Tips for Actively Reading Any Piece of Literature

actively readingIt’s easy to get distracted when reading, especially in today’s digital society where something is always beeping, buzzing, or dinging. Our attentions are pulled in a million different directions. We could all use a little help when it comes to focusing on a single task. In this blog post, I’ll be discussing some tips on something we do every day: reading! And not just any type of reading, but actively reading.

Just like a great athlete must undergo deep practice to become skilled at his or her game, an expert reader must practice good habits when it comes to reading. Actively reading is akin to this type of deep practice.

Here are some podcasts with great literature suggestions.

Best Summer Reading

Helping Literal Thinkers with Literature Analysis

Literature In Your Homeschool

Tip #1: Set Yourself Up for Success

When I am actively reading something, I have pens, pencils, markers, highlighters, and an array of colored pencils by my side — these are my tools for success.

For example, if I actively read a novel, there are few pages that don’t have some underlined or circled word, a question scribbled in the margin, or a highlighted phrase. Come up with a process that works for you and find the tools that best suit it.

Tip #2: Ask Questions

An inquiring mind learns. In order for true knowledge acquisition to occur during an actively reading session, the reader must ask themselves questions to stay engaged with the literature.

Below, I have shared a series of questions that are useful for readers starting to actively read. My high school freshman English teacher used them to guide our literary learning throughout the year. They proved to be a great base for engaging with different texts and served me well after. These questions can be most readily applied to novels and poetry; however, they can be adapted to really any piece of literature. The questions are broken up into the following sections: characters, setting, plot, symbols and other devices, point of view, themes, irony, and newly imagined.

• Who is the protagonist and who or what is the antagonist?
• What words come to mind when you think about the protagonist or the antagonist?
• How is he, she, or it characterized?
• What motivates this character’s actions?
• What is memorable about the character?
• Is the author’s depiction of the character the same throughout the entire text?
• Are there any surprises? If so what are they?

• Where does the story take place? Is the setting: geographical, physical, magical, socio-economic, chronological?
• Locate and specify the various types of setting. What does such specific setting contribute to the overall effect of the story (thematically or in terms of character)?
• When the setting changes where does it change to and how does the change impact the story?

• Briefly, what is going on?
• What structure does the story follow (e.g. Freytag)?
• Where in the story are the main points?
• What are the conflicts? Where in the story are they?
• Are the conflicts internal or external? Are they physical, intellectual, societal, moral, or emotional?
• Is the main conflict between sharply differentiated entities (e.g. good versus evil), or is it more subtle and complex?
• Does the plot have unity? Are all the episodes relevant to the total meaning or effect of the story?
• Is the ending happy, unhappy, or indeterminate? Is it fairly achieved?

• Does the story make use of symbols?
• What kind does the author use (names, objects, actions)?
• What does each symbol mean?
• Does the symbol carry or merely reinforce the meaning of the story?
• What other devices does the author use (e.g. imagery, metaphor, personification, pathos, allusions, aphorisms)? How are they used? What meaning does their use lend to the story?

• What point of view does the story use?
• Is it consistent in its use of this point of view?
• If shifts in point of view are made are they justified?
• If the point of view is that of one of the characters does that character have any limitations that affect her/his interpretation of events or persons?

• Does the story have a theme?
• What is it? Is it implicit or explicit?
• Does the theme reinforce or oppose popular notions of life?
• Does it furnish a new insight or refresh or deepen an old one?
• Remember, a theme is an opinion rather like a thesis statement not simply a topic.

• Does the story anywhere utilize irony? If so what kind and how? What functions do the ironies serve?

• Compared to other things you have read is there something new, unique, or different about the way the author presents this story or poem?


  1. oh.. I like this, pinning to my language arts board

Speak Your Mind


Hide me
APRIL Spring Freebie -- Planner & Printable --> 37+ Page Printables
Enter Name: Enter Email:
Show me