Active reading is the act of reading to understand and evaluate a text. It’s often described as “reading with a purpose.” This helps pupils, children, and people of all ages to broaden their understanding of a text or knowledge of a subject. You can reread something repeatedly, but it isn’t the most effective way to digest the material. Children can improve this by using one or more active reading strategies.
For pupils in primary education, active reading can involve reading a book with a child rather than reading a book to a child. Set evaluation activities or encourage classroom discussions about a text after you have read it to help learners better understand the text.
What’s the difference between active reading and passive reading?
Passive reading is what we do when we’re not trying to engage with the text. These characteristics are the opposite of what we want to achieve through active reading.
Check-in with your learners to see if they’re doing any of the following:
- Approaching every text in the same way.
- Reading without paying attention to the task or keeping the questions in mind.
- Always reading at the same speed without variation.
- Reading through the text without stopping to check if they understand it.
- Skipping past anything they don’t understand the meaning of and not returning later.
If so, they might be reading passively rather than actively.
It’s easy to slip into these habits, but focusing on some of our active reading strategies allows us to read more thoughtfully and efficiently. It also makes answering those tricky reading comprehension questions in class easier!
What are Active Reading Strategies?
There are many ways to develop active readers in the classroom and at home. Here are six active reading strategies that are applied in primary education:
- Visualization – Building a picture in your mind’s eye as you read a story or text.
- Summarising – Condensing the main details of the story using your own words.
- Inferencing – Reading between the lines at the subtext of the story.
- Comprehension – Demonstrating what you understand from reading the text.
- Metacognition – Asking questions like, ‘What do I already know about the topic?’
- Find the meaning – Read on or read back to discover the meaning of words.
Benefits of Active Reading
- By practicing the techniques, children will speed up their reading and be able to complete their homework and revise more easily.
- It allows children to gain confidence in their comprehension skills before tackling more challenging texts, especially as they move up through the primary and secondary school.
- Active reading aids in concentration and focus. The information doesn’t go in one ear and out the other, and it can be digested.
- It can build the background knowledge of a text required to help children relate to difficult concepts.
- These techniques encourage children to enjoy reading and get something out of it. This helps to avoid the problem of just reading for the sake of it or because they’re being told to do it. Instead, they are “reading with a purpose.”
- A good way to boost critical thinking skills, especially through discussion questions or group tasks immediately after reading.
Are there more active reading strategies?
Yes! And the ones listed above can be expanded as children progress through primary and secondary school. So let’s look at some of these in more depth.
Visualize and Predict
Readers use written and visual clues from the text and their personal experiences to predict what might happen before, during, and after reading. Readers can also use the clues from the text to create a picture in their heads. They use all their senses and imagination to create their mental image.
Read with Purpose
This active reading strategy confronts the practice of passive reading. To try this, before your students begin reading a text or story, give them each a task or ‘mission.’ For example, this could be a list of information or questions to which students need to find answers. This will encourage children in the classroom to pay attention and seek out the details in a text.
Read and Reflect
In primary education, students learn a great many skills across many topics. This means that it could begin to feel overwhelming to students to receive a lot of information in one day of learning.
Make Connections to the Text
Asking students to relate to a story or a text is a great way to encourage students to engage with the details and take note of the feature patterns of a text.
This activity encourages children to use descriptive language and letter recognition skills while learning about acrostic poems. It also prompts them to think about themselves and their likes and dislikes while exercising creative writing skills and reflecting on the features of poetry they have learned about.
For longer texts or stories, you can use questions for the class to encourage students to make personal connections to the story. For example:
- Does this text remind you of something else you have read?
- Is this text similar to something else happening in the world right now?
- How does this text relate to your life?
Highlight and Take Notes
Marking the text as you go along is a great way to show your engagement with it. For younger learners, highlighting key passages or phrases can help them to identify the most important aspects of a text.
Challenge them to color coordinate their markings, with each colored highlighter pointing out an additional text feature. This is great for visual learners, who learn best with a bright pop of color.
For older learners, this should only be the first step! Encourage them to take notes on a separate piece of paper or in the margins, annotating the text as they read it. This can help them approach the text analytically, ensuring they fully engage with what they’re reading. It can also encourage them to think creatively about the text, thinking outside the box to come up with interesting and unique takes. They could jot down their ideas about the topic or write questions that they’d like to ask the author, the answer to which hasn’t been included in the text itself.
Build this into a group activity by encouraging learners to swap, share their notes, and discuss each other’s ideas. This is a great way to practice reciprocal reading, reinforcing active reading strategies and prompting group discussion.
Have Students Summarise the Story
After reading a story with your students or child, why not ask them to summarise what they have heard? This is a great way to assess how they best engage with stories and texts.