Making the Most of Assigned Readings

Assigned readings are an integral part of most any college class.  But, it can be difficult to get students to do the assigned readings and use them in the course.

Faculty often give quizzes about the readings to encourage students to do the work before class.  But there are other methods that can help more closely integrate the readings with the content of your course and help students more directly see the relevancy of the readings.

Best Practices

There’s a wide range of literature on assigned readings among educators.  Generally, there’s agreement on a short list of best practices when using assigned readings in class.

Not only list the reading in the syllabus and class schedule, but also briefly explain why it’s being assigned and how it connects with the work the students will be doing in a particular week or lesson.  Reinforce the relevance by briefly introducing the reading in the class.

You should be clear about not only what readings are to be done, but also your instructional goals for the reading assignment, what students should do (or be prepared to do) with the readings, and deadlines.

Background and Structure
Successful reading assignments scaffold the students with sufficient background material and structure, appropriate to where they are in their academic career and the course.  First year students or those new to a subject area will need more context and guidance to get the most out of readings.

In-Class Activities
The best results from using reading assignments in a course can be found by using in-class activities based on the material.  Students will be more compelled to prepare for the class and take responsibility by doing the reading and can use the activities to examine the readings in more depth, exchanging ideas with their classmates.

Ideas for Reading Assignments

Have students write and turn in a brief journal of thoughts, questions and observations about the readings.  You can use the journal as a basis for class discussions and activities and to respond to individual student issues and problems.

Collaborative Reading
Divide the text among students or small groups of students in the course for close analysis.  Individual students can report in class about their section of the readings or, for an in-class group activity, you can arrange the students in small groups where each person has read one part of the text.

Reading Rubrics
If students are evaluating the quality and research of journal articles and other material, create a rubric they can use to rate the text.  Justifications for each part of the rubric can be brought out in forum posts, class discussions, or small group activities.

Top Ten Lists
Have students create lists of the most important concepts in a reading, then, in small groups have them combine and rank their concept lists.

Cognitive Mapping
In groups, have students collaborate on creating a cognitive map, based on key concepts and ideas they individually identified in the readings.

More Resources

For more information on reading assignments, investigate these articles and resources on the web.  You can also contact the CIT to talk with a consultant about great ideas for all types of course assignments.

Making the Review of Assigned Reading Meaningful (Faculty Focus)

Advance Reading Handout (Pedagogy Unbound)

Getting Students to Do Reading Assignments (Center for Faculty Excellence, West Point)

Getting Students to Do Their Assigned Readings (The Learning and Teaching Office, Ryerson) (PDF)

11 Strategies for Getting Students to Read What’s Assigned (Faculty Focus) (PDF)

Reading a Textbook for True Understanding (Resource for students at Cornell)

Staying Afloat: Some Scattered Suggestions on Reading in College (Resource for students by Prof. Timothy Burke, Swarthmore)