Home      Organizing Induction      Improving Practice   

Building varied mental challenges into reading assignments

When giving reading assignments, secondary content teachers have a tendency to follow the same weary pattern: "Please read pages 374-384 and answer the questions at the end of the section." In many textbooks these section questions offer only low levels of mental challenge. Listed below are 10 ways to give a reading assignment that can help you create different kinds of mental tasks.

Would any of these approaches help you make your assignments more stimulating and challenging?

What successful strategies have you developed for giving your students reading assignments?

To make these examples more specific, we'll assume that the teacher is asking the students to read an overview of Africa for a middle school Geography class, but of course they could be adapted for any unit in science or social studies.

  • Cut-and-paste method. "Here is a large outline map of Africa. After you have read this assignment, look through some magazines and newspapers and cut out pictures and words representing aspects of Africa described in the readings. Use these cut-outs to make a collage on top of this map of Africa."
  • Survey research method. "After you read this section, make up three simple questions that you would use to find out what the people around you know about Africa. Make up three more to determine how they feel about Africa. Give this survey to at least four people. Then total up your results and prepare them for presentation to the class tomorrow."
  • Simulated letter. "As you read pages 374-384, think about what it would be like to visit Africa. Then pretend that you have been doing so and write a letter home to your family telling them what you saw and did. Be sure to describe the African people that you met."
  • PMI method (Edward de Bono) "As you read this section, record 15 key facts about Africa. Then label each one with a P if it is a plus for the African people, an M if it is a minus or an I if it is neither but is merely interesting. We'll discuss the results tomorrow."
  • Summary method. "Read these pages and summarize them in 100 words or less. Try to capture all of the author's main points in this summary. After you write your summary, try to capture the essence of Africa in just five words and record them for presentation to the class tomorrow."
  • Question asking. "We have been learning how to ask questions at various levels of Bloom's taxonomy. Before you read, write down the names of the six levels. Then, write down one good question about the reading for each level."
  • Column Notes method. "Take this Column Note paper and, on the right, take notes on each subsection. Then, on the left, draw a sketch or make a web diagram that represents what is important in that subsection." (See Cornell notes).
  • So what? "As you read this section, I want you to think about what relevance this information has for your life. Make a list of at least 8 connections and bring them with you to class tomorrow. One good place to start is to think about products in your home that came from Africa or were made from African resources."
  • Reading and reasoning guide. "This guide has four sets of questions written at increasingly harder levels. Answer as many of them as you can. Tomorrow, when we discuss these readings, you will work with other students who were able to get as far into the guide as you were."
  • The left-out method. "In this section, the authors tried to give you a well-rounded introduction to Africa. As you read, jot down what kinds of things they told you about Africa. Then make a list of five aspects of Africa that they left out. Place a star next to the two of these that you would most like to learn about."

See Choosing challenging mental activities.