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ACTIVITY: Independent reading with purpose

THEME: Reading Skills

ACTIVITY: Independent reading with purpose

This activity is one which I started using with Sixth form groups – mainly because every time I asked them to read anything they got out a highlighter pen and proceeded to highlight the whole document. When I asked what they were highlighting they always said “the important bits” … they rarely saw the irony of highlighting the whole thing!

I began to think of ways to help them really THINK about what they were reading. This week’s article is an activity that I have used for a long time. I adapt it for younger groups reading shorter extracts.

What to do:

  • Present the group with an article/paper to read – usually on a new topic – and one which will stretch their knowledge and understanding.

  • Ask them to read the first page/section ONLY, putting the following letters in the margin next to the appropriate bits:

R (Revision) for things that they knew already

D (detail) for extra information eg names, figures about things they knew already

N( New) for anything that they read which they did not know before

Q (question) for anything they want to ask about

They should have a letter in the margin every sentence or so. If they just put one letter next to whole paragraph they haven’t read it all properly!

I qualify the “Q” for them. It should include any word or concept that they don’t understand OR anything they think of that might be (or seem to be) either a contradiction of something they have learnt before OR it makes them think about something that is a development of what they already know. I stress that “Qs” are GOOD – ESPECIALLY if they are development questions which show that they are really thinking about what they are reading.

  • Give them an appropriate amount of time to do this.

  • Now ask them about the “Qs”…. First of all identify anyone who has not put a single Q in the margin. Then ask them a question about the article which you know they are unlikely to understand. Ask them why they didn’t put a Q! It is usually lazy readers who have no “Qs” – they will have skimmed over anything they didn’t “like the look of”! You will quickly see others trying to find some Qs. They will not like being exposed in this way. Now go to those who have Qs and, as a class, try to answer them all. Different ways of doing this – sometimes it is easy to nudge the asker into understanding. Sometimes someone else will be able to tell them, sometimes you will have to help them all with it.

  • Once you have dealt with the Qs go onto the Ns – this might be a prompt for some notetaking or just for discussion

  • Finally the R and D - although this will not need much discussion – as they know it already! I sometimes ask if there was any surprising or particularly interesting D

  • Now they can continue with the rest of the article in the same way. Stop them as often as you want to go through things – it depends on the length and complexity of the article.

  • Once you have finished you can do what you want with their new knowledge.

Sometimes I let them highlight all the “new” bits. Sometimes I let them highlight the “detail” (as this will invariably become evidence/examples.) I NEVER let them highlight more than one type of information (so ONLY Key words OR evidence OR new bits etc) . What is certain is that they will REALLY understand every word of what they have read. They will be in a position to make concise notes if you want them to – or to use the information to answer exam questions.


Complete silence “no talking to each other whilst reading” is really important. They need to become independent readers if they are ever going to be able to read for a purpose.

I often build in little extras: for example, In geographical articles reference is often made to maps/graphs/tables/diagrams. They hardly ever look at these whilst reading. I usually make a big point of this – usually at least one of the Qs could have been solved if they had looked at the diagram to which they were referred.

I try to make the discussions associated with this activity as much “fun” as possible – it is important to keep it lively! They really need to understand HOW to read effectively.

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