Reading Activities in Support of Writing

General Strategies for Reading Response

You might invite your students to do the following activities, which are designed to enhance their reading in relation to writing practice.

  • Identify a significant passage in a text and try to explain what makes it so important or central to the work of the course or the current conversation.
  • Paraphrase an author's position on key issues to consider how the author's ideas connect to what we need to or have already discussed as a class.
  • Contextualize an essay in the context of previous classroom discussions, Blackboard discussions, or other written texts.
  • Criticize from the perspective of your own experience or knowledge to then consider a new or different alternative.
  • Apply the reading to various texts or contexts (how does this relate to my psychology or sociology or science class?)
  • Theorize from the text through modifying, extending, or refuting the various accounts
  • Question what else you would want to know, what was not necessarily clear, or what we should do now.


Glossing asks you to read like a writer, paying attention to what the writer is doing and saying throughout the piece. Focusing on the various techniques writers use to effectively reach readers can help you develop your own collection of writing strategies.

  1. To begin, read the title and the first sentence or two of your section of the article. In the margins, write some notes to yourself about what you as a reader would expect the section to be about. Based on those first two or three sentences, what do you predict will come next? What clues did the writer provide to guide your prediction?
  2. Now go through your assigned section slowly, glossing each paragraph.
  • First determine what the paragraph says. What main idea is the writer trying to get across? In the margins write a paraphrase (the same ideas in different words) for the paragraph. A paraphrase as a part of the glossing activity is a direction-finder, a summary, another way of saying something. What are key words or phrases that help you understand what the paragraph is saying? (ex. Paragraph #2 from 'Space as Limiting' - Since zebra mussels and sponges thrive in the same environment, their mutual existence in a particular habitat might mean competitive displacement could occur should the environment change. There is evidence to support an alternative hypothesis called amensalism interactions. Using reduction methodology, this study was designed to find out if competition for space occurs between zebra mussels and sponges.)
  • Next, ask yourself how that paragraph functions as a part of your assigned section as well as the entire article. What is the paragraph doing? What purpose does it serve? How can you tell? (ex. The paragraph describes the question the experiment hopes to answer as well as how particular conditions lead to the question under investigation.)
  • Now consider what the writer has done in terms of arrangement or organization. What is happening to the development of ideas? Why do you think the writer has chosen to present information in this way? Do you see other ways the information could have been organized?

Language: While glossing is a good way to get a sense of the large scale strategies writers use, it might also be useful to pay attention to sentence level issues such as language and sentence structure. Choose one or two paragraphs and make a list of things you notice about how the writer uses language. What kinds of words are used? What do you notice about the nouns and verbs? How detailed is your paragraph? Does the writer include useful examples of complex concepts? Do sentences tend to be simple or complex?

Questions for Rhetorical Analysis

(Developed by Chris Gallagher for English 151)

  • Who is the audience for this text? How can you tell? How is the audience addressed/invoked?
  • What is the purpose of this text? How can you tell? What does this text want readers or viewers to know/believe/do?
  • What are the contexts 'social, political, historical, cultural' that inform this text? Whose interest does the text serve? Whose interests are violated or not represented?
  • Who is the author of the text? What do we know about him/her? What do we learn about him/her from the text?
  • What values, assumptions, or biases does the text rely on? Are these explicit or implicit?
  • What authorities does the text rely on or appeal to? Why these? Why not others?
  • What claims does the argument make and how are those claims supported? What kind of evidence is advanced to support those claims?
  • What medium is the text in? What form/genre? Why? How would the text be different in another medium or form?
  • How does the language or style of the text appeal to its audience?

Based on Andrea Lunsford and John Ruszkiewicz, everything's an argument 3rd Ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2004.

The Double-Entry Reading Journal

The purpose of the double-entry reading journal is to focus and develop your engagement with the ideas in a particular text. Here's how it works. Draw a line down the center of a page. In the left hand column, you will take notes as you read the text. In the right hand column, you will record your reaction, response or thinking process as you engage with ideas from the text. In this way, the two columns become a kind of dialogue between you and the text. It is a way of tracking your thinking, recording your interests, raising questions, making connections, etc. that you can then revisit when you are ready to do more formal writing.

Notes from Text

Copy passages from the text that resonate with you, surprise you, make you angry, make you think of something else, raise questions for you, etc. (Be sure to use quotation marks and include page numbers).

You may choose to quote exact passages, paraphrase ideas, summarize pages or chapters, note facts or arguments you see emerging in the text.

You might use this column to hotspot the text you are reading. What are the key ideas emerging for you? What are the central concepts, moments of tension?

You might choose to note passages that you think are working (or not working) rhetorically, passages that catch your writerly eye.

My Response to Text

Record your response to the notes you took in the left hand column. How did you react to this passage? What connections are you making? What questions are you asking?

What do you notice? What do like/appreciate? What are you wondering? What do you not yet understand?

Try to track your experience of the text. How does your reaction to/experience of the text at this point relate to earlier responses? In what ways is your understanding growing or developing?

What choices is the writer making in the text? How are you responding to these rhetorical strategies?

Try looking at the passages you've noted from a perspective other than your own? What can you learn about the ideas, arguments, and information by positioning yourself to believe and then to doubt them? What questions emerge for you?

What kinds of projects or papers can you imagine growing out of these passages and your reaction to them?

Adapted from Bruce Ballenger, The Curious Writer. NY: Longman, 2005. by Sandy Tarabochia for BIOS 189H