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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Teaching Reading

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Reading into Writing

Critical reading and reading for writing are receiving increasing attention from composition scholars and on WAC sites. The reciprocal relationship between writing and reading is obvious, particularly when we make the natural connections between critical thinking and writing, between critical thinking and reading. Writing can be of service in helping students become more careful readers and better analysts of other writers' arguments.

Selected Websites

Reading to write (Dartmouth)

This site, from the Dartmouth Writing Program, is directed at students. Part of a section on the writing process called "Coming Up With Your Topic," it has several very clear strategies students can use to read more actively en route to writing. It thoroughly engages students, urging them to break (or extend) their linear reading habits, to use the margins for notes, to think about the context of the text, and to realize that there are different ways of reading in different traditions. A well thought out site.

Looking for an argument? (UW-Madison)

This argument (it's titled engagingly "Looking for an Argument?") is from UW-Madison's Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) site, in the Browse by Discipline subsection. Written by a professor of folklore at UW-Madison and aimed at teachers, it offers advice to teachers about how to engage students in waging a good argument by teaching them to read well. To make a good argument, we have to read a lot of them, understand what's effective about them, and see ourselves in relation to them. Good arguments, the essay argues, encourage questions and responses from us. To learn to react to arguments that we read, we need to "personalize" them, know the authors' names, know some of the facts and points they make, and engage our own experience with them. But, as we read, we must make the distinction between "thesis and theme." That is, between the writer's purpose, a position that is arguable (why that writer is writing), and the subject of the essay (i.e., what it's about, which is not arguable). Building a good argument begins with reading; this is a lively and provocative argument in its own right.

Critical reading and reading strategies (UNC-Chapel Hill)

Critical Reading, from the Argument section of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Writing Center site is a very brief article that connects reading even more strongly to the critical thinking process. Addressed directly to students, it asserts that reading an argument requires students to become actively engaged in it. "Highlighting" isn't enough. They must place what they're reading in their own words and, thus, own the argument. And they must ask of the argument such questions as what its author "is trying to prove," and what assumptions that author wants them "to agree with." Good list of questions for students to use.

A very practical list of procedures—to be found in Reading Strategies from the Handout section of the same UNC-Chapel Hill Writing Center site—on how to read a discipline-specific essay or argument or piece of research. And writing is intimately and reciprocally involved in this critical reading and thinking process.

Reading-writing connections (Bronx Community College)

At Bronx Community College (CUNY), the WAC faculty support site includes a handbook in PDF format with several excellent chapters. Click on Resources at the top of the page and you'll be in the handbook. Chapter 4 examines Reading and Writing Connections. Lots of good assignment ideas on how to use writing to sharpen students' reading skills in this chapter-long piece. And all of it is based on two premises: writing is inextricably enmeshed in critical thinking; and writing is an indispensable tool in reading critically.

Using writing to improve reading (UH-Manoa)

This essay is contained in Writing Matters, the newsletter of University of Hawaii-Manoa's Writing Program. Outlined in it are a series of sequenced writing prompts and assignments to enable students to open up complex reading matter and prepare them to write argument and research papers.

Using informal, ungraded writing (Penn State)

This site gives ideas for and methods of using frequent, informal, and ungraded writing to stimulate the critical thinking process. Part of the Penn State Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) Program, these exercises make good use of readings on the way to writing. What's advocated is a sequenced set of writings that intervene in students' reading of a difficult essay or argument, get them to articulate questions of that essay, and visualize the shape of the essay's argument.

Writing to learn (University of Richmond)

More "Write to Learn" activities here, this time from Faculty Resources at the University of Richmond's Writing (WAC) Center. Twelve writing activities are outlined here in some detail that use writing to make students read critically. It includes simple exercises like the Sentence/Passage Springboard Activity and goes on to more complex activities like the Dialectical/Double Entry Notebook which can be used in many ways (even interactively with students replying to each other's entries on their readings). Good explanations and examples.

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