You’ve seen it before. You’re reading or letting an audiobook play and instead of paying rapt attention, your students are nodding off. Or worse, they’re pulling out their cell phones. In this post, I’m going to share three techniques to keep students engaged while reading in class.
Technique #1 to Keep Students Engaged While Reading in Class: Reading Questions
Alright, I know. Reading questions are nothing new. But they still work.
Before reading for the day, give students a list of questions to answer as they read. This gives students a task to complete as they move through the text.
Even better, you can guide their focus by being deliberate in the reading questions you write.
If your primary concern is ensuring your students understand the story and pay attention, give them reading questions that focus on comprehension. Who did this? Why was this character scared? Etc.
If, however, you want students to go deeper, write questions that focus on analysis. What could this object represent? Why do you think the author chose a flashback for this scene? Etc.
You could even give students reading questions to assist with social-emotional learning. How does the reader know that the protagonist is sad? How would you feel in this situation?
In my opinion, the best set of reading questions will probably have a variety of question types.
Reading questions can be given as homework if students are reading independently. But if you’re reading in class, use the reading questions to start discussions and summarize the text’s key points. Since students have already thought about and answered the questions on their worksheets, they’ll be more willing to share their thoughts with the class.
Reading questions may not be new or trendy, but I believe that in the right circumstances, they work well. Your students can even use them as future study guides if you have a test for the text later.
Technique #2 to Keep Students Engaged While Reading in Class: Visual Notes
If you’re looking for a way to engage students while reading that’s a little more creative than reading questions, try visual notes!
Visual notes, doodle notes, and sketch notes are all the same thing. Essentially, students extrapolate the big ideas and main points from a text and represent them in symbols, graphics, and images.
I believe visual notes work best for videos or shorter text, but you can try them with longer texts as well.
Be sure to also check out my FREE student handout with tips for creating visual notes.
Technique #3 to Keep Students Engaged While Reading in Class: Annotations or Quote Tracking
This is one of my favorite techniques: annotations or quote tracking.
Students can annotate texts in several ways. If they have their own copies of the text, students can write or highlight right on the page. However, if they’re using a borrowed copy of the text, they can use post-its to make temporary annotations instead.
Alternatively, you can give students a graphic organizer and let them write down important quotes as they read.
For students who are a bit behind on skills or who have never annotated a text before, giving them free rein to annotate can be daunting though.
Instead, ask students to pay attention to a specific literary device. This works great for helping students prepare for a summative assessment.
For example, if, at the end of the unit, you want students to create a character map, have them annotate or track quotes about a specific character.
If you want students to write a thematic analysis essay, they should annotate or track quotes significant to the text’s main themes.
When students know they are looking for something specific–and they will be assessed or need these annotations later for a major assignment–they’ll read with more purpose.
These are just a few techniques to keep students engaged while reading in class. Of course, there’s no reason to pick just one. Try them all!