require explanation of what has been left out
  • Vocabulary Instruction
    • Focus on pre-teaching works that will affect comprehension, but limit this to only a few words
    • Don't pre-teach vocabulary that is defined in the text or which has strong contextual support
  • Sentence Structure
    • Identify complex sentences and assess student comprehension of these
    • Help students navigate complex punctuation, clauses, subject and verb identification, etc.
    • Be aware of English learners and aspects of syntax which may be challenging
  • Cohesion
    • Identify relationships and connections within texts that may be unclear
  • Build Reading Fluency
    • Repeated readings of texts to build automaticity and prosody supports comprehension
    • Use a variety of strategies for encouraging rereading, such as echo reading, paired reading, reading while listening to texts read aloud, etc.
    • Chunk text into more manageable pieces
  • Teach Comprehension Strategies
    • Consider particular strategies that will be useful for the complexities of the text
    • Prompt students to employ these strategies independently as they engage with the text


  • Text Project: This site, developed by Dr. Elfrieda Heibert, contains a variety of resources related to text complexity and ways of supporting students in accessing text, including a section that focuses on use of read alouds. 
  • Read Aloud Project: ACHIEVE the Core has worked with educators across the United States to develop a bank of appropriately complex texts for reading aloud at the K-2 level that include lessons. 
  • Colorin' Colorado: This site provides resources that support English Learners in achieving the Common Core State Standards for ELA/Literacy.  Materials related to reading aloud and accessing language are included. 
  • Engage NY: The Engage NY site features a guide for scaffolding instruction with English Learners.  
  • Teaching Channel: Several videos on this site explore ways in which teachers can effectively scaffold students while reading complex texts.