Shelley Reid


English 615
Composition Pedagogy

Critical Reading Strategies

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Policy Plus Assignments Plus Critical Reading Strategies
CRS 1&2: Predict, Discussion Questions CRS 3&4: Opinion, 2-column log CRS 5&6: Freewrite, SQ3R
CRS 7&8: KWL, Cubing CRS 9&10: Talkback, QAR CRS 11&12: Case Study, 3 Positions
CRS 13&14: Believe/doubt, WWXD CRS 15: Concept Map  

1. Predict and Annotate (Pre-reading, Reading). 

  • Read the title and the first paragraph.  Jot down 2-3 issues you predict the article will cover, and 2-3 questions you have about those issues.
  • Annotate the essay as you read, using a pen/pencil (not a highlighter!).  If you don't want to write in your book, you can make a photocopy, use Post-its, or scan it and use OCR software to create a text document to comment in. 
  • As you mark passages, try to emphasize short phrases (5-8 words) to help you remember key ideas: use circles, boxes, squiggles, double-underlines, etc. 
  • Aim to include 3-5 short, word-based comments per page.  You can include short reactions (aha, huh?, heh, eek, wha-a? hmph, nah, ick), as well as questions, connections ("like my Milton class," "contrast w/Macrorie"), and/or short summaries of an idea you want to remember ("silence voices in head").

2. Discussion Questions (Pre-reading and/or Post-reading)

Week 2 Questions: As you read consider the following questions, and be ready to discuss them in class (take notes if you need to):

  • What kinds of comments have been helpful/hurtful to your own learning?
  • What kinds of pressures lead teachers to write unhelpful comments?
  • What problems remain even if all the commentary is productive?

When you're done reading, compose 2-3 Discussion Questions of your own.  Try to write real questions that you don't know (and want!) the answer to, rather than "teacher-like" questions ("what is the most important theme in this essay?").  You may write questions that ask the author something, ask about the author or other teachers' experiences, ask your classmates for input, or ask about related issues.


3. Opinionnaire (Pre-reading)

Before you read, please respond to the following five statements with "Agree," "Don't know," or "Disagree."  Write 1-2 sentences to elaborate on one response.

Week 3 Statements:

  • Most students like getting letter grades
  • Giving clear grades motivates writers to work harder
  • Assigning a grade to an essay is the easy part
  • Sharing your grading criteria with students before they write is a good idea
  • Teachers should be objective and detached in reading students' writing

4. Two-column Log (Reading and/or Post-reading)

Divide your paper or screen into two columns (or a table).  Label the left hand one "Summary" or "They Say."  Label the right hand one "Response" or "I Say."  Complete at least four two-part "entries" to this log.  In each entry, use the left column to paraphrase or quote a specific point from the reading that caught your eye.  Use the right column to respond or talk-back to the author's point: try to be vivid rather than general, to speak your mind rather than to "translate" ("…by this the author means…"), to question or extend rather than just say "I agree" (say why).


5. Freewrite (Pre-reading)

Freewrite for 10 minutes on the topic of the reading assignment (Week 3: The Five-Paragraph Essay).  Write quickly without erasing or censoring; try to put down what occurs most vividly to you, even if you think you're getting "off topic."

6. SQ3R (Pre- and post-reading)

Survey the reading: look at starts and finishes, headers, topic sentences; note down 2-3 things you think it will be about.  Write down 2-3 Questions:  what do you want to know, or hope you'll learn, about these topics?  Read a section at a time (no more than 2 pages), thinking about your questions.  At the end of each section, Recite the main points or questions that occur to you so far; go ahead and speak aloud as you do this, to engage orally/aurally, and write a note or two if you'd like.  After you've finished, Review all your earlier notes, and add any observations you've missed; in a day or so, return and review those notes again.


7. KWL (Pre- and post-reading)

Survey the reading, and list 3-4 things you already Know about this topic (Week 5: [Teaching] Revision).  Also list 3-4 things you Want to know about this topic.  Read the selection with these issues in mind.  When you're done reading, list 3-4 things you've Learned about the topic from reading.

8. Cubing (Pre-reading or post-reading)

Explore the topic of the reading (Week 5: Revision) from 6 angles, writing a sentence or two for each.  Describe it (key characteristics?).  Compare it: what's it like?.  Associate it:  what does it make you think of?  Analyze its parts or steps.  Apply it: what can you do with it? how?  Agree or disagree with it, or explain how/why it will or will not work or be useful (in a given situation).


9. Theory Talkback (Pre-reading and reading) (adapted from Stephen Brookfield)

Review the questions below before you read; ask (and note your first answer or reason for asking) at least one question from each category.

  • Perspectival:  What are the author's assumptions or guiding traditions? Are principles grounded in documented evidence?  Is the text skewed to one (cultural) point of view?
  • Experiential:  What experiences are omitted or overly-simplified?  How are ethical issues addressed?
  • Communicative:  Whose voices are heard?  How does specialized discourse, if any, contribute to or limit learning?  How do metaphors/analogies reveal the author's ideology or assumptions?
  • Political:  Whose interests are served by this piece?  What approaches are taken for granted rather than challenged?  Does the piece empower teachers?  Does it promote democratic processes or power-sharing?

10. QAR (Reading and post-reading)

Review the four Question-Answer Relationships below.  As you read or after you've read, write at least one question + answer pair that fits each category.

  • Right there Q&As:  questions that occur(ed) as you read that are answered clearly (a little later) in the text ("What are the 'three approaches'?)
  • Think-and-search Q&As: questions answered in the text, but only when you piece the answers together from several parts of the text ("How is X a feminist approach?")
  • Author-and-you Q&As:  interpretive questions that can be answered only when you put your knowledge and reasoning together with the text
  • On-my-own Q&As: factual or contextual questions that can be answered, but only by leaving the text and consulting other resources


11. Case Study (Pre-reading or post-reading)

Consider the following situation.  After you read the text, freewrite for 10 minutes about the problem that is posed.

For Week Seven:  As a writing teacher, Judy believes most strongly that students learn to write better when they're engaged and having fun.  At Midlothian state, she was easily able to work this goal into many of her daily assignments, along with several essay assignments that asked students to analyze the role of various elements of pop-culture in their lives. Now that she's teaching at Mason, she's trying to find a way to meet the research and argumentation goals of this curriculum.  How might she design a research-based assignment that meshes with her principles, and/or alter her previous assignments to include research-related learning-goals?

12. Three Positions (Pre- or Post-reading)

Pre-reading:  Imagine three people who are closely involved in this issue (Week 7:  Teacher authority) but who each disagree with (or take a different stance from) the other two.  Briefly describe each person (name, age, gender, status, background) and outline his/her argument.  Be sure you identify three distinct positions—not just one "pro" and two "con" arguments.

Post-reading:  Imagine—and give a brief description of—someone who agrees with the author's main point.  Then imagine two other people who each have a position or view different from the author's and from each other.  Describe each person briefly, and list his/her argument or response.  Be sure you identify three distinct positions—not just one "pro" and two "con" arguments.


13. Believing/Doubting (Post-reading)

After you finish reading, freewrite for 5 minutes in a believing mode, during which you respond as if the author could do or say no wrong.  What do you see?  What could really happen if everything the author says is right?  Then freewrite for 5 minutes from a doubting perspective, during which you respond as if the author is totally looney and should never be allowed to speak/write in public.  What problems do you foresee? what's been overlooked or unanalyzed?

14. What Would ___ Do/Say? (Pre-reading, Reading, and/or Post-reading)

Remind yourself of the main arguments/beliefs of another author you've read this semester—one whose ideas remain vivid to you.  As you read (or review) the text, imagine what that person would think about these arguments.  Write 3-5 notes about what the other author's responses and reasons would be.  (You may use a two-column log—X says, Y might respond—if you wish.)


15. Concept Map  (Pre-reading, post-reading)

Take five minutes to visually map out—using bubbles, streets, hills-and-lakes, graphs, etc.—the relative locations (and interrelations) of either 5-6 concepts that you've been thinking about lately, or 5-6 authors we've read whom you remember pretty well.  As or after you read, place this author and/or his/her main idea(s) on your map.  Write a few sentences about the locations and connections you envision.







Last updated January 2007.Email Shelley Reid