The Importance of Active Reading

By Gina Bellisario

How to Read Actively

Active reading is a proven technique that strengthens our comprehension and retention. It is far superior to passive reading because it builds connections between our thoughts and the words on the page. The stronger the connections, the greater our understanding.

There are many kinds of strategies that keep students active before, during, and after reading. Here are some common strategies taught by our tutors:

Before Reading

Preview the chapter: For nonfiction, look at the title, headings, words in bold, and illustrations to identify what will be covered in the chapter. For fiction, scan the pages for character names and the setting of the story.

Activate prior knowledge: Write down something that you know and something that you want to know about the topic or story.

Make a prediction: The prediction should answer, “What will this chapter or story be about?”

During Reading

Annotate: In the margins, ask a question, define an unfamiliar vocabulary word, respond to a character’s dialogue or actions, or state what something might symbolize. Try to make at least one kind of annotation per page.

Identify the main claim or theme: In nonfiction, the main claim is the author’s overall purpose for writing. “How” and “why” details stem from the main claim. In fiction, the theme is the author’s underlying message about life or human behavior. It can be revealed through the characters’ actions and dialogue.

Summarize: After reading a paragraph, write a one-sentence statement that summarizes what the paragraph is about. 

After Reading

Make a connection: Write down one way in which the text reminds you of a personal experience, another book, or a world event.

Visualize: Take a moment to picture the events that you have read about. Try recalling the events from memory before looking them up in the text. 

Create flashcards: This strategy is especially useful when learning vocabulary words. Write down the word on one side of a card. Add a synonym or a picture of it. On the other side, write the word’s definition.

Students should feel free to choose which strategies they use. As long as they are actively engaging with the text, they will reap the benefits that come with it. 


“Active Reading Strategies: Remember and Analyze What You Read.” Princeton University, The Trustees of
Princeton University,

“Reading Textbooks Effectively.” Learning Center, 30 July 2020, 


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