Reading comprehension worksheets. The bane of every novel study. You probably did them as a student, and you may even assign them now as a teacher. We all dreaded them. The drill-and-kill. After all, nothing ruins the flow of a great novel like having to write down an obvious and inane fact (in a complete sentence, please!) while you’re in a good reading flow. We all know there are better forms of assessment. There are better ways of engaging readers. (There is, perhaps, no better way of disengaging readers!). So, is it time to ditch the reading worksheets?
Well, maybe. (I know–a terrible answer!) In this post I hope to answer the question, “Should I assign reading worksheets?” and provide a list of times when you should, and times when you should find an alternative.
When Should I NOT Assign Reading Worksheets?
I know I have been guilty of this myself: using reading questions just because I feel like I should. Growing up in American public education, I think it feels unnatural to assign any reading without some kind of activity paired with it. We feel that unease as educators.
How can students actually learn if they’re not writing something down? Will they even do the reading if I don’t have a way to force them to do it?
These are valid concerns. We definitely can’t teach students or move forward with our curriculum if they haven’t done the reading. But there are other ways of encouraging students to read.
When deciding if you should use reading questions, think about your overall motivation. Why are you assigning them? The end goal should support students learning a skill–not just holding them accountable for doing their homework.
So first, be honest with yourself. Why are you assigning reading questions?
Here are some reasons NOT to assign reading worksheets:
- You’re trying to kill class time
- You need an “easy” grade to fluff up the gradebook
- You want to punish students who don’t do the assigned reading
- Your teachers always assigned them and so you feel you should too
- You want to keep your planning easy
I think we’ve all been guilty of giving our students an assignment for one of these reasons. And that’s ok! But if we’re going to get better every year, and do better by our students, we have to dig a little deeper when thinking about an assignment’s impact.
When SHOULD I Assign Reading Questions?
That said, I do believe that there is a time and a place for reading questions. Sometimes a simple recall check is actually needed. I teach in an alternative school with a lot of low-level students–asking them to recall basic facts about a difficult text is a difficult skill for many.
So if you’re going through a difficult text (“A Modest Proposal” comes to mind), then you may want to assign reading questions. In that situation, however, I would definitely take the time to go over them with students or have students go through them with a partner.
The reading questions, in this case, should be a scaffold to understanding the text, so that students can take the next step of diving deeper. When writing reading questions for a situation like this, you’ll want to make sure the questions themselves are guiding the students to note important details or main ideas.
Reading questions may also be helpful as review items for students. If you have a test or a high stakes assessment, reading questions may be a great way for students to review. In this case, you could even have students generate the reading questions or question one another.
A reason that I frequently use reading questions is to help support students who are absent a lot.
Like I mentioned earlier, I teach at an alternative school. Some of our students come to us with chronic illnesses and can’t attend regularly. These students miss the class discussions and reviews and my instruction. At least if they have some reading questions, something is guiding them through the text.
Similarly, at my alternative school, we have students who are extremely credit deficient. These students often work in separate labs and take online classes. I’ve worked with their other teachers to create independent studies to help them make up some elective credits. Reading questions are incredibly helpful for guiding students, scaffolding the work, and keeping students accountable when they are doing everything 100% on their own.
Reading Worksheet Alternatives
If you’ve thought about the reasons behind your use of reading questions deeply, and you have decide that they may not be the best choice for your students, there are other options.
In this blog post, I talk about how I’ve had students close read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This involves a lot of higher-order thinking and my students grapple wonderfully with it.
I’m also a fan of sketchnotes. There are all kinds of resources, podcasts, blog posts, and YouTube videos about sketchnotes and how to use them.
I have used sketchnotes with my credit deficient sophomores as we listen to an audiobook. This gives them something creative to do with their hands while listening to a story. Sketchnoting forces students to decide for themselves what is most important like they would while close reading.
I’ve made a handy printable guide for students to use while they sketchnote. I give this to my students to help them think through visually representing information in their notes. You can get it for FREE by signing up for my newsletter below.