Although it can be a challenge to convince college students to complete their reading assignments, just reading them isn’t enough. To really get the benefit of reading, students need to employ critical thinking skills. We cannot expect that all of our students possess these skills and know how and when to use them. Reading requires skills that have to be learned, and college-level reading requires additional skills to create student success. Here are some teaching tips to help your college students improve their critical thinking skills.

Reading textbooks

What exactly is reading, and what does it mean to read a textbook? Don’t be surprised if you’re struggling with a definition. We don’t often think about reading; it’s just something we do. But reading involves a lot of activities.

While reading, college students employ strategies that include:

  • Vocabulary development
  • Locating the main ideas and details
  • Identifying implied main ideas

In their book College Reading: The Science and Strategies of Expert Readers, 1st Edition, authors Janet Nay Zadina, Rita Smilkstein, Deborah Daiek, and Nancy Anter defined reading and offered tips and strategies for textbook reading.

According to Zadina et. al. reading is:

  • Learning
  • Active
  • Contextual
  • A two-way communication
  • Thinking, reflecting, understanding

When reading, understanding is critical. Otherwise, you’re just looking at the words.

Critical reading

According to Zadina, et. al., critical reading is, “a complex thinking technique that involves discovering and taking apart an author’s meaning, evaluating the author’s meanings based on established standards, and incorporating the meaning into the ideas you already know” (Zadina, 8).

Critical reading goes beyond basic understanding and includes strategies such as:

  • Understanding an author’s ideas even if they are not directly stated
  • Using a questioning technique before, during, and after reading
  • Translating the author’s ideas into visuals
  • Creating new ideas using an author’s ideas

Throughout the book, clear explanations and an abundance of practice with these, and other, critical reading strategies are offered. You can use these strategies as teaching tips for your college students.

Reading arguments

An argument is a conclusion supported by reasons. There are two types of arguments: inductive and deductive. Textbook reading and college assignments often involve analyzing and formulating arguments. Many arguments found in textbooks, especially in the sciences, will be deductive because these arguments are based on facts and verifiable truths that lead the reader to only one possible conclusion.

Zadina, et. al., devoted an entire chapter to reading arguments critically. Activities included in the chapter guide college students through strategies to help them to think deductively and decide between inductive and deductive arguments. A comprehension check prompts students through the process of solving deductive puzzles. Sprinkled throughout the text are Tips from the Brain Doctor where the authors offered suggestions and background to help students to find relevancy in the information presented.

When evaluating arguments, the Brain Doctor explained, “Being able to detect fallacies requires using your frontal lobes, the center for ‘executive’ or higher-order functions in the brain. Good frontal lobes improve critical thinking, including the art of detecting fallacies in arguments. The good news is that practicing looking for fallacies and thinking more deeply about things to help you develop your frontal lobes” (Zadina, 562).

The authors encouraged students to study, read, question, and dig deeply when reading. Only then can students “do” something with the information thus turning it into knowledge.

When working with students to help them handle their many reading assignments, you can turn to College Reading for teaching tips and research-based strategies to guide your class toward student success.

Reference: Zadina, Janet Nay, et. al.  2014. College Reading: The Science and Strategies of Expert Readers, 1st ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

What teaching tips and strategies have proven successful for you in helping your college students with reading assignments? Tell us in the comments.