Multimodal Mondays: Digital Tools for Critical Reading

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336501_pastedImage_5.pngToday's guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn‌, a Professor in the English Department at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning, critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy and think deeply about way too many things. She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. You can reach Kim at or visit her website Acts of Composition.

Many of us find ourselves in larger class settings and look for new ways to encourage critical reading and writing. In one of my other Multimodal Mondays posts, Five for the Drive, I identified 5 easy ways that I have used Google Drive in my classes. I first came up with these assignments when I found myself teaching a literature class that had 35 students. The writing teacher in me wanted my students to write daily reflections on their reading selections and share those ideas with others. Although this worked for years, students often considered it a burden and it required quite a bit of reading and evaluation on my part. I decided it was time for a new model.

First, I had to figure out what I considered important when it comes to critical reading:

  • I want students to forge strong interpretations in which they connect their ideas to ideas in a text.
  • I value it when students are text-specAific and can support their ideas through significant passages in a text.
  • I encourage dialogic thinking as students discuss their ideas with others to help them move beyond their own thoughts and interact with the ideas of others.
  • I want them to complete this interpretive work before we arrive in class so that our class discussions are purposeful, interesting, and substantiated.

It is with these ideas in mind that I came up with this series of critical reading assignments.

Background Reading

The St. Martin’s Handbook:  Ch. 7, “Reading Critically” 

The Everyday Writer (also available with Exercises😞 Ch.9, “Critical Reading”

EasyWriter (also available with Exercises😞  Ch.7, “Analyzing and Reading Critically”


Assignment Series

  • Collaborative Discussion Teams: Assign students to a collaborative discussion team that they will work with through the term. This is a place for them to try out ideas, engage in thoughtful conversation, and create interesting ways of looking at texts through active interpretation. This series of assignments trains them to be strong critical readers – skills they use in our classes and across the curriculum.

  • Set up a Team Space: Each team will have online space and create an accompanying folder on the class Google Drive that includes the following sub-folders: Schedule of Facilitators and Weekly Questions and Passages


Example of Question and Passage Template   


  • Students post weekly questions and passages to Google Docs: For each reading selection, all students in the group are required to post 3 significant, thought provoking questions and one interesting passage, reference or quote to the weekly Google doc. In some instances, I ask them to include more than one passage. The purpose of these questions is to open up discussion and to help students consider the deeper, multiple meanings in the texts we read. Students include their names next to their submissions. Students create a new document each week and curate their ideas of the course of the semester.


Example of Student Questions and Passages: Emerson

  • Weekly facilitators: Students create a calendar of facilitators that will appear as an administrative document in their folder. All members will take several turns facilitating the team (through your LMS or through Google chat or other discussion software). The facilitator starts the thread by looking through the weekly posts to choose a question/passage or two or encouraging conversation and connected ideas. They should start a new thread for each selection, designated by the author’s last name or the title of the selection. In this online discussion, we look for quality conversations, which means that all members actively engage with the subject matter through bringing in their own experiences, ideas, and specific connections to our readings and class discussions. It is also the facilitator’s responsibility to frame and contextualize the questions to make sure that the conversation remains lively and connected.


Example of Facilitated Discussion


  • In-Class Discussion: By the time students arrive in class, they have already posed interesting questions, grounded their ideas in text-specific passages, and engaged in discussion with others. These exercises then become reference documents for engaged, full-class discussion. Students can access them on their devices and choose particular ideas and passages to share with the class. I have them do different things with their discoveries. I often have students copy them in class to another collaborative document on Google in which teams quickly transfer their questions and/or passages. All students and teams contribute their ideas towards an immediate visual aid for discussion.


Example of Collaborative Passages for Full Class Discussion


Reflection on the Activities

I was originally motivated to create this series to manage larger classes and still encourage critical reading strategies. Now, I use them across my classes because they promote the kind of close reading that students often resist. Evaluation is easier because I am not reading full essays and can easily check for quality participation. Students also weigh in on the evaluation twice during the semester and report on their teammates’ participation and the significance of their responses. I also ask them to reflect, in writing, several times during the semester and read across their work from these collaborative discussions. I am not trying to say that these methods should replace exploratory, essay, or research writing. On the contrary, when students curate their ideas along with textual connections, they are more prepared to expand upon them in other writing projects. The most satisfying result is the quality of our class discussions. Every student participates and has a chance to have their ideas heard (which sometimes gets lost in full class discussion). Students always have available references to share with the class and are ready to contribute to the larger dialogic conversations.


Let me know what you think in the comments.

About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.