Active Reading in Your College Courses

In college, you are expected to do a lot of reading. In fact, reading will likely be a foundational learning activity in all of your courses. Why? Reading is often the first thing you are required to do when learning something. It prepares you for what you’ll learn in class and provides information that isn’t covered in class. In your English courses, one purpose of any given reading assignment is to serve as an example for the kind of writing you’ll be expected to do while practicing important skills such as summary and analysis.

Whether you’re reading a hardcopy or digital textbook, an online article, a lab manual, or watching a video for your course, you do not want to passively consume this information the way you might read a novel or watch a movie for fun. Instead, you have to engage with it. Think of engaging with a text as having a conversation with it. You know how it feels to be really engrossed in a conversation with someone: you ask questions, make connections, agree, disagree, react, reflect, and repeat they’ve said in your own words.

The video above is a great start to help you think about specific tactics for active reading.  Here are some other resources:


Simply put, annotating means taking notes on a text. It requires the reader to actively engage with the text by writing comments, questions, describing, paraphrasing, summarizing, outlining, underlining, highlighting, and even drawing or inserting emojis.  We usually annotate every text we read for college; this helps us remember and learn the material. You can do this type of work in the margins of your text, using comments in Google Docs or Adobe, through an app such as Perusall, or on a piece of paper.

The Cornell Method

There are several strategies for taking notes. The following strategy works for in-class lectures, films, videos, texts and more. Like active reading, note-taking is a skill that anyone can develop, and the more you do it, the easier and more effective it becomes. With the  Cornell Method. you divide a piece of paper into three sections—facts, questions, and summary—then fill these sections out during a lecture. A favorite among educators, this technique has been proven to make learning more efficient.

Final Notes

This is just a brief introduction to active reading and note taking. For more strategies, take a look at the READ (Reading Effectively Across the Disciplines) website, see this handout on Effective Strategies for Online Learning, keep an eye out for workshops at City Tech, visit the Writing Center, or simply ask your professor for help.


According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, one in five learners has learning and attention issues. Common, and commonly undiagnosed, learning difficulties include language-based learning differences. Language-based learning differences refer to a wide-range of challenges with the written or spoken word. These challenges can hinder a student’s academic proficiency, but with the right diagnosis, accommodations and strategies can help a person achieve their full potential. If you think you might be suffering from any kind of learning difference, or if you had an IEP in high school, please visit The Center for Student Accessibility in L-237.