Critical Reading Discussion


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One of the most important skills we can have as scholars is the ability to read critically. For most of what we read in the world (novels, magazines, online articles), we don’t tend to critically read, but being able to do so for our academic courses is a significant part of success. 

To become familiar with the idea of critical reading, please review the information below:


One of the most important skills we can have as scholars is the ability to read critically. For most of what we read in the world (novels, magazines, online articles), we don’t tend to critically read, but being able to do so for our academic courses is a significant part of success. 

To become familiar with the idea of critical reading, please review the information below:


Reading critically does not, necessarily, mean being critical of what you read.Both reading and thinking critically don’t mean being ‘critical’ about some idea, argument, or piece of writing – claiming that it is somehow faulty or flawed. Critical reading means engaging in what you read by asking yourself questions such as, ‘what is the author trying to say?’ or ‘what is the main argument being presented?’

Critical reading involves presenting a reasoned argument that evaluates and analyses what you have read. Being critical, therefore – in an academic sense – means advancing your understanding, not dismissing and therefore closing off learning.


You will, in formal learning situations like our class, be required to read and critically think about a lot of information from different sources. 

It is important therefore, that you not only learn to read critically but also efficiently.

Often, we begin reading with speed reading (but we don’t end there).

Speed reading is also often referred to as skim-reading or scanning. Once you have identified a relevant piece of text, like a chapter in a book, you should scan the first few sentences of each paragraph to gain an overall impression of subject areas it covers. Scan-reading essentially means that you know what you are looking for, you identify the chapters or sections most relevant to you and ignore the rest.

When you speed-read you are not aiming to gain a full understanding of the arguments or topics raised in the text. It is simply a way of determining what the text is about. 

When you find a relevant or interesting section you will need to slow your reading speed dramatically, allowing you to gain a more in-depth understanding of the arguments raised. Even when you slow your reading down it may well be necessary to read passages several times to gain a full understanding.

Although you probably already read critically in some respects, here are some things you can do when you read a text to improve your critical reading skills.

Most successful critical readers do some combination of the following strategies:

Previewing (look through the text to identify the title, the source, different sections)

Annotating (highlight and make notes in the margins about main points in the text/most important parts; note any unfamiliar terms and look them up)

Summarizing (for every paragraph or page, write a short summary of what you read. If you can summarize it, you understood it!)

  • Analyzing (think about the meaning of the text. What is the author’s purpose? What are his/her main claims? What are your main reactions/feelings towards the text?)
  • Re-reading (once you have reflected, are there sections that you don’t understand. If so, go back to them). 
  • Responding (write about the text; use the text as a source in your own arguments). 
  • 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 jump out of their seat, 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.
  • 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, to actively read 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.



Preparation: You will need a pencil or other writing utensil to underline, make notes, jot questions, and otherwise mark up your reading material; a dictionary to look up unfamiliar words; highlighters and/or sticky notes for marking your book. If you use sticky notes, you will also need a notebook to record your annotations or notes.

Personal Expectations: Have you heard something about the text or its author? Has a classmate or a friend told you something about it? Have you seen a film or TV show related to it? What are your preconceptions of the text? Have you already read it before? If so, what was your experience with it? 

Context: What does the title lead you to expect? What is its genre?


What doesn’t make sense? Note any word or passage you don’t understand, any choice by the author you are uncertain about.

  • What is unexpected? Note striking or puzzling images, descriptions, words, and phrases.
  • What forms a pattern? Note words, images, settings, and events that appear more than once, or seem to be related.
  • How are you reacting to it? Be aware of when you find your mind wandering, when you find yourself getting exasperated, when you find yourself suddenly interested in a way you weren’t a minute before, when you find what you are reading utterly baffling.


Look up everything. Answer factual questions or problems of comprehension that arose during your reading and were not resolved by further reading. *Your fellow students or myself can also answer these questions during Lit Circles

Process your initial reactions into reflection on your reading. What is the text doing at a particular moment to meet, change, or disrupt your expectations?

  • Reread. Look for questions to discuss in class and further examples of patterns and issues you have observed in the text.
  • Techniques for Active Reading, or Options For What I Should be Writing Down
  • Underline or highlight key words and phrases
  • Make annotations in the margin to summarize points, raise questions, challenge what you’ve read, jot down examples. 

Read critically by asking questions of the text.

Who wrote it? When? Who is the intended audience? Does it link with other material you’ve studied? Why do you think it was written? It is an excerpt from a longer piece of text?

Active Reading 

  • Often active reading or annotation looks like this: 


The following video is a fantastic resource which takes you through three different ways to annotation. You might find something that helps with your already established reading process or you might decide to totally change what you are doing now for something that might be more successful. 


  • In at least 250 words (one academic paragraph),
  • Explain the ways you have prepared to read for school in the past. Have you used any particular reading strategies? What would you do if you did not understand something? Would you re-read?
  • Describe which of the strategies and ideas from above stood out to you? Would would you consider implementing as you read?
  • Describe the relationship between reading and writing.

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