Keep Them Involved (and Avoid the Zzzz’s): 10 Active Reading Strategies

Keep Them Involved (and Avoid the Zzzz’s): 10 Active Reading Strategies

One of the problems of a reading class is the tendency for students to be passive.

Face it, sitting by yourself and reading silently can be really boring, no matter how interesting the piece. And how, after all, does the teacher know most of the time students are actually reading the assigned passage until it comes time for comprehension questions, which may very well be at the end of the class time, depending on the length of the reading? How do you know students are even awake? (It’s not uncommon during “silent reading” to have truly silent students, snoozing behind their texts.) Here are some ways to avoid that pitfall.

Try These Top 10 Active Reading Strategies With Your Class

  1. 1

    Call on students to read aloud

    Calling on students randomly to read a part of the instruction aloud is a perennial method, and for a reason—it is very effective in keeping students involved in the lesson, as they are more likely to listen to a peer read aloud, and stay aware of where the class is in the reading, in the event of being called on.

  2. 2

    Read aloud in groups

    Assign students to groups and have them read to each other. This is also very valuable in keeping a focus on the reading while being less intimating than reading in front of the whole class. Using this method, students often stop during the passage to ask each other questions without being prompted. The teacher can circulate and provide additional help.

  3. 3

    The teacher reads aloud

    Some teachers, particularly teachers of students at the beginning levels of language learning, are reluctant to have students read aloud. The teacher can then fulfill this role, and, especially if reading dramatically, varying intonation, and using gestures, can keep students as involved as if they were reading themselves. Students appreciate this method also because they can hear the correct pronunciation of words and sentence intonation. Also the teacher can pause frequently so the class can reflect or ask questions.

  4. 4

    Have students act out portions after reading

    This works especially well for narrative works—putting students in groups to act out a scene from in the reading can be very effective for increasing comprehension: seeing the piece acted out, or taking part in acting it out, makes the static words on the page come to life. Also, if you tell students they are going to be acting out the piece after reading it, they become more motivated to read and understand the piece.

  5. 5

    Quick write before and after

    Ask students to write for several minutes on the topic of the reading at the start of class: write what you think about police use of force, for example, before reading the classic Orwell essay “Shooting an Elephant,” in which Orwell writes about his experience as a British police officer in Burma, when it was part of the British Empire, and how he was forced into shooting an elephant when he didn’t want to, to uphold his tough image. Then have then reading the essay and write what they think now about the use of force. How do students feel about the British officer and how he acted? Has their view on the use of force changed? Why or why not?

  6. 6

    Adopt word

    Select three new words from the passage and learn about them. Learn their definition, parts of speech, synonyms, antonyms, write sentences with them, etc. Have students write the information on the index cards: the word on one side, the analysis on the other. Have them come to class prepared to share their words. Collect and shuffle the cards and redistribute. Students should learn their peers’ words and teach them to another group. Spend 15 minutes on the words for a week and test on students at the end.

  7. 7

    Rewrite from a different perspective

    Tell the story from another viewpoint. Again using George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant,” have students rewrite the story from the viewpoint of one the Burmese. How do you feel about the British officer ad how he acted?

  8. 8

    Rewrite the ending

    What do you think about how Orwell acted? Could this incident have ended any other way? Have students discuss in groups, come up with alternate solutions (walking away, leading the elephant away, electing someone else to lead away the elephant, contacting its owner, etc.) , and rewrite Orwell’s ending.

  9. 9


    Analyze the essay: take apart the argument the writer makes and analyze how well he or she proves the main claim. In “The Right to Arms,” Abbey in essence says the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, is necessary in a democracy. This is his main claim: that is, is that, in a democracy with free citizens, weapons are necessary to protect freedoms against government encroachment on those freedoms. On what assumptions is this claim resting? Do you think he supports his claim well? Why or why not?

  10. q

    Argue from the opposing view

    What are some arguments against the right to bear arms? Take a stand and argue against Abbey. It doesn’t matter if you actually agree with him. Many times lawyers, for example, are asked to argue for or against something they don’t actually believe, or employees for a company may have to promote a product they don’t necessarily support. Then have a short debate with a person or team representing each side. The rest of the class will then vote for or against.

So does reading class have to be boring? Absolutely not!

These are just a few ways to keep students interested, active and involved. Do you know (and use) any other ways to keep readers involved? Let us know in the comments!

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