Active Reading Assignments

Food, Culture & History  2003


Active reading means that you are coming to class prepared to contribute to a discussion in a concise and constructive way. Every time you read an article or a chapter of a book in this class you should be thinking critically about the content. Who is the author? What is their agenda and theoretical orientation? What are they trying to tell you, and what fundamental arguments are they making? How consistent and logical is their argument? What is the quality of the information they offer? How does their position compare to those of other people, and to your own?


Periodically throughout the semester you will be called upon to prepare written summaries of particular reading assignments. It is important that these summaries be short and to the point.


The major error that most people make in preparing these summaries is to simply list all of the points in the reading.


That is not what I am asking for.


*     Part 1. You have to decide which are the three (or at very most four) most important points. That is the first part of your written assignment: Summarize the key points of the article. This requires careful though and a lot of judgment! Don’t try to cheat and make the points so long and complex that you end up summarizing everything in the article! You should be able to present these three points to the class in less than a minute.


*     Part 2.  Be critical. Evaluate the points made by the author. Do they make sense? Are they internally consistent and logical? Are they the best interpretation of the evidence? Are they clearly grounded in a particular theory, position, or political point of view? Do you find them plausible, pleasing, aesthetic, enjoyable?


*     Part 3.   Compare. How does this reading compare with other things you have read this semester (or in other classes or settings)? You can compare the actual case or information presented in the piece, the style and presentation, the theory and interpretation. Choose comparisons that are interesting and illuminating! Keep us interested.


How Long?   I am always tempted to answer this question “however long you need to do the job.” But I won’t. These written summaries should NEVER be longer than two double-spaced 12 point type 1-inch margin printed pages, and I would be happiest if they were one and a half pages. These are the results of thought and digestion, not the raw material.