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Reader Response


Our reflections are the making of deeper meaning and richer understandings. Our reflections are our dreams, our ideas, our questions, our initiatives, our visions - our journeys of lifelong learning and teaching. Schwartz & Bone 1995


Reader Response stresses the importance of the reader’s role in the construction of meaning. Readers actively create their own meaning from texts and express their individual responses and understandings. When responding, students are encouraged to reflect on what they bring to the text as readers. This includes experiences, knowledge, emotions, and concerns.



Choosing Texts for Response

Any text that touches the reader in such a way as to evoke a response can be used. This includes literature, short stories, illustrated picture books, poetry, films, photographs, etc. Sometimes the teacher will select the text for reader response, and sometimes students will respond to their own personal choices. 

You might look for :

  • themes and issues that resonate with students
  • beautiful language
  • compelling characters
  • well-crafted plots
  • well-written nonfiction
  • evocative images
  • multiple layers of meaning

Illustrated Picture Books are excellent for eliciting thoughtful responses. When guiding students to deeper responses the best picture books work well because they have universal appeal both in the quality of the images and their interplay with outstanding text.

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Reader Response Strategies

When readers respond to a text they weave their personal ideas, feelings, thoughts, and experiences together with the words, images and ideas in the text. There is no one correct response or one ’right’ answer but as readers have opportunities to talk with other readers and to reflect on what they are thinking, initial responses deepen and new understandings are uncovered.

Many teachers have students keep response journals. As students write a variety of reflective responses to some of the texts they are reading, they become better readers. Even students who struggle with reading and writing are able to make meaning of texts by recording their thinking in journals.

Response journals help readers :

  • explore their feelings
  • articulate and extend their own ideas and knowledge
  • clarify their understanding of the text
  • become actively engaged with their reading

Journals can include a variety of entry possibilities such as :

Students can also respond to texts through :

  • Drama, role playing
  • Art
  • Music
  • Photography
  • Technology e.g., digital storytelling, book trailers, etc.


The Importance of the Read-Aloud

Reading aloud to students should continue throughout the grades. It has been identified as the most important activity for building the knowledge required to become a successful reader. 

  • First and foremost reading aloud provides an enjoyable shared reading experience- and just might turn some of our reluctant readers on to the fact that reading really is worth doing.
  • It is a way to introduce students to a broad range of authors and genres they might not discover on their own.
  • Students get to listen to wonderful texts beyond their independent reading level. This means that they are hearing more complex text structures, more sophisticated literary devices and vocabulary than they would meet through their own reading. 
  • Reading aloud and the discussion that surrounds the reading builds background knowledge and may encourage students to continue reading and researching.
  • During a read-aloud a teacher can target particular reading skills and strategies to meet the needs of her students.

Adapted from Steven L. Layne.

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Additional Resources

Wilhelm, Jeffrey D. Not for Wimps ! Using Drama to Enrich the Reading of YA Literature. (1998)

Some teachers will enjoy the wider variety of responses that are described in 91 Ways to Respond to Literature

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