Teaching Tips

Reading strategy: What it says vs. what it does

For my graduate school homework, I was assigned several pages from John Bean’s book, Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom (2nd ed.).   One idea that resonated with me was a reading strategy that I believe could be helpful and used as a reading (or writing) strategy in your course.

The purpose of this reading strategy is to use critical thinking skills to identify the paragraph and “What it Says vs. What it Does.”  So how do we encourage students to do that? First, when they are reading an article, chapter, or other form of text, teach the students to focus on the purpose of the paragraph (what is says).  Does the paragraph provide background or new information? Is the paragraph meant to challenge your thinking? After identifying what the paragraph says, think through its role (what is does). Bean (2011) says, does the paragraph “[provide] evidence for the author’s first main reason, [summarize] an opposing view, provide statistical data to support a point, or [use] an analogy to clarify the idea in the previous paragraph” (p. 169).  See the picture for the example from Bean’s book.

This strategy can become cumbersome, so I recommend having the students try it out for a few paragraphs or pages and then have them continue to read as they would normally.  As students practice this strategy, they will find that they begin to analyze their texts, and possibly writing, in a way that demonstrates critical thinking. If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to post them below!  Happy reading!


Bean, J.C. (2011). Engaging ideas: The professor’s guide to integrating writing, critical

            thinking, and active learning in the classroom (2nd ed.).  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-


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