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Active Reading (See also Critical reading)

Active reading refers to a process of deliberately engaging with the ideas and information in a text and often transforming that information into notes or other artifacts that record one’s understanding of and response to the text. Active reading can be described as sustained inquiry, or as a reader having a dialogue with the author about the ideas within a text.

An active reading process may include any of the following practices (strategies):

  • Generating questions to help identify the purpose and meaning of a text
  • chunking, that is, breaking the text into sections and identifying the main idea of each
  • Underlining or highlighting key information and main ideas
  • Writing notes in the margins of a text (annotating), on separate paper, or in a computer file
  • Paraphrasing or summarizing (in writing) individual ideas or sections of a text
  • Looking up unfamiliar words or concepts; recording definitions or relevant information found
  • Using a text-to-speech reading app, such as Kurzweil, which can facilitate doing any of the above activities
  • Visualizing concepts or ideas in the text
  • Drawing pictures or diagrams to show how ideas connect within or between texts
  • Reflecting on the relevance of the reading for course context and making connections between ideas.
  • Carefully examining figures, tables, and other visuals within a text and making connections between them and key ideas or conclusions in the text.

Effective active reading practices are process-oriented, individualized, strategic, and flexible. Active reading strategies should be selected and applied according to the type of text as well as the reader’s learning style and purpose for reading. Active reading helps readers stay focused and engaged, facilitates comprehension and retention, and creates a visual record of the reading experience and the relevant information in a text.

Active reading can be contrasted with “passive reading,” characteristics of which may include one or more of the following:

  • Reading too quickly or too slowly to understand and retain information
  • Forgetting the material immediately after reading
  • Falling asleep while reading
  • Trying to multi-task while reading (texting, emailing, talking, watching TV)
  • Overuse of highlighting on a text.


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