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Critical Reading


Many readers approach reading like a certain breed of TV watcher-they melt into the couch, passive observers that blend silently into the upholstery. But another sort (typically seen during football season) jump from their seat and yell curses or pump high fives at the screen. These kinds of TV watchers are ACTIVE. They react to and interact with what they are watching.

In college, you will need to be this kind of active reader who "converses" with what you are reading. Whereas other reading you do may be for pleasure or general information, in college you must read for understanding and recall. Just as writing is a process, and you cannot expect a perfect draft the first time you write, so too is reading a process that takes time and effort-much of it through re-reading. The strategies below of pre-reading, reading, and processing will help you read more closely, critically, and interactively.

critical reading
Graphic taken from Literature: A World of Writing by D. Pike and A. Acosta (2011)




  • Read with a pen or pencil
  • Read with a dictionary
  • Skim the text first
  • Find a good reading chair where you can focus


  • Annotate: Mark your text
    --circle words
    --write in margin
    --look up words!!!

  • In the margins
    --summarize key points/events
    --ask questions
    --make connections
    --record insights


Process the text through

What Good and Struggling Readers Do  --taken and adapted from Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide pgs. 103-105

Good Readers

Struggling Readers


  • Think about what they already know/search their prior knowledge
  • Identify a purpose for reading the text
  • Make predictions
  • Have a sense of how major ideas may fit together


  • Read without thinking of what they already know
  • Don’t know why they are reading the text
  • Make no predictions
  • Don’t have an idea about how major ideas may fit together


  • Pay attention to meaning/are able to identify key information
  • Monitor comprehension while reading
  • Look up in a dictionary unfamiliar words
  • Visualize while reading
  • Make inferences
  • Make connections, both inside and outside the text
  • Ask questions of the text
  • Are active and engaged


  • Overattend to individual words/ are often unable to make meaning
  • Do not monitor comprehension while reading
  • Are unable to visualize while reading
  • Cannot make inferences
  • Are unable to make connections, both inside and outside the text
  • Have a low tolerance for ambiguity
  • Do not ask questions of the text
  • Are passive and unengaged


  • Re-reads--revisits the text to make deeper meaning
  • Reviews annotations with purpose for reading in mind. Continues annotating.
  • Pursues questions of meaning to resolve them
  • Summarizes, outlines, reflects upon the text


  • Rarely re-reads.
  • Re-Reading for meaning impeded without good annotations.
  • Doesn’t pursue questions or lack of understanding.
  • Doesn’t write to process the text

Strategies Readers Employ When Reading Gets Hard

Change speeds
--slow down when difficulty increased
--skim when reading got easy
Ask about the author
Ask when the piece was written
Consider how this time frame influences the author
“Chunk” the text; read in parts
Read around nonessential clauses
Skip ahead
Skip hard parts and return to them later—note them in the margin
Consider the author’s purpose and intended audience
Search prior knowledge

Highlight confusion; note in margin
Subvocalize (sound out silently)
Visualize; picture scene
Make predictions; anticipate
Examine the text structure
Stop and think about a passage
Ask questions—write in margins
Use context to clear confusion
Notice how punctuation is used
Pay close attention to syntax
Make note of italics and headings
Shift body position in chair
Get up and take a break
Tell self to focus

Track reading with fingers
Paraphrase, restate
Summarize, condense to gist
Comment—in margins or freewrite
Argue with the author
Evaluate/question author’s ideas
Attack unfamiliar words
--by looking a context clues
--by looking at prefixes, suffixes, roots
--by looking up in the dictionary
Live with ambiguity
Draw conclusions—note in margins
Make connections to similar or different things both inside the text and outside


Examples of Annotating Texts While Close, Interactive, Critical Reading

Example of an Annotated Short Story:
From Porter-O’Doneell, Carol, “Beyond the Highlighter: Teaching Annotation Skills to Improve Reading Comprehension,” English Journal, Vol. 93, No. 5, May 2004.


Example #2 of Close Reading of James Joyce's short story "Eveline"

Example of an Annotated Poem:
From Burgey, Patricia, “How to Annotate a Poem,” University of West Georgia. http://www.westga.edu/~pburgey/Poetry/HowToAnnotateAPoem.htm


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