Skip to Main Content

How Students Learn: Reading


In the flipped classroom and other reading-intensive classes, students are expected to read assigned materials and complete other assigned work that prepares them to apply new learning during in-class activities where they can engage in deep learning of course content and skills. Instructors can assign the most illuminating of readings as homework, but what if students do not complete the readings before coming to class?

Hoeft (2012) reports that 56%-68% of students in a first-year class reported that they did not read assigned material before class. The most common reasons students give to explain why they did not read assigned materials are:

  • They had too much to read.
  • Their work schedule does not allow enough time for extensive reading.
  • Their social life leaves little time for reading.

Students who say that they read the assigned materials usually said that they were motivated to complete reading assignments because they were concerned about grades.


Hoeft, M. E. (2012). Why university students don’t read: What professors can do to increase compliance. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 6, (2).

Adapted from "Why Student's Don't Read" by Claudia Stanny (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)



Adapted from "Chapter 12: Active Reading Strategies" from Learning Framework: Effective Strategies for College Success (CC BY-NC-SA)

SQ3R is a reading comprehension method named for its five steps: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, and Review. The method was introduced by Francis Pleasant Robinson, an American education philosopher in his 1946 book Effective Study.

The method offers an efficient and active approach to reading textbook material. It was created for college students but is extremely useful in a variety of situations. Classrooms all over the world have begun using this method to better understand what they’re reading.

  • Survey –You can gain insight from an academic text before you even begin the reading assignment. For example, if you are assigned a nonfiction book, read the title, the back of the book, and table of contents. Scanning this information can give you an initial idea of what you’ll be reading and some useful context for thinking about it. You can also start to make connections between the new reading and knowledge you already have, which is another strategy for retaining information. Survey the document by scanning its contents, gathering the necessary information to focus on topics and help set study goals.
    1. Read the title, introduction, summary or a chapter’s first paragraph(s). This helps to orient yourself to how this chapter is organized and to understand the topic’s key points.
    2. Go through each boldface heading and subheading. This will help you to create a mental structure for the topic.
    3. Check all graphics and captions closely. They’re there to emphasize certain points and provide rich additional information.
    4. Check reading aids and any footnotes. Emphasized text (italics, bold font, etc.) is typically introduced to catch the reader’s attention or to provide clarification.
  • Question – During this stage, you should note any questions on the subjects contained in the document. It is helpful to survey the textbook again, this time writing down the questions that you create while scanning each section. You can easily find what questions need to be answered by looking at the Learning Objectives at the beginning of a chapter, the headings, and sub-headings within the chapter and the Chapter Summary or Key Points at the end of a chapter. These questions become study goals and they will become information you’ll actively search later on while going through each section in detail.
    • Write your questions down so you can fill in the answers as you read.
    • Make sure to answer the questions in your own words, rather than copying directly from the text.
  • Read – Read each section thoroughly, keeping your questions in mind. Try to find the answers and identify if you need additional ones. Mind Mapping can probably help to make sense of and correlate all the information.
  • Recall/Recite – In the recall (or recite) stage, you should go through what you read and try to answer the questions you noted before. Check in after every section, chapter or topic to make sure you understand the material and can explain it, in your own words.  It’s worth taking the time to write a short summary, even if your instructor doesn’t require it. The exercise of jotting down a few sentences or a short paragraph capturing the main ideas of the reading is enormously beneficial: it not only helps you understand and absorb what you read but gives you ready study and review materials for exams and other writing assignments. Pretend you are responsible for teaching this section to someone else. Can you do it?   It’s at this stage that you consolidate knowledge, so refrain from moving on until you can recall the core information.
  • Review – Reviewing all the collected information is the final step of the process. In this stage, you can review the collected information, go through any particular chapter, expand your own notes, or discuss the topics with colleagues and other experts. An excellent way to consolidate information is to present or teach it to someone else. It always helps to revisit what you’ve read for a quick refresher. Before class discussions or tests, it’s a good idea to review your questions, summaries and any other notes you have taken.

Thinking-Intensive Reading: Six Reading Habits

Adapted from Interrogating Texts: Six Reading Habits to Develop in Your First Year at Harvard by Susan Gilroy

  1. Preview: Look “around” the text before you start reading.
  2. Annotate: Annotating puts you actively and immediately in a "dialogue” with an author and the issues and ideas you encounter in a written text.
  3. Outline, Summarize, and Analyze: The best way to determine that you’ve really gotten the point is to be able to state it in your own words. Take the information apart, look at its parts, and then try to put it back together again in language that is meaningful to you.
  4. Look for repetitions and patterns: The way language is chosen, used, and positioned in a text can be an important indication of what an author considers crucial and what they expect you to glean from their argument. 
  5. Contextualize: Once you’ve finished reading actively and annotating, consider the text from the multiple perspectives.
  6. Compare and Contrast: Set course readings against each other to determine their relationships (hidden or explicit).

10 Activities to Foster Deep Reading in Digital Environments

adapted from Skim, Dive, Surface: Strategies for Digital Reading in the College Classroom by Jenae Cohn

Content Curation

1. Pin that Concept - Students create a digital pin board by identifying tags or categories. Then, they curate readings, images, related concepts for those key tags or concepts from your course.

2. Reading Stories - Students select 5-6 moments from a reading that stood out to them in some way. Take a screenshot of each of those moments in the reading, adding emojis or captions to illustrate their experience.

Connection to Prior Experience

3. Highlight and Link - Students find a moment in the text to highlight. Upon highlighting the text, insert a link to an outside article or resource related to that highlighted moment to make a connection.

4. Scavenger Hunt - Pick a few key concepts for students to find within a text that relate to a component of lecture or a class activity. Students find and identify those key concepts within the reading and make connections.

New Content Creation

5. Visualize That - Students create a visualization, infographic, or map of concepts from within a reading to create a new vision of the reading.
6. Voice That - Students create a voice memo or audio reflection on a particular reading, adding in background music that matches the "mood" or experience of the reading.


7. Reading Detective - Gather the "who, what, where, when, and why" of the reading conducted, even if it's part of a textbook or required reading. Create a list of links with the sources validating the 5Ws about the reading.
8. Follow the Trail - Students look up who has cited the reading that they have completed (or are about to start). They then follow the citation trail of the original reading to see who exactly has been part of the reading conversation.


9.  3-2-1 - Students identify 3 important moments, 2 interesting moments, and 1 question as they complete a particular reading. Students share their 3-2-1s in a forum and try to answer each other's questions.
10. Reading Journal - Create a log of a reading experience, noting the places that felt especially engaging or the moments that felt especially confusing or challenging.

Download infographic

Download fully text-based version of infographic. 

Watch a video overview of the infographic






Cohn, Jenae. Skim, Dive, Surface : Teaching Digital Reading. First edition., West Virginia University Press, 2021.
Available online at

Skim, Dive, Surface offers an invitation to focus not on losses to student learning but on the spectrum of affordances available within digital learning environments. It is designed to help college instructors across the curriculum teach digital reading in their classes, whether they teach face-to-face, fully online, or somewhere in between.

Sullivan, Patrick, et al. Deep Reading : Teaching Reading in the Writing Classroom. Edited by Patrick Sullivan et al., National Council of Teachers of English, 2017.
Location: PE1404 .D3875 2017

Measurements of reading abilities show a decline nationwide among most cohorts of students, so the need for writing teachers to thoughtfully address the subject of reading, especially in grades 6–14, has become increasingly urgent.

  • URL:
  • Last Updated: Sep 15, 2023 10:06 AM
  • Print Page