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Student Learning Success: Reading

ACTIVE READING means reading with the goal of understanding the content well enough that you can discuss the ideas and arguments. It also means reading strategically, and being able to pick out the most important points. 

Preview the reading: how do the title, subtitles, and headings prepare you for the content?

Before you read a passage ask, "What does the author want me to know? What's the purpose?"

When you're finished reading a passage, try to teach someone else the material. If you can effectively share the information, that means you must know it!

Use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl F (Find) to open a search box on any webpage, pdf, or Word document. Type in the keyword, concept, or character name you want to find. This will highlight the term wherever it occurs and show how many times it appears.


What techniques do you use to stay focused on your reading?

What's the purpose of the text you're reading? 

Why do you think it's a good idea to take notes on your readings?

Why should you make use of chapter summaries or review questions?

Understanding the Source

Understand the purpose of the text and adapt your reading strategy. Most college reading consists of three forms of writing:

• Expository/ Informational

Purpose: to teach or inform 
Examples: Academic research, reports, textbooks, documentaries 

• Imaginative/ Narrative

Purpose: to show, explain, inspire, provoke, teach, persuade, etc., often using invented words, situations, or characters 
Examples: fiction, poetry, oral history, theater script, films

• Persuasive/ Argumentative

Purpose: to change your opinion or convince you to take action
Examples: editorials, opinion pieces, blog posts, petitions

Strategy for Textbooks & Expository Writing

The KWL strategy:
Create 3-column notes for each chapter/article, etc., and label the columns Know, Want, and Learn.

  • Know: Jot down what you already know about this topic or concept in whatever form makes the most sense to you.
  • Want: List your learning goals for this reading.
  • Learn: Record new knowledge or understanding as a result of reading.

Strategy for Narrative or Imaginative Writing

Your instructor will likely expect you to read the entire text word for word. This is the ideal reading method to gain a full understanding and appreciation of creative and imaginative texts.

Pay attention to details. Every word, action, place, thought, and object described in a literary text is deliberate. Analyzing how and why an author has made particular choices (calling a character a particular name, choosing a particular setting, etc.) can help you identify themes and understand how the author is constructing meaning through their text. 

It can be helpful to start by using the 5Ws to get started: 

  • Who: Identify the characters in the reading.
  • What: Identify the events or actions.
  • Where: Identify all the places in the reading.
  • When: Identify all the time factors in the reading.
  • Why: Identify the meaning behind the choices the author has made. This will help you understand the themes of the text.
  • How: Identify how all the pieces of the text work together to create meaning. 

Strategy for Memoir, Personal Narratives, Biographies or Diaries

ADAPTED 5 Ws: for personal narrative, biographies, family histories, expressive diary entries, letters, and recordings.

If you don’t have enough time to read the entire text, use some of these strategies:

  • Scan the text for characters’ names, action verbs, and dialogue. 
  • Write notes, or make a mind map of who is in the chapter or act, what they do, say, and who they interact with.
  • Determine how these things connect to the overall theme or storyline.
  • Read online summaries or watch the film version and take notes using the headings:
Who / What / Where / When / Why / How

Strategy for Persuasive Writing

Remember: The goal is to persuade, sway opinion, or convince others to take a specific action, like signing an online petition, so think about how the text is manipulating a response.

  • Who: Identify the author, their qualifications or level of expertise, and whether they are an authority on the subject. Also identify the target audience. 
  • What: Identify the author's bias, beliefs, or intentions. 
  • Where: Identify where the text is leading the reader: towards changing a belief, or buying something? Also, where is the supporting evidence or citations? 
  • When: Identify when (or if) the text provides logical and verifiable facts to support its claims.
  • Why: Identify what benefits the author might gain from convincing the reader to make the change. Also identify why the author’s message is important.
  • How: Identify how the text manipulates the reader through the structure of the argument, the omission of information, and/or the repetition of certain points.

Active Reading Video