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Writing as Reading Response


“Unless we teach reading with an eye towards helping students develop an awareness of which approaches or combination thereof might be the most productive within future and different contexts then we are only preparing them to succeed in our courses.” (Carillo, p. 126).

Are you tired of reading the same ol’ reading quiz and essay responses and wondering if they matter beyond your class?

Would you like to use writing to improve reading comprehension rather than just “test” it?

If you answered yes, then we’ve got your back…

Transform your students’ reading engagement with writing

Using a variety of writing activities, you can push your students to dig deeper into their reading and develop their thinking through writing. As if that isn’t enough to get us to change our practices, getting students to react to their reading through writing also allows us to better assess their comprehension of the material.

Try these four ideas (One Sentence, Three Quotations; Share One, Get One; The Visual Representation; and The Cento) to get started right away, and if you’re doing professional learning with colleagues or other educators, you can use this reading on Libya​ which we have used as an example throughout:

Activity #1:  One Sentence, Three Quotations​

After reading the whole piece, write one sentence in your own words that represents a major idea or takeaway. Then, find three sentences to quote from the piece that supports your takeaway statement (put page number in a parenthetical at the end of each quoted excerpt). Write only those 4 items: the one sentence takeaway and the three quotes to support the takeaway. See the One Sentence, Three Quotations example.
1. ​​​​First, model in class with students how it works. Choose any reading (fiction or non- fiction) and give students time        ​to read it (or use a previous reading everyone is familiar with).
2. With your students, brainstorm aloud a “takeaway idea” - sentence that represents some idea from the reading. Write it on the board or screen.
3. Next, ask your students to find places in the text that provide evidence to support the takeaway idea.
4. As the students make suggestions, ask them why they chose that particular phrase or sentence.
5. Once you record the quoted material below your sentence, ask the student for the page or paragraph number where the material came from. Add your parenthetical citation and explain or ask students why you are putting that parenthetical after the quoted material.
6. Do this same process for the two remaining quotations needed. Once you have all three, the class can see the whole assignment you are asking them to complete as homework or in class work.

Using this activity as formative assessment​​

When students finish or bring in their assignments, you have choices for conducting formative assessment of their reading comprehension.

One strategy: Ask for volunteers to read their takeaway sentence. After the student reads their sentence and their three choices of quoted material, ask other students if any of their chosen quotes might also “fit” with their classmate’s takeaway sentence. Watch them get excited to discover the similarities.

Another strategy: Put students into pairs or groups of three to talk about their own choices. Let them decide which takeaway sentence they think best represents all of their ideas (or they can create a newly collaborated takeaway sentence) and three quoted pieces from all of their selections. Put onto chart paper and post on the wall, or choose a speaker to share with the class what each group came up with. Meanwhile, keep a list of their takeaway sentences so that at the end of the allotted time, you can step back with the class to discuss the content of the reading while also informally assessing how well they digested the reading.

An Adaptation

After you have used this strategy a few times, you can switch it around: Give students three quoted parts from what they read and ask them to create a takeaway sentence (inductive reasoning practice). OR give them the sentence and ask them to find the three quoted portions from the text to support your sentence.

Activity #2: Share One, Get One

(from Summarization in Any Subject by Rick Wormeli) - Create a grid with nine sections (like a tic-tac-toe grid). In three of the areas, write something you learned from the reading. It can be a phrase or whole sentence. Next, find a peer who has something new or different that you can add in another area. Do this for six people so that each person has contributed something to your grid. See the Share One Get One example.

What we like about this activity:

  • Many students don’t know how to find credible and relevant sources, so they can learn about a variety of sources from each other.
  • The swap gets students moving around and talking to other students in the classroom.
  • The teacher can get a broad understanding about what the students know about gathering credible sources and can follow up with mini-lessons for scaffolding important literacy skills into the unit.


Share One, Get One Credible Source

1. After students pick a topic to research, they find five sources to learn about their topic and bring them to class. Of those five, they pick their three most credible and relevant sources to fill out the top three boxes in a nine-box chart (like a Tic-Tac-Two chart).
2. Next, they talk to six different classmates to “share one” of their sources and to “get one” source from a classmate to add to their nine-box chart. They fill in the rest of the nine-box chart this way, adding to their list of possible sources for doing research.

The 9-Box Chart boxes can be used in many ways in the literature class. For example, gathering quotes to capture characterization (such as finding a character’s comments that are evidence of motivation). You can also use this across the curriculum, for example in a history lesson to identify nine significant incidents of a time period.

Activity #3: The Visual Representation

After reading the whole piece, create a visual description that represents a major idea. You can be as literal or abstract as you would like. Stick figures work great! Be ready to explain your creation to the class. See the Visual example.

​1. First, model in class with students how it works. Choose any reading (fiction or non- fiction) and give students time to read it or use a previous reading that everyone is familiar with.
2. Talk aloud as you think about the ideas that stuck in your mind about what you read and what you intend to draw. As you draw figures or symbols, explain to the class what you are drawing and why. Let them see the messiness or silliness of the “art” going on; it humanizes us and reassures the insecure ones that perfection is not expected.
3. When you assign a visual response, consider the content you’ve assigned. If it’s non- fiction, you might remind students they can create graphs or charts as visuals in addition to other things they might create such as a comic strip or meme.  
4. As in every assignment we bring into the classroom, some students will shine in this activity and others will find it more challenging. These create wonderful teaching moments about how learning and change becomes possible, how to work outside our comfort zones, and how to take risks – especially in low-stakes contexts like activities in the classroom.

Next steps

After this exercise, ask your students to explain (in writing -- another way to include writing every day in class without having to grade everything) what was easy or difficult about creating the visual about the reading. Their explanations can give you insight into not only their comprehension of the material, but also about their motivations to learn -- and it provides metacognitive practice for your students. We don’t often ask them the “why” behind the products they give us (the “what”).

Activity #4: The Cento

The cento is adapted from Dr. Theresa Welford, Georgia Southern University. Highlight and then type up snippets or whole sentences you chose from the reading, and turn those collected items into a poem. Don’t change the words. Make the shape look like a poem, not a paragraph. You can use refrains as songs do. Make at least 14 lines and put the page number in parenthesis for each line. Finally, in a paragraph or two, explain how and why you created your poem the way that you did.

The cento, also called a “found poem,” is a fun and engaging way to get readers thinking about what they’ve read. This activity works especially well with longer reading assignments. Often, students give up after a page or two, but creating the cento can reduce the anxiety of getting the “right” answer or understanding the whole piece. It encourages persistence.

1. First, model in class with students how it works. Choose any reading (fiction or non- fiction) you have already worked with so students are familiar with the material and they can concentrate on learning how to construct a cento and write the reflective piece about their cento.
2. Ask each student to point out a phrase or whole sentence that stands out to them and what page or paragraph number it comes from in the text. If you use Google Docs, you can type each line as they share and create the new product quickly; the document cam while writing on paper also works well for this whole class process. You’ll want everyone to be able to see and read the cento as it is being created.
3. Once you have at least 14 lines (you may have 25 or 30, depending on the number of students in class that day) on your document, talk with students about how they might group some of those lines together.
4. Students can work in pairs for 5-10 minutes and then have a whole group share time for what they grouped together so far. It’s important to remind them that they can jump around, using lines from the end to mix with items from the earlier parts.
5. Next, talk with them about poems and design. Some students think creating poetry always means to create rhymes, but that’s not part of this assignment since they are using the author’s exact words. The focus on arrangement of ideas, is key here. Have them identify key terms like “stanzas” or “refrains” as a way to reinforce terminology while also thinking about impact of the craft of their cento.
6. Then, organize the piece with the class. Write up your process for putting it together as you have, reminding them that there is no “right” final product. The explanation of their process is the important part.

Next steps and things to think about

Assign a different reading for them to do on their own – or ask them to write a cento about a reading of their choosing.

Some students might be uncomfortable with this assignment since it’s not linear, and it’s often not clear “where they are going with this copying and rearranging” into something completely different. That’s one reason why the reflective piece is important for this assignment as well. Asking them to describe how they put their poem together (if they used a refrain, why, or if they chose stanzas, why?) allows their writing to help them figure out some of their own understanding of the text.

Be sure to have share time and/or displays – everyone likes a real audience.


Using the paragraph or page numbers in parentheses at the end of each line creates a nice introduction or review into citing sources. Next steps could be taking some of those chosen lines and writing academic paragraphs to practice quoting, framing the ideas, and including the parenthetical documentation.

Creating inspired reading classrooms through writing

Reading and writing are inextricably-linked and using both to deepen our habits of thinking, broaden our perspectives, and think in new ways is an exciting approach to the “reading” classroom. Students can learn more about writing through their reading, and learn more about reading through their writing.

After using each of these types of responses be sure to give your students a choice for their response to their reading.

Choice and power are crucial in Reading/Writing classrooms. Students can feel a sense of freedom and empowerment in choosing what they read and how they respond to their reading and it can open up space for more creative thinking and doing. For us teachers, the variety brings surprise as we learn more about our students and it reduces the monotony of products we need to review for “assessment.” These activities are formative assessments that we need to gauge student learning and help us plan what lessons our students need as a whole group, in small groups, or in individual conferences.


Agence France-Presse. “World Leaders, Activists Seek End to Modern Slave Auctions in Libya.” Adapted by Newsela. 5 Dec. 2017. Accessed 4 Jan. 2018.

Carillo, Ellen. “Teaching Mindful Reading to Promote the Transfer of Reading Knowledge.”Securing a Place for Reading in Composition: The Importance of Teaching for Transfer.2015. Logan: Utah UP. (pp. 117-143).
Fisher, Doug, and Nancy Frye. “A Range of Writing across the Content Areas.” The Reading Teacher vol.67, no. 2, 2013, pp. 96-101. doi: 10.11002/TRTR.1200. National Writing Project. The National Writing Project, n.d.,, Accessed 12 January 2018.
Wormeli, Rick. Summarization in Any Subject: 50 Techniques to Improve Student Learning. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2005​