Take5 #4: Tackling Academic Reading

So – there we were W7 – and there they were, 63 first years, giving Poster Presentations to an audience of 70+ people. They had explored ‘learning spaces’ and constructed great arguments that referenced the reading (Thornburg and Giroux) and dazzled us with their Posters, their Prezis and their animations… It was thrilling

How did we reach this lofty pinnacle of academic practice?

Well – a couple of weeks before the Poster Presentations we prepared text-scrolls of just two key articles with which we wanted the students to engage:

Giroux’s article on lessons to be learned from Freire:


And Thornburg on metaphors of learning spaces:


We chose these to seed thinking about the pedagogical and physical spaces necessary for University teaching and learning – and as a prequel to the students’ own participant observations of the University’s formal and informal learning spaces.

Did you say Textmapping? Huh?
Textmapping (http://www.textmapping.org/index.html ) is an active reading strategy that involves using a text that has been turned into an A3 scroll. As a group, readers collectively mark up the text to show structure, content & relevance to their assignment. The fear of academic reading is broken down in the collective action on an enlarged text (yes – the big-ness is part of it) – and the point of reading is perceived when the texts are obviously relevant to an activity.

Seeding Poster presentations

Once our students had marked up their scrolls – we had them illustrate them – bringing the ideas alive with pictures and cuttings from newspapers and magazines. Thus, each group turned their reading notes into a poster-like collage – and subsequently presented their collage to the class.

That was W4; W5 they roamed the University in investigative groups… W6 we looked at presentation techniques and W7 – those wonderful Poster Presentations… and the surprising joy of hearing the seed articles used brilliantly to make sense of their mini-research projects.

If you are wrestling with Academic Reading, this textmapping really works – students start to see the point of reading – they lose their fear of reading – and they become successful at reading – what more could we want? 

Here’s what the Take5 website has on Promoting reading:

We know that academic reading is part of being a University student and that students must read. However, typically students resist and even fear academic reading. Do support academic reading with in-class activities – and possibly by setting ‘reading’ assignments: make some class time for students to learn how to read ‘academically’.
See Study Hub:

reading: http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/epacks/studyhub/reading.html

referencing: http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/epacks/studyhub/referencing.html

Here are some activities that have worked with us:


Textmapping article on Formative Feedback

Compile annotated bibliographies

Real reading

Visual reading

Reading Dossier

Subject Dictionary

1: Textmapping:

Introduce students to the concept of active notemaking and reading (do use the Study Hub – and/or ask CELT for PPT sessions to teach from).

In groups: ask students to annotate A3 scrolls that you have prepared from articles that are interesting and challenging but quite short.

After they have been annotating for about seven minutes – feed in an assignment question that they should answer using the article. Tell them they have X-minutes to prepare a three-minute presentation. The notemaking should change quite dramatically – for now they are focussed and have a clear and urgent reason for the reading.

Each group presents – there is discussion.

Meta-reflection: How did the notemaking change when the assignment topic was introduced? What does this tell us about successful academic reading…?

2: Textmapping of Academic Writing article: Set students to read, annotate, engage with: Wilkinson S (08) ‘Optimising teaching and learning through the use of feedback on written assignments in History’ in Investigations Vol 5 (1) pp30-35

In groups: Produce 50-word essays on Either: Successful University writing Or Successful University reading.

Peer review essays, revise – post to own blogs… Reflect on the session… 

3: Compile online annotated bibliographies using Social bookmarking sites like Diigo or by using FaceBook as a Reading Journal.

4: Real reading: set students the task of finding a fresh, relevant journal article pertinent to your subject. After justifying their choice – each student has to produce a formal, short review of the article – pithy and well-written enough for publication. Publish the reviews in a class website.

5: Visual reading: set students the task of turning a relevant article into a comic book: for other students; for non-initiates; or for their auntie… (See https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=Notes+as+comic+books&espv=2&biw=1152&bih=755&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=dUgQVI-rI9Lb7Aa3mICADg&ved=0CDEQsAQ )

6: Reading Dossier: set students the task of compiling a Reading Dossier or Journal wherein they make brief notes on ALL the reading they do for your course. Items recorded must be pertinent, adequately recorded for future referencing – and should be pithy (key words – not sentences); made memorable in some way (highlighting, mnemonics, illustrations); and hopefully should be tied to your assignments. Tip: Award prizes for the best Journal/Dossier.

7: Subject Dictionary: Especially suitable for first year students – in one specific module – or across a suite of modules – require students to produce their own Subject Dictionary for the people, theories, concepts that they are learning in your subject. As with a Reading Dossier, items recorded must be pertinent, adequately recorded for future referencing – and should be pithy (key words – not sentences); made memorable in some way (highlighting, mnemonics, illustrations); and hopefully should be tied to your assignments. Tip: Award prizes for the best Subject Dictionary.

1 thought on “Take5 #4: Tackling Academic Reading”

  1. The textmapping plus collaae activity was brilliant! The students engaged thoroughly – and actually found themselves enjoying the reading… Then they all gave de facto Poster Presentations on that reading – ready for the ‘real’ poster presentations that came later. Big joy!!

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