Today, we share Valerie Shay’s activity, which uses a mnemonic device that helps students remember a useful method of reading and studying a book or essay. Do you have a favorite classroom activity you’d like to share with our community? Share it in the comments!

Contributor: Valerie Shay, Fayetteville Technical Community College.

Use Mortimer Adler’s essay, “How to Mark up a Book,” as a learning tool.

  1. Explain to your students that UNCP no longer stands for the University of North Carolina at Pembroke; for the rest of their academic careers, it will now stand for Underline, Number, Circle, and Paraphrase.
    Bonus Tip: Have a funny or catchy phrase that you can fit to the letters UNCP? Create your own by assigning words to the abbreviation UNCP. For example: University Noodle Celebration Party or United Nations Creates Peace.
  2. Underline: Read through Adler’s essay together, showing your students how to underline (or highlight) only the main idea of each paragraph. Discuss how to determine a main idea. Make clear that it is usually found in the first two sentences of each paragraph, but that there are many exceptions. Point out key phrases that your students should look for including ‘for many reasons’, ‘various causes’, and ‘several factors’.
  3. Number: Explain how to number any series of items or sequence of events by looking for keywords and enumerations.
    Bonus tip: Incorporate a mini-lesson on transitional words to help students correlate sequences and series to key transition words and phrases in sentences.
  4. Circle: Encourage students to circle any words that are boldfaced or italicized
  5. Paraphrase: Discuss with your students why authors use transitional, boldfaced, italicized, and series words as tools and explain why readers should pay attention to them. At the end of each paragraph, ask your students to write a word or phrase in their own words that captures the essence of the paragraph. Creating paraphrased excerpts for each paragraph allows students to easily revisit the information provided in throughout the passage.


Valerie Shay is currently a Developmental Reading and English Instructor at Fayetteville Technical Community College in Fayetteville, North Carolina. A graduate of Claremont Graduate University and a former Title I school district instructor in Ontario, California, Valerie has accumulated a wealth of knowledge including ample teaching strategies on how to work with at-risk students. The techniques and theories she uses are derived from a combination of her graduate studies and her participation in a multitude of workshops, conferences, professional development sessions, and Beginning Teacher Support Assistance (BTSA) programs. She believes that instructional mentoring and feedback have been the most instrumental in making her the educator she is today.